Visiting Casinos in Europe
Travelling to Europe is a rite of passage for people from all over the world. The continent consists of 50 countries, each with a rich heritage, national history, and unique relationship to the world of gambling. From gaming hotspots like Monaco and the French Riviera to less-known markets like Croatia and Poland, the entirety of Europe is a perfect travel destination for gamblers.
Americans have deeply-embedded romantic notions about travel in Europe.Most of them true. European hospitality sets the standard by which the rest of the world's tourist trade is judged. You don't have to spend thousands of dollars on hotel stays in places like France, England, or Italy. Of course, you CAN spend that much, especially if you're interested in luxury amenities at the region's top hotel casino properties.
We've collected examples of Europe's best casino hotels at three different price points. The nations that make up modern Europe offer a variety of experiences, from the historic chapels of Italy to the ultra-modernist design and fashion of Copenhagen. We've tried to represent the diversity of the European experience with these selections, which offer hotel casino stays for very different budgets.
We've also included details of some of the best non-gambling activities to do in Europe, and there's information on the history of gambling in Europe too.
Top Budget Casino Hotels in Europe
The Mercure Warszawa Grand Hotel is home to the Orbis Casino. The hotel has 450 available guest rooms along with 10 VIP suites, all of which offer luxury amenities at a five-star property for really low prices. Rooms start at just $134 a night.
This hotel (and the city of Warsaw) are often called the best luxury deal in Europe, and for good reason. The attached 4,000 square-foot casino is made up mostly of slots and table games, including American-style table games and occasional head-to-head poker tournaments.
If you're going to visit Monte Carlo, you have two choices. You can stay at the Hotel Ambassador or break the bank on hotel fees. Monaco is an expensive place to visit, but you can do it on a budget by staying at this surprisingly-inexpensive hotel and casino. Guests who stay here have private parking – something that comes at a huge premium in this part of the world. Besides being cheap, the Ambassador is also the best location in the city, just minutes from all the traditional tourist locations. The attached casino hosts all the traditional Monte Carlo favorites, with an emphasis on French roulette.
Italy is home to just five traditional casinos. The biggest and most popular of them all is also one of the most affordable. A stay at the Casino di Sanremo won't cost much more than a room at any of the big hotels nearby, but it has the added benefit of a 40,000+ square foot casino. Don't expect a spate of Western-style games; sure, slot and video poker machines are available, but the focus here is on punto banco, roulette, and "red and black."
Top First Class Casino Hotels in Europe
The hotel is rated four stars by international travel agencies and reviewers, but it's not quite the level of glitz you'd find at other spots in Monaco. That makes it more affordable – and the level of elegance is still far beyond what you'd find at a mid-range Vegas casino hotel. As for the casino, the name of the game at the Fairmount is Vegas-style gambling.
You won't find punto banco or chemin de fer here – instead, US-style blackjack, "English roulette," and games like craps and Texas holdem are available. The Fairmount is home to more slot machines than any venue in France or Monaco – I counted more than 300 slot and video poker machines during my last visit.
Thanks to low prices, a booming economy, and an invigorated tourist trade,Portugal is fast becoming a casino hotspot,. This is Portugal's first legitimate casino-hotel. Expect top of the line accommodations and luxury amenities – and get there while it's still cheap to travel and stay in this amazing country.
The attached casino hosts mostly games that American gamblers would be familiar with, though all roulette games are French, and only a few dozen machine games are available.
A perfect blend of the informal and the elegant, from inexpensive street food storefronts to gourmet dining, and from traditional European casino gambling to a bustling West End theater, the May Fair has a little of everything. It isn't exactly cheap to stay here. London is one of the most expensive cities in the world for travelers.But the attached casino property offers the best of London, from a betting exchange and OTB facility to machine games and VIP baccarat and roulette.
Top Luxury Casino Hotels in Europe
This hotel and casino is the flagship luxury experience of Spain. Between two Conde Nast Gold List appearances and its perennial spot on Fodor's Reader's Choice awards, the Hotel Alfonso XIII is a can't-miss venue for people of means. The art deco architecture, gigantic central courtyard, and elegantly- furnished rooms are the epitome of European hospitality. Casino Sevilla (located on the ground floor) is a typically-small European gambling floor featuring mainly table games – baccarat and roulette are local favorites. A special VIP room in the casino offers the only high-roller gambling in the city.
Zagreb, Croatia may not be first on most people's list of places to visit in Europe, but this little country has tons of history, a solid local economy, and it lacks the crowds of other Euro hotspots. The Esplanade Zagreb was built as a tourist destination for visitors on the Orient Express, and as such it has always been the seat of luxury in Croatia. From the fairytale exterior to the lush interior art deco style, this hotel is the place to see and be seen. Casino Fortuna, located inside, is home to hundreds of electronic games (mostly slots and video poker) as well as a handful of Western-style table games. A VIP baccarat table is available to high-roller customers.
