European Hotel Rooms: Quirks and Deficiencies to Expect Abroad

Ask any traveler who has spent a lot of time in the old country to talk about the European hotel rooms they have stayed in and you are bound to get a snort or an eye roll. That will be followed by a litany of stories and complaints. While most Americans don’t realize it, we are spoiled in what we get from even the cheapest roadside motel compared to what we can expect on the other side of the Atlantic. 

European hotel issues

If you head across the ocean and expect the same room sizes and amenities you get in your average Hampton Inn or Holiday Inn Express, you are going to be quite grumpy. If you expect even more than that when you fork over 200 euros, you’ll be doubly disappointed, especially if you arrive in Italy or France in the summer. 

There are a lot of things you should do to prepare for your first trip to Europe. Get some shoes that aren’t clunky white sneakers, for a start. Gather information on travel insurance so you can pick the right policy for your duration and type of travel. Download a few language apps, Google Translate or Deepl, and get a currency exchange app so you’ll know the proper rate wherever you are. Sort out how you’ll communicate via your own cell plan or a virtual SIM card. 

Then prepare to lower your expectations when it comes to where you’re sleeping at night. If you assume your hotel rooms will be twice as small, will have smaller beds, and will have half the amenities, then you’re far less likely to be disappointed each time you open the door to your room. 

Based on my many travels through Europe, including a five-month journey last year, here is what to expect—and assume you won’t get—in European hotels. 

Tiny Beds Apart or Shoved Together

European hotel rooms

It’s possible that the low birth rate in Europe is not a result of rising wealth or demographic changes. Maybe it’s because European hotel rooms don’t really want couples snuggling up together. Across the 14 European countries I’ve stayed in, the universal thing they’ve had in common is a love of twin beds. Single rooms will have one twin bed, while rooms for two will have two twin beds. If you request a room with one bed, they’ll just shove the two twins together. 

What this means in practice is that if you are sleeping in the same bed, it’s not really one bed. Even if there’s just one sheet across both, there’s still a crack in the middle dividing one partner’s side from the other. It’s rare that you’ll book a room marked as “queen” and only have a single bed with no separation crack. If it says “king,” that’s probably just plain not true. Unless you’re in a non-European international chain hotel like Hilton or Marriott, which is part of the reason they are so popular with business travelers.

Europeans Love Duvets

European hotel rooms duvets

Hot or cold, north or south, Europeans love their duvets. They love them so much that one of those is often the only thing to put over your body at night, even if it’s sweltering hot outside and your room doesn’t have A/C. (Keep scrolling down for that deficiency.) 

Most of the time there is no top sheet, which is annoying on multiple levels. It means an “all or nothing” proposition for dealing with the temperature as you sleep and it’s also worrying from a hygiene standpoint. We can safely assume that hotel sheets are washed between guests, but are they really stripping the covering off a comforter every time, washing it, and going through that whole process of putting a new cover back on again? I’d like to think so, but I doubt it. 

On top of that, since most beds for two are really two twin beds pushed together, they end up putting two duvets on top instead of one: his and hers if you will. Again, fine if you’re having a fight or one of you is a terrible sleeper, but a tangled mess if you’re young and in love…

Drop the Square Footage by a Third

Waxholms Hotel room in Sweden

In the USA, unless you’re in a big and expensive city like New York, even the cheap hotel rooms have plenty of room for your luggage, with space to walk around. At a roadside motel like Super 8 or Econolodge, you’ll have a big enough room for two double beds at least unless it’s a brand like Microtel, the name giving a clue about its size. 

You’ll need to lower your expectations on what a standard hotel room is like when you vacation in Europe. A double standard room will often be 200 square feet or less, a downgrade of a third or more from the U.S. average, even if you’re comparing the same brand of chain hotel. The independent ones can be even smaller, especially if they’re in a historic building. Europeans are just used to having less space, which is why Ikea took off there with all their multi-use furniture that folds up or tucks away. 

The one plus side of this is that you can get a single room for a rate that’s less than a double room. It will be quite tiny, like the one pictured above that I had in Sweden, but at least the option is available. 

Your European Bathroom Will Probably Be Tiny

On the rare occasions I’ve stayed in a European hotel with a big bathroom, it has either been a U.S. chain hotel or I’ve been in some kind of castle suite where they had to rebuild the walls when converting it to a lodging business. 

While it’s common for American and Canadian hotels to have a bathroom where two people can brush their teeth at the same time, that’s cause for celebration in the European Union. Sometimes it feels difficult for one person to brush their teeth without their elbows hitting a wall.  

Your floor space will likely be limited in the bathroom because of another common feature: most European bathrooms have a toilet and a bidet. If you can figure out how to use a bidet (and how to dry off after using the limited towels they provide), you’ll get lots of practice on this continent. 

Washcloths are Like Rare Animals Found in the Wild

It's rare to find a washcloth in European hotel rooms

Has anyone you know seen a wild boar in their European travels? Or an Iberian lynx? Well your odds of spotting one of those in the wild are about the same as your odds of spotting a washcloth in a European bathroom. 

