Where to go in Europe for Cheap
June 23, 2007 8:55 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I are avid travelers - we usually do one or two trips abroad each year. The past few trips have been to Rome and Athens. This year, we were thinking of going to Paris (we've not been there together). However, there are two problems: 1) the dollar is doing crap-all against the Euro. 2) we have one-year old twins. Suffice it to say, the budget for travel will be tight. We can take care of a place to stay and airfare. We don't eat expensively (we prefer to eat native) and our interests are museums, learning, and generally absorbing culture. What place in Europe will be relatively easy on the wallet?
posted by ca_little to Travel & Transportation (28 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
How about Montreal? (French - Parisian attitude = teh excellence)
posted by YamwotIam at 9:05 PM on June 23, 2007

Response by poster: Heh - certainly a thought. But missing the quality museums and gothic architecture, and general European flair.
posted by ca_little at 9:09 PM on June 23, 2007

You don't say whether you have previously travelled with your children. If you've never gone anywhere with them before, you may want to try a short trip before you head overseas.
posted by acoutu at 9:12 PM on June 23, 2007

Go East, young man!

I've been to Krakow, Poland, and had the best time of my life. Churches, castles, neat underground taverns, amazing jazz music, and the Tatra mountains a few hours south. Istanbul is amazingly fun, too - I urge everyone I meet to go there. Lots for kids to do, lots of culture to explore, cheap once you get there, and boat rides up the Bosporus!

Istanbul in March was nearly t-shirt weather; Krakow in December was snowy but full of Christmas cheer. Both places were basically empty of tourists at that time of year.

To get to either of these places, fly somewhere like London first and then connect on a budget airline to your final destination - the day of hassle with switching airports, buses, etc, is worth the hundreds of dollars you might save.

Have a super time!
posted by mdonley at 9:15 PM on June 23, 2007

Response by poster: FYI: We are NOT taking the kids with us. Grandparents are a wonderful thing. Plus, we need some time alone.
posted by ca_little at 9:19 PM on June 23, 2007

PS: Skyscanner will show you all the budget connections you'd ever care to make in Europe and beyond so you don't have to search 900 different websites.

PPS: Yay time alone!
posted by mdonley at 9:23 PM on June 23, 2007 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the hints so far.... keep them coming. Remember - I'm not worried about airfare or hotels. I have that covered for free (I travel for work and have friends in the airline industry).
posted by ca_little at 9:25 PM on June 23, 2007

Montréal. Québec City. Or Istanbul, and complete the set of imperial cities.
posted by holgate at 10:13 PM on June 23, 2007

Poland is cheap! They haven't switched to the Euro, so the dollar goes far. It is beautiful and fun!
posted by k8t at 10:33 PM on June 23, 2007

There are many great cities, & 'centers,' in Europe.

My mom's idea of the way to tour was to camp at a campground on the periphery of the public transit system (tenting the first time...a pickup/camper the second). The campgrounds had 'facilities' & were right nearby a bus-subway-trolley stop...

Her idea of 'doing' any great old place was to take my sister & I in tow, use the public transport, and have fun walking around. She was all about planning our walk-abouts based on any discounts she could find on admissions, where needed.

My mom's sister taught us all to sing Where have all the flowers gone...* sitting around a campfire, playing her guitar, at a campground on the Spanish Mediterranean coast back in the day. We could sing it all night.
posted by taosbat at 10:38 PM on June 23, 2007

Istanbul! I just returned to Kiev (where I'm living currently) from meetings in Istanbul, and I think it may just be my favorite place in the world. I'm pretty excited to live only a one and a half hour flight from such a cool city.

The city is beautiful, the people are friendly, and you can have breakfast in Europe, and Lunch in Asia and never leave Istanbul.
posted by monkey!knife!fight! at 10:45 PM on June 23, 2007

Well, right now I'm on vacation in Galicia, which is northwestern Spain. It's definitely very affordable. Two years ago we did Madrid and Andalusia, and now that's not really affordable.

