EuroCheapo.com is the web's guide to budget travel in Europe. EuroCheapo's guide to the best cheap hotels in Europe. Our editors visit hundreds of budget hotels in Europe, write reviews, take photos, and provide full contact information. Our mission has been to make your time in Europe affordable and memorable. The world is out there, and it’s less expensive than you think.
There are thousands of restaurants in London that cover every imaginable cuisine. While they also cover every budget, how do you know where to start? And the knowledge that there are so many choices can make a disappointing, expensive meal taste all the more bitter.
To help you start navigating your restaurant options in London, take note of the tips below. They should help you save a few pounds of your budget — and point you toward some great new eats.
No one wants to feel like a ripped-off tourist, paying over the odds for an unsatisfactory meal. The first rule here is to avoid going out for meals in tourist hotspots. Look at where Londoners might go to eat — Soho or Shoreditch, for example.
While those areas aren’t necessarily going to be cheap, they’re likely to offer a far better dining experience than, say, one of the high volume eateries on the corner of Leicester Square. Think ahead, as a little planning can save you from a disappointing meal.
2. Do some research
There are loads of budget-friendly options all over London, but another benefit of planning is knowing what you are looking for! Time Out London’s Cheap Eats has loads of recommendations, and you can search by area, or ask at your hotel, and they should be happy to point you in the direction of a popular local.
The free breakfast at Celtic Hotel will get you going for a full day of sightseeing in London. Photo: Craig Nelson
3. Don’t skimp on your hotel breakfast
Most London hotels will include breakfast in their room price. (Here are our favorite cheap hotels in Londons.) Filling up on a full English (or even just some tea and toast) is a great way to ensure you aren’t ravenous — and splashing out on snacks — by lunchtime!
We love the breakfast at likes of the Celtic Hotel, Luna & Simone Hotel, and Arosfa Hotel. A substantial breakfast means you can pick up light lunch at a supermarket, one of the reasonably priced sandwich chains such as Pret a Manger, or at a market. Speaking of which…
4. Think vendors, food carts and takeaway
Don’t just associate good eating with starched linen tablecloths. Kerb brings street food vendors to locations all around London.
And don’t forget the joy of a simple takeaway. Enjoying chips doused in salt and vinegar eaten out of their wrapper on a cold evening is a British tradition up there with visiting Buckingham Palace!
A pie and pint combo makes a good lunch idea at a London pub. Photo: Anders A.
5. Don’t forget the pub!
A great visit to a pub can be as much about eating as drinking, as many serve reasonably priced food. It’s fun to stop in a local pub for some lunch and a pint. The tourist trap rule also applies to picking a pub (and —as a general rule of thumb — rule out any place boasting that they serve “London’s best fish and chips”).
Don’t worry about leaving more than a few pounds for your dinner or drinks. Photo: Ed Ivanushkin
8. Don’t go over the top with your tips
Before you tip your server, double-check your check. Often there will be a service charge included automatically, which means that you don’t need to leave any more money on the table. Serving staff are also less reliant on their tips to make up their wage than in the States, so as a general rule, Brits are less generous with tipping than their North American counterparts.
In general, our typical tip is closer to 10% than 15% — higher tips are really a reward for exceptional service. Check out our guide to tipping in London for more information.
9. Order tap water and BYOB
It’s completely fine (and safe) to ask for tap water with your meal, rather than expensive bottled water.
Another way to save on drinks is to look out for restaurants offering “Bring Your Own Bottle/Booze” or BYOB. For a couple of pounds, you’ll be able to bring in the wine or beer of your choice and avoid the high cost of a restaurant mark-up.
With lots of money-off vouchers and discount cards online, both for chains and fancier eateries, why pay full price? We’ve outlined four ideas for websites and apps to check out for some serious restaurant discounts.
How do you save when you eat out in London? Tell us in the comments below!
As Barcelona remains toward the top of the list of destinations for Cheapos to visit, we want to be sure you have plenty of options to choose from when booking an affordable hotel. So before you plan your itinerary of architectural sightseeing, museum-hopping, wining and dining, and shopping until dropping, be sure to find a hotel that won’t drain the bank account.
To be sure you find a cheap hotel that is both charming, central to the action and, of course, budget-friendly, we’ve added a handful of new hotels to our guide for you to consider.
Address: Tallers, 66
Rates: from around $70 a night
If you are visiting Barcelona on a romantic getaway, Ciutat Vella is the affordable hotel for you. From the room decor to the dreamy rooftop terrace, this place is ideal for couples. Sure, the amenities like flat-screen televisions, free Wi-Fi and air conditioning are treats in themselves, but this place is especially popular for its rooftop hot tub.
Address: Santa Anna, 24
Rates: from around $90 a night
With simple, budget-friendly rooms near much of the action that Barcelona has to offer, Catalunya is a great spot to rest your head each night of your trip. This two-star hotel has rooms that are rather basic, but in the best way. Guestrooms adorned in grays and purples offer a calming retreat, and there is no lack of amenities. Many rooms offer excellent views of the city, and some even have balconies. We highly recommend checking these out.
There’s no breakfast at the Hotel Catalunya, but this is all the more reason to head out on the town early to stop by one of the many cafes and restaurants nearby for your morning meal. Get a steal for a room at Catalunya.
The rooms are charming at Hotel Ginebra, especially the ones with balconies.
Address: Rambla de Catalunya 1
Rates: from around $100 a night
We’ve become big fans of Hotel Ginebra, which offers attractive rooms with even more attractive rates, especially considering its location near Plaza Catalunya. Rooms are nothing short of fun, with reds, purples and floral prints coming out to play. Everything needed for a comfortable home base is there, such as kettles, air conditioning, flat-screen televisions and minibars.
There’s nothing quite as comforting as those trips to Grandma’s, which is why Hotel Pelayo is such a gem. Sure, rooms are simple and a bit floral, but everything feels like a home away from home. This includes the amenities available, such as air conditioning, bathtubs, kettles and free Wi-Fi. Ask ahead for a room with a private patio, a wonderful spot on warm, sunny days.
Address: Ronda Universitat, 9 1ª planta
Rates: from around $120 a night
The rooms at Serennia Exclusive Rooms truly do feel exclusive, with a soothing and chic design that we love. For a bit more money, you can book a lovely room that includes a balcony, perfect for looking out over the city. From air conditioning and absolutely sparkling private bathrooms to flat-screen televisions and free Wi-Fi, there are all the amenities you could need here.
Editor’s Note: The Anne Frank House has significantly changed its ticketing policy since we first wrote this article in 2014.
