From splashy five-star hotels to homey pensions, Central Europe has a full range of accommodation. Hostels and student dormitories are more prevalent in cities, while hikers' huts are found only in the mountains. Top-end digs are rarely found outside cities or mountain resorts in the east but are more common in smaller towns of the west.
Accommodation can fill up at popular tourist destinations, especially during Christmas, New Year and Easter; it's advisable to book ahead in those cases. Tourist offices often have extensive accommodation lists and a few will help you book (sometimes for a small fee). Agencies offering short-stay apartments can provide good value.
More and more accommodation is going smoke-free inside, but a few pensions to the east and south may not have any nonsmoking rooms.
Individual price range breakdowns vary by country. In general:
€ Camping, hostel dorms with shared bathrooms; some provincial guesthouses and inns without catering.
€€ Pensions and guesthouses, some with bars or restaurants, and small hotels.
€€€ Upscale boutique properties, business hotels, international chain hotels, ski resorts and almost anything in Switzerland.
May to September Main tourist season prices quoted.
July to August Peak travel time; expect crowds and book ahead.
October to April Off-season, rates drop dramatically (10% to 50%).
January to March Additional tourist/high season in the mountains.
Christmas, New Year and Easter Prices 20% to 30% higher than tourist season; reservations essential.
Camping provides the cheapest accommodation across the region, but, in cities, most camping grounds will be some distance from the centre, possibly with limited access by public transport.
- Expect a charge per tent or site, plus per person and per vehicle.
- In the west, well-maintained grounds exist for tents and some campsites offer bungalows, wooden cabins and caravan spaces. Campsites are especially well catered for in Germany and Austria.
- In the east, minimal services are the norm; spartan cabins often ring a small open ground for pitching a tent.
- If you're on foot, the money you save by camping can quickly be eaten up by the cost of commuting to and from a town centre.
- It is illegal to camp anywhere but in designated areas in national parks or, with permission, on private property.
- Camping grounds may be open April to October, May to September, or June to August; a few private operations are open year-round.
Villages or agrotourism (staying at a farmhouse) offer a distinctly local experience, often in picturesque rural areas. Some work may or may not be expected; in return, you might get fresh milk straight from the cow. In Switzerland, you can also stay in a hay barn. Reaching these remote outposts almost always requires having your own transport.
Guesthouses & Pensions
Small pensions and guesthouses are common in big cities and small villages across Central Europe.
- Priced lower than most hotels, they usually have loads more character. Think flower-fronted chalet or trendy apartment building.
- Typically, more personal service is available at a pension than a hotel.
- Most are small with less than a dozen rooms, but some are larger with saunas and other amenities.
- Small restaurants or bars are not uncommon.
- Some sort of breakfast is usually available.
- Wi-fi is widely available.
- More and more places have nonsmoking rooms.
Homestays & Private Rooms
Renting a room in a private home is becoming less common regionwide. You'll find fewer opportunities in the westerly countries than in the easterly ones. Tourist offices and town websites have contacts of available options; travel agencies can sometimes book accommodation in local homes.
If you're approached at train and bus stations with offers of a room, ask lots of questions or visit the place before you agree.
In holiday villages around parks, lakes and mountains look for houses with 'Zimmer frei', 'sobe', 'privat' or 'szoba kiadó' (in German, Slovene, Slovak or Hungarian); just knock on the door and ask what's available.
Short-term apartment rental is a popular and affordable option. Corporate apartments are more upscale, with laundry facilities, parking, daily cleaning services and a concierge. In general, you can expect the following:
- An unoccupied apartment
- At least a kitchenette, if not a full kitchen
- Rates from €40 to €200 per day
- Room for two to five persons in prime locations
International private home and apartment resources include Airbnb (www.airbnb.com) (www.airbnb.com) and Vacation Rental by Owner(www.vrbo.com).
Hostels offer the cheapest (secure) roof over your head in Central Europe and you do not have to be a youngster to take advantage of them. You can expect the following:
- Four to 10 bunks per co-ed room range from €15 to €30, private rooms from €40 to €80
- Single and double rooms, where available, often cost as much as a pension
- Amenities often include internet access, a common room, kitchen, personal lockers and shared bathrooms.
- Polskie Towarzystwo Schronisk Młodzieżowych (PTSM) hostels in Poland still have daytime lock-outs.
- Big city hostels may offer organised tours.
Local tourist offices list universities that open student dormitories as hostels in July and August. Other resources include the following:
Europe's Famous Hostels (www.famoushostels.com)
Hostelling International (www.hihostels.com)
Hostel World (www.hostel-world.com)
- In general, the more facilities (restaurant, swimming pool etc), the higher the rate.
- Wi-fi access is widespread, air-conditioning less so.
- Hotel parking may be tight or nonexistent in cities.
- Breakfast is often available, if not included in all rates. Ask before you check in; the repast may cost extra but be mandatory.
- Discounts may be available for long stays or large groups.
- In larger places, inquire if there are less-expensive rooms with a washbasin in-room and toilet and shower down the hall.
- Off-season, in the eastern countries in particular, hotel owners may be open to a little bargaining.