Europe has long reigned as a popular travel destination for tourists. So, it’s not hard to understand why it’s considered a dream getaway for many. From unrivaled jewels like France to underrated gems like Bulgaria, the continent is filled with breathtaking beauty and landmarks known the world over. So, it’s only natural many have wondered how they can travel Europe cheaply to discover it all.
If you’re looking for the answer to this age-old question yourself and wondering just how to travel Europe cheap—without hitchhiking your way across the continent—then read on for some helpful tips for exploring Europe on a budget while still having the time of your life.
Please note, that some of these norms may have shifted because of COVID.
But if you’re looking for the cheapest way to travel Europe, strap in and get ready to save.
Table of Contents
- Use Public Transportation
- Fly Using Budget Airlines
- Save Money by Staying in Hostels
- Check Out Airbnb in Europe
- Travel During Low Seasons
- Book Tours in Advance
- Exchange Currency While Traveling
- Research Where the Locals Eat
- Take Advantage of Discounts and Freebies
- Treat Yourself
Use Public Transportation
Transportation often takes up the most considerable portion of any travel budget.
Flights overseas aren’t cheap, and if you’re hoping to do some serious sightseeing that’ll take you all over the continent, you might expect that transportation in Europe would be just as expensive.
The good news here is that you’d be wrong.
Europe has an extensive public transport system, so you can knock finding a car rental off your list of worries.
Instead, you can explore Europe via train travel, bus travel, and more!
With public transportation options increasing, travelers have even more low-cost ways of getting around Europe on a budget.
Whether you’re traveling from the Swiss to Italian Alps or looking to make your way from the Tower of London to Kensington Palace, these are some of the best ways of saving money on your Europe trip.
Get a Eurail Pass
If you’re looking to explore as much as possible in a short amount of time, train travel might be just the ticket to travel Europe cheaply.
For a budget-friendly option, the Eurail multi-use pass will give you plenty of bang for your buck.
You have two options on passes:
- One Country Pass – this covers travel within a single country
- Global Pass – this covers travel in all 33 participating countries
Beyond that, Eurail offers Continuous Passes and Flexi Passes. The difference is all in the name.
For example, with a 1-month continuous pass, you can travel by train on any day in a 1-month period, whereas with a Flexi Pass, such as a 5-days-within-1-month pass, you can travel by train on any five days in that one-month period.
How to Choose the Right Eurail Pass for Your Trip
Not sure which Eurail pass might be your best option or just want to get a picture of what your travel route could look like?
When your goal is to travel cheap, it helps to get a lay of the land.
Eurail offers a handy tool to help you plan your trip by simply entering your destinations, travel dates, and the number of travelers. You can use this to find the best pass offered through Eurail or check out other options offering similar routes.
Pro-tip: If you’re planning on focusing your travels in a specific country, like Germany, try checking out their regional options for train tickets as an alternative to Eurail.
Overall, though, if you’re looking to travel to a lot of different countries, from western to eastern Europe, then a Eurail pass is likely your best option to save big!
Traveling by bus is also becoming super popular for cheap travel in Europe, and for a good reason.
With low-cost options making it more flexible and affordable than ever to use, the only downside to bus travel is the speed.
But if you’re not pressed for time in your travels, you can save big on transportation costs and revel in the beauty of Europe on a budget.
Currently, three international bus companies are the most popular options for budget globetrotters looking to travel Europe on the cheap:
By far the most popular option for traveling by bus, Flixbus offers cheap bus fares and a broad selection of routes and destinations.
If you want to travel Europe cheaply and spontaneously, Flixbus is an excellent option because it offers a flexible cancellation policy. Their fees range from free if you cancel 30 days before your booking to $5 if you cancel less than three days before departure.
As with most budget travel, it’s not the most luxurious ride. Flixbus can also run behind on their schedules sometimes. But, if your goal is to traverse Europe on a budget, you won’t find many options that do it better.
Another budget-friendly option for traveling Europe by bus is Eurolines.
They’re a little less flexible than Flixbus with their cancellations; however, if you’re planning to stick to your set schedule, they’re a great alternative. Eurolines provides hundreds of destinations to choose from and routes starting as low as €10.