Every summer my short stint as an Amsterdam tour guide begins with great intentions. We start at the Dam Square, stroll for an hour and soak in the good vibes from enjoying our afternoon wander. We check out the secret garden Begijnhof, dip into the art hall from the Amsterdam Museum, wander to the Flower Market and through the Canal Ring’s 9 Streets. Maybe we talk about weed and the Red Light District, and I always ramble off a to-do list for nightlife.
In the past, as we edged closer to the Anne Frank House, a cloud would roll over our heads. I would beg the museum gods to show mercy on my tour group, but starting in May, we were usually met with an entry line that rivaled the Louvre and Uffizi. Once July would come, my groups of first-timers to Amsterdam wouldn’t even try to get in.
But a new ticketing system at the Anne Frank House has added a ray of hope, especially for those that are good at planning ahead. Read on to find out how to make sure you see this essential attraction in Amsterdam.
Tips for visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam
An article in The New York Times reported that attendance at Europe’s top museums have caused enough congestion that directors are running out of ideas.
But that doesn’t mean you have to give up. In fact, a new ticketing system launched in 2016 (and then revised in 2018) has changed visitors’ strategy, and we are here to let you in on a few insider tips and answer questions like: How can you skip the line? When is the best time to go? Can I get tickets in advance? Here are your best options.
1. Reserve online and pick your time slot
The only way to get tickets to the Anne Frank House is to reserve them online. There are no more tickets at the door. As soon as you have your Amsterdam dates inked in the calendar, go to the Anne Frank House website and use your credit card to buy those tickets. Commit to a time slot and stick with it.
80% of tickets can be purchased up to two months in advance for entry to the museum. The other 20% is released each morning at 9 am for visits that day.
There used to be a policy that after 3:30 pm, the museum would open up to visitors without advance tickets. But this is no longer the case.
Tip: Do NOT arrive in Amsterdam and try to reserve a ticket for the following day. Chances are they will be sold out, as there is only a selected amount available online.
2. Know the museum rules for getting tickets
Tickets go on sale at noon (Amsterdam time) exactly two months in advance of the date you want to go. So if you plan on going to the Museum on August 24th, the earliest you can buy tickets is June 24th. Noon in Amsterdam is 6 am in New York and 3 am in Los Angeles.
From April to October the Anne Frank House is now open daily from 9 am to 10 pm, and November to March 9 am to 7 pm (and Saturdays until 9 pm). The museum is open every day of the year except Yom Kippur.
Crowds outside the Anne Frank House. Photo: redsun81
3. Early bird really does catch the worm
If you didn’t have a chance to get tickets before your trip, don’t give up hope! You can wake up and log onto the website at 9 am each day to try to get one of the 20% of tickets that are allocated. You might have to wait in an online queue, but at least you won’t waste hours waiting outside in the hot sun or cold rain. And if you don’t get tickets during your trip, you’ll just have another reason to return!
If you have extra time before your entry time, I encourage visitors to picnic or enjoy a coffee break. Across the street from the Westerkerk is an Albert Hein grocery store, even a bakery or two. Grab a cup of coffee, a sandwich, snack, or whatever looks good.
You can also plan the rest of your day because They have Wi-Fi that you can connect to while you wait for your entry time.
If you are visiting Amsterdam after late September, patron traffic stays calm and cool until tulip season emerges early April and bus coaches come rolling in again. You’ll have a better chance of getting an online ticket less than two months in advance.
Here’s a list of 25 activities that won’t cost one euro cent:
Some of Rome’s finest artwork and architectural design on display can’t only be found in museums. In fact, the creative masterpieces of some of the Bel Paese’s finest, Michelangelo, Bernini, Borromini and many others are actually found inside the churches of Rome and can be visited for free.
A special note about the Trevi Fountain: No one comes to Rome without making a stop at the grandiose Fontana di Trevi. Whether it be day or night, it’s hard not to admire the sheer beauty of the fountain that Federico Fellini chose as his backdrop for his masterpiece La Dolce Vita. Tourists flock in herds to the fountain, to throw a coin in as legend has it you’re sure to come back to Rome one day soon.
The Trevi Fountain is famous, fun and free! Photo: mksfca
A favorite Italian pastime is to meet up with your friends in the piazza and shoot the breeze. Some of the more popular piazzas with both tourists and locals alike also happen to be very picturesque. These are at the top of your must-see list: Piazza di Spagna, Piazza Novona, Santa Maria in Trastevere, Piazza Venezia, Piazza del Popolo and Piazza della Repubblica.
Wander up the Via dei Fori Imperiali and see Trajan’s Market (Mercati di Traiano), Arch of Constantine (Arco di Costantino), Roman Forum (Foro Romano) and the Palatine Hill (Palatino). This is the heart of what is left of Ancient Rome.
Note that you have to pay to get inside the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, but wandering along their peripheries and taking snapshots from outside won’t cost a thing.
The Colosseum is one of the seven wonders of the world and the unofficial mascot of Rome. To get inside this gargantuan monument where some of the bravest gladiators gave their best battle, you’ll have to wait in line and buy a ticket. However, it won’t cost you a dime to wander around it, taking in its immense beauty and snapping a perfect picture.
It’s easy to find a free slice of peace and quiet in Villa Pamphili, Rome’s largest park. Photo: CucombreLibre
Believe it or not, Rome has lots of green space hidden behind its monuments and ruins. Some famous parks are Villa Pamphilli (Monteverde) and Villa Ada (Corso Trieste).
Dubbed the “Central Park of Rome”, Villa Borghese is one of the few green spaces in the Ancient City where you can truly relax, take a stroll and plan a picnic away from all of the hustle and bustle of the city. Hike up to the spot called the “Pincio” for a bird’s eye view of Piazza del Popolo and the Roman skyline. Paradiso!
9. Villa Torlonia
A beautiful villa and garden that was also the Mussolini family residence, the Villa Torlonia then fell into disrepair and is now being restored. The garden contains many exotic plants and large trees. There’s also a nice museum called the Casina dellle Civette that’s remarkable for its stained glass windows. Open daily 7 a.m. – 8:30 p.m., Via Nomentana, 70.
10. Appia Antica
All roads lead to Rome and what better way to enjoy a peaceful stroll than taking the old path to Rome on a Sunday when all cars are banned? The Appian Antica way makes for a lovely walk with (literally) tons of ancient ruins to see along the way. The park has detailed routes with maps for the best walking routes.
Campo de’ Fiori Market is a colorful spectacle that is always free to browse. Photo: Wendy
11. Street Markets
Experience first hand how Romans shop for fresh fruits and vegetables, or how they bargain down the price of that shirt they always wanted! Rome’s street markets are absolutely free to visit unless you buy something of course!
