Back in 2000, I set out on my first post-college backpacking adventure, in Australia. By day, I sailed the Whitsunday Islands and snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef. By night, I unfolded my own flat white sheet on an extra-long twin bed in a room with no bathroom and about 10 strangers, silently praying that none of them snored —or worse. This was hostel lodging.
Fast forward more than a decade, and things have completely transformed in the budget accommodation department. Hostels all over the globe are adding design and comfort elements, making them more boutique hotel than college frat house. WiFi is free, dormitories come with en suite bathrooms, and some feature private televisions and personal charging systems. Cheap, it appears, can be chic. The only constant that remains is a strong sense of community, the unfortunate single supplement, and having to hand in your towel upon checkout.
So don’t let the name mislead you. These 10 hostels, in cities big and small, both near and far, are too nice to ruin with any drunken debauchery. At least one can hope.
The Independente Hostel and Suites, Lisbon, Portugal
Cork bunk beds. (Photo: The Independente Hostel and Suites)
Opened in 2011, this palacelike hostel located in the trendier-than-thou Chiado neighborhood was originally built for the Swiss ambassador at the beginning of the 20th century. Now it boasts 108 beds, many of which are constructed partly out of the country’s renowned cork and topped three-high to maximize space. There’s no shortage on style, though, with contemporary art and murals on each level and a stellar free breakfast served either at the rooftop Insolito restaurant or the downstairs Decadente, which has a lovely garden. Beds start at $13 in a 12-bed mixed dorm and go all the way up to $168 for privates with balconies that offer views of the Tagus River.
City Circus, Athens, Greece
Photo: City Circus
Located in the Psirri neighborhood, this four-story former mansion that opened in 2012 features a mix of dorm rooms (from $28 a night) and privates (from $67 a night) with vintage decor — think school chairs, desks, and couches from the ’50s and ’60s — in bright, primary colors. Some privates have mini-kitchenettes, while the lounge often hosts pop-up designer markets and events with kitschy photo booths.
Hush Hostel, Istanbul, Turkey
Photo: Hush Hostel
Located on the Asian side of Turkey’s most well-known metropolis, this 70-bed hostel opened in 2009 in the hip Kadıköy District. Mimicking its gritty yet cool outdoor surroundings, graffiti and murals have been installed on the walls, with dorm rooms featuring art that says things like, “Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.” Beds start at $15 (for four- to eight-bed mixed or same-sex dorms) and privates at $35, some of which come with air conditioning. The hostel also offers free bike rental, outdoor yoga classes (in an enclosed garden, when weather permits), and DJ events either on the rooftop or across the street at the hostel’s Hush Gallery, which presents a rotating display of local contemporary art.
Loft Hostel, Reykjavik, Iceland
Photo: Loft Hostel/Facebook
Not only can you catch a glimpse of the northern lights from the rooftop of this centrally located hostel in downtown Reykjavik, but you might see other stars on the horizon, too — of the musical variety. The hostel, which opened in spring 2013, is the official off-site host of the annual Iceland Airwaves Festival, with dozens of up and coming bands passing through each November. The minimalist, truly Scandinavian style hostel has been certified green, and its late-night bar is a great place to cozy up for mulled wine served in a Mason jar. At night, retreat to either a six- or eight-bed dorm ($26 a night) or a double or twin private ($53 a night) — both of which come with en suite bathrooms — to nurse your aurora borealis hangover.
Yafo Creative, Tel Aviv, Israel
Photo: Sivan Askayo
Travelers looking to experience a local Israeli scene, but who prefer something more urban to a kibbutz should consider booking one of the four rooms at Yafo Creative, a pseudo-guesthouse-meets-collaboration-space located in a 100-year-old Ottoman-style building in Tel Aviv’s historic Jaffa. Sunlight pours into the private rooms, which feature 50-foot ceilings and queen-size beds hand-constructed out of eucalyptus ($90 a night). There’s a chef-grade kitchen for DIY cooking, along with communal lounge spaces meant for fostering new projects among rotating artists. The space itself is owned by filmmaker Amnon Ron and managed by a musician and an illustrator, so expect pop-up dinners, photo exhibitions, and theatrical productions.
The Wayfarer, Santa Barbara, Calif.
Photo: The Wayfarer/Facebook
Get your bunk bed on in the Funk Zone neighborhood, where this 31-room hostel that opened in August 2014 is located, making it an optimum base for sipping, sniffing, and swirling along the infamous Urban Wine Trail. Choose from private rooms with either a king, queen, or fold-down Murphy twin (from $159 a night), or a shared all-female or all-male dorm room ($59 a night) with up to five beds each — all of which include breakfast. The exposed-brick, lofted “study” is equipped with books and oversize board games, and the heated pool outside has ample inflatable furniture for lounging.
Plas Curig, Wales, United Kingdom
Photo: Plas Curig/Facebook
Those trekking the Snowdonia, known as Edmund Hillary’s training ground for Everest, will find comfort in this chalet-like respite a hop and a mini-hike from Snowdonia National Park. Opened in 2013, it has two lounges, one with a fireplace for much-needed post-climb naps and the other with shelves upon shelves of books to borrow. Sleeping a total of 54 in a mix of snow-white bunks and private rooms (from $34 to $75 a night), all beds come with feather pillows and Welsh wool blankets for optimum warmth. While there are no private bathroom facilities for any of the rooms and towels cost extra, the shared loos have towel warmers. Plus, it’s dog friendly.
Moon Hill Hostel, Sintra, Portugal
Photo: Moon Hill Hostel
After a long day shuttling between the palaces and castles of Sintra, there’s no better place to rest like a king or queen than this UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was once a sanctuary for royalty outside Lisbon. Away from all the tourist sites, the newly opened, multilevel Moon Hill Hostel features modern decor like brown tufted leather couches, brightly painted accent walls, and throw pillows with azulejo tile patterns. Its restaurant, Caldo Entornado, serves traditional Portuguese fare with flair in a modern atmosphere, complete with an indie rock soundtrack to accompany your bacalhau. The 42 beds are spread among 14 rooms — two bunks in each, or private rooms featuring twins or doubles — all of which have access to bathroom facilities with rain-shower showerheads (starting at $24 for a bunk and $200 for a private with en suite bath).
The Bivvi, Breckenridge, Colo.
Photo: The Brivvi
There’s ample opportunity for relaxing at this log cabin hostel, which opened last December. Sip a local microbrew in front of the fireplace, nap under the country-chic antler chandeliers (painted blue), stare out the enormous picture windows that provide views of the Tenmile Range, or soak in the hot tub under the stars. Of the 10 rooms, six are classic hotel privates with hotel prices ($189 a night), and four are dorm-style ($49 a night) with three or four bunks made of Norwegian pine, each with its own reading lamp and privacy curtain. With a free breakfast that includes “Nancy’s French Toast,” this place feels more like a home than a hostel — complete with a “no snowy boots”rule. There are even quirky door handles made from lift cables.
Wellness Hostel 4000, Saas-Fee, Switzerland
Photo: Wellness Hostel 4000
Enjoy snow all year round at this eco-friendly retreat nestled in the center of over a dozen 13,000-foot peaks. Lodging options are plentiful, with 168 beds in total, including six-bed dorms ($50 a night), family rooms ($265 a night), and doubles with their own bathrooms ($145 a night). But the rooms with the most appeal are those that aim to wipe away your worries by way of public hydro-massage showers with “mountain steam”and “freezing fog.” There are also a Finnish sauna, herbal steam bath, several whirlpools, and various “phone/tablet-free” lounge areas. Decor is simple yet fresh and breakfast is included.
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