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Cheap Summer Vacations (and the Not-so Cheap): Europe and Asia

 

Cheap summer vacations in Europe and Asia are possible; you just need to separate the affordable chaff from the costly grain.

Both continents boast of cities with rich history, heritage, culture and cuisine. But both cannot be farther from each other as apples to oranges. Visit all or any of their cities and you’ll be most rewarded with travel memories that are worth telling a friend.

To help you decide where to go we had fun playing around the costs to see how far your dollar can take you in these two great continents.

If you’re thinking of a European or Asian escapade this year, we used Trip Advisor’s 2013 travelers’ choice destinations, but with a tweak: we arranged the cities by travel cost, the average sum of airfare, hotel room, taxi ride, and restaurant meals during this summer.

How we compute the summer vacation rates

Our costing is not mathematically precise; rather, they are estimates based on popular online sources, such as Expedia’s airfare and hotel booking system and Numbeo.com’s cost-of-living indices.

We simply averaged the first 10 cheapest rates that popped out of an Expedia search: roundtrip airfare and 10 summer days in a 3-star hotel with breakfast for one guy.

As for meal costs, we used the Numbeo index, which pegs restaurant prices to New York City rates. For simplicity, let’s say your restaurant meals will equal $100 NYC worth per day. Restaurant meal rates in foreign cities can be more or less expensive; we’ll just add or subtract the difference based on the index.

For taxi fares, we estimate that you’ll be traveling for 10 miles per day in and around the city for the duration of your travel and convert the fares to U.S. dollars.

Oh, and we smack the origin of destination right down at the heart of continental America as a kind of balance between the east and west coasts; that should be Kansas City International Airport in Missouri.

The little details aside, we can now see how much each popular an European or Asian city costs for an American wanting to get lost in these stunning cities.

EUROPEAN CITIES

In Europe,  especially in the central eastern front, less than $3,000 will go a long way. As for the rest of Europe, prepare the wallet and plastic.

Summer Vacation no.1
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC

Expect to shell out around $2,734

pragueThe city has one of the cheapest hotel rates in our list and restaurant meals are around $41 per day, the lowest among our European cities. It’s a heritage and historical paradise with more than a hundred old architectural structures to visit. A walk around the old town, the heart of Prague, alone will reveal 13th-century houses and churches. Some of the must-see recommended by travelers include the Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock, the Carolinum, and the Estates Theater.

Summer Vacation no.2
KRAKOW, POLAND

Expect to shell out around $2,790

krakowKrakow hotels have one of the lowest rates averaging about $38 per day for a 3-star facility. Eating in Krakow is also cheaper than the other European cities, where $44 per day will allow a three-course meal. Don’t be afraid to flag a taxi. Krakow taxi fares are the lowest in our list at a mere $9 per ride. So where to go in Krakow? The city dates back in the 7th century so it’s a nice place to see some centuries-old buildings. In fact, the Historic Center in Krakow is Europe’s largest market square and it is thirteen centuries old. Historical catholic churches are expected, notably the Franciscan Church and the Wawel Cathedral. The city also throws us back to the remnants of the Holocaust with the Galicia Jewish Museum to remind us about this dark chapter in mankind’s history.

Summer Vacation no.3
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY

Expect to shell out around $2,800

budapestOur third European city goes to Budapest, the largest city in East Central Europe. Neither cheap nor expensive, the cost of flying to the city is right smacked in the middle of our list, around $1,911 for a round trip. However, Budapest has the lowest hotel rates at around $30 per day for a 3-star hotel. The city is known for the numerous baths, springs, and spas. Check the neo-baroque Szechenyi Spa and Rudas Spa, a Turkish pool and one of the favorites among travelers. Roman ruins such as the Aquincum Museum, Heroes’ Square and Statue Park are photos waiting to be taken.

Summer Vacation no. 4
LISBON, PORTUGAL

Expect to shell out around $2,941

lisbonNearly as cheap as Budapest is Lisbon, but it’s a totally different setting. The city was once the center of the world, the place that heralded the Golden Age of Exploration and, we can say, why you’re in America today. It’s Portugal’s largest city with about half a million people who are a little wary of the Euro. Ten dollars can get you around the city, one of the lowest rates in our list. But there’s a better way to go around the city: via its iconic trams that will take you through narrow cobbled streets. The National Tile Museum is an interesting site, a throwback to a time when Portugal is Arabic. You can also check the Alfama, an old district in the city, which provides an impressive panorama of the sea, the same sea that had tempted explorers of the past to discover the world.

