- Travel Budgeting + Currency
T+L gives you the lowdown on how to plan an affordable trip to Europe that stays within your budget.
When to Visit Europe
Europe Travel: Best Money-Saving Tips
When to Visit Europe
Timing is everything. Conventional wisdom has it that summer is the time to visit Europe; according to the Department of Commerce’s Office of Travel & Tourism Industries, June and July are the peak months for U.S. travel there. Though those few extra rays are nice, the best values fall outside these heavily trafficked months. Airfares to Europe start to fall for departures in mid- to late August, just before the school year, and stay low through the end of March (except during the winter holidays and around spring-break time in the U.S.). Though room prices at big-city hotels tend to remain steady year-round, European resorts also have dramatic seasonal rate shifts. For example, at Adronis Luxury Suites, in Santorini, Greece, there’s a 7 percent difference between high- and shoulder-season rates. Shoulder-season travel also means fewer crowds and, more often than not, suitable weather. Spring means more frequent showers, but the flowers are in bloom in the English countryside. In August, temperatures in Paris soar to uncomfortable highs as residents exit en masse. But arrive in mild and sunny May, and you’ll have a greater chance of encountering locals, thanks to an outdoor-café scene in full swing. In some cases, even the off-season may be prime for visits: in Russia, cultural life is at its height in the winter.
American travelers may have felt betrayed by their national currency over the past five years, but the dollar is finally gaining some ground. Its value against the euro increased 9.2 percent between January 2010 and January 2012.
Pair a stronger dollar with unsteady European economies, as well as growing tourist markets and emerging destinations, and the happy conclusion is this: Europe travel can be affordable again, and not always where you expect it. Follow Travel + Leisure to the European destinations where you’ll find the most bang for your buck this year.
Related: 25 Secret European Villages
In Berlin, a slew of new hotels—the city currently has 30,000 more hotel beds than New York City—is creating competition and driving down prices (the average room rate is about $111 per night). And here’s a money-saving tip: Berlin recently introduced the Berlin Welcome Card, which covers two days of public transportation and admission to more than 160 urban attractions for $22.75.
The Berlin Brandenburg International Airport (BER) opens in June and will have new routes to up-and-coming Eastern European destinations. Cities such as Bucharest, Romania, and Zagreb, Croatia, are great values (hotel rates in both cities decreased 20 percent in 2011). Americans will also be pleased by the cost of visiting Hungary; the dollar is up 25 percent against the Hungarian forint since July 2011.
To the west, Iceland continues to be a savings hub for Europe travel. Icelandair flies from the U.S. to Continental Europe with stops in Reykjavik; packages—some as low as $80 for hotels, meals, and spa treatments—encourage overnight stays.
Americans were the second biggest growth market to Portugal in 2011 (after Brazil), where eating out in Lisbon, for instance, costs a fraction of what it does in other European capitals. “Its appeal is similar to that of Spain and Italy but at much better value,” notes Travel + Leisure A-List travel agent Judy Nussbaum.
Any true Italy addicts can take some comfort that a stronger dollar will help in Florence and Venice. But to really stretch your travel budget in Italy, veer off the beaten path to regions like Puglia, where you’ll be rewarded with more than freshly made pasta and century-old olive groves.
Read on for more money-saving tips, such as when to take the plane versus the train, and a breakdown of the best European chain hotels. —Stirling Kelso