Europe is one of the world’s most expensive travel destinations. Hotel rates are sky-high in major capitals like London and Paris, and the hefty cost of living (particularly in Scandinavian countries) makes everyday purchases such as meals and public transportation tickets a pricey proposition for travelers.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t see Europe on a budget. We’ve gathered 25 tips to help you travel Europe for cheap.
Europe Trip Planning on a Budget
1. Be flexible with your dates and airports.
One of the best ways to save money on airfare to Europe is to be flexible about when you travel. The high season for travel to most of Europe is June through August, so you can often save money on both airfare and lodging by traveling at other times of year. (That said, you’ll want to avoid major holidays such as Christmas and Easter.) Also, consider flying to and from alternate airports—for example, London Gatwick instead of Heathrow—as a potential way to land cheaper fares. To start your search, see The 10 Best Flight Search Sites for Booking Cheap Airfare.
2. Book at the right time.
Not sure whether the airfare you’re seeing is a good one? There are sites and apps that can help. When you search for a fare on Kayak.com, the results page typically features a little box with a fare prediction that advises whether you should wait or buy now. The Hopper app (iOS | Android) offers similar predictive advice. You can set fare alerts on SmarterTravel’s sister site, Airfarewatchdog, and the site will notify you when the price drops on your route.
3. Find your focus.
When planning your European itinerary, consider exploring one region or country in depth rather than bouncing around from place to place. For example, spend a week sightseeing in Florence and taking day trips to nearby towns in Tuscany rather than trying to squeeze Milan, Venice, Florence, and Rome into seven or eight days. You’ll not only spare yourself hours of sitting in transit, but you’ll also save big on transportation expenses such as airfare or pricey train tickets. Learn more about slow travel.
The 5 Best Trip Planner Apps for Travelers
4. Save on museum entrance fees and entertainment.
Many museums offer free admission on certain days or nights of the week or at certain times of the month. For example, the Louvre in Paris is free on the first Saturday of each month, as well as on Bastille Day (July 14). Check ahead of time for free admission at the museums you’re interested in, and schedule your visit accordingly.
Similarly, keep an eye out for free concerts or performances going on in local parks, churches, and other public venues. The best place to find these is in the local newspapers or online entertainment listings, by asking at your hotel—or simply by stumbling upon them.
5. Purchase a pass.
Most major cities offer special cards that include discounts or free admission for museums, attractions, tours, and public transportation. Examples include the London Pass, the Amsterdam Pass, and the Barcelona Pass. These can be a great value if the card covers many of the attractions you were already planning to visit, but be sure to evaluate whether it’s really worth it. If the card costs $100 and you’re only going to use it at one or two museums, it may be better to pay a la carte.
Planning a Trip to Europe: Your 10-Step Guide
How to Save on Europe Lodging
6. Consider a rental.
Choosing a vacation rental instead of a standard hotel has several cost advantages. Renting an apartment or house often gives you more space for less money (so it’s a particularly economical option if you’re traveling with a group or family), and having kitchen facilities means you can cook for yourself rather than spending a lot on overpriced restaurant meals. You can find rentals on sites such as Booking.com, TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company), Airbnb, and HomeAway.
7. Don’t count out hostels.
Many travelers steer clear of hostels, thinking that they’re just for 20-something backpackers who don’t mind sleeping 10 to a room. However, you may not know that many hostels also offer private rooms, some with ensuite bathrooms as well. They may not be luxurious, but if you’re looking for a clean, basic room at a low price, it’s worth checking out the hostel scene. HostelWorld is one good place to find them.
10 Truly Awesome Hostels You’ll Never Want to Leave
8. Choose a less convenient location.
To get a lower hotel rate, consider staying outside the city center. As long as you’re located somewhere near a public transit line, it will still be pretty convenient—and you could save big bucks.
9. Get creative.
Discover other affordable possibilities—from B&Bs to farmstays—in Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay.
The 10 Best Hotel Booking Sites
Money Management in Europe
10. Get cash from ATMs—at a bank.
An ATM is your best option for a combination of a fair exchange rate and low surcharges and fees. At an ATM, you’ll likely pay a transaction fee from your bank (typically 1 – 2 percent or a few dollars), but you’ll also get the favorable interbank exchange rate rather than the higher rates you’ll find at typical exchange bureaus. To avoid excessive fees, take out large amounts of cash at a time and store the excess in a money belt or hotel safe. For more advice, see Money Safety Tips for Travelers.
It’s best to avoid stand-alone, off-brand ATMs of the kind you often find in the back of convenience stores. These typically have the highest transaction fees; use an ATM from a reputable bank instead. If possible, use your own bank to avoid fees from other institutions. Check your bank’s website for ATM and branch locations.