The best open-air food markets are: Mercato di Trionfale (Via Andrea Doria), Campo de’ Fiori (Centro Storico) and Piazza San Giovanni di Dio (Monteverde).
Best flea markets are Via Sannio Market (San Giovanni) and Porta Portese Market (Trastevere).
Casa di Pulcinnella is home to wonderful open-air puppet shows. The shows are free (although a small donation is appreciated). What’s more, the Gianicolo Hill, home to the theater, provides fantastic views of the city.
14. Galleria Nazionale di San Luca
Located near the Trevi Fountain at Piazza dell’Accademia di San Luca #77, the Galleria Nazionale di San Luca is open on select days, but always free. Bernini famously got his start at this academy. Browse works by famous and not so famous artists here (Van Dyck and Raphael to name a few).
There’s a charming scene around every corner in Trastevere. Photo: Frank Schmidtke
Wander the streets and lose yourself in the winding cobble-stoned alleyways that make Trastevere, Rome’s oldest neighborhood, so charming. Don’t miss a chance to meander these streets. Remember, a passeggiata won’t cost you a thing!
16. Innamorati dell’arte (Valentines Day only)
On Valentine’s Day throughout Italy, couples and friends can get two-for-one tickets at National museums, monuments and archaeological sites. (Includes: National Musuem of Villa Giulia, Galleria Borghese and the National Musuem of Castel S. Angelo. (February 14th only)
17. Piramide (Pyramid)
Believe it or not, Rome has a pyramid. The piramide was originally built as a tomb for for Gaius Cestius in 12 BC, and is located in bustling piazza right near the Piramide Metro stop (Line B). While it’s free to visit, you can only appreciate the outside of the pyramid.
Stroll down famous Via Margutta for art galleries galore. Photo: Elwin
18. Art Galleries on Via Margutta
The small, tucked away art market on Via Margutta has held a reputation since the 17th century of being a notorious haunt for bohemians and starving artists. In the 1950s, its studios and bars were frequented by the likes of Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando. Why not drop by? It’s free!
19. Crypts and Bones
Creepy for some, yet cool for others, the Santa Maria della Immocalata Concezione church, or best known as the “Rome’s Capuchin Crypt” has a tiny crypt underneath it where the skulls and bones of more than 4,000 Capuchin monks have been artfully arranged to decorate the walls of several tiny chapels. It’s located on Via Veneto near Piazza Barberini.
20. Aula Octagona
Considered to be one of Rome’s hidden treasures, the Aula Octagona is a well-kept secret in Piazza della Repubblica that houses ancient Roman sculptures. The room was part of the Baths of Diocletian, and is today the only part of the Roman National Museum that is free to visit.
Along with the Colosseum, the Pantheon is one of Rome’s best preserved ancient buildings. Originally constructed as a pagan temple, the Pantheon was later converted into a church. The immense monument located in Piazza della Rotonda, is a historian’s (and photographer’s) paradise, and costs nothing to visit.
The piazza also happens to be a favorite hangout for young people and becomes quite lively with its outdoor cafés and street performers.
22. La Bocca della Verità
If you zip by the outside of this church (Santa Maria in Cosmedin), you might see a long line of tourists and wonder what all the fuss is about. Tourists, it turns out, love taking a kitschy picture with their hand in the Bocca della Verità (mouth of truth). Legend has it, if you’re untruthful, the mouth will bite off your hand!
23. The Vatican Museums (last Sunday of the month)
On the last Sunday of every month, the Vatican Museums are open to the public for free. Unsurprisingly, the line is much longer on this day than most, so be prepared to wait or get there super early.
The ornate interior of St. Peter’s Basilica is free to gaze upon. As long as you follow the dress code. Photo: Ed Brambley
24. St. Peter’s Basilica
There’s nothing quite as remarkable in all of Rome as St. Peter’s Basilica. The road and square leading up to the church are just as magnificent. Though there’s no cost to get inside, there is a dress code that is strictly enforced. No shorts and skirts above the knees and no bare shoulders.
Be sure to check out the Vatican Grottoes underneath the church, where several Popes (including Pope John Paul II) and St. Peter are buried. Don’t forget to snap a picture with one of the Swiss Guards standing outside as well!
25. Papal Mass
Whether or not you’re a practicing Catholic, standing among hundreds of pilgrims and while listening to Pope Francis give his Sunday mass can be a moving experience for anyone. Catch a glimpse of the Pope giving his mass from his window or shown live on the big screen TVs every Sunday in Piazza San Pietro at 10 a.m.
Are you planning a trip to Barcelona and worried about looking like a blundering tourist? That’s natural, of course. But don’t get too hung up on this — you’re visiting the city and taking in its biggest sights. You’re allowed to look like a tourist!
As a traveler in a new culture, it will be really hard, if not impossible, to look “local” so why not just be comfortable and go with the flow? (However, this doesn’t mean wandering La Rambla with three cameras tied around your neck wearing socks and sandals — there are limits!)
However, acting like a tourist is a different subject. We’re here to help you overcome some common mistakes that tourists make when visiting Barcelona, from spending too much time on La Rambla to trying to eat at 6 p.m.
2. Do try to adhere to local customs and schedules.
Remember that Spaniards eat late and that many shops will be closed midday for lunch and on Sundays.
3. Don’t get too political.
It’s fine to ask locals their opinion on Catalan independence, but be careful if you’re voicing very pro-Catalonia or pro-Spain opinions. You might end up offending those around you and find yourself in a heated debate or fight.
Late dinner means more time for snacking on tapas beforehand! Photo: Craig Nelson
17. Do pay the entrance fee to see La Sagrada Família.
It’s Barcelona’s most important sight and there is a reason for this — it’s stunning! Cough up the entrance fee and spend a few hours inside gawking at Antoni Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece. (And do get tickets online and skip the wait. Read all of our tips for visiting Sagrada Familia.)
18. Don’t go to Park Güell if you’re short on time.
It’s a bit of trek to get up to Park Güell that can easily eat up most of the day. Stick to Gaudí sights in the city center if you’ve only got a couple of days.
19. Do rent a bike.
Ride along Barcelona’s beachfront boardwalk from La Barceloneta to Llevant beach. Stop along the way for lunch at a seaside eatery.
Finally, do come to Barcelona with an open mind and flexible itinerary.
Travel is tricky and things may not pan out the way you planned. It could rain, a museum could be closed for remodeling, or the taxi drivers could go on strike.
However, good things can crop up too, and it’s rewarding to be able to spot these opportunities when they surface and embrace them. A restaurant owner offers you something that’s not on the menu, and it turns out to be the best meal of your life. A local invites you over to their condo for coffee, and you make a new friend. A wrong turn takes you down a winding alleyway with unique bars and boutiques.
