Paris, New York, Milan: How to have a luxury holiday for less

A luxury holiday doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are 10 cities where you can have luxury experiences without paying premium prices

New York City. In early November and from January through early March, however, luxury hotel prices drop by around 20 per cent. Photograph: iStock

New York City. In early November and from January through early March, however, luxury hotel prices drop by around 20 per cent. Photograph: iStock

 

Luxury travel can be experienced in two ways: by paying top dollar or by paying less. Given the choice, wouldn’t you pick the latter?

Of course, the idea of what luxury travel is can differ depending on the person. For some, it means hotels with butlers and fancy sheets and flying first class; for others, it’s about hitting three-Michelin-starred restaurants and hiring the occasional private guide and car with a driver.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how you define high-end travel. What matters is that it doesn’t have to be had at a premium price.

Here are 10 destinations where you can save money on an upscale trip without sacrificing a feeling of luxury.

Barcelona

Looking for a luxury holiday to Barcelona without paying top dollar to have one? Done, says Virginia Irurita, the founder of Made for Spain and Portugal, a Madrid-based company that sells upscale trips. “Barcelona has become much more affordable in the last year, and a high-end trip on a limited budget is now attainable,” she says. Irurita’s advice:

When to go: Hotels in Barcelona have the highest prices from April to October. From November to March, rates are at least 25 per cent lower. Many five-star hotels offer attractive packages during this low season.

Where to stay: Accommodation in residential neighborhoods offers better value than ones in touristy areas. Les Tres Torres, for example, has a few locally run, upscale properties like Primero Primera, on a quiet, tree-lined street.

Indulge in lunch: Locals make lunch their biggest meal of the day, and visitors should too, because they can take advantage of well-priced set menus at top restaurants. A starter, main course, dessert, wine and coffee is around €20, for example, compared with €50 at dinner. Irurita enthusiastically recommends lunch at the Michelin-starred eatery Caelis, where a three-course meal with wine is €42.Skip cars and drivers: A car with a driver is an unnecessary expense in Barcelona. Taxis are readily available and reasonably priced, the Metro is clean and efficient, and the city is pedestrian-friendly.

The Tate Modern, London
The Tate Modern, London

London

A luxury trip to London on a limited budget isn’t hard to pull off, says Nicola Butler, owner of NoteWorthy, a London travel company specialising in luxury holidays in Britain. Butler’s advice:

When to go: Hotel rates in London soar from May to July. From early September to the end of February, however, they drop slightly. January is the cheapest month to visit. “The hotels have the lowest prices, and restaurants, theatres and museums offer deals to boost business during a quiet time,” Butler says.

Splurge on tea, save on lunch and dinner: Enjoying the famous London tradition of afternoon tea at a luxury hotel like Claridge’s is 50 per cent less expensive than dinner in a pricey restaurant but has the same sense of extravagance. For lunch, grab an inexpensive and tasty meal at a food hall such as Bang Bang Oriental, specialising in Asian cuisine, or hit one of the food markets such as Borough Market. Come dinner time, try a pub to sample hearty British cuisine like fish and chips.

Culture is a bargain: Many of London’s museums, including the Tate Modern, have free admission. Art galleries are also free, while popular attractions such as St Paul’s Cathedral have inexpensive entry fees, and some theatres sell discounted tickets for same-day shows.

Skip cars and taxis: Chauffeured cars and taxis in London can cost a few hundred pounds a day. Save money, soak up the city and get some exercise all at the same time by using walking as your main mode of transportation. For longer distances, rely on the Tube.

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires isn’t an expensive destination to begin with, and travellers seeking a luxury holiday to the city can have it without too much effort, according to Jennifer Gillmore, an Argentina expert at travel company Travel Beyond. “I know from personal experience that you can get luxury in Buenos Aires without paying luxury prices,” she says. Her advice:

When to go: Peak season in Buenos Aires runs from November to March, Argentina’s summer, but Gillmore prefers visiting from May to September, when hotel prices drop by 15 percent or more (and temperatures are also mild). Luxury hotels such the Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt frequently offer promotions during these months: One example is paying for two nights and getting to stay for three. Breakfast is typically included.

Culture is a bargain: Buenos Aires is part of the microtheater movement, where a series of short plays is performed over the course of the evening at small venues; tickets are usually €9 or less per person. And instead of spending money on a touristy and overpriced tango show, visit a milonga, or tango hall, where you can watch locals dance and also participate for between 137 and 219 Argentine pesos (€4 and €6.50).

