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Ways to Sightsee while Enjoying Europe on a Budget

Cheap Travel at Your Own Pace Allows you to More Deeply Appreciate Unique Cultures

Seeing Rome on a budget: Enjoy free music performances at any hour on the Piazza Navona.
A stroll around the beautiful Italian Piazza Navona in Rome — always full of life and immersed in history and art — costs nothing. Gelato and other temptations will draw you irresistibly, and it is cheaper on the side streets. Photo © Transitions Abroad.

Sightseeing is often a Europe travel expense people forget or underestimate, but you can quickly rack up charges in the realm of even hundreds of euros in no time with tours and pricey attraction tickets. But you don’t want to miss out on seeing the attractions, of course. That’s a major reason you’re visiting Europe. Just be smart about sightseeing and you can protect your wallet from shock while enjoying your trip as many locals enjoy a fine wine.

Pursuing budget options while sightseeing in Europe is also a nice bonus. Even well-to-do Europeans are much more frugal and conscientious about spending than your typical American tourist. If you observe how locals live daily, you are much more likely to encounter locals along the way and enjoy a more authentic and, therefore, memorable experience.

Cheap Sightseeing in Europe, Idea #1: People Watching

There are few things in life better than simply people-watching in Europe. You can do this for free by finding a nice bench or spot in a busy plaza, square, or thoroughfare. Or you can pop some change for a cup of coffee and do it with some style: people watch from a sidewalk café.

Old Nice, France, cafes and squares can be seen and enjoyed on a budget.
People watching from a sidewalk cafe in old Nice, France, is relaxing and light on the budget. Buy a drink and hang out for hours observing the street theater created by locals and tourists. Photo © Transitions Abroad.

Cheap Sightseeing Idea in Europe, #2: Wander Aimlessly

One of my favorite ways to experience Europe is a specific plan to do nothing. When arriving in a new city, I tuck a local map in my back pocket and go, usually in no direction in particular. Spontaneity has its place as much as planning. Here, we get beyond the guidebooks and apps to discover the best way to make discoveries. If you avoid bad neighborhoods, it is a splendid way to explore a city.

The most rewarding aspect of this approach is that you will find some fantastic city neighborhoods tucked away, teeming with friendly locals, and unknown by most tourists.

Standing on a bridge looking down the Arno River in Rome at sunset makes for great siteseeing.
Spend a day in one of the greatest walking cities in the world — Rome — and catch the sunset passing over a bridge on the way to the lively Trastevere neighborhood. Photo © Transitions Abroad.

Cheap Sightseeing Idea in Europe, #3: Look for Free Museum Days

Most major European cities and even some countries feature free museums or attraction days of the month. Some also feature free evenings. Check to see when the free day is at the destination you will visit, and plan accordingly.

One word of warning is that free days tend to attract the hordes. If there is no online booking option, you can expect long lines and an experience that may be less pleasant. But for pricey attractions, it may be worth it. Personally, this is one area where I typically splurge and decide it just isn’t worth the savings. I prefer to enjoy a museum or attraction without the crowds. But this is an excellent option for those who don’t mind crowds.

You can also find attraction passes; sometimes, these even pair local transportation passes with museum entries. Be careful with this option as well, however, and study the comparison of paying individually. These passes are often expensive per day. Unless you plan to visit many attractions and heavily use transportation, you could spend more getting the pass than it’s worth.

The Gianicolo gardens in Rome are a peaceful and green place to take a break from siteseeing.
Wander through the Gianicolo gardens above Trastevere in Rome for free and escape the hordes and tours. Hang out in a park above the Vatican where Romans come to relax. Photo © Transitions Abroad.

Cheap Sightseeing Idea in Europe, #4: Be Your Own Tour Guide

This follows similar lines to suggestion #2 but with a slightly different spin. One of the biggest budget drains for sightseeing is organized tours, which can sometimes run well over a few hundred euros per person. Instead, go it on your own. Find a good map, brochure, guidebook, or app that mentions the destinations you want to see. Use the excellent Google maps tool to build an itinerary. Then start your journey, either on foot or via public transport. Podcast tours are also an inexpensive alternative to most live local tour guides.

The benefit here is that you aren’t tied to a strict itinerary, and you can linger as long as you like at one stop while rushing to the next if it’s boring.

Walk through the Roman Forum and admire it from above in Rome.
You need no guide to walk around the Roman Forum. Read beforehand or have a guidebook handy for reference and wander where the Romans walked, but at your own pace. Photo © Transitions Abroad.

Cheap Sightseeing Idea in Europe, #5: Use Local Transportation

European transportation options are extensive, even surprisingly available in many small cities and villages. Hopping a city bus, a metro or commuter line, or even a regional train can cost nothing more than change and provide you with a nice tour of the city or the area.

In many destinations, you will find hop-on and hop-off tour buses, for example, that cost 25 euros and up per person. Then, a block later, you will use the local transportation with an all-day pass for 3 euros. Are you getting a value worth eight times that of the local transit? It isn’t very likely. One tip, however, is that local transportation systems can confuse visitors. Ask your hotel’s front desk for help, a bus map, or a schedule, or visit the local tourism office for assistance.

Above all, we urge you to enjoy the endless rich cultural offerings and sites, while respecting local people as they live the unique lives they have created over the centuries.

Also by Kelby Hartson Carr
Budget Travel in Europe
Budget Dining in Europe
Budget Transportation in Europe
Budget Accommations in Europe
Apartment Rentals in Nice, France
The French Riviera on a Budget
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