UPDATE 2019: It has been two years since I shared my 15 small tips to save money while travelling in Europe, and it has been one of my most read articles on all time. Cool!
For this update, I’ll re-structure the post a little bit in a way that makes it easier for you to follow, starting from transportation, accommodation, things to do, what to eat, and misc.
22 tips to save money while travelling in Europe
1. Book tickets in advance
Remember to book all of your transportation tickets in advance, including (return) flight tickets from your place to Europe, tickets among places within Europe or all kinds of long-distance and expensive tickets.
Besides flight, train and bus tickets, you should also book transport tickets from the airport to the city centre. Not all, but some tickets for a shuttle bus, airport express train can be cheaper if you book online instead of buying upon arrival.
In May 2018, I took a ferry from Helsinki (Finland) to Tallinn (Estonia). I booked my return tickets about one month ago, which cost only €65. However, if you just show up at the harbour and wish to buy return tickets for the next trip, expect to pay €120!
2. Print ’em!
Especially you who fly with low-cost airlines.
That lesson I learned through a frustrating situation with WizzAir, back in 2014. A PDF file of my tickets on my smartphone with both QR code and barcode and booking number didn’t mean anything. I had to pay extra for the printing, and it cost
You can read more about other people’s experiences with Ryan Air HERE.
3. Don’t just opt for airport express train
There are usually two ways to reach the city centre: the shuttle bus and airport express train. However, in some cities like Oslo and Stockholm, there is the 3rd option: a local train.
It’s not as fast as express, but it costs you less. So if you’re not in a hurry, take a look at all the options you may have. Read more about my experience in Stockholm HERE.
4. Take night train / night bus
This helps you save money for one night at the hotel. I personally like to travel by night train, for the slight shaking makes it easier to sleep, too.
5. Buy daily / days tickets
Instead of buying a single ticket or money card, go for 24-hour, 48-hour, 3-day tickets or anything like that, depending on how many days you stay in that city. Simply put, w
6. Walk if you can
If you have accommodation in the very centre, and you’re travelling in places like Bruges, Ghent (Belgium) or even Gdansk (Poland), just walk.
And save money.
7. Look for discount codes, Eurail or Interrail
FlixBus is the largest couch service companies in Europe with over 1.700 destinations. And you know what? They are cheap! And they have discounts!
If you plan to take at least five bus trips with FlixBus and each may cost you from at least €20, consider InterFlix – voucher codes that allow you to take five rides with only €99. Use it when you book long-distance journeys. Another way is to download FlixBus app to buy tickets and get permanently 10% off.
If you are into train journeys, consider Eurail (for tourists from outside Europe) or Interrail (for European passport holders or people residing legally in Europe).
These two rail cards may sound complicated to use, especially when you’re not sure if it’s worth the money (and effort figuring out how it works), but since I’ve done some research and read hundreds of blog posts about Eurail (from mostly American bloggers), I’m pretty sure you can save some money (not a lot. NOPE!) with this card.
8. You can stay for free if…
You have friends/relatives/whoever you’re close enough to ask for free accommodation for a few days. In case you don’t, there’s still Couch Surfing out there.
9. Use discount links from Booking.com, Airbnb.com…
If Airbnb is your cup of tea, use this link to save a sweet €36 for your next stay!
10. Book rooms that have breakfast included and allow free cancellation
Look for hotels that have a free cancellation policy, so that you can cancel them as soon as you find any cheaper or better option. No string attached = no money wasted unnecessarily.
Some hotels may charge you from €5 per pax for breakfast, which is relatively expensive, in my opinion. Unless you’re heading to Scandinavia where the price is on another level (except for Sweden), you can get your breakfast at a cheaper price if you buy your food from a grocery.
I got charged €7 for breakfast in Tallinn, which was ridiculous. With that amount of money, you can buy a loaf of bread, four eggs, ham, one bottle of juice and one bottle of milk with even some euros left! Of course, you cannot finish them all at one time. So just make some sandwiches for lunch. Bingo!
11. Choose “free admission day”
It requires some homework before your departure. Many museums/attractions in Europe offer “free admission day”, which can be once per week or once a month (eg. Vatican Museum in Rome offers free admission day on the last Sunday of every month).
Make sure you can arrange your visit on those days. However, I know it’s not as easy as it sounds. Good luck!
12. Book entrance tickets/skip-the-line tickets online
Time is money, right? Especially in places like the Louvre Museum or Eiffel Tower. When in Paris, we had to skip these two places because of the endless queuing lines. Moreover, you may find some good deals if you book tickets in advance.
