Image: Paris
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Paris hasn’t exactly been a bargain since Ernest Hemingway and the Lost Generation let the Pernod flow there in the 1920s.
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updated 3/23/2011 9:24:31 AM ET 2011-03-23T13:24:31

Want to travel to Europe without cashing in your 401(k)?

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Well, if your plan includes London, beware: in 2010, the average hotel rate was $209, up 11 percent from 2009. Compare that to Athens, where that rate was just $97, down 18 percent. Kind of makes the Parthenon look better than ever, no?

Slideshow: Most and least expensive cities in Europe

It turns out that the weak sisters on the fringes of Western Europe are shaping up to offer even greater value for American travelers this spring and summer than at any time since the recent recession began. Like Athens, Dublin has been battered by sovereign debt crises, and hotel prices have dropped there as well. The shaky economies of Portugal, Spain, and Italy are also resulting in lower travel costs in some cities.

So where can you save — and where will you spend? We compiled statistics from Trivago.com, HotelsCombined.com, PriceOfTravel.com, and the U.S. State Department to find out.

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Americans might expect to find improved value even in those European cities where travel prices have held firm or risen slightly, like Berlin and Vienna. The euro declined against the dollar by 13 percent from January 2008 to January 2011, and if that trend continues, you’ll get even more purchasing power in the 17 nations that use the euro. In fact, the relative strength of the dollar may even be enough to offset higher hotel rates in such expensive cities as Amsterdam (up 6 percent in 2010 versus 2009) and Paris (up 4 percent).

The carbuncle on that otherwise pretty portrait is non-euro London. In fact, London is one of the few Western European countries for which the State Department has raised its per-diem limits — up 11 percent, to $503 a day for hotel, meals, and incidentals. Expect no bargains along the Thames this season.

Still, the sunny travel outlook prevails more often than not. In Athens, a two-mile cab ride costs only $3.63, a beer at a café costs as little as $2.74, and the average hotel price in January was a mere $97, down a whopping 18 percent from a year earlier. What’s more, in December 2010 the government reduced its value added tax on hotel stays from 11 percent to 6.5 percent to stimulate tourism.

Video: Vacation villas you can afford! (on this page)

The poor economy in the former Celtic Tiger holds another bright spot for tourists. For the best value, consider flying into Ireland’s Shannon Airport and enjoying the good values in the west. Dublin is more expensive (a two-mile cab ride will cost you around $11), but even there hotel prices have come down.

So if you haven’t considered Western Europe as a vacation destination in the past several years, 2011 just might be the year you’ll want to return. But be sure you know which cities are good values—and which ones could still put a big hurt on your wallet.

Copyright © 2012 American Express Publishing Corporation

Video: Vacation villas you can afford!

  1. Closed captioning of: Vacation villas you can afford!

    >> up next, affordable villas for your next vacation. first this is "today" on nbc.

    >>> we're back at 8:45. this morning, affordable vacation villas may sound expensive but they can be a little bit cheaper than hotel rooms . conde nast traveler takes a look in its upcoming edition. kate, nice to see you.

    >> nice to see you.

    >> villas sound very la-di-da but we are saying they are any rental property or house.

    >> you think of a sprawling tuscan estate with the price tag to match but villa is a generic term for vacation rentals .

    >> what kind of traveler are they suited for?

    >> they are good for big groups. they sleep 10 people. also a slightly more independent traveler. you're not going to be able to call to get your club sandwich at 3:00 a.m . but you can make it yourself because they have full kitchens which is a way to save money because you don't have to eat out three times a day.

    >> it's more authentic because you're living in a house, someone's neighborhood. let's look at examples you brought. the first is in sonoma, california. this comes at under $100 per person.

    >> the villa specialist, we have a list of the top meticulously vetted villa specialists. beautiful places and sonoma is west of napa. classic wine country . it's on the sebastiani winery. you have views of the vines, orchards. it's $97 per person per night.

    >> that's a good price. you have housekeeping?

    >> and a great pool. for a sophisticated bachelor party or a cross generational trip which is increasingly popular.

    >> that's a contradiction in terms. sophisticated bachelor party . this one's in costa rica . has a private pool, housekeeping, access to a beach club and still under $100 per person.

    >> $90 per night. fantastic houses on the pacific coast of costa rica . they can set up zip lining, surf lessons and visits to volcanos.

    >> this place will be booked ten years in a row now.

    >> they have multiple properties, sometimes 300 in the area.

    >> let's move to montana. this villa is like a log cabin . the towering pines on the madison river . tell me about this one.

    >> villas come in all shapes an sizes. this is on the madison river . if you like fly fishing this is for you. 30 minutes from yellowstone. it sleeps six and works out to $65 per person per night. it's a mountain home .

    >> does that company mountain home also allow you to connect to fishing guides and things like that? do they help with the other part of travel?

    >> they are like a friend on the ground. they can organize that stuff for you.

    >> let's get more exotic, not that the first ones aren't. now to tuscany in europe which people think the dollar isn't great there. not a good time to go. what do you say?

    >> it's $122 per person per night. compared to the hotels it compares favorably. this is casa gertrude. it's close to sienna which is a stunning city. absolutely gorgeous. it has a lovely pool and lovely al fres codining area.

    >> looks gorgeous.

    >> it's lovely.

    >> finale one in the caribbean on st. martin. you have a good tip. you say if people are trying to book a villa in the caribbean, best in terms of price, be willing to take something not right on the beach but steps from the beach.

    >> that's a common sense way to save money. thisle villa means honeymoon in french. it has a stunning wraparound pool. three minutes' drive from the beach. a gorgeous island with great food. it's $135 per person per night. it sleeps four people, so two couples.

    >> but your point is well taken. for people rushing to the phones now to book these particular villas the companies that rent the villas have other great options as well.

