The Best Places To Eat While On A Shoestring Budget In Europe, Per Rick Steves

Being "hangry" isn't a myth. When you're hungry, your blood sugar drops so your stress hormones can go up, which can lead to irritation (per Verywell Health). Being hungry can also give you brain fog — and that's no way to go through a vacation. You'll find you get a lot more out of your sightseeing if you're doing it well-fed. But unless you're staying in an AirBnB or Vrbo, you may not have a kitchen where you can cook a home meal, so you may find yourself having to dine out much of the time. That can put a pretty big dent in your bank account pretty quickly.


While Europe certainly has plenty of destinations ideal for food lovers, you can still enjoy fantastic food while you're on a budget. Just ask Rick Steves. The best-selling guidebook author is all about helping people explore the world, particularly Europe. He's got a wealth of information about everything from what to do before you go on your trip to how to avoid jet lag. And along with Steves' advice for finding European accommodation on a budget, he's got some excellent tips for where to eat in Europe if you don't want to spend a lot of money.  Best of all — just because the food is cheap doesn't mean it isn't tasty.

Market halls bring together tradition and local flavors

European cities have a long history of market and food halls where people would come to shop for goods of all kinds. While some historic market halls have closed, there's been a revival of sorts at many of these sites, and you can still easily find market halls with vendors selling everything you need to put together a picnic masterpiece — meats, cheeses, fruits, veggies, breads, and more, as well as places to get an already-prepped meal. Think farmer's market meets food court meets European tradition.


Rick Steves particularly recommends hitting up market halls for lunch, and he likes Mercado de Campo de Ourique in Lisbon (Portugal), Kleinmarkthalle in Frankfurt (Germany), and Torvehallerne in Copenhagen (Demark) as places that serve a great variety of tasty, locally loved food. But of all the European markets, Mercato Centrale in Florence, Italy, is Steves' favorite. "The food artisans at work here serve pizza and pasta, but they also dish up regional treats," he writes on his website, Rick Steves' Europe. Google reviewers confirm the quality, diversity, and deliciousness of the food that's offered for an affordable price, giving the market 4.4 stars.

Street food is easy to get and easy on your wallet

Street food might be the best known and most obvious place to get the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to your food budget, and most major European city centers have food trucks and carts where you can get something fast and filling. For Rick Steves, his favorite street food option is a kebab stand, where you can get a pita stuffed with seasoned meat that's shaved from the iconic vertical rotisserie. Luckily, you can find kebab stands all across Europe.


Steves notes other good options as well, often unique to a country, like crêpes in France, sausage and pretzels in Germany, and fish and chips in England. They may not be the healthiest options around, but they will fill you up and give you a taste of the local cuisine. With the grab and go ease of street food, you can keep your day of sightseeing going at high speed or you can find a nearby park bench to leisurely enjoy your snack while you people watch.

Cafeterias may not be glamorous, but they'll get the job done

If you've graduated from college or high school, you may think your time eating in cafeterias is over. But they're well worth looking for when you're traveling in Europe and want to fuel up quickly and cheaply. Rick Steves is a fan of university cafeterias and other self-service dining destinations that are connected with a local organization. "Don't be afraid to take advantage of these opportunities to fill yourself with a plate of dull but nourishing food for an unbeatable price in the company of locals," Steves explained on his website.


Steves has some specific cafeteria recommendations, including "bary mleczne" or milk bars in Poland, which have ties to the country's Communist past and still serve traditional dishes. Some department stores in Europe, like Frankfurt's Galeria Kaufhof, have cheap and cheerful buffet options. Then there's Vienna's Justizcafé, which has three different basic, but yummy, menu options each day that you can enjoy while seated on a rooftop terrace in the center of the city.

Going to a cafeteria may take a little bit more online research and pre-planning — there might be a school holiday that you're not aware of that closes down the local university's cafeteria, for example. And be prepared that they may also only take cash. One big benefit to cafeterias is that you'll likely have a place to sit down and eat instead of having to stand on the street.


Local sandwich shops and bakeries will fill you up

A visit to France without going to a "boulangerie," or bakery, would be missing out on the crucial French tradition of enjoying fresh breads and pastries. The value of visiting a French bakery goes beyond the tradition, however. Bakeries in France and across Europe are one of Rick Steves' go-to options for something that's "cheap and fast but with more of a regional flavor," per Rick Steves' Europe. They often offer more items than just bread — think sandwiches, filled croissants, coffee, and tea — and they're often open for breakfast and throughout the day.


Along with bakeries, Steves suggests eating at sandwich shops to help ease the strain on your wallet during your trip. Many European countries have their own popular fast casual cafés, like Pret A Manger in the U.K. and Pans & Company in Spain, where you can enjoy a relatively cheap and filling meal, often with a place to sit and eat. Plus, they generally have free bathrooms — public bathrooms in Europe may cost you.

American fast food in Europe has its benefits

Visitors to Europe can't escape all American influence on their trip. McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), and Subway all have a fairly large presence across the continent. While you might turn up your nose at a visit to one of these restaurants on your European vacation, when you're pinching pennies, they can be a good go-to. They can also provide a bit of familiar comfort food in the midst of a trip that might be overwhelming with culture shock.


Rick Steves outlined some of the additional benefits to American fast food joints in Europe on his website: "Since there's no cover charge, this is an opportunity to savor a low-class paper cup of coffee while enjoying some high-class people-watching ... Many offer free Wi-Fi as well."

Going to a European fast food restaurant can also be a fun way to compare how the big name brands adjust their menus to the region they're in. In Paris, you can get macarons at McDonald's and tiramisu at Kentucky Fried Chicken. And in Switzerland, you can get Gruyère cheese on your burger and Belgian waffles with chocolate sauce at Burger King.