The 20 best places to visit in Europe on a budget

Europe presents an irresistible challenge to the budget traveller. A potent mix of culture, landscape and history on the one hand and a cash-gobbling monster on the other, sticking to your daily allowance can prove tricky.

But learn to zone out the “Spend! Spend! Spend!” siren song of its myriad restaurants, bars and shops and you’ll find that this compact little continent is simply the world’s greatest labyrinth.

Taken from our new Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget, these are the cheapest places to travel on the continent this year.

The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget
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1. The Albanian coast

Looking for Mediterranean sun and sand, but your budget doesn’t quite stretch to Capri or the Côte d’Azur? Simply head further east and you’ll find sun-drenched beaches untouched by modern development. Albania is one of the cheapest countries in Europe, and as yet under explored by the tourist hordes. On its southern Ionian coast, steep grey mountains frame azure seas and golden sands.

Saranda – almost in touching distance of Corfu – is a handy entry point from Greece, from where you can aim for the beaches of Ksamil and nearby islands. Cheap seafood, warm seas and a smattering of isolated Greek ruins and Ottoman towns: the perfect recipe for a classic European sojourn.

Rough costs:

Daily budget: Basic €25, occasional treat €40
Drink: Bottle of red wine €6
Food: Qoftë (minced meat rissoles) €2, seafood €5
Hostel/budget hotel: €10/€30
Travel: Bus: Tirana–Saranda €8; train: Tirana–Shkodra €1.50

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2. Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Though the scars of Sarajevo’s past as a city under siege are still evident – in the remnants of mortar shell explosions, filled with red resin to form “Sarajevo Roses” and in the museums documenting the horrors of Sniper Alley – today’s city buzzes with life.

One of the most welcoming capitals in Europe, its central district of Baščaršija is a delight to wander through, browsing in the Ottoman-era bazaar or lingering over a Bosnian coffee, while the after-hours scene is quirky and cool, with tucked-away drinking holes and an ever-evolving club scene.

Rough costs

Daily budget: Basic €25, occasional treat €40
Drink: Bosnian coffee €0.50–1
Food: Cevapcici (meat rissoles) €2–4
Hostel/budget: €12/€25
Travel: Bus: Sarajevo–Bihać €25; train: Sarajevo–Mostar €5

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3. Bansko, Bulgaria

Hitting the slopes without breaking the bank can be a challenge – not least as the main Alpine resorts are located in some of the most expensive countries in Europe. However, eastern Europe has a few intriguing ski destinations, including Bulgaria’s Bansko on the Pirin mountain range.

The country’s main ski resort, with good beginner and intermediate runs, is reached via a scenic – but very slow – narrow-gauge railway. The town itself has considerable charm beyond the tourist development, with numerous traditional old pubs hidden down its cobbled alleyways.

Rough costs

Daily budget: Basic €25, occasional treat €40
Drink: Beer (0.5l) €1
Food: Shopska salad €3
Hostel/budget hotel: €10/€20
Travel: Train: Sofia–Plovdiv €4; bus: €7

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4. The Czech Republic

Though ever-popular Prague is not quite the dirt-cheap city break destination it once was, you’ll still find the Czech Republic to be a good-value country for independent travel. The country that invented Pilsner is justifiably famous for producing some of the world’s best beer – at pretty good prices.

In Prague, the choice of watering holes ranges from traditional beer halls and monastery taverns to a new generation of microbreweries. Continue the Czech beer trail with a visit to the Pilsner Urquell brewery in Plzeň, before striking out to the country’s lesser-known spots, such as charming Olomouc, a pint-sized Prague without the tourists.

Rough costs

Daily budget: Basic €40, occasional treat €50
Drink: Pilsner Urquell €1.50
Food: Pork and dumplings €5
Hostel/budget hotel: €15/€40
Travel: Train: Prague–Karlovy Vary €12; bus: €6

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5. Estonia’s Baltic coast

Known for its popular capital Tallinn, little Estonia also provides swathes of wilderness, with beautiful stretches of coastline, a scattering of islands and forested national parks along its long Baltic coastline. An hour from Tallinn, 725-square-kilometre Lahemaa National Park is best explored by bike. You can cycle its coastal paths, discover rugged coves, windswept beaches and fishing villages, and sleep on hay bales in a farm.

Venture further west, and the summertime resort of Pärnu has fantastic beaches, while the island of Saaremaa offers more pine forest countryside and very affordable spas.

