Where you stay is vital to enjoying any trip. Tips, tricks and reviews below
Luke’s Top Eleven Hostels
I’ve spent more than 365 days of my life so far sleeping in hostel beds all over the world and that number just keeps going. Honestly I’ve not really had any terrible experiences. Okay, there’s been a few stays that haven’t been entirely enjoyable, but for the vast majority of them I’ve had great times. Hosteling to me is an integral part of travelling, and I have a hard time imagining ever outgrowing it. A good hostel can make a dull place vibrant, and a vibrant place spectacular. A bad one can make you hate a wondrous city.
Below is a list of 11 hostels (meaning they have a dorm option) that have been integral parts to some of the best times of my life in some of my favourite places in the world. It was a hard list to make, and don’t worry the descriptions get shorter as they go, only the first three are so long and detailed.
I’ve tried to include some of the key information for each hostel below as well as my explanation of what made them so special. I hope this is helpful to anybody travelling to these places, and if anyone has questions about places not on the list that they know I’ve been don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for advice.
1. Hostel Taormina: Taormina, Italy
Stayed: July 4th to 31st 2012 and August 9th-24th 2013
Paid: 22 euros per night (Summer rate)
I have spent almost two months of my life in the warm second home that is Hostel Taormina since I discovered it in the summer of 2012. I came for three days and stayed for about 30. Francesco and his staff will do anything they can to make you feel at home and the terrace atmosphere and view alone earns this place a spot on the list.
For those of you who don’t know, Taormina is a small tourist haven nestled in the Sicilian hills on the east coast. It is a town built entirely on tourism, and did not strike me as the kind of place I would fall in love with, but I did, and so much of that had to do with Hostel Taormina.
The hostel boats 2 co-ed dorms at 6 and 8 beds each and one 8 bed female dorm as well as a private double room. This year the owner also rented out an apartment offsite which I have not seen but I am sure is lovely.
The beds are comfortable and equipped well with lights and lots of outlets around the dorm. Every bed has a full backpack size locker with it and the hostel boasts three sparkling clean bathrooms and showers and a fully equipped kitchen along with two fridges and a flat screen T.V., all available for guest use.
This summer the hostel rate was about 22 euros per night and well worth it for western Europe in the summer. I recommend just getting a dorm bed, exploring the town and whole area by day and coming back and chilling on the terrace at night meeting wonderful people from all around the world. Who knows if you’re lucky you might get invited to join some of the friendly staff in dinner, of pasta and wine!
I’ve done some of my most productive and inspired writing in Taormina and definitely recommend the town as well as the hostel. Explore the local gardens and stop to read, or write, or paint on any one of the countless benches. Take the cable car down to Isola Bella and go for a swim/snorkel/rock jump to recover from the Italian sun. Visit the Ancient Greek Amphitheatre atop the hill in Taormina for a spectacular view or better yet see a nighttime performance there. No energy for all that, grab a cup of Gelato or Granita (Sicillian specialty not far off from a snow cone) and walk along Corso Umberto appreciating the architecture, people, and countless shops selling almost everything you could imagine.
Looking to spend a little more time in Taormina and the area? Hike up to the ancient church and castle above the city and continue on to the tiny hamlet of Castelmola, home to the world famous Penis bar, narrow cobblestone streets and views that can’t be beat.
Another idea is to join a tour of Etna, the volcano which towers over most of north eastern Sicily. These tours are pricey, but Etna is a wonderful place, and Francesco and the gang at Hostel Taormina will be happy to help you arrange a tour up into the frigid air and fiery lava of the volcano.
My last mention goes to the Gole Alcantara (Alcantara gorge) A mountain spring which cuts through volcanic rock from a past eruption leaving behind spectacular rock formations which brings tons of tourists all through the summer. That said follow the river down from the entrance for 15 minutes and you’re almost alone with the icy cold water and impressive gorge and lots of birds. Or you can walk for hours, though going does eventually get tough. To this day it’s one of my favourite places I’ve ever been. (If you do go don’t pay the 8 euro entrance fee for the elevator, walk up the road about a hundred meters and there’s a public entrance free of charge!)
