Where you stay in Western Europe may be one of the highlights of your trip, with options as diverse as the region itself. Wherever you go, book ahead during peak holiday periods.
- Hotels Range from simple to extravagant, historic to cutting-edge.
- B&Bs and Guesthouses Get a local perspective by staying in private homes.
- Hostels Shared-facility options spanning Hostelling International (HI) premises though to designer flashpacker pads exist all over Western Europe.
- Camping Magnificent scenery forms a backdrop to basic grounds though to luxury sites.
- Resorts From spa and golf complexes and to beachfront havens, resorts offer easy living.
B&Bs & Guesthouses
In Britain and Ireland, B&Bs – where you get bed and breakfast in a private home – can be real bargains.
Elsewhere, similar private accommodation – though often without breakfast – may go under the name of pension, guesthouse, gasthaus, zimmerfrei, chambre d'hôte and so on. Although the majority of guesthouses are simple affairs, there are plenty of luxurious ones around.
Check that accommodation is centrally located and not in a dull, distant suburb.
Camping is immensely popular in Western Europe and provides the cheapest form of accommodation.
- There's usually a charge per tent or site, per person and per vehicle.
- National tourist offices often provide booklets or brochures listing camping grounds throughout their countries.
- In large cities, most camping grounds will be some distance from the centre of town, so it's best suited to those with their own transport. 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.
- Many camping grounds rent bungalows or cottages accommodating two to eight people.
- Camping other than at designated camping grounds is difficult; you usually need permission from the local authorities (the police or local council office) or from the owner of the land.
- In some countries, such as Austria, France and Germany, free camping (aka wild camping) is illegal on all but private land; in Greece it's illegal altogether. Free camping is permissible anywhere in Scotland but not the rest of Britain.
Hostels offer the cheapest secure roof over your head in Western Europe, and you generally don't have to be a youngster to use them.
Most hostels are part of the national Youth Hostel Association (YHA), which is affiliated with Hostelling International (HI; www.hihostels.com).
- The HI website has links to all the national organisations and you can use it to book beds or rooms in advance.
- You can join YHA or HI in advance or at the hostels. Members usually pay about 10% less on rates.
- At a hostel, you get a bed in a dorm or a private room plus the use of communal facilities, which often include a kitchen where you can prepare your own meals.
- Hostels vary widely in character, but increased competition from other forms of accommodation – particularly the emergence of privately owned hostels – have prompted many places to improve their facilities and cut back on rules and regulations.
- The trend is moving toward smaller dormitories with just four to six beds. Single and double rooms with private bathrooms are common and it's not unusual for families to stay at hostels.
- Some more institutional hostels regularly host school groups, which means they can be booked out or can be noisy.
There are many private hostelling organisations in Western Europe and hundreds of unaffiliated backpacker hostels. Private hostels have fewer rules (eg no curfew, no daytime lockout), more self-catering facilities and a much lower number of large, noisy school groups. They often also have a much more sociable, party-friendly vibe.
However, whereas HI hostels must meet minimum safety and cleanliness standards, private hostels do not, which means that facilities vary greatly. Dorms in some private hostels can be mixed gender. Most private hostels now have small dorm rooms of three to eight beds, and private singles and doubles.
From fabulous five-star icons to workaday cheapies, the range of hotels in Western Europe is immense. You'll often find inexpensive hotels clustered around bus and train station areas, which are always good places to start hunting; but these can be charmless and scruffy. Look for moderately priced places closer to the interesting parts of town.
Check whether breakfast is included (often it's not). Wi-fi is almost always free.
Rentals can be both advantageous and fun for families travelling together or for those staying in one place for a few nights. You can have your own chic Left Bank apartment in Paris or a villa in Tuscany with a pool – and often at cheaper rates than hotels.
All rentals should be equipped with kitchens (or at least a kitchenette), which can save on the food bill and allow you to browse the neighbourhood markets and shops, eating like the locals do. Some are a little more upmarket with laundry facilities and parking.
Booking websites abound; alternatively, check with local tourist offices.
Beware direct-rental scams: unless you book through a reputable agency, your property might not actually exist. Scammers often compile fake apartment advertisements at too-good-to-be-true prices. Never send payment to an untraceable account via a money transfer.
From Irish mansions amid rambling grounds to grand Swiss spa hotels, golf resorts and beach properties with water sports and activities galore, Western Europe has many fabled resorts, where travellers try to avoid ever checking out. Ask about deals and all-inclusive packages.