A guide to the top 5 cities to visit in Europe on a budget

It's time for you to travel Europe on a budget.

May 2, 2019 |
9 min read

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Europe is a continent full of fairytale cities, ancient civilizations and incredible beauty. It gave the world the Roman Empire and the Colosseum, the Greeks and the Acropolis, Mediterranean islands and Norwegian forests.

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Fairytales from the Brothers Grimm match fairytale cities like Krakow and Strasbourg. Futuristic cityscapes rise from medieval cobbled streets in London and Frankfurt.

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The world’s greatest artists hang within the Louvre in Paris and The National Gallery in Rome, while the works of Dante and Gaudí shape cities and streets across Europe.

Europe is quite simply vast… and it can also be expensive. So with that in mind we’ve collected data on average prices around Europe and combined it with our extensive travel knowledge to give you our guide to 5 of Europe’s best budget-friendly cities.

Editors note: The City Costs Barometer compares the typical purchases for visitors on a European city break. It most recently found that our top pick — Krakow — is the most budget friendly location in Europe! We’ll use their data throughout the article to demonstrate average prices for things such as coffee, wine, museums and attractions.

Krakow, Poland

Poland, Krakow. Market Square at night.

Krakow is a city of two exquisite sides, where history and myth flirt within a vibrant urban metropolis. It’s where all-nighters in underground bars spill out to cobbled streets beneath the rising towers of fairytale churches and castles.

Graffiti provides color to buildings in disrepair, while Christmas Markets and pierogi festivals fill the streets with culture. Krakow offers a landscape that is equal parts urban and modern, historic and traditional.

Standout attractions are the 13th century Grand Square in the old town, the Florian Gate and the maze-like Wieliczka Salt Mine. Our favorite is the stunning twin-towered St Mary’s Basilica, which has a 3-storey high, hand-carved wooden alter, which is one of Poland’s greatest masterpieces of Gothic art.

In the warmer months head up one of the Basilica’s towers for panoramic views of the city. Then, take a stroll through the vibrant Jewish district to spot ornate synagogues, and take a beer break at Alchemia — hands down one of the best bars in the city. And afterwards cross the river via the Bernatek foot bridge into Podgórze.

This is where the Nazis created a walled ghetto and killed off development for decades. But now alongside monuments like the haunting Schindler’s Factory museum, you’ll find creative studios and chic cafes thriving in a once broken quarter of the city.

For a more sobering look at Poland’s history, you should pay a visit to Auschwitz. To get there take the public mini-bus which departs from the Dworzec Autobusowy bus station close to galleria Krakowska.

We suggest taking a tour to fully understand the experience, which can be really quite disturbing.

Where to stay in Krakow on a budget

When you’re looking for a budget hotel in Krakow, avoid the old town and opt instead for either creative Kazimierz, up-and-coming Podgórze, or trendy Kleparz.

The latter is great for foodies as it’s home to the Nowy Kleparz market that sells everything from fresh vegetables to homemade pierogi and regional cheeses.

Average cost of: Coffee £1.68 | Dinner for 2: £42.72 | Museum: £5.37 | Hotel for 2: £78:00

Rome, Italy

Rome Coliseum at sunset.

Rome — The Eternal City — is a masterwork and it’s surprisingly budget friendly when done right. Rome’s sights are as endless and enduring as the stories of the Empire itself. From the epic Colosseum and the mysterious Pantheon to the ornate St Peter’s sitting atop Vatican Hill, almost everything here is the stuff of legend.

Approach the Colosseum from the tree-lined Via di San Gregorio, as when you walk along the road you’ll never be more aware of being in Rome.

The road curves slowly uncovering the great Colosseo and the Arch of Constantine, as the hills of the Palatino and the Roman Forum undulate peacefully away from the busy road.

You should start with a tour of the Colosseum and then stroll into the Roman Forum, which is a delightful jumble of triumphal arches, temple ruins, and towering columns.

Inside, you’ll find the House of the Vestal Virgins marked by a dozen or so busts, the Basilica Giulia, which was begun by Julius Caesar and finished by Augustus, and the cavernous Basilica di Massenzio.

If you have the time, we recommend spending at least half a day in Vatican City.

Admire Michelangelo’s dome and Bernini’s huge bronze Baldachin over the alter in St. Peter’s, and and if you fancy something a little different, head down into the Necropolis to catch a glimpse of St. Peter’s tomb alongside millennia-old pagan catacombs.

Just before sunset is the best time to watch the world go by on the Spanish Step’s, while early morning and afternoon is the best time to simply walk the cobbled streets of Rome, taking in the Trevi Fountain and the Piazza Navona.

Put aside each evening for pasta of course, but stay clear of the “Menu Turistico” and opt instead for some old-fashioned Roman cuisine. Try the local favorite Felice a Testaccio, which is home to some of the best cacio e pepe in Rome.

Where to stay in Rome on a budget

You’ll find budget hotel options scattered across the city, but the most budget-friendly hotels in Rome are close to the Termini and the University campus. Check out the B&B’s in Monti if you’re looking for something with a more laid-back village vibe and a great place to get to grips with Rome’s off-the-beaten-track bohemian edge.

