If you’re going to be traveling in 2017 and aren’t considering Europe, it’s fair to ask: Why not? With the dollar up against the pound, the Euro—heck, even some of those fancy Scandinavian currencies —it’s becoming harder to make a case for spending your money elsewhere.
One of the most fantastic developments in European travel in recent years has been wide-spread simplification in the budget travel sphere. No need to spend weeks researching cheap guest houses in various destinations—now, anyone with more wanderlust than money and time can choose from a growing number of spectacularly affordable hotel chains that seem to be throwing up locations in new cities all the time. Charming and cozy? Not really. But for those of us who aren’t retired and don’t have months to research each night’s stay on our next continental sojourn, these places are nothing short of a lifesaver.
Ready to book your trip? Here are the brands—both established and up-and-coming—that you need to know about first.
The first thing you need to know about this boutique-on-a-budget brand? There’s nothing motel-like about the smart, snug and exceptionally comfortable rooms. Some loyalists find themselves frustrated to have to return to real life after becoming accustomed to this German chain’s ethic, offering everything you need (surprisingly plush beds, great showers, soothing décor, extensive breakfasts for a few bucks more) and very little you don’t. Often priced as low as $65/night and offering a refreshingly sensible, few-to-no-strings booking policy, they deliver what American road warriors might recognize as a slight upgrade to Starwood’s Aloft concept, typically for less money, thanks to smaller rooms and fewer non-essential amenities. If we’re lucky, Motel One will eventually be in every city, everywhere, but for now you’ll find them all over Germany (Berlin and what have you) and the United Kingdom (the Edinburgh properties are terrific). Also look for them in Vienna, Salzburg, Amsterdam, Prague and—coming soon!—Paris, Zurich and Barcelona.
Booking in advance (whilst avoiding prime London locations, obviously) can snag you an entire week at one of this supersized United Kingdom chain’s many properties for as little as $325, all taxes included, thanks to current exchange rates. You’ll have to book and pay in advance, but it’s just one of the ways that travel to a country where the dollar never seemed to stretch all that far can be surprisingly affordable. Properties, located everywhere from Edinburgh to Bath to Bristol, aren’t exactly created equal—some are flashy new builds, other locations are downright historic, some are dull, functional and poorly located. The rooms, however, are fairly standard, offering very comfortable beds, workspaces and a tea kettle. No matter where you go, you’ll also find one of the better cheap hotel chain breakfasts you’ll find in the UK, for about $10 per head, along with the brand’s good night’s sleep guarantee. (In a country where hotels at any price point can get more than a little rowdy on weekends, this isn’t just marketing speak.) Yet another chain that’ll have seasoned American travelers annoyed to think of how much more they’re often paying for less, back home. They’re slowly expanding into Germany—Frankfurt’s already open, Munich is said to be next.
Maybe it’s the linoleum floors, the lack of mood lighting, or the fact that the shower will likely be located pretty much next to your bed, but this is almost like staying in a very nice hospital, or crashing in a college dorm room that’s yet to be decorated. At its best, however, this low-cost offering under France’s Accor umbrella can be an incredible asset to the Europe-bound penny pincher. Modest doesn’t even begin to cover it—expect a simple, firm bed, not too much square footage, a small window that might not open—but prices can be astoundingly low, particularly for last-minute, city center overnights. (Old hands may remember the Etap brand—this is Etap, mostly all grown up.) Every Europe budget jaunt should include at least one stay here, just to see if it works for you—you might end up hating it, but hey, you saved big, even in notoriously expensive cities like Zurich, high-season Nice and London. Note: In plenty of European cities, particularly in cheaper countries like Spain, you will often be able to upgrade to the less minimal ibis brand for a few bucks more, if that.
For American travelers, this one isn’t the easiest sell. But visitors to the UK trying to keep it cheap do themselves a disservice by overlooking one of the best budget brands in this part of the world. It’s so affordable—often starting at around $40 and you won’t even have to pay in advance in some cases to get these rates—that it can make Premier Inn seem like the posh option. It’s certainly basic; don’t expect much. Unlike in the United States, however, it’s totally fair to expect a clean, safe and relatively peaceful stay, not to mention an edible breakfast. If you’re looking for a cheap hotel convenient to central London, you could do a lot worse.
Other brands to know (and ones to watch)
With six properties in London and one in Glasgow, the sleek, bare bones Point A Hotel brand is definitely one to watch; it’s a spin-off of Malaysian import Tune Hotels, which has properties in Liverpool, Edinburgh and Newcastle. While it’s got only two locations so far—Gatwick Airport and underrated Birmingham’s quietly cool Jewellery Quarter, Bloc Hotels is another brand that one can only hope will eventually be everywhere. More pod-like than Motel One with even less frills, what they don’t scrimp on is style. Rooms and public areas are superbly done and very comfortable—booking well in advance often gets you astoundingly low rates. Premier Inn’s own snazzy pod brand, Hub, is doing exceedingly well—the only problem at the moment is they’ve yet to open outside of London and Edinburgh, two stubbornly expensive cities. Caveat: Those ridiculously low advertised starting rates can be difficult to pin down. Same goes, actually, for two other brands in the category, Citizen M (originally just at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport) and the fun Yotel brand—they’re opening up in very expensive and popular places, keeping prices much higher than you might expect. Still, if you can snag a deal, they’re a terrific way to sleep cheap. Speaking of expensive destinations: Scandinavia’s not big on deals, but the Quality brand—another one you might not run to back home—is a safe bet for a cheap, decent stay, particularly in Sweden’s second-tier markets (e.g., not Stockholm). In Norway, budget travelers have a friend in the fledgling Citybox brand—just in Oslo and Bergen for now, rates often begin well under $100 a night for design-y, pod-like rooms. In cities like Valencia and Bologna, the AC brand, now under the Marriott umbrella, can often be found going cheaper than you might expect, depending on the time of year and length of stay—these can actually be terrific value. Finally, speaking of Marriott, keep your eyes peeled for their low-price, rather boisterous new Moxy flag—locations are going to be cropping up all over Europe in the next few years, adding to what’s already there.