The 5 Best and Worst Hostels I’ve Stayed At

By Kate Arnold

I’ve stayed in a few hostels in my time travelling and some are winners and sometimes, well, you get what you pay for and as we all know, whether you are on a top or bottom bunk can make or break the experience of a hostel. Here are five best and five worst hostels I’ve stayed at:

The Best

  1. The Freehand | Chicago, US – This hostel is lovely. I stayed in a four bed dorm, which had an ensuite bathroom attached. The beds were comfortable and big bunks built into the wall, with curtains for privacy, personal lights and power points. Everything I want in a bunk bed. The Freehand is conveniently located in Chicago, I was able to walk everywhere I wanted to go, including the Navy Pier, Millennium Park, the Bean and theatre district. There is a communal kitchen where breakfast of cereal or toast is free.
  2. St. Christophers Inn | Paris, FR – I stayed in an eight bed dorm at the St. Christopher’s Inn in Paris, which also had similar bunk beds to the Freehand, with curtains, personal light and power points. The hostel has an attached restaurant/bar call Belushi’s, which makes a killer burger, just what was needed after a rather rough day in Paris. Walking distance to Notre Dame and Shakespeare and Co and the train station Gare Du Nord, which will get you everywhere else you want to go in Paris.
  3. Broadway Hotel n Hostel | New York, US – This hostel didn’t have great bunks like the above mentioned, in fact the room was tiny and only contained one bunk bed, a sink and locker. The reason it’s on the best list is because of the price. For New York it is very reasonably priced and located close to a subway station on the 1, 2 and 3 lines, which go through Times Square and all the way down to South Ferry near Trinity Church, the 9/11 memorial and the Staten Island Ferry. Read about finding budget-friendly accommodation in New York here and the Hamilton-lover’s guide to New York here.
  4. St. Christopher’s Inn | Edinburgh, UK – Though not a great as the St. Christopher’s in Paris, the Edinburgh location definitely make the best list. As with the Paris location (and all St. Christopher’s as far as I know) there is an attached Belushi’s. The dorms just had normal plebeian bunks but they were more comfortable than most.
  5. International Budget Hostel | Amsterdam, NL – The International Budget Hostel wasn’t as budget as the name might imply but that’s because EVERYWHERE books out in Amsterdam durning the summer. The stairs to get up to the reception are pretty perilous and the wifi only worked in the reception. But this hostel is well placed in Amsterdam, I walked everywhere I went, very close to the Anne Frank House and the Red Light District. Read about 10 hidden gems of Amsterdam here.

The Worst

  1. Wild Zebra Backpackers | Wellington, NZ – This is by far the worst hostel I’ve stayed. The door to my dorm room didn’t open properly and the staff just told me it was fine. There was damage from the earthquake, which is hardly their fault, but still undesirable. The dorm room wasn’t very clean I had to find a communal room just to charge my phone because there weren’t enough in the dorm.
  2. Haka Lodge | Taupo, NZ – I only stayed in Taupo for one night and admittedly I didn’t spend much time at the Haka Lodge but the bed was so hard to get into because of an awkwardly placed ladder. If I’d had a bottom bunk I’d probably feel differently about this place.
  3. The Backyard Inn | Rotorua NZ – What sticks out about the Backyard Inn was that it was an uncommonly hot day in New Zealand and none of the rooms had air conditioning. On the plus side they had a pool but when I jumped in to get some relief from the heat I realised it was a thermal pool at it was hotter in than it was out. It would be great for colder days though. Also I had to pay for wifi, which is a no-no for me.
  4. Fat Cod Backpackers | Picton NZ – The Fat Cod doesn’t foster great memories in my mind because of the staff. They were generally unhelpful and abrasive. They wouldn’t let me use a phone or even tell me where I could use one. The dorms were okay, there were no bunks just six single beds. The hostel was close to the beach and some walking trails, which had lovely views that were worth the visit to Picton.
  5. Banana Bungalow Hollywood | Los Angeles US – For a hostel in the middle of Hollywood The Banana Bungalow sure should have air conditioning. The dorms were fine but not great and the area didn’t have that much that I was interested in. On the plus side the offered cereal and toast breakfast for free and shuttles to places like Santa Monica. Read about our short stay in Santa Monica here.

Let me know about the best hostels you’ve stayed in below! I’m always looking for recommendations.

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10 Hidden Gems of Amsterdam

By Kate Arnold

Amsterdam Hidden Gems

Amsterdam isn’t all cafes and sex shows (though if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll find plenty). These winding streets are full of mysterious places lurking behind hidden doors. Here are just some of Amsterdam’s hidden gems that you must check out when you visit.

1. Vincent on Fridays

I know what you’re thinking, the Van Gogh Museum isn’t a ‘hidden gem’, everyone knows about it. But not everyone knows that every Friday night they host parties at the museum, complete with tours of the museum, comedy, music and cocktails. The weeks are generally themed (the most recent one being on Failure) and the first Friday of each month is generally the most extravagant. Tickets cost 18 Euros and sell out quickly. The event goes from 7 to 10pm so it’s the perfect way to begin your Friday before heading to one of Amsterdam’s bars for the rest of your evening.

