Comparing European itineraries: Choose wisely and save big

As summer approaches and airfares are at or near record levels for crossing the Atlantic, I thought it would be an interesting time to compare some classic European itineraries to see just how much further you can stretch your funds by choosing one region over another. There are probably many people who’ve given up on the notion of a European trip this year, and those people might actually still be in the game if they head to the best cities of Eastern Europe instead of to the west or south.

The data below is all based on our European Backpacker Index, which compares the same common expenses in 47 different cities, as well as our 3-Star European Index that covers the same 47 cities from the perspective of a couple/pair who prefer 3-star hotels and a bit more luxury.

Backpacker style budget comparison

For this comparison we’ll assume you are a backpacker who is staying in hostel dorm beds and using public transportation instead of taxis. The prices listed are for 4 nights in each city, including your bed, 3 meals, 2 public transportation rides, 1 paid attraction, and 3 beers per day.

Itinerary 1: Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris

  • Amsterdam – US$87.79/day = US$351.16
  • Brussels – US$90.13/day = US$360.52
  • Paris – US$80.06/day = US$320.24

12 days total = US$1,031.92

Itinerary 2: Rome, Venice, Florence

  • Rome – US$81.43/day = $325.72
  • Venice – US$91.43/day = US$365.72
  • Florence – US$68.70/day = US$274.80

12 days total = US$966.24

Itinerary 3: Prague, Budapest, Krakow

  • Prague – US$43.61/day = $174.44
  • Budapest – US$30.05/day = US$120.20
  • Krakow – US$23.83/day = US$95.32

12 days total = US$389.96

3-Star Traveler budget comparison

For this comparison we’ll assume you are a half of a couple (or pair of singles) who will be sharing a cheap 3-star hotel room in each city and taking 2 taxi rides per day (so each person pays for 1 ride). The prices listed are for 4 nights in each city, including your shared hotel room, 3 meals, 2 taxi rides, 1 paid attraction, and 3 beers per day.

Itinerary 1: Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris

  • Amsterdam – US$158.00/day = US$632.00
  • Brussels – US$166.00/day = US$664.00
  • Paris – US$146.67/day = US$586.68

12 days total = US$1,882.68

Itinerary 2: Rome, Venice, Florence

  • Rome – US$140.00/day = $560.00
  • Venice – US$186.00/day = US$744.00
  • Florence – US$126.67/day = US$506.68

12 days total = US$1,810.68

Itinerary 3: Prague, Budapest, Krakow

  • Prague – US$86.50/day = $346.00
  • Budapest – US$55.80/day = US$223.20
  • Krakow – US$57.06/day = US$228.24

12 days total = US$797.44

Factoring in flights and transportation between cities

I searched for the cheapest airfares between New York City and each city in each itinerary to find the optimal place to fly into for each one. Flights to Paris (US$1,018) were slightly cheaper than to Prague (US$1,082) and to Rome (US$1,219), and those were the cheapest for each group.

In other words, the flights to get there are within the same general price range, and they can vary depending on your starting point and preferred dates, of course.

Taking trains between Amsterdam, Paris, and Brussels will cost more than taking them between Rome, Florence, and Venice, and also quite a bit more than between Prague, Budapest, and Krakow. So if you factor in the city-to-city costs the last group looks even cheaper.

Conclusion: The top-tier East cities are less than half the price

If you’ve researched this subject at all before it should be no surprise that the cheapest cities are the ones in Eastern Europe. However, you may be shocked to see just how much cheaper they are. You can literally spend half as much per day without changing your level of comfort or style of travel.

Everyone should try to visit Paris and Rome and all the rest during their lives, and this isn’t to say that visiting Krakow will be exactly as enjoyable as visiting Rome and at half the price. But each of these cities has a lot going for it and those on lower budgets might head east until they are better prepared to splash out for a proper visit to the famous and important cities of Western Europe.

Caveat: The longer the stay the more choosing cheap cities counts

The above comparisons are for a 12-night stay in Europe, which is pretty typical for American and Canadian travelers. Considering that the flights are all fairly similar in price, it shouldn’t take a math degree to notice that the grand total will be affected far more on a longer trip than on a shorter one.

In other words, if you are a backpacker and you can only spend 6 nights in Europe then the difference between the Paris itinerary and the Prague itinerary is only about US$300 instead of the US$600 shown above. In that case you might just spend the extra and head to the expensive cities.

On the other hand, if you can spend a month in Europe then the difference between itineraries becomes enormous, and the flights there are a smaller portion of the total.

Another way of looking at it is that for the exact same money you can spend about 30 days in Eastern Europe or about 12 days in Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam.

With more than two weeks off you might instead consider heading to Asia where your money goes even further. Check out the Asia Backpacker Index to see that you can spend 2 months in Southeast Asia instead of those 12 days in Western Europe.

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