Built right at the gateway to the French Alps and the Riviera, the Palais, as locals call it, is an ambitiously-restored luxury palace. Re-opened in 2004, after a decade of construction and renovation, the Palais pays homage to Europe of the 1920s. Boutique-style rooms (just six rooms per each of the hotel's nine floors) display the definition of French opulence. The hotel's fourth floor casino focuses almost exclusively on baccarat, roulette, and other French and European games, with very little in the way of gaming machines and a massive VIP section.
Non-Gambling Activities in Europe
It's important that we talk about the non-gambling activities available in Europe. We cover the non-gambling activities available in places like Las Vegas and Macau, which are much smaller than the continent of Europe. And Europe has plenty to offer.
What you do in Europe has a lot to do with what country you're in. Visitors to Italy enjoy the restaurant scene in Tuscany or the history of the Vatican. A traveler in France may decide to take a shortcut to Epernay to tour wineries.
The easiest way to choose a non-gambling activity in Europe is to start with some basics.
- Are you going to be in a country with bad weather that forces you indoors?
- Is the natural beauty of the place you're visiting a big part of its appeal?
- Are you travelling with kids or a large family
- What's the size of your budget?
Once you've answered those questions, you'll find it a lot easier to find suitable activities to enjoy. You can also just follow our recommendations.
Here's a list featuring our picks for the top non-gambling destinations of Europe.
- Grand Bazaar, Istanbul
- Notre Dame Cathedral, Pais
- The Louvre, Paris
- The Colosseum, Rome
- Cologne Cathedral, Cologne
Some 15 million people visit the Grand Bazaar each year, making it by far the most popular tourist destination in all of Europe. The main focus here is on hand-made goods, from everyday tools to luxury specialty clothing, fine art, and decorative pieces. The food court of street vendors serves what is regularly called the best food in the city.
The main attraction here is the highly-recognizable Gothic architecture of the Cathedral itself. Completed in 1345 Notre Dame Cathedral has survived countless wars and catastrophes, and is still one of the most peaceful parts of the vibrant Paris landscape. One of our favorite spots for romantic photos and memorable selfies.
We could make an entire list of non-gambling activities in Paris, but we'll limit ourselves to just two. The Louvre is so big and contains so much priceless art that you could spend a week visiting its various exhibits. If you're looking for an iconic activity, this museum is home to 35,000 works of art considered masterpieces. This is also the world's busiest museum, with some 8 or 9 million people passing through its halls each year.
Thousands of years ago, the Colosseum held 50,000 spectators cheering on brutal battles between man and beast. The Colosseum is even better these days – renovations that ended in 2010 opened up both the basement and tunnel system and one section of upper-level seating. Here's a tip – we think the best views of Rome come from the newly-opened balcony section.
It took 600 years, three dozen head architects, and millions of man-hours to complete this Gothic cathedral. We think this is Europe's most breath-taking cathedral – thanks to the tallest stone arches in the world and the spire soaring 50 stories in the air. Germany is full of architectural marvels and natural beauty, but a trip to Deutschland without a stop here would be a shame.
Louis XIV himself remodeled an old hunting lodge into what many consider the most beautiful palace ever built. From the gilded Hall of Mirrors to the perfectly-manicured lawns, everything about Versailles screams luxury. It's worth the day it'll take for you to get here from Paris – plus, the food is cheaper here. You may find yourself drawn to any number of charming inexpensive B&Bs in the area.
The British Museum charges no admission and offers access to some 7 million artifacts lining the walls of three miles of galleries. You can see iconic artifacts like the Rosetta Stone at no charge. In a city as expensive as London, a totally-free spot like this is worth its weight in marble busts.
Originally, Charles Bridge was a simple stone walkway between Prague Castle and the old city. Replaced by the grand structure you can see today, that old walkway is no longer the strategic path it once was. It is, however, the most-photographed landmark on this side of the Bosporus, and the statues that run its length provide endless opportunities for photographs. At night, the gently-curving lights transform it into a romantic getaway fit for lovers. It may sound silly, but this bridge is one of our favorite landmarks in all of Europe. Must be seen to be believed.
This is the house where Anne Frank, her family, and their friends hid from Nazi persecution for two years until their capture in August of 1944. The home has been transformed into an amazing museum, one of the most popular spots in all of Amsterdam, and a must-visit for fans of history.
The Azores archipelago is still something of a secret European paradise. These islands have a sub-tropical climate, are easily-accessible from Portugal or Spain, and basically provide island comfort year-round. Pristine beaches and luxury nightlife destinations are the main attraction in The Azores, though we expect plenty of tourists do like we did and lay out under an umbrella with the latest John Grisham all week.
The History of Gambling in Europe
European gambling history is fascinating. So much of European history played out against a backdrop of gaming. Most of the great cathedrals of Europe were built in some part from gambling proceeds or lotteries. The expansionist policies of great European nations not only colonized the world with Western culture, they also spread games like craps, roulette, and baccarat.
Games once played in the back rooms and alleyways of European port cities are now deeply entrenched in local culture from Macau to Montreal.
Here's a look at four popular modern ways to gamble that have roots in European history.
The history of blackjack is mysterious. We know that the game evolved out of the rules of several French and Spanish games of the 17th and 18th centuries. And we know that some specific rules came directly from these predecessors.
