When a friend tells me they’re going on a European tour, I generally assume they’ve been selling their organs on the internet. How else can anyone afford it? Paris, London, Zurich, Copenhagen — you’ll burn through €10,000 quicker than I can drain a bottle of cabernet.
But you don’t actually have to sell your kidneys on Amazon to fund your old world adventure. Here are 6 European destinations you can do on a budget.
1. Kiev, Ukraine
Okay, so if you’ve been following the news over the last four years, you may be a little apprehensive about visiting Ukraine. It’s true that the U.S. State Department has issued a Level 2 travel advisory (“exercise increased caution”). But let me allay your fears: that basically just means don’t get involved in political protests and avoid wandering into the Crimea, which remains under Russian occupation. Otherwise, you’re good to go.
Kiev is actually the cheapest city to visit in 2018! So if you’re looking to do Europe without European prices, it’s a great place to start.
Ukraine’s capital is rich with history. There are many beautiful places of worship for you to visit — St. Sophia’s from the 11th century, and St. Michael’s Monastery from the 12th. If modern history is more your bag, there’s the Chernobyl Museum, which tells the story of that infamous nuclear disaster, and the Motherland Statue and War Memorial, which commemorates Ukraine’s role in World War II. Or if you prefer a more esoteric experience, you can make a pit stop at The Museum of the Toilet’s History.
Kiev is also blessed with many wonderful beaches, perfect for passing a low-key summer afternoon.
Keep your eyes peeled for little pieces of Viking history as well — they were the ones who actually founded the city!
Average cost per person per day: USD $49.
2. Budapest, Hungary
Budapest is a great bargain right off the hop, because you’re actually getting two cities for the price of one. Hungary’s capital is actually an amalgamation of two formerly separate cities, divided by the beautiful Danube River: Buda on the western side, and Pest to the east.
Buda is the more dignified, suburban side of town, with winding streets, the Presidential Palace, and the historic Buda Castle. Pest, on the other hand, is where you’ll find nightlife, entertainment, and excitement.
Not only is Budapest affordable, it’s also stable, with a low crime rate, and a welcoming population. Hungary in general is also easily navigable for visitors, both because of its extensive rail network and the frequency with which English is spoken. For all these reasons, Budapest is a popular place for foreigners to retire.
Average cost per person per day: USD $90.
3. Ceský Krumlov, Czech Republic
Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, used to have a reputation as the cheapest high-quality destination in Europe. Unfortunately, that reputation attracts more tourists, which in turn leads to higher demand and higher prices. Such a pity.
But you definitely shouldn’t rule out a trip to the CR if you’re traveling on a budget. You’re unlikely to find another country with so much to see and do (and drink!) that’s also so easy on your wallet.
Ceský Krumlov offers an appealing alternative to more populous and touristy cities. It’s a small, old-fashioned Bohemian town on the Vitava River, with a population of just 13,000. What it lacks in permanent residents it more than makes up for in Baroque architecture and — like most Czech towns — cheap beer.
Tour the local castle, go rafting on the Vitava, take in a play at the open-air theatre, or stick around for the Festival of Baroque Arts in September.
Average cost per person per day: $54
4. Valencia, Spain
With a population around 800,000, Valencia is Spain’s third-largest city. Still, it doesn’t get mentioned nearly as often as Madrid or Barcelona, despite its beauty, history, and affordability. Resting about halfway up the eastern (Mediterranean) coast of Spain, Valencia seamlessly blurs the traditional and the novel.
August is perhaps the busiest month in Valencia, as tourists flock to attend La Tomatina, a festival held the last Wednesday of every August in the neighboring town of Buñol. Tomatina is a giant food fight in which thousands of people throw tomatoes at one another for the hell of it. This tradition dates back to 1945.
But there’s plenty to do in Valencia too. You can stroll around the Museum of Modern Art, a bizarre building that looks like a giant helmet sticking out of a pond. You can pray at Plaza de la Virgin, the city’s Gothic cathedral. You can take a boat trip or do some bird watching in the Albufera lagoon just outside town.
Best of all, you can take a free walking tour of the city to save even more money while exploring all Valencia has to offer.
Average cost per person per day: $86
5. Valletta, Malta
Valetta is the capital of the small island nation of Malta, which lies about 50 miles south of Sicily in the Mediterranean. The city as it exists today was mainly built by the Catholic order of Knights Hospitaller in the 16th century, after the island was gifted to them by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V for the price of one Maltese falcon per year. (Not the jewel-encrusted statuette from the movie, but a literal hunting falcon!)
Valetta is one of the most culturally vibrant cities in Europe with evident influences from Italy, North Africa, and the UK. Perhaps this is why the city was named Europe’s cultural capital this year.
There is much to see and do on the various islands of the Maltese archipelago, and you’ll have ready access to the water since Valetta sits on a peninsula, almost completely surrounded by the sea. Sample the unique local cuisine, walk the walls of Valetta, or visit the ancient ruins of the Hagar Qim Temples, which date back as far as 3,600 BC.
Average cost per person per day: $88
6. Gdansk, Poland
Gdansk holds a unique place in world history. Not only was it the site of the beginning of World War II, it was also the backdrop for the beginning of the end of the Cold War. Gdansk is Poland’s greatest port, and was at the heart of the Solidarity movement that nearly overthrew the Communist regime in the early 1980s, signifying that the Soviet hold over eastern Europe was slipping.
Today, there is a deeply moving museum dedicated to the history of Solidarity, which will be of interest to anyone who lived through the Cold War. There is, naturally, also a superb Museum of the Second World War. Truly: if you’re a history buff, you can’t miss Gdansk.
You can also see much of interest in Gdansk simply by walking along the Motlawa River, or perusing the shops in Meriacka Street. (If you’re fond of jewellery, Gdansk is noted for its amber pieces.)
Finally, if a good spot to sunbathe is all you desire, Gdansk has you covered on that front as well. There are a number of superb beaches in the area, the best of which are Jelitkowo, Stogi, and Brzezno.
Average cost per person per day: $74
We hope this list inspired you to get out there and explore the world — and maybe save a bit of money while you’re at it. Happy trails!