For generations of West Highland Way hikers and outdoors enthusiasts, the gravel path led to a simple spot to lay down weary heads by the banks of Loch Lomond.

Rowardennan Lodge Youth Hostel’s no frills cheap and cheerful accommodation with shared dormitories and dinnertime potato peeling duties were sharp contrast to its 19th century beginnings as a private estate’s hunting lodge for the well-heeled.

Still grand on the outside with its thick stone walls and round tower topped by a conical roof and reborn in 1950 as a youth hostel, it offered pared back lodgings with no frills for travellers well used to ‘making do’.

Youth hostels in the past were cheap, cheerful but with few comforts

And so it was for nearly 75 years, during which time the trend for hostelling peaked then waned as holidaymakers sought something a little more exotic, a bit warmer and with fewer midges.

Following five months of closure, Rowardennan Lodge recently reopened its doors to reveal its latest reinvention: a £900,000 revamp marking its entry to a rapidly growing trend for upmarket versions of the old fashioned hostel.

Dubbed ‘poshtels’, youth hostels at home and abroad have been shedding their ‘sleeves up, all in it together’ image of hostelling to instead offer almost hotel-style accommodation.

Where there were once packed dorms and shared conveniences are cosy private rooms, plush furniture and, crucial for every modern traveller - even those hoping to escape the rat race – hot and cold running WiFi.

The lounge area at Hostelling Scotland's Edinburgh hostelThe lounge area at Hostelling Scotland's Edinburgh hostel (Image: Hostelling Scotland)

And in some cases, the modern face of hostelling doesn’t look terribly different to a reasonably priced budget hotel.

In recent years Hostelling Scotland has poured cash into upgrading hostels in Aberdeen and Inverness, at Glen Nevis near Fort William and Cairngorm Lodge. Work is ongoing at Braemar Youth Hostel, Loch Ossian Youth Hostel and at Kirkwall Youth Hostel.

In Oban, the hostel, with its stunning seafront setting, lounge views over the Firth of Lorne and cosy licensed bar, has been given a VisitScotland five star accreditation.

The reception area at Oban's youth hostelThe reception area at Oban's youth hostel (Image: Hostelling Scotland)

And in Edinburgh, where the charity’s hostel was among the first to undergo a radical makeover, there are en-suite rooms, meeting spaces, games room and 24 hour reception.

Some upgrades are a little less obvious than others: work to provide more electricity sockets so hostel travellers can charge phones are said to be every bit as vital as a comfy couch in the lounge.

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While for those seeking the chance to get away from it all completely - including other people – some hostels can be hired in their entirety instantly eliminating the traditional youth hostel experience of rubbing shoulders with complete strangers.

It’s a long trek from no-frills style of hostels past. Yet there’s still a distance to go before Scotland’s hostels can quite match extreme ‘poshtels’ that have popped up elsewhere in an effort attract a modern generation used to home comforts.

Swiss Youth Hostel's Saas Fee hostel features an indoor pool, spa and fitness centre Swiss Youth Hostel's Saas Fee hostel features an indoor pool, spa and fitness centre (Image: Dominek Gehl - Swiss Youth Hostels)

In Switzerland, Swiss Youth Hostels offer plush Wellness Hostels complete with outdoor and indoor swimming pools with fun park style slides, in-house gyms and spas that offer comforting massages and beauty treatments.

In Denmark, travellers can stay in a New York inspired hostel said to bring “the industrial-chic aesthetic to life”, with indoor swimming pool, yoga sessions, daily city walking tours rounded off by live music and karaoke at night.

And in Sweden, there’s the unusual and the quirky: STF Jumbo Stay is a converted jumbo jet with dorm rooms and the option of spending the night in the cockpit suite, and STF Långholmen Hostel is a converted prison on an island with its own beach, pub and restaurant.

Swedish hostellers can stay in a converted jumbo jet Swedish hostellers can stay in a converted jumbo jet (Image: Jumbo Stay)

While in Germany, which pioneered the hostelling movement in 1912 with its first Jugendherberge - a countryside escape for city youngsters - there are more than 400 hostels, many offering family-friendly accommodation with playgrounds and children’s facilities, sports and music camps, wellness packages, creative workshops and language courses thrown in.

At Hostelling Scotland, which has a turnover of £9 million and an estimated annual contribution to the Scottish visitor economy of £25 million, there are currently 29 lodges and 24 affiliates – significantly less properties than in the organisation’s mid-20th century peak as the Scottish Youth Hostel Association when there were 99 hostels.