At any rate when I returned to Hostel Taormina this summer it felt like I was coming home, welcomed by a warm hug from Francesco, the place was just as amazing the second time around. Don’t miss it.
All in all as a destination, a home away from home, a place to meet countless new friends, and a place to lay your weary head, Hostel Taormina has it all. I’d always choose to stay there, regardless fo cost. Taormina boasts many 5 star hotels but this place will forever be my home in Sicily, you should make it yours too, it’s open year round!
2. Majdas Hostel: Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Stayed: 6th to 12th September 2013
Paid: 11.25 euros per night for 4 bed dorm including amazing homemade breakfast.
The Hostel is a two-pronged sister and brother attack team. First comes the hostel itself, which is clean to a fault, boasting an excellent location and a fully equipped building for everything you could possibly need. (To this day the most impressive shared bathroom I have ever seen, the showers felt like they belonged in a 5 star spa.)
But like most places on this list the building itself quickly falls into the background of the experience. What really matters to my experience is the atmosphere and staff. At Hostel Majdas you are welcomes quickly by Majda herself. She’ll set you up to explore the incredible town of Mostar with a map and good explanation of the bet way to scratch the surface. Stay longer and talk to her more and you’ll get a lot more, both about things to do and about life in general.
The hostel boasts three dorms, with space for around 16 people and shits it’s doors at the end of October for the winter season. So come in summer time or the fall like I did. The bed cost me about 11 euros per night, an incredible bargain for the wonderful time I had, and though I’d only booked 2 nights I stayed 6, and really hope to return some day.
Either way another highlight of the stay is Bosnian breakfast, which Majda cooks herself every morning gathering all the guests together at the he outdoor table and serving an often varied but always delicious breakfast. Sometimes she’ll even make soup for dinner too, also included in the price.
Mostar itself is incredible, a mix of ancient history, modern war, and even more modern recovery. The old bridge is a great hangout spot to watch people jump into the treacherous river (If you’re brave you can get trained to do it too)and make sure you bring your appetite, Bosnian food is both cheap and delicious. Climb up the shelled out old bank which became a sniper tower during the war and wander through the narrow streets of the old town full of shops and restaurants.
The second prong of the attack of Hostel Majda’s came in the form of her brother, Bata. Who once every two days piles eager backpackers into his tricked out van (Disco ball and subwoofers included in tour price) cranks the Serbian super funk and starts them on a 12 to 16 hour marathon journey through Mostar and most of the surrounding area.
You see Waterfalls, ancient castles, holy pilgrimage sites where some teens saw the Virgin Mary, and countless other things. Again though, it’s Bata who makes it special. He makes sure that by the end of the day you feel like a family in that van, and he also is a remarkable entertainer and human being. He had us laughing and joking most of the day, but then he went into some of his experiences during the war and had the whole group of 14 energized backpackers hanging in pin drop silence for almost an hour. A one of a kind experience so if you get the chance don’t miss out.
3. Ram Bhawan Kautilya Society Residence: Varanasi India.
Stayed: 30th December 2013 to January 7th 2014
Paid: 7.77 CAD per night including breakfast and buffet lunch.
Varanasi may be the craziest and most unique place /I have ever been. It is hectic, exhausting and very overwhelming. That said it is an incredible place and I am thankful I stayed at the guesthouse run by the NGO Kautilya society. It was a haven from the madness of the city and a place full of open cultural dialogue between people all over the world and lots of Indian people too.
I booked four days and spent eight. Perhaps you’re seeing a pattern here. Either way this place boasts both private rooms and a comfortable and spacious 4 bed dorm. I spent 8 dollars Canadian on the dorm and about 20 on the private double. That said those prices include a tasty breakfast and mouth watering buffet lunch which is just like a home cooked Indian meal. That, plus the building itself which is traditional and very old but kept up so well you’d swear it’s just a few years old, make this place the only right choice for a stay in Varanasi.
