Europe is one of those destinations where you could easily spend $400 a night on a standard hotel room, or throw down $20 for a burger, and there’s no doubt that the expensive reputation of some European cities can be intimidating for first time visitors. It’s not always the cheapest getaway.
Yet Europe is one of the most iconic backpacking destinations in the world and continues to welcome millions of budget travelers touring the continent with very little cash to spend.
These travelers know that even the most expensive cities have room to economize, and that if you’re willing to sacrifice a little comfort and convenience, Europe doesn’t have to break the bank.
How to Plan a Budget Trip to Europe
You can hover over these (or any image) to quickly pin it!
Consider Cheaper Cities
One of your big options in Europe is where to go; some countries are considerably cheaper than others, especially if you look at places which aren’t big tourist hubs. Greece and Turkey, for example, are far less expensive than destinations like Italy or France. Eastern Europe tends to offer far greater value for money than countries in the West.
And don’t fall into the trap of over packing your itinerary with too many destinations. It’s highly tempting – traveling between countries in Europe is so easy. But the faster you travel the more expensive it gets. Jamming too many destinations into your trip means more transport costs which is usually a traveler’s biggest expense.
That said, play around with your searches when booking, and consider if it will be cheaper to fly or train into a nearby city instead of your actual destination. You may be able to stop off in two cities for less than the cost of traveling to one.
For instance, an airfare from London to Greece might be $1200. However an airfare to Istanbul might be $600, and then $150 to get from Istanbul to Greece. Also consider traveling to/from less mainstream airports – this can often save quite a lot.
Be aware of high seasons, low seasons, and shoulder seasons when planning and booking your Europe trip. This will have a great impact on the price of everything from transport, to accommodation, activities and food.
High season runs from June – August, and while you have the advantages of nice weather, longer days, and music festivals, keep in mind that this season sees huge crowds and inflated prices.
Low season is November – April. Pros include no crowds, low prices, and a huge range of winter sports, though keep in mind that your days will be shorter, the likelihood of bad weather, and reduced hours of attractions.
Shoulder season is April – June and September – November and in our opinion the best of both worlds. You have generally nice weather, relatively few tourists, lower prices, and many parks and gardens will either be in bloom during spring, or in full color during autumn / fall. The majority of attractions are open, however some may maintain winter hours. And plan for inconsistent weather during this time.
Transport on a Budget
The slowest forms of transport are usually the cheapest, and in Europe, hitchhiking is a common way to find a free ride. There are also ride share websites where someone is already planning a trip, and you can buy the free seats in their car. But if your mother warned you off jumping into cars with strangers, you can use a search engine like Omio (previously GoEuro) to find the cheapest fares on buses, trains and flights.
Flying means you can travel almost anywhere within Europe within 1-3 hours starting from $10. However no frills airlines like Easyjet and Ryanair are very strict about carry-on and checked luggage weight / size, and charge hefty excess fees if you’re even the slightest bit over.
Buses are a cost effective way to travel throughout Europe, however train travel is more comfortable and prompt, and usually a much cheaper alternative to flights.
Trains connect every major European city, and most countries have a national service which links you to destinations domestically. From the airport, you can opt for a shared airport transfer instead of taking a long time waiting for taxis. They also have a fixed rate compared to cabs where drivers can ask for additional fees.
If you’re not keen on organizing the transportation yourself, Europe tour packages can be a great way of ensuring you’re getting good value for money across the board, not only on your transport between countries, but also on your accommodation, activities, and food.
Accommodation on a Budget
The best way to save on accommodation in Europe is to avoid hotels. Between the lively atmosphere of a backpackers or a youth hostel, renting from locals, or utilizing the sharing economy, there are many cheap, safe and more entertaining options for accommodation over that of a hotel.
Backpackers / Hostel
The traditional alternative to a hotel is a backpackers or youth hostel. In terms of standard, Europe has some of the highest quality youth hostels in the world, and you can always find one in a central location.
It generally costs around €20-29 per night for a bed in a shared dorm depending on which city you’re in, though many hostels also provide private rooms. Extras will vary, though usually internet, breakfast and free walking / pub crawls are included (check if you have to pay extra for lockers or linen).
Renting a Local Apartment
Hostels charge per person, per night, so if traveling with friends sometimes it can be cheaper to rent an apartment or room privately.
This will offer much more space, though keep in mind if you’re renting a house or apartment privately not to expect services like 24 hour reception which you would find at a hostel. Airbnb.com is a great resource which also lists couches and shared rooms too.
If you’re looking to meet new people and immerse yourself in local life, utilize the sharing economy to stay on someone’s couch for free. “Couch surfing” is a very popular way to book accommodation in Europe, so it can be difficult to find a place.
On many occasions, your host will take their time to show you around the city and hang out with you. This is accepted as generally quite safe; the couch surfing community has grown to become mainstream, and common sense, website reviews from previous travelers and communication helps to “screen” your prospective host.
