Exchange rate travel: Surfing the dollar’s euro surge

CNN  — 

Exchange rates: They sound dull, they are dull – until all of a sudden, they make you rich.

That’s the happy scenario facing dollar-toting travelers to Europe at the moment with the greenbacks in their pockets worth more now than they’ve been for most of the last decade.

Bad news, obviously, for anyone heading to United States with a wad of euros, but let’s not dwell too heavily on that.

Until the currency tides inevitably change back in favor of the euro, let’s keep it all about the Benjamins and see what a fistful can buy compared to just 12 months ago.

With $1 teetering close to equaling 1 euro, CNN Travel has opened its imaginary wallet to compare current dollar prices in Europe with those of March 2014, when $1 pulled in a paltry 0.72 euros.

Here’s a country-by-country guide – for comparison’s sake we’re hypothetically valuing $1 at exactly $1 euro.

And, no, we’re not allowing for inflation, because we’re travel journalists not accountants.


For anyone needing a blindingly obvious metaphor for the flowering currency in their pocket, now’s the time to head to Holland to check out the colorful spring tulip crop.

Tours from Amsterdam of the Keukenhof Gardens and tulip fields start at roughly $50 today, compared with $69.50 a year ago.

The change can buy enough blooms to carpet a bed in the Mahler Suite of the luxurious 717 Hotel, converted from a 17th-century townhouse overlooking the Prinsengracht Canal (Prinsengracht 717, 1017 Amsterdam, Netherlands; +31 20 427 0717). There guests may writhe in the petals, giddy with the knowledge they’re paying $375 a night, not the $521 of a year ago.

Those extra dollars will easily cover a cultural spin around the Rembranted walls of the glorious Rijksmuseum (Museumstraat 1, 1071 Amsterdam, Netherlands; +31 20 674 7000), currently priced at $18, down from $25.

Probably to be avoided are Amsterdam’s legal(ish) highs, even if a massive 30 gram bag of hash now retails at $240, a smokin’ discount of $93 on 2014 prices.


Now there's more of Italy's Amalfi coast for your dollars.

“It’s like Italy is on sale right now,” says Ginger Pozzini of Minnesota-based Italy travel specialist Designing Italy (+1 651 768 0542).

“The dollar hasn’t been this strong since we crossed over from the lira to the euro [officially in 2002].”

Pozzini, whose company customizes trips for U.S travelers, says so far Italian hotels, restaurants and other businesses haven’t raised prices to make up for the shortfall on their end.

And many hotels are offering to take payment in advance to lock in exchange rates.

“Across Italy, a three-star hotel room that last year went for $350, this year is about $270,” says Pozzini.

Tuscany villas are never out of style. A 3,000 euro villa rental for a week that would have cost $4,200 last year is now going for a little more than $3,000.

Pozzini recently helped a party book an eight-hour private car tour of the Amalfi Coast.

“Last year that would have cost $770, and this year it’s going to be $594.”

Actually shopping for Italian fashion in Italy might be possible again for many.

A men’s Avirex leather jacket from Massimo Leather (Borgo la Noce, 13/15r, Florence, Italy; +39 0552 18634) in Florence (the city is famous for its leather goods) is especially nice.

Last year that gift to yourself or someone else would have cost $542. This year it’s $390.


Financially stricken Greece needs tourism income more than ever this year and dollars are just as welcome as euros, pounds, yuan, yen or krone.

Peak-rate prices in the prime Med sunspots have remained steady despite turmoil in Athens, but the greenback’s rebound means visitors with dollar-pegged currencies will enjoy some discounts on a year ago.

Take Santorini, the ever-popular volcanic island where honeymooning couples witness nightly sunsets of such staggering beauty, the rest of their marriage is guaranteed to be an anticlimax.

A stay on one of the island’s premium pool suites overlooking the Aegean Sea can currently be snapped up for $640 per night – that’s a $250 saving on 12 months ago.

Ignore the fact that “Mamma Mia!” was filmed on the island of Skopelos, and a $1,500 tour of the surrounding Sporades archipelago is a steal compared to $2,085 a year ago.

That means there’s more than enough change to redress the cultural imbalance created by an ABBA-themed musical by visiting the Acropolis in Athens (+30 21 0321 4172). Entrance fee is now just $12, down from $17.

It also means visitors can afford to lavish some pretty decent tips on their Greek hosts. After all, it’s partly thanks to their economic pain that the eurozone has become such a dollar playground.


A bank account full of Benjamins won’t keep anyone warm at night – unless they’re using them to pay for a night under the northern lights in one of Finnish Lapland’s glass-covered igloos.

Open from late August to early April, Hotel Kakslauttanen’s glowing huts vary in price according to the season but average around $203 per night, per person (each one sleeps two). A year ago, the experience would have cost $282.

The savings can help pad the $270 fee it’s going to cost to head four hours south to Kemi and chill out on Finland’s famed ice-breaking Sampo ship.

Price includes an opportunity to squeeze into a waterproof survival suit for a float in the Gulf of Bothnia’s freezing waters – a teeth chattering thrill that would have cost $375 a year ago.

Eventually, thoughts of “I never want to see another block of ice again” will strike.