It's not a very touristy place. The whole time we've been here we've run into less than ten Americans and Brits, and this is a place that Brits tend to go to more than Americans. Because of that, it's definitely affordable.

There aren't any fabulous, world-class museums like the Prado here, but it's very interesting nevertheless. There are lots of Roman ruins and the like. It's more about wandering around and soaking up the culture than seeing amazing art and such. The culture is very interesting, as here many people also speak Galician, sort of a mix of Spanish and Portuguese (though IIRC more Portuguese in linguistic origin), which is making a strong comeback since when it was repressed by Franco during his dictatorship. As for history, it's a mix of Roman and Celtic.

I don't know if you speak Spanish, but the Spanish here is much more understandable than that of southern Spain. There seems to be a fair number of people who speak English.

Attractions tend to be cheap (<5 euros/person, we have spent under 50 euros a day for a family of 4), and so far our major cost, aside from hotels and flying, has been food and a rental car. yesterday we drove to lugo, an ancient roman walled city, and we spent zero euros attractions. the major attractions in la coruña are la torre de hércules (a huge lighthouse), castelo de san antón (an old fortress), the extensive clock museum in the ayuntamiento (town hall), the beach (though the north atlantic is chilly!), and a trolley which for 1 euro takes you all around the coastline. we'll also be visiting isla de la toja, where we're staying at a resort-like place for incredibly cheap, and santiago de compostela, which has a huge cathedral. there's lots of tasty wine and seafood here, if you like that.br>
You can fly into La Coruña via Madrid or Lisbon. It's about 500 km from Madrid.
posted by liesbyomission at 10:52 PM on June 23, 2007

Wow, I have no idea what ate the end of my post there. Sorry about the wonky lack-of-caps and such.
posted by liesbyomission at 10:53 PM on June 23, 2007

It sounds like you've been mostly to somewhat "ordinary" places for European travel. I'd recommend stretching it a little and going east a bit. Krakow, as already mentioned, is a wonderful place. If you rent a car and are willing to drive a few hours now and then you can have a wonderful trip seeing Budapest, Krakow, eastern Slovakia and much of Romania - west Ukraine too, if you're willing to be a *little* more adventurous. (Look at a map to make better sense of it.) There's *tons* to do every bit of the way, it's very cheap and it's not so esoteric that you won't suffer from a total lack of comfort!

You could fly into Budapest and take it from there. Budapest by itself is quite lovely and a lot of fun, but if you followed a similar route to what's above you'd also see:

1) Krakow - in many ways, the coolest city in Europe.
2) Auschwitz - about an hour's drive from Krakow.
3) The Eger and Tokaj wine regions of NE Hungary - lovely, fun and CHEAP! You can't beat 15¢ glasses of great wine in a cool setting.
4) The scenic Carpathian Mountains, which stretch from Poland to Romania
5) Transylvania! The heartland of historical Hungary (though it's in Romania now) is home to all sorts of wonders, and great cities such as Sibiu, Cluj-Napoca and more.
6) Maramaros (or Maramures) - a region of Romania bordering Ukraine, with the closest you'll come to medieval European life - many people still wear traditional costumes in daily life. And it's packed with great things to see and do.

Even the drives between these places are charming.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:15 AM on June 24, 2007 [4 favorites]

Definitely Poland. They still like Americans too
posted by A189Nut at 12:26 AM on June 24, 2007

Seconding mdonley- east is your best bet.
Prague is awesome, as are (i'm told) Istanbul and Budapest.
Austria is very cool as well. Vienna is incredible, and you really can't beat the Schonbrunn palace for art, architecture, and history. It even has a hedge maze.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 2:42 AM on June 24, 2007

I don't know if you are looking to avoid the euro altogether but Berlin is probably the most affordable city in Europe. It is so chock full of museums, you wouldn't be able to see all of them in one trip (many are still free but most are below 10 euros). The street food is cheap and good on its own (currywurst and donor kebabs) but there are tons of affordable restaurants as well. The history and culture of the place goes without saying. You can do day trips to Potsdam or if you have a bit more time, to Warsaw, Poland, which I think is about a six hour train ride. Whatever you decide, have a great time!
posted by triggerfinger at 2:49 AM on June 24, 2007

