Top tips for budgeting on a city break

Amsterdam - Copyright:

There’s no doubt that some cities are simply more expensive to visit than others and when you’re travelling with a family these costs can really add up. We’ve stayed in our fair share of expensive countries, I think Denmark might top the list where in one restaurant a lemonade was £8. Or there’s the time we went to Courcheval skiing and bought some olives from a street stall which cost €15 – and this wasn’t a one-off, the whole resort was unbelievably expensive. So we’ve come up with a few tips and tricks for budgeting on a city break and keeping costs down.

Budgeting on a city break: Book carefully

Look at when the country you want to visit will have it’s holidays and book to travel outside of those times. This can work really well for the cities that are just going about day to day business with schools in session etc There will be a lot more hotel rooms available. It’s also important to check the city’s calendar – we once tried to visit Paris during Fashion week (unbeknown to us at the time we were booking) and it was virtually impossible to get a room, so it’s important to be mindful of events that could book out the accommodation.

Budgeting on a city break: Eat well but strategically

I don’t know if it’s just us but often food is the biggest part of our budget when travelling – after airfare and accommodation of course. But we try to eat out with much more thought if we’re in an expensive city so will research cheap eat options, looking for some local, tasty street food or go for falafels or curry. For cheap lunches on the go we’ll stop in a supermarket to pick up baguettes, some cheese, fruit, a bag of tortilla chips and we’re all happy.

Cool Caribbean vibes and delicious dishes at Calypso Kitchen, Wapping Wharf, Bristol - copyright:

Budgeting on a city break: Shop carefully

Wherever possible in expensive cities we will look to stay in self catering accommodation so we can cook up our own food and keep costs down. There can be something really rewarding in shopping at the local farmer’s markets and feeling like a local. We have also been known to take bags of dried pasta and jars of pasta sauce with us – especially if we’re going to be staying at an expensive ski resort (lesson learnt after Courcheval!).

Budgeting on a city break: Look out for city cards

Always look to see if there are any city cards – these can offer great value for money with free or reduced entry into lots of museums and attractions and often with public transport included too. Definitely do your homework though and cost these out – if you aren’t planning on visiting many museums or using the public transport it obviously won’t be worth it. Sometimes they can also include the hop on hop off buses which are a great, fun activity in themselves.


hop on hop off bus - copyright:

Budgeting on a city break: Use credit cards wisely

If you use a credit card at home or when you travel shop around for a good deal and consider using a rewards credit card where you can build up points that can be used in exchange for flights, hotels or days out.

Budgeting on a city break: Ice creams are essential

In the summer we took a two week cruise around the Mediterranean and stopped in seven different cities. It was so hot but European cities are not the cheapest and ice creams on summer days can really add up – especially when our little ones spotted the little stands with the new watermelon ice lollies for sale. So we started going to a supermarket and picking up a pack of five ice lollies (we even found packs of the watermelon ones) which would cost the same price as a single one from the stands. It meant we could have a couple each day and not break the bank over it.

Ice lolly in Cadiz, Spain - copyright:

Budgeting on a city break: Look locally

Always look at local websites before you travel – you can normally find offers geared towards locals but which visitors and tourists can take advantage of it. Groupon, for example, can be good for looking up local offers.

Budgeting on a city break: Think about when to eat out

If you want to eat out at a nice restaurant in an expensive city you can keep costs down by going out for lunch rather than dinner where you can often have the same menu but it can be much cheaper.

Budgeting on a city break: Book accommodation carefully

If you do want to stay in a hotel, look at discount hotel sites for deals but also then go back to the hotel direct as they will often throw in some extras to get you to book through them. One good thing is to ask them to include breakfast so you can fill up on a big hotel breakfast to set you up for a day out and about.

Al Bustan Palace Hotel Muscat Oman - copyright:

Budgeting on a city break: Keep track of expenses

If we’re on a budget we always try to keep a good grip on our expenses, and track how much we’re spending, with a daily budget and a holiday plan – this can also work by giving children their own holiday budget for treats or souvenirs they would like through a trip so they learn early to think about what they’re spending.

Budgeting on a city break: Watch the drinks

We go easy on the drinks in restaurants as they can really start to add up – especially if you’re with children. We’ll often buy big bottles of sparkling water to share (or tap water if we’re really budgeting) and will then buy drinks in a supermarket to have during the day as a treat.

Budgeting on a city break: Bring items from home

Take as much from home as possible – if your little one is in nappies, stock up and take enough for the whole trip when it’s on offer, the same with sun lotion, snacks and anything else that might be cheaper to pick up at home before you travel.

What are your tips for sticking to a budget on a city break? Leave a comment below.

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