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 the latest edition of The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget, these are the cheapest places to travel on the continent this year.
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.
Best for being on the beach: Vila E Bardhe
Best for great views of the harbour: Hotel Real Sarande
From Durrës: Wine tasting and history tour in Berat
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. If you don't want to miss any of the key historic sites, book ahead and join a guided tour.
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.
Best hostel for city location: Hostel Franz Ferdinand
Best for location to tourist attractions: Hotel Europe
Best for first time visitors: A guided walking tour in Sarajevo
Best for getting out of the city: A day tour to Jajce and Travnik
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.
Best for guest house experience: Zigen House
Best for great location: Kap House Hotel
Best for the adventurers: Rafting on the Kresna Gorge
Best to get to know the culture: Experience local traditions, dishes, crafts, and stories
Though ever-popular Prague is not quite the dirt-cheap city break destination it once was, you’ll still find Czechia (Czech Republic) to be a good-value country for independent travel. The country that invented Pilsner is justifiably famous for producing some of the best beers – 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. If you're heading to Prague, where you're based can make all the difference to your experience, so make the right start with our guide to the best places to stay in the city.
Best location for hostel: Safestay Prague
Best for shopping and city centre: K+K Hotel Central
Best for history buffs: Small group tour to the Prague Castle
Best for a magical evening: Dinner cruise on Open-Top Glass Boat
Known for the popular city break destination of Tallinn, small and beautiful 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 even sleep on hay bales at a farm.
Best for boutique hotel in Tallinn:The Three Sisters Boutique Hotel
Best for boutique spa in Saaremaa: Grand Rose SPA Hotel
Best for historical, Soviet heritage: Day tour from Tallinn to Naissaar, also known as Women's Island
Best for urban exploration: The Industrial Stalker Bike Tour in Kalamaja District
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. But 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. Its culture scene is in constant flux, with old industrial buildings, such as former cotton mill the Spinnerei, converted into cutting-edge spaces.
Best for city location: IntercityHotel Leipzig
Best for little luxury: Pentahotel Leipzig
Best for family exploration: 3h canoe tour through the city
Best for first-time visitors: Hop-on Hop-off bus tour including walking tour
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.
Best for being in the centre of London: The Z Hotel Piccadilly
Best for location to Southbank: Park Plaza London Waterloo
Best for stunning views: The London Eye (make sure to book your ticket ahead of time to skip-the-lines)
Best for the adventurers: Climb the O2 Arena
Think of budget travel in 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 Greece. 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.
Best for beaches in Finikounta:Hotel Golden Sun
Best for location in Nafplion: Pension Eleni
Best for day tours from Athens: Nafplio and Ancient Epidaurus
Best for explorers: Self-guided virtual reality tour of Olympia
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.
Spend the day lounging by the pools in the spa, 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.
Best for location to city centre: Arcadia Hotel Budapest
Best for a little luxury: Hotel Palazzo Zichy Budapest
Best to relax: Skip the lines and relax a full day at the Széchenyi Spa
Best for wine connoisseurs: Taste 7 Hungarian wines from boutique wineries
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 arancini (rice balls) and panelle (chick pea fritters), as you wander.
Best for popular attractions: Hotel Palazzo Brunaccini
Best hostel for location to the city: Balarm Hostel
What to do
Best for foodies: 3h street food and history walking tour
Best for day trips: Explore Western Sicily with Segesta, Erice and Salt Pans
Vast, deep, Lake Ohrid is the jewel of North 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.
Best for a cosy guest house: Villa & Winery Mal Sveti Kliment
Best for views of Lake Ohrid: Villa Kale
Best for those with limited time: Day tour from Skopje to Ohrid
Best for history buffs: Private half-day city tour
The beautiful walled town of Kotor sits at the end of a fjord-like bay, ringed by dramatic peaks. Just follow your nose in 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.
Best for boutique hotel: Boutique Hotel Astoria
Best for location to the city centre: Palazzo Drusko Deluxe Rooms
Best to get away from the crowds: 2.5h Kayak Tour in the Bay of Kotor
Best for a day trip: Boat Tour to the Blue Cave & Our Lady of the Rocks
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 actually a postwar reconstruction – but the history is genuine.
The shipyard crane dates back to the 15th 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).
Best for location to the city centre: PURO Gdansk Stare Miasto
Best for great views and location to the city: Hotel Mercure Gdansk Stare Miasto
Best for nightlife: Pub Crawl with free drinks
Best for first-time visitors: Electric Scooter guided tour of the Old Town
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 Portugal 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. With the city set on either side of the river, check our guide to the best places to stay in Porto to find accommodation on the side that suits you best.
Other highlights include the vast Portugal 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. Make the most of your time in Porto and book ahead to explore some of the unknown wine cellars in the city.
Best for walks along the waterfront: 1872 River House
Best for value with style: InPatio Guest House
Best for day tours: Small group tour to the Douro Valley, Wine Tasting and a River Cruise
Best for iconic views: Torre dos Clérigos (skip-the-line tickets)
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 (if you are interested in finding Dracula, book your tour here). As Vlad’s birthplace, the attractive town of Sighisoara has the best claim to fame, and it also 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, along with bears, red deer and lynx in the Piatra Craiului National Park.
Best for visiting Vlad the Impaler: Pensiune Casa Richter
Best for visiting Piatra Craiului National Park: Pensiunea Hora cu Brazi
Best for explorers: Medieval City Exploration Game and Tour in Sighisoara
Best for those travelling in high season: Fast track tickets to Bran Castle (Dracula's castle - Romania's number one attraction)
Fancy a summer music festival, but Glastonbury is beyond your budget? Serbia’s now famous EXIT Festival held in July might be just the ticket, and it’s less than half the price of Glastonbury. The line-up is always eclectic, with past acts including David Guetta and Ziggy Marley.
A trip here is about more than the music, however, 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.
If you don't have the time to stay longer, consider taking a day tour from Belgrade to explore Novi Sad and taste the local wines in Sremski Karlovci.
Best for rooftop views of the city: Hotel Fortress Leopold I Novi Sad
Best hostel for city location: Downtown Hostel Novi Sad
Slovakia's pride and joy, the Tatras mountain range is a magnificent series of peaks – culminating in the pyramid-shaped Gerlach at 2,655m. 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.
Best for location to popular attractions: Penzion Reitmayer
Best for families: Apartmanovy Dom TatraTravel Smokovec
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.
Best guest house for views of Lake Bled: Guest House Mlino
Best for lake views: Grand Hotel Toplice
Best for adventurers: 3h Rafting Experience
Best for wine experiences: Taste 7 top Slovenian wines in a 100-year old wine cellar in Bled
The southernmost province of Spain, Andalucía is perennially popular, particularly its showpiece cities of Seville, Granada and Córdoba, with their exquisite monuments highlighting the area's 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, tantalisingly close by.
Best guest house location to city centre: El Riad Andaluz
Best for style on a budget: Villa Lorena Malaga
Best for exploring arts: Guided tour through the Picasso Museum
Best for short hikes: Caminito del Rey - 3h guided hike
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.
Best for location to the city centre: Lviv Central Jam Hotel
Best for style on a budget: Taurus Hotel
Best for first time visitors: Lviv Old Town Walking Tour
Best for foodies with an interest in history: Communist-style Food and Bar Tour
Top image © Patteran/Shutterstock
This feature contains affiliate links; all recommendations are editorially independent.
Top image: Malaga, Spain, Old Town Skyline © S Pavone / Shutterstock