With Hostelworld.com as my guide, I set out for five weeks of backpacking through Europe.  Fifteen hostels later, I’ve amassed some great experiences, as well as plenty of opinions.  Here they are:

Hostal Metropol (Madrid, Spain) 

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My first-ever hostel, so I didn’t know what to make of it.  In retrospect, it had a nice breakfast and restaurant (although the paella I had was quite salty).  The lobby features free wireless internet and four free computer stations.  In general, the hostel great location just off Gran Via, near some of the best nightlife in town.  Free baggage storage is available, and the hostel has an *elevator*!  It’s also super-close to a metro station,  – three big bonuses for the backpacker who didn’t master the concept of “pack light.”

The down-sides: squeaky beds, street noise, teensy showers, and you provide your own bedlinen.  My room also featured an in-room bath with a hole in the wall.  Eek!

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Residencia Luena (Lisbon, Portugal)  

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This budget hotel is definitely lacks the ambiance of a hostel.  The breakfast crowd was elderly and formal — wearing my PJs was quite a mistake!  The staff was very friendly, and the hostel was well connected to bus and metro services.  Free luggage storage and ensuite bathroom was a bonus.  My sister and I stayed in a private room here for 25€ each, which is the going rate for a dorm room in many hostels.  This is a nice place to catch your breath and get some privacy.

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Oporto Poet’s Hostel (Porto, Portugal)

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This hostel made me regret I hadn’t planned for more than one day in Porto, nor known about this hostel’s Lisbon branch (the original Poet’s Hostel).  It’s super clean, brightly decorated, and brand new.  Sparkling kitchen, great outside hang-out area, and free wi-fi.  The owner and staff were very friendly, and they hung out with the guests at night.  One German backpacker had fallen so in love with the place that the staff converted a lounge into a bedroom for him so he could stay an extra night.

This hostel is small and warm.  It’s a short, uphill trek from the metro station and rather hard to find, but a cheap trip up the nearby belltower will help you get your bearings on the small city center.

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Meiga Backpackers Hostel (Santiago de Compostela, Spain)

Easy to find, hard to hang out in.  It’s an easy 10-minute walk from the train station, and many busses run past the nearby plaza.  Rather intimidating staff and strict atmosphere, fitting of a town to which Catholics make pilgrimages.  Oddly enough, this hostel had absolutely enormous bathrooms.  There’s no internet access, and bag storage costs 2€.  The weird, stiff atmosphere would keep me from staying here again.

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Bull’s Hostel (Madrid, Spain)

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The staff was friendly, but I couldn’t quite figure out why this hostel has gotten such rave reviews on Hostelworld.com.  It’s clean enough, but kind of small.  There were only two dorms, sleeping about 20 total.  Breakfast was pitiful – mini-toasts and digestive cookies.  Fellow guests from the larger dorm had stories of bedbugs, too.  The hostel’s wireless access is achingly slow, so go outside to the adjacent park and use the neighborhood’s free wi-fi.  (In Spanish, “wee-fee.”)  It’s adorable to see the handful of Madrileños hunched over, using Skype or just surfing the net.  This hostel is very near the Metro, as well as to bars, restaurants, and fun.

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Lima’s Guesthouse (Barcelona, Spain)

Although this place was clean, fairly well located, and very well-decorated, it was definitely not the place for fun-loving backpackers.  Silence reigned, and I never saw any other guests.  Staff seemed almost awkwardly eager to please.  No guest kitchen, 5€ wi-fi (which lasts all night), and a rather un-private shared bathroom.  (Sliding door barely closes; no lock; glass shower; unscreened windows onto a central courtyard.  Eek!)  In general, a beautiful but uncomfortable place.

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Youth Hostel Bern (Bern, Switzerland)

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The complete opposite of Lima’s Guesthouse.  Full of people, and it felt like going to camp.  Very ample breakfast included: cereals, breads, tea, juice.  No eating limit, either.  One Uruguayan guy ate practically an entire loaf of bread!  My dorm was enormous — 20 beds — which was a great opportunity to make friends and an even better opportunity to put your ear plugs to good use.  The hostel was hard to find — ask a local for help if you don’t have a map.

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Youth Hostel Van Gogh (Brussels, Belgium)

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Definitely the most happening hostel I’d stayed at yet.  Not an ideal location, but near metro.  Guests congregated around the bar, and the atmosphere was friendly (if drunkenly so).  There was a very nice guest kitchen and a great washer/dryer.  Bedrooms were less than homey (more like run-down … almost gross), but somehow I didn’t mind.  The staff was also very helpful.  They even upgraded our room for free so we wouldn’t have to switch rooms mid-stay.