Rough costs

Daily budget: Basic €50, occasional treat €70
Drink: Le Coq beer €2.50
Food: Blood sausage and sauerkraut €5
Hostel/budget hotel: €22/€45
Travel: Bus: Tallinn–Saaremaa €15; Tartu–Tallinn €11

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6. Leipzig, Germany

Berlin is an anomaly – it’s one of the few capitals where the cost of living is lower than the national average, a legacy of the country’s former divide, which still means former East Germany is notably cheaper than western centres like Frankfurt and Munich. As prices gradually rise in gentrifying Berlin, there are other eastern cities to venture to, including buzzing Leipzig.

The city that kick-started the 1989 protests that led to the country’s reunification has long had a fierce, independent spirit. Over the past few years, it’s also developed quite a reputation for its thriving artist enclaves and offbeat nightlife, a scene that is in constant flux, with old industrial buildings, such as former cotton mill the Spinnerei, converted into cutting-edge spaces.

Rough costs

Daily: Budget Basic €55, occasional treat €70
Drink: Beer (half-litre) €2.90
Food: Schnitzel €8
Hostel/budget hotel: €25/€35
Travel: Munich–Berlin: train €55–142; bus €22

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7. London, England

London and budget aren’t words that usually go together. However, with the pound currently reaching historic lows, now is a good time to visit. But it’s not just a currency thing – London has more free world-class attractions than any other European city. The British Museum, home to enough treasures to satisfy the most curious of history hunters; vast Tate Modern, with stupendous views from its terrace and ever-changing art collections; the Natural History Museum with its magnificent dinosaurs; and beautiful Victoria & Albert Museum – all free, all of the time.

And don’t forget the open spaces: spend a day tramping across Hampstead Heath, another meandering along the South Bank or perusing East End markets and you’ll get more of a sense of city life than if you’re stuck in a queue at an overpriced attraction. For food, opt for the popular street-food markets and your budget will stretch further – you might even have enough left for an overpriced pint.

Rough costs

Daily budget: Basic €60, occasional treat €85
Drink: Lager €5
Food: Fish and chips €11
Hostel/budget hotel: €27/€80–100
Travel: Train: London–Brighton €25–35; bus: London–Manchester €10–40

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8. The Peloponnese, Greece

Think budget travel and Greece, and the image is still one of island-hopping, sleeping on the deck of a ferry or camping on the beach. However, the slow pace of island travel and the popularity of the main resorts all adds to the cost.

Instead, consider the many-fingered peninsula of the Peloponnese. It has some fine beaches – less developed than those on the main islands – and it is home to the ancient sights of Epidaurus and Olympia. Medieval villages, spectacular rack-railway journeys and appealing Byzantine towns all await those who explore beyond the package holiday destinations.

Rough costs

Daily budget: Basic €30, occasional treat €40
Drink: Ouzo €3
Food: Souvláki (shish kebab) €3
Hostel/budget hotel: €20/€30
Travel: Bus: Athens–Delphi €16; ferry: Athens–Crete €40

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9. Budapest, Hungary

Straddling the Danube, the twin enclaves of Buda and Pest together make one of the most beguiling capitals in Europe, and their main pleasures won’t break the bank. A day at a spa, such as the glorious yellow baroque Széchenyi Baths, costs around €15.

Spend the day lounging by the pools, taking the occasional dip, cooling off under the fountains, and watching the old men play chess at the waterside tables. Come evening, the “ruin bars” of District VII beckon – idiosyncratic bars tucked away in the neighbourhood’s courtyards. The tipple of choice is the cheap local white or rosé drunk long as a spritzer, perfect in the baking heat of summer.

Rough costs

Daily budget: Basic €40, occasional treat €60
Drink: Beer (large) €2–2.50
Food: Goulash €3–4
Hostel/pension: €15–30
Travel: Train: Budapest–Eger €8.50

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10. Palermo, Sicily, Italy

Any grand tour of Europe includes a string of beautiful Italian cities: refined Florence, alluring Rome and glamorous Venice. While there’s no doubting their charms, they are well and truly on the tourist trail, which pushes up prices, particularly in high season.

Escape from the mainland to Sicily and you’ll find in its capital Palermo a city both redolent of the Italy of yesteryear and – if you ask a Sicilian – a country apart. Undoubtedly run down in places, the city unfolds many surprises, from churches covered in exquisite mosaics to cluttered neighbourhood markets, where you can snack on local street foods, like arancina and panelle (chick pea fritters), as you wander.

