Traveling through Europe presents an opportunity to explore dozens of different cultures, speak (or at least hear) several different languages, and visit more than one-quarter of all the countries in the world. As you traverse the continent, you will experience extreme changes in weather from the almost year-round warmth around the Mediterranean to the permanent snow in northern parts of Russia.
You’ll also get to learn about Europe’s history, experiencing a lot of it first hand. Inside the Louvre, you’ll find paintings that are more than 500 years old. In Rome, you’ll find the remnants of the Roman Empire, while in Venice, you can go inside the Casino di Venezia, the oldest (and first) gaming venue on the continent which opened its doors in 1638.
Exploring Europe needn’t cost a fortune, though: if you plan ahead, it’s possible to get by on a very modest budget. Here’s how.
Visit Out of Season
Prices fluctuate throughout the year, and even throughout the week. Research destinations to see how prices of flights and accommodation might change throughout the year. If you can make it work, try to visit in the low season. You’ll also find that the busiest tourist traps will be quieter at this time too, making for a better experience.
Spend More Time in Cheaper Countries
Northern and Western European countries are typically more expensive than those to the south and east. Your money will go further while you’re in countries like Ukraine, Poland, Romania and Hungary than they will in Spain, the United Kingdom, and the Scandinavian countries. Don’t get me started on Norway and Iceland.
That’s not to say the more expensive countries aren’t worth visiting, they definitely are. But if you plan your time more wisely, you can make your money go further by compressing your time there. A week in Scandinavia can easily cost as much as a month in Eastern Europe.
No matter where you are in Europe, you’ll find that it’s packed with plenty of things to see and do. The problem, of course, is that many of these things can quickly add up to a small fortune. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways you can save money while still having fun.
- Museums – It varies from country to country, but many museums welcome visitors for free and request a donation from them instead of charging an entrance fee. In the UK, most publicly owned museums operate this way, so you can donate what you can afford (or nothing at all if you feel that way inclined).
- Tours – Many cities have tour guides who can show you around for a fee. It’s possible to show yourself around for free though. Apps like Tripadvisor let you create lists of things to do in each city, and give you a handy map to help you plan your time better.
- Find Free Days – In some cities, particularly those in Italy, many attractions are free on the first Sunday of each month. If you can time your visit to take advantage, you can save hundreds of Euros on attractions.
Seek Out Budget Accommodation
I’m a big fan of staying at hostels. Not only are they cheap, but they also have a very social vibe that’s perfect for younger travelers and solo travelers. In Europe, they’re also your best bet for finding affordable lodging. You’ll find hostels for as cheap as 10 Euros in some cities for shared accommodation. With so much to see and so much to do in Europe, you’re going to want to be a little stingy with the accommodation so you can afford to do everything else that you want to do.
Use Public Transportation When Possible
Taxis are going to add up if that’s your main way of getting around. I’m a big advocate for using public transportation whenever possible. Buses and metros will save you money, and also give you a more local experience in a destination. Taxis are undeniably convenient, but if you’ve got time to stop and smell the roses, why not live a little locally while you’re visiting a country?
Most cities in Europe have fantastic public transportation systems, and some offer metro or bus cards specifically for tourists. Look into these as they will save you money as opposed to buying monthly passes or paying per ride. If you can’t be bothered to figure out public transportation, I’ve also found that Ubers tend to be cheaper than taxis practically everywhere in the world.
Rent A Bicycle
A lot of cities in Europe are bike-friendly. Some of them are so bike-friendly that you might get overwhelmed by just how many bikes there are to be found. I’m looking at you, Amsterdam. Renting a bike for a day can bring down your transportation costs and give you a much more immersive experience in a city than you would get in a taxi or on a tour bus.
Most touristic cities will have many options for bike rentals, and some cities even have their own network of public bikes. Just look for the bike racks, follow the instructions, and get riding. You’ll likely have to download an app and plug in your credit card info, but in the long run, you will save a lot of money this way as opposed to taxis and even public transportation. Plus, it’s better for the environment!
In many European countries, particularly those within the European Union, it is safe to drink water from the tap. If you take a reusable water bottle and fill it up where you can, you’ll save a lot of money and help the environment at the same time.
Where you do have to buy bottled water, consider visiting supermarkets that are away from tourists traps and stock up on a few. You’ll often find a multipack of bottled water is cheaper than a single bottle sold from kiosks.
Food can be another cost that adds up quickly. If your accommodation allows it, cook as much as you can. This will give you an opportunity to see what’s on offer in the local markets, too.
When you can’t cook, try to visit restaurants that are away from the tourist areas. In Rome, for example, if you head to one of the stops that’s towards the outer edge of the network, you can find cafes and takeaway places that serve up freshly cooked pizzas and other dishes, for fractions of what you pay in the city centre.
Walking is free, taxis are expensive, public transport is somewhere in between. If you can walk, then you should. Where you don’t have time or it’s too far, then try to use the public transport network instead. Google Maps or Citymapper make this much easier, with the latter reminding you which stop to get off at and even which part of the train or tram to stand in.
Europe is an amazing place, but it needn’t cost a fortune. Just plan ahead and follow these tips!