Winning tip: Vienna
A five-minute tram journey from the city centre, MyMojoVie proved the hostel of my dreams. Behind a nondescript front door, on the top two floors of a typical Viennese apartment block, a group of local artists have designed an incredible network of dorms, private rooms and apartments with living rooms and fully stocked kitchens. Rooms are individually decorated in a modern, slightly eccentric, style. Loads of stuff is provided too: towels, hairdryers etc. Breakfast is laid out each morning and rooms cleaned each day, complete with a chocolate on your pillow.
• Doubles from €30pp, room only, mymojovie.at
Hostel Reykjavik City is a scenic, 10-minute cycle ride from the centre (bikes are available to rent) and next to the largest geothermal swimming pool in Iceland. Awarded the prestigious Swan Ecolabel, it is clean, environmentally aware and welcoming, with excellent laundry and self-catering facilities, helping to further save money in this generally expensive country. It offers a free pick-up service for popular tours such as Northern Lights, and the Golden Circle Husky and Glacier trips.
• Dorm beds from £27 (discount for Hostelling International members), hihostels.com
The Roman city of Mérida in western Spain has a 1,900-year-old amphitheatre and circus, a well-preserved aqueduct, and the longest of all existing Roman bridges, the Puente Romano, which is still in use. All these stunning sights are just short walks from the Parador de Mérida, an 18th-century former convent with its own amazing history. In the heart of the ancient city, the Parador has modern, comfortable rooms, a good restaurant, a pool and tranquil, peaceful gardens dotted with orange trees.
Trawl for special low-cost two- and three-night deals.
• Doubles from €94 B&B, parador.es
On a recent trip to Valencia, we stayed at the charming, well-located Zalamera B&B, a three-minute walk from the train and metro and on a direct line from the airport. The on-site rental bikes were perfect for exploring Valencia’s many attractions such as the City of Arts and Sciences, the central market, cathedral quarter, and beaches. We started each day with a delicious alfresco breakfast on the terrace of this eco-friendly house, powered by solar panels and bio fuel.
• Doubles from €53 B&B, zalamerabnb.com
Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
Come snow or shine, this small city is an appealing break away from the hustle and bustle of the capital, Prague, and when there I’d recommend visitors to lay down their heads at the friendly, family-run Krumlov House. With a bohemian (and eco-friendly) soul and views to fuel the imagination this hostel makes an ideal base to discover this Unesco World Heritage city. It also hosts literary retreats and is the HQ of an online magazine, the Literary Bohemian and a place for WriteAway writing retreats.
• Doubles from £29 B&B, krumlovhostel.com
A great find, right on the main square, is Hotel Royal Superga. Parking is hidden behind a wooden door right on Piazza Galimberti. There are plenty of shops as well as excellent restaurants within metres. Breakfast is included and the rooms are well-equipped. The 19th-century-built hotel offers a relaxed, snug library area with comfy sofas and free bicycle usage to guests for exploring along the river and Piedmont countryside. There is also a massive market on the doorstep on Tuesdays. Cuneo, although surrounded by mountains, is flat, so walking is easy.
• Doubles from €75 B&B, hotelroyalsuperga.it
The Hotel Domus Maria in Vilnius is in a 17th century former monastery where the monks’ cells are now guest quarters. There’s nothing spartan about these en suite rooms, however. The picturesque hotel oozes charm and tranquillity. It is in the old town and a 15-minute walk from the train station. I found breakfast in the vaulted refectory to be a real treat and the knowledgeable staff were only too happy to help my wife and I as first-time visitors to the city.
• Doubles from €48 B&B, Domusmaria.com
Lisbon has a huge range of hostels and this means the quality is fantastic. I stayed in the Poets Hostel on the edge of Chiado, one of the most interesting areas in this appealing city, which brims with bars down beautiful alleyways. The hostel has free Wi-Fi, sturdy bunk beds, small mixed dorms and good-quality showers and bathrooms. Breakfast was served in the large common area with bean bags overlooking beautiful old buildings and narrow streets. Among the highlights for guests are the excellent free walking tours and the chance to experience amazing fado music. The delicious tapas suggested by our guide (who worked at the hostel) combined with the pure fado sounds allowed my group to get an authentic glimpse into this beautiful city at night.
• Doubles from €48 B&B, lisbonpoetshostel.com
A rare moment of calm on the night of arrival in Tbilisi, July 2014. A taxi took us through the labyrinthine back streets of the old town before striking out across an LED-strewn bridge. While we were crossing the river, lasers cut through the sky, picking out a fast-moving cable car travelling above the water. Government buildings on the water’s edge were lit by fireworks exploding over nearby mosques and chapels. After 90 seconds slicing through this frantic vista, we were among the claustrophobic alleys once again, and almost immediately pulled up outside Old Metakhi Hotel – the sense of calm in this little corner of the city was palpable. Soon after checking in, we took our grandstand seats on our balcony overhanging the Kura river, watched the controlled chaos below and wondered what special occasion warranted this celebratory display. The following night, we realised there was no special occasion - it was just Tbilisi being itself.
• Doubles from £65 B&B, ometekhi.com
In the centre of Odessa the Babushka Grand Hostel has to be the grandest budget stay in all of Ukraine. It’s a very popular place to stay as it is right next to the pedestrianised Deribasivska Street. What I loved most about staying here is that Babushka (meaning grandma in Russian) really had that home-away-from-home vibe. Just like my grandmother’s place, the decor has character and you can enjoy endless cups of free tea and coffee. Plus, if you find yourself feeling a little lonely, there is a fireplace in the common room where many guests gather to share traveller’s tales.
• Doubles from £9, room only, babushkagrand.com
My husband and I snagged an awesome deal at the Monbijou Hotel in east Berlin for only $70 a night. This boutique hotel is chic, clean, and offers a great rooftop view. It is elegant but modern, with romantic floor-to-ceiling windows in each of the rooms. The marble bathrooms, with high-quality shampoo and soap, feel luxurious. It’s in a great neighbourhood in the Hackescher markt, with lots of great food options for all budgets within walking distance including the famous Curry 61, lots of falafel stands, German bakeries, and higher-end restaurants.
• Doubles from €80 B&B, monbijouhotel.com
After three weeks roaming the Balkans, on hardboard mattresses and wafer pillows, we came across the KK Budapest Opera hotel for the softest sheets we’d slipped under in a long time. It’s right next to the Opera House, which is gloriously lit at night, and a short walk from the ruin bars, river and tourist sights. The friendly staff, sauna and bar in sleek surroundings ticked our boxes for a bargain £73 a night.
• Doubles from €80 room only, kkhotels.com