How to Eat in Europe on a Budget

“Raphael, are you really going to spend three months in Europe? It’s so expensive” my friends told me when they heard about my plans to stay in the Old Continent for a long period of time. Yes, Europe is expensive and yet, I have found ways of keeping daily costs low, which enables me to have extra money to pay the entrance fees to Europe’s best museums, palaces and castles.

Today’s money-saving topic relates to one of the things I love the most: food. Besides transportation and lodging, food is one of the main expenses that everyone faces in their life as a traveler.

But hey, did you know that you eat like a king for less than 4 euros a day? Here’s 6 tips to do so, each one more extreme than the previous one. Enjoy!

How to eat in Europe on a tight budget #01: Go to all you can eat buffets

As long as you don’t mind foreign food (in fact, I prefer it sometimes), you can go to immigrant-run restaurants and enjoy buffets for very low prices. In fact, there are some especial places (such as this Pakistani restaurant in Vienna called Der Wiener Deewan) that are run on a pay what you want business model so you can decide how much the food is worth you.

My best advice? If your hostel didn’t include breakfast, you should probably wait until noon and then hit the buffet for a nice brunch (breakfast + lunch). Otherwise, hit the buffet around closing time (15:00) and eat enough food so you won’t have to eat diner that night.

Der Wiener Deewan in Vienna

This was only the first of many servings at the Pakistani restaurant of Vienna

How to eat in Europe on a tight budget #02: Order kid’s meals. Yes, really

There are certain occasions in life where the only option to eat is to actually seat at a restaurant, either because it’s the only place open near the train/bus station or because it’s late/early and everything is closed off. However, did you know that you can actually order a kid’s meal even if you’re not traveling with kids?

My best advice? Swallow your shame and order the kid’s meal. Seriously. I was surprised in Barcelona by the fact that the kid’s meal at KFC (yeah, I had the cravings for some fried chicken, sue me!) had so many items that would cost me double the price if I ordered them separately. I even got a free toy which I gave away to a homeless kid. You couldn’t believe how happy he was afterwards!

Eating in Europe with 4 euros a day

Two pieces of chicken, fries, soda, yogurt AND a toy for 4 euros? Hell yeah!

How to eat in Europe on a tight budget #03: Buy food at street stands

While not as cheap as the ones in Asia or Latin America, street stands are still a very good alternative to taste the local food without spending a lot of money. Probably the cheapest deal you can find in Europe are the many kebab places that are surfacing year after year.

My best advice? Steer away from the street stands located near tourist attractions or the train/bus station. A few streets away from tourist meccas you shall find the street stands where the locals normally eat out. Can you believe you can get a kebab with fries for only 2 euros in Vienna?

Polish Street Food

It’s really hard to resist the amazing smell of street food!

How to eat in Europe on a tight budget #04: Eat out at shopping malls

The food courts of shopping malls are probably my favorite place to eat the local food without the need of going to local restaurants with inflated prices aimed at tourists or local places without an English menu where you have no idea what you just ordered. I especially like the fact that you can always see big photos with the item in question so you just need to point and use sign language in order to communicate.

My best advice? Go to the kilo places at food courts. The way it works is that you put food on your plate and you end up paying depending on how much it weights (so the price per 100 grams for beef is the same as the one for salad). These are very popular in Poland and are the best way to eat the local food while saving money. You can eat like a king for less than 2 euros.

Stary Brow Shopping Mall Poland

Did you know that this shopping mall in Poznan used to be a brewery?

How to eat in Europe on a tight budget #05: Cook your own meals

Probably the best option in terms of quality and price (as long as you know what you’re doing), this is my least favorite option if you’re traveling solo since you’ll have to carry your own ingredients (cooking oil, spices, salt, pepper) at all times plus there’s always the looming threat of someone at the hostel stealing your precious food. Alternatively, you can buy a baguette plus some ham and cheese with a yogurt for diner but trust me, eating the same every day gets boring after a while.

My best advice? Befriend the people at the hostel and invite strangers to the meal, that way not only are you saving money but also sharing your own culinary treats from your home country. Who wants some epic Mexican food?

