Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
Booking Hotels, B&Bs and Hostels in Europe
Even Slow Travelers, who usually stay in vacation rentals, stay in hotels on their trips. If you are spending less than a week in a place, you may have to stay in a hotel because most vacation rentals rent from Saturday to Saturday. In some locations there may not be any vacation rentals, but there will be hotels. When we fly to Europe, we usually spend a couple of nights in a hotel when we arrive and again when we leave.
Most hotels in Europe are small, family run businesses. You do not find as many "chain" hotels as we have in North America. There is a great variety in price and comfort level, from simple 1 star hotels to very expensive and luxurious 5 star hotels. Usually hotels in large cities are more expensive than those in the countryside or small towns (but not always). I like hotels in Europe because they tend to not all be the same, are frequently in historic buildings and in interesting locations.
Note that hotel rooms in expensive cities, such as London, Paris and Rome, may be very small - heart-stoppingly small. I have been in a $200/night room in London where the room was only slightly larger than the bed. If this concerns you, ask about the room size when booking. A 250 square foot room (25 square meters) is small, but comfortable.
Types of Hotels
Most European countries have strict guidelines for what is considered a hotel and what is a B&B. B&Bs are either small hotels that do not meet the "hotel" classification (based on number of rooms) or are rooms in a private house. The term "pension" is no longer used officially in many countries (it used to refer to a small hotel). Hostels are also available in many European cities. See our section below for more information.
Star Ratings of Hotels
Hotels in Europe are rated by the government. In most countries the rating for hotels is from 1 star (basic) to 5 star (luxury). These classifications vary by country and are based on amenities. For example, a one star hotel may not have an elevator and the rooms may not have a TV. Note that these ratings are decided on amenities only, not on location, charm or beauty, so do not assume that a 3 star hotel will be more charming than a 2 star.
For example, the England Tourist Office gives these definitions for the hotel star ratings.
Private Bathroom or Shared?
Some hotels offer less expensive rooms without a private bathroom. There will be a bathroom near your room that is shared with a few other rooms.
There is some confusion on terminology for a private bathroom in your room (discussed in this thread on the message board). "Private" bathroom can mean a bathroom in your hotel room, but it might also mean a bathroom outside of your room (down the hall). "En-suite" bathroom means a bathroom in your room - you do not leave your room to go to it. In hotels, 2 stars and up, it is most likely that your room will have a private, en-suite bathroom, but some single rooms may have a private bathroom that is not in the room. It is best to ask to be sure the bathroom is en-suite.
And, in the United Kingdom, "bathroom" means there is a bath (and might not be a shower).
Breakfast is Usually Provided
The breakfast room is a European tradition and is usually included in the room price. The breakfast varies by hotel and country. Breakfast in Switzerland usually consists of good breads, cheeses and meats whereas in Italy you find sweet rolls. I have noticed a change in breakfast rooms in the last few years - they offer more breakfast things. In a good breakfast room in Italy, you can now have an Italian-style breakfast (coffee, sweet roll), a German-style breakfast (bread, cheese, meat), and an American-style breakfast (cereal, yogurt, fruit)!
Breakfast is usually buffet style. Find a table and put your room key on it. If coffee and tea are not on the buffet, sit down and the breakfast room person will come and ask what beverage you want. Then go to the buffet and get your breakfast.
If you want something extra, ask! We never thought to ask for more in a breakfast room but then we notice people asking for espresso in Italy instead of drinking the sad watery coffee on offer, and once in Switzerland we watched people ask for boiled eggs.
Take note of the hours for the breakfast room and if it is possible to have it delivered to your room (nice to have when in the state of jetlag).
Can I Look At My Room First?
If you book your hotel in person on the day of arrival, you can ask to see the room before you decide. This is a common practice in Europe. But if you have pre-booked the hotel, in my experience, this is not the practice. They will have assigned a room for you. Ask about this when you check-in and if you are not happy with your room, ask to be moved (this may not be possible if the hotel is full).
Checking In - Giving Them Your Passport
In some European countries it is the law that when you stay in a hotel, the hotel must fill out a form with your passport information and give it to the police. When you check in, they may ask you for your passport. We usually give it to them and make sure to pick it up from them in an hour (after they have done the paperwork). But you can also ask them to do the paperwork while you are there, so your passport does not leave your sight.
Don't Take the Room Key With You!
Room keys in European hotels are usually very large, to remind you that they are to be left at the desk when you go out for the day. This lets the hotel know that you are not in your room (for cleaning).
Either book through one of the booking sites recommended above or contact the hotel by email, phone or fax to make your reservation. Remember that some businesses do not respond to email "promptly", so if you do not get a response in 48 hours, phone or fax them. If you are phoning the hotel and do not speak the language of the country you are calling, call during their business hours when it is more likely that they have someone who speaks English working. Read our Calling to Europe from the US and Canada - How to Dial page for information about phoning.
For insights on the hotel booking process, read Choose Us! an insider's perspective on the hotel booking process.