    >> they have loads of options.

    >> good information, kate. thank you

Photos: Glorious Greece

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  1. Pillars of worship

    Construction on the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens began in 515 B.C., and was completed 700 years later by Emperor Hadrian in 131 A.D. There were originally 104 Corinthian columns, but only 16 remain standing now. (Julian Finney / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Sandy escapes

    Millions of visitors enjoy sunny days on Anthens' beaches each summer, with warm weather seeming to last longer into fall. Many beaches have a small entry fee that helps pay for keeping the beaches clean. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Stunning sight

    An Orthodox bell tower overlooks the port town of Fira on the Greek island of Santorini. With a view to one of the most stunning sunsets in the Mediterranean, Santorini is one of Greece's most popular tourist destinations. (Sakis Mitrolidis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Ancient attraction

    The Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena and perhaps the most famous surviving building from ancient Greece, sits at the top of the Acropolis and overlooks Athens. Construction on the temple began in 447 B.C. and completed in 438 B.C. Today, the temple attracts millions of visitors a year. (Aris Messinis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Taste of the city

    The Agora on Athinas Street, otherwise known as the Athens Central Market in Athens, is a great place to buy affordable, fresh food. The market is open Monday through Saturday, and everything from meat to fish to vegetables to herbs is available. (Julian Finney / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. The modern face

    Concrete buildings typifying Athen's urban sprawl are visible from the Acropolis. The city, which has expanded geographically throughout the 20th century, has had severe problems with urban pollution that have improved in recent years. (Sean Gallup / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Holy refuge

    Monks and hermits have found refuge in the monasteries at Meteora in Athens for more than 1,000 years. The gigantic rock formations in central Greece, which still puzzle scientists as to how they came to be formed, are visited today by thousands of tourists. The Holy Meteora have been maintained and protected as a monument of humanity by UNESCO. (Milos Bicanski / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A look at the past

    Visitors view the old winch system that used to bring people and supplies to the monsteries inside the Monastery of Agia Triada at Meteora. The monastery, which is perched atop a pinnacle and is accessible by taking 140 steep steps, may look familiar because it was featured in the James Bond film "For Your Eyes Only." The two monks who still reside there often show visitors around. (Milos Bicanski / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Art through the ages

    Frescoes by 16th century Cretan painter Theophanes the Monk have survived over the years and can be seen inside the Monastery of Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas at Meteora. (Aris Messinis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A sea of tourists

    Tourists stand before a seawater tank containing sea life of the Mediterranean Sea at the Cretaquarium in the city of Irakleion on the island of Crete in southern Greece. This tourist destination, which opened in December 2005, works as a modern-day research, educational and entertainment facility. The aquarium was developed to hold 32 tanks containing around 2,5000 organisms from 200 species. (Aris Messinis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Climbing the ranks

    The Athens Olympic Stadium was built in 1982 and hosted the European Championships in Athletics that year. The city won the honor of hosting the 2004 Summer Olympics, and after an extensive renovation on the stadium, including a roof redesign, the building reopened just in time to host the opening ceremony on Aug. 13. Today, the venue hosts everything from major sporting events to concerts. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Birthplace of the Games

    In the 8th century B.C., the first Olympic festival was organized in Olympia (tradition dates the first games to 776 B.C.). Ruins of the ancient stadium are still evident at the site, though a fire in August 2007 ravaged the area and scorched the museum that housed some of Greece's great archeaological collections. Still, the Olympic flame of the modern-day games are lit by the reflection of sunlight in a parabolic mirror at the stadium. (Petros Giannakouris / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. House of antiquities

    The statue of Sleeping Maenad, which dates back to the time of Emperor Hadrian (117-138 A.D.) can be seen at the Greek National Archaeological Museum in Athens. The statue presumably adorned a luxury residence and was found to the south of the Athenian Acropolis. It is just one of the many important artifacts from various archaeological locations around the country from prehistory to late antiquity. (John Kolesidis / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Supporting ladies

    Tourists admire the six caryatids of the Erechtheion temple on the Acropolis Hill in Athens. Caryatids are female figures that serve as supporting columns that hold up roofs. Renovation works to restore them were underway for 30 years and finally ended in November 2008. The entire temple was dedicated to Athena Polias and Poseidon Erechtheus when it was built between 421 B.C. and 407 B.C. The caryatids are on a porch on the north side called "Porch of the Maidens." (Aris Messinis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Frozen in time

    The Lesvos Petrified Forest on the Greek Aegean island of Lesvos is a UNESCO heritage site. The Petrified Forest numbers around 70 trees of various sizes that are ancestors of today's pines and cypresses, and were fossilized when the area was covered in volcanic lava around 20 million years ago. (Aris Messinis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Healing waters

    Bathers relax in the waters of the hot Loutraki spring near the town of Aridea in northern Greece. Curative tourism is among a series of new products that Greek authorities want to highlight in a bid to diversify the country's usual recipe of sea and sun. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Home of the gods

    A hiker climbs Mount Olympus, the legendary home of the ancient Greek gods in central Greece. The mountain is the country's highest, standing at 9,570 feet. (Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Rich draw

    The Hozoviotissa Monastery on the Amorgos island, built in the 11th century on the side of the Prophetes Elias Mountain at 300 meters above sea level, is reportedly dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Having for decades relied on its archaeological wealth to draw tourism, Greece now seeks to exploit an equally rich religious tradition to entice visitors from fellow Orthodox countries. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Athens, Greece
    Julian Finney / Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (18) Glorious Greece
  2. Tourist walk through the Alhambra palace
    Jose Luis Roca / AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (18) Spanish glory
  3. Peter Dejong / AP
    Slideshow (13) Awesome Amsterdam

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