On our Europe trip - a perfect Spring-break on budget


I shared the story of our planning a Europe trip in my previous article. Now comes the execution part. How can you save money on your Europe trip, that too in a peak season, and in the expensive cities like Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid etc? So this blog is basically structured into 3 parts - review of the hotels/hostels I stayed in, review and technique of using your travel cards to the best of use, and some tips about food that you can have(this last part is curated towards Indians)


Part 1 - Hotel Review

Here are some details and my review of the hotels we stayed at, the modes of transport that we used, travel cards we bought and the food we ate while in Europe.
Except for Antwerp, where we booked a couple room in a youth hostel at city center, everywhere else we stayed at IBIS hotels at an unbelievable price range of Rs.5000- Rs.6000 including food.

IBIS Budget, Amsterdam City South - We got a fantastic view of quintessential suburban society from our room on the 14th floor, about 13 km from the city center. But the tram/metro station was just 50 meters away and thanks to the super-fast public transport we could reach all the important places in the city within 20 minutes. This was the costliest at approximately Rs.7400 per night, but so were all the hostel options in Amsterdam during the peak Tulip season.
I loved the quaint neighborhood, away from the crowded city center, the tiny waterbody outside and the greenery all around. Resturant space was quite large and the breakfast spread was good.
Breakfast menu included bread, butter, cheese, choice of jam, cold-cut chicken, ham and beef(i guess), lots of fruits for vegans, boiled eggs for non-vegetarians not to keen on cold-cuts, muffins, three types of breakfast cereals, croissant, fruit-juice, muffins and some choices of hot-drinks
#What I loved - The view 😍
#What I didn't - The cost, nothing specific to the hotel, it's just the cost of living in Amsterdam
#Tip for first-timers- What I came to know from my friends living in Amsterdam, the tap water is absolutely safe and that is what they drink every day. So keep calm and save money :)

Read about our epic  trip to Amsterdam (or watch the video to know it all)
Verdict - 4/5

IBIS budget Amsterdam City South
IBIS Budget Amsterdam - source: IBIS website

Antwerp  Central Youth Hostel - 2.5 km from the Antwerpen Centraal railway station, this large beautiful hostel is located at the heart of the city at the fashion-district, close to all the major points of interest at Antwerp. Loved the fun ambiance, spacious double-bed room and delicious breakfast spread here. Slightly noisy at night, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay. Breakfast was great, almost the same stuff as in Amsterdam (it was quite uniform across Europe in fact).

#What I loved - A rack filled with free local guide-cum-map of the city of Antwerp, Brugge, Brussels, and Ghent. A gem for any backpacker
#What I didn't - The noise at night, but my husband slept like a baby, so maybe it was just my fever that kept me awake :(
#Travel Tip - Towels are to be rented at a nominal price, you can save by just carrying one

Verdict: 4/5

Read about our epic ZERO budget Antwerp Experience :)
Room at Antwerp hostel
IBIS, DeHaan - This one looked and felt like a resort, with spacious rooms, beautiful garden, outdoor dining, and even a swimming pool. Amazing place to relax and rewind in the lap of nature, at the price of any budget hotel in Europe. The only problem is reaching the place as there is only one tram every 30-45 minutes leaving from Ostend to DeHaan
#What I loved - Everything! So much that we forgot to take pictures of the beautiful room and dining space at the garden :(
#What I didn't - Nothing actually. Maybe the initial worry about how to reach the place
#Tip - Book this if you want to spend time in DeHaan and not in Brugge and use only public transport. If you rent a car then it will be easily doable.
Never heard of this place? Read more about this Belgian gem - A Day at De Haan
(5/5)
IBIS DeHaan
IBIS Style, Montmartre (B&B)- Excellent location close to metro station, 300 meters from the glamorous Moulin Rouge and 1.2 km from the spiritual Sacre Coeur. The hotel room was too small to qualify for IBIS Style and the breakfast space was congested, although given the location advantage and complimentary breakfast the price was perfectly reasonable.
Breakfast spread was full of sweet-dishes - different varieties of croissants, muffins, and cake. No eggs, only cold-cuts meat and the rest of the spread was pretty much the same as others. Oh well, fruit juices were DIY, which I liked as you could make fresh fruit juice on your own. If you stay here, don't worry about food at all, the place is full of amazing restaurants and cafes which are open till late at night.
#What I loved - The throbbing night-life, which makes it safe and normal to return to the hotel at late night
#What I didn't- narrow corridors and congested restaurant
#Travel tip - Walk and explore Montmartre, it has this beautiful chaotic charm in itself.