A unique choice for traveling Europe cheaply, Busabout offers a hop-on/hop-off service with 38 destinations in 14 countries.
You can find a variety of passes from short trips, 5-12 days, to trips as long as six months if you’re really up for an adventure.
Travelers can make last-minute changes to their schedule free of charge, making it another fantastic choice for the spontaneous adventurer.
If you’re looking to connect with other travelers, enjoy the expertise of knowledgeable guides, and score discounts on excursions and accommodations, then Busabout might be perfect for you.
This service typically operates from May 1st to October 8th, but due to COVID, it’s currently suspended for 2022.
More Options for Bus Travel
If you’re looking for a good value on travel within a single country, you can check out some of the popular public transport options below:
- Megabus (UK)
- Ouibus/BlaBlaBus (France)
- Student Agency/Regio Jet (Czech Republic)
- Lux Express (Baltic Region)
European subways are generally referred to as metros. However, you may find the locals in European capitals referring to them by other names like the Tube (London) or the U-Bahn (Berlin).
Don’t let the local lingo confuse you, though.
If you’ve ever braved the NYC subway or the Chicago L, then you pretty much know what you’re getting into.
Metro systems in European cities are pretty extensive, with routes going all over the city and stops at plenty of popular tourist destinations.
They’re a cheap and effective way to travel Europe like the locals, and you may even catch a glimpse of some stunning art hidden under the city!
Most metro systems provide a variety of fares. These range from single-use tickets to reloadable cards valid on both the metro system and city buses.
Cities like Paris and London generally divide their tickets by zone, so you can check out where you’ll be doing most of your travel and purchase the appropriate zone ticket.
Keep in mind once you’re in the city, you’ll be able to walk to a lot of the places you want to see. So, take your walking shoes and enjoy the views along the way.
Pro-tip: Use a maps app like Google Maps to help you quickly route a path to your destination using any combination of transportation (i.e., walking, metro, buses, etc.).
If you’re unfamiliar with metro systems in general (a.k.a., those of us living outside a major city), be sure to get an idea of how best to utilize the metro before you set off.
Fly Using Budget Airlines
If flying is your thing, you can find more than one budget airline to get you to your destination.
Europe has plenty of popular low-cost carriers, and they can often be the cheapest way to travel long distances.
- Norwegian Air
The Best Budget Airlines for Cheap Flights
Ryanair and EasyJet are easily the most recognizable low-cost airlines in Europe, together servicing over 250 million passengers a year.
These airlines, Ryanair based in Dublin and EasyJet based in London, offer super cheap deals to many countries and major cities all over eastern and western Europe.
While they often provide the best airfare deals, traveling Europe via cheap airlines has its drawbacks.
Most make up for their low-priced flight deals with no-frills services, and you’ll often find their higher fees in additional baggage and service charges.
Ryanair is notorious for this. If you’re flying with them, be sure to check their policies in advance so that you’re not hit with any additional fees right before you take to the skies.
EasyJet, like the name, is a bit more easygoing with fees, and they let you make changes to your flight online if it’s done far enough, 28 days, in advance of your departure.
How to Find Cheap Flights
When searching for flights, not all flight search engines will include deals available through budget airlines, so you’re best off checking the airline’s website directly.
For an in-depth breakdown on how to find the best deals, be sure to check out our Secret to Cheap Flight Fares for tips you can apply to any deal search.
Budget airlines can help you travel Europe cheaply, but remember most don’t offer long-haul flights overseas, which means you’ll have to go a different route to score a great deal from New York or Boise, Idaho to your European getaway.
If you’re looking for the cheapest flights to all of the best European destinations, try signing up for Next Vacay and get deals delivered right to your inbox!
The best way to travel Europe on a budget is to save hundreds on the most expensive part of your trip—getting there and back!
Save Money by Staying in Hostels
If you want to travel Europe on a budget, hostels are a great way to save money on accommodations.
Now, when we say hostel, you may be thinking of a cramped, dingy space in an outdated building that’s seen better days, but you can kick that idea to the curb.
Hostels have become a well-liked option for cheap travel around Europe. With more investments from the travel industry, many have received facelifts and updates to give them a more contemporary look and comfortable feel.
