Oh where oh where have the hotels gone?
June 7, 2007 9:46 AM   Subscribe

Hotels in Europe, how to book and when to book?

We are going to Europe for 2 weeks in August. I've heard that this is really the busy season for travel around there and that hotels might fill up fast. And so, we were wondering whether we needed to book hotels ahead of time before we get there, and how far in advance would we need to book, is July too late? Also, I'm not sure how to book hotels in Europe, last time I went it wasn't during August and was during my broke college days were we stayed in whatever cheap hostel would take us. However, we have a bit more money now (though not a lot) and want to stay in decent hotels where we could have a room to ourselves and preferably our own bathroom that won't make us too broke (less than $100/night would be best but we can be a bit flexible). I've got a Europe travel guide, but being in the US and really only speaking English, I can't really call over there to book. Are there any good websites that list good European hotels? Can you use expedia/travelocity and such? In case it helps, we are thinking of going to London, Munich, Venice, Barcelona, Granada, maybe Zurich, maybe Geneva, maybe somewhere in Austria.

Suggestions of where to stay more than welcome (especially if you give me a website I can book through). More general knowledge about when to book and the best ways to find hotels also very appreciated!
posted by JonahBlack to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
* It's never too early to book a hotel reservation, since you can almost always cancel it. Don't worry if it's too late now, just start getting your itinerary together and figuring out where you want to stay, when.

* Most European hotels have English-speaking staff. They're extremely used to working with clients who don't speak the language.

* Most European hotels also rely on faxes much more than American hotels. Does your guidebook list fax numbers? (Most do.) Or even email? If you're really worried about communicating, it can be helpful to do it in writing. Then the hotel can find its English-speaking staff member to read and respond to your request at their leisure, rather than either of you frantically trying to communicate on the phone.

* It is, however, totally fine to try to frantically communicate over the phone. Your guidebook should have instructions for how to call overseas (in terms of country and city codes), and good guidebooks should also have a vocab list in the back with the sorts of phrases travelers are likely to need (such as, "I'd like to reserve a double room for August 15 for two nights").

(And I don't know which book you have, but I've found the Rick Steves guides to be pretty solid for inexpensive-but-good (and reasonably "authentic") hotels. If it were me, I'd start there.)
posted by occhiblu at 9:52 AM on June 7, 2007

Oh, all of that said: Most tourist offices in major European cities will have a hotel desk that can book you a room for that evening, if you prefer to wait until you get there or want more flexibility in your itinerary. (They're usually at the train stations.) I would worry that your choices would be a bit limited at that point, though, because of the crowds, so it's a question of what's most important to you -- flexibility in your schedule, or greater control over your hotel choices. (I'm uber-picky about where I stay, so I've always leaned toward booking in advance, but I know lots of people do fine dealing with the tourist office on a city-by-city basis.)
posted by occhiblu at 9:55 AM on June 7, 2007

1. Use TripAdvisor

2. For the cities you list, you can email (if available) or call and use English. A hotel in those cities without an English-speaking staff will be a rarity.
posted by vacapinta at 10:04 AM on June 7, 2007

Phone them, most will speak English. You may of course want to take a few minutes to master "Hello, do you speak English?" in the relevant language as a courtesy, you will almost certainly have a smoother and friendlier experience this way.

Otherwise, Expedia is a great site.
posted by fire&wings at 10:09 AM on June 7, 2007

Try www.hotelconnect.co.uk - Caveat: I work for them so obv I'm going to recommend them but, yeah, we're good.
posted by oh pollo! at 10:23 AM on June 7, 2007

occhiblu's pretty much got it covered, but I'll throw in a bit more detail for a couple of the locations you listed.

My wife and I just got back from a trip to Spain. We relied pretty heavily on the Rick Steves guide book, but I booked our hotel in Valencia at the ALSA website. In Barcelona we stayed at the Hotel Toledano, in Granada we stayed at the Hostal Viena. Both were smack dab in the center of the action in their respective cities, both were well within your (and our) budget, they were clean and had baths (well, showers). Basic rooms, of course, but you're not going to Europe to watch TV in your hotel room. We made reservations one week in advance for Granada and 1.5 weeks in advance for Barcelona without a problem.

