by Christine Orford
At Hostelbookers, we pride ourselves on scratching the surface of cities around the world to find the attractions that you’re going to love. With this guide, you can delve even deeper and explore five European cities from below the ground.
Hospital in the Rock, Budapest
As tensions were rising in the 1930s, Budapest constructed an underground hospital in order to prepare for the turbulence of WWII. During the siege of Budapest in 1944-45, this hospital treated up to 600 wounded soldiers at a time, even though its capacity was a tenth of that. When the city was under the Soviet occupation, the hospital was repurposed as a bunker in case nuclear war broke out. You can learn more about the underground infirmary during a guided tour in English or Hungarian, or other languages on request.
Where to stay? Carpe Noctem Hostel is perfect if you’re traveling by yourself and want to find a few friends to check out Budapest’s legendary nightlife. With only 20 beds and regular communal dinners for anyone’s who’s up for it, this is a great place for mingling.
Underground and Tube Tour, London
There are few transit systems as loved by tourists and locals as the Tube in London. With the first lines constructed by hand over 150 years ago, these tunnels have witnessed huge changes in the city. There are countless bizarre facts you’ll learn during Insider London’s two-hour tour from the enthusiastic and passionate guides. At £20 for adults, it’s not particularly cheap and you’ll need to make sure your Oyster card is topped up, but this tour is a must for those who want to get better acquainted with this impressive transportation network.
Where to stay? If you want a modern place to kip, Wombat’s City Hostel London is worth a look. Only recently opened, Wombats has already become one of London’s highest-rated hostels and it’s easy to see why. The location is handy for transport, there’s free Wi-Fi, an onsite bar and the gorgeous kitchen area means you can cut back on expensive restaurant costs by cooking for yourself.
Bastion Tunnels, Tallinn
Constructed in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Bastion Tunnels in Tallinn were designed as a place to shelter soldiers and supplies from invaders. Throughout the years, they have had a variety of different uses, from WWII air-raid shelters to a Soviet underground town to a storage place for the national Art Foundation. Get the guided tour – available in English, Russian or Estonian – and experience these slightly creepy limestone tunnels for yourself. But make sure you dress for the occasion, as it’s slightly chilly and damp underground.
Where to stay? Sometimes you want a taste of home when you’re off on your travels. If you, specifically, want to feel like you’re hanging out in your Granny’s place, stay in OldHouse Hostel. Although it was renovated in 2014, the kitsch furniture and wallpaper will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. It’s in the Old Town, making it easy for sightseeing and, unlike your Granny’s house, there’s Wi-Fi in all the rooms.
Musée des Égouts, Paris
Paris is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Are its sewers as gorgeous as the streets? Well, no. But that’s not to say they aren’t interesting. Take a tour around part of Paris’s working sewers – some of which date back to the 14th century – and see what happens in the City of Lights when the toilets flush. Tours have been offered in the sewers for well over a hundred years and it’s one of the best-value things you can do in the city, with full price tickets costing less than a fiver. The tours are conducted in French, but even if you don’t speak the language, you can still marvel at the impressive constructions. Besides the sewers, Paris has a special relationship with underground spaces, with the beautifully creepy catacombs and the discovery in 2004 of a (now-vanished) illegal cinema 60 below the surface!
Where to stay? With the Sacre Coeur and the Moulin Rouge on your doorstep, Montmartre has always been a popular place to stay in Paris. The Plug-Inn Boutique Hostel is a favourite among Hostelbookers travellers, not least for their free breakfast—a great way to start the day!
Berliner Unterwelten, Berlin
Want to get a completely different perspective on Berlin’s history? Descend into tunnels and underground networks built and used during some of the city’s darkest times. You can choose between five guided tours to learn about air-raids during WWII, explore the ruins of a Nazi fortress, hear about the underground escape routes East Berliners used during Soviet occupation and more.
Check the Berliner Unterwelten website to find the meeting points and times of your preferred tour. They tend to sell out quickly though, so it’s worth getting in early.
Where to stay? Berlin has a great range of hostels and Baxpax Downtown Hostel/Hotel is one of the best, with stylish private rooms, dorms, free Wi-Fi and a popular bar, right in the vibrant centre of Mitte. It’s near the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, making it very handy for exploring the city, and it’s just 10 minutes by S-bahn from the main Berliner Unterwelten location.