7 Ways to Protect Your Valuables While Traveling
11. Use your credit card.
Many of the benefits of using an ATM card also apply to your credit card, particularly the strong exchange rates. However, keep in mind that many credit card companies charge fees for purchases made in foreign currencies, usually 1 – 3 percent. Choose the right card and you can avoid these fees. Capital One, for example, is a major credit card company that levies no surcharges on foreign transactions for its U.S. card holders. Check with your credit card companies to figure out which of your cards has the lowest fees for foreign purchases, and then use that one for your overseas purchases. SmarterTravel’s sister site, Airfarewatchdog, offers a list of credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees.
Once on the road, check the fine print to make sure that your hotel, restaurant, or other outfit does not tack on a percentage fee on credit card transactions to cover authorization fees.
12. Choose your counter wisely.
If you absolutely must use a currency exchange counter, skip the airport or train station kiosks where you are almost guaranteed to get the worst rate available. Instead, choose a bank if you can find one. Wherever you are, exchange only enough money to get the job of the moment done (whether it be a cab ride, emergency rations, or the purchase of a souvenir), and then get to an ATM as soon as you can.
13. Fly cash (and coin) light.
Wait until you reach your destination before exchanging currency, and spend the bulk of your foreign currency at your destination before you go home. This way, you won’t have to pick up and then dump a lot of money at an exchange booth while taking losses both coming and going.
This is especially applicable to the piles of rattling coins you accumulate while traveling. Good luck finding a place back home that accepts a bucket of euro tin and Queen Elizabeth heads in your neighborhood. Spend all your change on the way out, or at least stop at a bank and convert it to bills; you might actually get your money back someday if you do. For more tips, see Foreign Currency.
14. Don’t be afraid to haggle.
While this isn’t recommended at Harrods or other department stores, there are still plenty of places in Europe where bargaining is acceptable. Outdoor markets and street vendor stalls offer prime opportunities to try your haggling skills. To learn more, see Shopping Abroad: A Traveler’s Guide.
The Best Way to Carry Money Overseas
Save Money on Europe Transportation
15. Cut out the car…
Most travelers know that a rental car isn’t really necessary (and in fact can be a hindrance) when visiting a major city. But many European nations have such comprehensive networks of trains and local buses that you might not even need a car to visit the countryside. Public transportation is available to many small towns and rural tourist attractions, which will save you not only the price of your rental but also the cost of gas (Europeans pay significantly more than Americans do). If you truly are headed out into the middle of nowhere for a day or two, plan to keep your rental for only as long as you need it rather than for your entire stay.
16. …and the cab.
Most European airports are served by trains, buses, shuttles, and ridesharing services that will take you downtown and back for a fraction of the cost of a cab. (Make it easier on yourself by packing light since you may have to schlep your own luggage.) Similarly, it’s much cheaper to get around town via public transportation, Uber/Lyft, or, better yet, by walking from place to place. If you think you’ll be relying heavily on a subway or bus system, a single- or multi-day pass could be a good buy.
How to Use Uber and Lyft When You Travel
17. Consider a rail pass.
Whether you’re concentrating on a single country or traveling all over the Continent, there may be a Eurail pass that will save you money. Before purchasing a pass, carefully plan out how many train trips you will take and calculate the total cost of point-to-point tickets at RailEurope.com. Keep in mind that short trips are relatively inexpensive—so if you’re going to be sticking to a very small area, a pass may not be worth the cost.
18. Overnight it.
If you’re planning a lengthy train journey, consider traveling on an overnight train. This way you won’t waste valuable daylight hours in transit, and you’ll save on the cost of a night’s lodging as well. Or take a quick flight with one of Europe’s many low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and easyJet. Learn more about international discount airlines.
10 Speedy Train Routes in Europe That Are Faster Than Flying
How to Save on Meals in Europe
19. Go grocery shopping.
Stock up on bottled water, fruit, and snacks at grocery stores rather than tourist shops. You’ll pay what the locals pay and often get a wider selection, too.
20. Learn to love lunch.
Instead of eating a pricey multi-course dinner, make lunch your big meal of the day. Often you can enjoy similar dishes for half the price.
21. Don’t overtip.
Americans are used to tipping 18 – 20 percent in restaurants, but in most European nations, 10 percent is the norm unless the service was truly extraordinary. Check first to see whether a service charge has already been added to your bill; if so, you usually don’t need to leave anything additional. For country-specific tipping information, refer to a good guidebook, do a Google search, or ask at the local tourist office. For more information, see Tipping in Europe: The Europe Tipping Guide.