Summer Vacation no. 5
ISTANBUL, TURKEY

Expect to shell out around $3,133

istanbulIstanbul has one of the more expensive airfare and hotel rates, but getting a taxi and eating out lean more on the cheaper side. Riding a taxi is around the same cost as in Lisbon. As for eating out, $460 can give you the pleasure of a ten-day food orgy in the city. And Turkey has really nice cuisine, a fusion of Central Asian, Middle Eastern and Balkan cuisines that date back to the Ottomans. Try Lahmacun, a pizza-like dish with minced meat and spices on thin dough, or Doner, pieces of meat seasoned with lots of local herbs and spices. Fried vegetables in garlic are also common in Turkish cuisine. Enjoy the city’s attractions, but focus more on the dishes.

Summer Vacation no. 6
BARCELONA, SPAIN

Expect to shell out around $3,196

barcelonaBarcelona comes around in the middle of our list even if it has the third lowest average airfare: $1,684. However, hotel rates, restaurant meals and taxi rides in Barcelona come out as more expensive than most of the cities in our list; thus, leveraging Dali’s favorite city to the side of not-so-cheap city destinations. The city is rich in arts, not the least Gaudi’s famous works, the Sagrada Familia and Casa Mila. You can also check Picasso Museum, which shows the artist’s works from his early to later years. The National Museum of Art of Catalunya is also a must-see for the budding or professional artist.

Summer Vacation no. 7
LONDON, ENGLAND

Expect to shell out around $3,349

londonLondon has the cheapest average airfare at $1,373. Incredibly, it has the most expensive taxi fare in our list at $48 per day ride. But restaurant meals hover around $94 per day and hotel rates are at a mid-range of $55 per night, enough to put the city in the middle part of our list. London is an exciting city of food, museums, modern art, and, of course, royalty. Among the top tourist favorites are: the Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, and the Houses of Parliament. The city, of course, is also a center of theater shows from Les Miserables to Matilda and the Lion King. Likewise, what is London without the numerous quaint stalls offering steakhouses, pies, fish and chips and even churros?

Summer Vacation no. 8
PARIS, FRANCE

Expect to shell out around $3,438

parisThe city of lights is easily the favorite destination in the world. It feels good to know it is somewhat in the middle of our list, neither expensive nor cheap, just enough to make the trip worth investing in. Paris flights are around $1,538 roundtrip, the second lowest next to London flights. But unlike London, Paris taxis have more sense; they charge at a reasonable $16 per day ride. Driving up the Parisian tour are its restaurant and hotel rates that are at the better part of the expensive column. Museums, cafes, a tower that seems misplaced, the street lights, boulevards, romantic churches… we don’t have to spell out the things to see in the world’s romance capital.

Summer Vacation no. 9
ATHENS, GREECE

Expect to shell out around $3,454

athensWhat is a European travel without Athens? Restaurant meals, taxi fares and hotel rates are more costly in this city, perhaps because it is one of most popular destinations in the world. Of course, the Acropolis will be at the top of your must-see list. The Agora market is also haunting, a public center of activity during Socrates and Plato’s day. But Athens is not all Ancient Greece; there is Anafiotika, a nineteenth century district of bougainvilleas and whitewashed walls and Plaka’s constricted streets of stalls selling trinkets and knick-knacks of all sizes and stories. Like its nemesis, the Turkish, Greek dishes are liberally spiced up and they provoke a deep explosion of flavors. Moussaka, the famous casserole of eggplant and spiced meat is a must for the first-time visitor. Other popular Greek food favorites are Baklava, a traditional pastry, Horta Vrasta, a concoction of leafy greens, and Tzatziki, a kind-of yogurt done the Greek way.

Summer Vacation no. 10
DUBLIN, IRELAND

Expect to shell out around $3,520

dublinAverage airfare to Dublin is $1,771, the second lowest in our list. Yet the city of pubs—thank you, Dublin for Guinness—is one of the really expensive places to eat out. You’ll probably need a little above a hundred dollars per day to hop from one restaurant to another and a pint in every meal, perhaps. What the city lacks in impressive architecture it makes up with cultural activities that tourists recommend. The Comedy Crunch tops the list, a perfect reason for a hilarious night out with friends. Gaelic games are aplenty in sports facilities, bringing you closer to experience Irish antiquity. You can also try an Irish candlelight dinner in a pub replete with a telling of folklores and fairies.

Summer Vacation no. 11
BERLIN, GERMANY

Expect to shell out around $3,616

berlinThe single most expensive item in flying to Berlin is, well, the airfare, an average of $2,061. Next to the plane ride, another expensive item in this city is, surprise! the taxi ride, which costs about $28 per day.  Is it because their taxis are Mercedes? Berlin hotel rates and restaurant meals are somewhat in the mid-range, making Berlin at least not the most expensive in our list. The city is classical, and at the top of your activity list must be a concert date with the Berlin Philharmonic. Not to forget, the Berlin Wall, or what remains of it, still gives you the goose bumps when Europe was, in fact, two worlds. A visit to the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament, is perhaps akin to seeing the Buckingham Palace in London. Like in Krakow, Berlin hosts a haunting reminder of World War II, the Holocaust Memorial.

