I have pulled together for you my 75 best travel tips for discovering Europe on a budget.
The post is a summary of my best posts and tips till date on the BudgetTraveller. There are still so many cool new tips and hacks to discover ….so if I missed out anything , I’d welcome your tips and feedback below.
Before you arrive in Europe
1. Download my FREE guide to Luxury Hostels in Europe
The biggest secret in travel at the moment is the emergence of a new breed of hostels called Luxury Hostels. These are a new breed of designer hostels where the focus is on creating an experience for guests. Besides ensuite rooms or custom built pod beds in dorms you can find amazing facilities in these hostels like a swimming pool and sauna (Plus Hostels) or a cinema ( U Hostels Madrid) or dine with fellow guests and enjoy a 3 course meal prepared by inhouse hostel chef with bottle of port wine for as little as €10 ( Gallery Hostel, Porto) To find out more, download for free my Luxury Hostels in Europe e-book by simply signing up to my monthly newsletter ( No spam. Latest articles, competitions and some cool money off vouchers )
Also definitely checkout Airbnb when visiting Europe. They have a fantastic range of places to stay and always offer great value.
Tip: If you are new to Airbnb , signup using this link to get €35 off your first booking.
2. Flying soon? Signup to a Frequent Flyer programme and start earning airmiles which you can redeem to get almost free flights
Frequent flyer miles are fantastic, especially if you are planning to travel and fly a lot in the near future. I never took airmiles seriously as I never flew regularly till I started to travelling a few years ago. It was only 3 years ago when flying to South Africa, I signed upto a frequent flyer programme (Star Alliance) I earned enough airmiles on that one flight to get a free flight to the UK from my home base in Portugal. There are three frequent flyer programmes-I fly mainly with TAP Portugal so Star Alliance works for me. I would concentrate on the one programme and choosing airline, hotel partners within that programme.
One way for gaining airmiles is to signup to a hotel booking website like Rocketmiles where you gain on average 500-1000 airmiles with every hotel booking you make. Airmiles or points are credited to the frequent flyer programme of choice. Signup via this link to get 1000 miles/points sign-up bonus ( rewarded upon completion of your first stay )
3. University rooms?
I was visiting London in the summer last year and struggling to find anything had decent below £100 a night until I discovered University Rooms.
I can’t think of a better deal for central London. For example searching in the 1st week of September, I can find a single room with breakfast in Bankside House, Southbank ( as central as you can get in London) for as little as £45 per person, per night including breakfast. The rooms are no frills but comfortable for the night. They have bed and breakfast or self-catering budget accommodations scattered across 120 cities worldwide so do checkout their site.
If you’re looking for something different than your usual B&B or hotel, then do check out my new article about 11 alternative budget accommodation ideas.
Don’t travel to Europe in the summer if you can avoid it
This is actually the worst time to visit Europe. Prices are at their highest, everything is booked up, the cities are uncomfortably crowded and all of the locals are on holidays.
Travel off-season instead for a more local experience. In winter, hotels can be discounted by upto 40% so you can get a great deal.
4. Take a virtual trip to Europe.
Here is a list of movies that have hugely inspired my travels in Europe-maybe they will inspire you too.
5. Saving up for the big Europe trip?
Here are 5 basic tips to get you started.
I also recommend you check out Adventurous Kate’s cracking post on how she saved $13,000 in just 7 months.
When you arrive in Europe
Visit the Tourist Information point
When first arriving in a new city make sure to stop by the tourism bureau for discounts, free maps and cost-free events.
6. Try to find if the city offers an all inclusive pass that gets you access to museums plus also public transportation.
If you are planning to pack in a number of visitor attractions, in the end , you save a lot of money when using these kind of passes. For example I saved a lot of money with the Oslo Welcome Card when visiting Oslo. Other great welcome cards is the Berlin Welcome Card which includes free public transportation and lots of discounts to sights, tours, restaurants, museums and more.
7. Walk or use local transport
Walk as much as you can, but if you can’t then use public transport over taxis; buy 24-hour, 3-day or even weekly public transport passes, which work out cheaper than single tickets.