Rough costs

Daily budget: Basic €35, occasional treat €50
Drink: Wine €2.50/glass
Food: Local pasta dish €5–8; pizza slice €2
Hostel/budget hotel: €15–30/€45–60
Travel: Train: Rome–Naples €20; bus: €12

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11. Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

Vast, deep, Lake Ohrid is the jewel of Macedonia. The quiet streets of its namesake town reveal frescoed medieval churches, a Roman amphitheatre and a fortress worth climbing for the views. But as you explore the old town, the clear lake waters draw you back time and time again, inviting you to swim, dive or take to the waters by boat.

If you are tempted landwards it might be to hike in the nearby Galičica National Park. With cheap private rooms to rent and several waterside camping spots, the area is perfect for travellers on a budget to kick back and relax.

Rough costs

Daily budget: Basic €25, occasional treat €35
Drink: Wine from €2.50 per bottle
Food: Tavče gravče (bean casserole) €1.50
Hostel/budget hotel: €10/€25
Travel: Bus: Skopje–Ohrid €7; train: Skopje–Bitola €4

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12. Kotor, Montenegro

The beautiful walled town of Kotor sits at the end of a fjord-like bay, ringed by dramatic peaks. Just follow your nose within the Old Town – getting lost in the labyrinth of streets is half the fun, discovering summertime cafés that spill out on the squares – before clambering along the old fortress walls.

For a view over the whole gorgeous scene, hike up to St Ivan’s castle, overlooking the town. Kotor’s annual highlight is August’s exuberant Boka Nights festival, when the whole town celebrates as a lavish display of decorated boats parade in the bay and fireworks fill the sky.

Rough costs

Daily budget: Basic €30, occasional treat €50
Drink: Nikšičko Tamno beer €1 (bottle from shop)
Food: Sarma €2.50–4
Hostel/budget hotel: €20/€50
Travel: Bus: Budva–Kotor €3; train: Podgorica–Virpazar €1

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13. Gdánsk, Poland

Part beautiful Hanseatic city, part gritty port town and part Baltic riviera, the northern Polish city of Gdánsk offers a winning combination of coastal appeal. Though the core of this picturesque, colourful city, with its narrow merchant houses, looks ancient, it’s a postwar reconstruction – but the history is genuine.

The shipyard crane dates back to the fifteenth century, and the city was the birthplace of the Solidarity anti-communist movement. Come summer, the action moves to the hip, coastal resort of Sopot, with its golden sand beach, lively party scene and attractive pier (the longest in Europe).

Rough costs

Daily budget: Basic €50, occasional treat €70
Drink: Vodka (50ml shot) €1
Food: Żurek soup €2–3
Hostel/budget hotel: €12/€35
Travel: Train: Warsaw–Kraków €33; bus: €15

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14. Porto, Portugal

Portugal’s second city, appealingly set on the banks of the river Duoro, is a place for people-watching and wandering. The riverside district of Ribeira is crammed with no-frills good, local restaurants – pick somewhere a street or so back from the waterfront and you’ll be spoilt with local dishes and wines at excellent prices.

Other highlights include the vast, Serralves park, with a superb art museum set within. However, it is port that the city is famous for. Vinologia is a great bar for an introduction to the varieties of fortified wine, and you can visit the port lodges across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia, where for a few euros you can sample their wares.

Rough costs

Daily budget: Basic €45, occasional treat €65
Drink: Bottle of vinho verde in shop €3.50
Food: Grilled sardines €8
Hostel/budget hotel: €20/€45
Travel: Train: Lisbon–Faro €22.20; bus: Porto–Lisbon €20

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15. Transylvania, Romania

Think Transylvania, and you’ll probably think Dracula and his castle – and you can certainly go in search of Dracula, aka Vlad the Impaler, connections here. As Vlad’s birthplace, the attractive town of Sighişoara has the best claim to fame, and it has a suitably imposing citadel.

But the region is not all fortifications and fangs – make time to venture out into the wilds of the Carpathian mountains, where you can track the Transylvanian wolf, bears, red deer and lynx in the Piatra Craiului National Park.

