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ABOVE:  Cheryl Imboden (on a park bench behind the statue) enjoys an inexpensive take-out lunch in the Jardin de Reuilly in Paris.

Tip 4: Don't make every meal a sit-down affair.

The cost of restaurant meals can add up quickly, especially if you're having a four-course dinner with wine every night. (The good news is that European restaurant prices include taxes and at least part of the tip. Also, in most countries, menus are displayed outside of restaurants, so you can estimate your meal costs before you go in.)

To save money on meals, try these simple tactics:

photoBe frugal at breakfast. If you're lucky, breakfast will be included in your room rate. Otherwise, whether you should breakfast in your hotel or head for the nearest café depends on what the hotel offers and how hungry you are.

A breakfast buffet may be worthwhile if you eat enough so you won't be hungry at lunch. On the other hand, you can probably save by getting a hot drink and pastry at the nearest café or coffee shop--as one of us did while staying at the Hotel Ibis in Edinburgh (where Chocolate Soup and Starbucks were just around the corner) and in London (where breakfast at a coffee bar cost only a few pounds for both of us, compared to £20 for our four-star hotel's cooked breakfast, which was more than we wanted to eat before heading for the airport).

photoEnjoy take-out meals at lunch. In France, for example, bakeries often sell sandwiches for a few euros, or lunch combinations that include a sandwich, a drink, and a pastry for less than €10. (These are popular with local workers, who pay with lunchtime meal vouchers from their employers.)

In Italy, bakeries and take-out pizza businesses often sell pizza by the slice. In Britain, pasties and meat pies are readily available. And throughout Northern Europe, Turkish "Döner,""Donner," "Kebab," or "Kebap" shops sell gyros-style meat sandwiches at bargain prices.

photoFor every dinner in a "nice" restaurant, have one meal at a cheaper place. This doesn't have mean junk food: It could be a café or pub that serves sandwiches, or a cafeteria like Flunch (France) or a quick-serve pizza restaurant like Spizzico (Italy).

Also, don't assume that "nice" has to mean "outrageously expensive." The Tour d'Argent and Harry's Bar may be worth every euro-penny of their high prices, but they're best enjoyed with a trust fund or an expense account. (Most locals don't eat at such places, either.)

photoInstead of sitting in a café, look for a park bench. Sidewalk cafés are designed--and priced--for lingering. Unless you're in a mood to watch the world go by (and can afford to pay for the privilege), rest your feet or study your map somewhere else.

Just as important, don't assume that all cafés are the same. You might pay twice as much for a cup of coffee at a world-renowed mocha mecca like Florian (Venice) or Deux Magots (Paris) than at a neighborhood café around the corner.

Splurge on litle things. In Scandinavia, any bakery or 7-11 store will sell you a superb Danish pastry for the equivalent of €3 or so--not cheap, but not enough to wreck your budget, either.

photoIn Germany, baked goods, beer, and sausages from street vendors are relative bargains. In Madrid, €3 or so will buy you the richest hot chocolate and the freshest churros you've had in your life at the marble bar of the Chocolatería San Gines, which has been a Madrid landmark since 1894. And in Paris, you'll discover affordable temptations at any bakery-pâtisserie or crêperie.

Learn the local tricks. Example: In Italy (as in many European countries) ordering a drink or snack at the bar is nearly always cheaper than having it served at a table.

1st inset photo copyright © Ralf Hettler.


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