To B&B or Not to B&B

Bed and Breakfasts aren't just great big Victorian British cottages run by kindly but nosy little old widows anymore.

B&Bs are a dime a dozen in Ireland
These days, it seems everyone's hanging out a "Bed and Breakfast" shingle. In Ireland in particular they can get to be so thick on the ground whole communities seem to be composed of nothing but B&Bs.

What to expect
The B&B concept—a handful of rooms run as an inn by a family in their own home—has spread throughout Europe, North America, and—increasingly—the rest of the world.

In Italy, the category is even called "bed-and-breakfast" (or, rather, a "bet-hand-brrrek-feest"); in France it's a chambres d'hôtes (shaamb-doat); in many other countries it's "guest house."

What a B&B is like

A bed and breakfast or guesthouse essentially works something like a small hotel, one which provides breakfast and is located in the owner's home (or at least an a converted apartment in their building).

The size is usually limited, by varying regional laws, to no more than 3–12 rooms (typically more on the order of 3–7 rooms).

In practice, this means a cozy, welcoming, friendly place and plenty of interaction with your hosts. Oh, and B&Bs are usually anywhere from 5% to 40% cheaper than hotels.

Expect to pay anywhere from about $40 $200 for a double room at a typical B&B (perhaps up to $250 for historic properties in popular destinations).

There's no guarantee you'll get that prototypical kindly older couple and mansion of huge rooms loaded with chintz and doilies, charmingly creaky wooden floors, and a sumptuous breakfast spread at a communal table that will leave you needing to crawl back into your canopy bed for a nap before you head out for the day.

These days as many B&Bs are installed in modern city apartments or isolated farmhouses as in grand old homes in town, and many no longer even feature the resident-owner. Usually, however, a friendly, family, home-like atmosphere prevails.

There are sometimes drawbacks to the B&B, however. With a hotel, you are guaranteed a certain degree of anonymity: you just ask for your key at the desk and then are left alone. This is often the opposite of a B&B, where chitchat is considered part of le charme—but sometimes, you just don't want to make small-talk with the owners and other guests. On the other hand, a B&B can be a great opportunity to meet some local folks and really get an inside scoop on the culture.

Also, at a B&B there's often a curfew, either stated or implied—after all, you wouldn't want to wake that kindly older couple up at 2am when you stagger back to your room, now would you?

They sometimes require breakfast or half or full board, private baths are rare (but getting less so), but the service is almost usually friendly and personable.

Incidentally, never take board (meal) requirements unless you cannot avoid them, as is often the case in resorty places like spas and beaches (especially in season). Eating in a local restaurant is usually a better bet and offers more variety night-to-night.

For a certain kind of trip, I enjoy B&Bs immensely (for a taste, read my award-winning essay on the subject, Bed, Breakfast, & Beyond in Ireland).

Finding the perfect B&B

As usual, the best resource is usually the local tourist office, which almost always keeps a complete list of all bed and breakfast outfits in town and, in the best cases, includes that list on its Web site...with links. That said, here are resources to help you find B&Bs across Europe and in specific countries.

Note that there's a thin line (often just which set of local standards, requirements, and legal complications the owner wants to deal with) between a B&B and rental rooms. (

This monstrously successful network of both official and unofficial B&Bs, homestays, and apartment and house rentals lists hundreds of thousands of places to stay in nearly 20,000 cities in 192 countries around the globe. Wow. The idea of someone inflating the old air mattress for you is just a metaphor. Usually, you stay in a guest bedroom, futon, or fold-out couch. It's kind of like couchsurfing, only you pay anywhere from $25 to $250 per night (usually a great deal). Partner

BedandBreakfast.comPartner (www.bedandbreakfast.comParnter)

Massive site and booking engine with more than 475,000 B&Bs listed and described all around the world—including more than 50,000 photos and video and 100,000 customer reviews. I wouldn't have partnered with it if it wasn't among the best, most complete, and most thorough sites devoted to B&Bs.

InnSite (

Another one of the biggest and bestest worldwide B&B Web sites. Particularly strong in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia (though also offerings in South America, Central America, and a smattering in Asia and Africa). It's a sort of virtual catalog, not a booking engine, which means anyone with a B&B can post their own entry—which means you get a lot more choice than with most of the booking services.

Partner (

Generalist lodging booking site based in Europe with a huge representation of B&Bs (in addition to hotels, agriturism, and other options).

Partner (

Another general booking site, and one of the few that includes B&BS (under the category "Guest Accommodations").

Pamela Lanier's Bed & Breakfasts (

A premiere worldwide guide to guesthouses, inns, and B&Bs with great coverage on every continent—in Europe, this includes some 220 in Italy, 54 in France, 39 in England, etc.

Karen Brown (

The descriptions of hundreds of inns and B&Bs throughout Western Europe that fill the Karen Brown "guidebooks" (Technically, they are no longer guidebooks—certainly not in the online editions—since they do not maintain editorial integrity, but rather include on the site only those properties that pay for inclusion. In my book, that's called an "ad," not a guide.) Still, even if she's sold out, the properties themselves are pretty fantastic (though as many are hotels as B&Bs).

Bed and Breakfast Inns Online (

More than 5,200 B&Bs, mostly in the U.S. and the rest of North America, including some in the Caribbean.

BBOnline (

Properties scattered throughout the entire world. The clickable map can be a bit buggy, so perhaps stick to using the drop-down menus to search.

Europe Traditionae Consortium (

Collection of B&B organizations and chains in the UK, France, Ireland, The Netherlands, Portugal, and Slovenia. (

B&B network for teachers by teachers. This is a way for y'all to earn a bit of extra cash and stay really cheap while on the road (and with fellow educators, no less). The cost? $40 per night for two people at more than 6,000 member homes in 50 countries (plus an annual membership cost of $36, which also covers your spouse). The reason? Even though you guys should get paid way more than, say, lawyers, for some reason in our society you make virtually no money at all (I know: my father, my mother-in-law, and my cousin Jill are all teachers—well, Dad's now retired, and he taught at a university, but still).

B&Bs networks — Country specific

B&Bs in Austria

In addition to the generalists above, try:

B&Bs in Belgium

In addition to the generalists above, try:

B&Bs in Denmark

In addition to the generalists above, try:

B&Bs in France

In addition to the generalists above, try:

B&Bs in Germany

In addition to the generalists above, try:

B&Bs in Greece

In addition to the generalists above, try:

B&Bs in Iceland

In addition to the generalists above, try:

B&Bs in Ireland

In addition to the generalists above, try:

B&Bs in Italy

In addition to the generalists above, try:

B&Bs in the Netherlands

B&Bs in Norway

In addition to the generalists above, try:

B&Bs in Portugal

In addition to the generalists above, try:

B&Bs in Slovenia

In addition to the generalists above, try:

B&Bs in Spain

In addition to the generalists above, try:

B&Bs in Sweden

In addition to the generalists above, try:

B&Bs in Switzerland

In addition to the generalists above, try:

B&Bs in The U.K.

In addition to the generalists above, try:

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in April 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.