The hostel again benefits from a friendly and caring staff, as well as owners who involve themselves deeply in the day to day of the hostel. Up on the rooftop you find Filo Café, a place for great tea and coffee, simple snacks, and incredible conversation, all backed by a lovely view of the Ganges River.
Highlights included poker and other card games (I always seemed to lose) and an incredible but chilled out all night new years eve party, and long hours of conversation about life, love and the world up on the rooftop. It really felt like home after only a few days.
I’m honestly hoping to find a teaching job in Varanasi a few years down the road, and hopefully I’ll stay with these lovely folks again for a much longer time.
4. Unity Hostel Skopje: Skopje, Macedonia
Stayed: October 6th to 8th 2013
Paid: 10 Euros per night for 8 bed mixed dorm.
I only had two days in this great place, but I think it’s the quickest I’ve ever felt at home. Skopje was an unexpected gem on my road and I wanted very badly to stay longer.
The hostel was opened in 2013 and so it is very well equipped. A great hang out space, a full working kitchen, bunk beds with individual curtains and lots of power points and incredibly comfortable mattresses. They have an 8 bed dorm, a 6 bed dorm and a super deluxe double room. At 10 euros per night for the dorm it was great value too. The location is good and a quick walk away from most of the cities attractions. Not too far from the bus station either.
The staff is young and definitely the backpacker type, but they’re surprisingly organized as well and give great advice about the area while also joining in interesting conversations late into the evening.
Be sure to check out the fort, the main square with amazing fountains, the crowded bazaar, and the countless statues which are spread out everywhere around this ever growing city. There’s also some great nature walk options accessible by public buses not far off like the stunning Matka Canyon.
If you’re ever in Macedonia, this is definitely the place to stay.
5. The Brier Island Hostel: Brier Island, Nova Scotia, Canada
Stayed: Summer of 2010 two nights.
Paid: 20 CAD per night (current website rate)
I figured how can you not include a Canadian hostel in this list, being from Canada and all, and this was the one that jumped into my mind. I stayed here for two days on a road trip with an ex girlfriend from Halifax to go whale watching and was amazed at how clean, well set up and spacious this place was.
It boasts a huge kitchen area, a small library, a big living room and spacious and comfortable dorms. The owners are incredibly friendly and even stayed up late to wait for us when our whale watching boat broke down leaving us feeling seasick and ready to relax.
It’s a small hostel but it feels like home almost instantly and Brier Island is home to some of the best seafood and best whale watching I’ve ever had the chance to experience, so if you ever get the chance you should definitely check it out.
6. Hostel City Center Sarajevo: Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Stayed: September 17th to 20th
Paid: 10.23 euros for 10 bed mixed dorm.
This place feels incredibly modern and after you walk up a few flights of stairs you enter a space that feels very different than the city it’s in, in the best way possible. The two level hostel has two separate hang out areas, which are both very spacious and comfortable, and the dorms are kept clean and are plenty comfortable.
The staff here is also great, helping me out with everything you could ask for and then some. My Mac screen broke while I was here the night before I was due to leave they helped me find the apple store, get the hours and then even let me spend the next night sleeping on one of their huge couches free of charge (They were booked full).
The place is directly in the center of Bosnia’s capital and it’s a great location for anything you could want, museums, mosques, the old town and the famous tunnel museum. Sarajevo is another place I loved watching people go by from. There are countless little parks were you can grab a Cevapi (delicious meat bread and onion dish) to go and sit and watch life go by. If you’re in Europe I can’t recommend this place or indeed the country of Bosnia And Herzegovina enough. It’s an amazing place.
7. Hostel Hiker’s Den. Zabljak Montenegro
Stayed: September 14th to 18th 2013
Paid: 11 euros per night.