[editorial]Most of the hotel staff at the places we stayed spoke some English, but making an effort to speak a bit of the language of the hotel proprietors is simple courtesy and seems to break the ice better. And it helps to better prepare you if you do in fact run into someone who doesn't speak English.[/editorial]
posted by cog_nate at 10:27 AM on June 7, 2007

Use Trip Advisor as suggested above. The forums are a good place to get suggestions for specific properties in specific areas at specific price points.

A room for under $100 a night is really tough in most of europe. Especially London. But look around and who knows what you might find. The code for this type of accommodation is often "traveler's hotel". A lot of newer hostels will have private rooms and you may want to do that a little bit to keep your overall costs down.

Most hotels will accept reservations by e-mail or fax. Be sure to ask what the cancel policy is.

Once you have booked, remember that the hotel is your friend. If it has a concierge, you can use the services even before you arrive [if you want to go out for a really nice dinner one night and want to plan ahead]. The hotel will also almost always arrange a car to pick you up at the airport or train station and bill it to your room. This can be great if you don't want to deal with changing money and taxis on your first [or 8th] leg.

Advanced: I also had good luck in Spain especially using Bancotel certificates. You purchase the book of certificates, and the participating hotels accept 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 depending on demand and ammenities. You win in the system by finding a nice hotel that takes 2 certificates a night. This was 3 years ago, so maybe their system has changed.

You didn't address this, but you are thinking of covering a lot of territory in very little time. You will eat up a lot of time and money getting from place to place. My advice is to pick two key locations and then do shorter day trips or 2-day trips from those key locations. London can be 2 weeks all by itself. Geneva is good for 2 days, but then you can explore the coutryside. Munich- I hope you either have family there or it's a typo, or you have to connect there. It's fine but it wouldn't normally be a destination :)
posted by Mozzie at 10:31 AM on June 7, 2007

First things first- in some of those cities you will have little to no chance of getting a room with your own bath room for under $100 a night so maybe that's the first thing to consider. (Sorry to be blunt about it but those are all premium destinations and charge accordingly, especially during August). You may want to think early on where you have the flexibility (be it in quality of accommodation or whether a bathroom en-suite is really that important).

I would always advise to book ahead and use the websites of the hotels themselves as they are invariably a lot better than the rack rate at the front door. Booking offices in the cities are rarely a bargain.

I would recommend Venere for hotels all over Europe. It is a decent site and has always served me well.

One tip is to stay in Verona instead of Venice (its only an hour away by train) as it is slightly cheaper and very beautiful. It is also a bit less crowded than Venice and you get to see the beautiful Arena and go to the opera there if you fancy it.

Hope it all goes well, it sounds great!
posted by ClanvidHorse at 10:40 AM on June 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

I like Eurocheapo. Just book online, but make sure you read the fine print about cancellations. No need to fiddle around with faxes!

You can book in July, but the earlier you book, the better your chances of getting the hotels you want. Definitely don't just show up and expect to find a place in August!
posted by hazyjane at 10:45 AM on June 7, 2007

Any of the major sites like Tripadvisor, Travelocity, Expedia, etc will work. It doesn't hurt to reserve them now but for many counties on the continent that is their big vacation time so they typically head to the beach/mountains/villages rather than the cities. It's mostly Americans that head to the European cities.

The more important things are to get air/bus/car/train tickets far in advance.
posted by JJ86 at 11:01 AM on June 7, 2007

I stayed for about 35 euro a night per person in barcelona, munich, venice, vienna and salzburg last year. i think in barcelona it was more like 20 euro/night/pp. we had ensuite washrooms in most places, and in the places that didn't we shared a private washroom with 2-5 other rooms. Granted, we had 3 ppl to share the cost between, but i don't think your places will be much more expensive.

