Sterling Destinations: Make Your Pound Go FurtherPosted on: 24 March 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves
After dominating many of the world’s currencies for years, British money is suddenly weaker than most of us remember. But there remain places in the world – near and far – where the quid retains its punch.
That happened fast, didn’t it? As recently as July last year, the British pound was worth just over two American dollars and we could still fill our boots on shopping trips to New York. At the beginning of 2008 a pound was earning us a tidy €1.40 on trips to the eurozone and about 60 Thai baht.
No longer. The financial crisis has turned exchange rates on their heads, and all of a sudden a holiday in the US, Thailand or Japan, or almost anywhere in Europe, seems much less appealing.
The pound has fallen 25% against the dollar in recent months, and the euro has almost achieved parity with our beleaguered currency. And forget those 60 baht – you would be lucky to get 50 now.
But let’s not give up on our folding stuff just yet. Some currencies have fallen off a bigger cliff than ours and so still offer great value to travelling Brits. Here is our list of sterling-friendly destinations.
It has been a long, hard winter for Iceland, in every possible way. The snow arrived early in 2008 but with it came financial meltdown for what was long one of Europe’s most expensive holiday destinations.
However, the krona, Iceland’s currency, spent most of last year in freefall. In 2007 a British pound was worth around 125 krona: now you get nearer 190.
A night’s hostel accommodation in Reykjavik can be had for as little as 2,000 krona (£10.80). So if iceberg-spotting or a city break in surprisingly sophisticated Reykjavik interests you, now is the time to head north.
After dipping slightly in December, the pound is once again on the rise against the Polish zloty. So while many Poles have come to the UK to earn an honest wage, now is a great time to move in the other direction and discover their wonderful country.
The former capital, Krakow, is arguably the prettiest city in Poland, primarily because the second world war left it largely undamaged. A bike tour, which costs a painless £13 for half a day, is a great way to see the city.
A pint of lager still costs only 71p in the Czech Republic, but there is much more to spend your money on there than beer. Moreover, because the country is unlikely to adopt the euro until at least 2015, you still have time to enjoy Czech delights on the cheap.
Brno, the second largest city, sees a fraction of the tourists who flock to Prague and offers an amazingly inexpensive experience. Its most stylish hotel, the Royal Ricc, has rooms for £85 a night, while a three-course dinner at the four star hotel’s restaurant is just £11, excluding drinks.
Completing our tour of eastern Europe we come to Hungary, whose currency, the forint (HUF), has seen better days. You can currently buy 313 of them for a pound, and the price of a hamburger at a fast food chain – around 250HUF – gives you some indication of how cheap the country is.
Outside the fantastic capital city, Budapest, eminently worth exploring are the nation’s 11 national parks, 150 thermal spas and thousands of acres of vineyards, where an excellent bottle can be yours for just £6.
Make the most of Europe’s cheapest country before it joins the euro in 2012. Prices have been going up in Bulgaria but the leva is still extraordinarily good value. According to Pintprice.com, a beer in Bulgaria will set you back, on average, just 70p.
The capital city, Sofia, being one of the oldest in Europe, is often cited as an economical alternative to Rome (where a pint can cost you £3.45) but the real bargains are to be had on the slopes. At Bulgarian ski resorts you can save around a third on accommodation costs and 50% on ski passes compared with more established winter playgrounds such as Val d’Isère and Chamonix.
The cost of visiting Spain, France and Greece may have soared, but look outside the eurozone and you can still find a bargain. The pound is worth the same now against the Turkish lira as it was this time last year.
Flights to Turkey can also be found cheap and, at 2.4 lira to the pound, so can everything else. According to the Post Office Holiday Cost Barometer, an evening meal out for two in Istanbul, including wine, costs £30 on average, at least 20% less than in France, Greece, Portugal or Italy.
If you want winter sun without having to reset your watch, then South Africa is your most affordable bet. The rand (ZAR) plunged 12% last year and you can currently get just under ZAR15 to the pound, compared with ZAR 10 back in 2006.
A private wine tour for two in the Franschoek valley now costs just £117, while you can find hostel accommodation in Kruger national park for as little as £2.50 a night.
The pound has dipped slightly against the Canadian dollar recently, but not enough to ruin plans to visit. Just like everywhere, the economy in Canada is faltering, and tourists have rarely been more welcomed.
The Brentwood Bay Lodge, one of Vancouver Island’s best hotels, has rooms for £173 a night, a day’s whale watching will set you back £58 and you can pick up a 300ml jar of maple syrup to take home for £7.50.
Much of Central America remains easy on the pocket, with Mexico in particular offering a cheap holiday to pound-earners. The peso nosedived against sterling last year, falling 13% in October alone. Current exchange rates give you around 20 pesos to the pound – and they will take you a long way.
Entrance to the spectacular Mayan ruins at Tulum, on the Yucatan peninsula, for example, will set you back less than £2, while you can pick up a bottle of tequila in Cancun for just £7.
While the pound has been in a constant state of flux against most of the world’s currencies over the last year, it has maintained a standoff with the Brazilian real (BRL). Prices have held steady in Brazil, and this huge, incredibly diverse country remains an economical holiday choice.
The city of Fortaleza, on the north-east coast, is an old favourite among Brazilians and only slowly being discovered by Europeans. A 600ml bottle of beer in Brazil typically costs a mere 50p, while a lobster dinner for two can be had for BRL50, £15.
If the rising yen has scuppered your plans to visit Japan, set your compass for South Korea instead. Compared with Japanese and Chinese cities nearby, the lively and pleasant South Korean capital, Seoul, is dirt cheap. Street food costs between £1 and £4, and a room at a good hotel around £60.
You will also see very few tourists outside Seoul, where prices are even lower; take a high-speed train to Busan, in the south, for just £30. (Just remember to take your phrase book with you.)
The pound may not be quite as muscular against the Australian dollar as it once was (currently AUD$2.17, down from AUD$2.60 in October last year) but British tourists Down Under should still find the cost of travelling to their liking (once they have recovered from the shock of the hefty airfare).
Car hire in Sydney, one of the world’s most elegant cities, costs as little as $43 (£20) a day, and a decent takeaway pizza on the beach costs only $7.50 (£3.45).
Do you know of any sterling-friendly holiday destinations not on our list?
If so, let us know by leaving a comment in the box below or share your thoughts with other readers in the 50connect forums.
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