Rough costs

Daily budget: Basic €25, occasional treat €40
Drink: Beer €1.80; bottle of Romanian wine €5
Food: Tochitura moldoveneasca (Moldavian stew) €2
Hostel/budget hotel: €10/€30
Travel: Bus: Bucharest–Braşov €10; train: €10

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16. Novi Sad, Serbia

Fancy a summer music festival, but Glastonbury is beyond your budget? Serbia’s now famous EXIT Festival in July might be just the ticket, and it’s less than half the price of Glastonbury. The line-up is always eclectic, with 2017 acts including Liam Gallagher, Jake Bugg and Rag’n’Bone Man.

But a trip here is about more than the music, with a setting that leaves other festivals in the shade. The Petrovaradin fortress stands majestically above the lively city of Novi Sad, a couple of hours from Belgrade. Stages and festival spaces fill every corner of the fortress, and you can spend your days lounging on the river beaches on the banks of the Danube.

Rough costs

Daily budget: Basic €25, occasional treat €40
Drink: Beer (0.5l) €1
Food: Pljeskavica (hamburger) €1–2
Hostel/budget hotel: €12/€35
Travel: Bus: Belgrade–Novi Sad €6; train: Belgrade–Niš €7

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17. The High Tatras, Slovakia

Slovakia’s pride and joy, the Tatras mountain range is a magnificent series of peaks – culminating in the pyramid-shaped, Gerlach, at 2655m. Start at one of the village resorts like Nový Smokovec or Ždiar, then make for the mountains, where you can rest your weary heads at cheap hikers’ chalets.

This is serious mountain terrain, so be prepared and heed local advice. The mountains are also an inviting playground for climbers and cavers, and you’ll find mountain-bike paths, tubing and rafting, plus a full winter season of skiing and snowboarding.

Rough costs

Daily budget: Basic €35, occasional treat €45
Drink: Beer €1.70
Food: Gnocchi with bacon €4
Hostel/budget hotel: €15/€30
Travel: Bratislava–Košice (train) €19

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18. Northwest Slovenia

Sandwiched between Italy, Austria and Croatia, compact Slovenia, with its charming capital Ljubljana, easy travel, developing wine industry and pocket of coastline, is an appealing destination on any journey through Europe. For the adventure-minded, or for those who just want to camp in a beautiful lakeside setting, the northwest region is perfect.

Nestled below the stunning Julian Alps are the very different twin lakes of Bled and Bohinj. From here you can carry on to the Soča Valley, right by the Italian border, for hiking, kayaking and rafting adventures.

Rough costs

Daily budget: Basic €45, occasional treat €65
Drink: Pivo (beer) €2.50 for half a litre
Food: Pizza €5–7
Hostel/budget hotel: €18/€60
Travel: Train: Ljubljana–Maribor €9; bus: Ljubljana–Bled €7

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19. Andalucía, Spain

The southernmost province of Spain, Andalucía is perennially popular, particularly its showpiece cities of Seville, Granada and Córdoba, with their exquisite monuments to their Moorish past. Even here prices are competitive compared with Madrid and Barcelona.

You only need to head a little further afield, to the underrated city of Málaga with its Picasso connection and burgeoning art scene, or the atmospheric ancient port city of Cádiz, and you’ll enjoy that alluring southern Spanish vibe for budget-friendly prices. Cheap tapas (the tradition of free tapas originates in Granada) means you can sample Iberian flavours for a couple of euros a plate, and to continue your budget adventure, simply hop on the ferry to Morocco, tantalizingly close by.

Rough costs

Daily budget: Basic €65; occasional treat €85
Drink: €1.70–2.50 per caña (small beer)
Food: Menú del día €10–12
Hostel/budget hotel: €16/€35–80
Travel: Madrid–Barcelona: bus €32–43; train €60–125

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20. Lviv, Ukraine

Situated in the west of this vast country, within easy travelling distance of Central European cities such as Kraków and Budapest, Lviv is the city to head for if you want a taste of Ukraine.

It revels in a mixture of Central European influences: Habsburg and Polish, Catholic, Orthodox and Armenian, with its architecture and magnificent churches reflecting this eclecticism. Ukraine regularly features on the list of cheapest destinations in Europe, and with a growing supply of backpacker hostels, appealing coffee houses and quirky bars, this is an extremely budget-friendly city with a refined edge.

Rough costs

Daily budget: Basic €40, occasional treat €60
Drink: Horilka (vodka; 50ml shot) €1
Food: Ukrainian borshch €0.80
Hostel/budget hotel: €8/€30
Travel: Train: Kyiv–Odesa €10; bus: €18

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