Rick Steves' Tour Guide Has Genius Tips For Eating Well On A Budget In Europe

It's no secret that Europe is home to some of the best cuisines in the world. However, eating out can get pricey, even in European countries. Fortunately, that doesn't mean you can't take in the symphony of flavors across these nations without completely breaking the bank. Travel expert Rick Steves and his co-author Cameron Hewitt have curated a list of insightful budget travel hacks for those hoping to spend less on food when traveling in Europe. From sneaky tips on how to lower your coffee bills to eating on the go while avoiding additional fees, there's more than one way to stick to your budget while still experiencing the best of a country's regional delicacies. 

A shot of espresso, for example, isn't as expensive as one might think in countries like Italy, if ordered correctly. In contrast to the outrageously-priced $7 lattes found in countries like the United States, it's not uncommon to pay just a few euros for a coffee at the bar in Italy. According to Reporter Gourmet, the national average in Italy for a cup of coffee was only 1.09 euros in 2023, with the cheapest coffee costing only 30 cents! Similarly, Hewitt shares in a YouTube video that travelers have many alternative ways to enjoy the local fare "on the go" to avoid unnecessary expenses. From market hopping to picnicking, European visitors have more than one budget-saving option for how to traverse the culinary landscapes of Europe without ever sacrificing on quality! 

Avoid coperto charges

While it may seem natural to leisurely sip your espresso in the fresh air of the nearby piazza, it won't always reflect positively on your coffee bill. Instead, Cameron Hewitt advises visitors to drink their coffee standing at the bar instead of sitting at a table. After frequenting several cafés in Italy, Hewitt discovered that there's a set of additional fees reflected on a customer's bill if they choose to linger over their beverage at a table. According to Hewitt, a coffee in Italy can easily be purchased for just over a single euro in Italy. Similarly, he found that a caffè macchiato costs only 1.50 euros when consumed at the counter bar. However, menus placed at a bar's outdoor tables often display much higher prices for these same drinks, bringing his total to 12 euros with an additional 6 euro coperto, or cover charge. 

Cover charges (also known as service charges) are a common fee that cover service, table linens, silverware, and other amenities reserved for dine-in guests. Given that tipping is optional in many European countries, it's a small price to pay, but cover charges can quickly get expensive if you plan on multiple coffee runs a day. While the increase in price has nothing to do with the coffee itself, guests are charged for the experience of enjoying a cup of coffee al fresco style at a table. Oftentimes, piazzas are filled with a lively blend of music or live performances, making them an intriguing place to enjoy the aesthetic ambiance of Italian culture.

Seek out the street food

Drinking coffee at the bar isn't the only way to avoid the less-than-convenient service charges that are so prevalent in Europe. Especially when visitors are looking for a quick foodie option, finding meals that don't require a sit-down experience can be incredibly helpful for maximizing your budget. In his YouTube video, one of Hewitt's go-to tactics when traveling in Europe is finding street food. According to the travel expert, street food is typically a cheaper option that introduces tourists to the local cuisine that's still equally as divine. Some examples of stellar street food to look for are Nürnberger sausages in Nürnberg, Germany, and french fries (Flemish fries) in the Netherlands. These aren't the typical french fries you would expect to find in most other parts of the world, as they happen to come double deep-fried!

According to Hewitt, "If you want to find a world of really interesting street food options, look for a street food market." Market halls, like the Great Market Hall in Budapest, Hungary, and the Boqueria in Barcelona, Spain, are two excellent options in Europe that should be on every food lover's bucket list! Hewitt's final tip for tourists is to float between specialty stores to customize the European picnic of their dreams. This nifty hack helps diners cut down on costs while indulging in some of the region's finest ingredients. From cheese shops to Italian salumerias, it doesn't take much to satisfy all your cravings in one simple yet high-quality picnic meal.