What is a hostel? What should I take to a hostel? How much do hostels cost? Are these questions you’ve found yourself wondering? Thankfully, this page will answer all your hostel related queries! Alternatively, use the buttons above to explore different types of hostel accommodation.

What is a hostel?

A hostel is a unique form of accommodation that can be found all over the world!  Independent Hostels is a network of over 350 hostels up and down the UK – which is more than enough hostels to get stuck into! No two hostels in the UK are alike, but they all follow the same basic framework. For example, they are all a form of self catering accommodation meaning you can cook whatever food you can dream of, and eat locally sourced foods you’ve come across during your day. They have a uniquely social atmosphere. This means you can meet people who enjoy the same activities as you, perhaps make friends and cook or adventure together.

From holiday makers or families to independent travellers and lovers of the outdoors, every hostel attracts it own style of guests. Each hostels is unique and at the hostel you have chosen  you are sure to find kindred spirits.  Pods and bunk beds in dorm rooms provide travellers with a place to sleep in a prime location, at a fraction of the price you would expect to pay.  Perhaps you prefer your own space to stretch out and wind down? Increasingly, hostels not only provide dorm rooms but also private rooms so travellers can have their own space. There is something for everyone in a hostel!

What is it like staying in a hostel?

Sometimes people are wary of staying in a hostel for the first time because they do not know what to expect. Thankfully, this article explains everything you need to know. So your first hostel experience will be stress free! Remember, the people who run hostels are passionate about sustainable travel and love the location of their hostel. This means you will be in safe (and very knowledgeable) hands wherever you choose to stay.

Self catering

By definition, all hostels are self catering. This means a fully equipped kitchen will be provided so you can make whatever meal you desire. Often, other guests will leave behind food to share such as pasta or oil. Sometimes the hostel will provide free hot drinks and or meal options to make your stay as seamless as possible. If you are staying in a hostel with fellow travellers, why not make friends and cook together? You might learn how to cook a new dish and you will all save on washing up! Increasingly hostels welcome groups who hire out the entire hostel. This means your group would have the whole kitchen to yourselves.

An image of radcliffes lodge's self catering kitchen. There are shiny surfaces and three shiny microwaves. There are plenty of pots and pans pictured which shows that the kitchen is fully equipt.
Lovely, shiny self catering kitchen at Radcliffes Lodge on the Northumberland coast. It is a self catering hostel accommodation


Hostels provide a mixture of private and dorm room accommodation.  Lots of hostels cater towards groups of friends or families and you can hire the whole hostel or a dorm room for just your group. Hostel sleeping arrangements can vary from very, from very basic such as a raised platform inside a camping barn where you need to provide your own bedding to boutique stays where every bed has its own charging port, reading light, personal locker and ensuite. Remember to read about your hostel before your stay so you know what to expect.

This image depects the sleeping arrangements at Royal Mile backpackers in Edinburgh. There are cosy looking bunk beds and a plant in the big window and chairs with cushions to sit on
Cosy dorm accommodation at Royal Mile Backpackers in Edinburgh

Communal spaces

One thing that unifies all hostels is their communal area. This is one of the things that sets hostels apart as a form of accommodation. Communal spaces mean hostels provide a social space, great for chatting to other guests or for spreading out if you sole hire as a group. The communal areas, designed by people who love to hostel themselves,  have had a lot of care and thought put into them. Here are some of the communal areas you would expect to find: Lounges with sofas, TVs and a wood burning stove. Games rooms with board games or even ping pong tables. Tables that are perfect for a large  group meal.  Quiet areas for reading or or checking up on emails.  Gardens with picnic benches, BBQs, open spaces to have a kick about and, more often than not, amazing views!

A family with a dog relax on a sofa in the communal area of Cell B hostel. They are chatting to a woman sitting on a nearby armchair.
The spacious communal area of Cell B hostel in Snowdonia


Hostels in the Independent Hostels network are located in the most stunning places with plenty to see and do in the local area. Lots of our hostels are in prime locations for hiking or biking in the mountains. Or are a convenient stop off while navigating a long distance route. Many of our hostels are located by the seaside bringing with them everything the coast entails, swimming, sunbathing, kayaking, coastal walks and visiting picturesque fishing villages. Some of our hostels are part of a larger tourist attraction such as a water park, farm park or climbing wall! Lots of our hostels provide activities that you could get involved in such as organised walks, bar crawls or outdoor adventure.

