Affordable Europe

The swankiest European cities are within reach, thanks to a weakened euro. So book your hotel, pack your bags, and hop the pond!
  1. Paris

    Photo by Thinkstock

    It’s no wonder Paris has a reputation as being one of the most magical cities in the world; the scenic parks, quaint cafes, and historic architecture ooze romance (and the delicious wines don’t hurt either).

    WHERE TO STAY

    The recently renovated Hotel Jules, with its black-and-white retro motif, sits about halfway between the Sacré-Coeur and the Louvre (two sites to circle on your tourist map). Throughout the fall, guests get a third off the cost of rooms starting at $250 for stays lasting three nights or longer (HotelJules.com, 33. 1. 42. 85. 05. 44). Hotel Le Petit Paris, in the hip Latin Quarter, has hosted travelers since the reign of Louis XV. These days, it offers easy access to the cool cafés and bars of Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the lush Luxembourg Gardens nearby. Rooms that started at $362 a year ago now go for $310 (HotelPetitParis.com, 33. 1. 53. 10. 29. 29).

    WHAT TO DO

    The best way to get around the City of Light these days is via Vélib bike, a borrow-a-bike network with a station every 300-odd meters (7-day subscription €6.50, credit card required). Once you’ve got your ride, head to the Marché aux Puces de Montreuil flea market, where you can find everything from antique knickknacks to vintage designer clothes. Then stroll in the Jardin des Tuileries, Paris’ oldest public park dating to the seventeenth century, before checking out the Louvre right next door. At the end of the day, treat yourself to a meal, but skip the haute cuisine and instead opt for a bustling bistro. Le Comptoir in the chic Hotel Relais Saint Germain offers a nouveau twist on the French standards (33. 1. 44. 27. 07. 97). Also be sure to grab a bite at the famed brasserie Le Boeuf sur le Toit, located just off the Champs Elysées, the city’s grandest promenade (BoeufSurLeToit.com, 33. 1. 53. 93. 65. 55).

    Savings Sample

    Tasting menu at Le Comptoir

    Last Year: $76

    Now: $65

  2. Dublin

    Photo by Thinkstock

    The real taste of this historic city with a laid-back vibe is in the Temple Bar district, where locals hang out to drink beer and listen to live music -- although the lush Irish countryside is not to be missed.

    WHERE TO STAY

    What better place to stay in Dublin than the comfortable boutique hotel owned by U2’s Bono and The Edge? Rooms at The Clarence overlooking the River Liffey go for about $179 (lower rates are available for other views). It’s located right in Temple Bar, Dublin’s charming cultural hub by day and heaving nightlife center come sundown, so you’ll never have to cab it back after a night of partying (from $141,TheClarence.ie, 353. 1. 407. 0800). For a taste of the aristocratic, stay at The Merrion Hotel in the Georgian part of town opposite Irish Parliament. You’ll have a hard time choosing where to have your afternoon tea -- the plush drawing rooms where nineteenth and twentieth century art adorns the walls is pretty tough competition for the leafy terrace looking out over the beautifully landscaped garden (from $613, MerrionHotel.com, 353. 1. 603. 0600).

    WHAT TO DO

    Here, in the capital of the world’s most famous Irish stout, you won’t want to miss a tour of the Guinness Storehouse (tickets $17, down from $19 if you book online). Stroll the campus of Trinity College Dublin and get a glimpse of the Book of Kells, an ancient gospel text created by Celtic monks circa 800 A.D. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Dublin holiday without an evening bar hop around the cobbled streets of Temple Bar, where there’s a bar or nightclub on just about every corner. Just outside the buzz of the district is The Brazen Head, the city’s oldest standing pub founded in the twelfth century (BrazenHead.com, 353. 1. 677. 9549). For an even more extreme escape from the bustle of the city center, sit for a spell at the blissfully serene Blessington Street Basin, a veritable secret garden in the middle of the city (BlessingtonStreetBasin.com).

    Savings Sample

    A pint of Guinness (these can add up!)