Indulge away: High-quality meals in Buenos Aires don’t have to be costly. Parrillas, for example, serve hearty and reasonably priced steaks, while dinners with wine can be had for less than €22 per person at popular restaurants.

Take taxis or walk: Taxis are a safe and economical way to get around; Gillmore advises having your hotel or restaurant call a radio taxi, which registers all its drivers. Her favorite way to explore the city is on foot. The architecture, the streets and the locals make Buenos Aires special, and the best way to appreciate them is by walking, she says.

The Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. Photograph: The New York Times
The Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. Photograph: The New York Times

Mexico City

There has never been a better time to take a luxury-for-less holiday to Mexico City, according to Lillian Aviles of Journey Mexico, a Mexico travel company that sells luxury trips to the country. Aviles, who lives in the city, says that prices, in general, are low. “You can get a lot without spending too much,” she says. Her tips:

When to go: Mexico City is a corporate-driven market, so weekends are the time to go; weekday hotel rates can be twice as much. Prices also dip between May and September, when the weather is hot, but given the temperatures, the savings may not be worth it.

Eat like a king: High-end dining in Mexico City is a bargain compared with other large cities. Aviles’ tops picks include Limosneros, which uses pre-Hispanic ingredients like the leafy greens called quelites in modern dishes (the average dinner per person without a drink is about 466 Mexican pesos, or about €20) and Los Danzantes, which serves upscale Oaxacan cuisine (the average dinner per person without a drink is also about 466 Mexican pesos, €20).

Dining at a taco bar is another option: Two or three tacos with wine will set you back between €5 and €10 a person.

Shop at markets: For the best deals on fantastic shopping, hit Mexico City’s many markets. On Saturday, for example, the San Angel neighbourhood has a bazaar where local designers sell wares ranging from ceramics to jewellery, and Mexican painters sell their canvases. The daily artisan market La Ciudadella sells handmade goods from around the country.

Take an Uber: “Uber is inexpensive and efficient,” Aviles says.

Stefano Romito at Mag Cafè on Ripa di Porta Ticinese along the Navigli in Milan. Photograph: Andrea Wyner/The New York Times
Stefano Romito at Mag Cafè on Ripa di Porta Ticinese along the Navigli in Milan. Photograph: Andrea Wyner/The New York Times

Milan

Italy’s fashion and business capital isn’t necessarily the ideal destination if you’re on a budget but enjoy high-end travel. Luca Finardi, the general manager of the Mandarin Oriental Milan, says that the city’s five-star hotels, designer stores and well-known restaurants can be expensive. But he also said that there are ways to save. Finardi’s tips:

When to go: Hotel rates in the city are up to 30 per cent lower in November and December compared with the rest of the year. These months are Finardi’s preferred time to be in town. “The temperatures are mild, the holiday decorations are up, and the atmosphere is lively,” he says.

Dine smart: Michelin-starred or otherwise pricey restaurants are common in Milan, and travellers who want to experience them should go at lunch, when the cost of a meal is substantially less than at dinner. At the two Michelin-starred Seta, for example, a three-course lunch with an amuse-bouche and petits fours is €70, compared with €150 for a similar meal at dinner.

And don’t miss the Milanese tradition of going to a bar for aperitivo hour, usually from 6:30pm to 8:30p.m. Drink orders are typically accompanied by free food.

Shop local and hit the sales: Travellers can find well-priced fashionable ware from local designers in the many boutiques in the Isola and Brera neighborhoods. If you’re on the hunt for goods from Italy’s many internationally known luxury brands, come in January and February when they have their sales.

Walk, bike and use public transport: Finardi says that the centre of Milan is small and walkable, and the public transport system of metro lines, buses and trams is efficient and clean. To explore more expansive areas such as the scenic Parco Sempione, consider renting a bike from the bike-sharing service BikeMi; daily rates start at €4.50.

Chicago

There’s good news for travellers to Chicago who want a high-end trip: Shawna Owen, president of Huffman Travel, a Chicago travel consultancy, says that compared with other large cities, the Midwest metropolis is relatively wallet-friendly. “Your money will go far here, but there are ways to stretch the dollar even more,” she says. Below, Owen’s tips:

When to go: Chicago’s luxury hotels offer good deals and their lowest rates during the first quarter of the year. In 2018, for example, the Peninsula Chicago had a promotion where guests who paid for two nights got a third night free. Nightly rates during those months started at $399 (€350), which is more than a 50 per cent savings from peak season rates. Owen says that hotels also tend to offer promotions in August.

