If you're looking for places in Europe you can visit without breaking the bank, you'll find the lowest hotel prices in the East and in Iberia. But you can find reasonable prices in dozens of other cities. Just stay away from Switzerland and Scandinavia. And for airfares and travel around Europe, keep looking for the various sales that suppliers keep holding.
Trivago, the big British-based hotel price comparison site, just released its latest report on average hotel prices in 50 major European cities. Only one city -- Budapest -- came in at under $100 a night for a double room, but average prices in Krakow, Prague, Granada, Sofia, Bucharest and Seville were $125 or less, and Athens, Berlin, Bologna, Dresden, Florence, Hanover, Istanbul, Lisbon, Naples, Nice, Palermo and Valencia all showed as less than $150. These figures are averages and include lots of hotels of primary interest to business travelers. But I believe that relative price comparisons are pretty good, even at the budget level.
What's heartening is the range of cities at the lower end of the price spectrum. You can enjoy a terrific vacation in any of the lowest-cost group. And I was surprised to see such A-list destinations as Berlin, Florence, Istanbul and Nice in that lower-quarter group.
In case you're interested in the other end of the scale, Geneva topped out with an average price of an incredible $372 per night. Others scoring above $200 include such perennial high-cost destinations as Oslo, Stockholm, London, Milan, Paris, Copenhagen and Venice. Given the strength of the Swiss franc, many of you will want to avoid Switzerland entirely this year -- despite its many charms.
If you really want to keep your destination costs down, this might be the year for a one-site stay. Yes, that extra-day "free" promotion for Eurail Selectpasses I reported earlier is still available, through March 30, from RailEurope (800-622-8600, 800-361-7245 in Canada) or other railpass specialists. But even with an extra day, railpass travel is now extremely expensive: The lowest cost seven-day, three-country pass costs $506 per person single or $430 per person for a couple; no senior discount. If you want to go railpassing at all, your best values are the France Rail Pass, starting at three days of first-class travel over a month for seniors 60 or over at $258 or second class for travelers of any age at $239, and the BritRail England Pass, with three days of first-class travel during two months for seniors 60 or over at $229, or three days of second class for travelers of any age for $185.
Rail Europe also announced a discounted rate of $142 (no senior reduction) for a Eurostar ticket in "Standard Premier Class" between London and either Brussels or Paris, available through March 31 for travel through August. Although Premier class is pleasant, real budget travelers will stick with second class, at $52 (no senior reduction), which I find perfectly comfortable. That $90 difference will pay for a very nice dinner.
In my recent experience, the best way to enjoy a one-site stay is a vacation rental. You typically get some combination of more space or lower per-person costs, depending on how you want to load up the accommodation; you can fix breakfasts and a few other meals in the kitchen for far less than you'd pay in restaurants. Among the best places to look for vacation rentals in Europe are HomeAway Holiday-Rentals (www.holiday-rentals.co.uk/), the main European site for the huge Home Away rental empire, TripAdvisor (www.tripadvisor.com), FlipKey (www.flipkey.com), or the Hoseasons Group (www.hoseasons.co.uk/).
Be aware that you'll find it almost impossible to check on the options without being online; if you're not, work with someone who is.
Alternatively, you can deal with some of the many agencies that specialize in specific countries or areas and list only the rentals they've individually inspected. Or see a travel agent.