A trip to Europe is known to be costly by all, but is this really the case? A week in the Latin Quarter of Paris can cost as much as a small apartment in the United States, discouraging many would-be American tourists.
However, clever tourists know to seek outside the typical tourist hotspots in Europe to find better deals and a more genuine experience.
Add some European flavor to your travel journal without breaking the bank by visiting one of these inexpensive yet remarkable cities, whether you’re a history lover, architecture aficionado, ski bum, or foodie.
Tips for Saving Money
There are several options for cutting costs on overseas vacations. A few things to remember before we begin:
- Countries in Europe that use their own currency rather than the euro tend to have lower prices.
- Use airline miles or points from a credit card that offers travel benefits to offset the price of your airfare. Lacking a valid credit card? In search of a low-cost flight? Attempt these tips.
- We’ve listed the average price of a three-star hotel at each location, but Airbnb is often less expensive, more convenient, and more real. Expedia is a one-stop shop where you can get discounts on anything from hotel rooms and flights to car rentals and excursions.
It’s also important to note that if you intend to rent a car and drive while in Europe, you should get a SIM card as soon as you land in any European city. Using a SIM card is preferable to relying on a standalone navigation system, which might not use the same translations for street names as Google Maps.
This is a lesson I had to learn the hard way:
This little, often-overlooked nation between Italy and Switzerland offers a high standard of living at a fraction of the price. Travel to Ljubljana, the country’s capital, and take a stroll through the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ljubljana Castle can be seen in conjunction with a meal of likrofis, little dumplings stuffed with bacon, onions, potatoes, herbs, and spices.
Do yourself a favor and venture out of the city to experience the stunning countryside for which Slovenia is known. The Alps may be seen in Slovenia, and they are every bit as stunning as they are in Switzerland.
When you’re ready to get out of the city and experience the countryside, one of the first places you should visit is Lake Bled, where you can visit a little island church that was built in 1465. You should then make your way to Maribor, where you may go skiing in the winter for a reasonable price and have a great time.
Maribor has its own historic district and castle, and it is located on a stunning lake. After spending some time taking in the area’s rich history and culture, head out to one of the area’s vineyards to sample some of the region’s finest vintages.
Do yourself a favor and visit Postojna Cave if you get the chance. Access to the cave system is provided by the 800-year-old Predjama Castle, which is built into the side of a cliff. Although a train travels through the caves’ busiest section, visitors should still check it out.
- Average 3-Star Hotel in Ljubljana: $87 per night (all hotel quotes from Hotels.com)
- Dinner at a Local Restaurant: $8.14 to $16.28 per person (all meal quotes from PriceofTravel.com)
- Currency: Euro
- Learn More: Slovenia Tourist Board
Although the cost of living in Croatia has increased over the past decade, it is still significantly less than in Italy, which is located just across the Adriatic Sea.
The Zagreb Cathedral of the Assumption dates back to the early 12th century and is a must-see on any visit to the capital city. If you’ve had enough of historic structures, the Museum of Broken Relationships is a fun and unique place to learn about the pain of unrequited love via the stories and artifacts of famous and ordinary people.
Head south to Dubrovnik if you’re a fan of “Game of Thrones,” the picturesque (albeit increasingly well-known and congested) seaside town where King’s Landing scenes are filmed.
Take a ferry to Korcula, a picturesque island in the Mediterranean noted for its wines, sailing, beaches, and old town.
- Average 3-Star Hotel in Zagreb: $74 per night
- Dinner at a Local Restaurant: $5.55 to $9.51 per person
- Currency: Croatian kuna
- Learn More: Croatia Tourist Board
Cyprus is a separate country despite its large Greek population and culture. As a result of an invasion by Turkey in 1974, the island of Cyprus has been effectively divided in half, with the northern half currently under Turkish occupation.
The border crossing into Turkish-controlled territory is possible in the heart of the Cypriot capital, Nicosia. Make sure you have your passport with you.
The Troodos Mountains and the wine town of Omodos are worth seeing once you’ve explored the city, while Larnaca on the coast is the perfect place to unwind after a day of sightseeing.
Plan to spend an hour or two at The Oak Tree Wine Cellar if you’re in Larnaca. Cypriot wines, and the owner’s expertise in them, will come as a pleasant surprise.
- Average 3-Star Hotel in Nicosia: $73 per night
- Dinner at a Local Restaurant: Exact figures unavailable from PriceofTravel.com. I found budget meals in the range of $6 to $12 per person.
- Currency: Euro
- Learn More: Cyprus Tourist Board
4. The Czech Republic
The Czech capital, Prague, is a beautiful place to visit. While visiting, I woke up around five one morning to capture the city before the tourists arrived. My photographer friend who saw my photos said, Prague has the best cobblestones in Europe.
While the city’s Renaissance and Baroque architecture are beautiful, the Gothic towers stand out in Prague. As opposed to many other European medieval cities, Prague was largely spared from bombing during World War II.
House at the Golden Tiger (U Zlatého Tygra), established in 1702, is where you can get a pint of Czech beer for about $2.15. In the neighboring maze of Staré Mesto (Prague’s Old Town) streets, you may have a classic Czech pig knuckle supper.