Eat affordably: Enjoying some of the city’s most popular restaurants doesn’t have to break the bank, Owen says. And, since the food portions are generous, it’s possible to split dishes and save even more money. Her top picks for reasonably priced eats include Lou Malnati’s for deep-dish pizza, Small Cheval for burgers and Publican Anker, a vibrant gastropub with creative dishes.

Soak up culture: Chicago has a fantastic and affordable culture scene, Owen says. Admission to the Museum of Contemporary Art, which has groundbreaking exhibits from global artists, is only $15 (€13.20), and some theatres have discounted tickets for same-day shows. Steppenwolf, for example, allots 20 tickets priced at $20 (€17.60) each for some performances.

Walk or take the L: Regardless of the time of year, Chicagoans love to walk, and Huffman recommendd that visitors do the same. As an alternative to walking, the L, the city’s rapid transit system, is an efficient and inexpensive way to get around.

A busy road at the Minara Masjid, right, in Mumbai, Sept. 13, 2016. Photograph: Poras Chaudhary/The New York Times
A busy road at the Minara Masjid, right, in Mumbai, Sept. 13, 2016. Photograph: Poras Chaudhary/The New York Times

Mumbai

A luxury trip to Mumbai, India’s largest city, on a wallet-watcher’s budget isn’t hard to pull off, according to Fiona Caulfield, the founder of the India travel book series Love Travel Guides, who also lives in the country. “If you have some basic know-how, you can get a lot for your money without spending too much,” she says. Her advice:

When to go: Mumbai hotel rates are highest from October to mid-April. Prices drop at least 30 per cent until the end of September, but Caulfield said that May and June are uncomfortably hot, while July and August are in the heart of monsoon season. “The end of April and September are the most value-friendly and ideal times to visit,” she says. Also, many properties offer 10 to 15 per cent discounts on stays of three nights or more.

Avoid eating at luxury hotels: Mumbai’s many five-star hotels are full of pricey restaurants that usually aren’t worth the expense. Caulfield says that travellers can save substantially by sticking to independent places. Her favourite is The Bombay Canteen, which serves regional contemporary Indian food. Time Out Mumbai has an expansive list of options.

Shop at bazaars and markets: The city’s bazaars and markets sell high-quality, unique goods, and haggling to get the lowest prices is the way to go. Colaba Causeway has several street stalls that sell fashionable handcrafted leather sandals for men and women, and Chor Bazaar has vintage finds.

Hire a private guide: Compared with other large cities, private guides are a manageable expense in Mumbai. You can find a guide through an online search. No Foot Prints and Bombaywalla are well-regarded local tour companies.

Get around like a local: Avoid taking expensive hotel cars; taxis are safe, inexpensive and easy to hail, and Uber is also popular and affordable.

A pair admires “Washington Crossing the Delaware” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Photograph: Todd Heisler/The New York Times
A pair admires “Washington Crossing the Delaware” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Photograph: Todd Heisler/The New York Times

New York

A luxury holiday in New York City on a budget can be done, according to Eric Gordon, the owner of Beyond Times Square, a company that plans luxury trips. “New York is expensive, but there are ways to have an upscale getaway without paying premium prices,” he says. Tips from Gordon:

When to go: Hotel room prices in New York are highest from September to the first week of November, and from Thanksgiving to New Year. They’re also high in the spring and summer. In early November and from January to early March, however, they drop by around 20 per cent. The city’s hotel industry is driven by business travellers, so nightly weekday rates at upscale hotels are as much as $150 (€131) more than weekend rates.

Eat strategically: If high-end dining is a priority for you, Gordon says to plan your visit during Restaurant Week (usually at the end of January to early February, and at the end of July to early August), when a three-course lunch at some of the city’s finest restaurants is $29/€25 and a three-course dinner is $42/€37. And, at any time of the year, many pricey restaurants like Estiatorio Milos offer comparatively affordable prix fixe lunch and dinner menus, usually during certain hours.

Culture is a bargain: Some of the best sightseeing in New York is inexpensive. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a $25/€22 admission, and your ticket is also valid that day for the Met Cloisters, in Upper Manhattan, and the Met Breuer, a 10-minute walk away. The city also has free festivals and street fairs throughout the year, and Central Park and Hudson River Park host free concerts in the summer, spring and autumn. Time Out New York lists events in town.

