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Powerful pound provides capital gains on city breaks

1st April 2014 Print
City break

Budapest has retained its position as the cheapest city break destination in the sixth annual Post Office Travel Money survey of prices for UK tourists in 25 leading cities.  Research for the 2014 City Costs Barometer found that prices in the Hungarian capital have fallen 11 per cent year-on-year, thanks to a combination of lower hotel costs and the stronger pound.
At under £117 for 12 typical city break items – including an evening meal for two with wine, drinks, two nights' weekend accommodation, sightseeing and city transport – Budapest remains best value for bargain hunters.  Lithuanian capital Vilnius (£118) is close behind, with Warsaw (£132) and Prague (£136) completing a clean sweep for Eastern Europe.
Prague saw price falls of over 17 per cent to power past Lisbon, Riga and Dubrovnik into fourth place in this year's barometer. For the second year running Post Office researchers found that meals and drinks are cheaper in the Czech capital (£27) than anywhere else.
Andrew Brown of Post Office Travel Money said: “Meals and drinks are rarely included in city break packages so it is important to check prices before booking.  Over a weekend break we found that tourists could pay four times as much for meals and drinks in Copenhagen as they would in Prague.  We also found that a meal for two with wine in Prague cost £22, less than half the price charged in 17 other cities across Europe.”
It is not just in Prague and Budapest that prices have fallen, according to the Post Office City Costs Barometer.  The pound's increased buying power since last spring has helped make tourist costs cheaper in 80 per cent of the cities surveyed. The biggest drop is in Copenhagen, where tourist items remain pricey at £306 but cost almost 30 per cent less than a year ago.
Lisbon is again the eurozone best buy – with prices lower than in 2013 for meals, hotels and sightseeing.  As a result, the Portuguese capital has leapfrogged new eurozone member Riga (£148) to take fifth place in the barometer.  Lisbon prices (£137) are down by over 15 per cent and are under half those in Amsterdam (£310) and Paris (£311), where high hotel rates make these perennial favourites the most expensive of 11 eurozone cities surveyed.
However, although the barometer again reveals wide price variations across the eurozone, only two of the eurozone cities registered higher tourist costs.  While prices are up by over six per cent in Paris and three per cent in Vienna (£238), the Post Office found big falls elsewhere, most notably in Barcelona (£230) where prices have plummeted over 17 per cent.
Andrew Brown said: “The rising value of sterling is good news if you are planning a city break this spring but make sure you do your homework to get the best value. Cheap flights and accommodation will not necessarily give you the best deal overall.  Before taking the plunge, make a shortlist of cities you are interested in and check both sterling's value and local living costs, adding these to the flight and accommodation cost to see which comes out cheapest.” 
Away from the eurozone, tourists visiting Istanbul will receive almost 36 per cent more Turkish lira for their pounds and 29 per cent more Russian rubles on Moscow city break.  But local prices have risen in both cities to dilute the benefit.  As a result, prices are around 16 per cent rather than 36 per cent lower in Istanbul and in Moscow tourists should expect to pay almost seven per cent more than last year, depending on what items they buy.
Echoing last year's results, Stockholm (£363) is Europe's most expensive city with prices over three times as high as in Budapest.  New York (£366) is marginally higher-priced than the Swedish capital but a fall in meal and accommodation charges has made the Big Apple over 11 per cent cheaper than Boston (£413).  
In the UK Edinburgh's barometer total of £215 helped the Scottish capital move into the top half of the barometer table, well ahead of London (£291) and Belfast (£232), which recorded the survey's highest price rise of over six per cent year-on-year.  Across the border Dublin (£259) has closed the gap and is now only 11 per cent more expensive than its Northern Ireland competitor, compared with 24 per cent a year ago.
City Cost Comparisons At A Glance:

Staying over: The cost of three-star city centre accommodation varies dramatically.  Budapest offers the cheapest rate for a two-night stay for two (£47) during April – under half the cost in 15 other cities.  The price is over three times as high in Amsterdam (£175) and higher still in New York (£213) and Boston (270). Other cities where two nights' accommodation is cheap include Warsaw (£52), Vilnius (£53), Riga (£53), Tallinn (£59), Dubrovnik (£60) and Lisbon (£60).

Getting around: 48-hour travel cards can cut the cost of city transport and the cheapest ones cost well under £5 in Riga and Tallinn.  By comparison, London and New York travel cards cost around £18, while a 48-hour Stockholm pass is almost £25. Taking a sightseeing bus tour ranges from £10-£19 in most European cities but can be as low as £7 (Dubrovnik) or as high as £23 (Barcelona).  Airport-city centre transfers cost least in Riga and Vilnius (around £1) and most in Stockholm (£21).

Culture costs: Entry to the top heritage attraction, museum and art gallery in Riga and Vilnius costs less than £7 while the price tag in Dublin and Prague is around £8.  By contrast, Amsterdam's cultural treasures will set visitors back £39 and New York tops this at more than £40.  However, top museums and galleries are free in Edinburgh, Belfast, Dublin, London and Copenhagen as are many of Europe's most popular heritage attractions including Berlin's Brandenburg Gate and Notre Dame in Paris.
Andrew Brown said: “The best advice is to budget carefully and change enough travel cash before leaving home to make sure you have enough spending money to cover all the costs you will incur on a city break.  Check exchange rate movements and remember that there are improved Post Office rates for higher value branch or online transactions.”
More than 70 currencies can be pre-ordered at over 11,500 Post Office branches or online at for next day branch or home delivery. 25 currencies are available on demand at 1,600 larger Post Office branches, while over 4,000 branches offer US dollars and Turkish lira and 10,000 offer euros over the counter.

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City break