The spa facilities at Wellness Hostel 3000 Laax, run by Swiss Youth HostelsThe spa facilities at Wellness Hostel 3000 Laax, run by Swiss Youth Hostels (Image: Laura Gargiulo/Swiss Youth Hostels)

According to Graham Sheach, the charity’s marketing manager, although spas and indoor pools might not feature in Scottish hostels, interest in hostelling is growing and attracting new generations of visitors.


Unlike dated visions of young men in the great outdoors, today’s hostellers are just as likely to be families and solo women travellers.

“There are a lot of new people trying hostelling for the first time and enjoying the experience,” he says.

“They might have started off with a little bit of wariness and a perception about what a hostel is and end up having a great experience.”

Bookings for the non-profit charity’s hostels, which offer an average of 364,000 bed nights per year, have bounced back post-Covid and are even slightly ahead of pre-pandemic levels.

Driving interest is the value for money aspect, he adds, the surge in outdoor experiences such as paddleboarding, wild swimming and cycling, and new demand from rising numbers of female solo travellers seeking trusted accommodation. “We are also seeing more families trying hostelling,” he adds. “It’s the flexible nature of hostelling, the self-catering kitchens, it’s an informal, social environment.

Hostelling Scotland's upgrade Glen Nevis hostel lounge Hostelling Scotland's upgrade Glen Nevis hostel lounge (Image: Hostelling Scotland)

“In a hotel, you might see someone at breakfast but that’s it. There’s a more social side to being in a hostel.

“For families with children, it’s a bit of an adventure with the benefit of having dry rooms and it’s a bit more comfortable than camping.”

Hostelling Scotland's camping pod at Glencoe Hostelling Scotland's camping pod at Glencoe (Image: Hostelling Scotland)

Perhaps the biggest leap, however, has been among women visitors.

“We’re also seeing a lot of female adventurers out there who are exploring and enjoying the hills and outdoors. Often, we find women travellers chose hostels as a trusted environment for them to stay.

“We are probably getting engagement levels on social media and our website that is quite heavily weighted towards females, which is really interesting.”

Spa treatments at Saas Fee, a Swiss youth hostel Spa treatments at Saas Fee, a Swiss youth hostel (Image: Swiss Youth Hostels/Michel Van Grondel)

Inspired by the German model of youth hostels, the movement in Scotland began in the late 1920s with small huts offering basic accommodation: one of the first, in Stirlingshire at Kinlochard, opened in 1929 and offered eight beds.

Soon hostelling was a way of life for young Scots who savoured the freedom of exploring on foot and bicycle, staying in cheap accommodation that at the time was not so far removed from home comforts.

As war in Europe approached, the Scottish Youth Hostel Association had 16,500 members, with 54 hostels to choose from offering 2,647 beds and 144,000 bed-nights accommodation.

The lounge at Cairngorm Lodge, one of Hostelling Scotland's propertiesThe lounge at Cairngorm Lodge, one of Hostelling Scotland's properties (Image: Hostelling Scotland)

A golden post war period saw more properties spring up. Some, such as Carbisdale Castle in Sutherland, were particularly grand. Built in 1907 for the Duchess of Sutherland, it was given to the Scottish Youth Hostelling Association in 1945 but sold in 2016 as the charity streamlined its properties.

Rowardennan, part of a 12,300 acres estate at the heart of Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Rob Roy country’, was handed to the charity after being secured for the nation in 1950 by the National Land Fund, a post-war £50m pot of money set up to protect culturally significant property and to create memorials to those who lost their lives in the Second World War.

The refurbished lounge at Rowardennan Youth HostelThe refurbished lounge at Rowardennan Youth Hostel (Image: Hostelling Scotland)

One of the charity’s flagship hostels, it is one of 17 dog-friendly ‘WoofHostels’ created to cater for dog lovers travelling with pets, and can be hired in its entirety from £650 per night.

But while the face of hostelling is modernising - one option being examined by the charity is to branch into offering simple camping pods or more upscaled 'glamping' on its land - it seems some will always have more in ‘rustic’ charm than they do in mod cons.

“At Glen Affric, for example,” adds Graham. “Anyone who has to walk four hours in the hills to get there is not necessarily expecting to find a trendy hostel, but they will still be comfortable.”