Europe is more affordable than it’s been in over a decade for the U.S. traveler. Having said that, a European vacation will still set you back a few bones, especially if you plan for a summer trip. There are still deep discounts to be had in Europe however, especially if you’re willing to mix high profile spots (a la Paris, Rome, London) in with a few more off-the-beaten-path destinations. Read on for the best cheap European destinations.
Cheap Belgrade, Serbia for the party person
Serbia on the whole hasn’t quite been able to shake off the ghost of the Balkan War 20 years on. This reputation keeps tourism something of a cottage industry so it remains a cheap European destination. The citizens of Belgrade are quite open to visitors and are in possession of an infectious joie de vivre – the dynamic café and club scenes imbue the town with a sense of reckless abandon.
Hotels and restaurants are extremely reasonably priced, and Belgrade has developed quite a reputation among European travelers for being a fine spot to dance until the sun comes up. Summertime ushers in a plethora of music and cultural festivals, some of which are positioned on the leafy green islands in the rivers around the city. Loads of free activities are available to tourists, and if you’re an adrenaline junkie, Belgrade has also carved out a tidy niche in the bungee jumping arena.
Cheap Bucharest, Romania for the Outdoors lover
For a lot of people, Romania is still mainly remembered for being the birthplace of Dracula. It’s a bit of spotty mythmaking since Bram Stoker never actually bothered to travel to Transylvania to write his novel. In any event, Bucharest is a very affordable home base for exploring some of the most lush and beautiful landscapes on the planet.
If you can’t stomach the though of coming to Romania and not walking in the footsteps of Dracula, Bran Castle is worth a (rather kitsch) visit. Locals will keep their tongues firmly in cheek as they tell tall tales (you’ll likely see an eye roll or two). Sighisoara is another gorgeous little detour of a small town founded by German craftsmen in the 12th century. In recent years it has become the center of the Romanian Bed & Breakfast biz and a great spot for a romantic weekend away for many Europeans on a budget.
Bucharest proper is still a city in transition – but Ceausescu’s monstrous Palace of the Parliament is still the number one tourist attraction for international and Romanian visitors and certainly worth a visit. Marvel at the stunning excess of Romania’s last Communist dictator.
Cheap Krakow, Poland for Culture and History Buffs
Though visitor numbers continue to climb, Krakow still manages to be an extremely affordable option for tourists. The city is the cultural heart of Poland and has a much more vibrant and picturesque face than does the capital city of Warsaw—which suffered complete architectural ruin during World War II. Krakow boasts the largest Medieval town square in Europe on which sits the Renaissance-era Cloth Hall. This indoor market is where to pick up all of your gifts to take home – tchotchkes galore! The city center is quite walkable and the food is delicious and varied. Boutique hotels are popping up all over and they sell out fast – book far in advance if you can.
Cheap Budapest, Hungary
Budapest is probably the most high-profile city on our list. This city packs a wallop in historical sights, culture, and cuisine. From the rolling hills of Buda where you can get sweeping views back over Pest, to the varied delights of the grand Andrassy Boulevard, to the coffee culture imported by the Turkish invaders so long ago – there’s just more to do in Budapest than you’ll have time to experience. Certainly we recommend getting yourself to one of the “underground” speak-easy style biergardens called Kerts. They spring up in the summertime and populate some of Budapest’s most beautifully crumbly old buildings.
A visit to Budapest’s thermal baths should also be on your itinerary. Visit the tony Gellert baths or the more local flavor of Szechenyi Baths. Don’t even try to understand the legendarily complicated math that the Baths staff perpetrates on foreign visitors. Just know that you’re getting a pretty good deal and a one-of-a-kind experience.
Budapest was far ahead of the AirBnB game – whereas you’re still better off in hotels in many cities, Budapest does a brisk and efficient private apartment business. Budapest’s hostels are also top-notch if that’s more your speed.
Cheap Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic For the Selfie Lover
Once upon a time, Prague was the Czech republic’s most charming town. These days, with tourists swarming Old Town Square and Charles Bridge, people are looking farther afield for their photo-ops. The tiny hamlet of Cesky Krumlov has the market cornered in postcard images. While the Old Town is postage-stamp sized, it is a gorgeous, 13th Century UNESCO World Heritage Site. And it’s a relatively cheap European destination for the budget traveler.
While prideful citizens might argue over that assessment, we can report that Cesky Krumlov is well worth a long weekend. Food and pivo (beer) is cheap. Accommodation too, judging by the handful of small inns and private rooms that you can rent. Cesky Krumlov is also perfectly situated in the Czech countryside for a day of cycling or rafting through town. There’s a few outdoor outfitters in town to set you up on a tour or just rent you a bike.
A brief note: None of the destinations on our list are on the EUR, so keep that in mind if you’re researching exchange rates.