22. Save on breakfast.
If breakfast is included in your hotel’s nightly rate, then be sure to take advantage of it. But if it’s not, skip the overpriced room service. You can almost certainly find a much cheaper croissant and cup of coffee at the cafe down the street. Ask your hotel’s concierge or front desk about what’s nearby.
9 Ways to Find Cheap Eats Anywhere You Travel
23. Be wise about wine.
If you’re dining out, order the house wine; you’ll save money, and in places like France and Italy, you may be surprised at how good it is. Want a drink out on your hotel balcony? Pick up a bottle at the local liquor store and bring it back to your room for an affordable taste of luxury.
24. Seek out local eateries.
To find authentic and affordable food, skip the restaurants with the tourist-friendly English-language menus out front and seek out places where you see plenty of locals. (The Google Translate app, available for iOS and Android, can help you make sense of the menu.) Don’t hesitate to ask your hotel concierge to recommend affordable restaurants in the area.
25. Follow the locals’ lead for cheap eats.
Eat the plentiful pizza in Italy, grab a quick baguette sandwich in France, or nosh on takeaway curry in London.
What tricks do you use to travel Europe for cheap? Post them in the comments below.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Packing for Europe: 8 Items You Should Leave at Home
- 10 Secret Places in Europe You Can Still Visit on a Budget
- 14 Best Shoes to Wear in Europe
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Sarah Schlichter and Ed Hewitt contributed to this article.
We hand-pick everything we recommend and select items through testing and reviews. Some products are sent to us free of charge with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not accept compensation to review products. All items are in stock and prices are accurate at the time of publication. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.
What is the most efficient way to travel Europe? ›
Trains are generally the best way to get around in Europe. The rail network is comprehensive, ticket costs are rather affordable, and the scenery is gorgeous. Trains are a great way to visit many destinations quickly and efficiently.What is a good budget for Travelling Europe? ›
While your exact expenses depend on a lot of factors, here is the short answer to the question: how much do I need to budget for backpacking Europe? Backpackers should expect to spend between $40 – $70 USD/day in Eastern Europe, $70 – $100/day in Western Europe, and $150 – $200/day in the Nordic countries.Can you travel Europe on $50 a day? ›
In general, traveling Europe on $50 a day is not very feasible, and you need to choose only certain countries in order to do so. While we were able to visit Iceland on a budget, it was one of the most expensive countries in the world we've ever been to.How much money do I need for 3 weeks in Europe? ›
3 WEEKS IN EUROPE AVERAGE COST
On average, one person should plan around $2,000 for 20 days in Europe. You should be able to stay in a private room and eat out most of the time. But that still depends on where you plan to go. If you're on a backpacker's budget, you should be able to do it for $1,500.
However, a rough estimate for a 3 week trip to Europe could be anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000 or more per person, depending on these factors. It is always a good idea to set a budget and try to stick to it as closely as possible to avoid overspending.How much money do I need per day in Europe? ›
If you plan a more extended vacation and need to know how 3 weeks in Europe budget look like, we'd say you're looking at spending about 850 per week, making it 2,550 euros total. To quickly recap, if you are traveling to Europe, you are looking at spending around 120 euros per day on average.How much euro do I need for 2 weeks? ›
You might want to save up roughly €2500 to €3000 for a two-week sojourn through Europe.How much does a 1 week trip to Europe cost? ›
The average price of a 7-day trip to Western Europe is $1,359 for a solo traveler, $2,441 for a couple, and $4,576 for a family of 4. Western Europe hotels range from $45 to $207 per night with an average of $80, while most vacation rentals will cost $150 to $380 per night for the entire home.How much US cash should I take to Europe? ›
As a rough estimation, budget $50-100 per person for each day that you will be away. This should cover your accommodation, food, drink and transportation costs.How much time can a US citizen spend in Europe? ›
With a valid U.S. passport, you can stay up to 90 days for tourism or business during any 180-day period. Do not overstay! You must wait an additional 90 days before applying to re-enter the Schengen area. To stay longer than 90 days, you must have a visa.
How to survive in Europe with little money? ›
- Always take the freebies. ...
- Choose your transport wisely. ...
- Head East. ...
- Walk everywhere. ...
- Brush up on your culinary skills. ...
- Eat local. ...
- Do a free walking tour. ...
- Hostels aren't always the cheapest.