13. Opt for free things in town
There are a lot of free attractions in Europe. In such an expensive capital like Oslo, you can still find a bunch of free things to see and do (which I will write an article about later).
Let’s see: Notre Dame de Paris (not for the tower), Jardin du Luxembourg, Stockholm’s famous Gamla Stan, Copenhagen’s Nyhavn, etc… Do some research, and you’ll be amazed by how much money you can save by opting for free things in the cities.
14. Make the most of “free walking tour”
All popular cities in Europe have their “free walking tour”. It’s a very good way to discover a new city with a local guide. Although I had a not-so-nice experience with the one in Prague, I still recommend you to take one, just to have the first impression of the city you’re in.
And even if you don’t feel OK to tip (even it’s recommended to give tips), it’s totally legit. Because it’s free!
Fast forward to 2019, I’ve figured out that “free walking tour” is actually NOT FREE AT ALL. You’re entitled to some kind of implicit way of paying for the guide, the so-called tips. Have you ever taken any “free tour”, will you notice that there will be someone who will take a group picture of everybody smiling happily before starting the tour, claiming that it’s “for Facebook”.
Well, actually, according to an article I read a long time ago on the Internet, it’s for the manager (the person behind all the guides) to calculate how much a guide earn that day, and thus how much a guide has to share with the manager as “commission”!
For me personally, I don’t mind tipping, as long as I feel comfortable with it, and it’s worth it. I just don’t feel OK with the idea of claiming something free while it’s actually not. Why just say “five-euro walking tour” or something? Then they’re both straightforward and transparent! Weird!
15. Cheaper price for people under 26
Many attractions in Europe have discounts for visitors under 26 years old (or 25, 27 in some places) AND/OR visitors who have valid student cards. Just bring along your ID/student card (in English) to show them when you buy tickets.
16. Cheaper price for senior citizens
Senior citizens (from at least 60 – 65 years old, varies from place to place) can also get the discount price for public transportation and entrance tickets for attractions. Bring along IDs for controlling.
17. Buy the City Card
In most big cities in Europe, you’ll find a travel card for tourists, normally with all things included: transportation, entrance fee, discount, etc. There will be a list of free things you can do as well as discount rates you can use with the card. Example: Helsinki Card, Tallinn Card, Oslo Pass, Iamsterdam City Card…
They always come as 24-hour, 48-hour, 5-day, 7-day cards; but my advice is that you should buy the card which has a shorter validation than your stay.
Say, if you’re going to stay in Amsterdam for four days, buy a 72-hour card. Chances are that you’ll not have enough time to try all the free things you can. So just take it easy, buy the cheaper one, and enjoy it.
Pro: You have everything you need to discover a city in one card, and if you can visit most of the attractions listed, it’s a big win!
Contra: Sometimes you just don’t have enough time to experience all the things included in your card, and it’s a waste of money. So, before you buy, make some calculation to see how much the card costs vs. how much you can actually save. If it’s just the matter of some euros, then maybe it’s not worth all the buying process!
18. Eat like the locals
If you have local friends, ask them where to eat what. Don’t just head to fancy places in the old town unless you want to be ripped off!
If you have no friends, ask people working in your hotel. If you don’t want to ask anybody, Google and take personal travel blogs as a resource. Don’t go for Lonely Planet or things like that. Their pieces of advice are very general, in my opinion.
And the last advice, observe! By that way, I scored a local restaurant in Český Krumlov (Czech) where I was the only tourist dining there that night among the locals! Their menu was even not in English!
19. Buy food in local (super)market
Because you just don’t eat out every day. It’s OK to grab your food at a supermarket, heat them in the microwave (or maybe you don’t need to) and enjoy. Some supermarkets have good warm food at a reasonable price, perfect for tourists who want to save money.
20. Eat fast food if you want to
Simply put, there’s no law against eating fast food while travelling in Europe. Dinner at Burger King is defo cheaper than one in a fine dining restaurant. Unless you just eat fast food every single day while travelling in Europe, it’s totally OK to have some easy (and cheap) meal.
21. Bring water
Tap water in most parts of Europe is drinkable unless otherwise noted. Fill your bottle from your hotel, and refill it again on your way.
22. Use cash instead of card
It helps you see you thin your pocket is at the moment, then you can adjust your spending easily.
Other reasons: card payment fee, money exchange fee, risk of losing the password, some cards may not be accepted/can not be used in Europe…
These 20+ tips are definitely not the most complete ones to save money while travelling in Europe. Yet it can be applied to all types of tourists, all destinations, and all seasons.
If you’re currently living or have been in Europe and know more good tips, please feel free to share them here. If you’re planning to visit this continent, don’t forget to share new tips for everybody!