Where to Stay in Europe: Hotel, Hostel, or Airbnb?

Jessie Beck

Traveling in Europe on a tight budget is harder than most destinations, but not impossible. The fall after graduating college, I spent six weeks backpacking in Europe. Hitchhiking, taking cheap busses, couchsurfing, and sleeping in airports, I lived off bread, cheese, and tomatoes. Flight aside, I spent about $700 on the whole adventure, in large part because I wasn’t spending much on accommodation.

At one point in my trip, I felt like “splurging” on a hostel. I was shocked at the price — $70 for a bed in Amsterdam? That’s ridiculous! That was when I discovered, despite their reputation, that hostels aren’t always the most budget-friendly accommodations in Europe. Especially if you’re traveling as a pair, other options are sometimes better.

So, where should you stay in Europe on a budget? Airbnbs, hostels, hotels, or something else entirely? To help you figure it out, I calculated, then compared, average prices across ten cities. Read on to get the low-down on cheap accommodation options in Europe and tips for saving money on places to stay.

Spoiler alert: it may not be the most obvious option…

The Data: How Was This Calculated?

For Airbnb, I looked at the average price for a city without the dates entered. I then added a theoretical 12% booking fee (roughly the average). Cleaning fees are not included, as they are too inconsistent between bookings (the hosts set them) and number of nights you book.

For hotels, I relied on the Global Hotel Price Index by hotels.com.

For hostels, I looked at a filtered list of hostels only on Hostelworld for each city. I then calculated the average of the first 20 results “dorms from” price, thereby gathering the average of the cheapest available bed. If you want to book a 4-bed female only dorm, for example, you’ll pay more.

Which is Really Cheaper? Airbnb, Hostels, or Hotels?

If you’ve ever traveled in Europe (or, anywhere really) you know prices can fluctuate wildly depending on local events, season, or how far in advance you book.

For all of the averages listed below, it’s possible to find accommodation below, or above, the average number quoted — especially if you’re willing to go for a smaller rental (like a studio) or stay somewhere less central.

Seasonality also strongly impacts these rates. While a room may cost $60 in January, that same exact room could rise to $115 in July. In general, I’d assume hostel beds will be about double in peak seasons (versus the average). Airbnb and hotel prices also rise.

Hostel (1 bed)

Hostel (2 beds)

Hotel (2 star)

Hotel (3 star)

Airbnb (private room)

Airbnb (entire place)

London $20 $40 $83 $140 $67 $188
Athens $16 $32 $71 $124 $38 $72
Prague $13 $26 $37 $80 $44 $85
Vienna $17 $34 $51 $105 $43 $94
Rome $25 $50 $131 $135 $73 $123
Berlin $25 $50 $79 $94 $45 $93
Amsterdam $35 $70 $114 $150 $101 $175
Barcelona $22 $44 $97 $147 $55 $171
Paris $37 $74 $120 $136 $60 $112
Stockholm $34 $68 $79 $114 $67 $149

 

As you can see, a bed in a dorm in a hostel still tends to be the most affordable accommodation in Europe for a solo traveler.

For those traveling in pairs or groups, Airbnbs are sometimes the more affordable option — especially if you stay in one place for a longer period of time (i.e. one week). Cleaning fees, which can be as low as $20 for a room in Athens or as high as $80 for a house in London, aren’t so bad when spread out over the course of seven days, but can blow your budget if you’re paying them every day or two.

In some cities, like Prague, a basic hotel isn’t too much more than a pair of dorm beds. If you feel like splurging on a hotel and getting some extra privacy for not much more, do it in Prague, Vienna, or Berlin.

London, England

What to book for two people: Hostel dorm 

Least Expensive Hostel (1 bed) $20
| Hostel (2 beds) $40
| Airbnb (private room) $67
| Hotel (2 star) $83
| Hotel (3 star) $140
Most Expensive Airbnb (entire place) $188

 

Even if you’re traveling in a pair, a dorm bed in a hostel will be the most budget friendly place to stay in London. If you’d rather have privacy, though, a private room in an Airbnb will still cost less than a private room in a hostel or basic hotel.

Athens, Greece

What to book for two people: Hostel or Airbnb private room

Least Expensive Hostel (1 bed) $16
| Hostel (2 beds) $32
| Airbnb (private room) $38
| Hotel (2 star) $71
| Airbnb (entire place) $72
Most Expensive Hotel (3 star) $124


In Athens, Airbnb is pretty comparable to a hotel or hostel. A private room will run you only a little more than two beds in a shared dorm room, and an entire place is on par with a 2-star hotel (and likely more stylish). Airbnb is definitely your best choice if you’re staying for more than two nights and want a little more space to yourself.