Visit the resort town of Karlovy Vary, known for its curative spring waters, if you’re interested in a more indulgent spa experience. The next stop is the lively city of Olomouc, which is famous for the fountains dedicated to several Roman deities)that can be found in its many public squares.
The high Gothic spires of Saint Wenceslas Cathedral are another Olomouc must-see.
- Average 3-Star Hotel in Prague: $69 per night
- Dinner at a Local Restaurant: $6.37 to $11.38 per person
- Currency: Czech koruna
- Learn More: Czech Republic Tourist Board
The Buda side of Hungary’s capital city, Budapest, is to the river’s west, while the Pest side is to the river’s east. Buda has hills, a strong Austro-German flavor, palaces, and beautiful views. Pest is unexciting and dull, with an Eastern European flavor.
The city of Budapest has been conquered and ruled by a number of different empires over the course of the last thousand years, resulting in a fascinating blend of architectural styles that will appeal to history buffs.
There are many historic churches and synagogues in Buda, including one ancient church built inside a cave on the side of a hill. The Szechenyi Bath is a historic bathhouse in Budapest that dates back over a century and is fed by a natural hot spring. Beer baths are available for the truly daring.
This will keep you busy until nightfall, at which point you may experience the local nightlife at one of Budapest’s famous “ruin bars.” Szimpla Kert is my personal favorite. It’s easy to strike up conversations with locals and make new friends in these unique bars, perfect for solo travelers.
A winery trip outside of the city is worth the cost if white wines are your preference. The best way to get a feel for the local culture is to join a tour that includes eating at a native’s home.
- Average 3-Star Hotel in Budapest: $69 per night
- Dinner at a Local Restaurant: $6.90 to $12.32 per person
- Currency: Hungarian florint
- Learn More: Hungary Tourist Board
The Polish capital of Warsaw, like many other European metropolises, is home to a lively and interesting medieval old town. However, you should travel outside of Warsaw to see some of Poland’s most interesting attractions.
Kraków is notable for its vast medieval square (almost 10 acres) and the magnificent Wawel Castle. St. Mary’s Basilica, the Town Hall Tower, the enormous old market Cloth Hall, and scores of historic homes dating back to the 13th century.
The Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork, which dates back to the 13th century, is a must-see for any castle fan. In terms of land size, it is the largest castle in the world and a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum is a solemn and up-to-date historical resource. Reading about the Holocaust in a textbook makes it seem abstract and clinical, but seeing concentration camps and listening to the experiences of individuals who perished there brings it vividly and horrifyingly to life.
- Average 3-Star Hotel in Warsaw: $62 per night
- Dinner at a Local Restaurant: $4.36 to $6.81 per person
- Currency: Polish zloty
- Learn More: Poland Tourist Board
The Belgrade Fortress, located in Kalemegdan Park, has been around since 535 B.C. and is the oldest structure on this list. Visit the Crkva Ruzica, the Church of the Holy Mother of God, and the charming Zemunski Kej on the Danube River, as well as Saint Petka’s Chapel inside the stronghold.
Turkish general Hurshi Pasha erected the Skull Tower of Ni in 1809 with the skulls of defeated Serb insurgents, making it a good choice for those who prefer a more bloody historical experience.
The Subotica Synagogue is a lasting art nouveau architecture that has stood the test of time through the wars and cultural struggles of the 20th century, making it a welcome alternative to the ancient churches that surround it.
Next, venture off the beaten road to the quaint village of Rajac in the heart of the wine area, where you’ll find a collection of roughly 20 stone buildings that pass for homes but are actually used for everything from grape growing to wine storage to wine tasting.
The locals place such importance on wine that they even bury their dead close to the winery; the elaborate but unmarked monuments in Rajac Cemetery stretch back generations.
- Average 3-Star Hotel in Belgrade: $60 per night
- Dinner at a Local Restaurant: $4.65 to $9.30 per person
- Currency: Serbian dinar
- Learn More: Serbia Tourist Board
Transylvania, a legendary mountainous region of Romania, is home to numerous medieval castles and quaint villages. If the villagers are becoming tired of hearing about Dracula from tourists, they are good at hiding it. My wife and I saw the first of many people decked out in capes, top hats, and vampire teeth inside a courtyard café in Bucharest’s Old Town.
When I went down to the basement of the café to use the restroom, I discovered a long, stone-lined medieval dining cavern crammed with at least 60 vampires. I had to find out from the top vampire what was going on.
A middle-aged Belgian man, he asked me pointed questions about my political beliefs and implied that he would only offer me eternal life if I shared his political views. The price sounded reasonable, so he gave me a cloak, top hat, and teeth before going back to drinking red wine with his similarly tipsy Belgian companions.
Even with its picturesque Old Town, Bucharest is hardly one of Europe’s most attractive capitals. Spending only one night there is plenty.
