Where to go in Europe?
May 28, 2008 3:23 AM   Subscribe

EuropeFilter: Two teens about to spend up to 10 days in Europe. Suggestions on where to go and how to keep it cheap?

So we're 17, he's finished high school and I'm just before my senior year, and we're planning a 7-10 day trip in Europe in mid to late August. I know it's the most expensive season to travel but we really have no other time. Our parents are paying airfare (yay for parents) but as for me, I'm paying for everything else. That includes lodging, food, travel within Europe, entrance fees to various places and various other expenses. A rough estimate tells me I'll have betwen $700 - $1000 USD (not much. but if needed I know I can get more).
We're not completely sure about where we're going to be yet. We were thinking of doing a few days in Amsterdam, a few days in Ghent, Belgium (which I've heard is far more interesting for young people than Bruxelle) and then something like two days in Paris (because it's the most expensive).
We've both already been to London, so that's not necessary, and we both really want to go to Amsterdam. From there, we'd like places that aren't incredibly far (we don't want to waste time on travel) and preferably as cheap as possible.
Advice on which places are a must-see in any city is much appreciated as well :)
posted by alon to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Try following The Frugal Traveler as he goes through Europe, as cheaply as possible, right now.
posted by loosemouth at 3:49 AM on May 28, 2008

To keep your trip cheap at a time when most Europeans are themselves on vacation, I recommend staying slightly out of town. For example, everywhere in the Netherlands (in the south, anyway) is easy to get to by train. Amsterdam is extremely expensive, so you would be better off with a hotel in Haarlem or Utrecht which are beautiful, less touristy, and very close to Amsterdam by train.

You can keep your food budget under control if you buy breakfast and lunch from Albert Heijn, which is the main supermarket chain here. They make lots of prepacked baked goodies and salads which you can eat picnic style in a park.

Ghent is a university town, it is quite lovely. I also like Antwerp but it is Flemish so quite like the Netherlands.

There are many train connections from Belgium and the Netherlands to Germany. It is quite easy to do places like Dusseldorf and Cologne on a budget.

Look into a railpass for some of these trips.

The one good thing you will miss about London is that the museums are very expensive elsewhere in Europe.

(I live in The Hague. Certainly not one of the cheapest places I've ever lived but I travel regularly to the other cities I mentioned).
posted by wingless_angel at 3:49 AM on May 28, 2008

To keep it cheap you need to actually travel as little as possible since the biggest costs getting around Europe are from getting around Europe. A train ride across half of Germany cost me 90 euro (a touch under $100), i think. So long as you stay in hostels/cheapcheap hotels, and don't eat at super expensive restaurants, you should easily stay within your limits.

If you've only got a week, hitting Amsterdam, Ghent and Paris seems like enough, but if you wanted to get a third country in, try going to Cologne in western Germany.
posted by beerbajay at 3:54 AM on May 28, 2008

Response by poster: How expensive is Cologne?
posted by alon at 4:10 AM on May 28, 2008

Response by poster: Oh, and I can also add that I like the Frugel Traveller idea in that he talks about each city in particular, although his budget is over mine, so if any of you know of people who have documented such trips they would help too :)
posted by alon at 4:12 AM on May 28, 2008

Once you're there the biggest expense will be lodging. Get to know your destinations in a different way, meet loads of wonderful people and save money through glorious couchsurfing!

Have a wonderful time!
posted by maya at 4:41 AM on May 28, 2008

Amsterdam is expensive, but still much cheaper than Paris or London. Unless you're particularly interested in spending a few of your days doing otherwise illegal things, I wouldn't spend more than a few nights there, as you'll cover the historic district pretty quickly. I really enjoyed my time in the Netherlands, but Amsterdam is the kind of city that needs a loose budget to be enjoyed (not so many monuments or interesting walking routes once you get used to the canals- might be worth thirty pounds to buy the 'Holland pass 08/09' at a tourist center, which will get you into four or five decent museums/boat tours/gardens).