Pro Tip: Don’t sacrifice location for small savings on accommodation. If you’re trying to decide between different accommodations, we recommend giving preference to a more central location.
Budget travelers have a tendency to fall into the trap of choosing a hotel in a far-flung location that’s €5 cheaper than one in a more central neighborhood. But you’ll spend more than what you saved on transportation, especially if you’re so far out that you have to take a taxi.
Activities on a Budget
European cities offer many free sights and attractions, and one of the best ways to sightsee on a budget it to take in a walking tour. Europe excels at being pedestrian friendly, and seeing a city’s top landmarks is free! Among the most walkable cities are Florence, Paris, London, Berlin, and Dubrovnik.
It’s usually pretty easy to catch a free walking tour in major cities; students and freelancers offer tours with no upfront cost (though expect a tip). Tour options will often be advertised on hostel bulletin boards, though for those who don’t like group tours, it’s just as easy to search Google and download a free walking map for a self guided tour.
Many parks, cathedrals, and top museums are also free. And European tourist offices will usually offer discount passes for public transport and sightseeing.
Also check out sites like Groupon or Living Social – we use these within our home cities, but most people overlook using it on their travels. Change your local area and find huge discounts on activities.
Eating on a Budget
The best way to eating on a budget it to eat like a local. If you want to save money on food, hit up local grocery stores and markets for sandwich fixings and picnic across Europe rather than eating out in restaurants.
Eating in restaurants for breakfast, lunch and dinner can break your budget quickly, and underestimating food costs can greatly increase the overall spend of your trip.
If you do choose eat in restaurants, avoid those which are closest to main tourist attractions and look for those frequented by locals. The cost will always be lower, and you’ll find the cuisine will often be more authentic. Also note that in some parts of Europe you’re charged extra to sit at a table.
Breakfast across Europe is usually free with the price of a hotel or hostel room. For the super savvy traveler, packing a few Ziploc bags to save fruit and other snacks from the breakfast buffet can often see you through the day.
OUR FAVORITE EUROPE TRAVEL GUIDES: CLICK TO LOOK INSIDE↓
SPREAD THE WORD! PIN THIS TO YOUR TRAVEL PINTEREST BOARDS ↓
If You Liked This Post You May Also Like:
Photo credits: Ski resort CC by SkiStar photographer Ola Matsson. – http://www.skistar.com/. Stazione Centrale di Milano by Lorenzoclick. Hostel photos by Barnacles Budget Accom.
Limit your destination city (Paris, London, etc.) time to a couple of days to see the sights that are there only and head to the “provinces” to get into the lifestyle of that country at a more affordable price. Where I live (Carcassonne, in the south of France), hotels and restaurants and just about everything is a fraction of Parisian prices. So see the Louvre in Paris and then come down here to stuff your face.
If you can avoid traveling in summer, do. September here is gorgeous and prices and crowds are way down because the kids are back in school.
Thanks for the tips on France … such a great point about visiting the main city for a short time and then heading out into the more regional provinces – really is a great way to immerse yourself more fully in the country and culture, and avoid the inflation of tourist prices!
Noted for when we head back in France that September is best. Thanks for the helpful insight!
Totally agree about location being top priority! Sure, you’ll find cheaper accomdations further out, but you need to take a look at a map and really calculate how long it’ll take you to get into the city Center!
Have absolutely made that mistake once or twice! On our first trip to Europe we made such a point of getting the cheapest accommodation possible, but then it was always such a pain to get anywhere because we were so far out. And sometimes public transport didn’t even service the area we were in, so we ended up spending so much on taxis, and a lot of time commuting into the city on two feet!!
Some great tips. There are so many hidden gems across Europe that one can visit rather than spending too much time around the city centers. I remember the trip to Le Marais District and their gardens while in Paris. Less crowd, lot of fun places to visit.
Thanks Patrick :) And absolutely – usually the surrounding regions are a great way to escape the crowds, immerse yourself a little further in the destination, and relieve the bank! So glad you enjoyed the Le Marais District :)
Awesome – these tips will really come in handy. We have some friends planning a trip and will pass this information on to them. Sounds like some great ways to save money – and that is something that most travelers are looking to do! So many hidden gems to visit in this area. Thanks for sharing your tips!
Glad to help – your friends are more than welcome to reach out if they have any questions while they’re planning :)
These are all perfect tips and considerations on planning and budgeting a trip to Europe. It’s all doable, but yes planning is key so you don’t blow the budget.
I’ve always lives by the rule that “prior planning prevents piss poor performance” lol – call it the 6 P’s :)
These are great tips! Europe is huge and, obviously, has plenty of tourist hotspots but also many countries, regions, and cities that hardly get any visitors. There’s a reason why tourists flock to the important locations and that is because they are nice and should be seen.
