Rick Steves: How to book hotels in Europe

I used to travel with absolutely no hotel reservations. Europe 30 years ago was relatively ramshackle, things were cheaper, and because fewer people could afford to travel for fun, I faced much less competition for budget rooms. I could make decisions on the go, show up in a new town, and improvise my accommodations. But the tourism boom and rise of the Internet have changed everything. Today, booking hotels in advance is a critical part of trip planning — and a fun way to tap into the local scene before you even leave home.

If flexibility isn’t a concern, book your rooms as soon as your itinerary is set. To get my pick of characteristic, family-run hotels in the heart of a town, I reserve several weeks — or even months — in advance. It’s especially important to reserve as early as possible for stays that fall on holidays, during big festivals, and in peak season. In popular cities — such as London, Paris, Madrid and Venice — it’s smart to book far in advance year-round.

While a trusted guidebook remains the best place to start your search for a great place to stay, online tools such as booking sites and user reviews have improved some aspects of hotel hunting. Take advantage of their pluses — and be wise to their downsides.

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