While it’s the most visited city in continental Europe, Paris still lags noticeably behind neighbors like Amsterdam, Barcelona and Berlin in one important budget travel category: hostels. Although there are plenty of inexpensive sleeping options (which we profile in our guide to cheap Paris hotels), the City of Lights simply doesn’t have that many great hostels – or that many hostels of any quality, for that matter.
Whether this is due to the city’s prohibitive real estate prices, its abundance of affordable hotels or other factors is unsure. However, youth culture is on the upswing in Paris, especially in the northeast corner of the city. This is illustrated by the recent openings of two new hostels, The St. Christopher’s Inn Gare du Nord and the FUAJ Paris Pajol.
I spent time at both during a recent trip, and found that while they each cater unequivocally to youth, they do so in greatly differing manners.
St. Christopher’s Inn – Gare du Nord
The St. Christopher’s Inn chain is one of Europe’s best known hostel groups. In fact, their new St. Christopher’s Inn – Gare du Nord is their second in Paris, the first located not too far away at Canal St-Martin. That location has been consistently rated among the best hostels in Paris, so expectations were high for this new hostel, which opened for business this past July.
While the Canal St-Martin hostel is located in a hip, young neighborhood that’s just a little out of the way, the new hostel is just a stone’s throw from the Gare du Nord, a convenient location for those arriving by train or Metro. Yet it still brings the same energy, with its massive Belushi’s Bar (a fixture of the St. Christopher’s brand) as its centerpiece.
Unsurprisingly (given the bar in the entrance hall), the energy at St. Christopher’s Gare du Nord is raucous, loud and (most importantly) young. While I was there, a rock band played on a small stage, while a nearby chalkboard advertised a weekly beer pong tournament.
Beyond the bar, the 500-bed hostel is clean, comfortable and well-equipped, without a trace of collegiate grunge. Accommodations range from singles to 10-bed dormitories to a massive penthouse apartment (the rooms on the top floor offer spectacular views of Paris). Each comfortable bed comes with a reading light, personal outlets (including a USB port!) and privacy curtains. (Note that noise from the bar travels up to the rooms. Earplugs may be a smart accessory.)
Bottom line: St. Christopher’s offers a fun, youthful vibe that’s often lacking in Paris.
FUAJ Paris Pajol
The Hostel Pajol (run by the French branch of Hostelling International, FUAJ) offers a different vision of hosteling. Opened earlier this year, the Pajol is a sustainable, “green hostel,” and a part of the revitalization effort to create an eco-neighborhood here in the eastern 18th arrondissement.
Located next to the Gare de l’Est train yards on a rather industrial block, this hostel is not for tourists looking for quintessential Parisian charm. Rather, it caters to travelers ready to look beyond the museums and bistros to a city that’s modern and evolving.
Compared to the frenetic St.Christopher’s Inn, the Pajol feels positively sleepy and spare. Yes, there’s a bar here as well, but it feels more like a way station than a destination. The building itself is a renovated warehouse, and the space makes the hostel feel a bit more barebones than it really is. This was heightened, during my stay, by the fact that some parts of the hostel are still in development.
Yet, within the complex, there’s a community theater, breakfast area, many lounges, a soundproof concert room and a public garden. A library is opening soon, and the eco-neighborhood features a sports complex next door and a new restaurant with an award-winning chef just down the street.
The 103 rooms, ranging from singles to large dorms, are simple but spacious. I was told that the hostel is in the process of outfitting them with more amenities, including USB ports and reading lights for each bed. Picky travelers may be put off by several eco-touches: Showers are operated by water-saving push buttons and windows must remain closed to accommodate a state-of-the-art air recycling system.
Like St. Christopher’s, the Hostel Pajol might not offer a traditional Parisian experience – it’s culturally about as far from St-Germain as you can get. However, it allows you to see another side of the city and add some sustainability to your travels. For forward-thinking hostelers, this is a new and exciting option.