I once took a trip to Hungary and the Czech Republic that lasted for two weeks. The next year I went to Slovakia and Romania for about the same amount of time. In a month total, in a dozen different hotels, I never found a washcloth in my bathroom. “This must be a relic from the Soviet days,” I thought to myself. 

No, it’s continent-wide. Since then I’ve stayed in multiple hotels in Iceland, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Bulgaria, Sweden, Greece, Montenegro, Croatia, and Albania. Only one single night have I had a washcloth to clean my face at night or use in the shower: at a Hilton in Munich when I cashed in some points earned with my credit card. 

Showers Can Be Problematic

Along with the small bathrooms, you’ll often encounter small showers. On top of that, they are seldom well-designed for keeping the spraying water contained unless the owner has installed pre-made ones that came with closing doors. More often the bathroom will be a wet mess when you’re done. 

The more puzzling option to encounter is a bathtub with a handheld shower nozzle and no shower curtain. Perhaps it seems retro romantic to some to be sitting in a bathtub spraying water over themselves (and all over the bathroom) with a handheld shower nozzle, but to most Americans it just feels silly and illogical. If you’ve booked that room for more than a couple of nights, you might want to ask if the hotel has any with a real shower. 

showers in European hotel rooms

Get Used to Tiny Elevators

It became a running joke when my wife and I stayed at hotels in Greece last summer: “Do you think we’ll both be able to fit into the elevator at this one?” We were both carrying a wheeled suitcase and a laptop backpack and this wasn’t really a joke. A couple of times the two of us had to make separate trips up to our room with luggage because the elevator was so tiny. “I’ll meet you up top!”

Again, we can chalk some of this up to the age of the buildings, but even in ones that are only a few decades old, we would run into elevators so small that they were more like dumb waiters delivering food than devices for transporting people and luggage. And we weren’t packing very heavily. I’m not sure what happens when someone arrives with multiple suitcases for a family. 

But hey, Europeans tend to be more fit and thinner than their North American counterparts, so perhaps this is part of a forced fitness routine. When we weren’t hauling our bags up several floors, it did push us to use the stairs more. 

You’ll Need a Multi-Charger for European Hotel Rooms

travel power strip

While it’s not unusual to find a hotel in the USA that has four outlets by each bedside (two of them USB) and plenty more by a full desk, you may be lucky to find even one available outlet in many European hotels. Part of this is to be expected from age — these are often much older buildings — but that doesn’t explain the deficiency in recent openings. The architects and contractors involved with new builds in Europe seem to have forgotten than every person travels with two or three items now that need to be recharged. 

They also don’t appear to do much work in Europe while traveling, at least not on a laptop. It’s rare to find a hotel room that has a proper desk, a comfortable work chair, and outlets that can be reached without crawling around on the floor. Those desk lamps and clocks with built-in charging outlets don’t seem to be on European hotels’ radar yet unless you’re staying at an American chain hotel. Even Accor ones (based in France) like Ibis and Novotel seldom have a place to sit down, work, and charge up. 

Ideally, pack some kind of portable multi-outlet charger device so you can plug all your gadgets using only one plug. Don’t forget the adapter plug though! You’ll need different ones for different countries. If you want to start off being ready for much of Europe, this one has a European plug instead of a U.S. one. 

A/C is Rare and Probably Won’t Work Well

hotel room with weak air conditioning

I noted in my review of the Vienna House Easy hotel in Pilzen, Czech Republic that our room was always hot and nothing we adjusted on the thermostat seemed to have any effect. The orange and red color scheme seemed appropriate since we were roasting in early July.

When the same thing happened at the Limeni Village Hotel in Greece, a staffer told us that we had to call to ask them to turn down the temperature. The wall thermostat was just for show and they really controlled it from the front desk! 

The Europeans seem to have a love/hate relationship with air conditioning, like it’s a guilty pleasure that should be experienced sparingly, if at all. Many hotel rooms don’t have it installed, even in cities where it can top 85F in the summer. They’ll wheel in a fan if you complain, like it’s the 1940s.

In others there will be air conditioning in theory, but the temperature is probably locked at a level where it’s barely effective, like it seemed to be in my Pilzen hotel. Electricity is much more expensive in Europe and despite the eye-popping rates you may be paying, management keeps a tight lid on how much they’re using. Admirable perhaps from a save-the-world angle, but not so great when you’re sweating in bed at 2:00 a.m. 

European Hotels Don’t Do Ice Machines

Hotels in Europe often pride themselves on their high level of service and apparently this extends to their ability to put ice in a bucket and deliver it to your room. While the typical motel or hotel that’s not luxury in the USA will have an ice machine down the hall or under the stairs, that’s almost unheard of in Europe. 

You may have a refrigerator, as they’ll grudgingly add that in the nicer places, but if you want ice to put in your drink, you’ll be calling room service. 

We could go on and on with these, like noting that the first floor is one up and the ground floor is at street level. Or that European countries use a variety of electrical outlets that are different from those in North America and they don’t do double outlets, just singles. But those are just things to get used to, not real annoyances. 

How about you? What quirks have you run into when staying in European hotel rooms?

 

2 Comments

  1. blank Janelle April 19, 2024
  2. blank Tim Leffel April 25, 2024

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