Verdict -3.75/5

IBIS Style, Casteldefells - 2km from the beach,12-minute walk from the RENFE train station, and an additional 30 minutes on the train to Barcelona, this place is clearly not for someone who wants to spend all day at Barcelona. But Casteldefells itself is a gorgeous city famous for being home to Barcelona football stars like Messi and Suarez.
#What I loved - The spacious room here and also the location in an upscale society near a Carrefour supermarket and a large shopping & entertainment complex.
#What I didn't - Distance from the station
#Travel Tip- Keep some time to explore Casteldefells by bike or walk, it is beautiful. There is a castle which we took pictures of but couldn't go to.

Verdict - 4.75/5

IBIS Budget Calle, MadridLocated in a busy part of the city very close to the metro station, restaurants and even a Carrefour market, this was the last hotel we booked, almost a month after we had booked everything else. Prices by that time had already soared and all other hotels in the same budget were booked. The room was minimalist as expected, but what we really disliked was the absurd restroom arrangement.
 Verdict - 3.5/5

Things that we didn't get in any of the above hotels/hostels-
- No electric kettle or tea bags in the room. Yeah, that's something we have come to take for granted in any hotel in India but you don't get it here at that budget. So if you plan to carry ready-to-cook noodles or soup, plan accordingly
- No dental kit or moisturizers
Things that we got in all the places
- Free Wifi with unlimited high-speed internet suitable for even for video calling, accessing social media and maps with ease, even watching short videos. You can even top up the speed with extra payment.

Travel Cards

Iamsterdam city card -  Available in denominations of 24hours up to 120 hours, this is just one small card that gives you unlimited free access to all public transport within the city and free entry to most of the important attractions in and around Amsterdam- more than you'd have time to see. 
While in Amsterdam we returned to our hotel every evening to freshen up and tread out again, all thanks to the unlimited transport. Read more 
The goodies that came with Iamsterdam Card
Places we used the card, besides transport where we saved at least €17.5 (72-hour transport ticket price)
- Audio guided 100 attraction canal cruise for sightseeing (€20)
- Van Gogh's Museum including the audio guide (€18)
- Tulip museum including the audio guide (€5)
- Inside the Windmill tour at Zaanse Sachs (€4)
- Audio guided tour to the awe-inspiring Zaans Museum, Zaanse Sachs (€10)
- Rijk's museum (€17.5) - well, the museum got closed as soon as we went inside.
Add to this the free transport, the travel magazine, map and guide to all of Amsterdam's neighborhood, this wasn't a bad deal for us. Well, there are a lot more you can cover if you plan your travels properly. 
Some of the things we missed but you shouldn't-
Entry to at least one of the castles in Amsterdam neighborhood, Maritime Museum, Diamond Museum and boat ride at Maarken. 

#Tip 1: All the museums except Anne Frank house close by 5-6 pm, so keep save canal cruise for the evening, and get back to the hotel for rest only after the museums are all closed :D
A beautiful view of a series of bridges- the photo was taken from behind the glass windows of Canal Cruise


Paris Pass - I'd recommend buying the Paris Pass only if you are want to visit a large number of monuments and are ready to roam around from early morning to midnight. The 3-day pass comes at 160 Euros, almost double the price of the 72 hour Amsterdam card, but given that you are in Paris- the world's biggest tourist destination, I'd say it's worth it. This time, I actually stayed awake late planning our tour every day so that we could make the most out of this card, something honestly we could not do at Amsterdam.


