Budget best: cheapest ways to do Europe's greatest cities

Europe's most popular cities are also among its most expensive, but it is possible to do them on the cheap.
Europe's most popular cities are also among its most expensive, but it is possible to do them on the cheap. Photo: AFP

Europe's most popular cities are also among the most expensive. Shaney Hudson explains how to make the most of them without burning a hole in your pocket.

Europe's cities have a wealth of historical and cultural riches-but that doesn't mean you have to spend a fortune. It is possible to do Europe's most popular and expensive cities on the cheap- and with the Australian dollar hitting a record high with the euro, there's never been a better time to start planning that trip.

London

HOTELS: Tune hotels (www.tunehotels.com), the hotel arm of budget airline Air Asia X offers dirt-cheap London lodgings from £35 ($A54). While rooms at the four locations are so small you can't swing a cat (and were a challenge for our party of two when we stayed) rooms are exceptionally clean and the staff professional. Book in advance for the best deals.

Fabulous and free ... the British Museum in London.
Fabulous and free ... the British Museum in London. Photo: AP

FOOD: London can be an expensive place to eat. A great resource is reservation website TopTable.co.uk, which has a deals section offering both inexpensive set menus or 50 per cent off packages.

THINGS TO DO: London is blessed with a multitude of free museums, art galleries and attractions. Stroll through the royal parks, visit the British Museum (www.britishmuseum.org), Tate Modern (www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern) and National Gallery (www.nationalgallery.org.uk) and battle the crowds for a glimpse of the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.

GETTING AROUND: Invest in an Oyster card (https://oyster.tfl.gov.uk/oyster/entry.do) and a good map, and keep in mind that sometimes it may be quicker to walk between stations than pay for the Tube.

To do the Eiffel Tower on the cheap, take the stairs, not the lift.
To do the Eiffel Tower on the cheap, take the stairs, not the lift. Photo: AFP

Paris

HOTELS: Finding a budget bed in Paris is hard work, and you don't always get what you pay for. Consider an apartment if you're in a group, otherwise try places like Oops Hostel (www.oops-paris.com) who offer doubles from €70 (A$87). Plain Jane but affordable, the Hotel Ibis in Montmartre (www.ibishotel.com) has affordable rooms from €83 per night.

FOOD: Paris is the land of pastries and picnics, which should sustain you through breakfast and dinner. At dinnertime, look out for the 'menu du jour', normally a three-course set menu with wine for under €20.

THINGS TO DO: It costs nothing to get into Paris's most visited monument, the Notre Dame. On the first Sunday of the month, you can get into the museums like the Louvre (www.louvre.fr) and Musee D'Orsay (www.musee-orsay.fr) for free (just expect a crowd). Take the stairs rather than the lift at the Eiffel Tower (it's cheaper- €5 for a stairs ticket, €8.50-€14 for the lifts). BYO your own croissants and buy an espresso for a €1 from the cafes and have breakfast on the tower.

The Trevi Fountain ... Rome is an open-air museum.
The Trevi Fountain ... Rome is an open-air museum. Photo: AP

GETTING AROUND: Paris's Metro is cheap and efficient- buy a 'carnet' of 10 tickets from the automated machines for under €12 (www.ratp.fr)

Rome

HOTELS: When booking a hotel in Rome, location is key, with most budget option up near the train station. The best of this bunch is The Beehive (www.the-beehive.com), which offers shared bathroom double rooms from €70. For something more central, the small and cosy Hotel Dominus Tiberina in the Trastevere region (www.hoteldomustiberina.it) is a good option with rooms from €89.

FOOD: Before 11am, hit the local espresso bar for a cappuccino and cornet standing up at the bar. At lunchtime, raid traditional local bakeries like the Forno Campo de F'iori (www.fornocampodefiori.com) for focaccia and snacks, and be sure to eat your weight in gelato throughout the day. At dinnertime, look for smaller restaurants out of the tourist centre with handwritten daily menus in Italian in plastic sleeves, and try to order the specials.

