6 of Europe’s most expensive cities on a budget

Posted by on 16 Feb, 2014 in Blog, Italy, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Travel tips, UK | 12 comments

Despite being a proud penny-pinching budget traveller, over the last few years I’ve found myself in cities hardly known for their good value. Thanks to a mixture of work excursions, visiting friends and family and seizing too-cheap-to-be-true Ryanair flights, I have now been to some of the most expensive cities in the world.

But just how expensive are these cities? And is it possible to endure – and maybe even enjoy – a budget break in one of Europe’s most expensive cities?

Here is a run-down of the 6 priciest European cities I’ve been to and the challenges you can expect on a budget.

St. Paul's cathedral

St. Paul’s cathedral

6. London

Despite recently being named the world’s most expensive city, I do think London is one of the better-value destinations in Europe. The majority of the city’s museums and art galleries are completely free, which means you can spend hours and hours soaking up the capital’s culture without spending a penny. (Though believe me, you’ll spend even longer queuing to get them.)

Despite this, London is not a cheap city – absolutely everything is more expensive than anywhere else in the country. I’ve never actually paid to stay in London as an adult (just one of the advantages of having so many friends living in the capital), but a quick Google tells me that this would probably make up a large portion of your expenses in London – though the Tube and general food costs would take their toll, too.

Verdict: It’s hard not to spend money in London, but I think as a tourist you can get a lot for your pound.

View of Gamla Stan, Stockholm

View of Gamla Stan, Stockholm

5. Stockholm

It’s hardly surprising that Scandinavia’s unofficial capital made it onto the list. A popular choice with tourists from around the world, Stockholm is a lovely city. And whilst it isn’t cheap, it was actually a lot less expensive than I expected.

The best thing about Stockholm for budget travellers is how walkable the city is – I didn’t use public transport once. Gamla Stan is the star of the show and it’s easy to spend almost a whole day wandering around its narrow alleys and trying to get the best views from neighbouring Södermalm. While I mostly stuck to cheap eats and food chains, a big sandwich and bottle of cider in Gamla Stan set me back about £8.

On the downside, my accommodation was definitely a lot more than I wanted to pay for a stay in a basic dorm (£17/night) and museum entry could definitely be cheaper – entry to the ABBA museum will cost you almost £20. However, it is worth noting that the Stockholm Card offers discounts on museums and transport.

Verdict: Though not as expensive as I feared, Stockholm isn’t cheap, and unfortunately it is museum entry that will cost you the most.

Read more about my time in Stockholm here.

Venice: a city I fell in love with

Venice: a city I fell in love with

4. Venice

Venice is another classic European destination that will almost undoubtedly set you back a few quid, but I did find it one of the easier cities to curb costs in.

Again, accommodation isn’t going to be cheap, but setting up base in Mestre and getting the bus into the city is a good choice for budget travellers (having said that, my hostel in Mestre was one of the worst I’ve stayed in and still cost me €21/night). Mestre is also the best place for very good cheap evening eats – I found a lot of restaurants in Venice proper to be very pricey, even for a small lunch.

Of course, the real appeal of Venice is merely wondering the streets, which is absolutely free, and the wine is pretty cheap, too!

Verdict: Venice is pricey, but spending your evenings in Mestre can help curb costs.

For more information on Venice, read this review of my weekend there.

Limmatquai, Zurich

Limmatquai, Zurich

3. Zürich

Like Stockholm, Zürich (and Switzerland as a whole) wasn’t as expensive as I had imagined, with transport being a lot cheaper than I’d thought (around £10 for a 90 minute journey from Sargans to Zürich and £4 from Zürich to the airport).

But it turned out there were two main obstacles to my budget break in Zürich: accommodation (£25/night for a 4-bed dorm in the only affordable option in town) and food. In order to budget, I stocked up on a few treats in the supermarket to tide me over and ended up forking over £5 for four tasteless cereal bars, before spending around £8 on a McChicken Burger at McDonald’s. The next day, in my quest to find free wifi, I ended up heading to Starbucks and sipping the worst cup of tea I have ever had in life – for around £5.

Verdict: I didn’t come across any particularly eye-watering prices in Zürich, but across the board, the cost of food was steep.

Moscow skyline

Moscow skyline

2. Moscow

Much like Russia, Moscow is a city of extremes. I had a really hard time placing the city in this list for the shear disparity between prices, but decided that ultimately, Moscow can be a very, very expensive city. But you might be surprised on what you end up spending your roubles on.

Firstly, transport is laughably cheap in comparison to Western Europe. And much more frequent, too – you won’t be waiting more than a few minutes on the Metro. Most tourist attractions are fairly well-priced, particularly for students, and Kyiv is the only city I’ve found cheaper hostels in.

