If you’ve looked up the cost to go to Europe, you’ve likely learned that it can be expensive. But is it possible to swing it on a budget? Well, with some careful planning you absolutely can. Yes, many European destinations and major cities are known for their bigger price tags. However, there are plenty of more affordable places to visit as well. Plus, with some helpful tips and strategies, you can explore the more expensive destinations on the cheap as well. Here’s my advice on how to explore Europe on a budget.
Europe on a budget – Transportation
Getting around Europe can be incredibly cheap and easy thanks to how connected it is by bus, train, and plane.
While these airlines really are the bare bones and require you to pay for everything they fact is that they can be incredibly affordable. Especially if you book during a flash sale or far enough in advance to get the cheap pricing. And, when I say cheap pricing, I do really mean cheap pricing. You can get one-way tickets for under $20 USD. Popular budget airlines in Europe include RyanAir, Easy Jet, and Wizz Air. Keep in mind that you need to pay for all the extra including seat selection, baggage, and more.
Perhaps the cheapest way to get around Europe is by bus. Each country will have its own bus system but there are also companies that have routes across most European countries. FlixBus is probably the best known in the businesses with travel options across hundreds of popular European cities and tickets starting as low as 5 euro (about $6.20 USD). Again, your best bet is to book in advance for the cheapest prices.
Another popular way to travel around Europe is by train. Typically, train journeys are more expensive than buses but can be cheaper than flights. Prices will vary depending on the route, the country, and even the type of train you are on. Again, booking early will give you the best deal. It may also be worth considering getting a Eurail Pass, though I suggest doing some planning and research ahead of time as the Eurail Pass does not have the same flexibility as buying as you go.
Every city will have their own public transportation network which may include buses, trams, and subways. You’ll need to research each network individually, but it’ll be an inexpensive way to get around. Look to see if there are any passes available, but if you like to walk, buying individual tickets may be cheaper.
Europe on a budget – Accommodations
As you can imagine, Europe has every type of accommodation available. The one thing to keep in mind is that the quality can vary quite a bit from city to city. For example, some hostels feel like boutique hotels while others are overcrowded. It can be tempting to focus on price, but be sure to read reviews too.
Hostels tend to be, by far, the cheapest option when travelling around Europe. They are significantly more popular in Europe than in North America and most cities have a dozen or more options. Some hostels have more of a backpacker party feel while others are quieter. There are even some fancier boutique options popping up that are significantly nicer than the typical backpacker hostel but still very affordable. Most hostels offer dorm room options as well as private rooms. Keep in mind, pricing will depend on the city and country. For example, you may end up paying $50/night for a dorm bed in London and $8/night for a bed in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
If you don’t love the idea of hostels, you can always look at budget hotels. Keep in mind, these hotels may not be as central and don’t offer the same amenities. But, that doesn’t mean they are a bad option- just a basic one. As always, remember to read reviews first to ensure that the property is safe and clean.
Bed and breakfast
B&B or Homestay type options are popular in some places. Ireland, in particular, is known for its B&Bs while Germany and Austria have similar options called pensions. These types of properties are usually small and provide a more local and personal experience. Prices will vary but, typically speaking, B&Bs are often more budget friendly than most hotels.
Of course, you can also check out Airbnb options as well. Airbnb tends to be the most affordable options if you plan on spending a week or more in a specific spot. Frequently, they advertise long stay deals on the webpage for the property, however, if you plan on staying a month or more, then it’s worth emailing the owner and asking if they have a better price. It’s worked for a few people!
Europe on a budget – Attractions
Part of the draw of Europe for so many people is the architecture and nature. In most cases, these are free to see and enjoy. It costs nothing to explore a city by foot and while some natural parks may require entry fees, most places are free to hike and beaches are free to swim at.
It’s also worth noting that many cities in Europe have specific days of the month where museums are free. Alternatively, many cities have museum passes available which can save you money. Be sure to do your research ahead of time and plan around that if possible.
Finally, another great way to explore Europe on a budget is to take advantage of free walking tours when available. These are increasing in popularity and are the perfect way to learn more about a new city and see the highlights so you can explore more on your own later. These tours work on a tip basis- you tip what you think the tour is worth at the end (typically around 10-15 euros ($15-18 USD per person). Since most of these tours are about 3 hours long, that’s pretty good value! Check out Sandeman’s New Europe Tours as an example.
Europe on a budget – Food
Food and drink are essential, but can also end up costing you quite a bit if you aren’t careful. If you want to see Europe on a budget, here’s where to look for some cheap eats.
Cooking for yourself is typically the cheapest way to eat when you travel. Of course, you need to stay somewhere with a kitchen if you really want to get into this, but even if that’s not the case you can still buy a few things from grocery stores to help with meals throughout the day. Things like granola bars and fruit make for a cheap and easy breakfast and/or snack and are easy to have on hand. Many grocery stores also have a prepared meals section which can also save you money.
Farmers markets can be another great place to look. Yes, many sell raw ingredients that may require some preparation but there are often prepared food options as well. Farmers markets in Ireland and the UK will often sell things like sausage rolls while in France it’s common to find mini quiche. These are often sold for just a few euro making them a smart buy for an affordable, not to mention fresh and delicious, meal.
Cafes and bakeries
Cafes and bakeries are always a good thing to look for when travelling. Soups and sandwiches are typically offered on the menus for a reasonable price, or you can grab a pastry or baked good for a quick, easy, and affordable breakfast.
Every country/city has some cheap local dishes that can easily fill you up. In Amsterdam, herring and fried fish are inexpensive. Over in Budapest, Goulash and lángos are popular choices. If you’re in Greece, souvlaki and gyros are the go to cheap eats.
Europe is typically not considered to be a budget-friendly destination as a whole, but really it depends on your travel style and where you go. Some countries are more expensive than others and some cities are more expensive than others but that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy parts of this continent without breaking the bank. Spending a bit of time to strategize and implement the tips above will allow you to explore Europe on a budget. For more inspiration, check out my budget guides on Dubai, Italy, Disney World, Bali, and Tokyo.