There are cheaper ways to enjoy Venice's Grand Canal than the 80-euro gondola rides.
There are cheaper ways to enjoy Venice's Grand Canal than the 80-euro gondola rides. Photo: iStock

THINGS TO DO: Rome is like a giant open-air museum. Stroll past the Trevi Fountain, loiter on the Spanish Steps, try your hand in the Mouth of Truth, climb up the Victory Monument and gaze out over the Roman Forum towards the Colosseum.

GETTING AROUND: Stay in the centre and you'll be able to access the best of the city by foot. Metro and buses run frequently but can crowded.

Venice

HOTELS: Hotels in Venice are generally dated and overpriced. It's worth investing in an apartment like those available through www.homeaway.com.au. For those who are diehards and don't mind big bus groups, you can camp on the Lido (www.unionlido.com). Always work out the distance between the nearest water bus stop and your hotel (you'll have to lug your bags this distance)

On Sundays in Vienna, you can see the famous Vienna Boys Choir for free - but be prepared to queue.
On Sundays in Vienna, you can see the famous Vienna Boys Choir for free - but be prepared to queue. Photo: Andrew De La Rue

FOOD: Follow the locals' lead and stock up on cichetti, the Venetian version of tapas. Consisting of fried fish, meatballs or slices of meat on bread eaten standing up at the bar, the small bites will set you back only a euro or so. Most places are scattered around the market over the Rialto.

THINGS TO DO: Venice is a city to get lost in. Avoid the €80 gondola rides and instead take a traghetti across the Grand Canal. You'll cross the canal in a gondola with 20 others for around a €1.50.

GETTING AROUND: Venice is serviced by the ACTV Valporetto boat bus service (www.actv.it) that connects all islands in the lagoon. Tickets aren't that cheap (€7 each), however the #1 Valpo ride down the Grand Canal is some of the best coin you'll spend in the city, and they also offer cheaper 12hr, 24hr, 36hr and 7 day passes.

Vienna

HOTELS: Just by the Naschmarkt, Wombat's (www.wombats-hostels.com) is an impressive hostel complex with disabled access, double rooms (from €58), neatly separated from the rowdy dorms by a security access pass to minimise noise. Although it has a young crowd, private rooms are quite comfortable. Also check out the smaller pensiones scattered across the city. They can be both central and cheap- mainly because there is no lift and you'll have to lug your bag up the stairs.

FOOD: The Naschmarkt (www.wienernaschmarkt.eu) is one of 26 markets in Vienna, filled with delicacies, grocers and cafes is the perfect place to stock up on a filling, cheap meal, (try the Turkish breakfasts). Look out for the popular Trzesniewski (www.speckmitei.at) chain, which offers snack-size pieces of bread covered in spreads and also try the wurst, or sausage, stands that dot the centre's city streets - they're surprisingly tasty.

THINGS TO DO: Vienna is pretty enough to spend a day strolling the streets. On Sunday mornings, standing-room tickets for the Vienna Boys' Choir (www.wienersaengerknaben.at) at the Hofburg Imperial Chapel are free (be prepared to queue). Also worth are look are the Prater Amusement Park (www.prater.at) and a walk through the surrounding Weiner Prater park.

GETTING AROUND: Vienna has an excellent tram, bus and underground network, with single tickets costing €2 and a weekly pass €15 (www.wienerlinien.at/eportal).

General rules for cutting costs in Europe:

- Book accommodation as far in advance as possible.

- Consider renting an apartment if you're in a group.

- Check you're not travelling during peak season or during European school holidays

- Cook your own food, shop at supermarkets, eat from bakeries and carry your own water bottle.

- Avoid English language 'tourist' menus and scan the menu for excess cover charges.

- Tourist office cards can be overpriced - be sure to read the fine print to see if they'll suit your attractions and destinations.

- Check museum websites to see if they offer a free day or after hours reduced price entry.

- Walk as much as possible

What are your tips for doing Europe's great cities on the cheap? Post a comment below.

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