A look at the 10 best hostels around the world

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For many travellers, mental images of hostels are not favourable ones. But grim, institutional dorms reeking of sweaty feet, absurdly early curfews and being kicked out into the rain for half a day while cleaning commences are fast becoming extinct.

In the last 10 to 15 years, hostels have had to change to meet demand – and the web has played a major part in the upping of standards. Specialist booking sites such as Hostelbookers.com and Hostelworld.com allow users to review and rate the hostels they have stayed at. With a relatively small market to fight over, that means individual hostels literally have to clean up their act to get to the top of the rankings.

Julian Ledger, the chief executive of YHA Ltd in Australia, traditionally a country with a major hostelling scene, says: “Young people travelling today now have higher expectations of the type of accommodation they expect, and the extras they require, especially around technology.

“The design of modern, purpose-built hostels now incorporates many extras appreciated by our guests, such as in-room lockers for luggage storage with power points inside to charge phones, laptops, cameras, etc.”

There has also been a broadening of the market. The traditional, young budget travellers are still there, but older travellers often stay in hostels as a lifestyle choice.

“Traditionally, a hotel and a hostel have been different accommodation types,” says Ledger. “One providing in-room comfort and facilities but few opportunities for a communal atmosphere, and the other providing very simple bedrooms but lots of opportunities for meeting people. That distinction is breaking down and newer hotel-hostels can be expected to offer the best of both worlds.”

For the smart traveller who doesn’t want to shell out a fortune, therefore, private rooms in a hostel can often be a much better option than those in a budget hotel. And in some cases, such as these 10, the under-the-radar hostel option is a little bit special.

Fusion Hostels

Prague, Czech Republic

Arguably the most exciting purveyor of the hybrid hostel-hotel concept, the Fusion creates quite an impression. DJs play in the lounge, soft benches are furnished from old pairs of jeans and double-take-inducing black corridors are lit with slivers of green light indicating the door numbers.

The weirdness continues with watermelons painted on dorm walls, mousetraps used to keep information sheets and tourist brochures in the same place, and small, green stepladders used as bedside tables.

But among the design grandstanding is a quality product – modern hostel staples such as free Wi-Fi, secure lockers and individual reading lights are all present and correct.

• Dorm beds from €12 (Dh60), doubles from €60 (Dh300); www.fusionhotels.com; 00420 226 222 800

The Backpack

Cape Town, South Africa

Being in the photogenic shadow of Table Mountain is one thing, while having both a pool and a pool table helps the holiday vibe.

But what the Fairtrade-accredited Backpack excels at is its engagement with the local community. Profits are donated to numerous community projects – whether knitting blankets for orphans or homework tutoring for disadvantaged township youngsters – and the on-site shop sells locally handmade trinkets.

Oh, and the private rooms are of a higher quality than many mid-range hotels.

• Dorm beds from 240 South African rand (Dh83), doubles from 950 rand (Dh327); www.poshhostel.com; 0027 214 234 530

The Salisbury YMCA

Hong Kong

Surrounded by some of the plushest luxury hotels in the world and with an absolute plum position on the Kowloon waterfront, the Salisbury YMCA is a long-standing bargain.

Essentially an old school hostel that has been steadily updated, value for money in the prime location is its key selling point, but the fact that it’s the local YMCA headquarters gives it extraordinary facilities that most hostels can’t dream of matching. That includes a pool, a Jacuzzi, an indoor climbing wall and squash courts.

• Dorm beds from 330 Hong Kong dollars (Dh155), doubles from 1,430 Hong Kong dollars (Dh672); www.ymcahk.org.hk; 00852 2268 7888

Travellers House

Lisbon, Portugal

On the staircase up to the reception, a collection of Segways lie balanced against the wall. They’re available to rent for €25 (Dh125) a day. Then comes the sign indicating all the themed nights – such as a tour of the “tascas”, Lisbon’s small, unassuming eateries – that guests can sign up to for pocket change.

The energy in providing things to do is offset by the homeliness of the protected building Travellers House has taken over.

All of the dorm beds – including the top bunks – have a little shelf for storing books, phones and other gadgetry that occupants may wish to have at hand. And the bathrooms have soap and towels – still something of a rarity in hostels.

The private rooms, meanwhile, are dotted with antique furniture – one has an old wheeled cart turned into a shelf-table hybrid – and high-quality bedding is the norm throughout.

