Save On Food While Traveling In Europe With These Tips From Rick Steves

When you dream about a European vacation, you're probably thinking about which sights you'll see, where you'll be staying, and who you'll be exploring with. Something else you're likely also pondering is all the amazing food you're going to have. Coq au vin in Paris, pasta with truffle oil in Rome, an array of tapas in Madrid — it all sounds mouthwatering. But it can also get expensive quickly. 

This is especially true if you're eating every meal out instead of cooking for yourself. That's all part of the deal, of course, but there are ways to eat cheaper while dining in Europe. Many of us have heard, for instance, that walking a few blocks away from a tourist attraction will likely find you lower prices at restaurants, but that isn't the only way to save money when you're traveling in these beautiful places. 

Travel expert Rick Steves has some great tips for saving money on food while traveling in Europe that might end up giving you an even better dining experience.

Look for smaller places with handwritten menus

The first tip for eating more frugally in Europe is to avoid larger restaurants you might spot right away. Instead, you should opt for a smaller place that looks like it might be family-run. You should also be scouting for places that have lots of locals eating there. If the place is super busy, take a look at the faces of the diners. Do they look happy? If so, this might be just the place to indulge in some culinary delights. 

Additionally, if you see a handwritten menu in the local language outside, perhaps on a chalkboard, it likely means that this place is changing things up often enough that ingredients will be fresher and more seasonal. Even better? Look for a shorter menu, which indicates a focus on local favorites and specialties rather than trying to appeal to tourists from all over the world. 

Another tip to keep in mind is that many European restaurants offer specials, business lunches, and even early bird dinner deals that travel expert Rick Steves claims will end up costing you less than $20 in many cases. Keep in mind that dinner is often eaten later on average than it is in America, though.

Steves also suggests checking out cafeterias at department stores for lower-priced meals, like from their salad bars. Museums, universities, unions, or churches are also good bets. And another option is fast food like a European McDonald's, which is a great, inexpensive choice.

Picnic in the park like the locals

Rick Steves has shared that locals in some of the priciest countries, like those in Scandinavia, often eschew alcohol in restaurants because items like wine and champagne tend to be much more expensive than they would be at a store. In fact, such items can be marked up as much as 400%. So instead of ordering alcohol while dining out, grab a bottle of something at a local grocery store to drink later.

Another great option is skipping restaurants entirely and taking that bottle of wine you bought, some sandwiches, or some local and inexpensive street food to the park for a picnic, weather permitting of course. You should also check beforehand to see what local restrictions are around public consumption of alcohol. Another thing Steves points out is that some places like Norway sell disposable grills (called engangsgriller) for one-time picnic cookouts. 

Again, make sure to check the local rules, particularly if there's a ban in place due to forest fires, for instance. Even if you're not grilling and just having a baguette, some French brie, charcuterie, and wine in a park, it's very likely going to be less expensive than a restaurant, plus you'll be immersed in a different part of the local culture!