We think a lot about where we lay our heads at night. There are so many options, starting with the pillow—memory foam? down? small or large? Then there’s the mattress. Sleep number? spring? foam? Door open or shut? We all have our own preferences, but when we travel all that usually gets thrown out the door, especially if you’re traveling on a budget in hostels. Hostels haven’t quite caught on in the United States as they have in other parts of the world, where they are very popular places to stay. They offer accommodations at cheaper prices than hotels, but you often relinquish all sorts of amenities to stay in one.
Sometimes, though, you stumble across a great hostel—or at least one in a great building. I’m sure most people have heard of historic hotels, and there are national and international organizations to help you find a historic hotel to stay in while on vacation. Being able to stay in an old castle, manor house, or simply a quaint historic home certainly adds to your travel experiences. If you’re traveling on a budget, like me, you’ve got plenty of historic options, too! If you look around, there are plenty of hostels hiding in unique locations.
I’ve never actually gone out of my way to stay in a historic hostel, but finding one is always a nice bonus and may be the deciding factor if I’m choosing between two similarly priced and similarly located hostels. Most recently, I stayed at a renovated 19th Century inn. Hostel Mostel in Sofia, Bulgaria, looks just like you would expect an old-fashioned Central European inn to look. Exposed timbers, dark wood, and sturdy furniture—no Ikea products in sight! The building is protected as a historic structure. While the interiors have been modernized, you can still quite easily pretend you’ve stepped back in time when you enter the courtyard that leads to the hostel entrance if you can mentally erase the cars.
In Venice, too, I got to stay in a historic building. The hostel I stayed in, A Venice Fish in Venice’s Cannaregio District, takes up the first floor of a 16th century palace. It looks a bit run down on the outside, but this is not uncommon in Venice for buildings that aren’t museums. You reach the heavy dark green front door of the hostel via its own bridge, and enter a cool, dark, empty space before going up a short flight of stairs to the hostel. The rooms all have very high ceilings, large windows that don’t quite close all the way, and tall wooden shutters. There’s a small balcony from which you can watch foot traffic and the private gondolas that frequently pass by. The facilities at the hostel are extremely basic, but the fact that you can say “Why yes, I stayed in an old palace in Venice” makes up for that. While the furniture has changed, the integrity of the building has been well preserved.
And there are plenty of places where I’ve had my curiosity piqued, historic or not, like the Red Boat Hostel in Stockholm, Sweden. The two boats that belong to the hostel/hotel sit on Lake Mälaren, near both the old town of Stockholm and the trendy Södermalm district. The rooms are cozy and there’s no disguising the fact that you’re sleeping on a boat. Or the hostel in Split, Croatia, whose name I can no longer remember, that was located inside the walls of Diocletian’s 4th century palace. Even if the hostel itself wasn’t 1700 years old, the maze of streets you had to walk to get to it reassured you that you certainly weren’t in Kansas anymore.
And there are plenty more unique historic hostels. You can stay in historic jails in Christchurch, New Zealand; Ottawa, Canada; Ljubljana, Slovenia; and other places. Or in a castle, a monastery, rail cars, or a lighthouse and signal station! What’s the most interesting place you’ve stayed?