How to beat the exchange rate and get your European travel fix this summer.
With editing by Adrien Glover, Sarah Kantrowitz, John Newton, and Clara O. Sedlak
So what if the euro is up and the dollar is down?That doesn’t mean you should skip a trip to Europe this year. You can still find great deals, even in pricey places like Paris and London. The secret is simple: knowing where the bargains are.
Did you know you can see the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, and Pompidou in Paris for free, get full meals in London for less than $10, and spend the night in a Bavarian castle for $125?How about staying inside the storied Alhambra palace grounds in Spain for less than $150 a night, dining in Rome for under $30, and cruising on the Bosporus in Istanbul for $1?(No, that’s not a typo.)
Here are some additional tips on how to shave hundreds of dollars off your next European vacation, no matter where you go or what the exchange rate.
Package Tours: Since you can book packages in dollars, they may save you money-but price the elements individually to be sure. Go Today, Gate 1 Travel, and Tour Crafters offer weeklong packages starting at $549 per person.
Transportation: Rail Europe has a variety of passes, but for any trip over five hours, opt for a faster, cheaper no-frills airline. Want to drive?Check the aggregators, as well as consolidators like Auto Europe. For a longer trip, a short-term lease of a brand-new Renault or Peugeot will be cheaper—and offer better insurance coverage—than a two-week rental.
Lodging: Find small mom-and-pop inns and B&B’s at European specialty sites like Venere and Booking. And consider the myriad of lodging alternatives—agritourism farm stays, cottages, private rooms, convents, campgrounds, villa rentals, castles—that are less expensive and more authentic.
Dining: Spend a pittance on a royal picnic. Just look for the daily markets you’ll find in most towns, and keep your eyes peeled for street stalls and carts selling roasted pork sandwiches and sugary crêpes. Or head to a pub, trattoria, or tapas bar for hearty, traditional dishes costing far less than at a restaurant. When you do dine at a temple of haute cuisine, go at lunch, not dinner: you usually get the same menu for less.
Sights: The best things in Europe can be free. Those grandiose churches that showcase frescoes, stained glass, and architecture by Michelangelo and Matisse?Free. London’s top museums like the British Museum, Tate Modern, V&A, and others?No charge. Madrid’s Museum of the Blind and Paris’s Perfume Museum?You guessed it. Get a list of free sights and experiences in Paris, London, Rome, and Madrid at Europe for Free. Also, most European tourist offices offer discount passes for public transportation and sightseeing (a notable exception: the largely useless Venice Card).
Shopping: Sharpen your bargaining skills for Europe’s street markets, and you’ll return with more interesting souvenirs (and colorful stories) than the tourists who stuck to the overpriced tchotchke shops. If you research local prices at home and stick to the “stock shops” that sell overstock, last-year’s models, and slight irregulars, you can bring home a treasure for far less.
Trimming your budget doesn’t mean sacrificing the quality of your trip. In fact, the less you spend, the less insulated you are from the local culture. Staying in a thatched Irish farmhouse, perusing old masters in Rome, or snacking your way through Spanish specialties for $2 a dish aren’t just the tricks of the frugal traveler: they’re the stuff dream vacations are made of.
Looking for more options? Try Zadar, on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast—a direct flight from Paris to Zagreb. The port city of Zadar is 120 miles from Zagreb and has medieval architecture and Roman ruins that are still unknown to many—which means lower prices. But the cobblestoned streets won’t be empty for long: three Brits have opened the Garden (Bedemi Zadarski; 385-23/250-631; thegardenzadar.com), an outdoor club that hosts a music festival every July. Book a furnished apartment through the travel agency Adriatic.hr (385-21/456-456; adriatic.hr; studio apartments from $400 a week). Or charter a gulet, a two-masted wooden sailboat that accommodates 8–16 passengers (Feral Tours, 6 Trg Kneza Viseslava, Zadar; 385-23/312-425; exclusivetravelcroatia.com; rentals from $900 a week). At Kornati National Park (zadar.hr; tours from $55, including lunch), you can explore hidden coves and almost 100 sun-drenched islands.
A stopover in the U.K. capital can be easier (and more reasonable) than you think. Here, a trio of stylish options.
This white-stucco town house near Earl’s Court has 67 rooms with kitchenettes; some come with garden terraces. Doubles from $210.
An urban lodge in east London with homey touches: brick walls, fireplaces, and artwork by notable locals like Ben Allen. Doubles from $120.
The 40 elegant rooms on a quiet South Kensington street have updated English décor, including Egyptian-cotton sheets, merino wool blankets, and bespoke oak furnishings—plus Philippe Starck–designed bathrooms. Doubles from $325.—Kaveri S. Marathe
- Approximate cost of this five-day itinerary: $1,500 for two, including hotels,local transportation (not airfare), food, and a few extras.
- Approximate cost of this five-day itinerary: $1,700 for two, including hotels, local transportation (not airfare), food, and a few extras.
- Approximate cost of this three-day itinerary: $775 for two, including hotels, local transportation (not airfare), food, and a few extras.
- Ligne d’azur (lignedazur.com) operates public buses and tramways within 24 towns on the Côte d’Azur. Tickets are $1.50 per ride and free parking is available at select stations.
- Through the end of the year, British car-rental company 1car1 (1car1.us) offers weeklong rentals to American travelers for prices as low as $199.
- The Berlin WelcomeCard (btm.de) gets you unlimited public transit as well as disounts at many museums and restaurants.