How to Explore the Best of Europe on a Budget
Andy Steves says you don't have to break the bank to have an incredible trip.
Travel writer and entrepreneur Andy Steves published his most recent guidebook, “Andy Steves’ Europe: City-Hopping on a Budget,” this summer to help travelers tap into the top hidden gems and budget-friendly stops across 13 popular European cities.
As the son of famed travel writer Rick Steves, Andy visited Europe every year growing up. He developed a knack for finding local favorites, and eventually created his own company, Weekend Student Adventures, which plans trips for students studying abroad in Europe.
While the elder Steves' books offer more lengthy selections, “City-Hopping on a Budget” narrows options down for travelers who might only have a few days in a location.
Travel + Leisure asked Steves about his top tips for travelers trying to save money across Europe, from booking flights to exploring a city's food scene.
Related: Budget Travel
When to Book Flights
Steves’ top advice to travelers to be as flexible as possible since booking last minute can sometimes provide deeper savings, especially when outside of popular early morning and late afternoon windows for business travelers.
Where to Search for Flights
Steves recommends using the Hopper app to sign up for regular email alerts on price drops. The app analyzes at flight data to predict future pricing.
At the same time, he conducts flight searches on engines like Kayak, Skyscanner, Cheapoair, and Momondo, which each provide search tools for travelers who want to explore multiple destinations and dates based on a set budget.
What to Know About Budget Airlines
While budget airlines can be a great way to save on flights, Steves notes that some carriers have hidden fees or inconveniences you’ll want to consider.
These include an airport check-in fee for not checking in online before your flight, fees for checked bags, fees for having your boarding pass printed, and where the departure and arrival airports are (as these can often be hours outside of the city).
How to Check Train Schedules
When it comes to train travel, one of the apps Steves recommends is iRail, which taps into the Eurail database to let you see train timetables and get mapped routes to find the quickest option.
His top websites include SBB, Eurolines, Berlinbus (the longest serving low cost coach operator in Germany), Renfe (Spain’s state-owned rail company), and Student Agency Bus for discounted prices on coach lines.
Travelers can also use SBB to look up whether locations have overnight train options, helping you to save money off of an overnight stay at a hotel or hostel in addition to transportation.
Where to Find Activities
Steves recommends Time Out for finding free activities like festivals, as it also breaks down options into categories like family travel or nightlife. A favorite free activity for Steves is visiting parks or hills that overlook cities, like Prague's Letná Park or Montjuïc in Barcelona.
He also suggest doing a bit of research on the current events of the city.
“Whether it’s knowing the right sports team or keeping up-to-date on things like Brexit, if you know a bit about these subtleties of culture, people really appreciate it and differentiate you from all the other tourists,” said Steves.
On City Passes
Steves suggests booking passes or reservations online for popular tourist attractions to skip the line and get discounted entry into multiple attractions.
For example, Paris' Museum Pass gets users free entry and line-skipping at over 60 popular museums and monuments, while Florence's Firenze Card allows the same for major museums in Italy, and Berlin's WelcomeCard gives users access both to public transport and discounts into sights like the TV Tower and DDR Museum.
Where to Eat
When it comes to food, Steves makes it a point to ask locals about where they celebrate special occasions and where they tend to eat on a daily basis to learn both of places that he’ll save money at but that are also considered must-try locations.
Grocery stores are a great way to pick up local bites and enjoy them as a picnic, while you’ll want to steer clear of restaurants located on the main squares of cities since prices tend to be higher.
Avoiding Hidden Fees
Different cultures can have varying norms when it comes to fees. For example, in cities like Rome, sitting down at a table can come with a small surcharge on items, which is why Steves suggests having your espresso and pastry standing up, or enjoying tapas in a city like Madrid at the bar rather than a table.
When in Madrid, travelers should also specify if they'd like tap water, as waiters can often bring out regular water at a higher cost Similarly, some eateries in Florence do not offer free tap water and can charge as high as six euros for water.