Coolest New Hostels
Here is what I think of when I hear the word hostel: a windowless dorm in Central Europe, circa 1990; 16 squeaky bunks; a Yugoslavian basketball team that snores like wood chippers—and me, pleading in vain for a single room. Back then, $12 would get you a threadbare mattress, a lukewarm shower, and a broken-in social scene.
How I envy the nomads of 2013, with their options for bunking down in style. The no-frills hostel has apparently gone the way of Yugoslavia; today’s model is about sleek design and plenty of perks, from gourmet restaurants to complimentary bike rentals. And many offer private as well as dorm-style rooms.
Freehand Miami has a craft cocktail bar and interiors by design gods Roman & Williams, complete with handmade rugs from Peru, and colorful Mexican serape blankets. In Mexico City, a stay at Downtown Beds, from Grupo Habita, comes complete with a pool and a beer patio, while at Hlemmur Square, in Reykjavík, Iceland, a concierge team is on call to book excursions and there’s live music in the lobby.
At New York’s Bowery House, bathrooms have heated floors and rain showerheads and the restaurant is one of the city’s trendiest, Pearl & Ash. The vibrant Matchbox, a “concept hostel” in Singapore’s Chinatown, even offers a pillow menu.
These modern-day hostels are an unexpected choice for any travelers who assumed they’d outgrown them. I’m now considering Independente Hostel & Suites for an upcoming trip to Lisbon. Back in the day, I’d have traded my Sony Discman for a place as opulent as this onetime ambassador’s mansion where bunks cost as little as $17 a night. But now I’m packing earplugs for my roommates—because I’m the one who snores.
Read on for more hostels that will save you money without sacrificing your sense of style and comfort.
—Peter Jon Lindberg
Chicago Getaway Hostel, Chicago
Weekly blues club tours, pub crawls, and weekend barbecues encourage hostel guests to mix and mingle. There’s a music room, whose back wall is a red stage curtain, where a piano awaits anyone who can play. (Guitars are available to borrow, in case the urge for a duet strikes.) And the amenities continue: a sleek restaurant-grade kitchen, an outdoor patio with communal grill, bike rentals, and a detailed wall calendar outlining activities around the city. The brightly colored dorm rooms accommodate up to 12, while private group rooms come with either full or half baths.
This 19th-century palace-turned-hostel, located at the border of the Bairro Alto and Principe Real neighborhoods, is the passion project of three local brothers. The design mixes rustic wood-framed bunks, old typewriters, and vintage rocking chairs with original ornate moldings and floors. Ninety beds spread across 11 dorm-style rooms, each with a private lounge, and there are four suites with private balconies overlooking the Tagus River. El Decadente, a Portuguese restaurant, is a destination in its own right.
Downtown Beds, Mexico City
Like Lisbon’s Independente, the latest project from Grupo Habita (New York’s Americano) is another transformed palace—this one from the 17th century. It has private and shared rooms outfitted with bright-colored lattice brick bunk beds and original brick barrel-vault or tile ceilings. The perks are plentiful: a beer garden, a rooftop swimming pool, complimentary bicycles, a restaurant serving Mexican street snacks, an interior courtyard with foosball, and even a movie screening room.
Hlemmur Square, Reykjavik, Iceland
This hostel-hotel combo within a five-story 1930s building is the brainchild of hotelier Klaus Ortlieb (New York’s Cooper Square Hotel). Here’s how it breaks down: 248 beds fill three floors of bunkrooms, while the 18 hotel rooms (some with terraces) have their own floor. Lime green chairs and bright red couches lend a youthful, modern appeal. A dedicated concierge team can plan excursions to attractions like the Golden Circle and Blue Lagoon—but you may be tempted to hang around, thanks to live music in the lobby, a teppanyaki restaurant, and Icelandic horses, which guests can take on carriage rides.
The Out, New York City
Billed as New York City’s first “straight-friendly urban resort,” this silver-and-glass Hell’s Kitchen spot includes a 14,000-square-foot nightclub/cabaret theater, the sunlit KTCHN restaurant, a spa and gym complex, and multiple outdoor spaces including an Astroturf-covered lawn and a sundeck. The eight sleek and modern shared quad rooms are great for groups of friends, with full-size bunk beds, a private bathroom, and a 22-inch television.
City Circus, Athens
Inside an early 20th-century mansion in the hip Psirri neighborhood, you’ll find Baroque tiles, wrought-iron balconies, and frescoed ceilings as well as works by local street artists—including signage encouraging you to “run away and join the circus.” Eleven rooms range from a double private loft to a six-bed dorm with a private bathroom and balcony. Guests can rent bicycles, take guided walking tours (daily at 9:30 a.m.), sign up to volunteer, and join in other activities.