• Dorm beds from €18 (Dh90), private double rooms from €50 (Dh250); www.travellershouse.com; 00351 210 115 922

Living Lounge

Lisbon, Portugal

In 2013, when specialist hostel booking site Hostelworld announced its best hostels in the world, the top four, as decided by guest ratings, were all in ­Lisbon. Living Lounge stands out from the sky-high competition with its arty streak.

Each room has been decorated by a different artist or collective, meaning you might get massive tree murals over the walls and lights hanging inside bird cages or curtains in the style of the scarves worn by Portugal’s fado singers.

There’s no excuse for being bored either – Living Lounge offers sociable three-course dinners for €10, tip-based walking tours and bike hire for €5 (Dh25) per half day.

• Dorm beds from €12 (Dh60), private twin rooms from €44 (Dh220); www.livingloungehostel.com; 00351 213 461 078

Sydney Harbour YHA

Sydney, Australia

The roof terrace is part of this purpose-built stunner’s wow factor. Guests are free to use the barbecue up there as they look out over Sydney Harbour and the Opera House.

How it was purpose-built is the most astonishing thing, however. The hostel stands on low-impact stilt-like things above an archaeological site, and early colonial era items retrieved from the dig are on display inside.

The dorms are fully modernised, but it’s the en suite private rooms – many of which have harbour views – that are the real prize for anyone wanting to dodge the uber-costly harbourside hotels.

• Dorm beds from 44 Australian dollars (Dh150), doubles from 148 Australian dollars (Dh502); www.yha.com.au/hostels/nsw/sydney-surrounds/sydney-harbour; 0061 282 720 900

Seattle City Hostel

Seattle, United States

Seattle’s finest, and often voted as the best hostel in the United States, this is a perfect merger of green, arty, historic and community interests. Local street artists have worked their magic on the decoration, while on the roof you’ll find fruit trees, a herb garden and a beehive.

Staff are eager to give tips on the best places to hang out in the densely populated Belltown area they’re proud to be a part of and the building is an old hotel in which the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall used to stay.

Breakfast, with fresh fruit included, is thrown into the deal and the cleanliness standards are sky-high.

• Dorm beds from US$32 (Dh118), private rooms from $86 (Dh316); www.hostelseattle.com; 001 206 706 3255

Castle Rock Hostel

Edinburgh, Scotland

It’s rare for accommodation of any type or budget to pull off the character and sense of place that Edinburgh’s Castle Rock hostel manages. It’s just off the city’s famous Royal Mile, and pretty much tucked beneath the castle, so the suits of armour lining the hallway and images of knights jousting all over the walls seem a good fit.

Gender-segregated bathrooms, rooms covered in plug sockets and letting in lots of natural light, massive kitchens for self-caterers, plus separate lounges with a piano and pool table, all help, too.

• Dorm beds from £13 (Dh79), doubles from £45 (Dh274); www.castlerockedinburgh.com; 0044 131 225 9666

YHA Raglan

Raglan, New Zealand

For sheer oddness, it’s difficult to top the YHA in New Zealand’s surf capital – a collection of quirkily designed adobe “earthdomes”, cabooses and ­Native American-style tepees.

Free-range chickens cluck around the 10-acre complex, guests are treated to sweeping sea views and there’s an on-site surf school for anyone who wants to take on the waves.

The hippy vibe is added to with a heavy environmental focus – organic gardens, solar panels, special composting systems and a worm farm – on top of the yoga classes on offer.

• Dorm beds from 27 New Zealand dollars (Dh85), private double tepees and ­cabooses from 72 New Zealand dollars (Dh228); www.yha.co.nz/hostels/north-island-hostels/­yha-raglan; 0064 7825 8268

Hostel Celica

Ljubljana, Slovenia

The Metelkova complex in Ljubljana – a former Yugoslav military barracks – was taken over by squatters in 1993. Since then, it has become a grungy haven of designers’ studios, artists’ workshops and music venues.

At the centre of this is the Celica, which has turned the cells of the old military prison into backpacker rooms.

The metal bars over the doors have been kept for effect, but the decor is considerably more attractive than it once was. More than 80 artists – some based in Metelkova – were roped in to make each cell a unique work of art.

The sociable atmosphere extends to the somewhat legendary all-you-can-eat nights where you can stuff yourself with as many helpings of pad Thai or slabs of meat off the barbecue as you like in return for €5.90 (Dh30).

• Dorm beds from €19 (Dh95), private twins from €50 (Dh250); www.hostelcelica.com; 00386 1230 9