Europe is a consistently popular destination for visitors to travel to throughout the year. However, trips to well-known spots such as London or Paris can be costly during certain months. Travel Agent asked a few tour operators to share some of their picks for more affordable destinations to keep in mind, and what tours may be on offer in these places.
Harry Dalgaard, president and founder of Avanti Destinations, shared some insight on some of the best bargain destinations for travelers to keep in mind when looking for budget friendly tour options throughout Europe.
“Finding a bargain in Europe is not only a matter of choosing the right destinations, but also of choosing the right time of year to go,” he told Travel Agent. “Some countries are fantastic bargains all year long—even in the heavily booked and expensive summer season: Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland in Central Europe; Greece and Croatia in the eastern Mediterranean; and Portugal. Prices are generally lower in these countries than the more popular countries of France, UK, Italy, Spain.”
Croatia is not only a budget-friendly destination, it is also growing in popularity among travelers looking for a less traditional European experience. The Republic of Croatia is situated in Eastern Europe with a long coastline along the Adriatic Sea. Encompassing more than 1,000 islands, the region’s landscape is crossed by the Dinaric Alps. Its inland capital, Zagreb, is known for its medieval Gornji Grad (Old Town) district and multiple museums while the major coastal city of Dubrovnik is home to several Gothic and Renaissance buildings.
Avanti offers a fully customizable tour package to the region. The “Croatian Countryside Escape” is a four day/three night itinerary which includes accommodations in a 17th Century manor house with four days of compact rental car, a private countryside tour with wine tasting, wellness spa treatment for two, dinner with truffles, a second wine tasting and daily breakfast. This tour starts at $799 per person/double occupancy.
Dalgaard also suggests Portugal as a bargain destination year-round. The southern European republic is located on the Iberian Peninsula bordering Spain and, much like Croatia, has seen an influx of tourism in recent years. The country saw a record number visitors in 2016 according to Eurostat, reporting that occupancy rates of tourist establishments were up 1.7 percent from 2015, taking numbers to 60.6 million people.
Portugal is home to the Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira, and its mainland is split by the Tagus River. Much of the nation’s architecture dates between the 1500s and 1800s, when Portugal had a powerful maritime empire; its location on the Atlantic Ocean has influenced many aspects of its culture such as its national dishes of salt cod and grilled sardines. The Algarve region’s beaches are a popular destination for visitors, along with the capital of Lisbon, Porto, Sintra and Faro.
Avanti’s customizable “Explore Portugal” eight day/seven night tour takes guests through Lisbon, Coimbra, Douro Valley and Porto. Six days of rental car, one lunch each in Lisbon and Porto, a private Douro Valley Tour with lunch and wine-tasting, a Douro River Cruise, winery visit, and daily breakfast are all included for $1,219 per person/double occupancy.
For clients who are looking for budget friendly options for travel to Europe but would like stick to the more traditional trips, Dalgaard also has some recommendations.
“Timing, however, can make the biggest difference in price,” he says. “The absolute best bargains anywhere in Europe are in the winter—November through March. And what’s crazy in a sense is that winter is when your clients will experience the most “authentic” and intimate Europe. Because relatively few tourists visit Europe November-March, there are not only shorter or no lines at museums and other sights, but the cultural season is in full swing – theater, concerts, opera, ballet, art exhibitions.”
Additionally, Avanti is offering multiple winter deals with specially negotiated prices for several of these more popular destinations. There is the "London City Break," which includes four nights at a four-star hotel, as well as Oyster Card and London Illuminations Tour, starting at $499 per person. The high-season rate would be typically be $789 per person. Travelers looking to visit Italy might be interested in the "Rome City Break," a four-night itinerary including accommodations at a four-star superior hotel, private roundtrip transfers, private city tour and three-course dinner, starting at $785 per person. The high-season rate would be $999 per person.
As for bargain destinations in Central and Eastern Europe, Go Ahead Tours’ “Highlights of Eastern Europe” is an affordable option throughout the year.
The 15-day itinerary takes guests through Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Kraków and Warsaw, and the package includes 13 nights in handpicked hotels 13 breakfasts, five three-course dinners, six guided sightseeing tours, an expert tour director and local guides. Travelers will visit Matthias Church, the Hungarian Parliament Building, Szentendre, Schönbrunn Palace, Ringstrasse, Mikulov, Prague Castle, Wawel Cathedral and the Palace of Culture and Science. History buffs may be especially interested in this program, as many of the sites scheduled on the sightseeing tours have roots dating back to World War II. The package is priced at $2,049 per person and runs through October.
Also marked as an affordable European destination for year-round travel is the Czech Republic, specifically Prague. Bisected by the Vltava River, it has been nicknamed “The City of a Hundred Spires,” and is known for its Old Town Square, baroque buildings, Gothic churches and the medieval Astronomical Clock.
Foodies on a budget interested in travel to Prague can take advantage of Eating Europe Food Tours’ “Prague Food Tour.” Priced at $95 per person, the four-hour tour is ideal for travelers looking for an affordable activity in the city. The itinerary includes tastings traditional Czech dumplings, braised beef and authentic desserts, a stop at a local butcher shop to view old-world techniques, and a visit to a café (dating back to the early 20th century) that has hosted well-known figures including Franz Kafka and Albert Einstein as well as several other famous writers.
We also spoke with Amelia Sugerman, public relations manager at Collette, who shared some suggestions for more affordable tours and destinations to keep in mind when traveling to Europe. Similarly, her recommendations include trips through Croatia during the off-season as well.
She tells Travel Agent that one of her top picks for this budget friendly destination is the “Discover Croatia, Slovenia and the Adriatic Coast featuring Istrian Peninsula, Lake Bled, Dalmatian Coast and Dubrovnik” 12-day tour. Available from the end of September through February, the trip is priced at $1,849 per person, a tour usually priced at over $2,500. Guests visit Dubrovnik’s Franciscan Monastery as well as Diocletian’s Palace and embark on a Pletna boat ride to an island in the center of Lake Bled. Other activities include a trip to Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes National Park and dinner with a local family in the Konavle region outside Dubrovnik.
Also on Sugerman’s list of notable bargain tours is the “Shrines of Italy” 11-day tour. Although travel to the country can be pricy during the summer months, travelers can take advantage of several deals during the off-season. From September through March, the “Shrines of Italy” tour is priced at $1,749 per person, saving travelers over $250 versus the busy-season price.
Guests will spend time at the Abby of Montecassino, founded by St. Benedict, and later visit the Madonna del Rosario Sanctuary in Pompeii. A tour of Assisi will also take place, along with a trip to see the Gargano Peninsula to explore the Grotto of St. Michael, and a walk through the catacombs at the Vatican where early Christians hid and buried their dead. Regional wine tastings and 15 meals are also included.