8. Do as the locals do
Join local workers at pubs for happy hours; check out local sports matches which are often free or cheap; and if you see a local fair or festival advertised, get along to it. All of these things can provide a terrific insight into how people lead their lives and be just as rewarding as visiting a major visitor attraction.
9. Mobile internet- how to avoid a costly bill at the end of the trip
Roaming charges and accessing internet abroad is still ridiculously expensive so my tip here is to go local and get yourself a local internet data only simcard. If you can unlock your phone, brilliant. If your phone is locked then I suggest buying a mobile wifi (mifi) device which costs around €50. I’ve written a guide to how to get the best deal on mobile internet in Germany and Italy. In terms of making free phone calls to friends and family- you’ve got FaceTime (if you both own an Apple phone) or try the Viber app ( free to download) or Skype. Skype offers fantastic rates so I highly recommend them. The other app that I find very useful in terms of free messaging is Whatsapp which is free to download.
How to travel across Europe
10. 5 cool money saving tips to see France by rail
11. Go slow and cheap
Use bikes or try trains, especially regional and local trains, which can be very cheap in countries like Poland and Hungary.
12. By bike?
If you can, travel by bike. Travelling by bike not only saves you money, it’s great for your health plus you can sign upto the Warmshowers website. Warmshowers is like couchsurfing but for cycle tourists. The website and community matches hungry, shelterless cyclists with lovely locals who are willing to accommodate them. The emphasis is on an exchange of experiences and cultures rather than an exchange of money.
13. Taking the train? Consider going point to point
If you can plan your Euro trip well in advance, there are some great savings to be made from booking train fares in advance.
Plan your schedules using the excellent German D Bahn website and also check out Rail Europe. For example you can go from Frankfurt to Amsterdam or Paris in less than 4 hours from just €39 or from Copenhagen to Hamburg in 4.5 hours starting at only €29. ( An epic 45 minute ferry ride included. Here’s my account of the trip )
Consider making longer connections by overnight train
14. Take the night train?
A great way to save time and money when travelling across Europe is by taking the night train.There are lots of sleeper trains between major cities in Europe and they are comfortable and convenient. For example you can take advantage of Deutsche Bahn’s excellent SparNight promo fares where you can go from Amsterdam to Copenhagen for around €29-€49 range.
15. Travel with a friend or partner?
Travelling in Europe is still not as solo travel friendly as you might think it should be in the 21st century. Lots of hotels charge supplements for single travellers which is unfair. Plus single rooms tend to be quite basic and stripped down. The cost of a double is almost the same as a single so if you can travel with a friend or partner, great. Otherwise, I’d recommend choosing a luxury hostel. Plus do check out the crowdsourced fantastic free guide that the Solotraveler has launched which gives a lowdown of all the best solo friendly places to stay across Europe and the world.
16. Fly with a low-cost airline?
Thanks to the low-cost airline revolution that was inspired by easyJet and Ryanair, travelling across Europe is a lot cheaper. Even with hidden extras like paying for checking in your luggage, their prices are pretty good, especially over longer distances. To get the best fares, book and plan you trip far in advance as possible.
17. Hate travelling by Bus?
Maybe it’s time to reconsider this. There is a new revolution of low-cost luxury bus travel sweeping across Europe.
18. Solo-travel across Europe, on a budget?
You may also want to checkout Busabout, as an alternative to Interrail. They offer a hop-on-hop-off bus pass across Europe which offers a lot of flexibility and also it’s a great travel network to connect with fellow solo travellers.
19. On a non existent budget- How about hitchhiking?
20. Consider ride-sharing
Long-distance ride-sharing is becoming popular in Europe, with millions of people now hitching rides with complete strangers on a monthly basis. Companies to check out include BlaBlaCar and Carpooling.com
21. Don’t withdraw money abroad from an ATM.
You are likely to get a very poor exchange rate from your bank and be also charged a fee for every withdrawal.
