Here’s What You Need to Know About European Airbnbs

updated May 24, 2019
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Colorful, small, and boho French kitchen
(Image credit: Morgan Schemel)

As an Airbnb host, I am fully in the Airbnb camp. It’s my favorite way to travel and a fantastic way to immerse myself in a neighborhood, learn about local culture, and get insider tips on favorite spots. (My last host steered me to some of the best places I’ve eaten in Paris; even cooler, we’ve stayed in touch and had lunch together when I had a stopover there last spring.)

That said, I know not to expect the Airbnb European edition to be just like my own, or like others in the U.S. Yes, all the details that make Europe so different from home are part of the allure, but as they say, “forewarned is forearmed.”

So before you book that amazing rental in Paris, Pisa, or Prague, take note of these 10 things you should know.

1. Everything will be smaller than you think.

Tiny houses may be a Thing with a subset of the population back home, but for many Europeans living in urban areas, small spaces are just the norm — starting with the elevator (if there even is one!). You might find it’s just one person and their bag at a time, or you and your travel partner might be squishing in closer than you wish after that overnight flight.

Once inside your flat, be prepared for quarters that may feel cramped to anyone used to sprawling “open floor plan” American homes. The shower may be a tight squeeze, you’ll be bumping elbows in the kitchenette, and even the bed size may not be in line with what you’d call, say, a queen at home. The fridge will definitely be smaller than you’re used to — all the better to go to the market every day, dearies!

But here’s what’s cool: You’re going to find super-clever and creative uses of space. Possessions will be tightly edited and not an inch will be squandered. In the 400-square-foot Paris Airbnb where my husband and I most recently stayed, the kitchen played double duty as a second bedroom, with a totally adorable little loft over the counter reached by ladder.

2. The “first floor” is actually the second floor.

Take note that in Europe, their “first” floor is what we call the second floor. So a third-floor flat might not sound all that bad until you realize it’s actually on the fourth floor — up an uneven, spiral staircase (where you need to tread lightly to keep your host on good terms with their neighbors). Hope you’re packing light!

3. They are green — and will expect you to be, too.

Europeans vastly outpace us when it comes to energy efficiency. With electric rates in some countries triple ours, they still pay a lower monthly bill than the average American. Why? Among other things, they do what your mom always told you to do, and turn lights off when they leave. Okay, it’s not that simple, but you’ll certainly be expected to observe their practices and turn off the AC (if you have it) when you’re not in the apartment, turn off lights, and in general not be wasteful. That approach may just be a good souvenir to bring home, n’est-ce pas?

4. They have more “house rules.”

There are often more “house rules” to abide by in European apartment buildings (i.e., no visitors or sitting out on balconies after a certain hour, and trash can be taken out only during a certain timeframe). Speaking of trash, expect to do a lot of on-the-spot recycling, especially in the Germanic countries where there are special recipients for clear class, brown glass, green glass, plastic, and paper (see #3).

(Image credit: Alicia Macias)

5. They have fewer appliances.

Can’t find the dishwasher or the dryer? Chances are there’s not one. The washing machine, if there’s one of those, is likely in the kitchen, tucked under the counter, or maybe the bathroom. And there’s no cramming a week’s worth of clothes and towels for two in there, a la American washers

6. The wash will cycle take forever.

An aside on European washing machines: For reasons I’ve yet to understand, the wash cycle takes approximately three weeks. Okay, maybe not that long, but it feels like it when there’s a train to catch and it’s going into its third hour with no signs of finishing. I’ve heard many a story of travelers stuck waiting for clothes to finish washing, or worse, tearing up the machine trying to open the locked door. The lesson here? Never wait until your last day to catch up on laundry.

7. The shower will probably be handheld.

The shower/bathtub situation might not be what you expect. This has been a larger issue with kids, but sometimes a shower is a bathtub with a sprayer, sometimes a bathtub isn’t really a full bathtub, etc. Often a shower is handheld and not mounted. (Make sure your stuff is outside the bathroom as you learn how to maneuver that!)

8. Hot water may be an issue.

In many European countries they don’t keep the water heaters on full time like we do. So, you may have to turn it on to warm it up first before you wash your dishes, take a shower, etc. (Come to think of it, this *may* be why that wash cycle takes so long.)

9. It’s a good idea to BYO linens.

Looking for piles of plush towels that’ll be replenished daily? Better check into a fancy hotel. Our wonderful, five-star Airbnb came with one towel per person for the week (see: go green, above!). They were thin, small, and crunchy from air-drying. No biggie, just be sure to hang them up to dry thoroughly between uses.

I’ve also yet to encounter an American washcloth in a European rental, so if you haven’t made the switch to micellar cleansing water to wash your face, pack your own. Amenities will vary by host, but don’t count on automatically having the toiletries you need, and if you run out of TP, best plan on restocking it yourself. (Hey, going to the local supermarket is an adventure in and of itself. And you’re there to live like a local, after all!).

(Image credit: Morgan Schemel)

10. It will take you 10 to 15 minutes to get in and out.

When you receive your instructions for gaining access to the apartment, it may read like a scavenger hunt. Chances are you’ll have a couple codes to memorize and a few sets of keys to keep up with. There are gates at the exterior of courtyards, possibly another to access the building, could be a code with the elevator, and who knows how many locks and/or codes may be on the door.

Staying at one Airbnb in Paris with girlfriends we learned to build about 10 to 15 minutes into coming and going to finagle all the various access points and deal with that one stubborn key that would only work with some serious cajoling.

Obviously every experience will be unique. I’ve culled these tips from my own travels and those of friends kind enough to share their experiences. There’s probably plenty we’ve overlooked or simply haven’t encountered. So, I’m throwing it out to you: What’s the biggest difference you’ve found at an Airbnb in Europe?