Average cost of: Coffee £2.37 | Dinner for 2: £55.39 | Museum| £15.39 | Hotel: £127

Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg, water canal in Petite France area, Unesco site. Alsace.

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Strasbourg is famous for Petite France, a cobbled fairytale-like corner of the city and host to Strasbourg’s Christmas Markets. But underneath this veneer of ultra-tourism is a modern European city that has a distinctly Germanic feel in places. As well as a fantastic food and drinks scene.

Listen out for the fascinating Alsatian dialect which is, at its core a German-like language spiced with French words. Try a local Tarte flambée, and an Alsace Resiling in the old town.

Or head to trendy Krutenau for something a little more modern. Cocktail drinkers should try the alleyways close to the cathedral and squeeze into the tiny Code Bar.

One of the best spots for bars is the quai des pêcheurs. An atmospheric selection of boat and barge-bars with views of the river and the various towers of the city.

On a short weekend break to Strasbourg you can easily see most of the major sights. But be sure to include the stunning Cathédrale Notre Dame, pretty Place Kleber and petite-France for the romantic half-timbered houses.

If you have the time, then take a boat along the canals to see the numerous historic districts from the waterways. Or to be a little more budget friendly, take a stroll instead.

Only go to the European Parliament buildings if you have half a day to spare. Though it’s easier and quicker to simply jump on a tram.

Where to stay in Strasbourg on a budget

The area around the train station is the best for budget hotels and is relatively well placed for many of Strasbourg’s main sites. But if you have a little extra money to spare, then we suggest staying in l’Orangerie.

You’ll have access to the stunning Parc de l’Orangerie and an easy walk into town through the pretty Neustadt district.

Average cost of: Coffee £2.81 | Dinner for 2: £81.46 | Museum: £5.88 | Hotel: £105

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik sea coast

The waters of the Adriatic wash against the UNESCO-listed city walls that have protected Dubrovnik against seizes since the Middle Ages.

But inside the walls, ornate baroque architecture, terracotta-rooftops and dazzling marble streets lined with stylish boutiques, chic restaurants and raucous bars, set the pace for what is one of Europe’s most impressive walled cities.

Dubrovnik has been rising in popularity in recent years, particularly since the success of Game of Thrones. And while it still remains a good option for a cheap destinations in Europe, prices are starting to rise…. so it’s time to start planning!

While there are plenty of attractions in Dubrovnik we like to approach the city as an open air museum.

You can walk along the city walls while staring out across vast vistas of awe-inspiring azure waters and pass through Dubrovnik’s ancient gates to the various districts of the old town where you can walk along the impressive cafe-lined Stradum, and see stunning Venetian architecture like Sponza Palace, before strolling along the harbor to admire the yachts.

Dalmatian food is exquisite so be sure to find a good konoba (traditional restaurant). Sample Pašticada (a kind of beef stew) and super fresh, locally-caught seafood platters with a glass of Dalmatian wine.

Where to stay in Dubrovnik on a budget

A general rule of thumb when planning for a budget break in Dubrovnik is to avoid the old town. But outside of that, it’s possible to choose based on your preferences.

If you want to be closer to the beach, then stay in Lapad, while both the Pile and Ploce sides of the old town will put you within walking distance of everything. The cheapest area is usually Gruž but you’ll need to travel a little further to get into the old town.

Average cost of: Coffee £1.39 | Dinner for 2: £63.38 | Museum: £10.14 | Hotel for 2: £81:00

Budapest, Hungary

Parliament building in Budapest.

If Vienna is the gateway to eastern Europe, then Budapest is the first stop on a proper Eastern European tour. Just walking the streets of Budapest is fascinating.

The bridges that cross the Danube offer unparalleled views of its two sides. Buda: the old city and Pest: the new. Our favourite of these two personalities is the quaint old hilly Buda, filled with sweet cobbled streets and beautiful architecture.

But we love it because it has incredible views over the river and to the grand riverside architecture of Pest. Cross the river to get up close to those buildings and you’ll be face to face with a parliament building that was inspired by Britain’s Houses of Parliament.

Its walls (and many more) still scarred with bullet holes left over from the Hungarian Revolution.

Budapest has a great nightlife scene, and it’s cheap to take advantage of. In fact, along with Prague, Budapest has some of the cheapest drinks in Europe.

You’ll find warehouses converted into chic upscale bars and trendy ruin bars set in the ruins of old Jewish Quarter. Head to Szimpla Kert for the original ruin bar.

Or look up one of Budapest’s surprisingly affordable Michelin-starred restaurants to add a lick of glamour to your Budapest trip. (Tip: try Borkonyha for its excellent tasting menu – £50-£70. And the wine list of more than 200 Hungarian wines if you fancy yourself a bit of an oenophile).

Where to stay in Budapest on a budget

District VII is best for budget options in Budapest, though its ruin bars can make for a restless night in a street facing room. Pick the artsy district VIII if you’re looking for a hostel that keeps you close to downtown Budapest.

Average cost of: Coffee £1.68 | Dinner for 2: £44.08 | Museum: £4.90 | Hotel for 2: £84:00

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