From someone that has traveled extensively in Europe, my suggestion is to be flexible and travel off season. That’s your biggest advantage and it’s amazing to have certain places with so little tourists.
And, yes, traveling in Europe is quite easy :)
Thanks Hugo, yes it’s always a difficult one to balance, between wanting to see the main tourist hot spots and saving money by traveling further off the beaten path to prioritize cities which are hardly seen.
Being flexible and traveling during off season are great tips, so glad to hear that you’ve managed to see a lot of Europe!
These are great money saving trips for Europe regardless of budget. I’m a huge fan of travelling on the shoulder seasons myself.
Shoulder season is our favorite time to travel too :) Offers the best of both worlds :)
Great tips on Europe! Having lived in London for the past 3 years, I certainly have seen the difference in prices between cities and seasons. I love exploring secondary cities and countries that are not on the Euro. Almost all of Eastern Europe and the Balkans are excellent for budget travelers.
Thanks Drew! So lucky to be based in London with great access to Europe at all times of the year! Thanks for the tip on the Balkans, I’ve explored a little of Eastern Europe, but not yet made it to this region yet. Lots more to explore!
great tips all around. I love how you recommended flying into alternative destinations. With budget airlines and other means of transportation, you can save tons of $$ by choosing alternative airports. For example, I was heading to France last year to hike the Camino de Santiago into Spain. I flew into Lisbon for round trip $450 from the US and took a $100 train to my destination rather than $695 to Paris then a train.
Also, many cities have Free Tours. Ask your hotel or Travel buruea
Thanks Eric :) Nice hack on getting to Spain cheaper via Lisbon. Little bit of extra research and planning, but it can add to your trip and save you money in the process … win/ win!
Great tips. I love staying in hostels in Europe. I really wish they were as easy to find in the USA.
Thanks Mags :) Yes, since having traveled extensively elsewhere, European hostels are definitely the highest standard of anywhere else in the world. And much more concentrated and widespread. I wish they were easier to find in the US too!
I’ve made use of a bunch of these tips, especially traveling in low season and visiting less popular destinations. I spent several weeks in Romania last year and it was affordable and great to stay in 1 place for a while. Low season is perfect for those busier cities. Prague and Budapest in February are gorgeous….and empty!
Absolutely re visiting busier cities in low season – it’s night and day when you compare the tourist crowds in summer to winter months, or even during shoulder season! So glad to hear you’ve also had luck with these tips :)
I admit I avoid Europe because it does tend to be more expensive (with the Canadian/Euro exchange rate being so bad…grrr!). But I have been a few times and would love to return especially to the lesser-visited countries in Eastern Europe. While on a layover in London, we bought a few things at the grocery store – the clerk was astonished at how little it cost us for our lunch! We enjoyed an inexpensive picnic in the park and it was great!
Picnics in the park purchased from local grocery stores are the best! And you get to people watch and observe the city, really soak in your surroundings at the same time :)
I hope the Canadian/Euro exchange rate improves for you!
I really enjoy traveling off season or shoulder season! If I’m spending less money and still traveling…I’m happy ;) Even if it is raining or a bit cold. Great advice, thanks for sharing :)
Totally agree with you! Plus, I figure random weather usually makes for more interesting photographs that are a bit different to those everyone has already seen :)
This post has everything that I can use to plan a trip to somewhere in Europe. Yeah, high costs have always put me off to go there. May be trying these would help me figure out. Yeah, you are right about crashing at a far flung place. I did that once and ended up paying double the money that I paid for hostel to reach airport! A lesson learnt.
Thanks for this one Megan!
Glad we could help Reshma! Feel free to reach out if you have any questions while planning a trip – always happy to help :) Haha don’t worry have lost money overall for choosing a far flung place once or twice myself … happens to the best of us!
Excellent tips! I am very thankful to you as your article has given me lots of ideas and It’s really a great help for all travelers who are planning to visit Europe.
Glad that we could help :) Happy travels!
Great post! We are heading to Europe next May and this was very helpful. Definitely going to airbnb it, just not sure where yet, lol. Thanks for the great info.
Thanks Samantha! Have an amazing trip to Europe – so glad we could help :) Happy travels X
Awesome post! I’m glad that I found your blog. I’m going on a trip to Europe this coming month and train travel is on our itinerary. Thanks!
Glad you enjoyed it – hope you have a wonderful trip to Europe later in the month! Train travel is a great way to get around :) Happy travels!
Great article!!! reading this makes me wanna go there for a holiday this year
Thanks Khourshem, let us know if you have any questions on Europe when planning your trip :)
Very helpful for the five week trip I’m planning to this Europe! The only way I can go for five weeks is if I stick to my budget…which is not that big!
Awesome! So glad it could help … it takes some prior planning but it can definitely be done! Happy travels :)