Paris Pass cards
With this you get 3 cards - one for transport(3 days), one for the museum (2 days) and one more for attractions (3 days) (slightly inconvenient but it comes in a single fold-able plastic jacket). Paris is a city packed with more iconic monuments and must-see attractions than one can see in even seven days. Here's what we did with the card, apart from the incessant traveling on metros and buses.
  • The Bateaux Parisiens River Cruise €15
  • 1 Day ticket for hop-on-hop-off Big Bus tour €35
  • Aquarium de Paris - a state of the art aquarium wit over 500 species €20.5
  • Guided tour of the iconic Opera Garnier €15.5
  • 56th Floor, Montparnasse tower €18
  • Louvre Museum - €15 for 1 day, with Paris pass you can visit it as many times you want in 2 days + save at least 1 hour with skipping the line
  • Orsay Museum €11
  • Rodin Museum €10
  • Notre Dame Crypt €6 and Tower €8.5
  • The roof of Arc De Triomphe €12
There you go, without the pass, we would have spent €160 on just these attractions, forget the intra-city transport. Just to give a rough idea of the amount we would have spent on transport- any one-way metro ticket costs €1.9 in Paris and we used the metros at least 4 times a day (bare minimum), so we saved at least €23 on travel. 
Important museums we missed due to time constraints were the wax museum, Palace of Versailles, Pantheon, and Conciergerie to name a few, but we saw most of them from outside atop the open-hooded big bus
Here's your ultimate guide to a perfect evening at Paris for a first-time visitor- A Perfect Evening in Paris
Notredame Cathedral from atop the hop-on-hop-off  tourist bus

Barcelona card With 10% discount online we got a 96 hour Barcelona card at 45 Euros only. This gave us free intra-city transport including (thankfully) transport between Casteldefells and Barcelona, as well as to the airport. There are two cards - one only for transport and one for all the discount and free offers. We got another discount booklet from Barcelona bus touristic which we took using our Barcelona card 😏
There are very few free attractions covered by the Barcelona card but they have great discount coupons for food, hop-on-hop-off Bus touristic, and most of the major attractions. However, the top 2 tourist destinations- CampNou and Sagrada Familia are excluded :(
Barcelona Card and Bus touristic booklet
The train fare from Barcelona airport to Casteldefells would be about €4, and the daily rail fare from our hotel to Barcelona was €2.5 - €3. Also include bus fare to Tibidabo, La Rambla and other places within Barcelona, we had easily saved at least €40 only on intra-city travel. Add to that the discounts we took on the places we visited using the card, we easily surpassed the value of the card by over €20.
These are where we used for free or discounted entry-
Skip line and Free entry to CCCB - A dynamic visitor attraction which organizes a wide range of exhibitions and activities every day. saved €8 for two exhibitions
Skip line and Free entry to National Art Museum of Catalunya - saved €12 
50% off on Casa de le Punxes - saved €5
20% off on Barcelona bus tourists, the hop-on-hop-off tourist bus of Barcelona - saved €8 
€4 off on a funicular ride to Tibidabo amusement park -  saved €4
€4 off on a 40-minute cruise in the Mediterranean sea from Barcelona port
We also got a ridiculous discount at Subway and McDonalds that reduced our joint expenditure on food to less than €15 per day!


The Olympic racing track AFAIR, across the Mediterranean, as seen from bus touristic

Madrid transport card - There are one or two private passes for Madrid city tour that you would find online but its almost as expensive as Paris, and honestly didn't look promising. So the first thing we did when we stepped into Madrid purchased the 3 day Madrid city transport card at 18.5 Euros. This gave us unlimited access to the intra-city transport network including airport transfer, and.. well that's about it. Not only is it a cheaper alternative to buying tickets, it also saves the time in queue or even on the self-help kiosks.
Plaza de Espana at Marid




Well, I did spend a hell lot of time and effort in scanning all our cards and trying to recalculate the expenses and savings we did with those. Hope it helps someone in planning their travel.

