Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Most and least expensive European cities for travel; Best value hotels, beer, taxis in Europe

The only good thing about Paris prices? They make Amsterdam seem affordable.

The only good thing about Paris prices? They make Amsterdam seem affordable.

 

Want to travel to Europe without cashing in your 401(k)?

Well, if your plan includes London, beware: in 2010, the average hotel rate was $209, up 11 percent from 2009. Compare that to Athens, where that rate was just $97, down 18 percent. Kind of makes the Parthenon look better than ever, no?

It turns out that the weak sisters on the fringes of Western Europe are shaping up to offer even greater value for American travelers this spring and summer than at any time since the recent recession began. Like Athens, Dublin has been battered by sovereign debt crises, and hotel prices have dropped there as well. The shaky economies of Portugal, Spain, and Italy are also resulting in lower travel costs in some cities.

So where can you save—and where will you spend? We compiled statistics from Hotwire.com, HotelsCombined.com,  Bookingbuddy.com, and the U.S. State Department to find out.

Americans might expect to find improved value even in those European cities where travel prices have held firm or risen slightly, like Berlin and Vienna. The euro declined against the dollar by 13 percent from January 2008 to January 2011, and if that trend continues, you'll get even more purchasing power in the 17 nations that use the euro. In fact, the relative strength of the dollar may even be enough to offset higher hotel rates in such expensive cities as Amsterdam (up 6 percent in 2010 versus 2009) and Paris (up 4 percent).

The carbuncle on that otherwise pretty portrait is non-euro London. In fact, London is one of the few Western European cities for which the State Department has raised its per-diem limits—up 11 percent, to $503 a day for hotel, meals, and incidentals. Expect no bargains along the Thames this season.

Still, the sunny travel outlook prevails more often than not. In Athens, a two-mile cab ride costs only $3.63, a beer at a café costs as little as $2.74, and the average hotel price in January was a mere $97, down a whopping 18 percent from a year earlier. What's more, in December 2010 the government reduced its value added tax on hotel stays from 11 percent to 6.5 percent to stimulate tourism.

The poor economy in the former Celtic Tiger holds another bright spot for tourists. For the best value, consider flying into Ireland's Shannon Airport and enjoying the good values in the west. Dublin is more expensive (a two-mile cab ride will cost you around $11), but even there hotel prices have come down.

So if you haven't considered Western Europe as a vacation destination in the past several years, 2011 just might be the year you'll want to return. But be sure you know which cities are good values—and which ones could still put a big hurt on your wallet.



Expensive: Amsterdam

Hold onto your pocketbook as you roam past the canals, along the cobbled streets, and through the infamous red-light district. The little Dutch boy of fiction has taken his finger out of the dike, and visitors to Amsterdam might find themselves financially under water.

Average 2010 hotel rates: $174 (up 6 percent)
Price of beer (half-liter): $3.90–$6.49
Two-mile taxi ride: $13.47
State Department 2011 per diem: $441 (down 10 percent)




Value: Athens

The Greek capital has been rocked by a debt crisis. The result? Austerity measures and decreased spending. It also means that tourism-related businesses are dropping prices in an effort to lure free-spending foreign visitors. You, perhaps.

Average 2010 hotel rate: $126 (down 9 percent)
Price of beer (12 oz.): $2.60–$5.19
Two-mile taxi ride: $3.63
State Department 2011 per diems: $333 (down 10 percent)


Expensive: Venice

"O Sole Mio"? How about "Oh Woe Is Me-oh"? That’s what you’ll be thinking as you lay out as much as $130 for a 40-minute gondola ride. It’s true that Venice is sinking into the sea and that you may get a little wet as you tiptoe through the piazzas. But you won’t mind. After paying these prices, you’ve already been hosed.

Average 2010 hotel rate: $211 (up 5 percent)
Price of beer (12 oz.): $3.90–$6.49
Two-mile water-taxi ride: $8.44
State Department 2011 per diem: $546 (down 10 percent)



Value: Berlin

At last, an affordable city in Northern Europe. What goes on here? Hotel rates that are downright reasonable help, as does an efficient, easy-on-the-pocketbook transportation system. But watch out: the wild nightlife could put a dent in your budget.

Average 2010 hotel rate: $122 (no change)
Price of beer (half-liter): $3.25–$5.19
Two-mile taxi ride: $11.11
State Department 2011 per diem: $417 (down 10 percent)


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