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Flying Pig Beach Hostel (outside Amsterdam, Holland)

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The folks at the Flying Pig Downtown branch were incredibly kind on our arrival, allowing us to stor our bags (even a random friend’s huge pack) and use their free internet.  (Many fast, Skype-enabled computers to choose from.)  It was a disappointment, then, to arrive that evening at the smaller, shabbier Beach Hostel.  A single, oldish computer sat on the bookcase in the smoking room/bar.  Although the toilets were separated by gender, the showers were not.  And there was one small changing room that one could not readily lock, since there were two showers and 20 people who needed to use them. 

The hostel’s shuttle service to Amsterdam, a 45-minute ride, costs 3€ each way.  The public transport alternative is a bus (2,10€ round-trip) and a train (free for Railpass holders; 10-15€ for regular folks).  It takes about 1.5 hours that way.  Although the Beach Hostel was cheaper than the Uptown and Downtown branches of the Flying Pig chain, it wasn’t worth the hassle.  That being said, the beach was nice (if cold and windy), and the beds were very comfortable and easy to hop down from.

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Hostel ROOM Rotterdam (Rotterdam, Holland)

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Each of this hostel’s rooms is decorated in a theme.  Although our Dutch Delight room had some unwelcome mosquitos visiting, it was so darn cute that I didn’t mind.  In the evening, the staff of the hostel arranged an international game of charades in which the winners (my team) were granted a free beer from the bar.  Free shots of Dutch gin also followed. 

The hostel was right by the waterfront, very near two tram stops and a pretty canal.  The amazing breakfast the next morning (dozens of jams, great bread, good cereal, tea, coffee, etc.) was the best I’ve had in Europe.  Nice.  One downside is that the showers have no lip, so the water leaks onto the floor of the toilet stall next to it.  Kind of gross.

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Hostel X Berger (Berlin, Germany)

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This place was very dark.  Free wi-fi was a bonus, as was the fact that my room of eight never had more than five guests in it.  There was a guest kitchen, but no real hang-out place to meet people.  (A lounge was under construction in the basement, so that may soon be remedied.)  The big bonus was its location near many bars and restaurants, and a U-bahn stop.  (That being said, it took two or three line-switches to get from the hostel to the main train station.)  This place was deliciously cheap, but too dark to be comfortable.

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Hostel Louise 20 (Dresden, Germany)

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Definitely not dark — blond wood, light blue bedcovers, and natural light flooding in.  This place was spotless, incredibly comfortable, and quite beautiful.  Like Lima’s Guesthouse, but not creepy.  I only stayed for one night, but there didn’t seem to be a happening “scene” there — no noise, no fun.  The other two people in my room were businessmen.  But it’s close to the Nuestadt Bahnhof and in the heart of the bar and restaurant district.  Free baggage storage, too, but a 5€ breakfast.

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The Tent (Munich, Germany)

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An experience!  The first night around the campfire I met a dozen new buddies, most of whom I went out with the next evening.  Funny staff, clean (if a bit cold) showers, and a surprisingly good night’s sleep, considering there were 100 beds in the tent where I stayed.  Cheap, organic food and drink were huge bonuses.  Although it got quite cold at night, the staff gave me five blankets, and I stayed quite warm.

For 10,50€, I don’t think you can get better than this.  It was like Girl Scout camp, except cleaner, newer, and with plenty of boys and booze.  Bring your own marshmallows for the campfire, though.  They don’t sell them at the hostel, and they’re hard to find in the neighborhood grocery stores.

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St. Christopher’s Bauhaus Hostel (Brugge, Belgium)

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This hostel was a great value for the money.  However, the bathrooms were absolutely gross; they don’t have sinks, and they’re often dirty.  The showers were warm, large, and private, though.  The breakfast was hearty, the people were friendly, and the town was fantastic.  Led by the free map I was given on check-in, I had a great two days in Brugge.  One warning: with the curtains drawn, the rooms stays very, very dark.  You may want to open them half-way before going to bed, or you’ll never wake up.

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Journeys Elephants & Castle (London, England)

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For London, this place was cheap.  In fact, it was so cheap that there were several folks living there temporarily.  A brand new hostel, this one is still working out some kinks.  The key cards that unlock the rooms are very touchy, and I had to get mine replaced twice during my two-night stay.  However, the bar area is nice, as are the spacious rooms and showers.  The kitchen/TV room was also a nice gathering point for guests. 

Two warnings: the wi-fi is a rip-off.  Put your laptop in your bag and take it to an internet cafe on nearby Walworth Rd.  Most of them have wi-fi for 1£ per hour.  I also warn (and this advice may contradict my suggestion that you carry your laptop around) that this hostel didn’t seem to be in a particularly safe area.  Other female travelers have echoed my thoughts that the rather isolated, residential neighborhood creeped them out after dark.

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Now I’m sleeping in my own bed in my own flat.  But I’ll be back around Europe several times this fall, and I’ll make sure to keep you updated of the best and worst hostels.  Cheers!

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