    Last Year: around $8

    Now: around $7

  3. Brussels

    Photo by Thinkstock

    Also on the list of most expensive cities in the world, Brussels is home to all the cobblestone streets, medieval landmarks, and fine cuisine you’d expect from a European city -- just with a lower profile.

    WHERE TO STAY

    The sleek, minimalist Pantone Hotel, opened by a company that specializes in color matching for graphic designers, encourages guests to select their room color based on their mood at check-in. You might opt for “daring, fiery” red or “fresh, eager” spearmint green (from $89, PantoneHotel.com, 32. 2. 541. 48.98). There’s also The White Hotel, which is just what it sounds like: a peaceful place draped in white (so try not to track in dirty after renting bikes and scooters on-site). Bonus: The public tram stops right outside, taking you to the Grand Place, the city’s main square and a UNESCO World Heritage site, or the magnificent former palace, Coudenberg, in a matter of minutes (from $97, TheWhiteHotel.be, 32. 2. 644 29. 29).

    WHAT TO DO

    You’re in Belgium, so give in to the craving for chocolate. In fact, spend an entire afternoon at the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate, where you can see the sweet stuff made and maybe even have a few bites (tickets $7, Mucc.be, 32. 2. 514. 20. 48). Don’t worry, you’ll walk it off as you explore the city’s quaint streets and striking architecture. Some of the best examples of the Art Nouveau style can be found in the grand hotels or among the European Union buildings. Even the Palais des Beaux-Arts (Centre for Fine Arts) was built in the style and hosts guided tours of the building. For pretty things you can wear, head to Rue Antoine Dansaert, where top Belgian designers like Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten hawk their wares. Got a sweet tooth? Stop in Pierre Marcolini, the world-famous chocolate shop where you can indulge in champagne truffles, violet ganache, macaroons, and more (Marcolini.be, 32. 2. 514. 12. 06).

    Savings Sample

    A pound of handmade chocolates at Pierre Marcolini

    Last Year: $60

    Now: $50

  4. Ischia, Capri, and the Amalfi Coast

    Photo by Thinkstock

    This tiny, jagged rock of an island off the breathtaking cliffs of the Amalfi Coast is known as a place to see and be seen -- a perfect complement to the mainland’s mellow, picturesque villages that will woo any beach lover.

    WHERE TO STAY

    On Ischia, a more popular island destination for locals, the Regina Isabella Hotel sits in a truly idyllic setting overlooking the sea and the bazaars of the village below. This opulent hotel, done up in ornate Mediterranean style, boasts four swimming pools, including one featuring music and aromatherapy (from $323,ReginaIsabella.it, +39.081.99.43.22). In Sorrento, Oasi Olimpia Relais is set in the hills surrounded by lush gardens and offers panoramic views of the peninsula. It also has a cooking school, where guests can learn the secrets of authentic Italian fare (from $245,OasiOlimpiaRelais.it, 39. 081. 808.0 560).

    WHAT TO DO

    On Capri, people watch from one of the restaurants off the Piazza Umberto, then pop into the upscale shops that surround the area. Visit the garden of Villa San Michele and take in the view of Mount Vesuvius (the volcano that buried Pompeii). The Faraglioni, a series of stacks or vertical rock formations sticking straight out of the sea, are famous for their serene beauty. They’re known for the illustrious restaurant Da Luigi ai Faraglioni, which sits at the base, as well as for the chameleon-like blue lizards that inhabit one of the formations. Another geological wonder is the piercingly blue Grotta Azzurra or Blue Grotto, a sea cave entered only by rowboat that gets magically lit up in deep blues as the sun pours in through the underwater opening. On the mainland, the easiest way to village hop is by Vespa. Ride like a local through the charming town of Positano, but be careful -- some roads are steep and winding. Rent a Vespa there from Positano Rent a Scooter (PositanoRentaScooter.com, 338.98.49.49.1).

