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The smart saver’s European city guide

Travel doesn’t have to cost the earth. Use our smart travel guide to save on your next European city break

From fashion-conscious Milan to cultural Barcelona and Amsterdam, Europe is blessed with some of the world’s most incredible cities. Thanks to the short flight times, after just a couple of hours travel you’ll be perusing museums and sampling local cuisine. And now, before the heat and the hordes of summer, is a perfect time to visit.

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.

AMSTERDAM

Amsterdam is one of the most exciting cities in the world. Its cobbled streets, distinctive architecture and myriad canals create an incredible backdrop for a European city break and there are some smart ways to experience the very best of the city and save money too.

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Be flexible. Taking a midweek trip can reduce the cost of a hotel room considerably. Advance booking is smart too. Also remember that the Dutch love hostels and use them throughout their lives – they're not just for the young. Many high-end designer hostels like Generator Amsterdam or Clinknoord have sprung up in great locations around the city, many akin to boutique hotels.

Museums are big business here and a lot of money can be saved with an I Amsterdam card. This visitor card is the official key to Amsterdam and offers free access to 44 of the city's museums (including the Rijksmuseum, the Rembrandt House and the Van Gogh museum, but not the privately-owned Anne Frank House) as well as all public transport in the city. It also includes a free canal boat ride and lots of discounts in shops and restaurants.

The Dutch love to be organised so, to enjoy their city, prepare to join them and plan to save

Cycling is as natural as walking in Amsterdam so hiring a bike is a great way to get beyond the city centre. It’s cheap too and offers a true flavour of how the city unfolds. Don’t miss the city markets. These can be seasonal or weekly and are great for anyone who enjoys antiques or vintage fashion, among other things.

The international flavour of Amsterdam reaches its food scene too and the best menus don’t have to be the most expensive. Every district has its own identity – track down the student-managed but locally-loved Skek near the Red Light district for its traditional Dutch food with a modern twist (around €13) or Café Lennep in west Amsterdam for great spit roast (€15) and beer on their canal-side terrace.

The savings don't stop at night either: Amsterdam's Nightlife Ticket will get you access to more than 20 nightclubs and events at 70 per cent of the normal price. The Dutch love to be organised so, to enjoy their city, prepare to join them and plan to save.

BARCELONA

From the heaving bustle of Las Ramblas to the hallowed vaults of the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona is captivating, colourful and cosmopolitan. It can certainly be costly, but not if you make some smart spending choices.

You can start saving as soon as you land in Barcelona by forgoing a taxi and hopping on an Aerobús to the city centre, with departures every five minutes and tickets from just €5.90.

For a stylish stay on a budget, try the aptly named Chic&Basic Born Boutique Hotel near the Parc de la Ciutadella. It has all the panache of a design hotel, without the designer asking price. To avoid spending too much at some of the city's must-see attractions, it's worth investing in a tourist card to access multiple places of interest. The Barcelona card, from €41.40 for a 72-hour adult pass, includes free public transport and free admission to some of the top museums, including the Picasso Museum, as well as discounts at others.

No trip to Barcelona would be complete without enjoying the local cuisine

Guided tours not your thing? Stock up on bread and meats from the Boqueria food market near the Ramblas, beloved by locals and tourists alike, then hop on a bus to picnic among some Antoni Gaudi landmarks in Park Güell. Stunning mosaics and brightly coloured ceramic benches abound in this park, which the modernist architect was tasked with designing in 1900. It's free to enter, with an €8.50 fee to access some areas.

Another way to discover the city's art scene without hefty museum fees is a trip to the Raval district, near the Ramblas. It's a street art haven, and includes a striking mural in homage to Barcelona-born Joan Miró by the artist Sixe Paredes. Explore the area solo, or join a free Barcelona Street Style Tour (donation recommended).

No trip to Barcelona would be complete without enjoying the local cuisine, and tapas are the perfect way to sample a variety of dishes without breaking the bank. Bar Bitácora near Barceloneta Beach serves up delicious, decent-sized tapas at a reasonable price. Just add cerveza.

MILAN

According to Giorgio Armani, “Milan is a true metropolis: strong and fearless, but welcoming, too.” The designer is right; while this city is quick-paced, fashion-forward and flashy, there’s also a warmth and heart that keeps people coming back.

For a suitably chic yet affordable stay, the award-winning Ostello Bello is a trendy hostel with live music events, art exhibitions, a 24-hour kitchen with complimentary food, and a free dinner and welcome drink for guests.

The city's fashion scene may favour limousines to get from A to B, but you'll get around quicker and more cheaply with Madrid's BikeMi bike-sharing scheme. Daily subscriptions cost €4.50.

No trip to Milan is complete without visiting the “fashion quadrangle”, brim-full of designer boutiques. You could easily blow your entire holiday budget (and then some) on a Gucci clutch or a Roberto Cavalli gown on Via Montenapoleone, but a spot of window-shopping and people-watching is completely free.

If you're in the mood to spend something – without several zeros on the end – visit the Fiera di Sinigaglia Saturday market. Located in the southwest of the city, it dates back to the 1800s and is the oldest flea market in Milan. Here, you'll find classic vinyl, vintage clothes, collectibles, organic cosmetics and more.

Milan might be full of couture price tags, but by tailor-making your own trip, you can have an affordable, nothing short of fabulous time.

Milan also boasts the world-famous La Scala opera house. A seat at this great Italian institution doesn't come cheap, but a trip to the theatre's museum costs just €9 , plus an additional €3 for a virtual reality experience that allows you to explore the stage, backstage and rehearsal rooms.

Eating out in Milan can be expensive, but for traditional Milanese dishes, at less than €20, visit Da Pino, a local lunch spot near the Duomo cathedral with a menu that changes daily. After a sizeable meal here, you may not have room for a heavy dinner, so as the sun goes down, head for a bar and a traditional aperitivo, which usually comes with an array of delicious – and complimentary – snacks.

Milan might be full of couture price tags, but by tailor-making your own trip, you can have an affordable, nothing short of fabulous time.

Upgrade your Journey

Make the most of all those savings by upgrading your journey:

Speed up the process
Use Fast Track and priority boarding to speed your journey through security and into your seat.

Lounge around
U
nwind before your flight in the Aer Lingus lounge with free wifi, snacks and drinks.

Pack peace of mind
Make sure you've got multi-trip travel insurance and relax knowing you're covered, wherever you go.

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.

NOTES:
*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. Travel restrictions apply. A minimum of two seats per flight will be available, except for Restricted Periods. Seat availability on the Aer Lingus website or through a booking agent does not guarantee a free return fare. + Acceptance criteria, terms and conditions apply. Bank of Ireland Travel Insurance is underwritten by AIG Europe Limited. Aer Credit Card is brought to you by Bank of Ireland in partnership with Aer Lingus. Over 18s only. Lending criteria, terms and conditions apply. Subject to a monthly fee of €7.99. Bank of Ireland is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.