Every hotel and booking service has different policies. Check these before booking. You may be able to cancel a stay once booked, or shorten a stay when you are there, but do not assume you can do this without a penalty.
Always bring a copy of your hotel reservation/confirmation with you. You may need to show this in case the hotel overbooks or charges a different rate.
The Italy Tourist Board website states that deposits are refunded if reservations are cancelled at least 14 days in advance and 30 days in advance during high season. If there is a dispute, contact the local Tourist Office to see if they can help you.
Do I Book Ahead or Find a Hotel When I Arrive?
If you do not want to plan your whole trip before you go, you will probably be fine finding hotels when you need them, unless you are traveling to very small towns and in high season (July and August). This works best when traveling by train because most towns have tourist offices, with hotel booking services, at the train station. Go into the office and they will tell you what is available for that night. They can usually book it for you (there may be a small fee).
If you are planning your trip based on vacation rentals, you will know where you will be on each part of your trip, so book your hotels before you leave. This way you can read the reviews and decide ahead of time instead of wasting precious vacation time figuring out hotels.
I like to stay in a hotel in the city center so that we can walk to the main sights and return to the hotel during the day. In most European cities you will find a range of hotels, from 1 star to 5 stars, but the hotels in the city center tend to be more expensive, so if you are looking for a bargain, look for hotels outside of the city center or near the train station (these are frequently less expensive).
Read Slow Travel Hotel Reviews
Reading reviews from Slow Travelers is a great way to find good hotels. We have hundreds of reviews for Europe, North America and the rest of the world.
Other Hotel Review Sites
Trip Advisor - Italy: Find the best deal, compare prices and read what other travelers have to say about hotels in Italy
Trip Advisor - France: Find the best deal, compare prices and read what other travelers have to say about hotels in France
Trip Advisor - United Kingdom: Find the best deal, compare prices and read what other travelers have to say about hotels in United Kingdom
Booking.com: Customer reviews
www.venere.com: Customer reviews
Remember, a good travel consultant can recommend hotels and book you into them. See Classified Listings for Travel Consultants.
Most guidebooks have hotel listings (see Guidebooks). There are also books devoted to hotel reviews.
For students, backpackers and anyone traveling on a budget and looking for inexpensive (cheap) accommodations - consider staying in Hostels when traveling in Europe or North America. You will find Hostels in popular destinations like London, Paris or New York, and in smaller towns and cities. Hostels are a popular type of accommodation with a growing reputation and raising standards. Many have been recently upgraded and offer quality budget accommodations.
www.hostelbookers.com: HostelBookers. Book hostels online through Hostel Bookers. A couple of things make this website stick out from the rest - simplicity of use and no booking fees. There's no registration or membership required so you can quickly make a booking. With thousands of hostels and budget hotels in 1,500 destinations worldwide, Hostel Bookers is a great backpacker and student travel resource. The website is efficient and informative, and you can search hostels by price or customer ratings. Hostel Bookers also run a free group booking service for groups of 10 or more people.
Read more about Finding and Booking Hostels.
Sponsors for Booking Hotels, B&Bs, Hostels
Slow Travel Classifieds: Check our classifieds for hotels, B&Bs, pension, agriturismo - listed by country. Book directly with the hotel.
ahotelinitaly.com: Provides instant availability checks with real time booking for hotels all across Italy, with original information, photographs, facility details, and maps. Your booking confirmation contains full hotel contact details together with a direct link should you be forced to cancel your reservation.
Booking.com: Online booking for hotels in Europe, 25,000+ hotels in 7,000+ destinations, reviews, low rates, no booking fees, credit card used to guarantee booking but no charge is made until your stay at the hotel. Booking.com is part of Priceline.com.
Venere: Online booking service with hotels, B&Bs and apartments in all parts of Italy, and in other European countries. Reserve using their online booking system, and the hotel owner responds directly to your request.
Knowital: Hotels, B&Bs and vacation rentals in Italy. Book directly with the owners.
goeurope.about.com/od/hotelstars/: About.com articles on star ratings for Europe hotels
www.italiantourism.com/accomod.html: Italy Tourism, types of hotels in Italy
www.enjoyengland.com/productsearch/ratingsinformation.aspx: England Tourist Board definitions of hotel star ratings
Books and Websites with Hotels for Europe
www.karenbrown.com: Karen Brown has "Charming Bed & Breakfasts" editions (which includes vacation rentals) and "Charming Inns & Itineraries" editions for several European countries.
www.sawdays.co.uk: Alastair Sawday's "Special Places to Stay". He has books for most European countries. Hotels and vacation rentals are listed.
www.helloeurope.com: Margo Classe's Hello series of books listing budget hotel for Italy, Spain, Paris, England, Scotland, Ireland. (This great series of books is no longer being updated.)
www.relaischateaux.com: Relais & Chateaux, luxury hotels around the world.
www.slh.com: Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
Charming Small Hotel Guides, A Duncan Peterson Guide, Edited by Chris Gill
The Cadogan and Dorling Kindersley travel guides have good hotel recommendations.
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