Europe in the summer is expensive!

DH and I have been booking hotels.  One of the problems is that we’re visiting when most of Europe is on vacation, so hotels that are 99 Euros/night now are $200+ Euros (often more) when we’ll be there in a month.  I wonder a bit if we might have saved money going over Spring Break or the very beginning of summer without any conferences to defray expenses, especially since flights are less expensive now too.

So we fly in, and take a train (tickets not yet purchased) and stay two nights in a “fairy-tale city” that my sister said we had to visit that is also near my second cousins.  $514.42.

Then we train over to a city where I’m giving a talk and spend two nights there (partly defrayed by university).  Our share: €250

Then we head to conference city for 4 nights (partly defrayed by conference).  Our share: €170*4 = €680

Then we head to Paris for 3 nights:  €1,053.56

Then a night at the airport hotel:  $150.51

So, all told, something under $3,000 for housing, depending on exchange rates.  Could we have done all of this cheaper?  YES.  There were sketchy looking places at a fraction of the price, particularly in Paris.  But all of the places we picked have lots of good reviews (for Europe– which is similar to good reviews for NYC– many of these are tiny and old!) and are walkable and close to rail transportation.

We haven’t figured out ground transportation yet, but that’s next on the list, along with phones and tickets to popular attractions.  Trains seem expensive compared to driving your own car and cheap compared to flying, but also extremely convenient.  It looks like it will be something like 50 euro each, give or take, every time we change cities, though I might be underestimating there.  We want to go to museums.  We want to eat out all the meals (except full continental breakfasts are included with about 2/3 of the above hotels, so maybe not breakfast).  (I love Continental breakfasts with their emphasis on things that aren’t sweet, especially when there’s local whole grain bread included.)  I’m not sure how much we will want to go places not in walking distance of the hotels, possibly not that much.

I also added DH to my Capital One account so he has a card with no foreign transaction fees.  So there’s a little savings there.

And DC2’s passport arrived with plenty of time to spare.  Yay!

Any tips for Europe in the summer? (No, I’m purposefully not saying any of the cities except Paris, though if you want more info on that, we’re staying near the Louvre.)


35 Responses to “Europe in the summer is expensive!”

  1. Coree Says:

    Oh fun! Trains are the way to go, hiring a car in Europe is insanely expensive and seems really stressful. And a train is always a fun experience for American kids. Some of the big cities tend to clear out over the summer, so you might find some things are closed. But I think if you just take things at your own pace, explore some local cafes etc, it’ll be really lovely!

      • Debbie M Says:

        I also highly recommend mass transit in Europe. Specifically I have enjoyed the train between London, Paris, and Brussels, plus the subways in London, Barcelona, and Brussels, the buses in Granada (Spain) and mass transit in general in Amsterdam and Lausanne (Switzerland). Fortunately, you have the money to do things the fun way and the safe way! And you don’t have to travel during the dark and drizzly fall months when I generally travel. Have fun!!

  2. Sabrina Says:

    Italian reader (lurker) here! If the cities you are going to are well served by train, then definitely go by train. The car in a big city like Paris is useless or even a nuisance. Besides, rental car prices AND fuel prices are insane at the moment. If you can find a car at all.

  3. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    We will definitely do trains! But we have to figure out the details. Also there may be parts where it makes sense to bus or taxi/uber etc. Though mostly we’re thinking of staying in walking distance to the hotels (probably not going to Versailles, for example).

  4. revanche @ a gai shan life Says:

    Yay passport and trains! This reminds me I have a lot of hoops to jump through to get JB’s passport renewed. Just to have it, we have no plans. I’ve only done trains in Italy but they were fun and worth avoiding the stress of cars. I just assume it’s mostly also true across Europe.

    I suspect that the difference between Spring Break with higher airfare, lower hotels and no subsidy works out to a similar total cost as summer with lower airfare, higher hotels and some subsidy or close enough.

  5. Bonnie in Colorado Says:

    I advise doing the trains for all travel between cities. No map reading (or GPS consultation), no finding gas, everybody gets to enjoy the views, they begin and end central city. European trains are clean, comfortable, and on time. Schedules are easy to find now as they are for city transit trips, and bus for the occasional town with no train service.

  6. teresa Says:

    Sounds like a great itinerary!

    Agree with trains- easy, efficient, on time, people generally have good train etiquette. That’s my strong preference for travel between cities. You could probably book tickets for most routes now if having everything set gives you peace of mind, but realistically the only time I’ve been unable to get a ticket 24h ahead of time was during the women’s World Cup (the ticket was to get to a game, so lots of people trying to do the exact same trip).