To reach Transylvania proper from Bucharest, head north. Brasov is a great starting point because of its charming ancient town, good hillside trekking that is accessible on foot from the city, and neighboring skiing. The actual name of “Dracula’s Castle” is Bran Castle, and it’s only 45 minutes away. A gorgeous castle with a rich history, despite its tenuous ties to the infamous Vlad Dracul and his son Vlad the Impaler.
Take a trip to Vama Veche, a tiny town on the Black Sea’s eastern shore, if you’re in the mood for some R&R It’s a unique place, once home to Bohemian writers, musicians, and naturists who rebelled against the Soviet regime.
There are a ton of places to stay along the coast with a more conventional resort atmosphere if you don’t feel like partaking in the arty resort scene.
- Average 3-Star Hotel in Bucharest: $56 per night
- Dinner at a Local Restaurant: $4.53 to $7.56 per person
- Currency: Romanian leu
- Learn More: Romania Tourist Board
Similar to other Eastern European capitals, Sofia’s historic core is surrounded by Soviet-era scars and tenements. On the way to the highly rated eatery, we saw a small craft beer store playing Bon Jovi loudly outside, with a few happy customers dancing in the street. The locals in Sofia greeted us with a round of beer, a round of cheers, and a chorus of “Oh, we’re halfway there.
This describes Bulgaria perfectly. A thriving tourist economy is not something this area can brag about, yet the inhabitants here are always pleased to see visitors.
The young proprietor of a bodega in Plovdiv spent almost two hours chatting with us about Bulgarian wine, during which time he opened numerous bottles for us to drink and presented us with a bottle we particularly enjoyed as a gift.
The innkeeper at our cozy B&B in Veliko Tarnovo provided us with complimentary cheese and olives so that we could relax and take in the breathtaking view of the city from the mountainside.
The cost of living in Bulgaria is likewise very reasonable. We skied in Borovets for twenty dollars per person and spent three dollars on a dozen wine samples at a vineyard outside of Plovdiv. Lovers of the beach can find affordable vacations on the Black Sea coast.
- Average 3-Star Hotel in Sofia: $52 per night
- Dinner at a Local Restaurant: $4.79 to $8.98 per person
- Currency: Bulgarian lev
- Learn More: Bulgaria Tourist Board
The capital city of Riga and its surrounding area are filled with authentic Soviet-era offerings that are sure to please any fan of Cold War history. Formerly used as the KGB’s headquarters and interrogation facility, the “Corner House” has fallen into disrepair.
An underground Soviet bunker still stands at its original location in Ligatne. Another example is Skrunda-1, a “hidden Soviet city” that served as a radar site for monitoring ICBMs.
Riga is renowned for its colorful art and nouveau architecture, which is worth seeing even if you aren’t interested in military history. Explore the Elizabeth Street and Albert Street corridors of the Jugenda Stila Nami district.
You can wander the Vermanes Garden while munching on some street food. At the right time of year, you can see beavers swimming in the canals of this urban park.
Get out of Riga and see the country’s castles and major national parks. Explore the historic castle of Cesis, go on a hike in Gauja National Park, or take a leisurely stroll along the boardwalk in Kemeri National Park.
- Average 3-Star Hotel in Riga: $42 per night
- Dinner at a Local Restaurant: $5.81 to $10.47 per person
- Currency: Euro
- Learn More: Latvia Tourist Board
To what continent does Georgia belong? An ongoing dispute continues. Ask any Georgian and they will tell you they feel European. Even though Georgia is the poorest and most complicated country on this list to travel through, it has many wonderful features that can’t be found anywhere else in Europe.
The best place to stay in Georgia is not a hotel, but rather a guest home, a small, family-run inn. When I was there, every host was more cordial than the last, and they all provided us with tasty snacks and drinks from the area before we went out to eat. A bottle of wine crafted from grapes grown in the host’s backyard was presented to us on our final evening.
Visit the Anchiskhati Basilica, constructed between the years 522 and 534, and spend the night in Tbilisi, the country’s capital. Nothing else about it, not even its age, should impress you.
After that, go explore Sighnaghi, which appears like a Tuscan village that was dropped into the middle of the Georgian highlands. On your journey into town, make sure to visit the breathtaking Bodbe Monastery. Afterward, reward yourself with a wine tasting at the top of the city’s tallest building, perched atop the highest hill.
Uplistsikhe is an old cave city where at least 17 different cultures have existed over the course of the previous four thousand years.
- Average 3-Star Hotel in Tbilisi: $51 per night
- Dinner at a Local Restaurant: $2.30 to $9.90 per person (meal quote from Tbilisi prices on GlobalPrice.info)
- Currency: Georgian lari
- Learn More: Georgia Tourist Board
Some of life’s most unexpected benefits can be gained from visiting other countries, especially those that are less well known. The Louvre and the Eiffel Tower are both great places to have a good time. However, exploring the ruins of the capital fortress of the ancient Bulgarian Kingdom or a subterranean city in Georgia has its own unique brand of magic.
In addition, you can get a lot of character for your money if you spend $50 per night instead of $250. Stop making excuses and start organizing your cheap trip to Europe now. It’s possible you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how many activities you may enjoy while reducing your budget.