The unplanned can many times be the best part of the journey — embrace it!
EuroCheapo’s Ultimate Budget Travel Guide to Europe
Welcome, budget traveler!
If you’re looking for ways to make your upcoming trip to Europe more affordable, you’ve come to the right place. Since 2001, EuroCheapo has been helping travelers save in Europe. It’s what we do.
On the following pages we’ve compiled our top budget travel advice. It’s organized into 10 quick chapters about ways to save on the big items in your travel budget: the flights, hotels, train tickets, rental cars, sightseeing, using your smartphone and more.
But let’s be clear: These travel tips aren’t only about spending less on your trip. They’re also about having a better experience when traveling in Europe.
We believe that the best budget travel is also about slowing down and traveling in step with the locals. If you can do that, and if you’ve learned a couple tricks of the cheapo trade, the savings will follow. And, in the end, you’ll have a richer experience. We’ll get into all of that below.
A quick note about us — and why we can help you save in Europe
My name is Tom Meyers and I started EuroCheapo back in 2001. I quit my job in New York and moved to Berlin and hand-coded the first version of this site that launched that June. Honestly, I had a blast — I spent the year hunting down the best small, budget hotels in the center of Europe’s most expensive cities. I felt like every day was a treasure hunt.
Since then, I’ve been joined by a team of writers and editors who have kept up our hotel picks (like these in Paris and Rome), but who’ve also written nearly 3,000 articles about simple ways to save on every aspect of your trip, from booking flights and train tickets to cheap eats and saving on sightseeing.
In the following pages, I’ll be sharing these tips with you in the first person, although many of these tips have been plucked from the thousands of posts published on our blog. I’m thankful to the dozens of fabulous writers who have shared their expertise with us on the site over the years and continue to write for us. You can read more about them if you click their names on any of the blog posts we link to.
I hope that you’ll find these budget travel tips helpful and that together, we can help you spend less while improving your travels in Europe. If you have questions or feedback on these tips, send me an email or leave a comment below. And please join us on Facebook.
Travelers, especially those from North America, tend to overbook their trips to Europe. We can’t help it. Resist the urge to “see it all”, and you’ll save time and money — and probably have a much better travel experience.
Cheapo Tip: We like to spend at least two nights in each spot. It helps our budget… and our sanity.
Flying to Europe is expensive — in fact, it’s probably the largest expense facing many American travelers. How can you actually find great deals on airfare to Europe? Here are some tips to help you fly the cheapo skies.
Cheapo Tip: Airfare alerts are your friend. So are “open jaw” flights.
Whether you’re planning to travel for two days or 20 days, where you stay can have a major impact on both your budget and your trip experience. Here are some tips for booking the right hotels for your trip — and at the best possible price.
Cheapo Tip: Small, family-run hotels can make all the difference on your trip. But you have to find them.
Chapters 5-8: Coming soon!
Stay tuned — we’ll be publishing our guides to saving on train tickets, rental cars, sightseeing and more in the coming week!
Now… where are you going?
Once you’ve read through these quick chapters, you’ll have a great grasp on many of the top budget travel strategies that work today. But wait — there’s more!
Now comes the fun part: It’s time to start researching ways to save in the countries and cities that you’ll be visiting. It’ll probably come as no surprise that we have a lot to say about that, too.
Whether you’re planning to travel for two days or 20 days, where you stay can have a big impact on both your budget and your trip experience.
We’ve spent the past 18 years hunting down the best hotel values in Europe’s priciest cities. While we’ve seen some big changes, good and bad, over the years (finally, free Wi-Fi!), there are certain bits of “Cheapo advice” that remain the same today as in 2001.
Before we get started, remember: Don’t panic.
High-season rates in particularly expensive destinations (London, Venice, all of Switzerland…) can cause great anxiety and all-out panic. Remain calm and remember that many websites (not including EuroCheapo, of course!), rank the hotel results to show you what they’d like you to book first. (These are often the hotels that are paying them the highest commission.)
So don’t just stare at those first results and quickly assume that the city’s going to be too expensive for you to visit. It might take a little digging and further research (using tips on this page and throughout EuroCheapo), but chances are you’ll be able to find a great little hotel, B&B, or hostel in town for your budget.
Bottom line: Don’t panic. But be prepared to do some digging for a deal.
Tips for saving on hotels in Europe
Here are our 10 top tips for saving on accommodation and on finding the perfect hotels for your trip.
1. Think about location before price.
We often hear from travelers who do a hotel search, and then book the cheapest hotel they can find, only to realize it’s located far outside the center (or in a neighboring town!), and isn’t easily accessible to areas they want to visit. This can cause an undue expenditure of both time and money, not to mention often a crummy hotel experience.
Fortunately, this can be avoided with advance planning. Really zoom in on the hotel’s location when researching. How far is it from a subway or bus line? Consider paying just a bit more for something more central or closer to public transportation.
2. Be flexible with your travel schedule.
If your trip itinerary spends quite a bit of time in one geographic area, flexibility with your itinerary can help save money. Once you start searching for hotels, you might find that one stop is more expensive on certain dates than others. Juggling around your itinerary can allow you book hotels when they’re at their cheapest.
For example, say you’re spending a week in Belgium, visiting both Brussels and Bruges. Once you start searching for hotels, you’ll likely find that hotel rates in Brussels are lower on the weekends (because there are fewer business travelers and Eurocrats booking them). Thus, why not visit Bruges during the week, and spend the weekend in Brussels, when hotels are at their cheapest?
3. More stars do not always make a better hotel.
Hotel star ratings in Europe are confusing. Every country has their own standards and system of classification, usually set by a government-run tourism board. Thus, what qualifies as a three-star hotel in the Netherlands will probably be different from a three-star hotel in Italy.
In short, the more amenities and services a hotel offers, the higher the star rating. Inspectors visit with clipboards and literally check off everything they see in the lobby, hotel room and elsewhere. The more stuff to check off, the higher the star rating. But obviously, more “stuff” doesn’t always make a better-run, friendlier or more memorable hotel.
You can be fairly certain that a four-star hotel offers elevators, room service, private baths, cable TV, Internet, air conditioning and so forth. But it doesn’t say anything about the room décor, the hotel’s location or the helpfulness of the staff. A four-star hotel may actually be far less charming than a two-star hotel.
We’ve visited many hotels that are stuck, for reasons outside their control, with a low star rating. A two-star hotel located in a historic neighborhood in Paris, for example, will probably have restrictions placed upon its ability to do renovations. This might make adding an elevator impossible, which would prevent the hotel from achieving three-star status, no matter how lovely the rooms or how cordial the management.
