Finding affordable hotels in pricey cities

Story highlights

The world's great cities offer highly rated attractions with hotel prices to match

A little flexibility goes a long way in finding lodging that doesn't swallow up all your funds

You might have to share a bathroom or venture a bit farther from the city center

CNN  — 

Unless you have an unlimited budget (lucky you), deliberating about where to stay on vacation can be an exercise in financial frustration. On most trips, a major chunk of the kitty will be spent on where you sleep.

Things turn for the worse when your travels take you to destinations that are notoriously pricey – places where a cup of coffee could get you a full meal in other cities or where nightly hotel rates equal monthly rent in less expensive locales.

Every year numerous reports list the cities that will take the biggest toll on your wallet. These articles are like financial warnings for potential visitors: Don’t come unless you’re prepared to empty your pockets. And unsurprisingly – and unfortunately – international favorites such as Tokyo, Paris and New York dominate the rankings.

In these places you just have to put in the extra research to make the most of the money you’ve allotted for the trip, especially when it’s time to book a place to stay. And then a little flexibility will go a long way: You may have to consider wallet-friendly options where bathrooms are shared with other guests or forgo middle-of-the-action locations for cheaper yet good-looking stays on the periphery.

Tokyo: Claska

Japan’s capital has topped the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual list of the world’s most expensive cities every year but six since 1992. (The cost of living study is based on the cost of things such as transportation, food, drink and groceries.) If a two-pound loaf of bread runs $10, finding reasonably priced accommodations can be a challenge.

Try and grab one of the entry-level rooms at Claska, a beautiful boutique spot in the celebrity-approved Meguro district. The property is a bit out of the way, but great design makes up for the location. The small hotel is about to expand to 20 rooms. The most basic “modern” options (single Rooms 505 and 506) are priced just under $150 a night, with doubles starting around $200. “DIY” Rooms 701 and 702 feature wackier design schemes by contemporary Japanese creatives but are cheaper still for single occupancy at roughly $105 a night; Room 707 offers space more suitable for two people and starts at $175 a night.

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Zurich, Switerland: Zum Guten Glück

A cup of coffee will set you back almost $6 in Zurich, according to a 2013 survey by Mercer, which gauged the cost of living in 214 cities around the world, and don’t be surprised if sandwiches are slapped with $20 price tags.

To offset these eye-popping expenses, you can stay at Zum Guten Glück, but be warned that there are no private bathrooms – only shared facilities on each floor. The 10 spare rooms are simply designed with vintage-looking furniture and accents. Single rooms start at $75 a night year-round, and even the largest units – there are two double corner rooms with chic bay windows – go for $120.

Singapore: Hotel Re!

A cup of Joe is about a dollar less in Singapore than it is in Zurich, according to the Mercer survey, but expect to pay an additional 17% surcharge on every meal you eat in a restaurant on this island nation. Seven percent of that is a “goods and services” tax, while the other 10 is just your typical service charge.

For a well-priced stay, give Hotel Re! a try. The retro-looking property at the base of Pearl’s Hill in the city center is a visual smorgasbord of bright ’60s and ‘70s-inspired graphics, which are tolerable given the generous starting rates that hover around $120 a night. This includes breakfast plus free minibar access upon arrival. The 140-room property is about a five-minute walk to the nearest Mass Rapid Transit stop, but Hotel Re! provides a shuttle service every 20 minutes.

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Paris: HI matic

It doesn’t matter how pricey Paris is, the most visited city in the world will continue to attract travelers in droves for its myriad sites, world-class art and rich culinary heritage. According to TripAdvisor’s 2013 TripIndex Cities, an annual survey that calculates the average cost of a night out in many cities around the world, Paris is the fifth-most expensive. Of the nearly $500 price tag for an evening and overnight out (which includes a four-star hotel, a meal, drinks and a taxi ride for two, based on summer rates), about $330 was allocated to accommodations.

At the colorful, ecologically sensitive Hi matic hotel in the central neighborhood of Bastille, committing to a nonrefundable booking can get you a room for as low as $155 a night, which includes breakfast. This rate is for the Mini Cabane, which is in fact quite mini and best suited for solo travelers, who might enjoy the youthful vibe of the hotel and its very DIY (check-in kiosks and vending machines for left-at-home amenities such as toothbrushes) setup. If you’re a traveling duo looking for a little more space, upgrade to the City Cabane for $15 more a night.

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New York: The Jane

New York, which came in as the fourth-most expensive city for an evening out in the same TripAdvisor report, ranked highest in the hotel category. A room in a four-star property in the Big Apple easily commands a $400 a night price tag.

If you don’t mind sharing a bathroom with the rest of your floor, book a single occupancy cabin-style room (which typically start at $99 a night) at the Jane, a super-hip hotel in the West Village. These very cozy sleeping stations resemble luxury cabins on a train so things can be a bit tight – even for one person. (Pairs can try for the shared bathroom bunk-bed category, with rates starting between $125 and $145.) The in-room amenities, however, are great: free wireless Internet and 300-thread count cotton sheets, to name two. Plus, the trendy vibe as well as its popular Cafe Gitane and Jane Ballroom remain major selling points for the hotel.

Sydney: Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel

Two movie tickets in this Australian metropolis are an extravagant $40, while international newspapers are $7 a pop. And cutting-edge gelateria N2 charges $5 for one scoop of its treats. And no one there blinks an eye, because Australia offers some of the highest salaries in the world.

A stay in Sydney’s Central Business District is almost impossible to do on a budget, so consider staying a short – and scenic – 20-minute ferry ride away in Watsons Bay, where beach access is available.

Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel is seconds away from the water, plus there’s a happening bar on the property, and rates start at about $170 a night – and if you’re lucky, some of the rooms at this price come with a balconette. And breakfast is included.

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Oslo, Norway: Ellingsens Pensjonat

The Norwegian capital’s sky-high cost of living leaves it atop many lists that chart priciness. A public transportation ticket, for instance, is valid for one hour and costs $5. (For comparison, a single ticket in Berlin is less than $3 and can be used for two hours.) And don’t be surprised if a bottle of domestic beer sets you back nearly $15, as would a meal at a fast-food joint.

For an affordable home-away-from-home, head west of the city center and stay at Ellingsens Pensjonat, which is on a quiet street steps away from a tram stop making most local attractions, such as the recently relocated Astrup Fearnley Museum, 10 to 15 minutes away. Rates top off at about $145 a night for a double room with a private bathroom, and rates drop for rooms with shared facilities, so expect a simple yet homey stay (think fuss-free decor with a smattering of floral accents). The public spaces are charming and comfortable, and if you want to get a workout in, there’s a small gym in the building.