    If there are specific museums/sites you want to see, look ahead of time to see what days they’re closed. If you want to go to the Louvre or Musee D’Orsay strongly recommend buying tickets ahead of time, ideally for the earliest possible entrance time to avoid standing in a long entrance/security line in the heat (at least that was the pre-pandemic situation, not sure if anything’s changed). Paris Metro is super easy and cheap if you want to go somewhere not walking distance like Versailles. But I last stayed in St Germain (near the Louvre also) and vast majority of major things were comfortably walkable.

    For places where continental breakfast is not included- assuming at least one person in your family needs to eat actual breakfast, would definitely recommend either resigning yourself ahead of time to paying an outrageous amount for not-included hotel breakfast (if available) OR looking on yelp etc for nearby breakfast options and knowing where you’re going to go the night before. (Walking around hunting for breakfast is the thing most likely to cause me to fight with my husband while traveling. He will happily go without breakfast. I can. not. Love the continental breakfast with bread and cheese and meats and fruit though.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We have gotten tickets for the Lourve. Unfortunately(fortunately?) the only day we can do the D’Orsy is a free day and no tickets can be purchased. We hope to get there when they open the doors.

      Good tip on Versailles!

      We will probably bring emergency larabars too.

    • AV Says:

      As someone currently living in Vienna (Austria) and doing a significant amount of train travel around Europe on the weekends, I’d caution against waiting to get train tickets and, especially, seat reservations, which are almost always separate things here. In Austria, train travel is up significantly above pre-pandemic levels for a number of reasons (pent up travel demand, high fuel prices, the introduction of unlimited travel “climate tickets”, etc) and carriers are still working on increasing service to accommodate this. There have been a number of news stories about people with valid tickets but no seat reservations being forced off trains in the past month, which the Austrians find shocking! This is probably more of a weekend issue than on weekdays, but something to keep in mind. Also, we use second class tickets for all short train journeys but for longer trips (5+ hours), first class reservations are often only marginally more expensive and come with the benefit of more space and an attendant who takes your food/drink order and brings it to your seat (on real plates/cups instead of cardboard/plastic) instead of having to go stand in line at the crowded dining car.
      Sounds like a great itinerary!

  7. Lisa Says:

    This all sounds like so much fun, I am very jealous! My practical advice for people traveling abroad this summer is to make sure you have a plan B in case one of you tests positive before you leave to come home and your trip needs to be extended by a couple of weeks! Trains/subways/buses are the way to go in Europe. I’d be shocked if that is not significantly more economical than renting a car, paying for gas, and paying to park everywhere. And they’re fun! A lot of places have bike rentals, as well. In Paris you can for sure rent a bike almost anywhere and ride around the city. Last time we were in Paris we took a train to Giverny and then rented bikes to head to Monet’s garden. It was a lot of fun – similar fun can be had biking around Versailles, even though you say that’s not on the itinerary. We have had good luck just changing our phones to an international plan the last couple of times we traveled in Europe. It may not be the cheapest option, but with our carrier we could switch for just one month and then could keep our numbers, text each other while we were out, etc. We were away for about a month each time, though. For a shorter time – well, in my opinion, it would be even more of a hassle to use a temp phone for a week, but I’m lazy.

    In Paris with kids I have a few recommendations. First – if the weather is hot, it’s perfectly appropriate to wade in all of the fountains! Last time we were there my kids had SUCH fun testing out each fountain we visited, and we were shocked at the large number of adults who were shedding their shoes and stepping in. My kids were little and we had to remind them not to splash, because that is NOT socially acceptable. But the wading was a highlight. We rented vintage toy sailboats at the pool in the Luxembourg Gardens and there were kids of all ages enjoying this simple pleasure. A splurge that we felt was well worth it was taking a family-oriented, guided tour of the Louvre. We used Paris Muse and it wasn’t cheap, but we all learned quite a bit and it kept the kids entertained until my 4 year old lost it at the end. But the Louvre is asking a lot of a 4 year old. Your kids are older and would probably love it! We also love the Rodin museum and sculpture garden. Much more low key and a lot of it is outside.

    I also really love walking around new cities. We had a fun set of walking tour cards – called something like the Paris City Guide for kids, I can’t remember exactly but am sure the info would all be available online – that suggested walking itineraries with special info for kids. There were ~50 cards in the set, so the kids could look through them and pick what they wanted to see. Our favorite game is “follow the cone” – when we see a bunch of people walking around with something that looks delicious (like gelato in Italy, hence the name of the game) we’d follow the trail backwards until we found the place selling the treat and try it!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      None of us has ever been before so perhaps we should be jealous! (DH has been to London for work and I’ve been to Spain for school and DH, DC1, and I went to a small city in Germany when I had a conference and did a Luxembourg daytrip from there. We’ve been to Canada for work a few times and DH’s sister got married in Mexico.)

