There's no doubt that the culture of a country can have an impact on the costs you encounter while living or traveling there. In Italy, cocktails are often casual and reasonably-priced, whereas the same drink in London might be twice the price for half the portion. Renting an apartment or AirBnB in youth-dominated Berlin is half the price of a hotel, whereas Catalonians balk at subletting their beautiful Barcelona apartments for a price that's less than premium.
For this Wyse Award, we've ranked four European capitals: Madrid, Rome, London & Paris, based on the cost of a six-day trip for two fairly-frugal adults staying at an AirBnB and cooking their own breakfasts and dinner (counter-service for lunch). For the evening's entertainment, they'll head to a funky but not excessively fancy bar, while spending their days doing museums, cafe-hopping, some random activities, and a day trip or two.
Paris is one of those cities where you're going to pay a premium for the right to rent an apartment. Throw in relatively high grocery prices, and staying in an Airbnb and cooking your own food isn't going to be very beneficial from a cost perspective. At the same time, the experience of going from bakery, to cheese shop, to grocery for a rotisserie chicken and a bottle of wine makes up some of my fondest travel memories. France is one of those countries, along with Spain, where spending a little more for high quality food that you cook yourself is worth every penny.
London is the most expensive of our contenders in terms of accommodations. It is also more expensive than the others for restaurants, but it actually comes in below Paris and even Rome for the cost of groceries. Cooking our own meals will drive the cost of food down just enough that our total cost is actually on par with Paris, despite the higher cost of living. It's just one example of how the choices we make when traveling can impact the costs in unexpected ways!
Rome is less expensive than both Paris & London in terms of accommodations, groceries & general cost of living. While you're still paying Western European prices, you can expect most categories to be about 10% cheaper than those two more expensive capitals. The exception to that rule is restaurants, where Rome is right up there with the priciest cities, but again, this is a metro where cooking for yourself has a substantial benefit to your wallet.
There are so many reasons to love Spain, and cost is only one of them. The capital, Madrid, comes in below the other contenders in all categories, including groceries. In my opinion, a good Spanish grocery is on par with France in terms of quality and choice. Think Jamon Iberico, Manchego cheese, a nice bottle of Spanish red... it makes me want to hop on a plane right now. In terms of nightlife, remember you're going to be eating tapas - lots of tapas, hopefully - but this is in addition to the dinner you cooked yourself, so we baked the price of tapas in to nightlife. Second helpings, anyone?