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Touring Europe on a Budget: 11 Money-saving Travel Tips

Are you going backpacking in Europe or heading to the continent for an extended travel trip? Or maybe you can work remotely so you’re taking your time? Touring Europe on a budget is tougher than in some other parts of the world, but I’ve done it multiple times and am going to share what works best.

touring europe on a budget

Many people dream of traveling in Europe for more than a short vacation but they assume they can’t afford it?  A “cheap Europe trip” sounds like an oxymoron once you hear about what the tourists are paying in Oslo, Paris, or Venice. Yes, a European bargain can be hard to find if you pick the wrong places, travel at the worst time, and spend indiscriminately.

Follow this advice on touring Europe on a budget, however, and your vacation can be a great value.

It’s hard to get around the fact that Western Europe is more expensive than the U.S. and will often be pricier than Canada is these days. However, the exchange rate of dollars to euros is quite favorable as I write this, with the euro only being worth about 10% more than the dollar most months. So 110 dollars will get you around 100 euros. The rate hasn’t been bouncing around much the past few years.

I’ve taken a fair number of trips to Europe over the past decade, around 15 countries if I remember them all, and I’ll be back this year to tack on a couple more. I get quoted a lot in the media as a budget travel expert on how to travel in Europe more cheaply (always a popular topic with editors) so I thought it would be a good idea to pack a collection of these tips in one place. Use a few of these next time you’re trying to ease the budget pain.

Start With Cheap European Destinations

The decision that will have the biggest impact on your budget is when you decide where to go. The cheapest places to travel in Europe are a great value, some of them on par with the bargain spots in Latin America or Southeast Asia. If you go to the opposite end of the scale though, you could easily spend triple what you would in the USA.

No matter where you stay and how frugally you watch your funds, a week in Bosnia, Bulgaria, or Hungary is going to cost you a fraction of the cost of a week in Norway. The Czech Republic and Slovakia feel like ye olde Europe at a half price sale. (If you have my book, The World’s Cheapest Destinations, you can read about the best choices in detail in there.)

On the other hand, when I spent a week in Stockholm, it felt like prices were on part with what it costs in New York City, even in the best of currency exchange times. The airport in Geneva is plastered with ads for $50K watches and concierge banking services for a reason. (Though skiing in Switzerland was much more affordable than I expected).

Czech Republic

The former Soviet countries and the Balkan countries are the cheapest in general, but Portugal and Spain are still good values in southern Europe and some parts of Greece won’t break the bank either. Remember too, you don’t have to visit France or Italy to eat well and drink well. Check out this post on the cheapest wine destinations in Europe.

Slow Down and Stay Awhile

Transportation costs are a big expense in Europe, whether you’re flying with actual luggage, traveling on a rail pass, or hopping buses. In Western Europe, the fuel costs are high, taxes are high, and labor costs are high. The more you move around trying to check things off your list, the more your budget is going to rise. Slow travel is just a lot less expensive.

Exploring one area on a short trip or one country/region over several weeks is going to cost you less and also allow you to absorb more instead of it all flashing before your eyes outside a window. Slow down, savor, and relax.

Cheapest Way to Travel Europe

Get Out of the European Capitals (and Venice)

By their very nature, cities cost more than rural areas. Popular capital cities cost more than normal ones. With very few rare exceptions, the cheapest cities in Europe are never the biggest or the ones where the government is based.

Sure, go spend some time in Paris and London. Catch a few museums, see the sites. Then head out. Don’t spend your whole vacation or backpacking trip in capital cities unless you’re willing to spend like the rich tourists in a big hurry do. Besides, Kosice is more interesting than Bratislava. Veiliko Turnovo (pictured above) is a more interesting place to hang out in for a week than Sofia, especially if you want to hike and explore the outdoors. Is Madrid really where you want to spend most of your time in Spain?

In this time of overtourism, look for the less-visited second, third, and fourth places to travel to beyond the capital city or the big selfie stick destination. Sure, the most popular European destinations are usually popular for a reason (or at least famous for being famous), but don’t spend your whole vacation jammed in with the crowds and paying top dollar for a place to stay.

Some of them are raising tourist fees even to keep down overcrowding and a strained housing market, from Florence to Barcelona to Amsterdam. Get away from the hordes and spend less. 

Make the Most of Free Attractions in Europe

Finding the cheapest way to travel Europe means being judicious about which big-ticket admission charges are really important to you. When one museum or famous site is $25 each, that can have a big impact on a couple’s daily budget. You can cut this down some by getting a city pass like this GoCity London one that includes 93 attractions and experiencs, but that’s for when you’re ready to do a flurry of sightseeing at once to get your money’s worth. 