We Hostel, São Paulo, Brazil
Brazil’s biggest city recently welcomed its first design hostel, courtesy of former banker Guilherme Perez and his architect friend Felipe Hess. The all-white building—a restored 1910 mansion—offers seven dorm rooms totaling 46 bunk beds, plus two private rooms. While the minimalist interiors retain the stark white scheme, the bathrooms are covered in bright, sky-blue tiles. The cozy living room is decorated with a low-to-the-ground tufted couch and other contemporary furniture. Another glass-walled common area has a low slate ceiling, where guests are invited to write messages in chalk.
A bright yellow, oversize smiley face and the words “Explore. Enjoy. Meet. Relax. Sleep.” is the first thing you’ll see on the way inside this five-story hostel in a 19th-century palace next to the Alonso Martínez metro station. Nearly all the décor (beds, walls, desks, lockers, ceilings) is white, with a different accent color on each floor—say, purple that pops up on the sliding barn doors, accent walls, and cubbyholes that are built into headboards. There are suites with double beds and private bathrooms, large shared rooms housing four to 12 people, and women-only rooms (on the pink floor, of course).
Within walking distance of Ocean Drive and Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, the historic Indian Creek Hotel was recently reborn as a high-style hostel. The Art Deco property, with both private and shared rooms, enlisted design gods Roman and Williams, who incorporated canary-yellow walls, handmade rugs from Peru, and colorful Mexican serape blankets. Hostel guests can rent custom bicycles, relax in the lush courtyard or by the pool, or sip handcrafted cocktails made with herbs from the on-site garden.
The self-proclaimed “first design hostel chain” in Istanbul debuted in 2012 with this 32-bed hostel in the bohemian neighborhood of Beyoğlu. Bonuses include a heated, rooftop #bunkbath (a.k.a. hot tub), the top-floor #bunkout lounge, and live music and daily happy hour in the on-site bar. At bedtime, choose between mixed and female-only dorms for four; twin rooms with one bunk bed; and private doubles, some with terraces and marble bathrooms. While the rooms are stark, make sure to look up for the showstopping mosque-inspired ceilings. A second, larger location opens in summer 2013.
This 726-bed property (once the headquarters of the national gas company) is the newest arrival from the Generator brand, whose hostels are scattered throughout Europe, with a second Berlin location, Venice, and Paris on the horizon. The Design Agency’s Anwar Mekhayech lent his expertise to the Barcelona project, integrating hanging chairs and custom wall murals by local artists. The top three floors offer hotel rooms with private balconies, while shared rooms range from eight bunks to private twins. Local DJs spin at the Fiesta Gracia bar—where the communal tables are made from reclaimed wood and recycled elevator gears—and La Place café serves traditional Spanish tapas.
Bowery House, New York City
In the 1940s, soldiers temporarily lived in the single-room cabins at this loft-style property—and its hip new incarnation preserves historic details such as original bedframes. Another nod to its past: keys shaped like dog tags. The largest group room sleeps 12 people (on twin-size bunk beds), while the Prince Room is outfitted with a queen bed, a full dresser, and a flat-screen TV. Red Flower products, heated floors, and rain showerheads are not the trappings of your average hostel bathrooms. And the in-house restaurant, Pearl & Ash, is equally sophisticated, serving duck confit with red cabbage and celery, and veal cheeks with forbidden rice, daikon, and dill.
Superbude, Hamburg, Germany
Like the first Superbude outpost in the St. Georg neighborhood, the Fortune Hotels brand’s latest property in St. Pauli is eclectic and lighthearted, with yellow walls, chairs made from wheelbarrows, and clothes hooks fashioned from toilet plungers. Set in a renovated 1926 building (the former home of the telephone exchange), it is known for the Rock Star Suite, where a raised stage converts to a bed that sleeps six. Guests don’t have far to go for entertainment—it’s just steps from the galleries and bars of the up-and-coming Schanzenviertel neighborhood.
The family-owned Plus brand, which launched in 2004 with a hostel in Venice, added Berlin to its portfolio in 2010. Even the shared rooms here are relatively private; the largest has only three single beds. While the design is ho-hum, each room comes with a bathroom and flat-screen TV. Among other pluses: a sauna and an indoor swimming pool lit with sexy blue lighting, an airport shuttle, and a girl’s-only section, with hair straighteners, big mirrors, and fluffy towels. The restaurant serves Italian and German cuisine, while the common area is stocked with table tennis, foosball, and a Nintendo Wii.
Matchbox The Concept Hostel, Singapore
A pillow menu, toiletries by local brand Spa Esprit, foot and back massagers, all-day breakfast: these are just a few of the extras available at this eye-popping hostel in Singapore’s Chinatown. Three dormitories range from two to 18 podlike bunks (plus a 10-bed female-only dorm), with blue and orange window shutters and lime green bed ladders. Socializing happens in the designer loft, which is decorated with bright Ministry of Chair beanbags—guests can purchase one at a 10% discount.