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How do hostels work?

In this article we explain what is a hostel, how hostels work, the different types of hostels, the facilities can you expect at a hostel, room types at hostels, what hostels cost and if hostels are safe.

What is a hostel?

First off, what is a hostel? Hostels provide budget accommodation where guests can book a bed, usually a bunk bed, in a dormitory and share a bathroom and common areas (such a kitchen, lounge, TV room etc). Rooms can be mixed or single-sex. More and more hostels now provide private rooms, family rooms and apartments. Dormitories can have from 3 to 36 beds in the room, the more beds in the room, the cheapest your stay will be.

Bathrooms are normally large, with several shower stalls and a row of sinks. Hostels tend to have only one or two bathrooms on each floor, but this, of course, varies from hostel to hostel. A lot of newer hostel have ensuite bathrooms even for dorm rooms and some of the these can be super fancy.

What are the different types of hostels?

1. Youth hostels

Stayokay Amsterdam Vondelpark Amsterdam
Beautiful dorm room @ Stayokay Amsterdam Vondelpark - Stayokay is a HI Hostel.

These Hostels usually cater to students or young people and are normally supported by charitable organisations or schools or universities. Hostelling International, or HI, is the largest such organisation. These tend to be used for students on school tours or foreign students who spend a semester aboard.

2. Backpacker hostels

The RoadHouse Hostel
Common area @ The RoadHouse Hostel

These hostels are run independently, providing a place to sleep for backpackers. Each Backpacker hostel normally has its own niche (such as running tours, events etc). They normally have far more character and personality.  These hostels are my favourite ones. Also staying at one of these hostels, you supporting local businesses.

3. Flashpacker or Boutique hostels

Best Hostels in Prague - MeetMe23
Super chic dorm beds @ MeetMe23 Boutique Hostel

Hostels have evolved greatly over the last 20 years and many are Flashpacker or Boutique hostels. These usually have a very high standard of customer service and have a more contemporary design. These hostels generally target slightly older and tech-savvy guests. These hostels will have many services/amenities that you would expect at a three-star hotel.

How do hostels work? General FAQs

1. What do I get when I book a bed in a dorm room?

These really depend on the hostel. At a minimum,  you will get a bed, (shared) bathroom facilities, and free WiFi. But most hostels offer various amenities such as a living room-style common room, kitchen facilities, guest computers, board games, a pool table etc. A lot of hostels will have a bar and some even have a restaurant as well.

2. Do hostels provide bedding?

Hostels normally provide all bedding.

3. Do hostels provide towels?

Hostels generally don't provide towels when staying in a dorm room. Many hostels will give you the option of renting a towel (normally at a cost of €1 to €2 per night), but it's best to bring your own. However, towels are provided when staying in a private room in a hostel.

4. Do hostels have showers?

Yes. Most dorms have large communal bathrooms with rows of showers and sinks. Normally the showers are partitioned for your privacy.

5. How much do hostels cost?

The price of a bed in a dorm room in a hostel in Europe varies a lot. It depends on many factors such as the type of the hostel and proximity to the centre. Hostels in Western Europe are the most expensive and the more East you go the cheaper it gets. Hostels in Western Europe start at €15 per night. The most expensive hostels are in London, Paris, Paris, Amsterdam, Zurich and  Scandinavian cities. Hostels in Germany, Spain, Portugal and Austria are slightly less. You can still get hostels in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary for as cheap as €5 per night.

6. Do hostels have lockers?

Yes, hostels nearly always have lockers for your bags and valuables. It is best to always bring own padlock for your the locker. These are normally located in your room close to your bed. A new trend has many hostels are offering over the last few years is a second smaller locker for your important valuables such as your phone, camera and passport. Some of these small lockers even have a power point inside where you can charge a device.

7. Are hostels safe?

Generally, all hostels are safe. Most hostels in major cities have 24/7 reception desks and more and more hostel dorm rooms are now keycard access only.

8. Are there age restrictions in hostels?

Of course, there are. Dorm rooms are usually only available for guests between 18 and 39 years old. Some hostels even have a lower age limit (than 39 years). The over 40s can still stay in hostels but in a private room.

9. Do hostels have curfews?

The quick answer is sometimes there are, but more and more hostels are getting rid of this policy as competition increases. This varies a lot from country to country. For instead nearly all hostels in Paris have a curfew time of 12 midnight. Some hostels in Germany will also have a curfew or a lockout period. My advice is to always read the hostel description and reviews before booking one.

10. Do hostels accept kids?

More and more hostels are now providing family rooms or apartments where kids can stay in a hostel but under the supervision of their parents. Obviously, party hostels are not suitable for kids.

What facilities can you expect at a hostel?

Common Rooms

What is a Hostel - ClinkNOORD Amsterdam Common Area
Common Area @ ClinkNOORD Hostel Amsterdam

Almost all Backpacker hostels have common rooms or multiple common areas. However, some small boutique hostels tend not to have a common area.

Common areas are normally located close to the reception. Some common areas have a dining area or a bar. Some have free or paid activities such as Foosball or a pool table.

