It's true, a European vacation isn't a budget-conscious traveler's dream. From higher exchange rates to often expensive hotels, costs can add up quickly. However, there are insider tips, secret destinations, and strategies that you can employ to put your dream trip to Europe closer at hand. We've covered almost every corner of Europe over the last decade, and have learned a thing or two in the process. With that in mind, we're sharing our favorite bang-for-your-buck itineraries across the continent, from beaches and historic cities to mountains and more. With just $1,500, you'll be sitting pretty in Europe in no time.
Author's Note: To find hotel prices in the ranges indicated below, follow date recommendations in each destination (generally between late October and early March). Flight prices were found at the time of publishing.
When it comes to less-expensive European vacations, the Iberian Peninsula — home to Spain and Portugal — is the place to go. Like Barcelona, Lisbon and Porto — Portugal’s most famous cities — enjoy famously sunny, mild weather, and are packed with charming corners, tons of culture, and beautiful historic scenery. They also happen to be a reasonably short train ride apart, making them easy to combine into one great European itinerary.
You’ll do best, from a budget perspective, by flying into Lisbon, which is generally reasonable on airlines like American, Iberia, Aer Lingus, and TAP. If you search far enough in advance and are willing to travel in the shoulder season, round-trip flights from LAX, Chicago, and NYC can be found for as little as $550. You’ll need around $80 to complete the round-trip journey between the cities by train, though it’s even cheaper by bus (around $45 or less, depending on which company you use). You won’t need to spend much on getting around, as both cities have limited metro and tram networks, with most sights located in the central neighborhoods (Lisbon’s Belem district is an exception, but only requires a couple of dollars for a round-trip ticket on the tram or train).
Hotels under $75 a night are numerous in both cities, and tend to be in better shape than budget and mid-range properties in other major European cities. You’re likely to find cute, boutique guesthouses in Lisbon and Porto for similar prices of scrubby hostels in London and Paris. That gives you around $450 for food, drink, and activity expenses. Luckily, the most enjoyable sights in these cities come with relatively low or free admission fees, including MAAT and the landmarks of Belem in Lisbon, as well as the quaint lanes of the Ribeira in Porto. Both cities have their fair share of outdoor markets, like LX Factory in Lisbon and Vandoma Flea Market in Porto.
Our Pick for a Cheap Hotel in Lisbon:
If you’re willing to stay just outside of Amsterdam’s storied Canal Ring, and tour this charming city during the off-season, you can easily experience everything Amsterdam has to offer for $1,500 or less. Traveling in the off-season from most parts of the United States can be done on the cheap, often without a layover, on airlines including KLM, Norwegian, and even Delta. Budget up to $550 round-trip, if you’re coming from the major airports on the West Coast, though East Coasters can find deals for under $400 from late October through early March.
The trick to saving on hotel rates in Amsterdam comes with a catch — you likely won’t be bedding down inside the Canal Ring unless you’re strictly looking for dorm-style hostel rooms. If that’s you’re flavor of choice, you can certainly find options (the Budget Hotel Tourist Inn is one choice). However, if you want something with a little more style and substance, situate yourself just outside the Canal Ring, in neighborhoods like Westerpark, Oud-West, and De Pijp. You can find several hotels with a variable list of amenities for under $80 a night this time of year. Just keep in mind that you’ll be using the trams and your own two feet to explore.
While you won’t score the same food and drink bargains here that you’ll find in southern Europe, you can get by for $35 a day if you stick to simple breakfasts and casual spots for lunch and dinner. Amsterdam’s famous eats — stroopwafels, krokets, and bitterballen — are widely available in street-side stands, vending machines, and bars, respectively (and all are cheap). You’d also do well to swap in some of the international fast-food and fast-casual joints for delicious, cheap meals — the city has plenty of Turkish, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern fare on offer. Your meals will be cheapest outside of the Canal Ring.
When you add all of this up, you’re left with around $260 to spend on activities, souvenirs, and getting around. You should opt for the multi-day GVB card to use the city’s vast public transit system — a six-day card will cost around $38. Entrance tickets to places like the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum, and the Anne Frank House range from $11 to $22, which puts you well within budget.
