13 Affordable Trips to Europe
The country villages and rolling farmland of the Cotswolds are just a two-hour drive from central London or a two-hour train ride from Paddington Station. The area’s upmarket mix of designer boutiques, quaint cottages, and exceptional restaurants attracts weekenders who want an easy-to-reach rural retreat.
From Cheltenham to Bledington
Day 1 The Cotswolds region is small enough to make any town your base, but because trains arrive in Cheltenham every half-hour, it’s the perfect starting point. (Buy your train ticket online at nationalrail.co.uk before arriving in England, and pay $72 less for your trip north. Keep in mind the deal is invalid if you pick the ticket up at the station, so be sure to arrange to have it sent to your hotel.) Style-conscious urbanites will love the Big Sleep, an alternative to pricier spots like the Cotswold House and Cowley Manor. The rooms have whimsical accents such as Panton chairs and Orla Kiely patterned wallpaper. Take the afternoon to drive west, past the pretty village of Bibury, to check out the Village Pub, a B&B that doubles as a gastropub and is adorned with a mishmash of old wooden chairs and large Oriental rugs. It’s laid-back and understated, except for the food: expect imaginative dishes such as grilled John Dory with braised octopus, chickpeas, tomato, and oregano.
Days 2–3 Head southwest to the market town of Tetbury and check into the family-friendly Priory Inn, with modern touches, like simple American black walnut desks, in its 14 mocha-hued rooms. A few steps away, Michael and Sarah Bedford run the no-frills Chef’s Table. From its op
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.
Read T+L’s European Travel Guide for more European travel ideas.