Otherwise, if you are in a big city, figure out what’s free and take advantage of it the other days. Some museums are free all the time, some have specific days.

Also, nearly any city is going to have festivals and music performances going on constantly, especially in warm months. Check the official tourism site first because some have good free event and museum listings. Then go to destination-focused blogs and a guidebook for recurring freebies and bargains.

Get a Local Transportation Pass in Europe

touring Europe on a budget
In most European cities, if there’s a viable public transportation system, you can buy a pass for one or more days that will give you unlimited rides. Get one and pack all your city travel into that time. Note that if you have one of these, it opens up your lodging options too—you can be on the branch of a subway or bus line instead of paying a premium to be right in the center of the tourist zone. Travel prices in Prague drop by half when you get out of Old Town.

Sometimes the full-on city passes include transportation as well. Or you can just buy a longer pass at the metro station and lower your daily cost of getting around in whatever European city you’re in. Often the public transportation system will get you to where you’re going faster than a taxi in Europe. 

In general, the multi-country rail passes aren’t a great value unless you’re going to be on the move every day or two, but you won’t know until you do some digging and compare prices. See Omio for pricing out individual routes. 

Look Deeper for Europe Hotel Deals

In most of Europe outside Scandinavia and Switzerland, two or three of you traveling together can stay in a real hotel for less than you would spend in a hostel. Unless you’re just looking for partying mates to blow more money with, independent small hotels and value chains like Ibis and NH Hotels can give you more comfort at a good price.

Go beyond the U.S. booking sites though as they’ll have more inventory elsewhere. Use a metasearch engine like HotelsCombined but then also search, TripAdvisor (beyond the first page), a good guidebook, or an authoritative local resource guide online. Even Google Maps will show lots of hotels you don’t see listed on the likes of Expedia. 

Stockholm budget hotel room

Don’t forget to check your balance if you’ve followed my advice for getting free hotel rooms by getting the right credit card. Cash in some points in the most expensive spot. Last year I used the sign-up bonus points I got from a Hilton Amex card to stay in style for nothing in Sofia and Munich. 

Hostels in Europe are a necessary evil if you’re traveling solo, especially if you’re in a hurry, so for that go straight to a site like Hostelworld but don’t forget to comparison shop. Sometimes you’ll see different choices and/or better deals on Booking if you sort for solo options. 

Or maybe the best hotel is no hotel at all. There are some terrific apartment rental deals all over Europe, like all of these where you can find a European apartment rental for less than $50 a night. Check out Airbnb or Vrbo.

Live Like a European Local

If you rent an apartment or home for a couple weeks in one place, you can live a local life instead of a tourist life and spend far less in the process. When you’re in a real neighborhood instead of a tourist one, you pay what the locals—who probably aren’t rich—pay for groceries, pubs, coffee shops, and restaurants. You’ll also meet people who don’t get paid to serve you and experience more of the local culture.

If you can stay with a friend or relative that’s the best, but assuming you don’t know someone everywhere, you can sign up to be a housesitter, do a home exchange, or rent an apartment a subway ride away from where all the tour buses are parked.

Check out this home stay service Noad Exchange for digital nomads too. Couchsurfing is still a thing apparently, though not as organized and well-known as it used to be. 

Get on a Bike in Europe

touring Europe on a bike

You can take a real tour with a company like and spend the same or less as you would on a vacation you booked yourself, while seeing more of the countryside. They’ll take your luggage to the next hotel and it’ll be waiting when you get there. I’ve had great trips with them in the Alentejo region of Portugal and cycling the Balkans in three countries.

Or you can just hop on a bike to explore a city, either on a local tour or on your own. Many have public bike share systems. Some hotels rent out bikes to guests for free or cheap (as mine in Budapest did). Otherwise, look around for a rental kiosk like I found in Sofia—where it came with a free guided city tour.

If you’re in a smaller bike-friendly area, you can probably rent one for a whole week and get a big discount. Soon I’ll be writing about my experiences biking around Pilzen in the Czech Republic and I also did a multi-day tour there once in the Moravia wine region. It’s a great way to see the countryside in an ec0-friendly way that keeps you in shape (and works off the fried cheese, sausages, and beer).

Splurge for Lunch, Not Dinner

lunch when touring Europe on a budget

This tactic has been a key one for longer than I’ve been alive. If you’re going to go out for a nice meal now and then, you’re better off doing it during the daytime. The cheapest way to travel Europe is to make your meal splurges daytime ones, not dinners.

