No Backpack Required
Most of us soon grow out of our youth hostel stage. Fleapit dorms, sweaty-sock aromas and those greasy group kitchens ever-encrusted with mystery meat pasta residues are best remembered in rose-tinted retrospect. But times are a changin’ in hostel land – as savvy mainstream travellers are increasingly discovering.
A swathe of new and upgraded independent hostels has unfurled its bedroll around the globe in recent years. Aiming to retain those maturing backpackers who previously graduated to hotels, they’re also luring bunk bed-hating newbies who won’t stay anywhere that doesn’t offer ensuite private rooms with fresh linens.
But this new breed of “boutique hostels” isn’t just serving up minimum amenities on the cheap. With private room rates that often echo small hotels, value-added extras from free wi-fi to gratis breakfasts make them attractive alternatives. Add standard features like lounges, cooking facilities, laundry rooms, complimentary local tours and the occasional swimming pool and these next generation hostels suddenly become serious options for all.
Here then, for those planning Europe and US trips, is a handpicked array of some of the best hostels with hotel-style rooms. Book as far ahead as possible – most only have a few ensuites and they’re highly sought-after – and be prepared to meet a cool new crowd of fellow travellers during your stay. Luckily, your private room means you won’t have to listen to them snoring on the top bunk.
While Australia – home of the permanent twentysomething traveller – kicked-off the fancy hostel trend more than a decade ago (consider the Base Backpackers mini-chain if you’re visiting this region), Europe has made the biggest leaps in hotel-style sleepovers in recent years. And one of the best of the bunch is the stylish Independente Hostel & Suites in Lisbon.
Located in the historic city’s hipsterish Bairro Alto district, this 2011-opened property handsomely colonizes what used to be the Swiss ambassador’s residence. Alongside regular dorms, its four rustic-chic, river-view private rooms – with balconies, hardwood floors and exposed timber beams – are lined with vintage books and furnishings, while its good-value onsite restaurant and beer garden lures as many locals as hostellers: go for the hearty weekend brunch.
Value without sacrifice is also the approach at Amsterdam’s quirky Cocomama. Well-located not far from Rembrandt Square and the recently reopened Rijksmuseum, it’s in a heritage building that once housed an infamous brothel. The cozy private rooms here have an artsy, bohemian feel with chandeliers and high ceilings, while the hangout areas (with books and board games) and solicitous young staff are key attractions – Joop, the friendly hostel cat, is also ever-ready to socialize.
You’ll also be purring at Berlin’s top option. A hotbed of hotelesque alternatives – the large Grand Hostel and the swimming-pool-included Plus Berlin are popular – the best of the bunch here is Circus Hostel. Opposite a handy U-Bahn train station (you’ll be in the city centre in 10 minutes), the recommended rooms at this bright-painted sleepover are two spacious, kitchen-equipped private apartments. A bar and restaurant add to the property’s allure, while a busy events calendar and frequent free city tours keep things lively.
But Europe doesn’t have a monopoly on blurring the lines between hostels and hotels. The US also serves some excellent alternatives. In New York – that bastion of bloated room rates – trendy options include Out NYC and the Bowery House. But it’s Brooklyn’s sociable New York Loft Hostel, located in indie-flavoured Williamsburg, that’s the top lure. With its exposed-brick private quarters and cool subterranean bar, it stages regular freebie fondue nights if you want to meet your fellow travellers.
There’s an equally inviting second-city option 1,200km west at the Chicago Getaway Hostel. Socked into a row of redbrick townhouses in the vibrant Lincoln Park neighbourhood, the main attractions here are the immaculate and spacious – if fairly Spartan – private rooms. Bike rentals and a courtyard patio brimming with international travellers add to the appeal, and you’ll likely spot the same crowd on the hostel’s regular guided pub-crawl nights.
But head south to cool-ass Austin, Texas for what may become the pick of America’s next generation hostels. Opened in 2012 in a heritage fire hall building, the Firehouse Hostel is just steps from downtown’s 6th Street entertainment core. Its comfortable private suites have large bathrooms and an elegant, high-ceilinged look. And there’s also an adjoining cocktail-loving lounge bar if you don’t want to stray too far from you room on your first night. It’s the perfect place to toast your return to hostelling – backpack not required.
Rates are for private ensuite rooms or apartments, double-occupancy, for September 1.
Independente Hostel & Suites, Lisbon: $149, breakfast included; www.theindependente.pt.
Cocomama, Amsterdam: $146; www.cocomama.nl.
Circus Hostel, Berlin: $136; www.circus-berlin.de.
New York Loft Hostel, Brooklyn: $92, breakfast included; www.nylofthostel.com.
Chicago Getaway Hostel, Chicago: $89, breakfast included; www.getawayhostel.com.
Firehouse Hostel, Austin: $119, breakfast included; www.firehousehostel.com.