In contrast to bed and breakfasts, more usual in the United States, pensions typically do not only offer breakfast, but also lunch, dinner and sometimes even tea. Rather than paying for the room and each meal separately, guests select a plan which either comprises overnight accommodation, breakfast, lunch and dinner (full pension) or the preceding minus the lunch (half pension).
These small businesses may offer special rates for travellers staying longer than a week, may be located in historic buildings, can be family-run, and are generally cheaper than other lodgings, such as hotels, although they offer more limited services.
E. M. Forster's 1908 novel A Room with a View opens with the main protagonist Lucy Honeychurch and her spinster cousin and chaperone Charlotte Bartlett complaining about the Pensione Bertolini, where they are staying in Florence, Italy. The first act of the book is based in Florence with many scenes taking place in the pension, as Lucy meets characters for the first time who feature throughout the book, most importantly a slightly eccentric young Englishman named George Emerson, and his father.
In Summertime, an American/British romantic film starring Katharine Hepburn as Jane Hudson, a single, middle-aged elementary school secretary, who goes on her summer vacation to Venice, Italy. Arriving by water taxi, she stays at the Pensione Fiorini, owned by the Signora Fiorini (Isa Miranda), a widow who transformed her home into a pension after World War II.