Prague, Czech Republic

What to book for two people: Hostel or budget hotel

Least Expensive Hostel (1 bed) $13
| Hostel (2 beds) $26
| Hotel (2 star) $37
| Airbnb (private room) $44
| Hotel (3 star) $80
Most Expensive Airbnb (entire place) $85


Prague is, all around, one of the cheaper destinations in Europe. If you’re on a tight budget, stay awhile. Have a $1 beer night every night!

As for places to stay, two beds in a dorm room are, yet again, the least expensive. Hotels are also affordable, though most 2- and 3- star hotels in Prague will be pretty basic. If style is a concern, you’ll have better luck looking for a well-designed hostel than a hotel at that price range.

Vienna, Austria

What to book for two people: Hostel or Airbnb

Least Expensive Hostel (1 bed) $17
| Hostel (2 beds) $34
| Airbnb (private room) $43
| Hotel (2 star) $51
| Airbnb (entire place) $94
Most Expensive Hotel (3 star) $105

 

Hostels, again, beat out other accommodations as cheapest in Vienna, Austria. However, a private room in an Airbnb will be less expensive than a private room at a hostel, and you’ll also have more flexibility around which part of the city you stay in. Often, it’s possible to find Airbnbs in neighborhoods where there are no hostels, like Innere Stadt, Vienna’s old town.

Berlin, Germany

What to book for two people: Airbnb

Least Expensive Hostel (1 bed) $25
| Airbnb (private room) $45
| Hostel (2 beds) $50
| Hotel (2 star) $79
| Airbnb (entire place) $93
Most Expensive Hotel (3 star) $94

 

Berlin is a bit of an anomaly: the average price of a private room on Airbnb is just slightly cheaper than two dorm beds in a hostel. On the other end, a room at a 3-star hotel is pretty comparable to renting out an entire apartment on Airbnb. In the off season, you can also easily find a good hotel for ~$50 per night.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

What to book for two people: Hostel dorm

Least Expensive Hostel (1 bed) $35
| Hostel (2 beds) $70
| Airbnb (private room) $101
| Hotel (2 star) $114
| Hotel (3 star) $150
Most Expensive Airbnb (entire place) $175

 

Compared to other cities on this list, a place to stay in Amsterdam — no matter if it’s a hostel, hotel, or an Airbnb — won’t be cheap. Two beds in a hostel dorm are the most economical. If you want privacy a private room on Airbnb will be cheaper than a private room in a hostel or a hotel.

Also, remember that $70 bunk bed I mentioned earlier? (I’m looking at you, Generator Amsterdam). Yeah, those happen during peak seasons, which includes April through mid-May, when tourists flock to the city to see the tulip blooms. A bed in a dorm can be as much as $130 per person per night . Ouch!

 

Barcelona, Spain

What to book for two people: Hostel dorm or Airbnb

Least Expensive Hostel (1 bed) $22
| Hostel (2 beds) $44
| Airbnb (private room) $55
| Hotel (2 star) $97
| Hotel (3 star) $147
Most Expensive Airbnb (entire place) $171


Spain has a reputation of being a more budget-friendly destination among Western European countries, which makes the steep hotel prices in Barcelona a bit surprising. They’re not too far off from Amsterdam and, on average, more expensive than a room in Paris (dare I ask: is Barcelona the new Paris?).

For two people, two beds in a hostel will be the least expensive option. For more privacy, a private room on Airbnb isn’t too much more. Not listed, however, are Spanish Pensiones. These small, family-run inns are often basic but much more affordable than a hotel in Spain.

Rome, Italy

What to book for two people: Hostel dorm

Least Expensive Hostel (1 bed) $25
| Hostel (2 beds) $50
| Airbnb (private room) $73
| Airbnb (entire place) $123
| Hotel (2 star) $131
Most Expensive Hotel (3 star) $135


Rome may be romantic, but if you’re on a budget, your Roman digs may not be. Two beds in a dorm are the most affordable.

If hostels aren’t your thing, an Airbnb — even if you’re renting the whole place — will be cheaper than a hotel. Like Spain, Italy also has many pensiones worth considering.

In the summer months, when prices spike and availability becomes sparse, it’s also worth looking at University Booking, which offers dorm rooms to travelers when school’s out of session. There are several major universities in Rome that participate. Expect to pay about $80 for two people in peak season.