Modern hostels are often small but cozy accommodations that offer a wide selection of rooms and privacy options.
Some hostels even connect to bars and restaurants, providing a great chance to meet other budget travelers, swap stories, and share travel tips and recommendations for the cheapest ways to get around.
How to Find Your Perfect Hostel Stay
As the largest hostel booking platform around, Hostelworld can’t be ignored.
We recommend starting your search with Hostelword and scoping out reviews on any potential hostels you’re interested in before finalizing any decisions.
Hostelworld also offers searches on apartments, hotels, and other accommodations, so if you’re only interested in hostels for your budget travel, be sure to narrow down your search accordingly.
While no one search engine will show you all hostels that might be available, you can use another helpful site for that.
Hostelz compares prices between all the main hostel search engines to find the cheapest rates for your stay.
It always feels good to know you’re scoring the lowest price possible!
It’s only a comparison website, so if you find a place using Hostelz, it’ll direct you to another platform to complete your booking. Still, it’s a great way to quickly check out all hostels in the area and the best prices available.
Check Out Airbnb in Europe
Airbnb is another option if you’re looking for a more private stay but still hoping to enjoy a great location and comfortable amenities at an affordable price.
It’s a safe and trusted website that lets you shop through apartment rentals, guesthouses, and even some hotel and hostel options.
The filters allow you to pick and choose the type of place that works best so that you can look for options within your price range.
Don’t forget that prices rise everywhere during peak season, so if you’re sticking to traveling Europe on a budget, be sure to book your Airbnb well in advance and still prepare for high prices anyway.
Pro-tip: The best time to travel and book a cheap Airbnb in Europe is during the shoulder or off-season to avoid sky-high prices.
Even with the higher price tag, Airbnb has its perks, including the variety of arrangements it offers, the amenities included in your stay, and the superb recommendations on dining and activities from local hosts!
Travel During Low Seasons
This probably comes as no surprise, but summer is BUSY.
The warmer months are the most popular time to travel to most destinations in Europe, especially some of the biggest hotspots like France, Spain, Italy, and the UK.
Prices reflect the demand, so if you want to travel Europe during the summer and avoid the worst price hikes, book your travel and accommodations as far in advance as possible.
Our Recommendation: Instead of getting swept up in the endless crowds and monster price tags that eat away at your plans to travel Europe on a budget, try traveling in the shoulder season.
The shoulder season is that sweet spot between peak and low season.
Peak seasons are when you see the greatest number of people and the highest rates. While the off-season is when you’ll encounter the least traffic and lowest prices, you may run into more business closures, and poorer weather can also affect your plans.
Consequently, the shoulder season is the best of both worlds, allowing you to enjoy what you love most about your destination while still capitalizing on cheap travel in Europe.
Pro-tip: Do your research when it comes to attractions and places you’re interested in visiting and double-check they’re open during the time you want to travel.
Book Tours in Advance
When Moriah, our team member, headed to Paris in 2018, it just so happened that one of her favorite artists had scheduled a performance that was smack dab in the middle of her trip. She knew it was an event she couldn’t miss, and so just in case, she booked her tickets in advance.
If you’ve been eyeing a specific tour or travel package, book your tickets ASAP!
There’s nothing more disappointing than making lots of plans and getting excited for an attraction or event only to have your hopes dashed because tickets sold out.
Even if they don’t sell out, they could be much more expensive on the day of, which could mean you have to choose between something you’ve looked forward to or your carefully planned budget.
In that case, you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place with no good outcomes.
Know When to Book Ahead and When to Let Fate Decide
Unsure whether you should book immediately or hold off until later?
Ask yourself if this event or tour is something you’re looking forward to and a must-do item on your trip bucket list.
If it is, then DON’T wait. This will help you keep from spending more money than you budgeted for and from the disappointment of arriving to find no more available tickets.
It’s better to hold off on booking your tours in advance when you don’t have your heart set on any particular excursions or when you prefer to keep your options open and take advantage of whatever’s available.
Exchange Currency While Traveling
You’ve spent so much time thinking about the best ways to travel Europe cheap and save money during your trip. You may not have thought about how to get the foreign currency you’ll need for spending money while you’re trekking from one country to the next.
