Photo by Lorenzo Montezemolo/Ocean/Corbis. Design by Erik Mace for Yahoo Travel.
For too many years, the mighty euro put a cramp in the travel style of Americans visiting Europe. Since 2007, euro-to-dollar exchange rates have generally kept to the $1.30 to $1.50 range, soaring for a while to nearly $1.60. With prices for everything in the eurozone at a premium for Americans, many sought out travel bargains. And splurges? Forget it — they were simply out of the question.
That all changed in 2015. Earlier this year, the euro fell back down to sub-$1.20 earth, and while it’s since toyed with $1.05 (and some still predict euro-to-dollar parity ahead), it’s steadily and wonderfully remained in the $1.10 to $1.15 range.
For you the traveler, that means that for the first time in a decade, you can plan your European trip with confidence that prices won’t break the bank — and more importantly, that you can treat yourself to a European splurge or two.
Here are our picks for some of the smartest ways to spoil yourself.
Tour the Louvre With a Private Guide
Get the most out of your visit to the Louvre with a private guide. (Photo: Hervé BRY/Flickr)
We’ve all spotted them in the world’s top museums: families, couples, or even just individuals enjoying the luxury of being led around by a well-informed private guide. And perhaps nowhere else in the world would that come more in handy than in the greatest art museum on Earth, Paris’s overwhelmingly overflowing Louvre. Most travelers, however, automatically assume that a private guide is an extravagance only the wealthy could afford.
But now, a couple booking the 2 ½ hour Introduction to the Treasures of the Louvre with the highly rated tour operator Paris Muse would pay about $240 (€98 per person, plus an extra €20 to ensure that no one else can join your tour), and that includes the museum’s hefty admission charges. A year ago, dollar-wise, this would have translated to over $290. If you’re on your own, of course the rate is even cheaper: a private one-on-one tour is just €118, or around $130 (down from around $160 last year).
Take a Sunset Gondola Ride in Venice
A beautiful and romantic gondola ride is even more beautiful and romantic at sunset. (Photo: Getty Images)
It’s a Venice must-do, but this common traveler bucket-list item is quite a bit pricier than most people expect until they get there: an hour-long sunset gondola ride on the city’s gorgeous canals will set you back €150. The good news is that while that would’ve been over $200 a year ago, it’s now around $165. For an even bigger bargain, take a shorter ride earlier in the day — a 40-minute ride before 7 p.m. is just €80, now around $90.
Dine at the World’s Best Restaurant
Have the meal of a lifetime at El Celler de Can Roca. (Photo: Robert Young/Flickr)
Girona, Spain’s El Celler de Can Roca climbed back to the top of the World’s Best Restaurant list this year — but surprisingly, a once-in-a-lifetime dinner there is now substantially cheaper for Americans than it was a year ago. The price in euros for El Cellar’s incredible 14-course prix fixe dinner with wine pairing has remained constant at €280, but in dollars that’s $70 less than it was a year ago, down from about $380 then to about $310 now.
And unlike many of the world’s top eateries, which are booked solid for years in advance, you actually stand a chance at snagging a table at El Cellar in the somewhat foreseeable future: the restaurant takes an egalitarian approach to its reservations by putting them all up for grabs on its website on the first day of each month, albeit for dates 11 months down the road.
Take a Cruise Down the Danube
Set sail and cruise through Bavaria, Vienna, and Budapest on the Danube.(Photo: Michael Runkel/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis)
Once upon a time, river cruises were considered beyond the pale of most travelers’ budgets. The recent river-cruise boom has changed that somewhat, adding more players to the market with more competitive pricing, but for many people the fares have remained out of reach. With the dollar now strong, some European river cruise operators are passing the favorable exchange rate savings along to their American customers, taking prices to some of their lowest dollar levels ever.
CroisiEurope, the continent’s biggest river cruise company and already one of its most affordable, is currently offering big savings on select cruises like the Beautiful Blue Danube: A late October departure from Vienna can now be had for $172 off, lowering the price of the all-inclusive eight-day cruise to $1,667.
Take a Train Across the Continent
Get a train pass and roll across the continent, enjoying all the beautiful scenery passing by your window along the way. (Photo: Walter Geiersperger/Corbis)
Continued expansion of the Eurail network means that you can now cross the European continent by rail and ferry — from Ireland to Turkey and from Portugal to Finland, plus 24 more countries in between — with one simple Eurail Global Pass. The pass comes in several different variations, with first class (generally with much more comfortable seats, less crowding, and often including other perks like free drinks and wifi) pricing only a bit higher than second class. The pass’s shortest version, for first class travel on any five days within a 10-day period, is just $422, and you can currently save even more (about $20) by booking on Eurail.com and paying for your pass in euros instead of dollars (so long as your credit card company doesn’t charge extra fees for booking in a foreign currency).
If you can hold off, you can save even more: Starting October 1 and until the end of the year, Eurail.com will be offering 20 percent off on all of its Global and Select Passes for travel completed by April 1, 2016. That takes the price of the five-days-within-10 first-class Global Pass to under $340.
Book a Schmancy Hotel Package
Mövenpick Hotel’s Van Gogh package includes a great room, wine, food, diamonds, and a trip to the Van Gogh Museum. (Photo: Ilvy Njiokiktjien/epa/Corbis)
Many top-end European hotels have honed the skill of creating clever all-inclusive theme packages that make the most of their unique settings. The once strong euro often put these glamorous packages out of range for American traveler budgets, but the strong dollar now puts them firmly on the splurge radar.
This year, for example, Amsterdam’s Mövenpick Hotel City Centre honors one of the Dutch capital’s most famous residents with its Luxurious Van Gogh Package, which includes a superior room for two with gorgeous city views; a Van Gogh-themed five-course dinner and wine pairings at the boldly creative two-Michelin-starred restaurant &Samhoud Places; a VIP factory tour of world famous jeweler Gassan Diamonds (including champagne and a €250 voucher for any diamond purchase); and fast-lane tickets for the unparalleled Van Gogh Museum, which next month debuts a snazzy new glass entrance.
At €999 a night, this package isn’t for everyone, but considering all it includes — and that for Americans its cost now translates to around $1,100, some $250 less than it would have a year ago — it makes for a smart and arty indulgence.
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