Events and activities

Many hostels organise events and activities such as city tours, pub crawl, cooking class etc. These are normally free and it gives you a chance to socialise with other travellers.

Laundry facilities

Hostel Ruthensteiner Vienna Washing Machine
Laundry Room @ Hostel Ruthensteiner Vienna

Most large hostels have on-site laundry facilities (washers and dryers). Normally the procedure is that you buy a token at the reception. This token is used to turn on the washing machine or dryer.

Guest Kitchen

What is a Hostel - Home Lisbon Hostel Kitchen
Guest Kitchen @ Home Lisbon Hostel

Nearly every hostel offers some kind of guest kitchen. These can be partially or fully equipped. Some hostels supply you with free essentials with pasta, spices and tea and coffee.

Swimming pools

Sant Jordi Hostels Rock Palace Barcelona Pool
Swimming pool @ Sant Jordi Hostel Rock Palace

Swimming pools are very popular in Spanish cities and southern Mediterranean cities such as Rome or Athens. For instead a lot of hostels in Barcelona have rooftop pools. Plus Hostel in Prague has an outdoor open all year round and it is free to all guests.

Free Wi-Fi

Wombats City Hostel Vienna The Naschmarkt WiFi
Hostel guest all using Wi-Fi  @ Wombat's Vienna Naschmarkt

We all need Wi-Fi while we travel. Every hostel will have WiFi but some won't have it in the rooms, they just have it in common areas or vice versa.

Rooftop Terraces

What is a Hostel - Generator Paris Rooftop
Rooftop Bar @ Generator Hostel Paris

Some large or even small hostels in Europe have a rooftop terrace. Some of these rooftop terraces have a bar or swimming pool or both.

Hostel Bars

What is a Hostel - Generator Hostel Dublin Bar
Hostel Bar @ Generator Hostel Dublin

Many hostels have an on-site bar. These are normally cheaper and more social than regular city bars. Most run daily happy hours and some hold events or activities such as a music gig or karaoke. Some hostel bars are for guests only and others are also opened to the general public as well.

What types of rooms do hostels have?

Dorm Rooms

What is a Hostel - Mola Hostel Madrid Dorm
Dorm rooms @ Mola Hostel Madrid

Every hostel will offer a bed in a dorm room. A dorm room is a large room filled with beds (singles or bunks). These normally cost only a fraction of the price of a hotel room in the same city. Generally, there will be one or two large bathrooms per floor but more hostels now have en-suite bathrooms in the dorm rooms. Dorms can be mixed, male-only or female only.

The general standard of dorm rooms has gotten far better over the last 10 years. Some are very stylish and a lot of beds in dorm rooms have their own reading lamp, power-point and privacy curtain.

Private Rooms

What is a Hostel - Generator Paris Privates
Private Room @ Generator Hostel Paris

Many hostels now offer private rooms. Private rooms in hostels can be just as good as a hotel if not better. Obviously they are more expensive than a bed in a dorm room but generally, they tend to be cheaper than hotels.

How much do hostels in Europe cost?

The price of a bed in a dorm room in a hostel in Europe varies a lot. It depends on many factors such as the type of hostel and proximity to the centre. Hostels in Western Europe are the most expensive and the more East you go the cheaper it gets. Hostels in Western Europe start at €15 per night. The most expensive hostels are in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Zurich and Scandinavian cities. Hostels in Germany, Spain, Portugal and Austria are slightly less. However, hostels in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary can be as cheap as €5 per night.

Are hostels safe?

What is a Hostel - The RoadHouse Prague Locker
Under-bed Locker @ The RoadHouse Hostel Prague

In general, hostels are very safe and most cases they're actually safer than most other forms of accommodation.

Most hostels have 24/7 reception, some even have security staff and in a lot of hostels a personalised key-card is required to enter even dorm rooms. Nearly all hostels come equipped with large security lockers in the dorm rooms for you to lock away your valuables when you’re out. It is advised that you bring your own padlock.

What is the best website to book a hostel?

Hostelworld is by far the biggest and the best website for booking hostels. They have a monopoly on the hostel market. They have the best availability and prices. The website is designed to include many filters to help find a hostel that best suits your needs. For instant you can filter hostels by price or by rating for a particular city.

Hostelworld Filters
This screenshot shows the room types filters on Hostelworld's website.

Reviews and ratings on this Hostelworld are very reliable because you have to have stayed in the hostel in order to leave a review. A general rule of thumb is that any hostel with a rating of over 7.0 will be fine. A hostel with a rating of between 8.0 and 8.6 is very good and any hostel that has a rating of over 9.0 is exceptional. My advice is to read recent reviews when choosing a hostel. The reviews can also be filtered by category and language.

Best Hostels from around Europe

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Michael McGuinness Profile Photo

Michael McGuinness

Michael is a professional web developer and the guy behind the scenes of Best Hostels Europe. He's been travelling the world with his wife and young son since 2012. He blogs at nomadicmick.com

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