      Good tip on the bicycles! I guess if one of us gets Covid we just stay at the airport hotel near our return flight airport since that’s the cheapest hotel on our itinerary.

      Great tips!

      We definitely plan to follow food. We got some amazing street waffles in Luxembourg that way 10+ years ago when DC1 and DH tagged along with me for another conference. And I think back when I was at a conference in Spain in grad school I ate all the street gelato in Madrid and surrounding suburbs that way.

      • Lisa Says:

        The most beautiful eclairs I’ve ever seen in my life are at L’Eclair de Genie in Paris (delicious, too!). Worth a visit!

      • Debbie M Says:

        Yes, I highly recommend street food! (I’ve enjoyed waffles in Belgium, and crepes multiple places.) And you can tell the best places by which ones have the longest lines.

        Also, I recommend grocery stores. Especially in France where all the cheeses that are expensive in the US (brie) are cheap, though the cheap ones (cheddar) are expensive. Bread and cheese and wine for super cheap! Plus I really enjoy going into foreign supermarkets, not only to see which normally expensive things are cheap, but also to see what all different kinds of yummy food they have. Also, sometimes big grocery stores also have more affordable restaurants with fabulous local food. Frankly, I even liked gas station food in some places (tuna salad on baguettes in Belgium). And other people’s fast food can be more delicious (Pret a Manger–a British company that has expanded elsewhere as well). And even American chains can have better food in them than in America (Starbucks has amazing quiches in Switzerland).

  8. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    We will not be renting a car. But there’s still within city ground transportation to figure out.

  9. Matthew D Healy Says:

    When I toured Greece five years ago with DW and my parents, I looked into mobile phone options but decided just to disable cell service on my phone the whole time I was there and rely entirely on WiFi. That worked pretty well on the whole: every hotel we used had it, as did most of the places we stopped for meals. But I dunno about trains because we did a group tour and our chartered bus had its own WiFi Hotspot.

    If you do choose to use mobile service over there, look into options and prices: as I learned back then and I assume remains true, renting a European phone or Hotspot may be cheaper than roaming charges from using your current phone over there.

    • teresa Says:

      Oh yeah, wifi has been ubiquitous everywhere I’ve been in Europe (and most of the rest of the world) the past 10ish years. It’s worked perfectly well to have our phones on with cellular disabled -too well actually, sometimes I’d rather people couldn’t text me :). If you anticipate needing to make voice calls that you can’t make through WhatsApp or FaceTime, it might be worth temporarily getting an international plan that you’ll deactivate later, otherwise probably not necessary.
      Also for navigating within a city- GPS doesn’t need wifi/cell data. So if you want to map out how to get somewhere, you search and start the trip in Google Maps while you have a wifi connection and it will continue navigating for you when you’re no longer connected. (This holds for Uber too, you need a connection to request a ride but once you’re picked up you’re good, and it will continue to show your trip progress in the app.) I’ve found google maps really reliable for mapping public transit routes all over too- will accurately tell you what train/bus/etc line, where to change, how long you have to make a connection, all that.

      • Matthew D Healy Says:

        On my phone, I could make phone calls and send texts over WiFi just as though I was at home. However, that was EXACTLY as though I was at home: I could call US relatives at zero cost per minute but had I called anybody in Greece it would have cost the same as if I had called them from home. In practice due to time zones I rarely talked with folks back home; mostly we kept in touch with friends, family, cat sitter, etc., via Facebook, email, and texts.

  10. SP Says:

    I don’t think I’d have any relevant tips. I will note that on our last trip to europe, we did rent a car and it was fabulous, but 1) we were not sticking to main cities (spending time in wine country on france/german border) 2) T drove the whole time 3) we were able to book through my work travel portal as a personal trip, which still seemed to give me good rates. Also, this was…. 2017, so it is across the board NOT relevant at all to your planned trip.

    I loved Musée de l’Orangerie if that is on your list, but I suppose it depends on your art preferences.

    Enjoy the food!

  11. Socal Dendrite Says:

    Did you check the price of rental cars right now? I’m visiting the UK with my kids for two weeks and it was going to set us back about $1500 to rent a car (not including gas, which is also astronomical). I decided to take trains around the place instead and figured out it will cost us about $500 in total, including a few taxi rides to/from stations (train tickets are usually significantly cheaper if you book in advance, which I did). So, substantially cheaper as well as quicker and more fun! But my cunning plan may yet fall through: I heard that there may be national rail strikes while we are there :-/
    Enjoy your trip!

