13 Affordable Trips to Europe
Stay: The poet Shelley used to rent the top floor of what is now the Natale family’s friendly and comfortable Hotel Navona, hidden on a quiet side street just a block from Piazza Navona in the heart of Rome. If it’s full, the Natales will book you into their elegant Residence Zanardelli annex in a Liberty-style Art Nouveau building nearby.
Eat: Soccer players, Hollywood stars, famous artists, and locals from the neighborhood all line up outside Pizzeria da Baffetto to wait patiently for a table to open up in the crammed rooms of one of Rome’s most stalwart traditional pizzerie: open only at dinner (only tourists eat pizza at lunch), with a limited menu (pizza, bruschetta, packaged desserts) and low prices. Even with a bottle or two of wine, it’s impossible to spend more than $30 a head.
Do: Rome has more than 900 churches, all of them free, displaying great works of Renaissance and Baroque art and architecture by the likes of Raphael, Bernini, Caravaggio, Bramante, Pinturricchio, and Annibale Carracci—and that’s just the shortlist of artists contained in one church, the little-visited Santa Maria del Popolo, located on the north side of the Piazza del Popolo. According to legend, it was built to exorcise the ghost of Nero from a copse of trees.
Affordable Travel Tip: The Vatican Museums are free on the last Sunday of each month—though every local resident and school group takes advantage of this fact, so arrive before they open at 8:30 a.m. to keep ahead of the crowds.
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.