Trains are a fast, comfortable alternative to cheap flights in Europe, especially when you're visiting multiple destinations. A Eurail Pass gives you unlimited, borderless travel across Europe with just one ticket, so you can go a lot further with your money – and you'll be doing your bit for the planet, too.What is the cheapest time to travel in Europe? ›
The late fall and winter months—from mid to late October through mid-to-late March—are often the cheapest time to fly to Europe (though fares can spike in December).What is the best way to travel to multiple countries in Europe? ›
Train. Train travel is our absolute favorite way to travel in Europe: it's much less stressful than traveling by plane, especially once you get the hang of it, far more comfortable, and for those of us hailing from North America, it's a travel experience in its own right!Is it cheaper to buy euros in the US or in Europe? ›
If buying euros in advance, whatever you do, don't overdo it! In almost every case, euros you can get abroad from an ATM will be cheaper than those you can get back in the States.What is the best month to go to Europe? ›
The best time to visit Europe is from late March to early June (spring), or between September and November (fall). You'll avoid the busy summer period and see your money go further.Should you get euros before going to Europe? ›
Resist the urge to buy foreign currency before your trip.
Some tourists feel like they just have to have euros or British pounds in their pockets when they step off the airplane, but they pay the price in bad stateside exchange rates. Wait until you arrive to withdraw money.
From the US, regular prices for a flight to Europe range from $700–$1,000+ in low season and $900–$1,500 in high season.How hard is it to backpack through Europe? ›
Europe has a great transportation network, making it incredibly easy to zip from city to city and country to country. The hardest part is choosing which method is right for your travel style and budget. In this section, I cover each major transportation option system and give tips on finding the best deals.What should I pack for a month in Europe? ›
- Small backpack to use as day bag.
- Phone (pro tip: bring an old one just in case)
- Laptop or iPad (optional)
- Book or e-reader (optional)
- Chargers – phone, laptop, camera, razor (if it plugs in, it needs a charger)
- Adapters – a universal one will come in handy if you travel a lot.
Is it better to take cash to Europe? ›
There's a lot that you can buy with a credit card in Europe, so bring at least one. But don't expect to get very far without a little cash, too—especially if you're a tourist. Transportation services, such as taxis and buses, often require local currency.Is it better to exchange money in Europe or US? ›
You will typically get a better rate exchanging your home currency for something else in your home country, for example, than you will by exchanging dollars for a local currency in another country.How much cash can I carry to Europe? ›
There are no restrictions on how much money you can bring with you, but anything over $10,000 must be declared. If you are carrying more over EUR 10,000, even European countries have a similar restriction.Is it better to take euros or use debit card? ›
Advantages of an overseas card
The main advantage of using a debit or credit card overseas is that you won't pay foreign transaction fees every time you spend. While many also won't charge fees for cash withdrawals, you will still usually be charged interest from the date of the transaction if you use a credit card.
There are 44 countries in Europe, full of fascinating cultures and experiences. Ideally, through a Europe two weeks itinerary, you should be able to cover three or four countries at least.Should I get euros before going to Italy? ›
By buying a lot of euros in advance, you will get ripped off exponentially. By carrying a lot of cash when in Italy, you will make yourself incredibly vulnerable to theft, either from your person, or from your accommodation. Almost every store and restaurant in Italy accepts credit or debit cards.Is it worth flying to Europe for a week? ›
Europe is a great destination to go for one week, simply because of the cultural diversity in such a small geographic area. The small size, proximity, and ease of transportation between many of the countries in Europe make it a good choice for a culturally rich one week holiday.How much does a week in Paris cost? ›
Paris trip cost
I estimate that one week in Paris will cost approximately $2,150 per person. Paris is a great city filled with incredible sites and attractions and plenty to see and do. It can be easy to get carried away in your spending.
The best time to visit Europe is typically during the shoulder season. Europe's spring shoulder season runs from mid-April to mid-June in most countries. The fall shoulder season is during September. During these times, crowds are thinner, prices still moderate, and the weather warm enough to enjoy your vacation.Can I use my cell phone in Europe? ›
The general rule is that as long as you spend more time at home than abroad, or you use your mobile phone more at home than abroad, you can pay your standard domestic prices for your calls, texts and data services when you travel in the EU. This is considered a fair use of roaming services.