Summer Vacation no. 12
ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA

Expect to shell out around $3,684

st. petersburgSt. Petersburg’s hotels are costly at about $864 per night, and they drive the city near the top of our list. Airfare to the city from Kansas is around $1,910 and restaurant meals per day is about $74, not much compared to Dublin. Going around in taxi is a little expensive though; it will send you back about $17 around the city per day. The city is renowned for its palaces and museums. Marvel at the State Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace, one of the most popular museums in the world. Likewise, the Catherine Palace and Park is a must-see, a stroll down Russia’s glorious past. Also a landmark in the city is the Peterhof Palace and Garden built for Peter the Great. When not impressing you with royalty or art, St. Petersburg sways you with its classical ballet and opera at the Mariinsky Theater.

 

Summing up our list are five expensive cities:

Summer Vacation no. 13
VIENNA, AUSTRIA

Expect to shell out $3,699

viennaAirfare to Vienna averages about $2,114, but hotel costs is a little manageable at $575 per night. But like in Berlin, Viennese taxis can be luxurious at $20 around the city per day. The city is easily an expensive city, but one that’s worth your money. You can’t get more classical in this city. It’s the place that gave us Mozart, Strauss, Schubert, and Haydn. No doubt, the State Opera House will give you the world’s best in operatic performance and symphonies. Other must-see in Vienna are its palaces: the Imperial Palace; the Belvedere Palace and Museum; and Schonbrunn Palace, among others.

Summer Vacation no. 14
DUBROVNIK, CROATIA

Expect to shell out around $3,715

dubrovnikIt is a city frozen in time. Dubrovnik is romantic, historical, and alluring. Except that its hotel rates are right up there, averaging a high $1,007 per night for a 3-star accommodation. Taxi fare is a little costly, too, at $18 per day ride. But eating out is encouraging: a mere $56 per day cost, but don’t expect Croatia’s finest wine is included. The city’s ancient city walls is a favorite, as the Old Town provides a historical significance of Europe centuries ago. You can also ride a cable car to get a breathtaking view of Dubrovnik, the clay-tiled roofs cascading down to the deep Adriatic blue. Or you can catch a beach break in the nearby Lopud Island and enjoy a Mediterranean-like sunbathing.

Summer Vacation no. 15
ROME, ITALY

Expect to shell out around $3,837

romeIt has the second most expensive airfare at $2,168 and third most expensive restaurant meals on the average. But its taxi rates are affordable at $11 per day ride and the hotel rates are manageable, about $49 per night. When in Rome do as the tourists do: they visit the Colosseum and marvel at the Vatican City. Of course, Rome is more than just a ruining stadium and a religious headquarters. Roman dishes are exceptionally a must and the city is filled to bursting of cafés and cafeterias. Bruschetta, Pecorino Romano, Porchetta, Gnocchi alla Romana… just reading the dishes make you salivate and crave for anything Roman.

Summer Vacation no. 16
AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS

Expect to shell out around $4,503

amsterdamAirfare to Amsterdam is the most expensive in our list, at an average of $2,407. Restaurants are costly, too; about $108 per day, the second most expensive in our list. So while you’re in this city, make sure not to miss its points-of-interest as not to waste a good travel cash out. The clogs and cheese are cute, but do check out the city’s true attractions: its canals and parks. Get a sense of Europe that is at once rural and ultra-modern. Amsterdam’s museums are heritage as its modern art is cutting-edge. It is also a music capital that attracts droves of indie artists and bands during festivals.

Summer Vacation no. 17
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND

Expect to shell out around $4,988

genevaAnd the most expensive city in our list is… a city that seems to sleep early. It tops our list of having the most expensive restaurant meals ($142 daily); the highest 3-star hotel rates ($139 per night); and it is the city with the second most expensive taxi fares ($38 per day ride). The only thing breathable going for Geneva is the airfare, averaging at $1,800 round trip. But to see Lake Geneva, the Swiss watch museums, the maze of cobblestone streets and alleys strewn with cafes and boutiques and all things Swiss will make up for the travel expense. It is a traveler’s dream destination, as dreams are often expensive in real life.

Of course if Europe seems expensive, you can always explore the beautiful country of the United States without spending much.  A road trip or camping escapade is always a good cheap alternative for that memorable summer escapade.

NEXT: CHEAP AND THE NOT-SO CHEAP ASIAN DREAM CITIES

Jenny Chang

By Jenny Chang

Jenny Chang is a senior writer specializing in SaaS and B2B software solutions. Her decision to focus on these two industries was spurred by their explosive growth in the last decade, much of it she attributes to the emergence of disruptive technologies and the quick adoption by businesses that were quick to recognize their values to their organizations. She has covered all the major developments in SaaS and B2B software solutions, from the introduction of massive ERPs to small business platforms to help startups on their way to success.

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