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Europe as a budget destination – part V – what to do there?

In the first post of this series, I’ve bundled the travel issues into 5 categories: “Where to?” , When to go?”, “How to get around?”, “Where to sleep?” and “What to do there?” Having dealt with the first four questions, I now get to the best part – the fun stuff to do in Europe on a budget. Now I know Europe is famous for the amount and quality of attractions, like museums, churches, beaches etc. And you can save, for example, by visiting several museums in one day on a city pass, by doing what I call a “museum run”. However, when on a budget, its nice to have a few fun options that cost virtually nothing. The following 3 are my personal favourites.

  • Go hiking
    Europe is the best continent for hiking. Period. Nepal, New Zealand, New Mexico, all are great hiking destinations, but hiking in Europe is just so much easier. Every country in Europe, large or small, offers a vast array of well-marked hiking trails of every degree of difficulty and length. There are fully equipped, clean campings all over the place. If you don’t feel like camping, a mountain cabin is usually available. And if you’re tired of hiking, civilization is just a couple of hours away even in the remotest parts of Europe. This doesn’t mean you will hike among hordes of people (like on the Around Annapurna trek or on any of the Great Walks of New Zealand). Even slightly off-season (in June or September), in a bit less touristy areas (Pyrenees or Scandinavia) or on not-the-most-popular-paths you will be mostly by yourself. Best part – hiking is for free.

    Europe is ideal for hiking

    Hiking is for free even in expensive Switzerland

  • Take the tram
    The tram is my favourite vehicle and is a distinctly European mode of transport. Trams are virtually non-existent outside Europe. Unlike the metro, the tram runs above ground, so you don’t get claustrophobic. Its on rail, so it doesn’t veer like the bus does (buses always give me nausea). You’re inside a tram so you don’t get wet like you do when cycling. Finally, the tram offers a great view with zero effort, and tram routes usually go through cool parts of town. Buy a day ticket – it’s a great (budget) way to get to know a city. Just hop on, ride all the way to the suburbs, step out at the end of the line and have a walk in the park – usually there is a park where the line (and the city) ends. Then go back to the tram and go back. If still in the mood, repeat, using another line. Congratulations, you’ve just had a great day of sightseeing for about 5 euros. Probably met a few locals on the tram, too.

    Tram crossing the Erasmus bridge in Rotterdam

    Tram crossing the Erasmus bridge in Rotterdam

  • Have a break
    Yes, this one is, again, not unique to Europe. But while backpackers all over the world spend their time in hammocks, the ones in Europe seem to be rushing from museum to church to party, with never a dull moment in between. European distances are, indeed, relatively small and the attractions are innumerable, but taking a day or two off your travels is as good an idea in Europe as it is anywhere else. Give yourself a rest – the museum will still be there tomorrow, the church has been there for 800 years and will wait, and you still have a hangover from yesterday’s party. Stay in your hostel (or with your Couchsurfing host), have a walk in the neighbourhood without actually going anywhere, read a newspaper in the local library (most have newspapers in English) or a book, even if its your Lonely Planet guide. Perhaps you might end up reconsidering your next destination or decide to stay longer where you are at the moment. Having a break can and probably will save you money, short- and long-term.

    A book store in a former church in Maastricht

    If you don’t have a book – why not buy one? A visit to a local book store can be quite interesting, even if you don’t end up buying anything. Especially if its anything like this one, located in a former church in Maastricht.

    This sums up my series of posts about budget travel in Europe. As usual, if you have any tips of your own, or anything to add to the ones I wrote, you’re welcome to leave your comment here. Happy travels!


Filed under Europe, Europe on a budget, Tips and tricks, Travel

Museum run

Many European cities offer some kind of a visitors pass – a one-day or multi-day ticket that gives you access to major attractions, public transport and some discounts. I like these visitors passes as they allow my to do what I call “museum runs”. You see, I’ve been in so many museums that I sort of lost the patience for the slow strolling around that for some reason is the normal pace of museum-goers. It hurts my feet to shuffle around from one prolonged gaze at a painting to another. That’s why I sometimes revert to the museum run.

European cities usually have their (numerous) museums packed into the compact city centre or a convenient museum quarter. The high density of museums and the public transport access given by the pass allow me to squeeze as many museums as I can handle into a single day. On such a day, I do “cherry-picking” – in no way do I feel obliged to see the whole collection of a particular museum, but I rather head straight to the section or exhibition that I find interesting, skipping the rest. This way, and by walking in a normal pace (considered sacrilegious by the other visitors, judging by the dirty looks they always give me), I spent an average of half an hour per venue, and I can go to up to 10 museums in a day.

The fun part of a museum run is that I get to skip all those badly painted Madonna’s with baby Jesus (who is always painted as a 4-year old rather than a newborn), and focus on the stuff that I like. And get a varied museum experience, skipping from Indian painting of the 19th century to a tram museum to modern installations exhibition. I mean, I enjoy seeing Indian paintings of the 19th century, but after half an hour they become more of the same. So switching themes helps me to stay sharp in my consumerism of culture. And if a museum is boring, or not what I have expected – I just skip to the next one, without hard feelings.

On my museum runs I often shut myself from the world outside by playing some high-bpm audio content in my headphones. The music helps me ignore the other visitors (especially handy on Sundays) and I can also concentrate more on the visual perceptions – museums are mostly about seeing, not hearing.

The museum of crazyness in Haarlem – also free with the museum card

Since I live in a country with the highest museum density in the world,  the opportunities for museum runs are endless here. With an annual museum card, I have  free access to most of the museums and I’m doing my best to put it to good use.  I’m not a multimillionaire, so I can’t buy a Rembrandt or a Vermeer. But I pay the taxes that sponsor the museums, and I have the museum card so its just as if I own them – I can go see them every day. Which reminds me – I should check on some of my favourite paintings. And since I live in a small European country, they’re not too far away.

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Filed under Europe, Travel