Some of the most popular city destinations in the world are also some of the most expensive for travellers. The UBS 2015 Prices & Earnings Index compared the cost of an overnight stay for two people in 71 cities around the world. It seems that the most expensive city to visit is Zurich, followed by New York City, Geneva, Tokyo and Oslo. But even if you’re visiting cities such as these, there are always ways that you can save money. TSB have asked me share my tips on how to budget and save money in an expensive city – so here goes!
Make a plan
One of the best ways to save money is to do your research before your trip. Work out what you want to do and when’s the best time to do it. London offers free tickets for children to see top theatre performances every summer with Kids Week, for example. It could be that all of the museums in the city where you’re staying are free to visit on Mondays, or that the hotel rooms are all half price in a particular week. Read up about the destination in guide books, on blogs and on tourist board websites before you go, in order to work out how to make the most of your trip.
Look into discount cards for public transport and attractions. Most city tourist offices offer these in some form or another, and they can provide substantial savings. For example, the I amsterdam City Card offers free, unlimited public transport, and free entry to Amsterdam’s top museums and attractions, and the New York City Pass gives free entry to the city’s top six attractions.
Book in advance
Once you’ve worked out your plan, book your city passes online and then the museums, attractions, theatres etc which you’d like to visit. If you book in advance, ticket prices will nearly always be cheaper than if you pay on the door. This will also help you to avoid queuing to buy tickets.
Check your credit cards and loyalty points to see if you have any rewards that you can use towards the cost of your trip. We often use Avios to help to pay for our travels.
If you’re anything like me, you probably won’t be spending much time in your accommodation when you’re on a city break, as you’re likely to be out and about exploring the destination. You could save money by staying in a lower standard of hotel than usual, by staying in an AirBnB property, or by staying in a hostel. Some cities have great offers for visitors who are paying to stay in accommodation: for example, if you stay in a hotel, youth hostel or campsite in Geneva you’ll be given a Geneva Transport Card which entitles you to travel for free on the local trams, buses, trains and yellow taxi-boats.
To really save on your accommodation costs, think about home swapping. If you can find a city dweller to exchange homes with for the duration of your trip, you’ll have more money to spend on other, more important things, such as chocolate and wine. You can find out more about home exchange in my interview with expert Kelly Innes here.
Look for free stuff to do on your trip. For example, the top museums in London are all free to visit, there are free walking tours on offer with official tourist guides in Tokyo and many of the top attractions in Oslo are free to visit, including Vigeland Sculpture Park, which attracts more than a million visitors each year.
If you can, stay somewhere where breakfast is included in the price of your room. My kids adore having breakfast at a hotel, and they usually eat enough to stave off hunger until it’s time for lunch.
Carry some small bottles of water and some fruit or other snacks with you when you’re out and about. Rather than always stopping at cafés during the day, you can save money if you buy drinks, snacks and lunch from local shops and supermarkets to keep you going while you’re on the move.
Avoid eating at places which focus on tourists. These are likely to be overpriced, and the food on offer may not be the best. For a tastier, better value option look for where the locals like to eat. You can research online and in guide books to find such places – or just ask people in the destination for their recommendations.
Over to you
What are your tips on how to save money when visiting an expensive city?
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by TSB. All opinions and images are my own.