Fall is a great time to visit Europe summer crowds are down and you can get into the main visitor attractions without waiting or crowding. Also, you aren't likely to suffer a heat wave in areas where air-conditioning is rare or unknown, the new season's theater and music schedules come alive, and airfares are usually sharply down from their summer highs. What's not to like?
These days, most of you have realized that deciding when to buy the lowest airfare is always a crapshoot, and that the best way to find your best deal is (1) to sign up for as many deal-notification programs as you can, (2) pounce on a good deal when you see one, and (3) don't think it's the end of the world if a slightly cheaper fare comes along later. Instead, a lot of you bargain hunters have trained your sights on hotels, where you find more options and more discount action than ever before.
You shouldn't select your destination strictly by where you get the best deals -- after all, if you want to see the Louvre or Westminster Abbey, your choices are pretty specific. Still, destination accommodations are likely to cost at least as much as airfares, and relative price and value of accommodations may well enter into your calculations. One of Europe's largest hotel price comparison sites, Trivago.com, has recently published some data that can help in that process.
Prices: News on prices isn't good. According to Trivago's survey, average hotel prices at Europe's 50 "major" visitor destinations are 10 percent to 20 percent higher than last year at this time. Still, current (August data) prices are lower than earlier in the year.
*This month's list of lowest-priced of the 50 major cities includes two "usual suspects" in Eastern Europe as well as some surprises: Average daily rates are below $100 in Sofia, Seville, Granada, Bucharest, Birmingham and Budapest; between $100 and $110 in Krakow, Valencia and Bologna.
*In general, German cities remain fairly affordable -- especially Berlin, at $113 -- along with many cities in economically troubled Greece, Italy and Spain.
*At the other end of the scale, the average price is $202 in Paris and Nice; prices are higher yet in Copenhagen, Salzburg, Stockholm, London, Oslo, Cannes, Venice and Edinburgh, topping out at a fat $300 in Geneva.
*Obviously, Scandinavia remains off limits to budget-minded travelers. And U.K. cities show a huge variation, with Edinburgh and London near the top and Birmingham in the least expensive group.
Of course, you can always pay more or less than "average." But these figures should be a pretty good guide to accommodations costs in any price range, from budget to deluxe. For more details, log onto www.trivago.co.uk/hotelprices.
Reputations: Trivago compiles a lot of hotel rating information, based on millions of traveler reviews, similar to what you find in TripAdvisor. Ratings for "reputation," essentially meaning how well the visitors liked the hotels, range from a high of 82 to a low of 72, and, as with prices, Trivago found quite a bit of variation:
*Travelers gave highest ratings to accommodations in Dresden, Krakow, Bruges, Venice, Bologna and Budapest, all scoring over 80.
*Scoring between 78 and 79 are Florence, Bucharest, Valencia, Prague, Barcelona, Sofia, Salzburg and Lisbon.
*Of the top 50 cities, London ranks dead last, at 72, and a big gap below the next lowest, Birmingham at 74. That generally conforms to my experience: Unless you spend a lot of money, midrange London hotels tend to be very underwhelming.
Although London and Birmingham do poorly, other U.K. cities were mainly in the great middle range.
Clearly, accommodations costs and reputation shouldn't dictate where you go. But if you're considering places you might like to visit, several major cities -- Bologna, Budapest, Krakow, Sofia and Valencia -- score well for both low cost and good accommodations. And those are all great cities you might want to visit in any case.