22. Don’t buy you travel currency at the airport
Don’t leave buying your travel currency till reaching the airport-you will get ripped off.
Where to sleep in Europe
23. Travelling with family? Try a hostel
Apartments are excellent but if you are looking for cheaper alternatives, you should also consider hostels. There is a new breed of family friendly hostels popping up across Europe.
24. Rent an apartment
25. Rome in August?
In August, take advantage of cheaper rates in cities like Rome where the locals have ‘gone to the coast’
26. Stay at a budget hotel chain
Stay at one of the budget hotel chains like a Travelodge or an Ibis on your next trip to Europe. If you are just looking for a cheap, comfortable sleep- these hotels are a great option.
27. Considered staying at a cool budget boutique hotel?
There is a new breed of budget boutique hotels popping up across the world. Examples you can check out include Yotel in London Gatwick, The Student Hotel in Amsterdam, Tune Hotels in London or Bazar in Rotterdam
28. Stay away from the city centre.
In almost every major European city you can get significantly cheaper prices if you are willing to stay away from the city centre.
29. Stay in a family room or a quad
You pay little more and get more better value. If you choose to stay with a budget chain brand like Travelodge in the UK , the family room costs the same as a double room.
Couchsurfing.org is a great way to meet new friends & to explore a country
31. Try Housesitting
Another cool option for finding free accommodation in Europe is trying out Housesitting. For the unintiated, James Cave did an excellent guide to Housesitting on the BudgetTraveller recently.
32. Sleep cheap, spend your money on something cool
Stay somewhere really cheap but live it up by having a drink at the grandest hotel you can find — and take lots of Instagrams
33. Finding decent affordable and nice accommodation in London , Paris or Edinburgh?
34. For a hip hotel in Madrid, Barcelona without the designer price tag, you can’t beat Chic and Basic
Where to go in Europe
35. Visit Portugal
Portugal remains the best value for money destination in Western Europe. I love the country for its old world European charm, the medieval towns and the most amazing pastries in the world like Pasteis de Nata The seafood here is out of this world and very cheap. Enjoy a plate of grilled limpets with a squeeze of lemon juice for as little as €5 in the beautiful island of Madeira or tuck into charcoal grilled sardines or the excellent sopa de peixe, fish soup (€3 ) with a glass of Vinho verde ( €2) at one of Lisbon’s century old kiosks in Lisbon
Visit Porto , one of the most underrated cities in Europe. It has a beautiful location by the winding Douro river, stunning architecture, amazing gastronomy and a cracking nightlife. Here is little glimpse into what life in Porto is like and also the lowdown on what might be the world’s best hostel.
Sarajevo has to be one the hottest travel destinations this summer for the budget traveller! There is so much to see, do and eat, and you complete the Bosnian experience by staying with a local family – request a home-stay through somewhere like homestay.com
Berlin. Besides Lisbon, Berlin is probably hands down the best value destination to visit in Western Europe. You have a wide range of excellent value budget accomodation-from apartments to luxury hostels. In terms of free things to do, from visiting the East Side Gallery to free lunchtime concerts at Berlin Philharmonic to visiting the Reichstag or simply strolling down the historic Unter den Linden- there is so much you can do in Berlin without spending a penny. Plus in terms of street food, Berlin is the king. You can sample the best kebabs in the world at Mustafa’s in Kreuzberg (Mehringdamm 32 ) or try currywurst at places like Curry 61 ( currywurst with fries- €3.20) I recommend you have a peek at my 48 Hour Guide to Berlin
For more about Berlin, I highly recommend Uncornered Market’s excellently researched and comprehensive Berlin resource guide.
38. Visit Germany
Also there is so much more to Germany than just Berlin. I did a roadtrip across Germany for 2 months last year and compiled a bunch of FREE 48 hour guides to Hamburg, Bremen, Hannover, Dusseldorf, Stuttgart, Nuremberg, Munich, Dresden, Leipzig and Rugen Island. Even better, I spent a maximum of €150 in each city so if you are cash-strapped check out my guides on my Germany on a budget resource page.