Skip cars: Relying on taxis or car services for transport can add up to $100 or more a day. Take the subway or walk instead. Gordon also recommends the NYC Ferry: a one-way ride is $2.75/€2.40, and the boats have Instagram-worthy views of the skyline. If a car is a must, try the ride-sharing app Via, whose rides are usually a moderately priced $5 to $7/€4.40 to €6 a person.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong can be a cost-prohibitive destination, according to Brooke Lavery, a Southeast Asia specialist and owner of the New York City luxury travel company Local Foreigner. “Hong Kong is one of the most expensive cities in the world but also offers a great high-low balance which can be optimised,” she says. Lavery’s suggestions:

When to go: Hotel rates stay steady in Hong Kong throughout the year with the exception of June, July and August; these are the city’s hottest and most humid months, and hotel prices drop. However, they’re not the ideal time to visit, Lavery says, unless you don’t mind steamy weather.

Stay in lesser-known hotels: Hong Kong has plenty of luxury independent and small-chain properties that are a fraction of the cost of hotels from well-known luxury brands. Examples include The Pottinger, on a stone slab street, and East HK, in the buzzy Taikoo Shing neighborhood.

Save on food, splurge on cocktails: Lavery recommends a Cantonese fine-dining experience, like Seventh Son in Wan Chai, for lunch because the tab is lower compared with dinner. For dinners, stick to inexpensive, casual joints that serve noodles or curry balls, and post-meal, head to a bar for a cocktail. “Drinks can be pricey, but you’re spending a lot less than you would on a high-end dinner,” Lavery says.

Shop for custom clothes: Hong Kong is known for its incredible tailors, and an article of bespoke clothing is a fantastic souvenir; most tailors can turn around a piece in 48 hours. Custom shirts generally cost 314 Hong Kong dollars (about €35) while suits can run 3,924 Hong Kong dollars (about €440). The Central area is full of talented tailors like Jantzen Tailor.

Walk and take a boat: The ideal way to see the city is to stroll through its many back alleys and get lost. Or book a walking tour; Little Adventures in Hong Kong, for example, has walks limited to five people that are led by local journalists and chefs and cost $115. Sailing Victoria Harbor on a traditional Chinese wooden junk is a quintessential Hong Kong experience. Instead of booking an expensive private boat, go for a reasonably priced small-group tour; AquaLuna, for one, offers a range of these.

Visitors bask in the sun at the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. Photograph: Ed Alcock/The New York Times
Visitors bask in the sun at the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. Photograph: Ed Alcock/The New York Times

Paris

An luxury trip to Paris can be a pricey proposition, says Barkley Hickox, a Paris specialist and an owner of travel consultancy Local Foreigner. But she also says that there are plenty of ways to stretch your money and have a high-end getaway. Her tips:

When to go: Get the best value on hotels by visiting Paris between November and April, when they have their lowest rates. Some high-end properties offer further discounts if you book a stay several months in advance and also have attractive packages that can include meals and other amenities during these months.

Choose the right accommodation: Families travelling to Paris should consider booking a luxury apartment through a company such as OneFineStay or Paris Perfect. It’s less expensive than booking multiple rooms at a high-end hotel, and having a kitchen to cook meals on occasion helps cut food costs. The city also has several affordable but upscale boutique properties including Maison 1400, in one of the oldest houses in the Marais district, and Le Roch Hotel & Spa, set in a 19th-century house in the heart of the city.

Eat smart: Dine at one of the city’s renowned restaurants at lunch, when the tab is much lower compared with dinner. Several popular places offer affordable midday prix fixe menus. For dinner, Hickox recommends going to restaurants in residential neighborhoods such as South Pigalle, the Haut Marais and Montmartre, where a meal with wine can be between €35 and €50 per person.

The blog Paris by Mouth has advice on more off-the-beaten path restaurants.

In warmer weather, pick up a baguette, cheese, pastries and wine and head to Luxembourg Gardens or another park for a decadent but wallet-friendly picnic.

Ditch taxis and cars: Hickox’s favourite way to explore Paris is on foot. “You can fully appreciate the city’s beauty by walking, and it’s designed for walkers because there are walking paths and sidewalks everywhere,” she says. For longer distances, she suggested using the city’s bike share system, Velib, or the Metro; both are inexpensive.

– New York Times 2018