Our Pick for a Cheap Hotel in Amsterdam:
When it comes to European cities, Barcelona is one of the best. While London and Paris might get the most love, Barcelona charms anyone who visits. Why? It might have something to do with the architecture, or the art, or the tapas, or maybe it’s just that laid-back Mediterranean pace of life that means lunch can last up to three hours and comes with plenty of wine.
In any case, Barcelona is also far cheaper than its big-ticket sister cities across the continent. That means everything from flights to hotel rates, food, and transportation come with a cheaper price tag than London or Paris. If you travel outside of the summer high season and book your flights in advance, a round-trip ticket can come in between $400 and $500 from most major U.S. cities. October can be a great month to visit, as the weather is still generally warm and sunny, and dozens of budget and mid-range properties can be found for $110 or less a night.
While Barcelona isn’t the cheapest city in Spain when it comes to food, and some of the sights — like Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera, and the Picasso Museum do charge entry fees — things are reasonable. If you stick to European-style light breakfasts, a menu del día for lunch, and casual tapas dinners, you won’t spend more than $35 per day on food and snacks. A five-day Hola BCN card, which offers access to the metro and buses as well as trips to and from the airport on either, costs $39. That leaves you with around $250 to see the sights, grab a couple of drinks, or snag some souvenirs.
Our Pick for a Cheap Hotel in Barcelona:
You might not think that Ireland can be done on a budget, but if you limit your scope and focus on the country’s beautiful western coast, you can see a whole lot for a reasonable amount of cash. Having been in that part of the world in early November, we can tell you that it’s not nearly as bleak as you might think, and the landscape still retains its lush, emerald green character. You’ll also find the major tourist destinations, like Galway, the Cliffs of Moher, the Ring of Kerry, and Killarney National Park, far emptier than they would be during the summer.
You’ll want to fly into Shannon, which puts you within relatively easy drives of the major sights in this region. Flights range from $450 to $650 round-trip, depending on where in the U.S. you’re departing from — look for deals on Aer Lingus and British Airways, but be prepared for at least one layover. You’ll also need to rent a car here, though that’s inexpensive, and you won’t have to spend more than $100. Since you’ll be investing more in getting there and around than in other destinations, you’ll have to opt for inexpensive guesthouses or hostels with private rooms to save on accommodations. You’ll find private rooms in towns like Doolin, right next to the Cliffs of Moher, for no more than $50 a night, while rates are around $70 a night for private rooms in hostels in Galway.
This gives you $400 to cover food, gas, entry tickets, and drinks. We’d suggest opting for the often free continental breakfast (or simple cold options) provided at most hostels and guesthouses in this part of Ireland, and sticking to simple pub fare for lunches and dinners. Luckily, beer and whiskey generally come cheap here, so you’ll definitely be able to grab a few drinks.
Many of the most amazing sights in the region are free — like hiking the Gap of Dunloe near Killarney, walking around the quaint towns, or driving the Ring of Kerry. Meanwhile, entrance to the Cliffs of Moher can be bought in advance for as little as $5. What’s more? A trad show — the live music that’s famous in this part of Ireland — often comes free with a drink or meal in a pub at night.
Our Pick for a Cheap Hotel in Western Ireland:
Copenhagen is Scandinavia’s capital of cool, with a stellar art, design, and food scene. Even better? A visit here is easily one of the most hassle-free in Europe: The airport is linked to the city by quick and efficient trains; the citizens often speak almost perfect English, and the neighborhoods are compact, making it perfect for exploring on a long weekend. If you look far enough in advance, you can even score flight deals with flexible dates during the summer high season (you’ll just have to pay more for hotels during this time).
You’ll score the best bargains on Norwegian, with nonstop flights from NYC for as little as $375. Otherwise, major carriers offer connecting flights from major cities across the country for around $475 (make sure to set flight alerts to track prices). On the ground, things do get a little expensive, which is why your budget will do best on a four-day jaunt. You could consider investing in a Copenhagen Card, which covers all of your public transit (as well as the metro journey to and from the airport) plus entrance into major attractions like Tivoli Gardens, Amalienborg, the Round Tower, Copenhagen Contemporary, and the National Museum of Denmark for 120 hours (four days) at around $150. Not all museums and landmarks are part of this, but the selection is pretty major. The public transit option also lets you get around efficiently, especially if you’re planning on touring farther-flung trendy districts like Norrebro and Vesterbro, or the off-the-radar Christiania.