Visit Malta & Gozo
I recently visited Malta and Gozo and contrary to popular belief, the island is very budget friendly and definitely worth including if you are backpacking away around Europe. For example you can get one-way fares for as little as €40 in April 2015 from Italy to Malta with Ryanair. For more details have a look at my 21 things to do in Malta & Gozo piece.
How to eat on a budget in Europe
39. Restrict restaurant meals
Limit eating out to once a day and if you’re a foodie go to a gourmet restaurant for lunch rather than dinner when many restaurants offer great value set menus and business lunches.
40. Cook in
An advantage of holiday rentals and most hostels is that you can cook in a kitchen and cooking can be great fun if you’re travelling with friends, a couple, or family or for bonding with new people who are staying at the hostel.
41. Shop locally
Buy your groceries at local markets; look for farmer’s markets and watch what the locals are buying to get the best deals. Ask the hostel/apartment owner or receptionist where they shop, as they’ll know where the bargains are.
42. Picnic in the park
Public parks and gardens can be a great source of entertainment; take a picnic lunch and take in the action and just delight in how differently people live their lives in other places.
43. Menu del Dia
In Spain the cheapest way to eat out is by ordering the Menu del Dia-a fixed price menu which is offered to guests at lunchtime. The menu consists of a first course, second course followed by a dessert and coffee.
In northern Italy, the cheapest way to eat out is in the evening when you can go out for an ‘aperitivo.’ The hours are generally between 7 and 9pm. You order an ‘aperitif’ –glass of wine or martini ( around €6- Beer/Wine. €8 cocktails ) and you get access to a buffet or some tasty snacks are delivered to your table. The general rule of thumb is to have one plate of food from the buffet with one drink. I always go in for seconds though…..
45. Cicchetti -Tradition of Venetian tapas
In Venice, they have the tradition of eating ‘Cicchetti’ –a Venetian style of tapas served typically in a ‘bacari’-small, traditional local bars where alongside some spritz, you can order some ‘cicchetti’ –these are bite sized snacks that consist of cheese or fresh fish or meat and price ranges from €1 to a few euros. Here’s a guide to where to find the best Cicchetti bars in Venice
46. Check out my cheap eat guides.
Love your cheap eats? Highly recommend you check out my cheap eats section where you will find guides to over 20 cities including London ( Part 1 , Part 2 ) , Barcelona, Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Cardiff, Bari, Rome, Krakow, Tenerife + Florence + Oslo
47. Cheapest beer in Europe?
Do you decide which city to visit in Europe based on how cheap the beer is? Then you should definitely check out my Europe cheap beer index which gives you a lowdown of what beer prices to expect across Europe and where you can find the cheapest pint.
48. Cheap eats in Spain and Portugal- Empandas
A panadería (bakery) in Spain or Padaria ( Portugal) will often have fresh hot pasties aka empanadas( ESP) / rissois (PT) , making a light lunch for around €3.
49. Head for the caffeteria in Italy.
It may not sound so attractive, but in Rome and other Italian cities, the tavola calda (caffeteria) offers cheap homemade food at lunchtime for locals on a budget.
50 When in Italy…eat at the bakery.
Bakeries in Italy prepare products that are economical, fresh, and support the local economy (unlike most supermarkets).
51 Free tapas in Spain?
A tradition that is dying out in many parts of Spain, search hard and you can still find traditional bars serving tapas (small dishes) with every caña (small beer, €1-2 ) Your best cities for enjoying free tapas are Granada ( All along c/Elvira ) Leon (Barrio Humedo area) and Salamanca ( c/ Van Dyck).
52 Athens cheap eats ?
At the €2 mark: Savvas & O Thanasis are two of the best gyros & souvlaki joints in town, on Monastiraki Square, right across from the Metro station.
53 The best menu del dia in Madrid?
The no-nonsense €10 menu del dia at La Sanabresa (www.restaurantelasanabresa.com), just off Plaza Santa Ana is one of the best deals in the town.
54. Go to a free concert in the Vondelpark.
There are all sorts of free concerts from June-August, Thursdays till Sundays.
