How to Find Amazing Accommodations All Over Europe

May 25, 2017    /    travel how-tos

Photo: B&B just outside Parma, Italy.


In about a week, I’ll be celebrating my five-year anniversary of traveling the world full-time.

In that time, I’ve lived a little bit of everywhere. Guesthouses in Scotland. Tiny top-floor studios in Paris. Elegant boutique hotels in Sevilla. And even a hostel or two.

And one of the questions I commonly get is this: how do you find great places to live on the road?

Of course, not every place I’ve stayed in has been great. There was that nutty landlord in Slovenia and the dimly lit studio in Rome, the sexist roommate in San Diego and the too-loud hostel in Zagreb.

But overall, my accommodation experiences in Europe—and elsewhere abroad—have become mostly good. Mostly comfortable. Sometimes even amazing.

And so today I thought I’d talk you through how I find apartments, hotels, B&Bs, and other spaces to stay all over Europe and share a few of my favorites along the way.

25Hours Zurich
Photo: 25Hours Hotel, Zurich, Switzerland.

Starting with Priorities

Before you book anything, of course, it’s important to know what matters to you. Do you like modern and sleek? Charming and ancient (though still well kept)? Does having a full kitchen matter? What about a bathtub? How about a balcony?

Over the years, I’ve realized that there are a few things that make a big difference in how I feel about the places I stay.

One is light. I feel infinitely more positive, creative, and happy in places with floor to ceiling windows, glass doors, natural light bouncing from wall to wall. In the last year, the places I’ve liked least have almost always been too dim.

Another thing that takes any place from good to great for me is a comfortable outdoor space. A patio to eat on. A balcony for our evening glasses of wine.

And, of course, being a full-time traveler, having a kitchen is almost always necessary for me and having good Wi-Fi is paramount.

Everyone’s priorities are different. A friend of mine needs blackout blinds, whereas I like to wake with the sunrise. Chad doesn’t care about bathtubs, but they bring me joy. So, the point is to take stock: what matters to you? Judge your accommodation options based on those things.

Gozo farmhouse
Photo: Ancient, beautifully renovated farmhouse on Gozo, Malta.

Hotel, Hostel, or Holiday Rental?

Are you a hotel person? A B&B aficionado? A holiday rental enthusiast?

Over the years, I’ve realized that my own tastes depend very much on the type of traveling I’m doing.

When we’re staying for a month or two, it’s much nicer to have an apartment. I may be traveling full-time, but I want to feel at home. To feel cozy. To live in local neighborhoods with butcher shops and bakeries around the corner and kids playing in the park across the street. I want to feel, even though I’m here only a short while, as if I’m part of it all.

In between longer stays, though, when it’s just an overnight or weekend trip, I adore B&Bs and boutique hotels. I love the pampered feeling that comes with having breakfast prepared for me. I love the opportunity to stay in artsy rooms or charming old converted mansions.

Think back on the times you’ve felt most comfortable while traveling. What kind of accommodations did you have? If all your favorite trips were in B&Bs with homemade breakfast included, it’s a good bet that that’s something that makes you feel cared for or relaxed. If your fondest memories are of rental houses, that’s a good place to start future accommodation searches.

Dubrovnik couch
Photo: Fun couch in an Airbnb rental in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

How I Find Our Rentals

So, how do I find the places we stay? For long stays (since we want full apartments for those), I start with Airbnb.

I love them for a couple big reasons: Firstly, because if you get in a bind, their customer service actually cares. I’ve heard horror stories about other holiday rental sites (namely VRBO and its sister sites), who charge a fee that’s supposed to protect renters but who, despite that fee, leave people in bad situations and don’t refund their money. No thanks, VRBO. So much No Thanks.

I also love Airbnb because of their monthly rental pricing. Other sites don’t have monthly prices, so you have to painstakingly contact person after person to ask about monthly discounts. On Airbnb, it’s often listed right up front. This makes constant travel planning much easier.

Edit: Someone made an excellent point in the comments that Airbnb (and any other big holiday rental site) does not verify that the host has the amenities they’ve listed. So it’s up to us to confirm things that are important to us.

If blackout blinds matter to you, look for them in the photos, read the reviews and see if any of the past guests mention them, and write to the host before booking to ask or confirm that they have them.

Since quiet and good natural light are priorities for Chad and I, when I’m doing my research, I read through the reviews looking specifically for mentions of natural light, brightness, or dimness, as well as quiet/noise. I also write to every single Airbnb and ask them to do an internet speed test and send us the results since we need fast, reliable Wi-Fi (and we’ve found that just asking if the Wi-Fi is good gets us vague assurances that don’t always turn out to be true).

Now, if I can’t find a good Airbnb option, I turn to Facebook groups (try expat groups for the city you want to visit) and Couchsurfing. Not to couchsurf, but to ask locals if they know of any sublets or short-term rentals available.

This is an easy way to bypass the big sites and their big fees and get more local pricing on things. The downside is that you don’t have the peace of mind that comes with a site like Airbnb, who will help you find a place to stay if you show up and your host flakes or the place isn’t as advertised. The upside is that it’s usually much cheaper to rent directly from local landlords.

Finally, if we’re only staying somewhere for a day or two, I start my search on Google.

“Best B&Bs in [city].” “Quirkiest hotels in [city].” “[city] blog.” These are just some of the searches I might do in my quest for quirky, cute hotels, guesthouses, and B&Bs.

I also often ask my Facebook friends, groups, and Twitter followers for suggestions.

