The basic rule of economics is that the more people want something, the more you’ll have to pay to get your hands on it. It’s as true of gold as it is of must-see cities around the world. The Parises, New Yorks, and Romes of the world are gonna cost you. But there are plenty of beautiful cities that don’t get the same kind of hype, and therefore don’t command the same kind of prices.
Here are 6 of the most beautiful cities in the world that are also affordable.
1. Medellin, Colombia
The name ‘Medellin’ unfortunately tends to be associated with one man: Pablo Escobar, the former drug kingpin who operated the Medellin cartel out of the city of the same name. But it would be wrong to think nothing has changed in the city since the heyday of its most infamous son. Medellin has actually rebranded itself; its panoramic mountain views, verdant gardens, and friendly residents have made it an unlikely tourist attraction.
“The best combination of beautiful and affordable that we have visited would be Medellin, Colombia,” say Kevin and Ruth Read of Travel with Kevin and Ruth. “Nestled in the long valley between two Andean mountain ridges, the views from almost anywhere in the city are fabulous. And Colombia is very inexpensive.”
You’ll get to enjoy the view even more since the city has constructed a series of cable cars to carry passengers across the valley between neighborhoods. If possible, you should try to visit for the annual Flower Festival in early August.
2. Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul (the artist formerly known as ‘Constantinople’) is Turkey’s largest city. With a population of more than 15 million, it straddles the Bosphorus Strait, controlling access between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
Jan Robinson of Budget Travel Talk is an expert on travel that won’t break your bank, and she has nothing but praise for Istanbul, noting that the city is not only surprisingly affordable but also overwhelming in its beauty.
“I love the views from Topkapi Palace over the meeting of the waters of the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus Straigt and the Sea of Marmara,” she says. “Standing in a portico supported by huge columns, it seems like the whole of Istanbul spreads out before you. Ferries chug back and forth from Eminönü and passenger liners moor across at Karaköy and the exotic tiled palace including harem are waiting to be explored.”
Originally founded by the Roman Emperor Constantine, later the capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires as well, Istanbul has as much history as you could ever hope to see in one place; the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Basilica Cistern are only the most obvious examples. But Jan also notes that simply walking the streets in this city is a pleasure.
“I love the everyday experiences of walking across Galata Bridge, admiring Galata Tower, walking down Istanbul’s favourite shopping street, Istiklal Caddesi, relaxing in Cinaralti — a tea garden at Cengelkoy — a suburb on the Bosphorus, or climbing the city walls behind the Chora Church in the Fatih district for even more fabulous views.”
3. San José del Cabo, Mexico
Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo are together known as “Los Cabos”. Located on the Baja California peninsula on the Pacific side of Mexico, they’re a popular tourist destination for Americans and other northerners looking for a warm getaway. But according to Elizabeth R. Rose of Travel Rants and Raves, you can actually do San José del Cabo on the cheap.
“Staying at beautiful boutique hotels like Casa Natalia and the El Encanto Inn nearby is affordable,” Elizabeth says, “especially with seasonal specials, and you’ll be within walking distance of charming restaurants and shops. As another plus, people new to visiting Mexico or solo travelers will feel safe in the historic section of this beautiful little town.”
There’s also plenty to do and see — apart from soaking up the sun.
“San José Del Cabo’s arts district is the place to walk during their Thursday evening art walks. Staying in the historic town center is ideal. You can walk down to the beach and the resorts if you want, but I preferred walking the cobblestone streets and checking out the city market, going to the glass blowing shop, and enjoying Christmas decorations in the Plaza.”
4. Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon has become more popular in recent years, and it’s not hard to understand why. Portuguese food is uncommonly good, and the capital has plenty of offer. Lisbon is intimate but cosmopolitan; historical but modern; it combines Old World limestone architecture with magnificent oceanic views. Particularly unmissable is the Belém district, where you’ll find many statues and monuments to Portugal’s imperial past.
“Lisbon’s magical mix of grandeur and urban decay is captivating,” agrees Cindy Baker of the blog Travel Bliss Now. “So are the sunsets from the various miradouros (viewpoints) overlooking the city. When you combine that with friendly people, great food and affordability, it’s a fantastic combination. Hotel prices are starting to creep up because Lisbon is becoming more popular, but you can still snag some good deals in the shoulder seasons.”
You should definitely check out Lisbon — and Portugal more generally — before they become even more popular.
5. Seville, Spain
Dissected by the placid Guadalquivir River, Seville is the most important city in southern Spain. Seville is famous for its architecture — the Cathedral of Seville (one of the largest on earth), the Real Alcázar palace, La Giralda minaret/bell tower.
In more recent years, it has become famous for its wonderful bicycle transit. You can buy a pass that allows you to rent a bike from one of more than 200 locations and ride to where you’re going. That’s a great thing, not just because it cuts down on costs, but because going your own way is the best method of exploring the city.
“Like most cities in Mediterranean countries, the best way to see it is just by wandering around,” says Karen Warren of WorldWideWriter, “but don’t miss the Metropol Parasol, the Alcazar or the Contemporary Arts Centre.”
6. Cuenca, Ecuador
Keith and Tina Paul of RetireEarlyAndTravel.com have a more off-the-beaten path recommendation for us. And they should know, since they live there.
“We think that where we live is just lovely: Cuenca, Ecuador,” Keith and Tina tell us. “You won’t find a more affordable place without sacrificing creature comforts.”
Cuenca is an old colonial city of about 500,000 in the south of Ecuador. It’s low-key an extremely popular (and low-cost) place to retire, and you’ll find many expat retirees living in the city. Cuenca’s old city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and like Seville it can be explored by bike or on foot. There are also Incan ruins nearby.
Apart from taking in the history, perhaps the most alluring aspect of Cuenca is its climate. “Cuenca sits at 8,400 feet [above sea level] in the Andes,” Keith and Tina say, “with perfect springtime weather year round.” You’ll also find spectacular views here, particularly at Mirador de Turi.
The greatest challenge is getting into Cuenca in the first place, since its airport is not international. You’ll either have to bus in or fly from the capital, Quito.
We hope this list inspired you to consider visiting these cities before they become too popular. Happy trails!