Polish BBQ Hell Yeah!

Polish BBQ Hell Yeah!

How to eat in Europe on a tight budget #06: Do dumpster diving

This is the extreme budget version of how to eat on the cheap in Europe. There are basically two ways of doing this while in Europe: The normal way is to go to supermarkets and bakeries after closing hours and go to the dumpster in order to find food that was thrown away (of course, you should always prioritize packaged goods such as sandwiches since it’s cleaner that way).

My best advice? Go to bakeries before closing time and just ask politely. 9 out of 10 times you will get the food before it’s thrown away to the dumpster plus you can stock up on a lot of items and actually do charitable work by giving them away to the homeless people you will find on your way to your hostel.

Got any more budget saving tips to share when it comes to eating in Europe? I hope you enjoyed these tips and please, do share your own! Safe travels!

5 Travel Tips for Budget Eating

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24 Responses

  1. Mani

    Ha, I loved this. Really great tips and I love that last photo caption. When I backpacked through Europe some years ago, I would’ve loved to know these tips. My friend and I would share meals and starve. We lost a lot of weight though!.. I also love the photo of the mall/brewery.

  2. TriReagan

    Ok, big question… have you actually dumpster dived before? ;-) I’m not sure if I would go that far, but I guess if I was in a tough spot I would consider it.

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      I haven’t actually dived into the trash can but I always ask for expired sandwiches at food places and 9 out of 10 times I always get them for free since employees are good kind hearted people who understand that wasting food is just wrong.

    • Skye Parkesarse

      Hey Tri! i have dumpstered a lot, and believe it – you can get some seriously awesome stuff from the supermarket bins!!! Contrary to what a lot of people think, its not really dirty – have a look around your supermarket and notice how many things are pre-packaged! Also, a lot of food is dumped, not because there is anything wrong with it, but just because e.g. something has been spilled on the outside of the packet, or a box is damaged (but the food is in a bag inside the box), or many times for reasons unknown!! We once scored about 40 bags of mini-chocolate bars!! Kept us in chocolate for months :-)

      • TriReagan

        Thanks for chiming in Skye! I’m glad to hear that you dumpstered-dived and survived! :-) I will keep that in mind if I start to get hard up for money while I travel.

  3. Kevin Klapper

    Sorry Raphael i disagree with ur ideas. Most of this isn`t common here or not possible.

  4. Sammi Egan

    If I am expected to pay for hostel breakfast then I tend to go to the supermarket & buy cereal bars & fruit which cost, at the most 3€ & since you get 6 apples (usually) and 6 cereal bars in a pack you’re set for the week. I don’t tend to eat lunch (it’s the crazy hours I work at home, means that lunch comes & goes & I never see it), so that just leaves me with dinner & to be frank wherever I’ve been recently it has been super cheap anyway, so I’ve never had problems with that in the Europe.

    The only thing I would say is I’m pretty sure “dumpster diving” is illegal in Europe… it counts as common law theft.

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      It’s illegal in some countries (such as in the UK) but still, it is very common for food places to give away the product to someone who politely asks for it. When I’m in London I always get free food at Pret a Manger just by asking with a big smile :)

      • Sammi Egan

        Yes, to ask for it is an entirely different thing than to “dumpster dive” especially as they are allowed in some places to give it away, but to the act of dumpster diving is illegal in both the EU & UK.

      • Skye Parkesarse

        yeah, but who gives a f**k if its illegal?!! Its illegal here in australia too, but I lived off it for a year while I was at uni. Its CRIMINAL to put eatable food in landfill. Do it, just dont get caught. Or, if you do get caught, just be polite and leave quietly (usually to the next nearest dumpster).

      • Sammi Egan

        I agree with you, it *IS* criminal to be wasting perfectly good food, and I agree with Raphael that going into a store like Pret or Sainsbury’s and asking is fine. I think that if they can’t sell the food it should go to homeless shelters, or used in prisons, or whatever rather than be wasted.
        BUT at the same time if you’re travelling the world then you shouldn’t need to dumpster dive, if you can afford to travel then you should be able to afford to feed yourself in the same way you would at home. Even if that means supermarket shops & hostel kitchens.