    Savings Sample

    One-day 125 cc Vespa rental from Positano Rent a Scooter

    Last Year: $98

    Now: $84

  5. Greek Islands

    Photo by Thinkstock

    Love to party? This destination is known for its happening nightlife and delicious cuisine, plus beaches and boat cruises that will keep you happily relaxed all day.

    WHERE TO STAY

    In the town of Heraklion on the island of Crete, the family-owned Lato has sleeker, more modern rooms than you tend to find on the islands. The hotel’s Herbs’ Garden rooftop restaurant serves fresh-caught fish al fresco, but beware the invitation to end your meal with a shot of fiery raki: it makes ouzo seem like fruit punch (from $106, Lato.gr, 30. 281. 0228103). If you decide to stay on Santorini, drop your bags at Adamant Suites, a luxury of six uniquely decorated private suites, each with its own balcony (from $232, AdamantSuites.com, 30. 22860. 23432).

    WHAT TO DO

    Take a wine tour in a place known for its lush vineyards. Santorini has several that you can visit, including the Boutari Winery and Estate Argyros, both of which are boosting the reputation of Greek wines (Boutari.gr, Estate-Argyros.com). Pristine beaches and ancient ruins can be found on every major island, but Santorini also has a smoking volcano that you can sail to by stately schooner (Santorini-Cruises.com). Falassarna on Crete boasts a white sandy beach surrounded by olive groves. Take a taxi there (and don’t be afraid to haggle over the fare). Enjoy a meal at the renowned Selene in Fira, Santorini, with its fresh, traditional fare and great local wines. While you’re there, take a cooking class taught by the restaurant’s experts, Yiorgos Hatziyannakis and Georgia Tsara (Selene.gr, 30. 2286022249). In Crete, have a meal at Nykterida, a restaurant dating 1933 perched above the town of Chania that offers incredible views of the town and outlying bay (Nykterida.gr, 30. 28210. 64215).

    Savings Sample

    Four-hour cooking class with lunch at Selene

    Last Year: $196

    Now: $168

  6. Berlin

    Photo by Thinkstock

    This vibrant city is a hotbed for avant-garde art, music and fashion. But it’s not all high-end—beer and sausage fans will be in heaven tasting the various wursts peddled on every street corner (bratwurst, knackwurst, liverwurst) and downing them with a pint of pilsner.

    WHERE TO STAY

    In the historic borough of Mitte, the Bauhaus building that now houses Soho House Berlin was once occupied by the Communist regime. Today, it’s a contemporary boutique with several stylish lounging areas, as well as a well-stocked library of art and design books and a 30-seat cinema (from $129, SohoHouseBerlin.com, 49. 30. 40. 50. 44. 0). If you love the quirky, colorful shoes; now imagine a whole room built by the über-cool Spanish shoemaker with worldwide the cult following. Like the footwear, Casa Camper Berlin is comfortable with a playful, sporty style. It also offers bike rentals for $26 per day (from $239,CasaCamper.com, 49. 30. 2000. 34. 10).

    WHAT TO DO

    Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Berlin has emerged as a major arts center. Discover the galleries of edgy Kreuzberg, the neighborhood known in the 1970s as the heart of the city’s punk rock movement. Of course, a remaining section of the Berlin Wall is a gallery in itself. Called the East Side Gallery, its most famous paintings include politically-fueled works by artists like Günther Schaefer and Kani Alavi. Meander along the central borough of Mitte and you’ll come upon the trendy district of Prenzlauer Berg, which is home to a number of hip bars and cafés. Stop into the pretty café-slash-florist Anna Blume for a pastry among the blooms. Don’t miss the Jewish Museum Berlin for its powerful installations and the striking design of Daniel Libeskind’s building. For a snack, try one of the ubiquitous currywurst stands selling grilled sausage drowned in sauce and curry powder. Wash it all down with a delicious German beer at the city’s outdoor beer hall. Prater Garten dates back to 1837. Its huge chestnut trees shade thirsty locals and tourists alike from April through September.

    Savings Sample

    Five nights at Casa Camper Berlin

    Last Year: $1,472

    Now: $1,260