A low-cost base city in Europe with good wifi availability?
May 20, 2007 10:41 PM   Subscribe

I'm doing 7 months in Europe, paying my way by telecommuting as a freelancer. To this end, wireless internet access is vital. I often spend a few days in a row working, without doing any sight-seeing, go out exploring a few days and repeat. I need a base city where I can work from, but also keep my expenditure to a minimum.

I'm looking for a city with the following -- please, your suggestions are much appreciated!

1. Low cost for accommodation and food.

2. Good infrastructure for wireless internet access.

3. An airport which would allow good access to Western Europe for travelling via low cost carriers.

4. Preferably outside the Schengen countries

The following points would be a bonus.

5. Decent public transportation

6. Good variety of restaurants

7. Some sights of interest with the city / country itself

Many thanks,
posted by linus587 to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I was going to suggest Barcelona or Berlin, both cheap and culturally interesting, but I guess they're in schengen countries. if you don't come up with anything better you might consider them, though...
posted by lgyre at 11:13 PM on May 20, 2007

I know it's inside the Schengen but Paris is one of the best hubs in EU, especially for the west. It meets all your other criteria (you can find low-cost accommodations in the outer arrondissements).
posted by DefendBrooklyn at 11:22 PM on May 20, 2007

Prague? It's outside of Schengen. There are a number of wireless cafes, if that's enough. For most things, it's generally fairly cheap, and while accomodation in the city center is expensive, with some looking, you can probably find something reasonable further out. If you get tired of Czech food, there are many restaurants from other cultures. There are a couple of low cost airlines, very good public transportation, and given the influx of tourists, there must be enough to do. A warning though, it's going to get really touristy as summer progresses - it's much nicer in the off-season.
posted by someone else at 11:35 PM on May 20, 2007

I stayed in Vienna for work and I find it to be an excellent "hub". Short plane trips for me to Italy, Germany, Czechoslovakia and Greece. Austrian Airlines is probably the best European carrier I've ever flied, with cheap last-minute flights. (There are low-cost alternatives, as well.)

Wonderful places to visit, low crime, and with the right people, an exciting nightlife. And not that many distractions if you need to get shit done. Weather can be gloomy, and so can the people. But I think it's easy to look past that and find the beauty. You may find it cheaper than some of the hotter tourist destinations in Europe.
posted by phaedon at 12:28 AM on May 21, 2007

Why do you want to be outside the Schengen countries? Wouldn't it be easier to be inside them? Or is there a visa issue I'm not aware of?

Outside, Dublin is supposedly pretty A-OK.
Inside, I think Berlin is tops, but friends also stump for Paris.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:41 AM on May 21, 2007

Go somewhere where you speak the language.
posted by mike_bling at 3:32 AM on May 21, 2007

I think if you want your cost of living to be low, you'll need to avoid the UK...
posted by tomw at 3:33 AM on May 21, 2007

Best answer: Wow, reading the comments I just realised that my idea of low cost is greatly different than others ideas of low cost. To me Barcelona, Berlin, Paris, and especially Dublin are extremely expensive, the kind of place you can visit for a week maybe if you've saved up enough money, but after that, unless you're earning a local salary, move on. I was also remembering some amazing Czech cities and towns I got to visit that were beautiful, friendly, and fairly inexpensive (add Prague to my list of expensive cities, though not nearly as bad as those in Western Europe). I'm thinking Pardubice, Zatec, Hradec Kralove, Olomouc. They were the type of places I saw and thought, "If I had a few months and a small source of income (say, a trust fund. yes, we can all dream), I think it would be pretty nice to stay on here for awhile." And as far as infrastructure goes, you're golden. Plenty o trains and public transportation, decently easy to set up internet (i'm picturing a wireless router that you're setting up at your flat), not many places over an hour or two from a major airport.

But then again, I think that this is going to apply most places east of Germany. Pick a country that has some infrastructure and then find a nice smaller city, not the capital, less than a couple of hours from the main airport of the country. Poland, Czech, Slovakia, I've heard good things about some Romanian cities, a rave review about Ukraine. I think a lot of it's going to depend on how inexpensive you want it and how much you are willing to temporarily adapt your style of life. I'm sorry I don't have more specific suggestions, but I think that if you start looking at country guides for eastern europe, one country might stand out as particularly intriguing, then you can start looking for a really neat looking smaller city. Because, if you're going to be somewhere for a few months you at least want it to be somewhere that you are personally interested in from the beginning.
posted by mosessis at 4:06 AM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Prague? It's outside of Schengen..."

Why do you say that? Wikipedia says The Czech Republic is a member, and will fully fully implement by December 31st 2007.

Actually, with Schengen including some 30 countries now, you'd probably be better off bouncing between some continental city and the UK.

The Schengen visa limit is three months and the UK six for US / etc nationals. Not really sure where you're from but this might work.

