Monday 26 September 2016

The cheapest cities for your winter break

Choose Lisbon over London and Krakow over Reykjavik for a thrifty winter break

Published 29/11/2015 | 02:30

Air price wars have made it cheaper to fly to Amsterdam and other major European cities this winter than it is to get the train from Dublin to Cork. Return flights to the Dutch capital, as well as other popular cities, can be picked up for less than €60 at certain weekends over the winter, depending on the airline.

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"Ryanair and Aer Lingus have many additional flights - particularly over the winter period - so there is a price war as such," said Sarah Slattery, founder of the travel website, The Travel Expert. "Recently Ryanair in particular has introduced a sale of some sort almost every week offering discounted airfares to cities during the winter."

Since Ryanair started flying to Amsterdam last month, it has become a lot cheaper to fly to the Dutch capital. Early last week, a return flight from Dublin to Amsterdam in the third weekend of January 2016 could have been snapped up for as little as €58 with Ryanair. That was for a flight out of Dublin on Friday, January 15 - and a flight back on Sunday, January 17.

By comparison, Irish Rail charges €85 for a return train trip from Dublin to Cork for the same weekend - if you pay at the station. A single train fare is €65.65. (Booking online can be cheaper.)

Although Aer Lingus is often pricier than Ryanair, many Aer Lingus winter flights to European cities can be snapped up for less than €100. Early last week, a return Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to Barcelona for the third weekend of January cost €83; a return flight to Brussels cost €85; while Amsterdam and Rome cost €99.

Prices like this have clearly encouraged people to go on winter breaks again. However, any savings you make on a cheap flight could easily be gobbled up by expensive on-the-ground costs. So which cities are the cheapest to visit - and which are the most expensive? The Sunday Independent spoke to the experts to find out.

The cheapest cities

Krakow

The Polish city of Krakow is one of the cheapest cities to visit, according to Ms Slattery of The Travel Expert. A travel agent for more than 24 years, she has visited more than 50 countries.

"There are cheaper cities, such as Kiev, Bratislava and Bucharest, but Krakow, Budapest and Lisbon would be my choice if looking for a cheap break away," said Ms Slattery.

"Accommodation, restaurants and bars in Krakow are very reasonably priced. The average room rate in the five-star Holiday Inn Krakow - one of the best hotels in Krakow and right in the centre - is between €80 and €100."

It could cost you twice as much as Krakow to stay in a typical hotel in London - and 50pc more in Dublin, according to hotels.com.

Budapest

Budapest is one of the cheapest places to see an opera, according to Ms Slattery.

"Prices are from €20 for daytime opera performances - even at weekends," said Ms Slattery.

The average cost of a hotel room in Budapest is about €80 a night, according to hotels.com. That's a lot less than you'll pay in Dublin, Edinburgh and London - and about a third of the average room rate in some of the more expensive cities for hotel accommodation.

Lisbon

"Hotel and flight costs are very reasonable for Lisbon," said Ms Slattery. "You can get a beer - or glass of wine for between €1.50 and €2 in a bar or restaurant. You can stay in the city - or in the resorts close by. The coastal town, Cascais, is only 20 minutes by train to the city centre."

Early last week, you could have booked a return flight with Aer Lingus from Dublin to Lisbon for the third weekend of January for €109. In contrast, return flights to Vienna in Austria for the same weekend started from €145.

Madrid

At €94 a night, the price of an average hotel room in Madrid is reasonable - and on a par with Lisbon. The Spanish capital is also the fourth cheapest city in the world to eat in a hotel, according to hotels.com, which recently surveyed hotel dining costs across the world. That survey totted up the cost of a burger meal, cup of coffee, glass of house red wine and a club sandwich in hotels.

It found that you can expect to pay about €3 for a cup of coffee in a Madrid hotel. That's about a third of what you would pay in what hotels.com found to be most expensive city for a coffee - Seoul, South Korea.

Cape Town

For those travelling outside Europe, Cape Town is worth considering - though a flight to the South African capital could cost up to €4,000, depending on the airline and the time of year. "The one city that has become cheaper for Irish people to visit over the last year is Cape Town and this is purely down to the South African Rand being one of the few currencies to weaken against the euro over the last year," said Jonathan Bridge, sales supervisor with Trailfinders.

A three-star hotel in Cape Town costs from €35 per person per night, while a four-star hotel costs from €59 per person per night, according to Mr Bridge. "You can get a bottle (not a glass) of wine in a restaurant from €10; dinner for two in a good-quality restaurant (including wine and dessert) for about €40; and a five-mile taxi journey for about €6."

Bangkok

Bangkok was another city cited by Mr Bridge as one of the cheapest in the world for on-the-ground costs such as accommodation, meals and transport.

"Three-star hotels cost from €25 per person per night (including breakfast), five-star from €59 per person per night; a beer in a bar on Sukhumvit Road [the commercial centre of Bangkok] from €2; dinner for two in a good restaurant including wine and dessert costs about €50; a five-mile taxi journey about €4."

Flights will be expensive though.

Kuala Lumper

Flights to Malaysia's capital will also cost you but on-the-ground costs there are cheap.

A four-star hotel in Kuala Lumper costs from €39 per person per night, while a five-star hotel costs from €59 per person per night, according to Mr Bridge.

"You can buy a cocktail in a bar in Bukit Bintang [known as Kuala Lumper's trendiest shopping district] from €6; dinner for two in a good restaurant including wine and dessert for about €50; and a five-mile taxi journey for about €4," said Mr Bridge.

Most expensive cities

Geneva, Oslo, Helsinki, Venice and Vienna are pricey to visit.

So too are Reykjavik, Stockholm and London,, believes Ms Slattery. At €164 a night on average, a hotel room in the Icelandic capital works out more expensive than one in London, Washington, Chicago, Paris, Venice, Dublin and others.

"Most of Iceland's sights are outdoors so glaciers, waterfalls and so on are free to visit - except the Blue Lagoon, which costs €35 to visit in winter and €50 in summer," said Ms Slattery. "Hotels, meals and drinks are expensive though."

It costs €122 a night on average for a hotel room in Stockholm and it is the seventh most ­expensive city in the world to eat in one, according to hotels.com. "At about €5.50, Stockholm is one of the most expensive places in the world to buy a Big Mac," said Ms Slattery.

Certain towns in Sweden are also expensive. Kiruna, for example, is a popular stopping-off point for hikers. Expect to pay about €60 for a night in a basic hostel there.

London is the fifth most expensive city in the world for hotel dining, according to hotels.com and, at €162 a night, the average cost of a room in a London hotel is pricey. Irish people are also grappling with a weak euro.

Sterling is about 12pc stronger against the euro today than it was this time last year, according to Barry Dowling, CEO of the international foreign exchange broker, TransferMate Global Payments. You would have got £700 for €1,000 last week - compared to £790 in late November 2014.

New York has also become a lot more expensive for the same reason. The dollar is about 15pc stronger against the euro today than in November 2014, according to Mr Dowling.

"Choose your holiday destination wisely - it might not be the best year to take that transatlantic trip of a lifetime," said Mr Dowling. "Staying within the eurozone could prove much better value."

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