It isn’t the cheapest continent to tour around, but luckily there are ways to travel Europe on a budget. If you’re planning to backpack around this awesome continent then read on…
Travellers heading to Europe for a long trip or to travel around will be aware that the continent can be very expensive, especially if funds are tight Yes, doing Europe on a budget might involve a few compromises in terms of where you and go what you see. But don’t fret, there are a lot of options.
Most visitors will want to see the key sights like Venice, Paris, Berlin and London, and they are definitely worth the trip. But, there are a lot of spectacular options away from these budget sucking destinations.
Our guide to doing a budget trip around Europe would be:
- Work out your budget. This will help you work out what the best options are for you in terms of destinations, amount of transport you can pay for etc. As a general rule of thumb, budget around €40-50 per day of your trip in Western Europe and €30 in Eastern Europe. If you’re thrifty you can bring this right down, but you won’t be eating out and you certainly won’t be partying much.
- Avoid moving around. Transport is the costly part of most trips so try to enjoy one area thoroughly and move sparingly. Walk when possible, hire a bike and make the most of the place you are in rather than trying to see everything.
- Use buses, lift sharing apps or pre book budget flights. The train is almost always the most expensive option. With good planning, you can pre book low cost flights and buses to halve tour travel budget. Booking closer to the time will be very expensive. (Backup option: Hitchhiking!)
- Stay in hostel dorms or campsites (or with friends). Hostels are always the cheapest option, but if you’re doing Europe in summer you’ll find lots of affordable campsites too. Even in cities! If you have friends in certain places then maybe you can get free accommodation for a few days!
- Self Catering Is Good. If you have the option to cook at your accommodation you’ll slash your budget! Places like France and Italy can be alarmingly expensive, even for simple meals. Buy fresh pasta and tomatoes at your local supermercato and make your own dinner for more than half the price!
- Find discounts & voucher deals. A bit of research before you go can save you lots of money on sightseeing and tourist attractions. For example, in London you can get 2 for 1 entry at lots of the major attraction simply by buying a cheap train ticket. Sites like Groupon or TravelZoo also offer offers for restaurants, attractions and hotels. An online search before you arrive could mean big savings!
- Avoid the popular places. Think outside the box and you’ll be rewarded with less tourists and more opportunity to save money. Instead of Paris, go to Bordeaux. Or better still, avoid France altogether and go to Lisbon, Prague or Warsaw.
- Find a package deal. You might think that package deals are for families or people who aren’t bothered about travelling. But done right you can get an affordable and comfortable room to use as a base for an absolute bargain. You’ll find last minute deals or early booking steals if you time it right – check our guide to getting the best deals.
- Head to a cheap country. You’ll be able to travel for much longer in Bulgaria or Czech Republic than you will in Germany or Italy.
- Have an itinerary. This will help you to budget and see where your funds will be going, especially if you pre book hotels and transport connections. Impulsive travel is good…. If you’re not on a shoestring budget! Saying that, if you know your waypoints then you can be impulsive.
Keep Travel Cheap
Trains are expensive and cars, although quite good value in continental Europe (although not in France or the UK!), can be very costly with fuel, parking etc.
One of the cheapest way to do inter city travel is by using long distance buses. Flixbus are a continent wide budget coach service, offering good point to point fares and drop off locations. As an example, Paris to Berlin can be booked for around €20 if you time it right.Budget airlines are also great value if you book in advance and are going between two major points on the map.
Ryanair can be phenomenally cheap (as little as €5 for some flights) but you do get what you pay for. Hold baggage, assigned seating and sitting with your travel companion are all optional (paid) extras with Ryanair.
Other European airlines include Norwegian, Vueling, Easyjet, Jet2, WizzAir and Eurowings. Check Skyscanner at least a month in advance for best value flights.
If you are travelling in a group of 2 or more and you can get your travel buddies to contribute then car rental can be a good option. Be warned, crossing borders will cost extra, usually around €10 a day for the entire duration of your hire, even if you only cross the border on one day.
If you’re looking to explore a country in depth then this can be a very good cost effective solution.
Check out also rentalcars.com for equally great deals (it’s often 50/50 between them and HolidayCars).
If you really want to see Europe by rail, Interrail offers a variety of great deals on transport across the continent. If you’re under 28 you’ll be able to travel from €51 (one country) or €124 (selected multi countries). You can still use the Interrail pass if you’re over 28, it’ll just cost a bit more!
