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*post updated February, 2020
Selecting a Hotel in Europe: Is it a big deal?
Researching where to stay on a trip to Europe is one of the most enjoyable parts of the planning process - and the most stressful! Picking the hotel where you're going to stay can impact so much of your trip, particularly as the place you choose to make your home base impacts what you will see, how much time you will spend on public transit, and your overall impression of the trip. If you're interested in guidance on planning the other parts of the trip, beyond the hotel, please check out How to Plan a Trip to Europe.
Unfortunately, picking a hotel that you aren't happy with can definitely put a bit of a damper on a trip, if it's inconvenient, unclean, or makes you feel unsafe. So, needless to say, the hotel selection is a fairly big responsibility.
But that's not to say it should be intimidating!
Selecting a Hotel in Europe: Considerations
Many people's first concern about hotels in Europe is cost. And yes, cost is a huge factor - and hotel expenses can vary massively, depending on the city and country you're visiting. If you'll be visiting London or Paris, you might want to close your eyes when you see the total bill for your stay. And within cost, there are a number of other issues: Is breakfast included? Should you be loyal to a hotel chain, or select more local spots?
And then, of course, there's location, which is certainly the most significant planning consideration, and safety, which, while perhaps not a top concern in most mainstream, touristy areas, should certainly be taken into account.
Ok, now I'm overwhelmed!
No need to be intimidated!! Personally, as I'm now booking my 7th trip to Europe, I'm feeling like I've got a pretty good handle on how to pick hotels overseas and I'm happy to share. If this is your first trip "across the pond," check out my First Time's Guide to Europe, for everything from adaptors to where to find coffee.
From hotel loyalty to location selection, and so much more, let's walk through what I consider when selecting a hotel in Europe!
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Selecting a Hotel in Europe: Start with "can't-miss" hotels
When considering a new city in Europe, I first check to see whether there are any hotels at which I must stay, above all. I call these, "can't miss" hotels. Most cities have them, but certainly not all do! And just because they're "can't miss" doesn't mean they'll necessarily break the bank, so definitely poke around, just to get your search started!
Examples of these "can't-miss" hotels include the iconic Goring Hotel in London, where Kate Middleton spent her last night before becoming HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, or the Hotel Mercer Barcelona, built into the city's ancient Roman wall.
If you really want to stay at one of these places, don't miss out for the sake of hotel loyalty points, and frankly I'd be willing to make a few concessions on location, though generally, places like this are going to have excellent real estate, so that's likely not a problem.
Keep in mind that high-end hotels tend to, ironically, offer fewer freebies than more affordable locations, so breakfast, and even WiFi, might come with an extra cost (though the latter is increasingly uncommon). Additionally, remember that large cities, especially those experiencing an influx of tourists, may have hotel/ tourist taxes and surcharges, so be mindful of all the expenses you could be undertaking.
Selecting a Hotel in Europe: Location is key
Assuming you haven't found any "can't-miss" hotels, next it's time to consider location for your trip. In general, you'll want to be close to public transit, and hopefully walkable to the center of the city you'll be exploring, so that you don't spend too much time traveling to the sights you want to see.
I like to look for hotels that are *near* what I want to see, but slightly away from the center of the tourist hotels hotspots, which often aren't good value for money.
Selecting a Hotel in Europe: Consider chain hotel loyalty
If you don't have an existing loyalty program, do some research to see which chain might work for you, depending on your home base and work travel, if you're interested in signing up for one.
When I finally graduated from law school, I had a few Hilton points from the minimal travel I had done in those three years, so I picked Hilton and I've never been disappointed. The Marriott Rewards program has rebranded as Bonvoy and now includes a massive number of hotels around the world.
So, I search for Hiltons in whatever city we're going to visit and, of course, there always are at least a few. I recently achieved Gold Status, so now we get free breakfast, and space available upgrades, all around the world! That said, I try to avoid staying in the giant, faceless conference hotels. A great example of a chain, yet boutique-feeling hotel - Maison Astor Paris, the newest Curio Collection Hilton in Paris.
Selecting a Hotel in Europe: Do the math on chain loyalty
Eliminating the airport hotels and the budget or conference hotels, in most major cities, there are, sticking with my Hilton example, generally around three Hiltons (I prefer Waldorfs, Conrads, or "Hilton" branded hotels).
This is where the math comes in. Not real math - just off the cuff talking to yourself and saying numbers. Is the cost of the room, which is slightly more for the security of being with a big chain, worth it to you? Is it worth having a slightly less "authentic" experience for the reward points and the sake of knowing pretty much what you'll be getting?
For me, the answer is generally about 50/50. I like knowing that I can count on the hotel being safe and clean, even if that means I spend $50 a night more. I also, as noted, like accumulating the points. But, I don't like the really big hotels, and sometimes those are the only options. And, as we noted, big chain hotels are often in the most tourist parts of the city. That's not always a bad thing, but occasionally it is.
Explore the wide world of all the hotel options - carefully
If you aren't going with a "must-have" or one of the chain options we discussed, you're entering the sort of intimidating realm of opening the door to the vast majority of hotels in a given city.
I generally go for one of the hotels recommended in a reputable travel book like Frommer's or Rick Steves. I have stumbled upon gorgeous hotels run by sweet, accommodating, caring hoteliers throughout Europe, using this approach.
If it seems too good to be true...
If a hotel deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. A larger room and breakfast for two, included, for only 50 Euros a night? There is likely a reason for the inexpensive rates.
TripAdvisor is, as always, both a friend and an enemy. But, do check it out as you try to understand more about any given hotel. I look for red flag posts such as "I found a half-eaten burrito in my room"- that's real, and, conversely, avoid the scathing review "the soap wasn't the brand I like and no one cared." Take it all with a grain of salt, but look for things that could be a deal breaker for you.
Selecting a Hotel in Europe: Paying and picking a room
So you've finally narrowed it down and selected a hotel. Your journey isn't over quite yet - it's time to select a room!
First, I ALWAYS prepay, in full, for my hotel rooms. I generally save hundreds of dollars. We do not have children or pets, so we take the risk. As I see it, the greatest risk is losing out on one night because of missed flights. And, frankly, that generally would still leave me ahead on savings. The vast majority of people are too afraid to prepay, so hotels are willing to gamble pretty significantly (they'd also make a lot if they got that money and could rent the room out on top of it).
Additionally, do not get the smallest room at a given hotel for a long stay. It will almost certainly be too small and you will be uncomfortable. European hotel rooms are TINY. It's just a fact of life. If this is your first trip to Europe, definitely check out my First Timer's Guide for more on this and other first-timer topics!
Thanks for stopping by!
I'm so glad you came over to think through picking hotels in Europe! While you're here, please check out the country-specific travel advice for Italy, France, Spain, and the UK!
Bon voyage!! And don't forget to subscribe to the newsletter to receive my free, downloadable packing guide for your carry-on on a flight to Europe! xx
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