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Eating Well in Europe on a Budget

For many people (this writer included) one of the main joys of traveling is sampling all the culinary wonders of a new cuisine. It can be hard to reconcile a small budget with a big appetite, but with a little creativity, you can stretch your travel dollars and enjoy all the tasty delights a country has to offer, without going over budget.

Create a Budget

Decide how much you want to spend on dining out over the course of your trip, then break it down to an average per-day total. Every day, tally up what you’ve spent and keep a running total. If you go over budget one day, scale back your spending the next.

Score Freebies Where You Can

If your accommodations offer free breakfast or an afternoon wine and cheese reception, load up. The more gratis goodies you eat now, the less you’ll need to spend on food later. If you can snag a few extra snacks (maybe toss a muffin or a piece of fruit in your bag), do so and you won’t  have to spend more money if you feel a bit peckish later on.


shop-at-a-local-storeStaying in a place with kitchen facilities is one of the easiest ways to save money on your dining expenses. Head to the store, buy some bread, meat, cheese, a few eggs, and voila – breakfast and lunch are covered for the week, for a small percentage of what you’d pay eating out for all those meals. You can even head to the market one night, select some local ingredients and wine, and prepare a lovely regionally-influenced meal at home. Every time you prepare that food after your trip, you’ll be reminded of the meal and where you originally ate it.

Balance Splurge with Sacrifice

There’s no harm in spending big one day, so long as you cut back the next to stay under your overall budget. If you scrimp on lunch, put the extra into a nice dinner. And likewise if you have an expensive feast one night balance that out with a lighter, cheaper breakfast from the market or a picnic lunch the following day.

Head to the Market

get-lunch-at-a-marketShopping at a local food market not only saves you money on eating out, it also gives you a glimpse at local life. Watch residents do their daily shopping while you stock up on ingredients to pack a snack or cook a full meal.

Stand Up

In many European countries, you’ll pay more for a seat. Mosey up to the bar and order there instead (especially at cafes and tapas bars) and you’ll save a few Euros. Eating from take-away counters and street vendors is another great way to sample local cuisine for a small price. From crepes in France to pizza in Italy, you’ll enjoy some of the best food a country has to offer.

Splurge on Lunch

lunch-at-the-splendidoMake lunch your biggest meal of the day. Portions at lunch are often smaller, so the prices are too, but you’ll still get to try the same dishes. If there is a particular restaurant you are dying to try, check to see if they offer lunch service and go then to save money. You’re also less likely to drink much alcohol at lunch, which can amount to considerable savings. 

Skip the Wine

Speaking of drinking, to really save money on your dining bill, cut out the alcohol. While wine in many European countries is much cheaper than in the US, it can still add up quickly and take a bite out of your budget. If you are going to drink, drink whatever is local. Imported drinks are always more expensive.

Avoid the Tourist Crowds

Restaurants by major tourist attractions are usually overpriced and not very good. Wander off down side streets in search of places full of local diners and you’ll likely get a better deal. How to tell if a restaurant is geared towards tourists? If waiters stand outside trying to lure you in, if the menu has pictures or is printed in several languages, and if the only sound you hear is English conversation.

Split Your Plates

split-a-plateThere’s no rule that says you must order multiple courses. Sure, you want to sample as much as possible, but that can be costly. If you are traveling with a companion, share one appetizer, pasta or salad and one main course between the two of you. You’ll get to try two dishes and won’t overspend.


Friday 15th of February 2013

it's better to go off, get off and go and go and do it.


Wednesday 16th of March 2011

I think the advice about the alcohol is pretty good. Obviously you should try the local beverages but it's much cheaper to pick up a bottle when you have picnics.


Thursday 29th of April 2010

@Rachel - the Author does mention breakfast under 'Score Freebies', but I will agree with having as it's own point.

I would disagree with the section about wine. Not the content necessarily, but the emphasis. Especially in Italy the local wine means a lot to the culture of the town you are in, Germany the same goes for the local beer. To just blatantly skip these is missing out, unless you just don't drink at all. So I would say the argument is to try local drinks and skip anything imported or not local. This goes for Coke and Water too. Most places will charge water as a normal drink.


Tuesday 1st of September 2009

Another one to add to your list is filling up on breakfast.

If you're staying in hotels or B&B's, and depending on the location, breakfasts can often be lovely and very filling. So if you're on a budget, eating plenty for breakfast can avoid the need for paying to have lunch!

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