Average hotel prices vary throughout the year. On October weekends, for example, rooms cost around $135 a night. Aside from that, food and drink aren’t cheap in this city, and will likely take up a significant portion of your budget. You’ll get by easily on $70 a day, and meals are delicious, consisting of tapas-style small plates that go heavy on breads, cheeses, and seafood. Of course, traditional smorrebrod (open-face sandwiches) are ubiquitous, and like any European city, you’ll save mightily by opting for casual counter service or international fare. And don’t sleep on the city’s legendary pastry scene either.
Our Pick for a Cheap Hotel in Copenhagen:
From its ancient historic sites to its Renaissance masterpieces, its fashionable shopping scene to its delicious food, Rome is worthy of any bucket list. However, it can be a pricey place to visit much of the year, as tourists from around the world clamor for rooms across the city and sell out flights well in advance.
In the peak season (March through October), hotel rates in Rome are high. If you time your visit just outside of this period, you’re going to score major bargains, and will still likely enjoy mild weather and mostly sunny skies (light jackets and sweaters should suffice). Average hotel prices in November can be as low as $90 a night at mid-range and budget properties. That time of year also sees less expensive flights, though it’s never quite as cheap to fly into Rome as other major Western European capitals. If you search early enough, flights in early November can top out at $560 from the U.S., but are often cheaper depending on which coast you’re departing from.
Italian breakfasts are a light affair (think: a pastry, juice, and espresso), so you’ll spend little money on them. Lunch can be a bargain if you stick to simple pizza spots and casual trattorias. Dinner is a bit pricier, though you’ll rarely pay more than $18 for a generously portioned plate of pasta. All in, $50 a day will go far enough on food, coffee, and snacks in Rome. Keep in mind that restaurants overlooking or adjacent to major monuments like the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Spanish Steps will always price gouge you on your meal. Try the side streets around these areas for better bargains, or opt for more local neighborhoods like Pigneto, San Lorenzo, and Testaccio.
This leaves you with at least $210 or so to spend on tickets to museums and other landmarks. Make your reservations early at must-see attractions like Palazzo Borghese, the Colosseum, and the Vatican Museums. Viewing other major cathedrals, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and the Pantheon are all free. You’ll likely be getting around on foot, as public transit is pretty terrible in Rome. However, if you do have to take the metro, tram, or bus, rates are only about $2 per ride.
Our Pick for a Cheap Hotel in Rome:
While Barcelona gets most of the love from international travelers, Madrid is arguably the cooler Spanish city. A safe, walkable, and stunning metropolis, Madrid is home to amazing history, art, nightlife, and food. Visitors will find some of the world’s most famous museums — the Reina Sofia and The Prado — as well as tons of contemporary art spaces, charming plazas, churro-and-chocolate spots, and almost too many indie boutiques to count.
Madrid also happens to be a bargain. If you travel in the shoulder season — when temps are still relatively warm, though rain can be an issue — you can score flights from major U.S. cities for $410 or less. Look for flights in early November through March for the best bargains, though we’ve seen tickets below $500 as late as May. Traveling to Madrid at this time of year is actually wise, as the city broils in the summer and many of the lower-end hotels (read: the most affordable) won’t have air-conditioning. You’ll also find plenty of hotels for $90 or less per night during this time of year — and many are more stylish than what you’d get for comparable prices in places like Rome or London.
This leaves you with $460 to see the sights, eat, and get around. That’s more than doable, as you can get by on $40 a day for food, if you’re smart about it. Stick to typical Madrileño breakfasts (a pastry, coffee, and juice), bocadillos and small plates for lunch, and a mix of tapas and casual eateries for dinner. Tapas are often free with the purchase of a drink in many neighborhoods, which is a great way to save on food costs. Bocadillos — sandwiches served on delicious crusty bread — are around $7 each and incredibly filling. The city center is walkable, so a 10-trip card for the metro with an airport supplement is the way to go (these run about $17).
Our Pick for a Cheap Hotel in Madrid:
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