      • Skye Parkesarse

        but why NOT dumpster-dive? Its not always true that if you can afford to travel, you can afford to feed yourself from supermarkets… (some country’s supermarkets are a lot more expensive than at home and some people do travel on the tightest imaginable budget so as to be able to spend longer on the road). But dumpster-diving is not always done just because you can’t afford to buy food. Apart from the moral consideration that we agree on, its also adventurous and spontaneous and allows you to be generous (when we dived regularly, it counted as an evenings entertainment, and we delivered produce to 4 other households besides our own), and even if you have the money, why not save it to spend on other things? In my mind “illegal” does not stand alone as a valid reason for not doing something – as a society we need to learn to think for ourselves, and make the honest assessment of whether our actions are actually likely to cause harm to anyone. As far as i can see, dumpster-diving does nobody any harm, so why not?

      • Sammi Egan

        Well perhaps I am just too much of a “goody-goody” to see breaking the law as an evening’s entertainment. And perhaps, whilst we agree on the moral considerations, perhaps we’ll just have to agree to disagree on the rest…

  5. Justyna Sniezek

    Raphael, sorry, to say this but points you made are out of reality plus you did something I hate the most – lumped the WHOLE Europe together. In Western (not to mention Nordic!) countries it’s simply impossible to eat for 4 EUR per day and feel like a king (I’ve lived in or visited almost all of them), while in Balkan countries it may be much easier. A guide to eating cheap is a cool idea, but god, not for the whole continent, please. What I miss here are examples and names of places I could go and eat for cheap. I believe this is what people are really looking for. If you’d write about a certain city, it would be much nicer and so much useful. Cheers and have a nice stay in Budepest now :)

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren

      Back in the days (2012) I traveled in London with a food budget of 2 pounds a
      day (roughly 3 euros) by eating at Chinese joints haha.

      I think that the bigger the city, the more likely you are to find intense competition in terms of prices and services with immigrant-run places offering the best deals in terms of price/quality.

      A Mexican friend is living in Zurich with a budget of less than 3 euros a day too by eating only yogurt, baguette and cheese. It’s doable. Not ideal, but doable.

      To be honest, it *can* be done with a budget of 0 euros a day by doing *only* dumpster diving but I think 4 euros per day is a good threshold for even the most expensive country in Europe.

  6. The Migrant Expats

    A great way to eat cheap (at least in Germany) is to look up online where food drop-offs are made in the bigger cities. Food drop-offs consist of stores, bakeries and discounters that place their almost spoiled food or not so fresh bread into baskets and let people take however much then need. It’s way better than dumpster-diving and everyone (no matter what social class you live in) can have a piece.

  7. Sam

    OMG I love Der Wiener Deewan! I go there every time I’m in Vienna. It’s such a great idea!

  8. Charles McCool

    Well, dumpster diving is an interesting one. How about picking fruit from trees, asking cafe people for extras, sneaking into events? The possibilities are endless for free food.

  9. World Travel Family

    Hey I order kids meals all the time! But I have props, 2 kids. Nobody knows they are for me! RE: Dumpster diving, or freeganism, if you hang out at the back of supermarkets in the UK you will see endless perfectly good, wrapped food going out. We used to have a flat overlooking the bins at Waitrose, we’d watch the city workers in suits picking up sandwiches for free after work. I skip meals too, feed the kids and don’t feed myself, it’s a mum thing, Another good tip, farmers markets, any sort of market, always lots of tasters, particularly fruit. We’ve grazed at markets many times. In London you can easily get an all you can eat Chinese or Indian buffet for around 5 pounds..I don’t know how much that is in Euros.

  10. grace bangoy

    I’m bringing noodles from my country.. that way I’ll save up a few days not buying food when I finally go travel in Europe.. But I’m bookmarking this just in case :D

  11. Jimmi Krisstensen

    If you hike you can catch and pick your own food, especially if you go to expensive Sweden or Norway, it can save you much.