2. Oude Kerk (Old Church)

Oude Kerk was one of my favourite places that I visited in Amsterdam. The floor is made entirely from tombstones because the church was built on a graveyard and there are 10,000 bodies buried beneath the floors. Today the church is more likely to be the venue for art exhibitions than Sunday mass Oude Kerk is located on Oudekerksplein (Old Church Square), not far from the Red Light District, where the bronze statue of Belle honours the prostitutes of the world and an anonymous artist set a bronze torso of a woman and a hand caressing her breast into the cobblestones. The sacristy of the church has been converted into one of Amsterdam’s most charming cafe’s, Koffieschenkerij de Oude Kerk.

3. Cafe Papeneiland’s Hidden Tunnel

Cafe Papeneiland has been around since 1642. Papeneiland (meaning Papists’ Island) dates all the way back to the Reformation. At this time there was a secret Church that Amsterdam’s Catholic population worshiped at when Catholicism was illegal. The tunnel through the basement of Papeneiland led beneath the canal into a church called Posthoornkerk. The hidden church is now gone and another (not hidden) church named Posthoonkerk was built in its stead, but you can still see the tunnel, just ask the bar staff to point you in the direction of the stairs.

3. The Vrankrijk Squat’s Bar

In the Nederland there are many squats, where people are able to live for free in abandoned buildings due to a legal grey area. The Vrankrijk is one of them and it has a bar and hosts events. Every Wednesday is WTF Night, which is hosted by Drag Queers Amsterdam. There are different themed performances every week and you’ll find vegan food available from 7pm and the party starts at 10. Every Friday is Punk night, vegan food is available from 7pm and the bar opens at 9. Most Saturday nights are various parties or concerts but the first Saturday of every month is Hip Hop night with De Rauwe School. If you’re looking for the bar, just find the chequered door.

4. Wynand Fockink Proeflokaal (Gin Tasting Tavern)

Did you know Gin comes from Holland? Gin or jenever is the national drink of Holland and you can go to Wynand Fockink, one of Amsterdam’s oldest tasting taverns (dating back to 1679) to try some. The tasting bar is open every day from 2 – 9pm and the gin is free to try. You’ll find the tasting tavern in an alleyway behind the National Monument on the Dam square.

5. The Smallest House in Amsterdam

Located just around the corner from the Red Light District is the Smallest House in Amsterdam (and even in all of Europe). This house is only 2.02 meters wide (6 feet and 7.5 inches) and 5 meters deep (16 feet and 4 inches). Built with the iconic bell-gable and in the canal-side style that Amsterdam is famous for, this tiny house has been converted into a tea shop. The upper floor has a capacity of only five people.

6. The Trippenhuis and the Fetish Store across the Canal

If the Smallest House in Amsterdam intrigues you then you may want to visit the Trippenhuis, which is the largest house (more of a mansion) in Amsterdam. It was built for the wealthy Trip family who wanted to have the largest possible house in Amsterdam. In those days you were taxed on how large the front of your house was, facing the canal. The driver of the Trip family was reportedly jealous of the mansion and is said to have told the family that he wished he could have a house on the canal too, even if it was only as large as the Trip’s front door. The family granted this wish and built a house for their driver, right across the canal, which today has been converted into a fetish sex store.

7. Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Sweet Lord in the Attic)

If you liked Cafe Papeneiland then this church in an attic is for you. Built in 1663, this bourgeois house had a concealed Catholic Church in its attic, which was frequented by upper echelon business men who were forced to worship in secret. Today the Attic Church is a museum, which displays much of the church’s silver, paintings and other religious artefacts.

8. OT301

This is another squat house but this time it’s been turned into an art space, filled with street art inside. In 1999 the house was being squatted in by a group of artists, who decided to turn the space into somewhere that artists could live and work together on new, alternative and experimental forms of art. Today there is also a zero waste restaurant, which is run by volunteers and you should book ahead if you want to get a seat.

9. De Poezenboot (The Catboat)

De Poezenboot is the only floating cat shelter is the world (niche, I know) but it’s a must visit for any cat-lovers heading to Amsterdam. This canal boat is a sanctuary for stray and abandoned cats in Amsterdam and it has been floating since 1968. You can visit for free (though donations are welcome) and opening hours are between 1 and 3pm. The Catboat is closed to visitors on Wednesdays and Sundays. De Poezenboot is located on the canal close to Centraal Station.

10. In’t Aepjen

What would this list be without a hidden bar in the Red Light District? In’t Aepjen is located on the main street of the Red Light District but most people walk right by it. This bar has a colourful history as a place where sailors of the Dutch East India Company would return from their travels with pockets full of money and exotic monkeys. When the sailors inevitably spent all the money on booze they would offer up their monkeys to the staff, who often accepted the trade. There are no monkeys at In’t Aepjen anymore, except in the decorations. The owners, who ended up having a rather large flee issue created what is now the Amsterdam Zoo, to house all of their monkeys. The name of the bar, In’t Aepjen, comes from the dutch phrase ‘in the monkeys’ referring to the bizarre practice the sailors had of paying their bills with monkeys. They were ‘in the monkeys’ rather than ‘in the money’. You can get a great beer, ale or jenever at In’t Aepjen but they no longer accept monkeys as currency.

Amsterdam is full of hidden gems (sometimes literally hidden) and all it takes is a little exploring and know-how to get you in the door. What are some hidden gems you’ve found while travelling? Let us in on the secrets in the comments.