Upmarket. Design. Boutique. Not long ago it would have been hard to imagine using any of these words to describe the humble hostel. But around the world, historical palaces, renovated mansions, and abandoned factories are all finding new life as budget-friendly accommodations where travelers mingle amid surprisingly well-appointed surroundings.
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This new wave of hostels delivers cool and clean rooms, surprising free extras (tango classes, anyone?), restaurant-quality common kitchens, rooftop lounges, destination restaurants, and more. Best of all, our top picks offer private rooms in addition to dorms, providing a perfect alternative for travelers who want to feel the vibe without committing to the bunk-bed experience.
The Blue Hostel,
Setting: This recently renovated hostel in the heart of Rome, near Termini Station and the Colosseum, is located in an 18th-century building with preserved wooden ceilings and parquet floors.
Offerings: When The Blue Hostel says it offers hotel-style rooms at hostel prices, it isn't kidding. All rooms feature en suite bathrooms, free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs, and minibars.
Freebies: Fully loaded rooms (see the list above), Wi-Fi, four pillows per bed, and customized Rome city maps with lots of local dining suggestions
Cool Fact: Since the rooms all overlook a private courtyard, guests enjoy an absence of street noise in spite of the hostel's central location.
Price: August rates from $59
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Equity Point Marrakech Hostel,
Setting: This richly decorated riad (a traditional Moroccan house characterized by an interior courtyard) is set in the medina quarter in the thriving center of Marrakech, just off the Djemaa el Fnaa Square.
Offerings: Choose between dorm rooms with four to eight beds and private single or double rooms. The hostel's common areas include a rooftop terrace, a softly lit inner courtyard with a pool, and a restaurant and bar.
Freebies: Internet access and breakfast (with special Moroccan delicacies)
Cool Fact: Equity Point offers both cooking and belly-dancing classes. It also has a spa with traditional Arabic treatments.
Price: August rates from $13
Setting: Kex occupies an old biscuit factory in downtown Reykjavik. The hostel plays up its edgy digs with furnishings made from salvaged materials and found objects.
Offerings: You'll find dorm rooms for four, six, 10, and 16 people; private single, double, and quad rooms with shared bathrooms; plus, two hotel-quality en suite double rooms. There's also a cafe, a bar, a heated outdoor lounge area, and guest kitchens.
Cool Fact: Last year, Patti Smith and Russell Crowe sang a duet in the lounge.
Price: August rates from $30
Setting: Bounce offers fresh and modern rooms and amenities close to Central Station, and it's within walking distance of sights such as Sydney Harbor and the Sydney Opera House.
Offerings: The hostel has dorm rooms for four, six, seven, and eight people, some with private bathrooms. Private rooms accommodate two to four people and come with en suite bathrooms and plasma cable TVs. On the top floor, there's a large shared kitchen, a dining area with long communal tables, and a rooftop terrace and barbeque area. The Tipple Bar & Bistro occupies part of the hostel's ground floor.
Freebies: 30 minutes of Wi-Fi per stay
Cool Fact: Bounce was voted 2013's Best Hostel in Australia and Most Popular Hostel in Sydney.
Price: August rates from $34
Setting: Spacious, modern common areas and newly renovated dorm and private rooms are a short walk from Chicago's lakefront beaches.
Offerings: Billing itself as having the "friendly atmosphere of a hostel with the style, comfort, and service of a boutique hotel," Getaway offers dorm rooms for four to 12 people (some with private bathrooms), as well as private rooms with shared, half, or full bathrooms. It also has a large gourmet kitchen and an outdoor patio.
Freebies: Continental breakfast, guest computers, Wi-Fi, lockers, activities, and guest guitars.
Cool Fact: The hostel hosts weekly guest events including free weekend barbeques, pub crawls, and blues-club tours.
Price: August rates from $30
The Independente Hostel & Suites,
Setting: This art deco hostel in a former ambassador's residence on the border of the Principe Real and the Bairro Alto districts features classical Portuguese architecture updated with modern rooms and suites.
Offerings: The Independente has 11 large dorms, each with its own lounge, plus four suites with private balconies overlooking the Tagus River. It also has its own bar and restaurant, the Decadente, which features a secluded beer garden.
Cool Fact: At the Decadente, all ingredients for drinks and food are locally and seasonally sourced.
Price: August rates from $28.
Fauzi Azar Inn,
Setting: This 200-year-old mansion with dorm-style accommodations and private rooms sits in the heart of Nazareth's Old City market. Old-world design details include a hand-painted ceiling, Turkish marble floors, and a limestone-arch-lined courtyard.
Offerings: Dorm, family, and private rooms, most with private bathrooms, offer something for everyone. There's a fully stocked kitchen open to guests and there are common spaces including a courtyard and sitting area.
Freebies: Wi-Fi, a guest computer, a breakfast buffet, hot drinks, cookies, and cakes. In the spirit of promoting backpacking in the Middle East, the inn offers guests who have come through Syria, Lebanon, or Iraq a free night's stay (you'll need to show your passport stamp).
Cool Fact: The inn coordinates traditional Arabic-style dinners with a local family and hosts a free weekly movie night.
Price: August rates from $25
Mexico City, Mexico
Setting: Mexico City's newest hostel is in the former servants' quarters of a 17th-century palace in the heart of the Centro Historico. Original details like vaulted ceilings mix with lattice-brick bunk beds for an interesting mix of traditional and modern.
Offerings: Downtown Beds has dorm rooms with four, six, and eight beds and en suite bathrooms, as well as private rooms. There's a beer patio, a rooftop pool and bar, a projection room, a self-catering kitchen, plus a cafe serving Mexican street snacks.
Freebies: Bike rentals and breakfast
Cool Fact: If it takes a mention in the New York Times to get you to contemplate a hostel stay, this is your place: Downtown Beds was the featured property in the newspaper's "This Is a Hostel?" story.
Price: August rates from $16
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Setting: Tucked into the historical San Telmo neighborhood, this hostel rocks a contemporary design featuring a crisp white color scheme with red touches in a 1920s-style building.
Offerings: Ostinatto has six- and eight-bed dorm rooms with shared bathrooms, plus private double rooms with shared or private bathrooms. There's also a rooftop terrace, a small pool, a piano bar, and a "micro-cinema."
Freebies: Wi-Fi; breakfast; yoga, tango, tai chi, and Spanish classes (depending on the day of the week); and walking tours
Cool Fact: There's a nightly happy hour at the bar and a weekly barbeque night for guests.
Price: August rates from $13
Lisbon Destination Hostel,
Setting: This boutique hostel, located in a historic railway station, is centered around a sunny indoor winter garden where guests can relax and spend time.
Offerings: Lisbon Destination Hotel has dorm rooms with four, six, eight, and 10 beds, some with private bathrooms, plus private rooms that sleep two to four people with shared or private bathrooms. The hostel also has laundry service, a 24-hour self-serve bar, and a private patio and terrace with city and river views.
Freebies: Breakfast, all-day coffee and tea, Wi-Fi, and luggage storage
Cool Fact: TripAdvisor reviewers rave about the hostel's central location and good free breakfasts, and they report that it's a quiet environment even with the bustling train station just next door.
Price: August rates from $27