Also, note that one-star hotels will often offer things for free (like Internet access) that four-star hotels might still charge for. Read more about star ratings in Europe.
4. Which amenities do you really need? Really?
If you can reduce the number of amenities you need, and reduce the star rating, you can probably score a better deal. Consider which room amenities you really need to enjoy your visit. Do you need air conditioning in Vienna in early June? Do you need a safe? Hairdryer? Toiletries? The difference between a one-star and a three-star hotel might be more noticeable in your wallet than in your room.
5. Know when to book.
When’s the best time to book to save on hotels in Europe? Unfortunately, it depends. Booking in advance helps you arrange your travel plans before you take off, but you miss out on the possibility of last-minute travel deals. Booking at the last minute (even same day!), can result in amazing deals, but it can also lead to stress… and finding yourself without a place to sleep.
You need to secure a favorite hotel. Book it before it fills up.
You see very limited availability when you search. Book now — it’s only going to get worse. (This is especially the case during high season.)
You just want to get everything checked off you’re list and relax.
You have a pretty rigid schedule.
We recommend booking closer to your travel date if:
You see lots of availability and cheapo options when you search for hotels. You can hang back and see if prices come down. (This is often the case when traveling during the off season.)
You want more flexibility when you’re traveling. Are you the kind of travelers who likes to switch your itinerary at the last minute? You may just want to hold off. (Or at least book refundable rates! See next point.)
6. Consider first booking a hotel with free cancellation.
Another option is to book a hotel right now that offers free cancellation, and then cancel the reservation later if you find a better deal. This can at least calm your nerves (hey, you’ve got a place!), and allow you some flexibility in terms of finding something better later.
One warning: Most hotels now charge a bit more for free cancellation (so you’re actually spending money to have this flexibility). Also, be aware that the definition of “free cancellation” varies widely. Free… until when? Are you free to cancel until the day of your reservation… or only free to cancel up to one week before check-in? There’s a big difference — pay attention to the details.
7. Consider renting an apartment.
Even though we have a special love for small hotels, we can’t deny that apartments can be handy and sometimes even more affordable than hotels, especially for longer stays or when traveling with a family. You can browse apartment listings by searching on EuroCheapo, or on any number of apartment search sites, like VRBO or (of course) Airbnb.
Be aware that some European cities, like Paris and Berlin, are cracking down on illegal apartment rentals on these sites, so double-check before booking that it’s legal! Also make sure that all of the check-in logistics are squared away in advance, and that you know exactly how to get into the apartment, and how to contact the apartment’s owner for any questions or emergencies.
8. Hostels are for everyone.
Hostels in Europe aren’t just for “youth” anymore. In fact, in the past 10-15 years scores of stylish and hip hostels, like the Generator chain, have reinvented what it means to be a hostel. Today’s “hip hostels” often offer fresh design themes (often developed by local artists), low-cost group activities, healthy food options, and lots of shared space.
As you’ll see when you search and filter by “hostels” on EuroCheapo, the bedroom situation ranges widely depending on the hostel, but most offer both private rooms that are cheaper than you’d find in most hotels (you’ve got the room to yourself, although you might share a bathroom) and really cheap shared rooms (you’re probably sleeping in a bunk with others in the room). Regardless, rooms tend to be simply furnished, but often hostels make up for it with extensive public rooms meant for reading, hanging out, and meeting other travelers.
That said… the hostel landscape still includes plenty of more traditional “youth hostel” options, as well, especially those official and non-profit hostels affiliated with Hostelling International.
9. Take our hotel advice
We’ve spent a lot of time inspecting hotels and rounding up the best affordable hotel options in Europe’s priciest destinations. We especially like small, family-run and independent hotels that really capture the spirit of the destination–and we try to stay away from recommending big international chain hotels. I always say that I prefer to wake up in Rome and immediately feel that I’m in Rome — and not next to the Milwaukee airport.
Once you arrive, there are still ways to save on your hotels in Europe even after you’ve checked in. These include:
Head for the nearest grocery store: Don’t touch that minibar! As soon as we plop our things down in our room, we typically head out to a nearby supermarket for some essentials: Bottles of water, fruit, snacks, missing toiletries, and anything else that would cost us a small fortune if purchased from the hotel or (double yikes!) taken from the mini-fridge.
Think twice about breakfast: When you check in, the receptionist will probably ask you, “Are you taking breakfast?” Don’t be shy here — ask for more specifics before committing to their breakfast offerings. How much does it cost? And what exactly does it consist of? (You might be surprised!) If you’re staying in the middle of a city or town, chances are you can easily walk to a cafe or restaurant and get a better deal.
Be clear when making your hotel reservation.
One final word of advice (from an article I wrote about how to not get stuck with the worst room in the hotel): Be as clear as possible when reserving your room. What exactly are you looking for in a room? Do you prefer one on a high floor overlooking the street? Or perhaps you like lower floors with windows opening to the courtyard? Maybe you dream of a room with a balcony? Do you need a bathtub instead of a shower?
Mention these preferences in your correspondence with the hotel when reserving. (When reserving through EuroCheapo, there is a field in the reservation form to add any special requests). Your requests will almost always be considered. The hotel wants you to be a happy guest (and they especially want you to write a glowing review). They’ll try hard to accommodate.
Flying to Europe is expensive — in fact, it’s probably the largest expense facing many American travelers heading abroad. How can you actually find great deals on airfare to Europe? Here are some tips to help you fly the cheapo skies.
For most of us traveling from North America, the flight to Europe is our biggest budget obstacle. While it can be easy to find great bargains on hotels, it takes a bit of effort and research to uncover cheap flights across the Atlantic.
There are airfare flash sales that come and go, but those are hard to nab if you don’t act quickly. However, before you give up hope on finding a good price for your next flight, try some of the tips below.
For the tips that follow, we’ll use a sample itinerary. We’ll say that we’re based in Chicago and want to visit London, Amsterdam, and Paris. We’re looking for a flight from Chicago to London. After spending a few days in London, we plan to take the train to Amsterdam (via Lille) and wind up in Paris. Then we’ll head back to London to fly home to Chicago.
So how can we save on this flight?
Set up alerts so you can get the latest prices on your route.
1. Set up an airfare alert.
If you know the exact route that you want to fly, you should set up airfare alerts to be notified of flight deals immediately. Websites like Kayak.com and Airfarewatchdog.com will email you when they notice a deal on the route that you’re planning to fly.