An amazing little hostel up in the mountains of Montenegro, owned and operated by a charming young couple and their dog and new puppy Ragnar. This place boasts comfy beds, warm blankets (you’ll need them in the fall) and a great homey feeling.
The expert advice of the staff on hiking routes through the magnificent Durmitor national park make this place an incredible resource for all those who have any appreciation for nature. The area is awe inspiring and not far off from the Tara Canyon and a host of adventurous activities.
There’s a great communal area with a kitchen and tv, and several solid restaurant options just around the corner. All in all this place felt like home quickly and both the area and the hostel definitely deserve a visit.
8. Friends Paying Guest House : Agra, India
Stayed: December 24th To December 30th
Paid: 11 CAD for double room (dorms available in the 5-7 dollar range)
Friends Paying Guesthouse is a hugely friendly and social place to stay in the home of the Taj Mahal. It is also the only place I have ever celebrated Christmas away from my family and friends. Luckily, like the name says, I made new friends.
Here I actually ended up staying in a private room, but there are dorms available at a great value. I paid around 11 dollars Canadian for my double room with ensuite bathroom and it ended up being worth every penny, since I got quite sick while I was here, due to some bad oil or bad chicken at a restaurant off the premises. Being sick on the road sucks, but it’s the mark of a good hostel when I still look back at my time there entirely happily.
This place boasts a nice homey restaurant on site, a great view up on the rooftop, a great place to hang out and meet people on the balcony, and a family staff who will do anything for you. (Seriously I ended up visiting one of the girl’s high schools and getting motorcycle rides from Yusuf to buy Christmas cake for the other guests. You really start to feel like a part of the family when you stay here.
Oh and if you like Bob Marley, the restaurant stays true to it’s name and plays the reggae master most nights.
9. Hostel Swanky Mint: Zagreb, Croatia
Stayed: 28th of September to October 4th 2013
Paid: 19.50 CAD per night for 9 bed dorm.
I was forced to spend more time in Zagreb than I might have otherwise, but this place made that a blessing and not a curse. I was waiting for my computer to be fixed by the apple store here and ended up spending 6 days at the Swanky Mint.
The place is well set up for backpackers with comfortable beds, a modern kitchen, nice little hang out space, and even an attached bar with drink specials and a lovely looking terrace for the summer time. They boast several dorms from 6 to 10 beds in each, and several private room options as well.
That said again it’s the staff of this place that make it special. Jelena and other staff members helped me figure out all the computer stuff and then also found things for me to do with my computer-less days sending me on several amazing day trips to small towns and national parks in the areas.
I also met some awesome people staying here and definitely enjoyed their first ever live music show in the attached bar. Overall it was a great stay and I was sad to leave even though I’d not planned to spend more than a day or two in Zagreb in the first place. If you’re making your way through the Croatian capital there’s no better place to stay.
10. The Independente Hostel and Suites: Lisbon, Portugal.
Stayed: 16th to 18th of February 2013
Paid: 8 euros per night (Hostelworld winter deal 3 nights for price of 2)
Lisbon is a city full of hostels with incredible ratings all across the internet. I had a hard time believing they’d really be that good, but this one lived up to the billing. Set on a hilltop above some of the city in an old palace the hostel boasts 90 beds in 11 dorms and all of them are comfortable, with lots of space to chill, hang out and share stories. The three high bunk beds seem like a bad idea but these ones are so sturdy and well made with lots of power points and storage space that you’d think you weren’t sleeping in bunk beds.
The place is clean and serves a very good breakfast and is just steps away from trams, excellent restaurants, and anything else you could want. The staff is friendly and helpful and provide a warm welcome to the incredible country that is Portugal.
While in Lisbon check out the fort, or ride out to one of the ancient cemetery’s looking over the town. You can also take some of the local trains out along the river towards the sea, or do the long walk yourself. beyond that Lisbon is an incredible place to people watch, grab a snack and take a seat in a public square and watch life go by. Then go back to The Independente, meet some fellow travellers, have a fun night and know that you’ll sleep well when you finally choose to rest your weary head.