But I’ve always found food and drink in Moscow to be disproportionately expensive. There are certainly cheaper places hidden in the city (and some very reasonably priced Russian food chains), but you can end up paying a lot of money for a very simple meal. Secondly, any kind of shopping will hit your wallet hard (particularly clothes) and you can end up being fleeced at the market unless your haggling is up to scratch.

Verdict: Moscow can be fairly cheap if you know the right places, otherwise it can be hugely expensive – it all depends on how well researched you are and how good your Russian is.

Oslo opera house

Oslo opera house

1. Oslo

Practically everything about Oslo is painfully expensive. Having been drawn to the city thanks to £20 return flights with Ryanair, a friend and I headed off for two days with thoughts of ‘how much can you really spend in two days?’ Turns out: quite a bit.

Having said that, we did manage to budget religiously. We had a hob and a sink in our hostel room and so managed to spend little on food (though in a fit of madness, we spent £8 on a bottle of Carlsberg and almost £15 on a McDonald’s meal), and lapped up free entertainment, such as the views from the Opera House roof and Vigeland sculpture park.

However, at £35/night, accommodation did not come cheap, and our hour-long train journey to the Ryanair-carrier airport Rygge cost a LOT more than the flights themselves.

But for me, the worst part about visiting Oslo was being unable to enjoy any local food as restaurants were just too expensive.

Verdict: Oslo is without a doubt the most expensive place I’ve ever been to – to the point where it threatens how much you enjoy yourself; the city itself has some real draws but I really didn’t feel I was getting my money’s worth.

Read more about my time in Oslo here.

Generally I think it’s still possible to enjoy yourself in an expensive city, but the last thing you want to do when travelling is worry about grabbing a un-budgeted-for beer or a casual cup of tea, and so it’s inevitable that price will affect your views of a city.

The list is based purely on my own experience – which are the most expensive cities you’ve been to?

12 Comments

  1. I definitely agree with Stockholm! I brought my own food for the one day I was there and slept at the bus station as my bus/flight was leaving ridiculously early, so I didn’t actually spend a lot–but I also couldn’t do anything besides have a cup of coffee; I couldn’t enjoy local foods/drinks/attractions. I haven’t been to Oslo (because I knew about the Ryanair airport-to-city prices!) but I did go to Bergen and it was still ridiculous. My hostel was something like 40 euros per night, and the one meal I ate at a restaurant was around 30 euros, and that didn’t include a drink! I think Paris is quite costly too, though at least I got to stay with a friend! Travelling through Germany can also be costly. Food was easy to find for decent prices and so was accommodation but getting from one place to another via train or bus was not cheap.

    • Oslo is exactly as expensive as everyone says unfortunately, which is a shame :(

      German trains are definitely very expensive, but there are some good deals to be had, like the Schoenes Wochenende ticket (unlimited train travel for 5 people for a day in across 1-3 states) or the website mitfahrgelegenheit.de which is very safe carpooling.

  2. The most eye-wateringly expensive city I have visited in recent years has to be Paris, without a doubt. Getting charged 8 euros for a Diet Coke in a fairly middle-of-the-road café was not fun. Milan would come a close second for me, although we got an amazing deal on accommodation there which made day-to-day costs a bit easier to deal with – lastminute.com Top Secret Hotels deal sent us to the fanciest, plushest hotel I’ve stayed at in my life.

    • I can imagine Paris is a nightmare for a budget! I suppose at least in a city like that you are braced for the high prices.

  3. Wow, this makes me feel better about Moscow, bc at least I know where to get cheap beer and food. If I cant enjoy dining out, or even casual eating out of local specialties – and a pint – to me the place is not worth traveling to. Out of your list, aside from Moscow, I had been to London and Venice. London is very reasonable in terms of food, especially if you stick to ethnic places or pubs. It’s the transport that kills you, public or taxi alike (I am a cab junkie). Venice I found pretty good all around – I stayed very centrally at a B&B for about $110/night in peak season (during the Venice film festival!) and found the food fairly cheap if you dont eat at the crazy touristy spots by the main attractions.

    • I don’t find Moscow too expensive, but I have plenty of friends who live/have lived there, but I think complete tourists with no knowledge of Russian would end up spending a lot.

      London isn’t too bad really, but it’s hard for me to judge because I live in the North of England, which is SOOO much cheaper.

    • Also, how was the Venice film festival? Sounds exciting!

      • Oh I didnt attend – I had no idea it was going on till I got to Venice and the place was going mad. The power of advance research – not!

        • Haha, I had exactly the same experience when I went to Sergiev Posad last year. On the journey I kept thinking how busy it was and didn’t realise until I got there and saw the huge crowds that it was Orthodox Good Friday. D’oh! :(

  4. I’m off to Norway and possibly a bit more of Scandinavia this spring then Switzerland in the summer so might need to get saving!

    • That sounds fantastic! I would love to head back to Norway to see more of the country, but hopefully when I have a bit more spare cash!

  5. Great and very helpful review of London, Stockholm and other cities!

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