The biggest expense of your trip to Europe - after, perhaps, your flight - is your accommodation. If you're the type of traveler that only uses the hotel for sleeping and showering, it can often feel like a rip-off, no matter how good your deal is.
So, nabbing a bargain hotel is often the single most important thing you can do to make your trip stress free. Check out the suggestions below on how to score a good hotel deal in Europe.
Use a Price Comparison Site
No doubt you're familiar with price comparison sites for looking up prices of hotels, but there are some things to bear in mind when choosing your hotel.
First of all, make sure your hotel booking site has free cancellation - most do these days. This allows you to shop around for hotels after you've picked your accommodation.
But that's not all. Because of the free cancellation most sites offer, it means that other people will often cancel, giving you the chance to pick up a hotel cheaper than had been available when you booked.
Also, make sure the site you choose searches other price comparison sites. Again, most do today. One of the best is Tripadvisor, which has come a long way since just being a user review site.
Best Parts of Town to Stay in the Most Popular European Cities
It's all about the location, right? But if you don't know a city, how can you know where to stay?
If you plan lots of day trips, or if you have a very early morning departure, you might want to choose a hotel close to the train station or airport bus.
However, with the cities below, we have some top tips on where you should stay.
- Barcelona: Go for the Gracia quarter in the northwest part of the city. Its village-like feeling is a fantastic break from the hustle of the downtown area.
- Berlin: Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, and Neukölln are the best places to stay. Avoid Mitte (there are some good bits, but it's easier just to avoid it completely) and Charlottenburg. Stay inside the Ring (the train line that circles the city center).
- Paris: Montmartre is the most beautiful residential area of Paris. Have coffee in the cafe that Amelie worked in!
- Madrid: Stay in Malasaña (the bohemian quarter), Chueca (the gay district), or La Latina. Unfortunately, the hotels don't tend to be in these quarters, so consider Airbnb. Avoid Gran Via and the business district around the Santiago Bernabeu football stadium.
- Milan: The artsy Brera area is a great place to stay.
- Munich: Schwabing is the most popular, but it can be expensive. The English Garden is another good option.
- Rome: With a very limited metro system, getting around Rome by bus can be a nightmare. For that reason, it's is simplest to choose an area that is connected by the metro.
- Vienna: Head for the Spittelberg quarter in the Neubau district.
What Does the Hotel Star System Mean?
After location, it's the amenities themselves that you'll want to know about. This is where the star system comes in.
A five-star hotel is going to be pretty luxurious, but what do the stars actually mean?
The short answer is: Just about anything, but probably not what you're thinking.
Not only is the system different in each country, but the assessment is based entirely on objective facilities and services provided and is not in any way related to the ambiance, charm, or other subjective criteria. Think government ratings. Is there a restaurant? Check. Is there a toilet and shower/bath in every room? Check. In the end, adding up all of the positive attributes will bestow the hotel with some number of government stars.
Sometimes the rules can be pretty strange. For example, to receive a five-star rating in Spain, the bathtub must fill within a certain time frame. If the pipes are old and small and fill the bath too slowly then, sorry, no fifth star.
Understanding some of the star ratings can net you a bargain if you consider the limitations of the system. Consider a hotel that only has one or two stars and check the actual facilities the hotel has - it's quite likely that there'll be nothing missing that you'd care that much about.
Self-Catering: Is Airbnb Legal Where You Are Traveling?
Airbnb took the travel market by storm a few years ago. It single-handedly transformed neighborhoods from poor, working-class residential quarters to touristic party districts. Unsurprisingly, there was a pushback by residents and, later, governments. Now, in many cities in Europe (Berlin, for example), Airbnb is illegal or highly restricted. Check before you book on Airbnb to check if the service is actually permitted or not.
If your main reason for using Airbnb is for the self-catering option, consider booking an apartment from a legitimate business or take the budget option: a backpackers' hostel. They usually have private rooms but also typically have a great communal space for cooking your own food.
Check out Budget Hotel Chains
The cheapest chains don't always appear on the big price comparison sites (or they can be hard to find). These budget hotel chains are worth checking out directly.
- Motel One: Found mainly in Germany, as well as a couple in Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Austria, and the Czech Republic
- HotelF1/ibis Styles/ibis Budget: Budget travelers have always loved the old Formule 1 brand of budget hotels, but these are gradually being branded as ibis or HotelF1 (the latter only in France).
- Premier Classe: Another big budget chain that this writer remembers from road trips around France as a kid.
- easyHotel: For fans of the budget airline and the color orange, you'll find these hotels spread throughout Europe.
- Omena Hotel (Omenahotelli): The budget hotel in Finland, a country where 'budget' isn't really a thing.
- Best Western: Widespread in Europe and surprisingly cheap.