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To the modern young traveller equipped with smartphone and imbricated within the “sharing economy” of AirBnB et. al., the idea of a hostel might seem little old-fashioned – right up there in the obsolescence stakes with print guidebooks and traveller’s cheques. But not all youth hostels are dens of dreadlocked iniquity featuring cheap cocktails called “the Chunky Monkey”: some of them have moved with the times and provide affordable accommodation with some surprisingly civilised perks. Here’s ten hostels from around the world that are definitely not your ordinary backpackers.
#1 The Loft (Paris, France)
Ah, Paris. The city of love. The city of light. The city of often overpriced accommodation and overrated service, because with so many tourists visiting every year it’s a seller’s market. If you’d like to stay in Paris on the cheap, let me recommend The Loft in Belleville, which features designer rooms, 24-hour reception, free Wi-Fi, a quite nice bar with happy hour specials, and staff with exceptional English language skills – all at a very reasonable price. That would make it welcome in any city in the world, but in Paris it’s downright miraculous.
#2 Adventure Queenstown Hostel (Queenstown, New Zealand)
Queenstown is arguably New Zealand’s tourist capital, and the competition is so fierce there that Adventure Queenstown Hostel has been forced to raise the bar with a few perks like free phone calls to over 30 countries – yep, free – unlimited internet, hair dryers and hair straighteners, laundry service, and ski and snowboard hire. Has Adventure Queenstown Hostel’s everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach worked? Given that it was just crowned the world’s best small hostel in Hostelworld.com’s Hoscar awards, we’d say it has.
#3 Lub d Siam Square (Bangkok, Thailand)
If you’re looking for luxury on a budget, you can’t go past one of the world’s most awarded hostels, Lub d Siam Square, which combines the social aspects of traditional hostels with designer hotel levels of decadence: fresh sheets and towels daily, an excellent bar that hosts Thai food appreciation lessons, a cinema room with bean bags, free internet and Wi-Fi, plus amazing architecture. Want some long-term luggage storage while you adventure out of Bangkok? Not a problem; Lub d customers can keep their stuff there for up to two months free of charge.
#4 Caveland (Katerados, Santorini, Greece)
Some of the world’s oldest evidence of viticulture – the growing of grapes to make wine – has been discovered in Greece’s Cyclades islands. On Santorini, arguably the prettiest of the Cyclades, you can experience a little slice of that winemaking history by staying at Caveland, a hostel built out of a former winery. A number of the caves that used to house wine have been converted into accommodation featuring handmade furniture, and they come with all of the perks you might expect from a modern hostel: Wi-Fi, swimming pool, and luggage storage.
#5 DJH Youth Hostel Nürnberg (Nuremberg, Germany)
Don’t let the bland name fool you – DJH Youth Hostel Nürnberg is anything but run-of-the-mill. Housed in the former imperial stables (Kaiserstallung) of Nuremberg’s 900-year-old castle, this hostel positively oozes a rich sense of German history. That’s not to say that it’s in any sense cramped or dark – the renovation emphasises space and light, and has made nearly every room and floor of the former stables wheelchair accessible.
#6 Downtown Beds (Mexico City, Mexico)
Few hostels look quite as good as Downtown Beds, which has renovated a former palace in the heart of Mexico City into a strikingly contemporary space with bright yellow latticework beds, a vine covered courtyard with bright red bar, and a sleek rooftop pool. It’s not just about good looks, though: visitors can dine out at the hostel’s fonda (traditional Mexican street food kitchen), wash down the food with a cold cerveza at the outdoor bar, hire bikes, or watch movies in the cinema.
#7 Travellers Oasis (Cairns, Australia)
Travellers Oasis might look like the archetypal old-school hostel – it even features palm trees painted on the walls and wacky ‘90s typefaces that would have looked dated in Friends’ fictional café Central Perk – but it has managed to outlast the competition by providing excellent service to its guests. Each guest has access to their own safe to store valuables, the rooms are airconditioned, there’s a pool, and the staff are more than happy to pick you up from Cairns’s bus station or give you aloe vera to soothe a sunburn. Travellers Oasis might not be strictly new-breed, but it proves that old-fashioned hospitality will never go out of style (even if décor does).
#8 New York Budget Inn Hostel (New York City, USA)
As anyone who has been to New York knows, trying to find decent accommodation on a budget is a nightmare. New York Budget Inn Hostel does exactly what it says on the tin – it offers remarkably affordable beds (starting at US$50 per night) in a city famous for its expensive accommodation. Located on the corner of 34th Street and 3rd Avenue in midtown Manhattan, it also offers air-conditioned rooms, complimentary slippers, soap, shampoo and conditioner, and free in-room cable TV. And because New York is the city that never sleeps, there’s 24-hour reception and no curfew.
#9 Kex Hostel (Reykjavík, Iceland)
Truth bomb time: Airbnb is ruining Iceland’s rental market, because landlords find it more profitable to list there than to offer longer term leases to young Icelanders. So, if you want to make Reykjavík a better place, consider staying at Kex Hostel. Built from a former biscuit factory, Kex manages the improbable feat of both feeling cosy and exuding Nordic design cool. It also has all of the mod cons you’d expect from a classy hostel in a classy town like Reykjavík: a café-cum-bar, heated outdoor patio, information desk, fitness centre and, of course, free Wi-Fi.
#10 Nice Way Sintra Palace (Sintra, Portugal)
The secret sauce that makes Nice Way Sintra Palace so lovely is Sintra itself, a UNESCO-listed jewel of a town that clings to a precariously steep mountain and is festooned with bizarre castles and palaces. As one of the hostel staff, a Scot who had relocated to Sintra, told me as we watched a full moon rise, Sintra is located at the intersection of a number of ley lines, and has always had a certain magical aura. Visitors find it hard not to fall under Sintra’s spell, and this centrally located and very affordable hostel is the best launching pad for your Sintra adventure.
(Lead image: Caveland. All other images via hostel websites.)
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Chad Parkhill is a Melbourne-based cultural critic who writes about sex, booze, music, history, and books – but not necessarily in that order. His work has appeared in The Australian, Junkee, Killings (the blog of Kill Your Darlings), The Lifted Brow, Meanjin, Overland, The Quietus, and Spook, amongst others. You can find his website here and his Twitter account here.