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European Budget Basics: On-the-Ground Savings Tips

By Rachel Klein and Cate Starmer

So you’ve planned, you’ve saved, and now you’re ready to jet off to the Continent. To counteract this summer’s skyrocketing European ticket prices, travelers need more ways than ever before to make their euros stretch on the ground. While simple budgeting tips apply everywhere, here’s a round-up of our favorite ways to save throughout Europe.


Getting Around: Transportation Tips

Take public transit.
Most European cities have excellent subway and bus options in addition to good country-wide train transportation. Don’t automatically buy bulk tickets or a pass without doing the math.

Avoid airport cabs and taxis.
Research alternatives before flying to prevent hailing a pricey taxi on arrival. Public transit isn’t always your best option here; some cities also have privately-operated shuttle services to and from the airport that are cost-effective.

Save on car rentals.
Weigh taking daylong bus tours or trains against car rental. Book ahead for savings on rentals and opt for a manual compact car. Remember that one-way rentals usually include steep fees.

Do the math on railroad passes.
These can be great for multi-city and country touring, but again, individual tickets may cost less.

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Check European airlines.
There are several; get a low-cost trans-Atlantic ticket and then take carriers such as Ryanair or EasyJet to your final destination. Note that light travel is often required due to strict luggage rules, and that airports may be far outside city centers.


Exploring: Save on Things to Do

Pass or no pass?
Buying a multi-site or museum pass can make sense—but only if plans include heavy sightseeing rather than hitting a few top spots. Don’t assume passes are only available in cities; there are country-wide passes as well, often for historical sites.

Book the cheapest tickets.
Check online for advance purchase discounted tickets. Theatre and music can also be a deal for matinees and shows early in the week.

Research schedules.
Find out which sites have discounted hours ahead of time and plan accordingly. Many museums offer lower-priced tickets one afternoon or evening each week.

Find free and almost free events.
Check with your concierge or the local tourism board to see what festivals, markets, concerts, public art displays, and the like might be on. Also ask about discount tickets to events and dining coupons.


Where to Eat: Dine Like a Local

Have a European-style lunch.
Adopt locals’ practice of enjoying a long, leisurely mid-day meal and have a lighter, later dinner.

Seek out special deals.
If dining hours are flexible, take advantage of early bird specials or prix fixe menus. Make dinner out of small plates with drinks at a bar. In some places, it’s less expensive to eat standing at a counter than sitting at a table. Also, today’s top chefs often have more casual, less expensive eateries in addition to their prize restaurant. And note that house wine or a draft beer will always be less than bottled beverages, especially imported ones.

To market, then to picnic or kitchen . . . or takeout.
Shop with locals at markets or pick up street food and dine al fresco. Save even more by using the hotel’s mini- or full kitchen. Also consider getting takeout for a relaxing night in.

Don’t leave your hotel unprepared.
Fill a water bottle before heading out and some snacks to tide you over if stuck looking for inexpensive eating options.

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Photo Credits: Paris Metro entrance courtesy Atout France / Patrice Thébault, National Gallery courtesy British Tourist Authority / Jonathan Crabb, Barcelona’s Boqueria Market courtesy Ron Lewis / a member.

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