But we don't know much about how the game was synthesized.
The game that Americans would turn into blackjack was called vingt-et-un, French for "twenty-one." The name (and some of the rules) of blackjack wouldn't appear until American casino gambling in the 20th century. Vingt-et-un was probably a game played by the wealthy in private, and it was that origin as a non-banked game that probably lead to the development of the game's rules today.
French casinos allowed customers to play any game they wanted, so long as a player would act as dealer and banker. Casinos made their money charging a five percent commission on the banker's winning. Sometimes, these outsider games would take hold, as was the case with the player-banked baccarat variant called chemin-de-fer. Both blackjack and chemin-de-fer are still available in casinos today, though in slightly different forms.
But, as is often the case with European gambling history, blackjack doesn't have just one predecessor. For example, the ability to buy insurance against a dealer blackjack comes from "thirty-and-forty," an even earlier precursor to blackjack than vingt-et-un. In "thirty-and-forty," the target total is thirty-one instead of twenty-one, and players were allowed to bet on either the dealer or the player's hands.
Since thirty-and-forty is a house-banked game, the house edge comes from the casino taking half of all wagers when the two hands hit a total of exactly thirty-one. To counter-act this chance, bettors could place an insurance wager against that eventuality. How this rule moved from thirty-and-forty through twenty-one and into modern blackjack is lost to history.
Though not as popular in America, baccarat is the game of choice for plenty of European and Asian gamblers. The most popular game in places like Monte Carlo and Macau, baccarat has a reputation as a game for VIPs and royalty. That reputation is well-earned.
Baccarat is the oldest casino game still played today. The earliest references to baccarat appear in the 15th century, in the notes of French historians in the royal court, who said the game arrived with Italian merchants. The name refers to a very basic game rule--one way we know that baccarat has changed little over the years.
Baccarat caught on in part because of its popularity among the wealthy and the noble. French royalty were said to pass days by placing huge bets on baccarat games. As is often the case, several differences in house rules led to lots of variations of the game in casinos. English bettors were drawn to the house-banked punto banco, while bettors in other parts of Europe preferred the player-banked chemin-de-fer.
Another reason for baccarat's continued popularity – the game's simplicity. Even Americans like mini-baccarat, our name for the British punto banco. In this version, you don't have to do anything but place your bet on one of three possible outcomes. The dealer hands out all the cards and establishes wins and losses. It's a high-risk game, and it usually requires hefty bet minimums, but it's the perfect cocktail game, since it moves slow and doesn't require much brain work.
Sometimes called "the devil's wheel," since all its numbers add up to 666, roulette is another casino classic with roots embedded in European history. Mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal invented roulette in the 17th century, for one of the rare instances of a single person creating a popular gambling game. Pascal was studying probability and created the wheel as part of an attempt at a perpetual motion machine. With just a few slight modifications, it was found to be the perfect gambling prop.
Members of the Parisian court were said to be playing roulette as early as 1796. By the early 1800s, the game was already making its first appearances in America, thanks to a high level of diplomacy and trade between the two nations. American casinos didn't like the game's tiny house edge, so they added a "00" spot – and just like that, American roulette was born.
Roulette has changed little over the centuries, besides the variation that allows for an additional 0 space to give the house a better edge. Though roulette is not as popular in America as it once was, it's still a major game in Europe and parts of Asia. Whether you're looking for a fast-paced game with simplified betting rules, like American roulette, or a traditional casino classic like French roulette, this game has stood the test of time in part by being adaptable.
Betting on the outcome of athletic events goes back to pre-Roman times. We see evidence of "sports betting" as far back as the Vedic texts of 4,500 years ago. But in terms of modern sports betting, at kiosks, bet shops, sports books, and online, Europe has had the greatest impact of any region of the world. Estimates of the European sports gambling market in 2015 range from $120-146 billion, and that's just through regulated markets, such as the ones so popular in England.
The Mecca of sports gambling is London, which is one of the flagship cities of Europe. Sports betting is as British as warm beer, with bet shops and other wagering facilities on every corner. Legal sports wagering has been a British institution since 1960, with unregulated sports wagering going back centuries in British and European history.
These days, plenty of Europeans have made the switch to online sports gambling. The European Gaming & Betting Association is expecting growth of more than 50% in European sports betting over the next five years. In short – Europe already has a strong case of sports betting fever, and there's no sign of that letting up any time soon. No doubt, the healthy sports gambling markets of Europe influenced the spread of sportsbooks (online and land-based) in the United States and other parts of the world.
If you're planning a vacation to Europe of any length, you'd be remiss if you didn't visit at least one major European casino. Gaming is as big a part of European heritage as anything else – the majority of the world's most-popular casino games have their roots in France, Germany, and England. You don't have to travel like a millionaire to enjoy Europe's casino destinations, either. Though luxury has long been a part of the European gaming scene, options for budget travelers and penny-pinchers are popping up faster than ever. As Europe looks for new ways to attract tourists, expect gambling opportunities in this multi-faceted continent to expand even more.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: March 2016
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