If you're on a tight budget, why not go a bit farther east? I did a route from Budapest to Bratislava to Vienna to Prague in the same amount of time well under your budget. This was quite recently, so the costs shouldn't have changed much:

(for 2 persons, in Euro)
Budapest hostel, 2 nights: 57.50
Train to Bratislava: 34.00

Bratislava hostel, 2 nights: 58.99
Train to Vienna: 10.99 (or take a boat for 34 Euro)

Vienna hostel, 2 nights: 77.50
Train to Prague: 98.40

Prague hostel, 2 nights: 83.78

(notice that it got more expensive as we went West)

We flew to Budapest and from Prague, and gave ourselves a budget of 20 Euro a day, which was plenty for food an one 'event' per city. With flights and all I spent 532 Euro and could have spent less.

Mefi mail me if you're interested in such a route, I could give you better details and hostel/sight advice (I'm about to be late for lunch, so I unfortunately have to rush this).

Otherwise, wikitravel and hostelworld are always helpful.
posted by farishta at 4:43 AM on May 28, 2008

Amsterdam is extremely expensive, so you would be better off with a hotel in Haarlem or Utrecht which are beautiful, less touristy, and very close to Amsterdam by train.

This is good advice. Amsterdam in August will be clogged with tourists and pickpockets. Haarlem, Hilversum, or even Duivendrecht are all one stop from Amsterdam Centraal and trains run frequently.
posted by three blind mice at 4:47 AM on May 28, 2008

90 euro (a touch under $100)

That's more like $140 these days.
posted by cabingirl at 4:48 AM on May 28, 2008

As someone living in Amsterdam, I can say for sure that coming here in August will be a lot of fun, but it'll be very expensive - though if you book in advance maybe you can lock in some decent prices. Utrecht is a nice city, too...

The one thing I would add though, is that Brussels is not particularly fun unless you have not had your fill of historic city centers, beautiful plazas, etc.

If you're looking to play it more carefully with money, spend some time in the Netherlands and then take off for somewhere cheap like Spain - which is loads of fun for young people, great beaches, and a fun way to see a Europe very different from Holland and the UK.
posted by mateuslee at 5:15 AM on May 28, 2008

I did this with a friend at your age. If you're a sound sleeper and you have a railpass, one way to save lodging money is to take overnight trains and sleep on the trip. This also allows you to get to some farther away places, if you want. But you have to be able to sleep through a lot of noise and interruption, and you have to not mind missing a shower...
posted by escabeche at 5:39 AM on May 28, 2008

You're trying to see too many places. In up to 10 days, you have 2 big cities, a medium city, and some other places in der Nähe? As mentioned up-thread, the transport is the expensive part. Pick 2 so you have some chance to actually know where you are.

Seconding couchsurfing as the awesomest way to travel (or, since you're still younger, maybe finding friends-of-friends-or-family so your folks are more comfortable with the idea). Also, eating at grocery stores or just eating little things along the way is the best not only for staying on-budget but trying all the local things. Like, Paris. Who needs a €20-30 entree when you can have a baguette or crepe on the street for €2-5?

Also, you should check out Rick Steves if you will bring any one budget travel book with you. For Europe, he kicks the ass of Lonely Planet etc. He doesn't write specifically for 20-somethings, but on such a short trip, you're probably focusing on the all-ages highlights anyway.
posted by whatzit at 5:48 AM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you come through Hamburg/Lüneburg, I'll buy you 2 a beer.
posted by chillmost at 6:08 AM on May 28, 2008

Some advice you and others may disagree with, but which I think might be helpful:

- Eurolines night buses save nights on hotels and give you more time in cities: a bus between Amsterdam and Paris will take about 7-8 hours overnight (departs 11 pm, arrives 6:30 am), will be mildly uncomfortable, will involve no border crossings (though perhaps you might get stopped at the border as Belgium and France don't really like the Netherland's liberal drug laws), and is about 40 euros (about $60).

- Skip Belgium. Not that there's anything wrong with it, but for a first trip, perhaps it's best to concentrate on the things you know you want to see, and perhaps it's better to have more time to in one place to get the feel of it. It's easy to see the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower in two days, but harder to talk to other people in that amount of time to find out about a concert you'd like to see, or a cool bar worth checking out, or something else that depends on local knowledge.

- Hostels don't necessarily become crazy expensive in the summer, but to avoid getting locked out of anywhere in your budget, you should book ahead - a week or more, perhaps - online. This site has user ratings and online booking functionaility, and was on Kool Tools. A randomly chosen hostel was about $35 a night per person; I don't know what $70 a night for a double room would get you in Amsterdam or Paris, but I do know that many hostels have private rooms available for a little more money - perhaps that would be a good compromise.

