Cheap, but fun Europe!
July 13, 2009 4:19 PM   Subscribe

Help me plan an October European vacation (starting/ending in Madrid) on the cheap!

Since AskMe was SO helpful last time, I thought I'd try a bigger project:

I picked up a pair of airline tickets to Madrid for an incredible price about a month ago and now I'm freaking out about 10 days in Europe and the costs associated with that. I'll be traveling with my fiance and we're open to just about anything (we would like to avoid non-private hostel rooms). The travel dates are from October 1st until the 10th.

We'd like to see as much as possible (Paris and London especially) for as little as possible.

Any suggestions are appreciated.

PS The conversion rate being what it is, if EASTERN EUROPE is realistic, I'm all over that!
posted by lattiboy to Travel & Transportation around Madrid, Spain (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you want to do Eastern Europe, Prague is generally more economical than a lot of Western European cities, and has a fair amount of culture and other interesting historical sites.

As for Paris or London, if you were going in the summer I would suggest staying at one of the halls of residence of the various schools that make up the University of London (they are rented out to tourists in the summer). This is what I'm doing when I go later this week.

Also, just a few weeks ago, the NY Times had a decent Frugal Traveler column on Paris. Worth checking out. Also, if you're under the age of 26, you can travel on the Eurostar train from London to Paris at a good discount.
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 5:02 PM on July 13, 2009

Some suggestions for Prague from the NY Times.

AskMe also has some good suggestions for Prague and central Europe if you do a little digging.
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 5:16 PM on July 13, 2009

Best answer: Not the central focus of your question, but:

PS The conversion rate being what it is, if EASTERN EUROPE is realistic, I'm all over that!

London and Paris are easily accessible, like you mention above, but maybe both would be really expensive and hectic. I think you could easily add one other, cheaper place - think of places like Marrakesh or Budapest - each worth at least three days, to your trip with few problems. Check out Skyscanner for ideas - you can put "Everywhere" into the "To" box when you search for flights and it sorts by country.

Your final plan might be like this:

1 depart
2 arrive Madrid
3 Madrid
4 Madrid
5 Madrid - somewhere on a daytrip (Toledo, Ávila?) - Madrid
6 Madrid - flight elsewhere!
7 Elsewhere
8 Elsewhere
9 Elsewhere
10 Elsewhere - Madrid - Home

You could also tag on Lisbon and go by train or a quick flight, which would be really different - seaside! salted cod! - but easier than eastern Europe if you know any Romance languages like French or Spanish, and perhaps easier to do more flexibly as it's closer and a flight is not required.

A quick perusal of Wikipedia's Madrid Airport page shows direct flights on budget airlines (most of which are like Southwest, but even more budget-ier) to heaps and heaps of places - but specifically (I'm being selective here - most of these airlines fly other places from Madrid too):

- Prague, Budapest, Cluj-Napoja and Bucharest on WizzAir
- Bucharest and Sibiu on Blue Air
- Bucharest, Casablanca, Lisbon, Marrakech, Sofia and Tangier on EasyJet
- Porto on Ryanair
- Budapest and Prague on SmartWings
- Marrakesh on Atlas Blue
- Lisbon on Vueling

Finally - don't fret if you decide to stay put; it may be cheaper to search for apartments to rent and just stay in Madrid the whole time, so you get a really awesome taste of the city.
posted by mdonley at 5:18 PM on July 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

For an example of the prices we're talking about - there's an EasyJet ticket to Marrakesh on the 6th and back on the 10th for $55. I can't link to it, but it's easy to find. And that's round-trip, including taxes. Not sure if the dates work (or even if that link works), but yeah, we're talking bargain-basement.
posted by mdonley at 5:23 PM on July 13, 2009

Best answer: London and Paris are both pretty expensive, especially compared to Eastern Europe. Moreover, Madrid isn't really the best starting point for any of those places. Sure, there are cheap flights to all three locations but it's been my experience that you lose a lot of time getting to and from airports and familiarizing yourself with the need-to-know information for multiple countries.

There's so much to see and do in Spain that you can easily and very cheaply occupy ten days with amazing experiences. Each region is so different in terms of culture and climate that it can be like visiting five different countries. By not flying to multiple places, you'll save money and time and really get an opportunity to experience a country, not just sightsee.

In my three visits to Spain, here are what have been my favorite things to do:
-- Shop in Madrid and just hang out, wander, and get a taste of contemporary, urban Spanish culture.
-- Visit Seville, Toledo, Granada for incredible Muslim-influenced culture and Moorish architecture.
-- Visit Aqueducts at Segovia
-- See cliffs of Cuenca. Very charming town and very few tourists.
-- Visit Basque Country, including Bilbao & Pamplona, but especially San Sebastian. Beautiful beach.