Sure, it’s not quite as romantic as dining by candlelight, but many restaurants offer a prix fixe option, a set meal, or a “meal of the day” that makes even the gourmet hotspots less of a strain on the wallet. Plus it bears repeating: don’t eat where you see all the tourists eating, especially in a super-popular destination like Venice or Amsterdam. Those places are priced for suckers. 

Party Where It’s Cheap, Not Where It’s Not

It makes sense to drink up and have a blast if you’re in the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, or Hungary. Or in an Italian village where they sell wine by the jug. Not when you’re in Oslo and alcohol is taxed worse than cigarettes.

Dry out for a bit or switch to a different kind of drug if you must indulge—others are often cheaper than what you drink. Thankfully you can travel in Europe and hit many of the cheapest beer destinations around the world.

Czech microbrew in Prague

Don’t Go to Europe in the Summer

Why do people go to Europe in the summer? Flights to Europe are at their most expensive then, hotel rates are the highest, and the famous places are hot and packed. If you’re trying to tour Europe on a budget, you are really giving yourself a big hurdle to overcome in the timing. 

Many decide to take a trip across the ocean then because school is out, which is hard to get around if you’re a family. But can you at least take off the day after school ends in early June, rather than expensive August when three-quarters of Europeans are also on vacation?

Otherwise, if you don’t have offspring and you’re not a teacher, rethink your timing. If you don’t have to take your trip to Europe between June and August, then don’t. Your European vacation will be more pleasant and far less expensive if you visit in spring or autumn instead.

Last year I arrived in Europe in March (skiing) and left just as the crowds were pouring in at the end of June. The only downside of that was that the sea water was chilly in Greece in April and May. Arriving in September or October instead would be better if you’re hitting beach areas or taking a yacht cruise in the Mediterranean. 

Here’s what almost all of the beaches looked like in Greece when we were there, ahead of the hordes: 

Europe in the off season

Cheap European Vacations and Flights

So there you have it, my advice for how travel Europe cheaply and for longer. I didn’t discuss flights, but see this post on some of the cheapest cities for international flights, which might spark some ideas. Use Skyscanner or Google flights to check prices from your home airport on their big map. Often going to a neighboring country instead of the one you had planned to land in can save you hundreds of dollars. You can easily find bargain flights or trains within Europe to get around. 

Also, don’t rule out an organized Europe tour. Check out the itineraries and prices on Intrepid or G Adventures and you might be pleasantly surprised at how reasonable it is, especially for the longer trips that hit multiple countries. That will also drastically cut down the time you spend on planning logistics and searching for where to stay.

There’s no one single cheapest way to travel Europe, but if you combine some of the strategies above, you can enjoy a great Europe trip that won’t cost you a fortune.

How about you? What tip would you add for touring Europe on a budget?

Steven Jablon

Thursday 11th of April 2024

How can you recommend that someone should switch to Narcotics if Alcohol is too expensive. Besides the potential health risk, there is the risk of ending up in prison, far from home in a place where you don't know how things work. If someone can't abstain, first of all they need help, but buying a drink is much cheaper than needing a lawyer and being deported or overdosing.

I have been backpacking since 1977 and continue to travel independently to out of the way places. Vietnam and Penang for a month in 2023. Sicily for 3 weeks as well. Uzbekistan in the fall. I am a subscriber to your emails and found them helpful and informative, I am very disappointed in your advice regarding this matter.


Wednesday 1st of May 2024

@Steven Jablon, He probably used that word because that's how it's classified by the US government. From CNN, on the recent moves to change that: "For more than 50 years, marijuana has been categorized as a Schedule I substance — drugs like heroin...and ecstasy that are considered to have no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse — and subject to the strictest of restrictions."

Steven Jablon

Saturday 20th of April 2024

@Tim Leffel, You suggested people use Narcotics if alcohol is too expensive. Weed is not a Narcotic. Opium, Heroin, Methadone and multiple other addicting and life threatening drugs are narcotics.


Thursday 18th of April 2024

It's not less harmful than alcohol if you figure-in the social costs. Weed can destroy a culture - did you visit Amsterdam in the 1960s or 1970s? The consciousness it produces is lethargic, self-involved, and generally crummy. If you want to be a low-vibe creature, puff away. Great things are achieved by people with tremendous energy and laser-like concentration. They are anti-drug poster people.

Tim Leffel

Sunday 14th of April 2024

Weed is legal in much of the USA and Canada now. As it is in a few countries in Europe. And is less harmful than alcohol in a lot of ways if you look at the medical studies. If someone is weighing one against the other, price often tips the scale.