We used a combination of hostelworld.com and the recommended hostels in the let's go guide to western europe for that year. We traveled in may/june rather than august, but i think you'll be ok if you do some digging around and investigate all possibilities thoroughly before you book.
posted by sid at 11:04 AM on June 7, 2007

I've found HotelClub.com to be quite good for international bookings. I've used them for Europe, and Australia/New Zealand and had good luck.

Not all the hotels offer real time confirmations, but they tell you which are which.
posted by heh3d at 11:09 AM on June 7, 2007

I've had very good luck with booking.com and hrs.de.
posted by walla at 11:19 AM on June 7, 2007

Seconding booking.com. It is much, much cheaper to book online through such a website in advance, so if you can, I would recommend that.
posted by davar at 12:12 PM on June 7, 2007

I agree about Venere.com. I had very good luck with them. I also found a few independent pensiones I liked from hostels.com.

Venice is beautiful to explore for a day or two but it's a bit overrated. I just spent a week there last year and I had a much nicer time (and FAR better food!) in the Cinque Terra. I agree about Verona, I have liked it. (Although I wish I hadn't been there during a convention of Italian military mountain men wearing Peter Pan hats & living in tents where they were drinking grappa all night. Those mountain men are disgusting letches, let me tell yoooou!) DO NOT pay to visit "Juliet's Balcony" though. It's not really her balcony. She was fictional. Duh.

If you go to Venice, whatever you do, DO NOT stay at the Hotel Ateneo. The manager, Massimo is a bastardo gigantesco. Seriously. Nastiest hotel manager I've ever met. Horrible horrible awful man.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:41 PM on June 7, 2007

I've done a ton of email booking. I'm shy about phones and especially phones where the person on the other end doesn't speak English and it's a crazy other time zone. And that way I can print out the reservation confirmation so that if they try to tell me I don't have a room, I have something to hold up and point to.

My boyfriend, on the other hand, likes yelling "DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH" to confused Greek hoteliers. And I guess that's another way to do it.
posted by crinklebat at 1:21 PM on June 7, 2007

(less than $100/night would be best but we can be a bit flexible)

I think you should look at the Rick Steves guides and book at hotels he suggests in the manner he suggests (generally via email and he provides a form letter that I've used.) You can definitely do this. My wife and I spent a week in the Netherlands and Belgium and never spent more than $80 for clean, comfortable rooms. It's never too soon to book.

If you go the Rick Steves route, you'll end up in non-chain hotels/b&b's that are nice and in a nice location at truly bargain prices. Seriously, just go to the book store and take a look at one of his guides for one of the areas that you're going to. I don't believe in God, but I have divine faith in the Providence of Rick Steves. I'm perfectly straight, but if I ever meet that man I'm going to kiss him full on the lips for the b&b I stayed at in Bruges. I've been to Europe a fair bit, and my trips are much nicer and a bit less expensive since I've started using his guides.

Hallelujah! Praise Marty Moose! Rick Steves!
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:16 PM on June 7, 2007

seconding www.hostelworld.com...
you can see availability and book through the site, it has budget hotels as well as hostels, and honestly for the budget you are suggesting your best bet may be hostels in a lot of places anyway.
posted by lgyre at 3:46 PM on June 7, 2007

I found that if you go through the big sites such as booking.com and if you are with two people, a hostel is not much, if at all, cheaper than a hotel room. See here for example for hotels in Brussels. (I am not affiliated with the site at all). You can get a double room in a nice hotel for 54 euro's.
posted by davar at 6:12 AM on June 8, 2007

If you can avoid the most expensive cities like Rome, Paris and London, it will reduce your costs too. I can second Venere.com and HRS.de. Tripadvisor is good too, but I find the hotels recommended a bit expensive (as a very broad statement). If you go to smaller cities, you will usually get more for your buck. (Brussels is a lot smaller than Paris, for instance)
posted by KimG at 4:51 PM on June 9, 2007

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