HostelWorld.com is widely used by the backpacker and traveller community around the world. The real power it has in it's range of destinations (you can search for accommodation in any city in the world), and reviews. The site is so widely used that you get hundreds of reviews for popular hostels, making it easy to decide where to stay for the night.
The user interface is also highly efficient; you can search by date, city, accommodation type, etc, sort your results by availability, reviews, and price, and then instantly book yourself in on the days you want.
Each hostel is listed with pictures, ratings, descriptions and maps. Again, I'd really suggest taking the reviews into account, along with the location of the hostel. You want to be careful that the accommodation is cheap and clean - not cheap, dirty, and so far away from the city centre the cost of transport brings the price right back up again.
Most good hostels on hostelworld.com will offer a whole range of room types to choose, from single private rooms to shared bunk rooms with 12 beds:
So why choose a hostel?
If you're a first-time traveller to Europe, you shouldn't be nervous about staying in hostels instead of a hotel. Almost everyone who stays at a hostel is young, and trying to travel as cheaply as possible. It's also set up in a perfect way to encourage people to meet each other, hang out, and even party together (many hostels feature pub crawls or in-house bars).
Additionally, the staff are nearly always exceptional. They are usually in the same demographic of the backpackers who stay there, and understand that you are in a city to see everything, but spend nothing. This means they usually give fantastic advice on places to see, and places to eat.
Plus, in my opinion, a hostel will always be more interesting than a hotel. Many of them are purposefully quirky or trendy, and owned independently - there are only a few chains like YHA and Saint Christopher's. For instance, when I head to Spain this year, I will be staying in an 18th century palace - not a Holiday Inn.
So instead of booking yourself into a Best Western for €60 a night, log onto hostelworld.com and book yourself a hostel for the night.
What hostels do you recommend? Are there any other dependable sites besides HostelWorld