Think of your vacation budget. Now add a few zeros. Excellent, now you're ready for the world's most overpriced travel destinations, places with tremendous appeal and intimidating price tags. But here's the good news: Great deals do exist in every one of these destinations. We've rounded up some of our favorite ways to save in each, so you can avoid overspending in these priciest of hot spots.
To determine which cities are most overpriced, we looked to recent reports including UBS CIO Wealth Management Research's Prices and Earnings report, Hotels.com's Hotel Price Index, and Expatistan's Cost of Living Index.
Like the most opulent cities in the Middle East, Oslo's wealth is fueled by oil money. So it's not entirely surprising that Norway's capital is, according to the Prices and Earnings report, the most expensive city in the world. If you want to enjoy the best of cosmopolitan Oslo, expect to pay prices that are about 20 percent higher than you'd find elsewhere in Western Europe. And keep in mind that this is a city where goods and services are nearly 70 percent higher than the world average, a fact that burns a fast hole in travelers' wallets.
Do It for Less: VisitOslo.com has a guide for budget travelers that includes tips on finding affordable accommodations, cheap eats, and free things to do.
Zurich offers visitors plenty: pure mountain air, gorgeous surroundings, and walkable neighborhoods. But you'll pay for the privilege of a visit. In fact, according to the Prices and Earnings report, it's actually the most expensive city in the world for a weekend getaway that includes the cost of accommodations in a nice hotel, dinner with wine, transportation, and extras. And Zurich also has among the highest public transportation and taxi costs in the world. Case in point: A three-mile cab ride in Zurich runs about $28.
Do It for Less: Cabs may be expensive in Zurich, but between May and October you can bike for free. The Zurich on Wheels program maintains 200 bikes that you can borrow for the day as long as you show a valid form of ID and leave a small deposit.
New York, New York
Here's the thing about New York City: It's going to play chicken with your budget, and it's going to win. Along with Tokyo, NYC has the world's most expensive average costs for both luxury and mid-range hotel stays. We're talking $730 per night for luxe digs or $340 per night for mid-range accommodations. It's also the most expensive city in North America for a weekend getaway that includes accommodations, a nice dinner, and in-town transportation. Home to a $350 steak and a $1,000 sundae, it's a city that has taken overpriced to a whole new level.
Do It for Less: To offset the high prices you'll likely pay for accommodations and food, take advantage of the many free activities New York City has to offer. Attractions that are free or offer free days include the Bronx Zoo, The Museum of American Illustration, and the New York Botanical Garden.
Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Exclusive, isolated, and a favorite of the rich and famous—if there's a perfect recipe for high prices, Bora Bora has it. The South Pacific island's tropical beauty has earned it plenty of accolades, including a place on U.S. News & World Report's list of the world's best islands. But it all comes at a very steep price. The average nightly rate for one of Bora Bora's famed overwater bungalows is around $1,000. And it's not just staying there that's expensive: Fares for a summer flight from San Francisco start at around $2,500.
Do It for Less: Visit between December and March for better rates on accommodations, including the overwater bungalows for which Bora Bora is famous.
Sydney is prepared to give you the friendliest fleecing you'll ever get. The sunny city was recently ranked one of the most expensive in the world by Expatistan, and in an analysis by Deutsche Bank on world prices, a weekend getaway was more expensive in Sydney than in New York City. The exchange rate doesn't help either: Between 2009 and 2012, the Australian dollar appreciated by about 50 percent. While the currency took a slight dip in 2013, it's still an expensive destination.
Do It for Less: Wine, beer, and cocktails can drive up the cost of any restaurant bill. But at Sydney's many BYO (Bring Your Own) restaurants, you can avoid the alcohol markup by bringing along your preferred beverage and enjoying it for free (or for a small corkage fee that will likely run you less than the cost of a single drink). Time Out Sydney has a list of BYO restaurants around town.
Visit Tokyo and you won't need souvenirs—you'll bring home plenty of credit card debt to remind you of the good times. At 50 percent more expensive than most other cities in Asia, Tokyo ranks as the third most expensive city in the world. Not to be outdone by its pricey competitors, it is actually the most expensive city in the world when it comes to food and shopping. And it shares bragging rights with New York City as the most expensive city in the world for luxury and mid-priced hotel stays.
Do It for Less: For a cheap and delicious meal, head to a tachigui (stand-up) shop, where you can slurp down noodles with locals for a lot less than you'd pay at a sit-down restaurant. CNN has a list of suggested affordable shops at railway stations around Tokyo.
London has everything a cosmopolitan traveler could wish for: incredible museums, a thriving theater culture, and with more than 60 Michelin-starred restaurants, a dining scene that has finally taken its place on the world stage. But it also has one of the highest costs of living in the world, a fact that seriously impacts even the casual traveler. Expect to pay more than $400 per night for a four-star hotel and around $200 per night for a three-star hotel. And you'll need to up the budget even for the small things: Coffee is 60 percent more expensive in London than in Rome, for instance, and it costs about $36 for two people to catch a movie. Even leaving is expensive: London has one of the highest prices for train tickets in the world—about 70 percent above the Western Europe average.
Do It for Less: As expensive as it can be, there are hundreds of things to do in London on a budget. VisitLondon.com has tips including free activities, bargain fashion finds, and inexpensive walking tours.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas always pushes the envelope, so it's no surprise that when it comes to prices, the sky's the limit. You want to spend too much for everything? Vegas is happy to oblige. How about a $40,000-per-night hotel room? If all that spending has made you peckish, you might consider a $5,000 burger. In this city where a single ticket to a Cirque du Soleil show can average more than $250 and it's easy to find a blackjack table where you can bet $5,000 on a hand, exorbitant pricing is so common that it almost seems normal. Almost.
Do It for Less: Las Vegas may be overpriced, but it's also a great destination for deal makers. To save on accommodations, look for hotels that are either off the Strip or at one of its far ends. You can also often find better prices by booking midweek (except when there's a major convention in town).
Monte Carlo, Monaco
In Monte Carlo, everyone wants to live like royalty. But the price tag on the priceless is not for the faint of heart. According to Hotels.com's 2013 Hotel Price Index, Monte Carlo delivered the world's highest overall hotel prices, with an average of $308 per night. Steep prices don't stop at the hotel bill, either: Leisure is a pricey pursuit too. Greens fees at the Monte Carlo Golf Club run $176 and up, and a day pass to the Thermes Marins Monte Carlo spa is about $130. Even a simple trip to the beach can cost you more than $100 if you opt for a spot at the see-and-be-seen Monte Carlo Beach Club.
Do It for Less: Monte Carlo's hotels may be expensive, but there are plenty of affordable options in nearby Nice. Since the two cities are only about 20 minutes apart by train, it's easy enough to spend days and evenings in Monte Carlo but sleep in Nice.
Until a few years ago, Singapore was a true bargain. But an increasingly strong currency and an influx of wealthy expats have driven prices up enough that Singapore was named one of the world's most expensive cities in The Economist Intelligence Unit's cost-of-living survey and Expatistan's Cost of Living Index. A report last year put average hotel rates at around $260 per night, making it a pricey stop for travelers as well.
Do It for Less: Food, particularly the authentic local food available in food halls and from hawker stalls, tends to be very affordable. For a slightly more expensive but still affordable option, check out the food courts in the basements of many of the city's skyscrapers.
--By Christine Sarkis
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