Tag Archives: latvia

My Favorite Hostels in Eastern Europe

I’ve spent quite a bit of time traveling in Eastern Europe, but no matter how far I’ve traveled or for how long, certain hostels remain ingrained in my memories.  The six Eastern European hostels below stand out for different reasons: staff who go above and beyond, amazing locations, creative décor or even- in one case- an unforgettable fragrance!  When you’re planning your Eastern European backpacking or budget travel trip, try to include at least one of these best Eastern European hostels on your itinerary!

Nikita’s Homestay, Olkhon Island, Russia

Nikita's Homestay Olkhon Island Russia

Nikita’s Homestay is a sprawling complex that has grown beyond its original incarnation as a family homestay on Russia‘s Olkhon Island (in Lake Baikal) to something much more interesting.  It has a wide range of rooms (some with the comforts of the modern world, other with squat toilets in the garden) that they book as private dwellings or hostel-style, depending on the needs of their guests.  I shared a three-bed room with two other girls, and we shared two toilets and one shower with one other room.  Meals are included in your package, and you can choose from the basic canteen (with basic dishes like cabbage salad and pasta in tomato sauce) or pay a bit extra for a small, but interesting buffet with a good assortment of vegetarian foods.  Nikita’s is special because of its garden setting, the magical quality of its decorations, and its location next to the most beautiful sights in the town of Khuzhir on Olkhon Island.

Rooms with shared toilets and showers, including breakfast and dinner, start at 1400 rubles.

The Naughty Squirrel, Riga, Latvia

Naughty Squirrel Hostel Riga Latvia

The Naughty Squirrel Hostel in Riga, Latvia, stands out to me because it offered the perfect combination of social activities and independence.  On my first evening there I walked into a magic show in the social room.  To me, that’s the perfect kind of low-key way to meet other people after a long day of travel that’s left me too tired to want to go on a crazy pub crawl or something.  The Australian owner is lovely and personally led a group of us to one of his favorite bars to sample a very “interesting” drink.  Of course, if you like crazy pub crawls the option is there too, as is the chance to shoot AK-47s and other firearms on one of their organized outings.

Dorm rooms start at EUR 12.

The Hairy Lemon, Sarande, Albania

sarande albania

Every morning the staff at The Hairy Lemon hostel whip up a batch of cinnamon-spiked pancake batter, so you can make fresh hot cakes when you rise and shine.  Ask nicely and they might share the recipe for their homemade Irish Cream too.  Combine that with late-night barbecues on the nearby beach and the best views the town has to offer, and it’s likely the best hostel in all of Albania.

Dorms from EUR 10 per night.

Mama’s and Papa’s, Gdansk, Poland

Road to Mamas and Papas Hostel Gdansk Poland

It’s the mama and the papa that make Mamas and Papas Hostel one of the most special hostels in Eastern Europe.  The couple that runs this place is full on heart and passionate about making sure every guest has a good stay in Gdansk.  If you’re missing your own mom and dad, they will take you under their wing and give you a little parental TLC.  For example, when they found out that I was a vegetarian they brought a special mushroom pastry back from the market for me to try. The hostel is found just outside the city center, near an expansive park, on a street dotted with hundreds of tiny frogs!  Too cute!

Dorms start at 40 zloty.  Private rooms are 140 zloty.

Haris Hostel, Sarajevo, Romania

Haris Hostel Sarajevo Tour Bosnia

That’s Haris, and Haris Hostel is the hostel his family opened after the Balkan War to share their love of Sarajevo with travelers from around the world.  Located on the top of a rather large hill, Haris Hostel hosts panoramic barbecue dinners, offers city tours rooted in the family history, and gives guests a feel for the day-to-day life in Sarajevo today. The family also operates a tour company from their office in the historic city center, so if you have any questions you can get a quick response without the climb!

Dorms from EUR 10, private rooms from EUR 25.

Cobwobs Hostel, Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania

Sighetu Marmatiei Romania

This one is an odd addition to my list.  Owned by a man from the UK and the Romanian family he married into, at first glance Cobwobs Hostel is nothing special.  It’s located in Sighetu Marmatiei, a Maramures town that rarely makes it onto any Romania trip itineraries, and it’s in a pretty nondescript second house built behind the family home (bigger and newer than those in the photo of the neighborhood streets above). However, I appreciated the little touches (even when there were only one or two other guests) like a daily weather forecast, expansive list of things to do, and the gorgeous scent of the wood-burning stove used to heat the water for your shower.

Contact the hostel for current prices.

If you think I missed one of the best hostels in Eastern Europe, share it below in the comments!

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Mealtime Monday – In a Latvian Kitchen

Kitchen Restaurant in Riga, Latvia

This week’s Mealtime Monday posts comes to you from Kitchen Restaurant in Riga, Latvia.  At this chic little eatery just steps away from the central market, vegetarians, omnivores and carnivores can all find a creative, affordable lunch or dinner.  (I feel like that sounds like a paid advertisement, but it’s definitely not!)  I opted for their salad of seasonal vegetables tossed in a rhubarb cream dressing; on the side there was fresh bread with vegan pumpkin “butter”.  I followed this with a second course of cheese tortellini in a sorrel cream sauce, and had to restrain myself from ordering a dessert too!  This was a fine dining meal at family dining prices.  Vegetarians in the Baltics don’t have to worry; there is lots of warm, hearty fare to keep you satisfied!

WPC – Serenity in Jurmala, Latvia

beach sopot

For me, nothing is more serene than escaping the city and visiting a quiet beach.  While I was in Riga I got tired of wandering around the bustling port and hopped on a train to Jurmala, Latvia, a nearby spa town.  Even though it was the middle of summer the beach was relatively empty and only one or two people were actually venturing into the waters of the Gulf of Riga (on the Baltic Sea).  Dipping my toes in the water and walking past sea birds aplenty was the perfect way to relax and recharge after six weeks of serious European packpacking (of course, visiting the spa didn’t hurt either…)!

Mealtime Monday: Baltic Buffet

Lido Buffet Riga Latvia

Lido is a semi-famous chain of buffet-style restaurants across Latvia (and beginning to stretch its reach into neighbouring Baltic states, I believe).  Unlike a typical American all-you-can-eat buffet, Lido charges diners only for the foods they choose to put on their plates, and it’s easy to have a great meal like the one above for four or five euro (max!).  I went for half a plate of vegetables, some roasted potatoes and a cheese-filled pancaked with herbed yogurt sauce.  Just outside the frame is, of course, an ice-cold glass of kvass!  There was a wide variety of options for both vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.  Lido also operates a large recreation facilities that doubles as the company’s brewery… play safe, kids!

Mealtime Monday: Pancake Buffet

pancakes for a vegetarian in riga

What tastes better than Coca-Cola in a glass bottle?  Coca-Cola in a glass bottle beside a massive plate of assorted pancakes that only cost about two dollars.  At Sefpavaras Vilhelms (I’m not even going to try to do the accents) in Riga, Latvia, a huge assortment of pancakes (cheese, potato, mushroom, banana, etc.) and garnishes (jam, yogurt, sauce, etc.) await comfort food seekers.  Don’t just visit for breakfast- pop in for brunch, lunch or even a light dinner too.  This might just be the best pancake restaurant in the world (don’t tell Amsterdam!), and it’s most certainly one of the best restaurants for a vegetarian in Riga!