In this example, we can go to these websites and create a flight alert for Chicago to London. But wait…
2. Don’t forget about “open jaw” flights.
As I mentioned in my overview of creating a trip itinerary, “open jaw” flights (into and out of different cities) can help you save time and money, as they’re often about the same price as flights into and out of the same city. Furthermore, you can save lots of money on transportation (trains, buses, ferries, etc), as you won’t need to circle back to your city of arrival. This tip can not only save you money but allows you to save time, so you can see more of Europe.
In our example above, instead of a round-trip to London, you could fly into London and home from Paris. It’s a good idea to also research the round-trip fares from London (after all, you might snag a cheap deal), but we would certainly focus on flights from Chicago -> London, and then Paris -> Chicago.
Even if that flight turned out to be a bit more expensive, chances are it would be less expensive than paying for a trip on the Eurostar (or a flight!) back from Paris to London (and probably an extra overnight in London, too).
Paris in May can be just as beautiful (and a lot less crowded) than the summer. Photo: Loïc Lagarde
3. Be flexible with your dates.
Flexibility is a budget traveler’s best friend (in so, so many ways!). In terms of snagging a good deal on flights, if you can bump your travel dates around a bit, you may end up saving a lot on airfare.
If you have the possibility, try pushing the trip back a week or up a week to see if you can find a deal on airfare. You might be surprised—there might be something happening (a big convention, sporting event, Madonna concert…) in one of your cities that is throwing off the airfare.
In our example, say that we find that our flight seems strangely expensive. In fact, the hotel prices also seem quite high—but only for Paris for our dates. This could indicate that Paris is booked up with some special event (such as a giant conference or the annual Fashion Weeks). If you have some flexibility, push your trip dates around and see if airfare drops. Hunt for a deal–you might just find it.
4. Avoid weekends, if possible.
Flights tend to be more popular and more expensive for weekend travelers. If you’re able to travel midweek, chances are you’ll be able to snag a better deal. Play around with your dates — you’ll probably see cheaper airfare on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Heathrow is a major airport in London, but did you know there are several others? Photo: Stefan Kellner
5. Be flexible with your destinations or itinerary.
Conversely, you can play around with your destinations. Is there another airport nearby that you haven’t included in your search? Could you add another leg to your trip that includes a less expensive airport to fly into? Can you juggle your itinerary a bit to avoid a momentarily expensive city?
Back to our example, if Paris is booked up (and flights expensive) because of the fashion show, perhaps we could invert the trip, landing in Paris (the week before the fashion show), visiting Amsterdam and then departing from London. This would allow us to avoid not only more expensive flight costs, but higher hotel rates, as well.
You should also double-check and make sure that you’re including “all area airports” in your search. In our example, don’t just search for Heathrow (LHR) and Charles de Gaulle (CDG). Make sure to search for the city code, “LON” and “PAR”, to see all area airports. A lot of European cities, even smaller ones, have secondary airports that might be new to you.
A final option is to “hub it.” For example, say you find an incredible flight deal from Chicago to Dublin on Aer Lingus. It might be worth booking the flight to Dublin and then searching Europeans budget airlines (like Ryanair and easyJet) to get a fare from Dublin to London.
Don’t overlook nearby airports. Kayak has a function to let you easily search for them.
6. If at all possible, avoid the peak travel season.
We know, for many travelers, the timing of the trip has been established long in advance (often dictated by academic schedules, holidays, or growling bosses). However, if you do have a bit more flexibility and are looking for ways to save, consider pushing your trip away from peak summer months and major holidays, and into “shoulder season” or even low season.
For spring travel, instead of June, try early May or late April. Looking for a fall visit to Europe? Push your plans back from September to October to save a bit more. If you’re able to travel to Europe in the early spring or late fall, you will almost certainly be rewarded with lower airfares, shorter lines at top attractions, and lower hotel rates. (Read more about the best time to visit Europe.)
7. Book it when you see a deal.
According to a study by the airline experts at Kayak.com, the ideal time to book airfare to Europe is six months in advance. That said, these days you should snag a deal whenever you spot one!
8. Don’t forget about “budget” international airlines.
In the past few years, a number of new budget-conscious airlines have started flying between North America and Europe. These airlines have made it possible to find one-way tickets for jaw-dropping prices, and their fare calendars make it easy to browse prices over the course of a few months.
Will you score a $99 one-way flight to Europe? Probably not, but it’s still worth it for budget travelers to look for deals on Norwegian Air and Westjet (from Canada).
9. Subscribe to airline newsletters.
You can’t take advantage of fare sales if you never hear about them. I suggest signing up for airline email newsletters that fly to your area. If you’re afraid of spammy airline emails clogging up your inbox, you can unsubscribe once you’ve booked your trip!
And then there’s the world of rewards travel. Redeeming frequent flier miles for “free flights” to Europe or using miles to upgrade to business class is another matter unto itself. In fact, it’s spawned a world of experts who give advice on the best credit cards to use for miles, strategies for accumulating miles, etc.
A word of caution: Don’t put yourself in debt signing up for new credit cards in order to accumulate frequent flyer miles. Those “free” flights will end up costing you far more than paying full price.
However, done the right way, transfering credit card “points” to frequent flyer miles can help you snag free or discounted flights. If nothing else, double check that your credit card is working for you. Are you accumulating points? Check out this post I wrote a few years ago about mistakes to avoid with your frequent flyer program.
How do you keep it cheap when searching for airfare to and around Europe? Share with us in the comments section below!
Chapter 2: Best Itineraries for European Travel
When putting your travel itinerary together, try to remain calm and realistic. If possible, give yourself a minimum of two nights at every stop in order to minimize travel expenses and keep everyone happy.
The trip planning experience can be exhilarating. You know that you have a set number of days (or weeks!) to travel, and you look at a map with all the lip-smacking excitement of a kid in a candy store. Where do you want to visit? Where don’t you want to visit?
If you’re only traveling for 10 days, either of those options is certain to cost you dearly (in transportation costs alone) and, without question, lead to grumpy and exhausted travelers.
My epic misadventure
I know, because I’ve been there. In a state of unabashed enthusiasm, I once rented a car for about 10 days and drove with friends from Berlin to Paris, then to Madrid, Lisbon, Seville, Barcelona, Aix-en-Provence, Nice, Locarno, Tubingen and back to Berlin.
Sounds great, right? It certainly started out with a blast–and ended with silence, as nobody talked in the car for the last day.
I had made a classic mistake: I’d overbooked us. When I had mapped it all out beforehand at my kitchen table it all seemed like so much fun. It worked, technically. But in practice, it meant that we spent far too much time sitting in a car (or, in my case, driving the car), and not nearly enough time exploring the cities we slept in or the tiny towns we raced by.