Is it better to pay in euros or dollars online? ›
The short answer is: Always pay in the local currency (Euros), which allows your bank to set the exchange rate, and it will always be a better option. If you choose to pay in dollars, you get the worst exchange rate from the merchant.Is it better to use card or cash abroad? ›
When you exchange cash, you get a significantly worse exchange rate than when you use a card. The difference can be as much as 6%. This is why using a card is better. However, you should not use a credit card to get money out of ATMs.What does a US citizen need to enter Europe? ›
Currently, U.S. citizens can freely enter the Schengen Zone (an area of 26 countries covering much of Europe) for up to 90 days for business and/or tourism purposes. End of 2023, all U.S. citizens traveling to the 26 Schengen Zone countries will need to register with ETIAS or will risk being denied entry.What happens if I stay in Europe for 91 days? ›
A non-EU national who stays in the Schengen area beyond 90 days (without a residence permit or long-stay visa) is illegally present, which can result in a re-entry ban to the Schengen area.What happens if you overstay 90 days in Europe? ›
If you overstay 90 days in the EU, you risk deportation. Countries can legally imprison you, deport you, or give you a limited number of days to leave. That said, deportation is rarely enforced for a visitor who isn't attempting to work illegally or claim benefits.Where is the cheapest life in Europe? ›
- Schengen Area.
- Schengen Visa.
- The 90-Day Limit. ...
- » Get a Europe Student Visa. ...
- » Find Work or Stay as a Freelancer. ...
- » Do a Union or Reunion in Europe. ...
- » Apply for Citizenship. ...
- » Hold a Long-Term Tourist Visa.
- Travel in shoulder season. ...
- Book flights in advance. ...
- Be flexible. ...
- Pack light. ...
- Research free things to do in Europe. ...
- Exchange currency before leaving. ...
- Cook for yourself. ...
- Stay in hostels.
What Is the 30-Day Rule? Instead of allowing yourself to make that impulse purchase, wait for 30 days before you buy — that's the 30-day rule. Following this rule means you defer all non-essential purchases for 30 days, which gives you ample time to think about whether you really need to make the purchase.How do I plan a 20 day trip to Europe? ›
- 1 | Amalfi Coast + Rome.
- 2 | Paris + London.
- 3 | Ireland + Iceland.
- 4 | Heidelberg, Germany + Strasbourg, France.
- 5 | Colmar, France + Basel, Switzerland.
- 6 | Interlaken + Lucerne, Switzerland.
- 7 | Lake Como, Italy + Zermatt, Switzerland.
How many months in advance should I plan a trip to Europe? ›
A good rule of thumb for planning a trip to Europe is to take at least six months. And if you really want to benefit from early preparation, a year may be even better.How many days are ideal for Europe trip? ›
A typical trip around Europe can really take as long as you want. However, if you only have 10-12 days, you should keep in mind which cities you want to see during your trip.How much money do I need in Europe per day? ›
If you plan a more extended vacation and need to know how 3 weeks in Europe budget look like, we'd say you're looking at spending about 850 per week, making it 2,550 euros total. To quickly recap, if you are traveling to Europe, you are looking at spending around 120 euros per day on average.What is the 50 40 10 rule? ›
One of the most quoted rules of happiness is the 50-40-10 rule. This knowledge about happiness states that 50% of our happiness is determined by genetics, 10% by our circumstances and 40% by our internal state of mind. This rule originates from the book "The How Of Happiness" written by Sonja Lyubomirsky.What is the 50 20 30 rule? ›
For those who don't know, the 50-30-20 budget plan is an American concept that seeks to save money and budget your money smartly. After taxes, your income should be divided into: 50% on essential needs; 30% on wants; and 20% on paying off your debt or setting aside funds in case of an emergency.What is the 50 30 20 budget rule? ›
Our 50/30/20 calculator divides your take-home income into suggested spending in three categories: 50% of net pay for needs, 30% for wants and 20% for savings and debt repayment. Find out how this budgeting approach applies to your money. Monthly after-tax income. Do you know your “want” categories?How much does it cost to travel Europe for 15 days? ›
What is the cost of a Europe tour? A Europe tour to 6 countries for 14 nights and 15 days costs up to INR 210,000, including 4-star accommodation, meals, sightseeing, city tours, entry fee charges, and transfers. You can customize your travel itinerary depending on your budget and priorities.How much does a 2 month Europe trip cost? ›
How much does it cost to travel Europe for 2 months? The minimum amount of money you can expect to spend during your 2 month Europe itinerary (not including) flights is 6,000 USD. This assumes that your food, accommodation and transport within the continent will cost no less than 100 USD per person, per day.Which month is best for Europe? ›
Although Europe is a year-round travel destination, the best time to visit Europe is during the summer months of June to September. This is the time when the sun is high, the beaches are warm and the weather is sunny.What month do most Europeans take vacation? ›
Crowds. July and August are the most popular months to visit Europe, when many Americans and Europeans take advantage of their vacation days and fine weather. August is especially crowded, as both French and Italians pour into Europe's seaside areas and major cities during their annual month off from work.
What is the best month to visit Europe? ›
In general, the best time to visit Europe is during the shoulder season. In most European countries the shoulder runs from mid-April to mid-June and again during the month of September.