And from there I do some research. What kind of reviews do these places get? If they’re getting negative comments, are those comments about things I actually care about (again, I don’t care about blackout blinds, but I do care a lot if the hotel isn’t clean or the rooms don’t get any natural light). After that, I look at prices and neighborhoods (is the place close to where I want to be?) and I usually make a spreadsheet comparing our top four or five options (with columns for all the things that are important to us–from outdoor spaces to natural light to Wi-Fi speeds).

Interlaken, Switzerland Airbnb
Photo: Rooms in a farmhouse in Interlaken, Switzerland.

My Favorite Places In…

As for my favorite places I’ve stayed all over Europe, here are the top picks:

Austria (just outside Salzburg)

Croatia (Dubrovnik)

France (Azay-le-Rideau)

France (Beaugency)

France (Loire Valley countryside)

France (Sully-sur-Loire)

Italy (Assisi)

Italy (just outside Parma)

Italy (Perugia)

Italy (Verona)

Malta (Gozo)

Slovenia (Lake Bled)

Rental in the French countryside
Photo: French countryside gite in the Loire Valley.

Spain (Sevilla)

Spain (Toledo)

Switzerland (Interlaken)

Switzerland (Lauterbrunnen)

Switzerland (Zurich)

Lake Bled glamping huts
Photo: Glamping huts, Lake Bled, Slovenia.


What about you? What do you look for in travel accommodations? Where do you find places to stay? Any tips?

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8 Comments
  • Ali
    May 25, 2017

    Yes to blackout curtains!! I actually really like lots of light too…but I have to be able to block it out when I go to bed. It’s rare to find a place with GOOD curtains though. Once in Budapest, our windows faced south, and it was July so the sun was coming up at 5am or maybe even earlier, and they only had these flimsy, almost sheer white curtains. The sun came in super early and felt like it was blinding me it was so bright. Similar situation in Copenhagen right around the solstice, so the sun was coming up just before 4:30am. OMG I hardly slept at all those 3 nights.
    Ali recently posted…Knowing When to Cut Your LossesMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      May 25, 2017

      Yeah, same in Slovenia in August. The sun came on in at like 5 and I was up and about. I was okay with it, but I can totally see why someone else wouldn’t be.

  • leelaurino
    May 25, 2017

    thanks for sharing how you find places to stay.
    takes me far more time than i would like but often it is 30% of my travel expenses so i want to be sure it is safe clean and close to the center……

    have found one or two booking agents run by locals that have helped in the uk and parts of europe

    • gigigriffis
      May 25, 2017

      Cheers!

  • David Moss
    May 25, 2017

    Wow, I was shocked to read that you found Airbnb customer service to be helpful. Although seemingly concerned and exceedingly polite, on the two occasions I needed them In Europe I was given the run around: either told “to deal directly with the owner” or “we have determined this is not a violation of our policies.” Both were one month rentals. The first time after being told the apartment had a “few stairs” so my expensive bike would not be a problem…and then found the unit was actually on the third floor! The last time was that it had internet; but it was actually limited and ran out after two weeks! The latter Airbnb offered me a very small discount (8%) for a huge inconvenience; the former I was ultimately told I should have asked more questions! They do not verify any of the info owners purport regarding their listing, so caveat emptor, especially if signing up for a longer rental. They also take the liberty of converting the credit card purchase from local currency to dollars instead of giving you the option to let your bank do so (at a much more favorable rate) as every other business does. A bit of a swindle but it is in the fine print as they will tell you!

    • gigigriffis
      May 25, 2017

      Sorry to hear you had a bad experience. :( We too have run into limited internet along the way, so I’ve started asking about Wi-Fi speed and limitations. But in our case it was pretty easy to go and get another internet card, so we just did that and then asked the owner/Airbnb to discount our rental for the amount of the card. It was annoying, but they complied.

      This is a great caveat to add to this piece: definitely ask a lot of questions before booking anything. No big booking site (Airbnb or other holiday rental sites) that I’ve come across verifies the home’s amenities. So if something’s important to you, ask about it and/or look in the reviews and see if anyone mentions it (for example: a quiet place is important to us, so I specifically go through the reviews on Airbnb looking for places where past guests mention quiet or noise).

  • Kathryn OHalloran
    May 27, 2017

    I’ve had a lot of bad experiences with Airbnb and now don’t book a place with even one negative review. The system can be great but one of the big failings is that many guests are too pathetic to leave bad reviews.

    I’ve always had good experiences with their customer service but that doesn’t make up for the time lost when a booking doesn’t live up to the listing.

    It’s definitely worth asking questions but sometimes you don’t know you need to ask things. You really can’t assume anything and I’ve found nearly every place I’ve stayed, I need to go out and buy really basic kitchen items. Eg. my current place doesn’t have a saucepan!

    It’s frustrating because often Airbnb is the most expedient option for travelers.

    • Gigi
      May 27, 2017

      For sure. I actually have a friend that sends her host a list of kitchen supplies to confirm they have them before she arrives. I don’t do that, but it’s definitely an option. We go back and forth a lot before booking any place, but most of our questions are about Wi-Fi, laundry, and how close the grocery store and market are to the house. And yes – it’s totally baffling how Airbnb guests leave positive or no review when they’ve booked a bad place. Please, everyone, don’t be scared to leave a negative review! You’ll be saving the person who comes after you and your host can’t see the review until they’ve already posted yours, so there’s no downside for you!
      Gigi recently posted…How to Find Amazing Accommodations All Over EuropeMy Profile

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