You did your homework, scored the best deal on air tickets, booked the perfect places to stay and now finally you've arrived at the first destination of your big Euro trip. You made it. Yay!
But, now what?
You have a week, two weeks or maybe even a month to get to know all the places you've always dreamed of visiting. But it's never going to be enough. And even if it was, you don't have an unlimited budget. How then, do you decide what to see and what to skip? After all, Europe is vast and experiences are many; there are world famous sites to tick off, incredible museums to experience and a lot of culture to take in. And all of these cost money, right?
Wrong. Contrary to common perception, the best of what this continent has to offer is free and accessible to all. You just need to be smart about it.
To help you along, here are a few ways you can explore Europe, without shelling out too much from your budget.
Download A Self-Guided Audio Tour
The first day in a new place can be daunting. What you need is someone who can hold your hand and get you acquainted. Audio tours do just that. At your pace, on your own time. For free! All you have to do is download the tour on your phone along with the map, plug in your earphones and start walking. The tour will act as your personal guide and in a few hours, walk you through the most spectacular attractions of the city. Good tours will talk about the history of the place, while also keeping you up to date with current events and listings.
I used Rick Steves' audio tours almost everywhere in Italy. He has a tour for most of the popular spots, and I enjoyed his style of mixing history with some charismatic and funny storytelling. He even pointed me to some interesting cafes, restaurants and shops nearby while I was walking about!
Take A Free Walking Tour
If you are someone who enjoys company, then free walking tours can be a great way for you to be introduced to a place and other travellers. You'll find a bunch of these in most cities and you'll be usually required to register for the tour you are interested in online. I signed up for the Sandeman's walking tours in Paris (they run tours in many cities in the world), and had a fantastic experience. I met the guide, who was a local Parisian, at a common meeting point, along with around 10 other tourists from different parts of the world. After a quick round of introductions, we followed her as she took us on a "Heart of Paris" walk. She was sarcastic, funny and full of interesting anecdotes.
Though advertised as free, you can contribute a small token amount at the end if you enjoyed the tour. Most people usually give around €5 to 10.
Walk Up To The Highest Landmark In The City
Seeing the sun behind a panoramic view of the city is a sight you won't forget easily. It is also a great way to take in the larger picture, without getting bogged down by the details. This joy comes free of charge at most places. Climb up to a church, bell tower or a hill for some crazy good views. Go early in the morning to get the best pictures – the light will be softer and you will beat the tourist frenzy.
The Duomo in Florence is popular as a good spot to get stunning 360 degree views of the city, but there's an entrance fee (€15). Which is why I skipped this cathedral and took a bus instead to San Miniato al Monte Basilica. Here, I was able to see the most breathtaking views of Florence, minus a ticket and crowds, and without being rushed for time.
Score Free Museum Visits And Give Alternatives A Chance
Whether it's the world-famous Uffizi Museum in Florence, the magnificent Louvre in Paris or the Rijks Museum in the Netherlands, you cannot go back without exploring Europe's many fascinating museums. Unfortunately however, the ones most popular have big entrance fees and even bigger queues. But there is a way around this. Skip the popular museums, and instead choose other excellent alternatives. Many museums will be free and will offer you the same level of insight, without the chaos.
If you still want to visit the big names, check the individual museum websites. Some of them will have free entry on a particular day every month. For example, a visit to the grand Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum costs a steep € 16. Entry is, however, free on the last Sunday morning of each month.
Attend Festivals, Special Nights And Free Cultural Events
Colourful, loud and larger than life – Europe's fairs, festivals and markets are the perfect places to interact with locals and get a peek into how they celebrate life. Look up schedules for these events on official tourism websites and read up on some blogs to know what to expect. Nothing will make you feel less like a tourist than letting yourself be swept away by the mad energy of a European festival.
Roaming around the vegetable and fruit market every morning in the bohemian Campo de' Fiori piazza in Rome was an experience I'll never forget. This was usually the place I picked up strawberries and bananas from, before setting out for the day. I loved how the local sellers would engage me in conversations and give me great insider tips!
These are real hacks that I picked up on my recent trip to Italy and Paris. They helped me stay within my budget, without having to compromise on the experience. Do you have any tips for travellers visiting Europe on a budget. I would love to hear from you in the comments section below.