Paris, France

What to book for two people: Private room on Airbnb

Least Expensive Hostel (1 bed) $37
| Airbnb (private room) $60
| Hostel (2 beds) $74
| Airbnb (entire place) $112
| Hotel (2 star) $120
Most Expensive Hotel (3 star) $136


Surprise, surprise: in Paris, a private room in an Airbnb would actually be more affordable than two beds in a hostel. Overall, Airbnbs are more affordable than hotels in Paris and can be a great way to cut down costs in this otherwise spendy city. So go ahead, buy a baguette every evening on your way home and live like
un vrai Parisien.

Stockholm, Sweden

What to book for two people: Private room on Airbnb

Least Expensive Hostel (1 bed) $34
| Airbnb (private room) $67
| Hostel (2 beds) $68
| Hotel (2 star) $79
| Hotel (3 star) $114
Most Expensive Airbnb (entire place) $149


For two people staying in Stockholm, a private room on Airbnb will be cheaper than a hostel. Then again, Stockholm is also home to one of the more unique hostels in Europe: the
Jumbo Hostel, built in a refurbished airplane. And, though a pricey $150 per night, I’m pretty obsessed with Stallmästaregården.

If you want to be ultra-budget, Sweden allows people to camp for free anywhere in the country (“just, you know, don’t camp in someone’s garden without their permission,” advised one Swede). In Stockholm, it’s not possible; but if you venture out to the Swedish Archipelago, consider free camping or staying on a campground.

Tips for Finding Budget Lodging in Europe

Accommodation prices vary by city throughout Europe. Regardless of where you’re going, there are a few tips to help you spend less on your hotel, hostel, Airbnb, or what-have-you. 

  1. Get outside of major cities, where accommodation and other expenses tend to be cheaper.
  2. Travel in low or shoulder seasons, which is roughly September – May (excluding Christmas) throughout Europe.
  3. Couchsurf: Couchsurfing is popular in Europe. It’s technically free, but it’s best practice to bring your host a gift, buy, or cook them dinner as a thank you.
  4. Go camping: some official campgrounds will cost as much as a hostel, in other places (like Sweden) it’s free.
  5. Look for last minute deals on websites like Booking or apps like HotelTonight.
  6. Take overnight trains. It’s like two for the price of one: transportation and accommodation.

Also:

Pay attention to extra fees

On Airbnb, for example, a place listed at $75 per night might actually cost you $100+ after cleaning and booking fees. With hostels, you may have to pay extra for your towel or lock if you don’t bring one. With hotels, there’s sometimes a city tax. Consider all of this when comparing prices.

Google professional looking B&Bs listed on Airbnb

Sometimes, official bed and breakfasts will list their space on Airbnb but also have a direct booking on their website. Do a quick Google search and save yourself the Airbnb booking fee. I did this last summer and managed to save $40 per night on a room in Barcelona by booking directly through their website.

Packing for Flexible Budget Travel in Europe

If you’re moving between cities and changing up the style of your accommodations in different cities in Europe, it makes sense to pack as light as possible and choose a travel backpack over wheeled luggage. Why? Because not every hotel has an elevator in Europe. That Airbnb may very well be a fifth floor walk up in Marseilles. Hostels are sometimes a little bit off the beaten track: read that “where the sidewalk ends.” Wheeled luggage will be a continual frustration. A travel backpack gives you the freedom to explore.

 

Setout Travel Backpack

The Setout travel backpack was made for and inspired by a trip to Europe. Perfect for urban travel, designed to pack and unpack easily, like a suitcase, with a wide waist strap to transfer the weight to your hips, this bag is just right.

The sleek, low profile design will blend right in in European cities. And, it won’t break the bank. Spend the extra money on German beer, French baguettes, and Swiss chocolate.

Outbreaker Travel Backpack

Looking for a more fully featured bag with high-level organization? The Outbreaker has it all.

Made from waterproof sailcloth and a fully adjustable harness system on the outside, with obsessive organization on the inside, carry as much as you want, comfortably, in this bag. Front loading, like a suitcase, with a sleek look, this bag enhances your travel and makes packing a joy.

TL;DR

Where should you stay in Europe on a budget? Generally, a hostel is still your most budget-friendly option — but not always.

In some cities, like Paris, Berlin, and Stockholm, a private room on Airbnb will actually be cheaper. Other times, an Airbnb is roughly the same as a hotel, which is true in Berlin, Vienna, Athens, and Prague. In Amsterdam and Rome an Airbnb will be cheaper than a hotel. It definitely depends!

Remember: cost isn’t everything. If you’re more interested in meeting a local, choose a private room in an Airbnb. Looking to socialize with other travelers? Live up the hostel life. Would you rather be left alone with you significant other? Go for a hotel or entire house on Airbnb.

 

Want more like this?

Get weekly travel hacks and packing tips sent straight to your inbox. As an added bonus, we’ll send you a carry on packing list right away.