Even now that I've traded in my travel backpack for a wheeled suitcase, I still prefer to room at hostels, whose social atmospheres mean there's always company have dinner or trade experiences with. These top Amsterdam hostels are widely celebrated for their services, location and overall conviviality.
Location: Amsterdam Center
The Bulldog has a special place in the history of Amsterdam -- its founder, Henk de Vries, established Amsterdam's first cannabis coffeeshop. His business venture became a virtual empire as it spawned pubs and then the self-proclaimed "world's first five-star hostel". Its location just footsteps from Dam Square (which offers private rooms, dorms and apartments) and a consummate party atmosphere earns the Bulldog consistent praise as one of the world's top hostels; Internet addicts, however, should beware of the spotty Wi-Fi connection.
Locations: Amsterdam Center, South, and in Noordwijk (approx. 45 km south of Amsterdam Center)
You know when a place is a member of the Europe's Famous Hostels alliance, it's bound to be a cut above. This is certainly true of the Flying Pig, whose attention to customer experience is evident even from their informative web site, which offers a handy overview of Amsterdam's attractions. The service doesn't stop there, but is lauded at each of their three locations -- Downtown (in the thick of the center), Uptown (by the Vondelpark and Leidseplein), and The Beach, in Noordwijk, where hostellers who prefer to room beach-side have access to the hostel's own Amsterdam shuttle bus.
Location: Amsterdam Center
St. Christopher's Inn established its name in London with a reputation for affordable beds, with no hidden fees, in convenient locations. Since 2005, it's continued that business model in Amsterdam, where it offers 50 artsy, themed rooms on central Warmoesstraat. St. Christopher's appeal comes from its eclectically homey decor, en suite bathrooms and much-appreciated cleanliness -- not to mention the attached bar, Belushi's, and its popular specials.
Locations: Amsterdam Center and the Jordaan
For backpackers who prefer a calmer and quieter experience, the Christian-run Shelter is a wonderful option. With fewer beds than its competitors, the Shelter certainly has a more intimate atmosphere than other Amsterdam hostels, which it enhances with activities like communal, homemade dinners (€5). Their second location in the Jordaan is touted as the only hostel in this desirable part of Amsterdam.
Location: Vinkeveen (approx. 25 km south of Amsterdam Center)
Lucky Lake boasts one of the neatest, most novel hostel concepts in Amsterdam (and possibly the world). Located on the Vinkeveense Lake, about a half-hour from Amsterdam Center, each room or dorm of the hostel consists of its own terraced caravan, for a total network of 31 caravans. Ideal for the outdoorsy backpacker who wants a taste of both Amsterdam and North Holland's natural environment, Lucky Lakes provides a shuttle to the nearest metro station so travelers can experience the best of both worlds. Note that the hostel is closed from the end of September to April.
Locations: Amsterdam Center and West
Stayokay is a reliable bet for a cheap and cheerful dorm in Amsterdam. With a similar cookie-cutter feel as most HI hostels, it has less personality than the above options, but Stayokay delivers precisely what potential customers expect of them -- which is more than can be said for any old randomly-booked hostel.