Anyone with wanderlust has daydreamed about experiencing the romanticism, history, and Old World magic that Europe has to offer at one time or another. But, with demand comes costly implications — literally. Yes, the popularity of hot spots like Paris, London, and Rome means they are often heavily populated with tourists, leading to crowds, and of course, sky-high prices. That said, an affordable European vacation is still within reach — you just have to go off the beaten path a bit.
Any wallet-savvy traveler knows that there's still plenty of ambiance to be found, even if you don't go the traditional and trendy Euro route. Head to a less sought-after destination (especially in its off-season), and you'll find a gem of a city that's scenic, cultural, and of course, more affordable.
If thoughts of Paris make you swoon, you'll love the breathtaking beauty of Prague; if you fantasize about the seaside city of Venice, consider a trip to Croatia; and if you seek art and culture, try exploring Berlin instead of London. Whatever your traveling heart desires, rest assured there's an affordable trip that's just as good — if not better — than the world's most popular tourism cities.
To prove it, ahead, you'll find some of the best and cheapest European destinations, handpicked for you by experts who eat, sleep, and breathe travel. Get ready to pack your bags, see the world, and save some dough.
"While most people visit Milan or Rome, Bologna is slightly off the tourist trail and all the better for it," says Kristin Addis, CEO of Be My Travel Muse, who knows a thing or two about penny-pinching abroad. "Bologna is a foodie paradise. It may not have the Coliseum, but it's surrounded by beautiful vineyards, is known for having amazing parmesan cheese, gelato, and balsamic vinegar, and, since it's a university town, things are more economical by nature."
According to EuroCheapo, you can visit several museums for under $6, and enjoy traditional pasta plates for as little as $7. Better yet, a glass of house-made wine is often just a few bucks each. Plus, Addis adds, "There are also fewer pickpockets around which is always nice!"
"I initially came here five years ago to visit a friend and I ended up moving here because I loved it so much," says Addis. "It’s dramatically cheaper than some of the more conventional places ... there is street art everywhere, big counterculture movement, and loads of artists. The food is cheaper and so are the accommodations and activities. It’s wonderful." She adds that if you go during the holiday season, the country's legendary holiday markets are a cultural experience you can't miss.
So while you're there, buy a public transportation day ticket for about $8 and tour the city to your heart's content. Addis explains that, "the East Side gallery, the numerous city parks, and most of the street's art viewing are totally free. You can also eat on the cheap, whether you head to a cafe or grab some street food for just a few bucks."
Prague, Czech Republic
"Head to Prague at any time of the year, and you’ll still be awestruck by the medieval architecture, castle sunsets, and incredible food, all at an affordable price," says Calvin Iverson, travel expert at TravelPirates. "Many often compare this city to Paris because of its authentic charm and beauty. I suggest taking a trip around the holiday season, when you’ll get to experience the magic of its Christmas markets — especially the ones in Old Town Square. Pick up traditional gifts, feast on local holiday specialties, and meet some locals all at the same time."
According to Iverson, it’s possible to get by on under $50 a day in Prague. "A quality beer (one of the things Prague is known for) will cost you less than $3, and it is possible to score a filling lunch for less than $10," he adds. "If you’re looking to visit a city that many have compared to Paris but without the price tag, then Prague should be on your list."
"Budapest offers a little something for everyone," says Iverson. "With a vibrant nightlife, relaxing thermal springs and historical sites, Hungary’s capital should definitely be on your list of budget-friendly places to visit. Traveling to Budapest during the winter means smaller crowds and shorter wait times for activities such as ice skating in the Budapest City Park, or going to see a chamber orchestra concert."
The travel pro adds that wining and dining yourself in this Hungarian gem won't cost you an arm and a leg. "To put things in perspective, lunch in the business district would cost you less than $10, and a bottle of quality wine will cost you about $6," says. Iverson. "Not bad for a major Eastern European city."
"Portugal is one of Europe’s sunniest destinations during the winter months, so if you live in a place with minimal sunlight, then you might think about heading to the country," says Iverson. "The city also has tons of kiosks that sell Portugal’s famous egg tart (pastel de nata), so if you fell for the cafés in Paris, this will seem very familiar. You’ll also enjoy the streetcars and have an opportunity to stand on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The hills a little outside of Lisbon are also home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sintra, which has castles, ancient palaces, and beautiful gardens."
Iverson adds that traveling to Lisbon is great for your pocket three times over. "First, you’ll be traveling in the off-season, which means that there will be better deals on flights and hotels," he explains. "Second, Portugal is known for being one of the more budget-friendly countries in Europe. Third, Lisbon is advertised as the perfect place to take a micro vacation. Some airlines like TAP Portugal will offer incentives for travelers who book a stopover in Lisbon, like discounts on hotels and attractions if you spend a few nights in the city."
"Besides making a major splash in the 2018 World Cup and also serving as a filming location for the world’s favorite show, Game of Thrones, this county has a lot to offer during the winter months," says Iverson. "From Christmas markets with traditional foods, concerts, and holiday decor, to natural hot springs to help you unwind, you’ll feel relaxed in no time. Carnival also happens in the winter in Croatia, so you’ll experience Croatian culture in full form — like masquerade balls and thousands of performers on street corners."
The travel expert adds that many see this country as a more affordable alternative to Italy. "Though not as cheap as it used to be, heading to Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, can still be cheaper than heading to Rome," says Iverson. "If done right, you can still grab dinner for less than $10 and have a pint of beer for less than $4."