Everybody wants to go to Europe, but few people know how to get the most of their trip there. I have been there a couple of times now, and recommend the following tips for you who want to pack your bag and fly there!
1. Get on a double decker tourist bus. You don’t need to join a tour group as almost every major city in Western Europe has a double-decker, hop-on-hop-off tourist bus that stops at all major attractions in the city. You pay somewhere between 15-22 Euro per day, and this bus will take you around the city all day long. This way, you can just visit places you really want to go to, then hop on the same bus to go back, rather than following the strict timetable of a tour group. You stop for coffee whenever you want to, you shop and stop at your own call. No latecomers to wait for, no name tag and tour guide with that embarrassing flag … announcing to the world that the crowd of tourists are here! 😀
This double-decker tourist bus comes with an audio guide, basically a tape that tells you the history and background of each tourist spot that the bus drives through. The bus might give you a book of coupons as well, for discounted tickets at various tourist spots, restaurants and shops. Keep it – it comes handy!
2. Good food doesn’t have to be expensive. In Europe, the quality of food doesn’t get better as the price goes up. The best meal we’ve had in Rome, for example, cost us under 20 Euros (www.lapilotta.com) despite its prime location, walking distance from St. Petersburg. And it’s not like you need to have three sit down meals each day … snacking a foccacia bread in Italy, or buying a kebab in Istanbul … that’s a meal already!
Some tips to affordable dining tips in Europe is only go to restaurants that show their menu AND price list at the door. We got scammed in Istanbul, whereby we walked into a tiny corner cafe with great menu (and great food indeed), but the price list wasn’t shown. We ended up paying more there than in any other proper sit-down restaurants we’ve been to in Italy, Greece and Spain. That was just a total scam!
Another thing about checking out the food is asking if they still have service charge on top of the price. Service charge can be as high as 15-20% in popular places like Piazza San Marco in Venice.
3. Forget hotel brands and facilities. Hotels in Europe are expensive. Chain hotels are even more expensive, and actually you wouldn’t be spending much time in the hotel any way, other than to sleep. So the tips to choosing a hotel is avoid looking at brand names, star-rating or facilities. Simply look for great location and a comfortable room. Forget swimming pool and stuff – you don’t need it!
Read guest reviews to find out if that hotel would be a decent place to stay. Websites like http://www.tripadvisor.com and http://www.zuji.com offer great stories from real hotel guests as a reference.
For example, we stayed at Hotel Montecarlo in Las Ramblas Barcelona, a four-star local chain hotel. We paid 270 Euros a night for a huge deluxe room with a hydromassage bathtub (it’s our honeymoon … the room gotta be special 🙂 . But a standard room there would cost about 160 Euros, instead of 210 Euros if we stayed at Le Meridien on the same street. But at the same time, we could have paid just 100 Euros to stay at Aparthotel Citadines, an independent two-star hotel with apartment-style rooms, right next door from Hotel Montecarlo. And we might have been equally happy there, because we were in the hotel just to sleep and drop our shopping bags.
4. Watch your wallet, hide your maps. There are a lot of petty crimes like pickpocketing in Europe …. Spain and Turkey especially. Open your maps in public toilets or indoors, but not on the street. The more you show that you are a lost tourist, the more vulnerable you are to pickpockets and people waiting to scam you into buying something.
5. Don’t shop where the tour guide takes you. If after reading all these, you still choose to join a tour group, one advice is not to shop where the tour guide takes you. They earn a hefty commission for everything you buy. For that reason, those shops will charge a much higher price on YOU. So sneak out whenever you can!
We did join a few day tours in Italy and Greece, and found great bargains at shops a few minutes away from where the tour bus is parked. All the things we bought cost three times more at the shop the tour leader took us to!
So that’s a few tips to begin with. I will add more as I recall more things!