Paris, Lisbon or Berlin: with Europe at your feet, where should you go?
The cities of Europe are incredible holiday destinations - use our smart saver's guide to decide where to visit
Paris, France: The iconic Eiffel Tower is a tourist hotspot, with tickets costing up to €25. Photograph: iStock
A walking tour among Berlin’s most fascinating landmarks. A visit to the revered Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris. A bike ride along a sun-drenched coast near Lisbon. Just some of the brilliant experiences a European city break has to offer. Even better? All these activities are free. With some clever choices, you can enjoy everything these stunning capital cities have to offer without paying over the odds. Here’s how.
To help you get there, Bank of Ireland has teamed up with Aer Lingus to bring you Aer Credit Card. A new kind of card that comes with some pretty smart travel rewards.
To mark the launch of the card we created this mini-guide to some great European cities it could take you to on a budget.
True love doesn’t come cheap, and neither does Paris. Universally regarded as the city of romance, a visit to the French capital can also put a serious strain on your wallet. With some careful planning and smart options, however, you can enjoy the best of Paris for less.
A good way to get your bearings is by taking in a panoramic view of the city. The iconic Eiffel Tower is a tourist hotspot, with tickets costing up to €25. For an alternative vista, head to the Notre-Dame Cathedral. For €10 you can climb the 422 steps to the top of the towers for a view across the heart of Paris.
If your trip coincides with the first Sunday of the month, you’re in luck; key attractions such as the Pompidou Centre, with its celebrated architecture, exposed pipework and external escalators, the Louvre (from October to March) and the Musée d’Orsay, home to some of the finest Impressionist paintings, are free.
If your trip coincides with the first Sunday of the month, you’re in luck; key attractions are free
Alternatively, invest in a Paris Museum Pass, which gives entry to more than 50 museums and monuments in and around Paris. It includes access to the Louvre, the Notre Dame towers, the Arc de Triomphe and the Rodin museum. Prices start at €48 for a two-day pass.
Meanwhile, a two-day Paris Passlib’ for €109 includes a Paris Museum Pass, unlimited public transport (in zones one to three), a one-hour cruise on the Seine, and a one-day sightseeing bus tour.
After working up an appetite, try some Parisienne street food. L’As du Fallafel in Le Marais is a popular spot for Middle Eastern dishes including falafel and shawarma, plus Israeli wines. Or head to the city’s oldest covered market, the Marché des Enfants Rouges, for a wide range of incredible dishes.
Stay at the charming and affordable Hôtel du Nord - Le Pari Vélo, which has 10 free bikes for guests to use. Or, for a design-led experience, check into Paris East’s Mama Shelter, a cutting-edge-on-a-budget hotel with 170 rooms conceived by designer Philippe Starck.
Lisbon has a thriving foodie scene with plenty of fine dining restaurants, but one of its most delicious exports will only set you back a euro or two. No trip to the Portuguese capital would be complete without sampling some pastéis de nata.
The best place to try these sweet, moreish custard tarts is probably Pastéis de Belém, which produces thousands of tarts per day. Be prepared to queue. After your nata, it’s worth staying in Belém for the Museu Coleção Berardo, a free-on-a-Saturday museum with more than 900 works of modern art.
To sample more local dishes, visit some of the 24 restaurants and eight bars in the Time Out market at Cais do Sodré. Try the bestselling salt cod, clams with garlic and coriander (both around €13) or deep-fried green beans in batter ( €6.50) .
Lisbon is also known for its fabulous beaches, and a great way to take in some coastline is on a kayaking tour. BORK You kayaking offers a €30 trip from Oeiras Marina along the coast of Lisbon, passing sea fortresses and stopping at one of the beaches for dives and paddling.
If you venture as far as the coastal town of Cascais, about 40 minutes from Lisbon, you can also avail of free bike hire.
A more leisurely way to take in Lisbon is on a number 28 tram. A ticket bought on this old-fashioned yellow tram, which passes through the popular areas of Graca, Alfama and Estrela (home to the impressive 18th century Estrela basilica), costs less than €3.
You can easily while away an afternoon at Ler Devagar (“read slowly”), voted one of the 10 most beautiful bookshops in the world. There are thousands of books stocked here, plus a striking sculpture suspended above the store of a man on a bicycle.
For affordable accommodation, try the Hotel Convento Do Salvador. This hotel is housed in one of Lisbon’s oldest convents and aside from its stunning tiled lobby, terrace and pool, it’s also home to the Convento Do Salvador centre with cultural activities geared towards young people.
Berlin is one of the most interesting cities in the world, with a rich and turbulent history, thriving alternative culture and colourful nightlife.
For a good overview of Berlin past and present, try the three-hour Sandemans New Europe free tour of Berlin. This walking tour includes must-see attractions including the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial and parts of the unmissable Berlin Wall which divided East and West Germany for 28 years. Even better? It’s free (tips welcome).
A three-day Berlin Museum Pass from €14.50 will grant you access to more than 30 museums including the Jewish Museum Berlin, covering two millennia of Jewish-German history, and the German Historical Museum.
Meanwhile, for music lovers, the renowned Berliner Philharmoniker plays free chamber music in its foyer every Tuesday at 1pm.
Weary travellers can relax at the centrally located Liquidrom, with four saunas (which are nude – leave your inhibitions at the door), and a special salt water pool with underwater music, light effects and regular DJ performances. Tickets from €17.50.
Fast-paced, creative and resurgent, Berlin is one of the best value cities in Europe; even more so when you spend smartly
Foodwise, Berlin is well known for classic dishes such as currywurst and schnitzel, which can be purchased for just a few euro from street vendors around the city. But if you fancy something more international, head to Germany’s first international street food market every Thursday from 5pm to 10pm at Markthalle Neun. In this historic covered market you’ll find top quality cuisine minus restaurant prices – from Thai dumplings and Korean buns to Peruvian Ceviche and more.
If you want to sample Berlin’s buzzing nightlife and fancy a challenge, try your luck at the door of Berlin’s notoriously hard to get into Berghain nightclub, then stay the night just three minutes away at the East German-themed Ostel (think 1970’s wallpaper and original GDR furniture). If wildlife’s more your thing than people-watching, the reasonably priced Bikini Berlin hotel has rooms overlooking the city’s zoo and free MINI rental for further exploring.
Fast-paced, creative and resurgent, Berlin is one of the best value cities in Europe; even more so when you spend smartly.
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Turn your ordinary spend into your next adventure with an Aer Credit Card. With rewards like two free return fares to Europe* (ex. taxes, fees & charges) and worldwide multi-trip travel insurance+, it could be the smartest way to go. Search Aer Credit Card.
*You pay taxes, fees and charges. Available when you spend €5,000 or more within a Reward Year on your Aer Credit Card, except for Excluded Transactions. Free return fares are for any European Aer Lingus ticketed and operated flights to/from Dublin, Cork, Shannon or Belfast.
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