Also in Berlin, you wouldn't necessarily need to pay for a bus tour because the number 100 bus goes to all the main tourist attractions (without the commentary) for the price of a bus ticket!
posted by triggerfinger at 2:53 AM on June 24, 2007

Tallin, St Petersburg and Helsinki are all within a couple of hours of each other. Depending on how long you're staying, this might allow you to spend time in all three.
posted by caek at 3:29 AM on June 24, 2007

Seconding Berlin, it's cheap, it's got culture galore as in "high-brow" as well as "low-brow" and since its citizens are notoriously short on the dough (there's a famous quote by Berlin's mayor on the city being "poor, but sexy"), many attractions are cheap or even free.
posted by Herr Fahrstuhl at 4:19 AM on June 24, 2007

Albania isn't the easiest ticket in Europe, but at least it isn't over run with summer tourists.
posted by paulsc at 7:07 AM on June 24, 2007

Lisbon, Lisbon, Lisbon!

It's inexpensive, has the grandeur of Paris and the Moorish old neighborhoods of Morocco, the food is excellent and so is the weather.

I'm biased, but it seems to be constantly overlooked...
posted by Andorinha at 7:18 AM on June 24, 2007

Croatia, specifically Dubrovnik. Really cheap, but still charming.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:29 AM on June 24, 2007

Prague is definitely awesome. I went there last year on a grad student budget and was still able to see everything and eat very, very well. We even went to the opera!

The architecture is really beautiful. We found the city really easy to get around using public transport, but even cabs weren't that expensive. Now that the dollar is doing worse, I'm not sure it will be that cheap. But it will be cheaper than Paris.
posted by bluefly at 9:33 AM on June 24, 2007

If you come to Poland -- and you should, if you're nice people -- please keep your voice down. I'm trying to read.

But remember that for every nice thing to see in Poland (and most places in general), there are ten crappy things, so focus. See the old town of whatever city you're visiting, see the two or three good pieces in the local art museum, and then get out. The countryside is very nice.

If you're seriously into "absorbing culture," though, then do the opposite: avoid the old parts and go out into the rest of the concrete city. Eat at cheap non-tourist restaurants. Go shopping in a small grocery store for stuff you'll eat on a picnic in a city park. Watch the drunks while you eat. Go into a dive bar for a glass of beer. Ride the buses and trams to get around town. Find out where the biggest blue collar employers are, then go to that area after 3:00 to see post-work folk going home or shopping or to the pub.
posted by pracowity at 10:25 AM on June 24, 2007

2nd-ing prague...architecture, food, culture...

also nth-ing istanbul. i just did 4 days in instanbul. old city= sultanahmet, which yes is full of tourists but is very historic and all of the sites are hopefully within walking distance from your hotel. the restaurant choices are not great though (tourist traps). 4 days was plenty (mosque, palace, bath, grand bazaar, river cruise).

for a break from the city, we went out to cappadocia for 3 days--natural history/fantastic geology mixed with cultural history (underground cities...cave churches...and staying in a cave!)

things were pretty affordable, by european standards.
posted by hazel at 11:01 AM on June 24, 2007

Seconding Dubrovnik. Budget.

Edinburgh is really pretty, serene, quirky, mellow museums, moors, gardens. It's small enough to be manageable with little kids. It's a surprisingly charming and interesting city.

Kaleidoscopic Naples, budget, Pompei, Amalfi Coast and Capri. wow.

Family Travel Forum's search engine.
posted by nickyskye at 11:02 AM on June 24, 2007

Nth-ing Istanbul - we just spent time there in May. I've been looking at next year's trip to India to be my "life changing trip", but I have to say, Istanbul might have done it first. I would go back for a month in a *heartbeat*. You've got culture, museums, very inexpensive food, convenient day trips. Do it!!
posted by ersatzkat at 8:54 AM on June 25, 2007

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