Better Value European City Breaks: Swap 3 Capitals For Second Cities & Save
Written by Jaillan Yehia
If there’s one thing we committed travellers love to do, it’s to discover somewhere new. Ideally a location a little bit off the beaten track, because a big part of travel is the sense of discovery.
And while everyone can agree that world famous capitals like Paris and New York, London and Barcelona are all popular for a reason, namely that they are packed with amazing art, culture, shopping and food, there’s something deeply satisfying about uncovering a destination that isn’t quite as well known. When the by-product of that discovery is cheaper prices, then you’re really winning.
Along with the bragging rights you get from finding somewhere special in a less tourist-laden city, a side benefit of giving lesser-known metropolises a chance is that they tend to be far cheaper than their attention-grabbing counterparts.
Here in the UK for example a weekend away in Bristol or Glasgow will undoubtedly cost you less than a weekend in London, but both of those cities have a lot of the historic buildings, art galleries and British flavours that tourists pour into London to experience.
In other countries within Europe – and further afield – you can often find that both your time and money are better spent when you avoid the obvious, especially as social media changes the way we travel making it harder to find something which hasn’t been instagrammed a thousand times before.
So if you’ve got one of the following tourist meccas on your must-see list and securing good value European city breaks is part of your mission, it may well be worth asking yourself if you’d rather save some cash, skip the queues and the crowds and check out the nation’s next biggest city.
If Amsterdam is high on your hit list try…Rotterdam
The Netherlands’ capital is justifiably famous for its romantic canals, cool coffee shop culture and world class museums – and with so many KLM routes worldwide it’s also a very popular stopover destination.
But Amsterdam has become a victim of its own success – with 60 million passengers flying through Schiphol this year, including a whopping 18 million people visiting the city itself, it is no surprise that in peak season the city can get unpleasantly crowded and prices can skyrocket.
But if you’re interested in exploring a delightful Dutch city, now is the time to turn to Rotterdam; Holland’s second largest city has been overlooked by tourists for far too long but it’s finally having its moment.
Rotterdam’s industrial port history means it has often been unfavourably compared with the architectural classics of neighbouring Amsterdam, but Rotterdam is a city in its own right, with a host of unique, often more modern, architectural must-sees, as well as some of the canal life and coffee shops you might be missing from The Dam.
Not yet plagued by the influx of tourists Amsterdam experiences, the city is all the more laid-back and enjoyable for it – and as a value European city break it ticks all the boxes.
Been to Barcelona and made it to Madrid? Time to say Vamos to…Valencia
Spain is somewhat unusual in that its capital and largest city isn’t actually its biggest tourist lure.
That’s because landlocked Madrid is the seat of power and while it is home to some stunning works of art and culinary highlights, the beach-fronted cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region boasts the celebrated Gaudi landmarks, along with far more of the tourist kudos.
Like Venice and Amsterdam, Barcelona often struggles under the weight of the tourist numbers who tread its streets every day, especially come summer. And for tourists in search of a taste of Spain on a good value short city break from the UK, Valencia is by far a better option.
Spain’s third largest city is famous for paella, the Fallas festival and the iconic City of Arts and Sciences, as well as the brilliant idea of turning the dried up old riverbed into a park and bike route rather than a road.
It is also amazing value, especially if you take your main meal at lunchtime when the omnipresent menu del dia makes dining out incredibly affordable.
The fact that Valencia also has a beach offering just like Barcelona makes the comparison more justified – and the charming Cabanyal area still retains the feel of a fishing village with the locally-priced restaurants to prove it.
Don’t break the bank & go boating in Venice, Instead taste the real Italy in…Bologna
I can’t think of a European country where value for money varies more based on the area you choose to visit. For my money Italy can be perfect for prince and pauper alike – and picking the perfect spot makes all the difference.
World class cities like Rome, Venice and Milan are packed with luxurious and high-priced places to stay and eat, and well-known regions like Tuscany are always able to demand higher prices due to their enduring popularity with foreign tourists.
But while certain Italian cities and areas have become exceptionally famous on the other side of the pond, the beauty of Italy is that there are literally hundreds of comparatively undiscovered locations where the quality of the food and the stunning nature of the scenery will still wow you.
Everyone tourist knows that Venice is a show-stopper, but the sheer number of people who want a chance to see it for themselves mean that ticket prices are high and accommodation comes at a premium – so much so that locals are now demanding to be see their own Venice attractions separately to tourists.
Of course nowhere is going to offer exactly the same views that iconic locations like Venice or the Leaning Tower of Pisa can offer, but if you’re looking for value and want fewer folks to share the scenery with, and if you’re coming to Italy for the food like so many visitors, you should consider the university city of Bologna.
Bologna – and the surrounding region of Emilia Romagna – is the birthplace of many of the most famous Italian foods you’re keen to taste on your trip, from balsamic vinegar and parmesan to tortellini and parma ham. The city is beautiful, accessible and incredibly tasty and the architecture is just as enticing as the edible attractions.
If for some reason Bologna isn’t your bag there are plenty of other ideas – Genoa and Turin are both within Italy’s top 7 cities and have a lot to offer yet they are virtually shunned by tourists because they have an industrial past. This means bargains galore on food, hotels and transport, so your bank balance will thank you for being a little more adventurous and so will your social media feed.
I was asked to put together a list of European value city breaks by the travel money specialists at HSBC – and as their city breaks and stopovers list shows, the difference in costs for food, drinks, hotels and attractions can vary hugely so it pays to find a city which suits your budget and that can mean avoiding the capitals in favour of the second or third largest cities.
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