Cheap Tricks in Europe

By Leslie Gilbert Elman
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Europeans like American visitors; we stay longer and spend more than travelers from other parts of the world. They miss us, a lot, when we don't come to visit. So, now that our dollars are tanking on the world currency spectrum, European destinations are touting their bargains to lure us across the Atlantic. Visiting Europe doesn't have to be extravagantly expensive. There are many ways to live within, or even below, your means and still have a fabulous time. We're not talking about backpacks and youth hostels (although you can do that if you like), we're talking about ways to spend less and still feel sophisticated and civilized, which is what traveling in Europe is all about anyway.

Some wise person once said, "Save your pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves." Make that your mantra and start working it from the moment you arrive at the airport. Pass by the taxi queue and the rental car counter (you won't need a car in the city) and take public transportation into town. Not every city in Europe has a dedicated airport train, bus, or Metro line, but in those that do, public transport is often faster and always cheaper than traveling by taxi (greener too, if you're concerned about saving the Earth along with saving your money).

In Copenhagen, for example, the train from the airport to Central Station takes just 12 minutes and costs about $6.50. There's also Metro service to other parts of the city for similar prices—a taxi would cost three to four times as much and could take three to four times as long to reach the city center. In Stockholm, the Arlanda Express train takes 20 minutes from the airport to the city center and costs about $38 (versus about 40 minutes and $60 for a taxi), but if you're under age 26 or over 65 the fare is $19. On weekends, two adults traveling together pay about $41 total. In Barcelona, the Aerobus from the airport to Plaça Catalunya runs every 15 minutes (more during peak hours), takes 30 minutes, and costs about $6.25 (cabs charge about $40 and tack on surcharges for trips from the airport and for luggage). Other cities with frequent public transport from the airport to the city center include Amsterdam, Berlin, Budapest, Munich, Oslo, Rome, Vienna, and Zürich.

Do you think it's gauche to look for tourist discounts? Well, you are a tourist. So, get over yourself; then get yourself a "city card" wherever you'll be spending a couple of days and nights. Just about every major city in Europe offers them, and many minor cities do, too. You pay a flat fee, usually for one, two, or three days, and you get free or discounted admission to all the major sites and attractions plus free use of public transportation in and around the city for the length of the card. The CPH Card in Copenhagen even includes regional rail transportation that will take you to the fascinating smaller city of Roskilde, to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek, and to the Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen museum in Rungsted. Most city cards also come with a handy guidebook and map to help you plan your days, and give you extra bonuses like discounts at restaurants and shops. Some, like the Paris Pass, also let you bypass the queues for entry to top attractions. Check out this fairly comprehensive list of European city cards.

If you don't need a city card with the works, look for specialized discount cards, such as the Articket in Barcelona. This little beauty costs about $32, is good for six months, and gets you into seven top museums including the Museu Picasso, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Fundació Joan Miró. Visiting just those three would cost you about $38 without the card. For those fond of antiquities, the Arqueoticket gives you access to five museums of ancient culture in Barcelona. It costs about $28 and is good for a year from purchase. If you'll be staying in Switzerland for a while, or visiting more than once within a year, look for the Swiss Museum Pass, which costs about $138, gives you free admission to more than 400 museums countrywide (including the Paul Klee Center in Bern, the Mamco museum of contemporary art in Geneva, and the Kunsthaus Zürich), and is good for a year. Another alternative: The Swiss Rail Pass you purchase for train travel through Switzerland also serves as a Swiss Museum Pass—which is a nice money-saving bonus.

Published: 3 Nov 2008 | Last Updated: 1 Apr 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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