Food Options

I don't think I can be a food blogger, because when food is served to me, there's only one thing that comes to my mind - eat it. I browsed on my phone to check if I took any photos of the food, turns out that was only once. Food in Europe is expensive, but that doesn't mean that you should become a camel - gulp everything in the Breakfast buffet and store it for the rest of the day. No - you are in Europe to enjoy yourself not starve. So here are my rapid-fire review and pointers for food in Western Europe-

- I LOVED Amsterdam the most, but.. please don't take offense when I say this is the worst food destination. Crazy expensive, not so great.
At a crazy expensive Dutch Cafe at Dam's Square

- At Amsterdam, the only place where we found cheap food was the kebab and sandwich shops in the red-light district. The ambiance there resembles those small crowded roadside eggroll outlets of Kolkata or kebab shops in Delhi. This was the city where even McDonalds was costlier than other cities, but that is a safer, relatively cheaper option here

- Spain was the best food destination. Relish on the local cuisines - Tapas and Paella while pouring yourself a glass of Sangria, if you drink. The food in Spain is cheap and the local cuisines are more palatable for Indian taste-buds (spicy gravy and well-cooked meat). Good news for vegetarians, they have good vegetarian versions of their food as well, as from what I understood, there are many vegans in the country

- Speaking of vegetarians, Antwerp would delight you all - the growing Jain Indian community has a strong influence on the diamond city's changing eco-system so you will find good Indian vegetarian restaurants there are budget rates.

- Well, we are a "strictly non-vegetarian couple" as my husband says, so we ate delicious prawn pizza in the afternoon and Chinese (cooked in Indian style, if you know what I mean) at Wok the walk.

- Now how can I give my honest opinion about everyone's heartbeat - Paris 😏. As I said the breakfast spread was a bit too sweet, in fact, Paris is indeed a hub for mind-blowing desserts- we're talking macrons, pastries, and chocolates. But when it comes to breakfast, lunch or dinner, the local cuisine may not be loved by Indians. But worry not, as Paris has innumerable Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi restaurants all under the uber category of Indian Restaurants. We had an absolutely wonderful Indian meal for dinner near Montparnasse on one day and another at Montmartre. So just look out for Indian restaurants in these two areas. There are some fantastic vegan places too if you want.

- When in Paris, avoid easting near Eiffel tower if you are on a budget - it's tempting, but not rewarding enough. Of course, if you want a luxury experience you should try the restaurant in the second stage of the Eiffel tower or on the 55th floor of Montparnasse.

- Now, some generic pointers for Indian budget travelers-
When in doubt, go to McDonald's, Burger King, KFC or Subway (my favorite). Subway, in fact, is the most healthy option of all the above. There are standard rates and tastes as expected
Buy water, muffins, cold drinks etc. from the nearest Carrefour if possible. Yeah, that's one place where you might as well get things cheaper than in India without compromising on quality.

- If I am to believe the locals (which I do) the tap water is the most common source of safe drinking water in Holland, Germany, Belgium and most of France (Paris being one of them). Always ask the hotel receptionist whether the tap water is safe for drinking, because packaged water is not provided for free in hotels or hostels, and they are pretty expensive. If you have to buy packaged water, as I said, go to Carrefour or any supermarket, do not buy it from the hotel. (I wish I knew this before spending about 10Euros on the packaged water in Amsterdam😞)

When in doubt, go for Pizza - I loved the loaded egg-mushroom-ham pizza at Antwerp



Please tell me in the comments and pin the image below for your next trip. If you like it share it :)
Read the first part for a guide to planning your first Europe visit!
Also read travel stories from our Europe series on Prague, ToledoDe Haan and others.
Happy traveling!
EuroTrip Essentials Pinterest
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Comments

  1. This is so useful! I'm going to forward this to my friend who is planning a trip to a few of the cities you've mentioned! Thanks for the great post.

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  2. Wow honestly all of these places look great! Especially that hostel! My only hostel experience was absolutely awful, so this gives me a little more hope for hostels around the world lol

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