When this occurs, there are overnight trains from Kemi down to Helsinki that currently cost around $78 per ticket – down from $108.

Travelers can put the savings toward a $42 four-course lunch at Michelin-starred Restaurant Olo (Pohjoisesplanadi 5, 00170 Helsinki, Finland; +358 10 3206250), a harbor-side restaurant famous for its Nordic cuisine.

What to do with the $16 saved by not eating there a year ago?

Purchase a $12 ticket to get into the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma (Mannerheimplatsen 2, 00100 Helsingfors, Finland; +358 29 4500501), which just reopened following a year and a half of renovations.


Got dollars? Seeing the Mona Lisa just got cheaper.

There’s only one thing more incredible than the prices Parisian shopkeepers charge visitors for a single can of soda – and that’s the fact that tourists still pay them.

The rebalancing of the exchange rate will buy many dollar visitors the satisfying knowledge they’re getting bilked marginally less for routine refreshments.

That should give them enough spring in their stride to tackle the enervating galleries of the Louvre (+33 1 40 20 50 50), a snip at $12, compared to $16.68 at 2014 rates.

Still dizzied by the size of those savings?

Go bananas at the fabulously opulent Peninsula Paris and book a night in the Terrace Suite for $7,700 (19 Avenue Kleber, 75116 Paris, France; +33 1 58 12 28 88‎).

A year ago, that would’ve cost $10,730 – had it been open.

It wasn’t open until last August, though, so not only are you getting a (relative) bargain, but those lovely soft bathroom towels have been sullied by fewer strangers.


“We haven’t seen a situation like this in … I can’t remember when. Quite a long time.”

That enthusiastic appraisal of deals available to Americans traveling in Ireland comes from Ellen McNulty, president of New York-based Lynott Tours (+1 800 221 2474), which has been helping Americans travel to the country for 42 years.

“I don’t even know if the American public is aware of the bargains to be had,” she adds.

One of the activities McNulty’s happy clients have recently booked is the nine-night Irish Melody Family Vacation, which delivers kids activities (horseback rides, boat trips) along with regular musical events, including dances and traditional music nights in pubs.

In 2014, the tour (hotels, transportation, food and other basics included, though not air fare) dinged travelers for $2,931 per person. Now it’s $2,344 – about $2,350 savings for a family of four.

But you don’t have to have kids to save money in Ireland (um, we think that sounds right).

Kid-free beer fans can tour the Guinness Storehouse (St. James Gate, Dublin 8; +353 1 408 4800) – widely hailed as the most popular tourist attraction in Ireland – for just $18. Last year tour tickets went for about $25.

The $7 windfall is easily enough for another pint in an Irish pub, perhaps the most enjoyable way ever devised of being frugal while spending.


Now would be the time to memorize the phrase, “Noch ein bier, bitte” (“One more beer, please.”)

These days, visitors exchanging their greenbacks will be able keep the taps flowing for longer during a visit to Munich’s centuries old beer cellars and up-and-coming craft breweries.

Sleeping it all off in five-star surroundings is, of course, much cheaper too.

A night in a superior double room the historic Bayerischer Hof (Promenadeplatz 2-6, Munich, Germany; +49 89 21200) will cost about $549 – not bad, considering the same room would have cost $763 a year ago.

Those savings will more than cover a pair of two-hour first class train tickets to Fussen, home to Neuschwanstein (Neuschwansteinstrasse 20, 87645 Schwangau, Germany; +49 8362 930830), one of the world’s most famous castles.

A one-way rail ticket between the two now costs about $40 – a savings of about $15 over 2014.

The change is enough to pay the $12 entrance fee to the stunning castle – a bargain compared to the princely sum of roughly $17 dollar earners would have coughed up a year ago.


Now your casino dollar losses are worth more.

While it’s true Monaco has got slightly cheaper for dollar visitors, that doesn’t put James Bond-style high rolling within the reach of most dollar visitors.

At 2014’s exchange rates, a platinum ticket for the Monaco Grand Prix would’ve cost $3,891. Today’s price is less eye-watering at $2,799, but still eye-watering considering you’re just paying to watch fast traffic.

But, sorry, there’s been no change in the Casino de Monte Carlo (Place du Casino, 98000 Monaco; +377 98 06 21 21).

Losing your life’s savings still costs the same as it did 12 months ago.


Hard though it is to believe that a trip to Belgium could get any more exciting, the new exchange rate achieves the near-impossible.

A Saturday evening of super-fancy seafood at Brussels’ celebrated Comme Chez Soi restaurant with a six course taster menu for $195, down from $271 at 2014 rates.

Still got room for more?

A tiered box of the finest Belgian chocs from Pierre Marcolini costs $95 – that’s $37 cheaper than a year ago.

After finishing the night with a crate of 8.5% proof Delirium Tremens beer (down to $6.95 a bottle from $9.70), maybe the best thing those shaky hands can do is buy a rail ticket away from the scene of whatever happened next.

A last-minute standard Eurostar ticket one-way to London costs about $161, down from $224.

Then it’s time to convert those dollars to pounds – and that’s a whole other numbers game.

CNN’s Barry Neild, Chuck Thompson, Karla Cripps and Maggie Hiufu Wong contributed to this story.