11. Ai Quattro Canti: Palermo, Italy
Stayed: August 14th to 17th 2013
Paid: 18 euros for 6 bed mix dorm.
Another testament to the fact that if you’re sick for most of your stay and still miss the place it must have been doing something right. I sadly only got to stay here for three days in August early on in my trip, and I was sick for all but one of them.
The hostel is small but well equipped with a full kitchen, nice chill out area and a few comfortable dorms. It’s located right near the famous four corners in Palermo and leaves you in a great place to explore this western Sicilian city. I was happy to have such a comfortable place to stay since I could only bring myself to venture out for an hour or so at the time.
The staff here are absolutely fantastic and more active in organizing social events than anywhere I have ever stayed. Every night they were not only organizing outings, but leading them themselves, yet each morning they were up and smiling happily. Frankly I’m not sure how they do it, but kudos to them. You’ll definitely feel a warm Italian welcome if you choose to stay here
Didn’t Quite Make The Cut
City Circus Athens: Athens, Greece
Stayed: October 21st-24th 2012
Paid: 17 euros per night (low season deal on hostelworld)
A great clean and swanky base to explore Athens, also an amazing view of the Acropolis on the rooftop patio. I’d definitely go back, though it’s not the cheapest option.
Little Big House Thessaloniki, Greece
Stayed: October 9th to 11th 2013
Paid: 15 euros per night.
A great little hostel up on the hill overlooking the city. Close to good food and great views, the staff at this little gem will make you feel welcome and the social atmosphere will keep you busy.
Alobars1000: Kathmandu Nepal
Stayed: November 8th -10th (Three separate 2 night stays over the month)
Paid: 4 CAD per night (free breakfast in low season)
A great party hostel at the edge of Thamel. Bed’s are a little hard but there’s always backpackers to meet, the staff is friendly and helpful, the luggage storage is a great option and the rooftop restaurant makes good and cheap food. Great place to meet people from all walks of life with all kinds of different tastes.
Old Town Hostel Kotor Kotor, Montenegro
Stayed: September 11th to 14th
Paid: 13.00 euros for 12 bed dorm.
A wonderful place to stay with lots of sponsored nighttime events and great tour options too. The big 12 person dorm is spacious and comfortable and staying in the really old house is a cool experience too.
Hostel Lodi: Rome, Italy
Stayed: August 28th to 31st 2013
Paid: 19.50 euros per night for 4 bed mixed dorm.
I’ve stayed in four different hostels in Rome over the years and this was by far the best. A little walk from the main drag but safe calm with a beautiful garden and friendly staff. The walk to the coliseum is lovely and a great start for my favourite walking city in Europe.
Giovanni’s Home: Naples, Italy
Stayed: August 24th to 28th 2013
Paid: 18 euros per night for 8 bed mixed dorm.
Website: http://www.giovannishome.com/ (It is not a castle)
A warm and detailed welcome from Giovanni a man who loves his city very much will get your stay in Naples off to a good start. Comfy beds, a social atmosphere and the occasional amazing home cooked lunch make this place a must stay.
St Joseph’s Home Hostel: Gozo, Malta
Stayed: July 30th to august 5th 2013
Paid: 15 euros per night for single room. (dorms available at roughly same rate)
A very unique atmosphere with tons of chill out space and amazing views make this place the perfect home base to explore Malta’s second and infinitely more amazing island. Open only during high season.
Istanbul Harmony Hostel: Istanbul, Turkey
Stayed: October 26th to November 1st 2013
Paid: 12 euros per night including excellent free breakfast.
A safe and peaceful home amidst the madness of the mega city. Nice staff, amazing views from the rooftop and comfortable (non-bunk) beds make this place the best place to stay in the city of three names that stands on the border of Asia and Europe.