We ended up resenting that we had to keep on driving past places we wanted to visit. And if we did stop to check out the scene, we’d end up arriving late at whatever hotel I’d booked (months beforehand). We’d have time for a late dinner, then wake up and start over. There was never any time that wasn’t in motion–we could never actually relax.
A note to first-time American travelers to Europe
I grew up in the great state of Ohio and spent many wonderful summer breaks cruising from state to state in the family van. We took in a lot of territory during our one- and two-week family jaunts, often spending much of day taking in the scene from the air conditioned comfort of the big old Ford. Sure, we’d stop for meals, photo ops and major tourist sights (Grand Canyon, Old Faithful, a day at Disneyland), but much of the adventure was the drive itself.
Many travelers from the US approach their European travel planning with a similar mindset. Why not jump from town to town every day, taking in the landscape, driving through cities and finding fun spots for dinner along the way?
Add to our inherent “road trip” instinct the fact that we get the fewest days of vacation each year of any industrialized country, and the high cost of flights to Europe in the first place, and you’ve got a situation where American travelers understandably want to pack in as many experiences as possible during their European trips.
Nobody’s going to stop you from doing this, of course, and you might have a grand time. However, you’d be missing out on a lot. Many of the cities that you’ll be passing through have histories that go back more than a millennium. A region that you could speed through in an hour probably has its own cuisine worth sampling, wine worth tasting, and dessert worth gobbling. It’s worth slowing down to experience it.
Why should you slow down?
Aside from your sanity and the happiness of your travel companions, slowing down can also lead to real savings. Read on…
Gas is expensive.
If my last point didn’t convince you, it’s worth noting that slowing down means less gas. Gasoline in Europe is far more expensive than in North America. If you’re planning to rent a car and drive like crazy, you’re in for a real shock at the pump.
Don’t believe me? As I writer this, the average cost of gas in the US is just over $3. As you can see on this European gas tracker, it’s currently $6.59 in France — and higher in Italy.
Slowing down means fewer train tickets.
Zipping from city to city on Europe’s high-speed rail network is an experience in itself and is highly recommended. You can speed from Florence to Rome in 90 minutes on the high-speed train (and for as little as €20 off-peak if you book directly in advance!).
However, those seats (and those on France’s TGV, Germany’s ICE, and Spain’s Renfe) can be expensive in high season. Save on transportation costs by scaling back your itinerary. Not to mention that if you speed from one city to the next day after day, most of your trip memories will be of train stations and cafe cars.
Tips for putting your itinerary together
Now, let’s start putting the itinerary together. How many stops? How many nights in each stop? Here are some thoughts:
Minimize the one-night stands.
Try this: When building out your itinerary, don’t allow yourself any one-night stops. Unless you’re really on a mission to get somewhere, give yourself at least two nights in every hotel you book.
This little tip will force you to slow down and take in your surroundings a bit. But on a more practical note, it will relieve the hassle of schlepping your bags from hotel to hotel, packing and unpacking, checking in and checking out. All of that busy work can be a time-waster and add stress to your trip.
I recently helped a friend plan a trip to Normandy from Paris. His instinct was to drive up from Paris to a small B&B near the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, spend the night, and then head back to Paris the next day.
What was the problem with this plan? It didn’t leave any time to actually visit the beaches, cemetery, or surrounding towns. He might have been able to see a few things, but not take the time to really take it in. Fortunately, he booked two nights, and he greatly enjoyed exploring not only the beaches and cemetery, but the surrounding villages. He later told me about an unforgettable experience he had going to mass in a small village church–something that certainly would have fallen off an over-packed itinerary.
Use your two-day stops as bases for exploration.
If you do take my advice and give yourself at least two-day stops along your trip, use those stops as bases for exploration. This way you can wake up, not have to pack things up, head off to explore, and feel relaxed that you can come back to your “home base” whenever you please.
You also have the added bonus of exploring a territory that your hotel owner will be very familiar with. He or she will be able to offer all kinds of inside advice for activities not to miss, restaurants to try out, and views to take in.
A few years ago my partner and I were married in France. For our honeymoon we headed to the Greek island of Crete. During the planning stages, we were both so excited about experiencing the island that, in typical fashion, we planned to move from town to town each day, making our way around the island over the course of the week. There were so many things to see on the east coast, and amazing villages in the west, and great beaches along the south… and the ancient Minoan ruins in the north!
And then something happened. We remembered that this wasn’t a race: It was our honeymoon. At the last moment, we booked one amazing mountainside hotel in the southeastern part of the island, and used this as our home base. We checked in and unpacked for the week. Although we had brought along a travel guidebook, some of the best advice we received was from the friendly hotel manager.
From here, each morning, we took off to explore the beaches, the ruins, the villages, and the amazing restaurants. And every night, we came home, relaxed, and happy that we didn’t have to pack up in the morning.
This is an extreme example (it’s a honeymoon, after all), but I bring it up as it’s one trip where I forced myself to overcome my instinctive “go, go, go” trip mentality. And, in the end, the trip was more relaxed and full of surprises.
Prefer one night stops? Cut back on travel time.
I know that the (minimum) two-day stop isn’t going to work for everyone and for every trip. Sometimes you’re on a mission — you’re just trying to get from Venice to Paris by car, an 11-hour drive. Some will be tempted to just do the whole thing in one epic day on the road.
Do a search on Google maps for the route and you’ll see several halfway marks that would be perfect for an overnight. (I would recommend either Lyon or Geneva.) If you’re on a mission, I probably won’t be able to convince you to spend two nights in either city. (Even though either would be amazing. You could explore the vineyards of the Cotes-du-Rhone during your day off in Lyon, or search for the perfect cheesy raclette in the mountain villages surrounding Geneva!)
However, I would at least recommend an overnight in one of these towns, or at countless smaller villages along the way. The point is to break that 11-hour trip up into smaller, manageable trips. For this example, I think at least two overnights would be better. Three or four hours of driving every day will still give you time to explore the territory.
You don’t always need to drive in circles.
When you’re checking around for flights to Europe for your trip, remember to check “open jaw” flights that allow you to fly into one city and home from another. (For example, a flight from Boston to London, and then a return flight from Amsterdam to Boston.)
Increasingly, these flights cost about the same amount as flights into and out of the same city. “Open jaw” flights can have a big impact on your itinerary, as they can free you to plot your trip in a straight line, avoiding that end-of-trip requirement to circle back to your city of arrival.
For example, say that you’re flying from Chicago to London, then heading by train to Paris, and then down to Nice before heading home. Check flights from Chicago to London, but with a return from Nice to Chicago. There’s no need to make the mad dash from Nice all the way back up to London. So many travelers do this, and it can add unnecessary stress and expense to the final days of your trip. (Wouldn’t you rather be hanging out on the beach for another day than hustling back to London?)
