Hi Frugalistas! You’ve decided to take your first trip to Europe – how exciting! Now you need to make decisions. What airline to book, what to do, and most importantly where to stay! It’s very tempting to stick with the familiar and stay at a chain hotel. You know what to expect, what the room will be like and how the plumbing will work. But because this is frugal first class travel, a Hilton or Ibis just isn’t going to do it. Small, locally-owned hotels in Europe typical of the location are what I actively encourage to add so much enrichment to your trip. They are also the hotels I typically choose in Europe. (You can read about my favorite European hotels here). So in this post I’m looking at what to expect in a three star hotel in Europe. I’m choosing a 3 star as it’s a good mid-point option for many travellers. While the exact star system criteria vary from country to country this post will explain what a 3 star hotel in Europe is like.
First impressions of a three star hotel in Europe
In most European locations your hotel will face straight onto the street, rather than having a driveway. In most cases you can also forget about valet parking or even a bellhop. Hotels in rural and some regional towns may have parking available, but make sure you check car parking availability and price if that is important to you.
The lobby areas of three star hotels in Europe are likely to be quite small. There may be some seating, but there won’t be a lot. It is highly unlikely there will be a bar, but many 3 star hotels will offer a tea and coffee service in their lobby.
Frugal first class travel tip
In a three star hotel there should be 24hour onsite reception, but check if the hotel does not describe it on their website if it is an important deciding factor for you.
Depending on location and the age of the hotel, there will probably be a lift (elevator), but in large cities it will probably be very small. Room for just two to three people and a small amount of luggage – another reason to pack light!
What will be in the room of a 3 star hotel?
You will have a private bathroom in a 3 star hotel, but regardless of where you stay, hotel rooms in Europe tend to be on the small side. European hotel bathrooms may feature just a shower, a shower over the bath, or a bath with a handheld shower. You may not be able to ascertain exactly what the bathing arrangement will be until you reach your room – in my experience it often depends on the exact room you are given. In my favourite 3 star Paris hotel for example, I’ve had the experience of all three options in the same hotel!
Three star hotel bathroom goodies will vary a lot from hotel to hotel. At a minimum expect to have soap (which may be liquid or solid) and shampoo. I’ve seen them in pretty little bottles, flimsy plastic sachets and on wall dispensers – you can’t tell till you turn up. I’ve also stayed in three star hotels where the bathrooms come complete with shoe polishers, sewing kits and all sorts of other treasures. Price and location doesn’t seem to determine what you will have – it is just an individual hotel thing. Glasses are increasingly being replaced with disposable plastic cups.
Although three star hotel facilities do not always include tea and coffee making facilities, you do see them from time to time, along with minibars. Irons and iron boards in three hotels in Europe are uncommon, although most hotels will have an iron and ironing board you can borrow.
Frugal first class travel tip
You will have a hair dryer of some description. If you can’t find it in the bathroom, check the drawers of the wardrobe or desk – they often lurk there!
Eating and drinking
Room service is likely to be non-existent, although some hotels who do not have breakfast rooms serve breakfast in your room.
The breakfast room will be just that – a room for breakfast only. It will often be in the basement or tucked away off the reception area. In places like Athens and Istanbul they can come with dazzling views. Sometimes in smaller towns the hotel will offer dinner, but don’t assume that.
Frugal first class travel tip
I’ve found that many Europe hotels who only have breakfast rooms are happy to have tidy and respectful guests use their breakfast rooms to eat food they’ve brought themselves. Ask first, and make sure you tidy up after yourself.
Breakfast is very variable. It will depend on the hotel and where it is. In general, it is reasonable to expect some form of bread and/or pastry, cereal, yoghurt, fruit (fresh or stewed) and a plate of cheese and meats. Also expect some local variations – croissants are a given in France. Look out for cake in Italy and Spain, and eggs and delicious different breads in German speaking countries.
Frugal first class travel tip
Local honey and yoghurts are a real highlight on the breakfast buffet in Greece and Turkey (absolutely delicious).
Coffee, tea, hot chocolate and juices will also be available. Service style will vary immensely between pots of coffee and hot water for tea and chocolate, automatic machines, or proper barista coffee served by the waiting staff. Price (or whether the breakfast is even included in your room rate) doesn’t seem to determine what drinks will be available or how they will be served.
Your room will have a television. They are almost all flatscreens now in my experience. You will be unlucky to strike a hotel that does not have English language channels (although I did strike one in the Cinque Terre in 2013). English language channels may be limited to news channels such as BBC World or CNN, although tourist areas that attract a lot of English tourists (such as parts of France and also Bruges in Belgium and Amsterdam) may offer a wider choice.
Pay per view movies are unlikely to be offered.
Wifi in rooms is pretty universal now. It is available for free in so many 3 star hotel rooms now, that basically I refuse to stay anywhere that charges – unless it is a significantly cheaper hotel. Expect it to work well. Some hotels use a system where they print you off a code on a receipt that you use, others just require an online registration and they will give you the code on a slip of paper. You may be required to re-register periodically depending on the system they use.
Is a three star hotel good? Well, three star hotels are not luxury hotels in Europe. But they are comfortable and affordable hotels suitable for most travelers to Europe.