Regarding expenses - just because the UK as a whole is markedly more expensive than other countries, doens't mean you can't live cheap. The North, for example, is relatively inexpensive compared to London.

on preview: mosessis, you're correct about most of those capital cities but you don't have to stay, for example, in Paris to be to reach it easily. I took a month off work in 2002 and lived in a suburb of Paris some twenty minutes out by Tram. My hotel, long term, cost less than 25 euros, breakfast included.
posted by Mutant at 4:18 AM on May 21, 2007

I don't know about the wireless (been a while since I were there), but I'd look into Athens.
posted by pompomtom at 6:27 AM on May 21, 2007

Best answer: @mosessis: I'm not sure what makes you consider Berlin expensive, but I lived there for a year without a day job on a fraction of the money I would've spent in pretty much any other city where I could've had anywhere near the same level of convenience and fun.

Berlin is, in my opinion, an amazing city for this type of thing. Rents are cheap (under 200 euro if you look), food is very cheap, it has great airport and train connections, and tons of free internet cafes (I can't tell you how much work I did at St. Oberholz and Schmueck coffee shops last year).

I know you said outside of Schengen, but I'm going to have to also recommend Berlin. If you're worried about Schengen because of visa issues, I'm not going to tell you that's not a valid concern, but I will tell you that I have probably 50 non-EU friends (and myself) living (or haved lived) in Berlin who don't have a valid visa and they've received very little if any harrassment.

If you're dead-set on staying out of the EU, check out Zagreb. Croatia is a candidate for EU membership, but I think you have quite a while. From everything I know about it, it's very cheap, has lots of flights (especially during holiday season) and is a beautiful place.
posted by atomly at 8:36 AM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hey everyone. Wow, what a great response in such a short time. I'm really hoping I can get an extended visa or some kind of arrangement so my time in the Schengen countries isn't limited to 4 months, but what concerns me is - if I overstay my Schengen visa, that invalidates my travel insurance.

Anyhow, thanks for all the suggestions so far, anyone have any more details on some of these non-Schengen countries like Latvia?
posted by linus587 at 12:41 PM on May 21, 2007

Hey, just checking back in because I wanted to share some links with you that I've found helpful.

Boots n All is a great traveler's resource, and has lots of information for both short term and long term travelers. They have great forums and lots of travelogues. If you're looking for first hand information on Europe, they're a great place to start.

There's a great section on the Rick Steves website that has good first hand information about a lot of Europe.

Also, since wherever you're living there are probably going to be English teachers, you might want to check out Dave's ESL Cafe (I've linked to the forums for European discussion). Whatever you're likely to need to do (rent a flat, set up internet, fly somewhere, etc), the English teachers have probably done before you. Because they are generally long term travelers, you might have more in common with them than with people who are looking at a two week holiday.

And, I didn't mean to sound dismissive of others experience; I'm sorry if I did. I've met some people who see staying in a hostel as a cheap way of traveling, while others view paying for an official campground as a luxury when you can just sleep under a bridge for free. I wanted to point that out so that the OP knew that there might be different opinions offered here, none of them right or wrong, but coming from different perspectives.

So, OP, let us know what you decide! I'm totally jealous and can't wait to hear what city you decide on.
posted by mosessis at 3:34 PM on May 21, 2007

I'm considering a move to Riga, Latvia, which meets/exceeds all 7 of your criteria. I haven't been there, but it sounds right.

Here's an exhaustive guide to the city (updated bimonthly), and on the same page you'll find this PDF.
posted by mdonley at 7:37 PM on May 21, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks again for all the great responses guys.

Preliminarily, I'm looking pretty strongly at Tallinn (Estonia) and Riga (Latvia). Thanks "mdonley" for the guide to Riga. Anyone have any information on Tallinn?

Both these cities seem quite suitable, and also close to where most of my relatives live, in Sweden.
posted by linus587 at 7:53 PM on May 21, 2007

The "in your pocket" series is pretty detailed for most cities in eastern Europe, sothey should have a Tallinn guide, too.
posted by mdonley at 8:05 PM on May 21, 2007

to give a little more explanation for my suggestions, i think you're probably looking at a trade-off in terms of the items on your list. eastern europe is definitely (sometimes significantly) cheaper to live, but if you are looking for a transport hub, western european cities generally have more frequent and cheaper flights . this may or may not balance out the increased cost of living, depending on where and how frequently you want to travel (check out www.skyscanner.net for some sample flight information).

personally, i was also thinking about the "good variety of restaurants" item when i recommended berlin or barcelona, which were two of the cheapest cities i encountered in western europe. i may be biased because i'm vegetarian, but i had a great time eating in those cities compared to prague and a few other places in eastern europe, and i don't think i would have enjoyed eating for several months in those places at all. i think you will have good luck eating in eastern europe if you like either fast food like mcdonalds, really like eastern european food, or maybe if you are willing to spend a lot on gourmet restaurants. while there are things like indian and chinese restaurants (and you will see them in your guidebooks), the ones i ate at in eastern europe were enjoyable only in comparison to the other available options which got old for me really fast. in many parts of western europe there were a wide range of different types of restaurants, and most of the ones i ate at were somewhere between tolerable and excellent. i don't really have any idea how the food in the baltic countries compares, though, because i didn't go there.
posted by lgyre at 9:50 PM on May 21, 2007

flylc.com is an outstanding tool for evaluating any western or eastern European city's budget-airline-hub-ness.
posted by allterrainbrain at 10:10 AM on May 22, 2007

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