One caveat: These “open jaw” flights might not work for you if you’re renting a car. (You’re in luck if you’re moving around Europe by train or by one-way flights inside Europe.) Renting a car in one European country and dropping it off in another can be quite expensive, as the company usually tacks on a fee to go fetch the car and bring it back home.
Your trip itinerary
Now, back to your drawing board (or kitchen table). Try plotting out your destinations, giving consideration to all the stops along the way. Play around with your itinerary and see what it looks like if you trim a couple of stops, and double up the nights on others.
And remember, by building more time into each step of your trip, you’re giving yourself more time for surprises and serendipity. You don’t need to know what you’re going to do on your day off in southern Spain. You’ll find something tasty, we promise you!
Let’s start with the Cheapo basics: When are you traveling to Europe? Many travelers don’t have the luxury of choosing their travel dates, as their trips are dictated by academic vacations, holidays or work schedules.
The result, unfortunately, is that most Western travelers heading to Europe have very similar vacation schedules. These periods tend to make up the “high season,” and include travel in late spring, summer, early fall, and major holidays (especially Christmas and Easter).
Late spring – Summer – Early fall
Pros: Best weather. Most convenient. Cons: Most expensive flights and hotels. Crowds.
It’s obvious, but worth considering: Heading over in late June or July makes a lot of sense for many Americans, especially those traveling with children or during their own academic break. However, they’re all competing with each other for flights, trains, and hotel rooms, which shoots prices for everything sky high.
This is Disney World — it’s Venice in July.
And it’s not just about money, either. High season also means crowds, lines, and potential disappointments. Restaurants can be more difficult to get into. Museums are often packed. Want to head to the top of the Eiffel Tower? Be prepared to wait… in a long line.
I need to add a quick defense of traveling during high season, however. As mentioned above, for many, there simply isn’t any other option. Many travelers simply have to work with the vacation schedules they’ve been given. And anyhow, let’s face it: The weather is probably going to be glorious. So at least you can work on that tan while you’re waiting in line…
However, if you can tweak the timing of your trip a bit, you’re in a position to save on everything from flights to hotels.
Early spring and Late fall
Pros: Pretty good weather. Fewer crowds. Lower prices. Cons: Watch out for school vacations.
Paris in early May still belongs to the locals.
The “shoulder season” is the transition period between the pricey high season and the cold and cheap low season. Generally speaking, this period is in the early spring (late March and early April) and late fall (October and early November).
Traveling through much of Europe during the shoulder season tends to be a delight, with far fewer crowds (the kids are in school, after all), and lower prices for airfare and hotel rooms. It’s usually pretty great.
Of course, the weather is famously fickle and increasingly hard to predict, but late March and early April tend to offer the first smells of spring throughout much of Europe (although you should certainly pack an umbrella), and October and early November remain quite pleasant (although chances are you’ll need a hat and gloves at night).
Our only warning for shoulder season is to be aware of school vacations (see note below). You might find yourself swamped in a museum.
Pros: Cheapest. Fewest crowds. It’s you and the locals. Cons: The weather. Some attractions may be closed. Special conventions may pack city.
I love traveling throughout Europe during the late fall, winter and early spring. This is when I usually travel, partly out of necessity, as I need to inspect hotel rooms (which is difficult to do when they’re all occupied). Thus, I’m quite accustomed to hitting the road as temperatures are dropping.
But hey — think of all those fabulous free museums in London you’ll have to yourself!
But even if my travels didn’t require empty hotels, I’d still probably choose to take at least occasional trips during the winter months. It’s a magical time, when major tourist destinations, from Amsterdam to Zurich, belong to their residents. It’s a far different experience from visiting during the high summer months. Restaurants are filled with locals, museums are relatively quiet (save a group of local students on a tour), and sidewalks are bustling with neighbors.
The low season isn’t a great time, of course, for sun-seekers and those averse to cold temperatures. And skiers will find that the winter is anything but “low season” in the Alps. However, most travelers looking to connect with local cultures, spend days wandering in museums, and attend concerts and other prime cultural programming, will love low season travel.
And budget travelers will love the lower costs of airfare, hotel rooms, train tickets, car rentals and many other related travel expenses.
Some notable exceptions
In covering the basics of seasonality in Europe, I’m painting with some broad strokes. There are several notable exceptions to this low/high equation.
A few considerations:
• August in Paris is not “high season”: Right around the first of August, many French workers go on holiday for several weeks, and many families take the opportunity to clear out of their cities and hit the countryside and coast. Residents clear out of Paris, for example, and many (but certainly not all) restaurants and shops close for much of the month. Hotel rates tend to be markedly lower in August, as well, but climb again in September. But warning: Airlines will still charge “high season” prices for August flights. (Read our guide to visiting Paris during August.)
• August in other European cities: Paris isn’t alone. Many European cities see a dramatic dip in tourism (and hotel rates) in August, as travelers opt for sandy beaches over cobblestone streets. Traveling to Venice, Florence and Rome during August will be cheaper than during May, June or September.
• Late October – Early November: Most students throughout the European Union have an academic break the last week of October and first week of November. Many of them hit the road on class trips. If you’re traveling during this period, you will see them… everywhere. This could affect hotel availability, plus museums and other attractions will be more crowded.
• Christmas break: Traveling during the Christmas and New Year holiday can be a mixed bag. Flights will be at their “high season” heights (with the possible exception of flying on Christmas Day itself), although hotel rates can be lower.
• Outdoor sports have their own seasonality. Skiing the Alps? “High season” for winter sports is February (especially mid-to-late February, when the French have their winter breaks). Head to the same mountain towns in May and June for lovely hikes… and lower prices.
Watch out for special events
One warning about low season: Cities throughout Europe fill their empty hotel rooms during the low season by hosting business conventions, expos, major sports matches, and other special events. These can wreak havoc on a budget travelers itinerary.
The Schottenhammel tent at Oktoberfest, Munich.
A while back I headed to Amsterdam in late October (normally the low season), only to book my trip during the city’s annual marathon–which sells out every room in town. (I ended up booking a hotel in nearby Utrecht for a couple of nights and commuting in. More about that here.)
And then, of course, maybe you’re purposefully planning a trip because of a special event. Such is the annual conundrum created by the Oktoberfest celebration in Munich in late September and early Oktober… er, October. What can I say? It’s going to be expensive. (All is not lost: We do have some tips for saving at Oktoberfest!)
Tip: When planning your trip, if hotel rates look uncommonly high, do a search for “Special events in [city]” to double check that you’re not trying to visit during a peak (and expensive) travel period.