Europe’s the perfect place to escape for an unforgettable getaway. If you are looking for an over-the-top experience but want to avoid the high-dollar price tags of Paris, London, or Amsterdam, don’t worry. There are plenty of other beautiful destinations for your next itinerary!
Here are five places in Europe that will go easy on your budget without skimping on style, history, culture, or comfort.
1. Bratislava, Slovakia
The history of Slovakia’s capital city plays out in its buildings. From an ancient inner ring to frilly Baroque palaces, squat Communist concrete structures, and the modern riverside development, Bratislava’s got a story to tell. The city’s set right along the Danube River, near the borders of both Hungary and Austria. Its old town, Staré Mesto, is pedestrian-only and the perfect place to get your steps and history in. Here you’ll see the Opera House, various fountains and palaces, and the Old Town Hall.
It’s worth the trek up the hill to Bratislava Castle, where the Hungarian Crown Jewels were kept once upon a time. Now, the castle offers dramatic views of the city below and its botanic gardens are the perfect place to catch a quick break. You won’t have to shell out much to fuel up with hearty Slovakian food and beer, and even the glitziest five-star hotels won’t cost more than a couple hundred dollars a night.
2. Istanbul, Turkey
It’s a bustling cosmopolitan city of sultans and the former center of the Ottoman Empire, straddling Europe and Asia. But despite its royal past, Istanbul is surprisingly affordable. Many of the city’s best known and loved sites — Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Grand Bazaar, for instance — are free to enter. Street food is pocket-change cheap, filling, and delicious; from doner to borek, simit, and of course, decadent baklava. Treating yourself to a steam-up, scrub-down spa treatment in a traditional Turkish hammam is a decadent but doable experience budget-wise. If you’re looking for a heady mix of history and culture with a modern, international flair, Istanbul’s got you covered.
3. Krakow, Poland
Largely spared during World War II’s punishing bomb strikes, Poland’s former royal capital city of Krakow truly sparkles. Like several other cities on this budget best-of list, its central corridor is centuries-old and well-preserved. Check out the city’s many cathedrals, churches, and the Wawel Castle — where for hundreds of years, Polish kings were crowned. Krakow’s café culture is lively. You’ll find some terrific and affordable options for a savor-and-sip session in and just off the city’s market square, Rynek Glowny. A stroll through the Cloth Hall will take you back to the 13th century when the area was a medieval center of business and commerce. For less than $100, book a day trip to the thermal springs. Just a couple of hours from Krakow, it’s the perfect chance to pamper yourself on the cheap side.
4. Lagos, Portugal
Located in the sunny, scenic Algarve region of southern Portugal, Lagos is a dreamy and downright affordable seaside destination. Its walled old town is a stunner, as are the dramatic cliffs overlooking the Atlantic and rock formations rising from the ocean. But Lagos’s beaches are what make the city truly stand out with crystal-clear water, golden sand, and a laid-back vibe. Consider renting a kayak to check out the gorgeous, rugged coastlines from the water. Lodging here is reasonable, even more so if you’re willing to stay a bit inland.
5. Split, Croatia
While Croatia’s no longer the hidden gem destination it once was, its coastal city of Split is still an enchanting bargain offering some incredible accommodations. To boost your budget, consider a visit during shoulder season, when the busy summer yachting and party months transition into the slower fall season. In October, a large and lovely Airbnb in the middle of the historic zone set me back just $50 a night. I snapped up some lovely sterling silver jewelry — crafted by a local designer — for a song. My breakfasts each morning included a latte with a lovely almond croissant and cost just $3 at a small café just steps away from my rental suite.
You’ll adore this Adriatic city crammed with culture, history, great food, excellent wine, and gorgeous coastline. Stroll its cobblestone streets, check out the treasures of Diocletian’s Palace, hike Marjan, and by all means, hit the beaches… and do it all knowing you’ve gotten a great vacation value.
There are still bargains to be had in Europe, even if you’re looking for a luxury experience. Consider a few factors that will help you boost your budget even more: Visiting in shoulder season will save you money, as will flying into a major hub, then taking a regional air service or even train to your destination.