Upon arriving at your hotel in Europe, the first thing you’ll want to do is freshen up, relax, and unwind before heading out on any tours.
Upon entering your hotel room, you may find yourself surprised by the small size, the difference in beds, or how bathrooms are situated. There are some essential differences between American and European hotel rooms, how they’re laid out, and what they offer, but don’t worry: the differences are all part of the experience!
What to expect in your European hotel room
There are many variations between American and European hotel rooms, but the most noticeable are those in the bathroom—let’s begin there!
European bathroom layout, the bidet, and hardware…
European hotel bathrooms don’t have the same layout as their American counterparts. The shower will be smaller, and will usually be located between the toilet and sink. This isn’t always the case, but you’ll find that European bathrooms are usually less spacious.
European bathrooms are beautifully designed with marble and other fine materials not frequently used in America. The lack of space means getting ready one-by-one. If one person needs to brush his/her teeth while the other needs to apply makeup, flip a euro to decide who gets to go first! Interestingly, even the smallest European bathrooms are often outfitted with exquisite jet bathtubs. These are a lovely treat for relaxing after long days of sightseeing.
In Europe, bidets are just about everywhere. The bidet is a staple of European culture. This handy bathroom installation is usually next to the toilet. The bidet is a great way to keep things fresh; they’re used so much in Europe you’ll have a hard time spotting a bathroom without one. Don’t be scared to try using a bidet: it’s quite the experience, and one you’ll want to check off your bucket list for sure!
Americans are used to high water pressure showerheads. Water pressure is lower in Europe, and because hotels are eco-friendly, you may also find hot water doesn’t last as long as it does at home—between 5–10 minutes in European hotels. The best plan is to have all shower gear in the stall, ready to go before turning the water on. If someone else needs to shower after you, waiting a few minutes will replenish hot water.
Confused by knobs to get the water temperature right? European shower knobs almost always go left for hot water, right for cold. If your shower doesn’t show red for hot and blue for cold, it will show letters. In Spain, you’ll notice “C” for “Caliente,” and “F” for “Frio.” If you’re confused by knobs, hotel staff is always ready to help at any hour. Before calling the concierge, try swiveling knob(s) to get desired results for your shower.
Sometimes, European showerheads won’t engage unless you flip a switch, which is disguised as an everyday switch for outlets. Oftentimes, this switch—which electronically controls the temperature and time the shower will run—is located outside the bathroom. The switch may be accompanied by dials to control water temperature. While this system sounds difficult, upon seeing it, you’ll be able to tell how easy it is to use.
Hotels in Europe are several decades or centuries old; some are archaic structures converted into hotels. They’ll have outstanding amenities and charm, but space isn’t an attribute you’ll find plentiful here. Remodeled buildings have all the trappings of modern hotels, but you’ll have to make do with less space, especially if you’re staying in large cities. European hotel owners are aware of what Americans like, and many have enlarged their rooms, or used creative flair to make the most of smaller rooms.
The smaller the hotel, the larger the rooms. If having the space you're used to is important while abroad, ask travel agents to book a luxury or boutique hotel specializing in spacious accommodations.
European electrical outlets: bring newer devices and adapters
Just as with all outlets in Europe, hotel outlets are made for 110V, not American 220V. If you bring American appliances, be sure they’re newer. If they’re more than five years old, they won’t work without a converter, even if you have adapters (see our article on Using Adapters in Europe). Bring some adapters to accommodate devices as needed.
The cost to apply for TSA Pre-check is $85 at time of publishing. This is the cost you can expect to pay if you file for consideration through the federal government. This fee cannot be waived, as it covers the cost of the required background testing, identification verification, administrative costs, and fingerprinting. Forms of payment accepted include major credit card, money order, cashier’s check, or certified check.
A word of caution: you might encounter third-party companies offering to help you with your application process. In these instances, you can expect to pay a notable markup from the base price of the program.
Most European hotels advertise rooms featuring double beds. Don’t be surprised to find this doesn’t mean what you think. European hotel beds are one or two twin beds, depending on what was booked for you. Twin beds are separated by a nightstand, but if you prefer to sleep together, move the nightstand and squeeze the beds together. If moving furniture around is something you’re not interested in, let your travel agent know so they can connect with the right resources to ensure you get a full-sized bed.
Which floor is the actual first floor?
In the U.S., the first floor of a hotel is the lobby. In Europe, the “first floor” is the first floor of rooms. Remember this when booking rooms anywhere in Europe if you want your room to be reserved on the true first floor. Be clear about what you want with your travel agent and let them know which floor you want to be on—they can ensure your request doesn’t get lost in translation.
Towel dispensing at European hotels
You may have already encountered this in some American hotels, but European hotels keep costs down and environmental friendliness up by providing fewer towels, and by not supplying brand new towels every single day. Reuse towels as much as you can, and when you want more towels, simply inform the concierge or hotel staff as the need arises. They are always happy to accommodate you.
European hotel elevators
European elevators are tiny. That’s because they were built when elevators just weren’t that big, or because the building was retrofitted to accommodate elevators. Generally, about five people will fit in a lift. If you have claustrophobia, this is your chance to get some exercise by taking stairs. Smaller elevators are less likely to have issues because they aren’t carrying 3,000 pounds like elevators in the U.S. Rest easy, and relax as you head up to your room or down for a tour.
Overall, while the experience is different, there’s a certain charm to European hotel rooms that you’ll miss when you return home!