55. Free music concerts across Europe?
Here are some more tips on finding free music concerts in Amsterdam, London, Paris or Berlin.
I love visiting museums when travelling in Europe and discovering the cultural and historical heritage of cities. Here are some cool budget friendly tips for visiting museums in Europe
56 Best Free London Museums?
Here is a great list from Laura Porter who is also the authority for all the best free stuff to do in London http://bit.ly/cDlTHq
57. Remember that entry to state run museums in the UK is free of charge for people of all ages.
58. In Italy, families can take their kids under 18 for free to state run museums like the Uffizi.
59. When visiting museums and other notable sites, always ask if they are special rates are available for students, seniors, or small groups. Some discounts aren’t clearly visible and can be overlooked
60. In Paris, plan your trip around the first Sunday of the month when all the main museums are free.
61. The Museum of Contemporary Art, the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin is free for the last 4 hours on Thursday. ( 4-8pm )
62. In Berlin you can also visit these following museums for free:
- Deutscher Dom, The Berlin Wall Memorial
- Information centre of the Holocaust Memorial Berlin, Allied Museum
- Memorial and Museum Sachsenhausen, German-Russian Museum Berlin
- Kunstraum Kreuzberg/ Bethanien,
- Mies van der Rohe- Haus
- Museum of Oddities
63. Following Berlin museums for free on certain days or hours
1. Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin
Admission free every Monday .10am to 8pm
2. Märkisches Museum
Admission free every first Wednesday of the month
3. Academy of Arts, Pariser Platz
Admission free every first Sunday of the month 11am – 8pm
4. Academy of Arts, Hanseatenweg
-Admission free every first Sunday of the month 11am – 8pm
5. Bauhaus Archive Museum of Design
-Free guided tour every Sunday 2pm. (Admission to the museum 4 – 7 euros)
6. Domäne Dahlem – unique open-air museum of agrarian history
-Admission free Wednesdays from 10am to 6pm
64. Free art in Madrid!
Contemporary Art Museum Espacio Conde Duque has 3 art galleries with quality exhibitions, plus special events (these sometimes cost)
Other ideas and general money saving tips
65. How about 2 days in Paris with just €100 ?
66. Don’t forget these essential tips from Amy for first time visitors to Paris
67. Cote D’Azur on a budget? Take the train
68. Here is a bunch of 20 essential money saving travel apps to download if you are visiting UK on your trip to Europe
69. Save money and keep cool in Rome and Venice’s heat by refilling your water bottle with fresh spring water running freely from their fountains.
70. Drink coffee at the bar in Italy
If you’re only planning a quick coffee in Italy, walk to the bar, order it and stand there to drink. Sitting down can treble the price.
71. Mother of all free festivals- Free Fringe
There are free festivals and then there is the Free Fringe in Edinburgh, the rebellious, lesser known cousin of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival that takes place in August. Last year visitors enjoyed over 4000 performances from 365 different shows. There were 40 *5 star* and 140 *4 star* shows to give you an idea of the quality of the festival.
72. Check out a free open air film festival?
In many cities across Europe you can find free open air film festivals. For example in Amsterdam you can attend Pluk de nacht: One of the best free open air festivals, with national & international films and documentaries.
Visit Bologna from end of June till end of July for their annual open air film festival, the Sotto le Stelle del Cinema, held in Piazza Maggiore. For more about this festival and what to do in Bologna check out my 48 Hours in Bologna.
73. Cheap alternative to Greek Island hopping?
Take Athens metro down to Piraeus then hop on a ferry for a day-trip to one of the Saronic Gilf Islands: Hydra, Poros, Aegina.
74. Try a free walking tour
While I am not the biggest fan of guided walking tours I know many travellers swear by and love free walking tours so it is something I recommend you check out for yourself. Sandeman’s New Europe operate free walking tours on a tips only basis across all major cities in Europe. For a 1-2 hour free walking tour you could tip anything from €5 upwards.
75. When in London…
Always use an Oystercard for London transport