The last thing you want to do is wait until you get to the airport and get stuck with the high rates and fees it’ll take to exchange your money there. So, it’s best to think about this early.
Before You Leave
Try visiting your bank or credit union to exchange your money and get the best rate on the foreign currency you’ll need.
Either you can plan out getting different amounts for each country based on how long you’ll be staying or just focus on getting cash for your first destination.
Banks aren’t guaranteed to have every foreign currency on hand, so be sure to call first before you go in or place a request online if possible.
After You’ve Departed
Your best option is to withdraw money from your bank’s ATM for lower fees.
If your bank does charge fees, think about withdrawing large amounts at a time to save yourself from paying a lot in ATM fees.
A few dollars might seem like nothing, but it adds up over time, and it’s money you can better spend elsewhere during your trip!
A Third Option: Get a Card with No Fees
A third option that’ll keep you from worrying about having cash on hand and paying exorbitant ATM fees is getting something like a Charles Schwab bank card, which comes with no foreign transaction fees and reimburses ATM fees in the US and abroad.
As a bonus, you no longer have to worry about spending time looking for your local bank in a foreign country!
Research Where the Locals Eat
Fancy meals and tourist restaurants are great, but we guarantee the best food you’ll eat on any trip will come recommended by a local or a traveler who has been in your shoes before.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
You’ll find it applies to most everything when traveling around a foreign country, but it’s especially true when it comes to food.
Staying off the beaten path and choosing to dine at restaurants that aren’t catered to foreigners and tourists will end up being much cheaper.
Top Tips to Find Hidden-Gem Restaurants
Finding the best restaurants to eat in can be tricky for a foreigner. First, you’ll have to determine where the locals frequent, but it can be hard to find reliable and up-to-date info online.
So, here are some quick tips for finding popular local eats while you’re traveling.
- Do your research before you go and find out what types of food are common where you’re visiting and decide what you’re interested in trying.
- Check out local food tours within your budget that will give you a dining experience true to the area.
- Sign up for a cooking class to try making a popular local dish yourself and hopefully recreate the recipe when you return home.
- Don’t be afraid to try the local street food, especially if there’s a line. You’ll want to check out what everyone else is enjoying.
- Ask a local, such as a host or bartender, what their recommendations are. Don’t be shy about the kind of food, ambiance, and price you’re looking for.
Take Advantage of Discounts and Freebies
This may seem like a no-brainer if your goal is to travel Europe on a budget.
We’ll be the first to admit we’ve forgotten this golden rule a time or two, and we’ll tell you there’s nothing worse than missing out on free things.
If there are places you’re interested in visiting, don’t forget to check for special rates for groups like seniors or people under a certain age and the ever-popular teacher and student discounts that many places offer.
Museums are always a fascinating stop to study a city’s history and culture. Some cities like London and Berlin provide free entry to many of their top museums, galleries, and historic buildings.
Other European museums have set days when visitors can enter free, such as free Sunday entry to the Museum of Modern Art in Valencia. Even the Vatican Museum has a free entry day, though this is limited to the last Sunday of the month.
Tons of other attractions are free, so always check what’s available. You’re bound to find a lot you can get up to without spending a dime from a free walking tour to exploring castle grounds and grand churches.
Also, don’t forget to scope out the local music scenes, where you can catch a free concert with live music anywhere from Galway to Kraków.
Even walking around your destination is sure to unearth things you wouldn’t usually think of, like taking in amazing local street art, stumbling upon a unique piece of architecture, and so much more.
After all your budgeting, prep, and advance booking to get the lowest prices possible for transportation, accommodations, and food, don’t be afraid to treat yourself to something you truly enjoy.
A foodie? Try out an expensive restaurant you’ve had your eye on or heard good things about from other travelers.
Love to sleep comfortably? Try booking a night at a hotel with an incredible view, pool, you name it—whatever makes you happy!
Always looking for the next activity to keep busy? Book a pricier tour doing something you love: horseback riding, wine tasting, or sailing around on a cruise boat.
Travel can be so much fun, even on the tightest of budgets, but these are often rare and special trips (we can’t exactly go traveling around Europe every other month), so it’s worth it to splurge on yourself now and then.
We guarantee the experience will hold more value to you later in life than any money you’ll save.