The Expensive Countries
All of the average prices below are quoted as part of budget travel itinerary and are approximate only.
As a general rule of thumb, the expensive countries to visit in Europe are:
- The UK & Ireland
- Netherlands, Luxembourg & Belgium (aka the Low Countries or Benelux)
- Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark & Iceland)
These countries are all relatively expensive to stay and to travel around. Expect to pay at least €15 for a hostel room in a shared dorm, around €20-30 for a 3 hour train journey and an average of €10-15 on a meal for one.
Expect to spend around €50 per day if on a budget in most of Western Europe, including hostel bed, food, drinks, attraction entry and transportation.
The Mid Range Countries
The European countries where your money will go further are:
- Baltic Nations (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia)
- The Balkans (Croatia, Slovenia)
You’ll find hostel rooms from around €10 (lower in some rural or obscure places), approx €20 for a 4 hour train journey and you’ll usually be able to find a meal for well under €10.
Be warned, Spain & Greece are actually quite expensive to travel around, but the cost of food and lodgings in certain areas brings the average cost down.
The Cheap Countries
The best options if you’re looking for travelling Europe on a budget are mostly in the old Eastern bloc. Pretty much all of these countries have equally stunning scenery as their Western counterparts. You’ll find castles, mountains, pristine beaches and excellent food in many of these budget European destinations.
In most of these countries you’ll be able to find budget accommodation (usually dorm rooms) for around €10. A meal for one can easily be found for €5 (often less) and transport between cities is usually decent value. As an example, a train between Bucharest in Romania and Cluj-Napojca (a 9 hr journey) can be picked up for around €15-20.
Our Suggested European Tour Itinerarys
If you’re on a mega budget (ie: no money at all – around €500 spending money) then two weeks in Eastern Europe is probably the most cost effective way to see some of the sights.
2 Week Option One
Berlin – Warsaw – Krakow – Bratislava/Prague – Berlin
Fly in and out of Berlin, with three days at the start to explore the city. Head to Warsaw by bus, explore the city for 3 days. Make your way through the country to Krakow or a smaller city like Katowice. Overland to Prague then return to Berlin for flight home (alternatively head to Budapest or Vienna).
This trip would be perfect for culture vultures who want to wander castles and the cobbled streets of ancient towns. Party on the cheap in Prague and Krakow and experience Berlin’s legendary edgy vibe.
2 Week Option Two
Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Montenegro
An itinerary covering these emerging Eastern destinations is a great way to explore mountains, underrated cities and even get some beach time. You’ll get a bit of everything and your €500 would stretch well if you played your cards right.
Head to Bran Castle near Brasov, Romania, the inspiration for the Dracula tales. Head to Varna or Burgas for some beach in Bulgaria. Party in ultra cheap Serbia. Marvel at Kotor in Montenegro.
2 Week See The Best Of The West
You really wanna see the best of Europe? Well, it can be done! €500 might be pushing it a bit though…
Barcelona – Rome – Venice/Florence – Berlin – Bruges/Amsterdam – Paris
All fantastic cities, all full of amazing food, beautiful people, more culture than you can handle in a lifetime and all pretty damn expensive.
Hostel hop, go self catering, use buses or advance budget airline fares and find tricks to see the sights for less.
Some Other Tips To Keep Costs Down
The best things in life are free!
Well, at least sometimes you can get free things to help you travel Europe on a budget.
In France, (most) state run museums are free every first Sunday of the month. This does mean they’re very busy, but you can go to the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay for FREE! Or find museums like Petit Palais which are always free.
There are always free museums, attractions, live music venues and even tours – so do a bit of research before you go.
Places like Venice, Barcelona and Rome are all fantastic cities with a reputation for being outrageously expensive in the tourist centres (€5 for a coffee??). The fix? Head away from tourist centres for food and drink.
Las Ramblas in Barcelona is very expensive compared to some side street in L’Eixample where you can still get a caña (small beer) and some patatas bravas for €1.
In Venice, avoid places like Piazza San Marco and Rialto bridge if you want to eat affordably. You’ll find Cicheci (tapas style snacks) for around €1 in bars hidden in side streets.
If in doubt, go local for the best prices.
OK, I’m Ready To Go…
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