Places I've never been, but have heard are amazing:
-- Barcelona, of course
-- Galicia is apparently very beautiful and green. Been told by a Galician friend that it looks like Ireland.
--Asturias is known for incredible food: apples, cheeses, ciders, seafood.
--Portugal has incredible beaches.

If you can, rent a car for a week and drive to these places. If you can't, trains are pretty cheap. You'll probably have to pick one half of the country to explore because it would be really hard to do it all in ten days.

If you have your heart set on visiting more than one country, I'd recommend Morocco. Close to Spain and also very cheap.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 5:44 PM on July 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Follow Colonel Chappy's advice. In 10 days there is no good reason to go to London and Paris then back to Madrid. Spain has so much to offer you and 10 days is just getting your feet wet. Madrid is something else. Great museums-prado, reine sofia, and the thysen all close to one another. great food. flamenco singers and dancers late at night. if you want side trips toledo by train for the day is worthwhile if you like el greco. A fairly short train trip from Madrid. Santiago de Compostela is a short plane trip from Madrid and is the heart of Galicia, the Celtic part of Spain, and the seafood center of Spain. It is in northwest Spain and is the terminus of the 1000 kilometer trail- camino de santiago. One of the great pilgrimage routes of the past 1000 years. In santiago great food again. Or go to Barcelona for a great time. I would not recommend Pamplona for a day trip, though I have spent good times there. Spain is spectacular. You could go to Lisbon and you'd enjoy that and you could go to Sintra or Cascais. different than Spain, but wonderful in its own way. Just some ideas. Save London and Paris for another trip. Eastern Europe is too far and you would regret spending all that precious time in transit.
posted by madstop1 at 6:16 PM on July 13, 2009

We just stayed at Hostal Comercial in Madrid last week. I'd highly recommend it for inexpenside lodging. Private rooms, great location, and very affordable.
posted by TurkishGolds at 7:45 PM on July 13, 2009

Best answer: As much as I love Madrid, if I weren't European I'd certainly not miss London or Paris on my first visit. Discounting geographical distances, it would be like going to the USA and spending 10 days in Chicago, rather than going to New York or San Francisco. 10 days can be a lot of time if you're touristing around rather than traveling. And since you mention you want to see the most you can during the time you're here, I'm assuming you're going with those Top 5 things to see in city X guides.

So, I'd say: 2 days in Madrid, low cost flight, 3 days in London, cheap eurostar ride in the early morning, 3 days in Paris, low cost flight back to Madrid. Depending on your flight times in and out of Madrid (are the Oct 1st and 10th useful days or just lost in travel?) you might want add the remaining day(s) to either London or Paris which are considerably larger cities. Prague's center is small and visitable on, say, a weekend but it might be a bit of a stretch.

London is perfectly doable and it needn't be horribly expensive. Like midatlanticwanderer says, halls of residence are cheap but they're probably not available in October (they tend to rent the rooms out in the summer only) but you should definitely take a look anyway.

There's always the generator hostel (50 pounds for a private room for two people) which, not being exactly inexpensive, is conveniently located between Russel Square tube station (the Piccadilly line is very useful) and St. Pancras so you can hop on a 5 a.m., 30 pound Eurostar train ride to Paris (the mid-week, odd hours tickets tend to be cheaper when booked ahead of time). With a bit of research you might also find b&b's in that area for 45 pounds a night.

Most museums are free (only special exhibitions are ticketed at the British Museum or Tates, for instance).

There are 3 day transportation passes for around 19 pounds while it's a very walkable city anyway. With an oyster card, traveling by bus (1 pound fares) and walking between most attractions should come out reasonably cheap too.

The way to eat is to go to supermarkets and get sandwiches (buy dinner early because they disappear by 2 pm). As an example, Marks & Spencer had a 2 pound meal deal (sandwich, chips, drink) just recently. Dim Sum in Chinatown is not that expensive either and a sit down meal at a thai or noodles place shouldn't set you back more than 25 pounds for 2 people. If you want a romantic sit down continental dinner in the west end go for the pre-theatre cheaper menus served until 7:30pm or so.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 12:22 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much all, I really love AskMe.

We're still struggling with the scope of this trip. Money is a big issue, but I'm not going to get back to Europe for some time and want to make the most of it.
posted by lattiboy at 10:17 AM on July 14, 2009

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