- Do not bring a giant backpack. You could both get away with something the size of a school backpack, perhaps a little larger. No wheels, no frames, nothing more complicated than a zipper.

- Comcomitantly: here's your packing list, including what you're wearing: two pairs pants, five shirts, underwear/socks, a sweater-y type thing, mini umbrella, two pairs shoes, guidebook/phrasebook/tourist-assisting literature of some sort ATM card, passport. Do laundry halfway through your trip at a hostel or laundromat - an hour or so of boredom/postcard-writing/beer-swilling-at-the-bar-across-the-street for clean clothes and light luggage. Anything beyond this is purchasable here - an emergency T-shirt is just a few euros at an H&M or something.
posted by mdonley at 6:24 AM on May 28, 2008

Skip Belgium.

I wouldn't be that harsh about the place –– I have a friend there -- but 'a few days' in Ghent is a bit much, I think. I agree it's a lovely town, but it's quite small; you wouldn't need to spend more than a day or two there.

Since you've got less than a fortnight, you might want to cut things down to what you simply can't miss.
posted by macdara at 7:27 AM on May 28, 2008

C'mon, you have to go to Berlin. Berlin is the most fun city for young people in Europe - if you like partying!
posted by markovich at 7:56 AM on May 28, 2008

When you are traveling from country to country, get a sleeper car at night. While you're sleeping you might as well be getting somewhere and you make the train pull double duty as transportation and a hotel room. We rode overnight trains a lot.
posted by trbrts at 8:23 AM on May 28, 2008

If you are both female, and considering hostels, ensure they have all-female dorms with doors that lock from the inside. My sister would want me to mention that.
posted by nthdegx at 8:32 AM on May 28, 2008

everything you are going to buy, do, rent, consume will cost you twenty percent more than it currently does in the US, so assume you have something that feels a lot closer to $500-750 for comparison. I'm serious: a large hot chocolate at starbucks in amsterdam will set you back $7.80 at the current exchange rate (at least that's what my US credit card statement last week showed).

ask yourself how long that would float you were you going on vacation in the US. transportation is going to wipe you out as-is within a week, staying in a large city is going to be very difficult (read: hostels and maybe only two, three nights) and so on. this is a tough time to travel to europe as a poor american.

oh yeah, check out in bruges, for obvious reasons.
posted by krautland at 9:41 AM on May 28, 2008

In response to the first comment, I would point out that the NY Times frugal traveller is sticking to 100 euro - or roughly $160 - per day for one guy, which for a two-person ten-day trip is a few times more than the poster's given range.

I would definitely second looking at CouchSurfing - take a look at the site. The idea seems strange at first and your parents will probably be a little uneasy with it, but it works wonderfully. I have travelled with CouchSurfing and found very nice hosts with nice accomodations - I've even gotten free meals and rides. Just make sure to fill out your profile, start early requesting accomodation, send many requests, and be a little flexible. The cheapest lodging you'll find otherwise is going to be a couple beds in a youth hostel dormitory, which will run you at least 20 euro (~ $30) per bed per night.
posted by Sar HaPanim at 11:25 AM on May 28, 2008

I spent most of my nights sleeping on overnight trains when I was backpacking with a Eurail too (WAAAAY back when). Get on the train early, find an open cabin, close the door, shut the shades, if you can pull the seat bottoms together do so and lie down feigning sleep until after the train moves. People will move to the next compartment unless the train is too full to do so. If the train is full you'll get less sleep... but hey, you're young and you're only there a week. It's an adventure, and adventure is what your holiday is all about.

Also, as you travel you'll meet other travelers your own age. Ask them where they're going and where they've been. Be open to changing your itinerary and being spontaneous. You never know where it'll lead you. I found some of the cheapest and most wonderfully memorable experiences of my travels through cool people I met along the way. You just never know.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:02 PM on May 28, 2008

I just came back from Belgium and, though it's a bit more touristy, I thought Bruges was nicer than Ghent. YMMV, but two days in Ghent seems about one too many (at least) for a trip of that length. Whatever you do, make sure you rent a bicycle whenever possible.
posted by dhammond at 2:26 PM on May 28, 2008

Response by poster: nthdegx: I'm a gal but he's a guy so we'll just get a double room or a 4-person and share with other people.
posted by alon at 4:44 AM on May 30, 2008

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