A group of school girls learning about fordhall farm. it is summer and they are wearing dresses and sunhats and their are in a field. A woman is explaining something to them
A school group learning all about a community owned, organic farm, with a straw bale bunkhouse.

What does a hostel look like?

All hostels have a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere but the physical embodiment of a hostel can vary a great deal. You may find a hostel in a large old mansion or a quaint little cottage or above a bustling pub. Hostels can take the form of castles, Tudor barns, disused railway carriages and farm outhouses. A hostel could be a remote barn halfway up a mountain, a trendy, modern haven in a city centre or a set within a country house estate that you are welcome to explore.

What should you take to a hostel?

Because the price of a night in a hostel is far more wallet-friendly than that of a hotel, some of the luxuries you might expect in a hotel will not be present in a hostel. What you will need to take varies from hostel to hostel. Some hostels are remote barns without so much as mattress whereas some hostels are more boutique and provide modern day luxuries.


Generally, soap and shampoo will not be provided so bring your day-to-day toiletries for a comfortable stay.


At some hostels you can hire towels for a small fee. But check with your hostel in advance in case you need to bring your own. If you are arriving by car it wouldn’t hurt to chuck in a towel just to be on the safe side. Besides, it might come in useful while you are sunbathing on the beach!


More often than not, hostels provide bedding for guests. This is especially handy if you need to pack light while navigating a long distance route! More remote and basic hostels may require you to bring your own sleeping bags so always check with your hostel before you arrive to avoid disappointment.

Sleep aids

Ear plugs are especially important if you are choosing to share a dorm with others. Much of the time hostellers are on different schedules so one person’s early night might be the equivalent of another person’s very late night!  Make sure you get a good night’s rest by bringing ear plugs to block out any unwanted noise.  Or enjoy the privavcy of  booking a private room for yourself and your group.

What is the cost of a hostel?

The amazing thing about hostels is that they are consistently better priced than any other form of accommodation, even when they are in prime locations!  They also provide more amenities in terms of kitchens, gardens and drying rooms.  But do not expect room service or a bell boy in a hostel! What hostels lack in luxury they make up for in great atmosphere and opportunities to get involved. Hostels are the perfect accommodation for the smart traveller who loves saving money and learning about the local area.

What is the difference between a hostel and a hotel?

Hostels are much more suited to outdoor enthusiasts and independent travellers than a hotel.  Hostels understand the need for social events or outdoor gear storage.  This is why hostels often come equipped with drying rooms for soggy clothes, and secure bicycle storage so you can keep your precious bike as safe as you.  Muddy boots are welcome in outdoorsy hostels and many welcome dogs too.  Your hosts will be more than happy to point you in the direction of a city tour or the most amazing walks in the area.  In fact you will probably end up with more recommendations than you can do. People who run hostels are passionate about their accommodation and are able to give you a far more personalised experience than what you would receive in a hotel. Let’s not even get started on the price difference…

Types of Hostels

City Centre Hostels

City centre hostels are amazing places to stay while visiting a new city! They are a hub for international travellers so prepare to be introduced to plenty of new cultures and maybe even an opportunity to learn some phrases in a new language! With a revolving door of people looking to explore the city (occasionally the culture but more often the nightlife…!) there will always be someone new to chat to. Bedding is provided at city centre hostels so leave your sleeping bag at home.

You may have seen the term “backpackers” floating about when looking at hostels.  This is reflected in the fact that at these hostels you can turn up at the door with just a backpack and expect to be greeted with a friendly face and an affordable bed for the night.  Backpackers hostels have become associated with the laid-back nature of hostelling and the term is used less for city centre hostels these days.

Some city hostels have stylish decor and designer furniture are often referred to as “boutique” hostels. Keeping the shared social areas that we all love, but often with stylish bars instead of self catering kitchens.

The great thing about city hostels is they often put on their own events such as bar crawls round the city. These act as ice breakers so you can get to know your fellow companions. City hostel are a great way to experience a city at a fraction of the cost of a hotel or private accommodation in the same location. The key to these brilliantly situated hostels is bunkbeds or pods in shared dorms.

Youth Hostels – YHA

You might have noticed there are some youth hostels in our network despite the fact we are Independent Hostels. Those hostels in our network with “youth hostel” in their name are privately run (so not owned by the YHA) but are affiliated to the YHA marketing scheme.  There are also plenty of former youth hostels who operate completely independently from the YHA in our network.

