Don’t give up plans for a European vacation just because the dollar has gone down so much in value. Yes, in the past few years, the dollar has lost value compared with other currencies — prices are up by more than 50%, in dollar terms, for Americans in many parts of Europe. But there are still great places you can visit without spending a fortune…
Located on the beautiful Vistula River, Krakow is a city rich in history. The capital of Poland for more than 400 years (until 1596), Krakow is home to centuries-old churches and synagogues. Another gem is Wawel Royal Castle, a 16th-century structure that reflects architectural styles from many parts of Europe. Or if you want to shop for bargain jewelry, clothing or food, stroll through Rynek Glówny, an 800-year-old market square.
A half hour from Krakow is Auschwitz. After seeing the former death camp, few people ever look at history in the same way.
Small hotels and bed-and-breakfasts in Krakow cost as little as $70 to $80 a night for two, and you can figure on $20 to $30 per person more for food and sightseeing costs. (See money-saving special travel tips below.)
BOHEMIA, THE CZECH REPUBLIC
The capital of the Czech Republic, Prague has become as expensive as Rome, Madrid and other popular European cities, but the nearby countryside of Bohemia is a bargain. Top-rated hotels in many charming Bohemian villages charge less than $75 a night for a room for two, and meals and sightseeing typically run about $20 to $25 a day per person.
Bohemia is known for its nature trails, music festivals, historic castles and spas. Cesky Krumlov, for instance, is a UNESCO World Heritage site on the banks of the Vitava River. (The designation is given to only 851 sites that are judged to be among the most historically important in the world.)
Visitors can go boating, walk through castles and stop by the town’s many cultural attractions, including the Egon Schiele Art Centrum, devoted to works of influential classical and contemporary art. Or tour the breweries in the town of Cesky Budëjovice, whose name became Budweiser in the US.
In addition to the Web sites mentioned below, Czech Republic Bookings (http://hotels.czech-republic-bookings.com) lists bargain accommodations throughout Bohemia.
The capital of Portugal, Lisbon is 20% to 25% less expensive than most other European capitals. The city is also one of the most beautiful, with great boulevards, magnificent parks and vestiges of its Roman and Moorish past. The Alfama neighborhood, for instance, dates from the Moorish occupation of the eighth century.
Or visit Saint George’s Castle, located on a hill that overlooks the city. It was built in the sixth century and recaptured from the Moors 600 years later. If it’s nightlife you’re after, spend the evening in the Bairro Alto, home to dozens of friendly restaurants and clubs.
Spring is a great time to visit Lisbon. While it’s still cool and damp in northern Europe, Lisbon — on the southwestern tip of the continent — usually sees lots of sunny days with temperatures in the 60s and 70s.
It’s easy to save money in this city by renting an apartment for as short a time as a day or two. The agency Travelling to Lisbon (351-21-888-6072, www.travelingtolisbon.com) links apartment owners with vacationers and often offers lodgings for as little as $75 a night per family.
Though it’s one of the most expensive cities in Europe, you can save substantially by going off season, booking a package deal and/or staying in one of a number of low-cost hotels or in a private house.
Airlines, hotels and even many restaurants lower their prices from October through April. Overall, a week in London is often 50% cheaper than it would be in July or August, the peak season.
Off season is high season for theater. You can see new shows long before they come to the US. So, bundle up and have a ball!
No matter when you go, to save on food, eat in pubs. They tend to be much less expensive than touristy restaurants.
To save on accommodations, consider easyHotel (www.easyhotel.com), a new chain of inexpensive hotels. I would especially recommend the one in Kensington, a quiet area of London that is a short subway ride from the theater district and many other attractions. Rates start at about $90 per night double occupancy.
Typical rates in a private house are about $150 per couple per night. Home owners who rent apartments and rooms to tourists can be located through At Home In London (www.athomeinlondon.co.uk) and the Bulldog Club (www.bulldogclub.com).
While top hotels often charge more than $700 a night, Paris still has dozens of excellent hotels where two people can stay for less than $150 a night. The Web site Paris.org (www.paris.org/Hotels/OR) is useful in finding them.
You can often save even more by staying in an apartment instead of a hotel. The agency Parisian Home (www.parisianhome.com) links up apartment owners with travelers. Some well-located studio apartments listed on the site recently rented for about $550 a week.
For the most authentic and affordable meals, ask a local for advice (and avoid restaurants that have English language menus posted outside). Examples: A helpful local might send you to Le Pré Verre (8 rue Thénard), where a high-quality three-course, prix-fixe meal would be about $53… or to Café Constant (139 rue St. Dominique), where you can feast for about $40.
Most museums in Paris offer free admission at least one day a month. Example: The Musée du Louvre is free on the first Sunday of the month. Check the Web sites of other museums for their free days.
MONEY-SAVING SPECIAL TRAVEL TIPS
Web sites that list vacation rentals include…
Vacation Rentals (www.vacationrentals.com)
The Right Vacation Rental (www.therightvacationrental.com)
Vacation Rental by Owner (www.vrbo.com)
At Home Abroad (www.athomeabroadinc.com).