We both have similar stories about trekking around Europe during our college days and the youth hostels we stayed at along the way. These low-cost lodgings often had a sorry collection of worn furniture, stained sheets, and lumpy beds. Still, it was an adventure, a good way to meet people, and the only way we could pay for a trip through Europe.
We still can’t afford the Grand Tour, but hostels, once reserved for undiscerning students, have gone through amazing transformations. Today, hostels are more boutique hotel than dirty digs, where vacationing families, with children of all ages, are welcome.
“Hostels are no longer just for twenty-something college kids,” says Elaine Kellegher, marketing manager for hostelworld.com. “In fact, as Americans continue to tighten their leisure budgets, hostels continue to evolve into a mainstream accommodation choice for many who may not have considered them in the past.”
Still a bargain, hostels are located in prime locations, and often offer a host of value-packed amenities, such as free breakfast, self-service kitchens or restaurants, and communal areas, including TV rooms, game rooms, barbecue picnic areas, and Internet lounges. Some offer shuttle services, discounts to attractions, and guided tours. It’s no wonder savvy families are booking stays.
Here are seven of our favorite family-friendly hostels, here and abroad.
PIGEON POINT LIGHTHOUSE
How often do you get to spend a night in a lighthouse keeper’s quarters? The restored house, 50 miles south of San Francisco, sits on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, next to one of the tallest lighthouses in the country. Families can start their vacation at nearby Butano State Park with a hike through the giant, 1,000-year-old redwoods, and then journey to Año Nuevo State Park to get a glimpse of the famous elephant seals. When you return, take a soak in the oceanfront hot tub. 210 Pigeon Point
Road, 650-879-0633, www.nor
calhostels.org, private family
rooms (up to six people) with
full bath, $159.
There’s no need to pay for guided tours and nightly entertainment when you stay at HI-DC, a hip hostel in walking distance of the White House and National Mall. The free tours, including the Monuments Tour, Georgetown Tour, and Arlington Cemetery Tour, are some of the extras offered here. There are also pasta and taco dinner nights, free movies, and free tickets to special concerts at the Kennedy Center. The hostel has a large dining and kitchen area, TV room, and library. It’s a bargain-lover’s oasis in the heart of the capital. 1009 11th St., NW,
ingtondc.org, private family
rooms (up to three people) with
shared bath, $119, with full
bath, $129; rooms with four or
six single beds, $45 per person.
CHICAGO GETAWAY HOSTEL
Consistently rated as one of the top hostels in the world, this lively, contemporary property near Lincoln Park and Zoo, has more than 100 private family rooms. Decor is industrial chic, with black chrome bed frames and furnishings, punctuated with vividly colored walls and accessories. Families enjoy free weekend barbecues on the outdoor patio and a cable TV room, and can use the commercial-size kitchen. You can easily walk to Lake Michigan beaches and the subway station, or hop on a bike (the hostel has rentals) and pedal the nearby 18.5-mile Lakefront Trail. 616 West Arlington Place, 773-929-5380, www.getaway
hostel.com, private family
rooms (up to four people) with
shared bath, $99-$165, with
half-bath, $109-$195, with full
VILLA SAINT EXUPÉRY
This top-ranked hostel, housed in a former convent in the French Riviera, has more than 30 private rooms, most with full baths. During winter off-season, you can snag a six-bedroom suite with full bath for under $130 per night, including breakfast. There’s plenty of outdoor space for kids to roam, and indoor public areas include a bar located in the chapel, where you can get a drink for about $1, and a restaurant offering homemade Provençale dishes at backpacker prices. The friendly staff is always on hand to organize tours.
22 avenue Gravier, 011-
tels.com, private family rooms
(up to four people) with full
bath, $28-$44 per person.
“We love having families here,” says Monica Vallejo, manager of the family-owned HosteriaGrau. The five-floor hostel, in a historic mid-1800s building, is located in the heart of this bustling city, near the popular Ramblas entertainment district. The hostel is loaded with character and charm, with antique woodwork, hardwood and tile floors, and soft lighting. Families have a choice of several rooms, including some with kitchenettes; all have private baths and refrigerators. There’s also a sunlit, spacious apartment, with a full kitchen and separate living area. A downstairs lounge, with wood ceiling beams and comfy couches, is a pleasant place to relax after a day of sightseeing. 08001 Barcelona, 011-34-933-
018-135, www.hostalgrau.com, apartment with full kitchen
and full bath, $125-$230, pri-
vate family rooms (up to 5 peo-
ple) with full bath, $115-$190.
“This is not only a gorgeous hostel but one of the most spectacularly situated hostels in Western Europe,” says Kellegher. It’s located in County Galway in a former hunting lodge, with views of the Killary fiord and surrounding mountains. Private family rooms sleep two adults and up to five children, and there’s plenty of communal space in this grand lodge, including a games room and self-service kitchen. But it’s the outdoors that beckons: Hike or bike nearby trails, visit Connemara National Park, and cruise the fiord. 011-353-95-42929,
www.sleepzone.ie, private fam-
ily rooms (up to seven people)
with full bath, $75.
THIS IS LISBON HOSTEL
A stay at this cozy hostel in the Old Town District, next to the Lisbon Castle and steps from downtown restaurants and shops, feels like a visit with family and friends. Join other guests in the lounge for a Portuguese homes-style dinner; listen to traditional, live music, and follow the hostel owners and their local friends on free walking tours of the city. The newly-renovated rooms have shiny hardwood floors, antique woodwork, and modest furnishings, accented with bright-colored fabrics. Best bet for families is the two-bedroom apartment, with its own kitchen (the hostel also has a guest kitchen) and private bath. The rooftop terrace has some of the best views in town. Rua da Cos-
ta do Castelo 63, 011-351-218-014-549, www.this islisbonhos
tel.com, two-bedroom apart-
ment with full kitchen, $122;
rooms with four beds, around
$22 per person.
Hostelworld.com is one of the world’s largest online hostel information and reservation sites, also featuring over 3.5 million reviews submitted by guests who have stayed at the properties listed on the site.Diane Bair and Pamela Wright
can be reached at bairwright@