  12. CG Says:

    We took our kids to Paris in 2019 and it was so much fun! We stayed in an Airbnb near the Centre Pompidou and got breakfast every day at our local bakery. I was introduced to the Viennoise, an oblong challah-like sweet roll with white chocolate chips and cranberries–it’s been on my list to reproduce at home ever since, or maybe I’ll just have to go back to Paris and get more of them there. As others have, I would emphasize buying advance tickets for anything you can. We spent a lot more time waiting in lines than I expected, and had to walk up the entire Eiffel Tower because the elevator tickets were sold out (that turned out to be okay, even with a six-year-old, but ymmv). The worst was Versailles, but it sounds like that’s not part of your plan. I don’t know if crowds will be better or worse this summer than they were then. I love the Jardin du Luxembourg, which is where the toy boats are, although we didn’t make it there this most recent time. The kids liked the Louvre and the Centre Pompidou, and the food, and just walking around and being in Paris. You will have a great time!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:


      Our plan for the Eiffel Tower is to look at it from the outside. Neither of us feels any need to go up. (I used to love heights but sometime between age 7 and age 30 I developed a phobia. I suspect the ear infections that messed with my sense of balance in high school. But it could just be decades of living on glacier flattened land.)

      • Debbie M Says:

        Oh, but if you go to the Arch d’ Triomphe, I highly recommend going up. I think they have stairs only. Not sure, because I didn’t do it, but my friend’s pictures were awesome. Note: there is an underground pedestrian tunnel to get there–you do not have to run across all those lanes of traffic.

        Another Paris note: We spent an entire afternoon outside the Louvre in the fabulous sculpture garden.

  13. First Gen American Says:

    The only thing I didn’t like about Italy was the sketchy cab drivers that go around in circles until they rack up a fare of at least 20 eur. The last day I got out early because we were already at 25 eur on a 13 eur fare. Also, many attractions needed advanced reservations and your Covid card for entry.

    Not sure if you are going to other countries from your post but I found that because Italy didn’t require vaccinations for tourists, many unvacccinated people were flocking there because their other plans got messed up, so check the country’s entry requirements for tourists. If vaccination is not compulsory, assume the tourists around you are unvaccinated. I didn’t realize this until I took a tour bus and literally every person I talked to on this bus was unvaccinated and went to Italy as a Plan b. Probably wouldn’t have done a bus tour if I had known that.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Good recommendations! The countries in Europe are definitely mixed on this stuff and I think France itself may have gotten pretty lax recently– IIRC it’s not requiring vaccinations OR masks for most things (though of course we’ll have to check on all the countries again closer to our trip). I stocked up on a variety of disposable masks in advance, including a bunch of different options for DH’s larger face.

      • Karen Edwards Says:

        We’ve just come back to the UK from France and had to have either our NHS covid “passport” or a negative test from an official source. Once we were in the country, we didn’t have any problems and no one requested to see anything COVID related. There were mixed numbers of people in masks at various locations.

        But it sounds like a great trip! If it isn’t on your list, I absolutely loved my visit to Giverny (Monet’s garden) a few years ago!

  14. bogart Says:

    I’m late! But a few quick thoughts. For trains, have you looked into Eurrail passes? I haven’t in some time (last trip was to the UK in 2019 and we did get and got good value out of Britrail passes) and they are not the solution to all problems, but they can be very good value depending on your plans.

    Our phones are Google Fi and work fine internationally, which was very useful to us (we were, among other things, meeting and traveling around with European family last time we were there, and coordinating on the fly). But I doubt it’s worth getting that just for this trip.

    In Paris, depending on your tastes and preferences, the Catacombs offer an interesting bit of historical perspective on, well, among other things death and dead bodies (but also urban development, etc.).

    Be aware that (unless things have changed a lot since I was last there), European businesses really do close down in ways that prevent shopping, etc. You can’t just run to the store anytime you want! As a traveler whose idea of a good lunch plan is often a baguette and some cheese picked up from a small store, the fact that the French close their shops at lunchtime (and have a broad understanding of what constitutes lunchtime) flummoxed me more than once.

    And if you *do* decide to go up the Eiffel tower I think the best time to go is toward dusk, because then you can enjoy both the daytime and the nighttime view for 1 price.

    Have a wonderful trip!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      DH has been looking into it: Spoiler: it looks like the passes end up being more expensive than buying individual train tickets (because it’s ~$50 per ticket without and ~$22 per reservation with).

      Thanks for the tips!

      • bogart Says:

        Oh darn. Yeah, we may well have qualified for a senior pass, which probably helped with cost, and of course regardless, itinerary/options matter.

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