Do you have any interesting European hotel experiences to share? I’d love to hear about them.
Find your Europe 3 star hotel clicking here >>
Geek Goddess says
I stay in these types of hotels every time I’ve been to France. Other things: unlike U.S. Hotels, at most family and smaller hotels you are to leave your room key at the front desk when you venture out.
Lady Light Travel says
A great description Jo! One thing that surprised me was how variable the facilities were at a 3 star hotel. Some were amazing and beautiful, others barely passed muster. Check the description before hand. I’d note a couple of things for folks in the states: 1) Many European hotels don’t have countertops in the bathroom. They may have a tiny shelf. It’s really important to bring a hanging toiletry kit because there may not be a place to set it down in the toilet area. 2) European hotels have a Continental style breakfast (doh!) which is typically much smaller than a US breakfast. This is a good thing. Europeans eat dinner at a later hour than those in the US. You won’t need a big breakfast because you’re still full from dinner the night before. Plus, who wouldn’t want to save on calories so they can spend them on all the other culinary delights? Another note for those in the US – the bread is so much better than what you can get in the US, so enjoy it!
Yes, great point Naomi – you do often need to leave your key, and sometimes the key will be a key rather than a swipe card access.
Agree completely Cindy. Having a hanging toilet bag can be very handy in small European bathrooms. Because the rooms are often quite small packing just one small carry on bag is also a smart idea.
American bread is just awful (in my experience), so bread is definitely something that US readers should really enjoy
Brilliant summary Jo! I nearly always stop in 3 star hotels in Europe, and your points are all spot on. For me, 3 star hotels are usually perfectly good quality and more than adequate for a city break – I just don’t see the point in paying for a 4 star plus when I’m usually hardly in the room
Thanks Paul. That’s exactly it – you’re hardly ever there. It is nice to stay somewhere special as a treat for a night or so, or for a special occasion, but really, for most travellers a 3star will do the trick
Jo, you have just about described the essentials of every 3-star I’ve stayed throughout Germany. It’s also my choice to stay, too. Some folks shy away from 3-stars around train stations in German cities (re. slightly dodgy areas?), but I’ve stayed in hotels in these areas to know the hotels for the most part are clean, relatively quiet (for being next or close to train stations), friendly, and affordable. Now, add liberal sprinklings of visitors from around the world, and let the amusing convos at breakfast begin! 😉
Tam Gamble says
We find that if you choose a small hotel chain that has maybe three or four across Europe, rather than a large hotel chain, the standard of a 3* hotel tends to be superior because they need the repeat business and recommendations. We also tend to look for those that have a slightly quirky element to them as these are well maintained for the reason that people scrutinise them if one little deal is out of place. One tip, for travellers looking for a stay in the English Countryside – don’t shy away from pubs with rooms – these are traditional and quaint with a great deal of character. The pub, in general, will have a high standard of food available and traditional beers and ales for you to try plus the added advantage is that parking is normally free and there will be some lovely walks around the hotel. Licensing in rural areas means that most pubs will close by 11pm so don’t be put off by noise levels.
Great tips Tam! I particularly love the idea of small chain hotel groups. Like the individual family-run hotels they do rely on referrals and good reviews so they often work hard to get your business
Very interesting and very useful summary, Jo. I would say that the hotels in Germany are generally much bigger than in France and are more likely to have a small sofa or two armchairs and a low table. You didn’t mention beds which have improved considerably over the years – thank goodness. I shall add this post to my blogger round-up this week.
You’re right Rosemary, German 3stars often do have better facilities (and in my opinion the best breakfasts!)Thanks for the add 🙂
Susan Walter says
These days the mattress are good, but the pillows are still awful in most of these hotels. Where possible we travel with our own (we can do this because we are generally travelling within France, which is where we live — obviously it’s tricker if you are travelling from overseas). I definitely wouldn’t pay more than 3 star though, and the level of cleanliness is usually outstanding.
I agree Susan. For most if us, a 3star is a good option. Now pillows, yes. Pillows can be problematic – often they are quite low and quite hard by non-European standards. I usually raid the wardrobe for an extra one, or ask at reception
I used to systematically take my pillow with me but then they improved. In East Germany, though, they were horrible this year so maybe I’ll start taking one with me again … In my gîte, I offer three types of pillows!
You clearly spoil your visitors at the gite Rosemary!
I was very interested to read your post, Jo, because in the last 10 years I try to stay away from hotels if I have a choice. I prefer renting from VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) where for the price of a hotel room you get an entire apartment, most of the time way, way better than a hotel. However, after reading your report I have to say that it’s not always bad to give hotels a chance.
Apartments are a great option, particularly when you are in a group or travelling with children. I’ve written about how to decide if an apartment is the right place for you to stay here http://frugalfirstclasstravel.com/2012/06/21/is-an-apartment-the-right-place-for-you-in-europe/
It really upsets me when the B&B’s and 3 star hotels give you free WiFi but lots of the big 4-5 star hotel chains make you pay for WiFi. the free WiFi is in the hotel lounge. I find this a common problem in a lot of European cities.
You’re so right Shobha!