Ninebanks hostel, formerly part of the YHA looks breatiful with green window frames and a big lawn with lots of flowers
YHA hostel Ninebanks are proud to be part of the Independent Hostels network

Bunkhouses, sometimes called Bunkbarns

Bunkhouses are a form of hostel so they all have self catering kitchens and communal areas.  A bunkhouse is likely to be a conversion of a barn or outbuilding, they are generally in rural areas and cater mostly for outdoor enthusiasts.  Sole-use bookings from groups are quite common but individuals are still welcome in many bunkhouses.  At a bunkhouse you can expect toilets, showers, cooking, and dining facilities.  Sleeping can be in dorms or private rooms and in some you will need your own sleeping bag.

Depending on how recent the conversion, bunkhouses can be very swish with under-floor heating and all mod cons, or more traditional with stone floors and solid fuel stoves.  Look out for the SIMPLE logo on this website when researching bunkhouses. The simple logo together with the price and pictures will help you work out if the accommodation you are looking at is modern or basic.

Independent Hostels logo for simple or basic accommodation
Our SIMPLE logo

Please note that the term bunkbarn is indistinguishable from bunkhouse.


A bunkhouse is not to be confused with a bunkroom.  Bunkrooms provide accommodation in bunks with few other facitilities and are often attached to a pub.  Eating, drinking, and socialising take place inside the pub, so there are no social areas or self catering kitchen in the bunkroom.

Treks bunkhouse looks beautiful in its rural location with the sun set illumiating the bunkhouse and gardens
Panoramic views are available at Treks Bunkhouse in Snowdonia

Camping Barns

Camping barns are a form of hostel. They offer very basic accommodation. There is no bedding and often only a raised area for sleeping.  Guests should bring a sleeping bag and sometimes a sleeping mat too. It is also quite common for the food preparation area to have no cooker or utensils; again, the camper brings their own. Camping barns are very rural and sometimes so remote they have no electricity. They often provide log burners for those chilly nights though. Aimed at outdoor enthusiasts, they can also be fun for families who are looking for something low cost and off grid.

Alstonefield camping barn is nestled amongst fields of cows and and trees
Alstonfield Camping Barn in the Peak District. What an idyllic scene!


Nearly a quarter of hostels in our network offer camping alongside their hostel, bunkhouse or camping barn. This is owed to the lush green nature of where they are located. Why not camp, play and picnic in beautiful hostel gardens and fields! The size and amenities vary on hostel campsites. Some are pretty little gardens with enough space for one or two tents. Whereas others are full blown campsites complete with shower blocks and space for caravans and motor homes.

a woman with three children and a horse cooks on a campfire in the woods
Horses are optional at the campsite at Middle Ninfa Bunkhouse in the Brecon Beacons!

Village Hall

Staying in a village hall might not have crossed your mind before. But all over the UK there are an increasing number of village halls who are opening their doors to weary travellers, rambling groups and extended families looking for the perfect place to host their get together!  There are equipped kitchens and male and female toliets but not always beds, instead you bring your own sleeping mat to use on the hall floor.   This is a low-key form of accommodation run by the community for the community. So, expect that personal touch such as children’s art on the walls and plenty of posters about up and coming local events. It is the ideal way to support the village you are staying in.

Lawrenny Millennium Hostel is a beautiful village hall in Pembrokeshire
A village hall community hostel in Pembrokeshire.

Pods and Glamping

The hostels in our network are located in the most stunning places. So why not stay in accommodation as stunning as the scenery? A growing number of the lovely hostels in this network have a wide range of glamping options to explore. Why not spend the weekend relaxing in a tipi and listening to the birds? Or perhaps a romantic getaway in an eco-pod in a magical forest setting? How about sipping your morning coffee outside your own chalet with an unspoilt view of tranquil rolling hills?

A young couple on their marriage day stood in front of a thatched glamping house
Why not tie the knot at Marthrown of Mabie near Dumfries?

Outdoor Education Centres

Many outdoor centres and group accommodation centres provide hostel style accommodation.  These provide much better value than holiday-lets. They have great cooking and dining facilities, custom made for groups.  Some can organize the catering for your group or provide outdoor activities.

Dunfield education centre looking beautiful between a beautiful lawn and some over hanging trees
Dunfield House is a welcoming sight

Hostel accommodation for groups

All the accommodation in the Independent Hostels network will welcome a group.  If you are organising a group, you find your ideal place to stay using our online group accommodation service.

Now you know what a hostel is, why not visit some?