11 cheaper alternatives to Europe’s most expensive cities

Are you ready for an affordable Euro trip? Look to these destinations that are primarily off the beaten path.

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Cheaper alternatives to Europe's most expensive cities
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Cheaper alternatives to Europe's most expensive cities

Valletta, Malta

If you’re looking for a little island life mixed with Mediterranean cuisine, this slice of heaven just below Sicily is a great choice. Valletta is the capital city of this itsy-bitsy Mediterranean island nation. Rest your bones along the shorelines of Malta, enjoying activities like snorkeling. Wander the underground catacombs, forts, megalithic temples, and UNESCO World Heritage streets of Valletta. Public transport is about $2. Grab hearty Italian dishes at La Siciliana, an unpretentious Sicilian-owned eatery situated in an adorable little square in the city. Cockneys, an institution in Valletta, is another must. Stay at The Vincent, a contemporary boutique hotel that’s about $120 a night. Check out some more of the most gorgeous Mediterranean islands you need to visit.

Lisbon, Portugal

There’s been a lot of buzz about Portugal in general as of late, and the country’s capital is not to be missed. Tiny tapas restaurants lining narrow streets, intricately tiled buildings, cobblestone streets, and a whole lot of Portuguese pride are just some of the reasons to visit. It’s also one of the most affordable European cities to explore, from the range of free tourist attractions to the cheap taxi and public transportation fees. Tram 28 will take you throughout the city, stopping at the historic Alfama District, where ancient houses dazzle above narrow cobbled streets, before heading to the Sé Cathedral, São Jorge Castle, the National Pantheon, and Santo António Church.

The fairs and markets are booming with cheap eats. When you want something that feels a little more splurge-y without the actual price tag, go to Rio Maravilha for the best view in town amid a hip crowd. For classic Portuguese cuisine in the wee hours of the morning, check out Café de São Bento. Incredible Portuguese wines can be found at RIB Beef & Wine, which will have you heading to the nearest wine store once you’re back home after you find out just how reasonable yet delicious the wines are! For a chef’s tasting menu that is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted, Belcanto is a must. You can even stay at opulent, five-star hotels like Iberostar and InterContinental for under $200 a night. Get a look at some more of the most incredible travel destinations in Western Europe.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

The city is surely a lesser-known tourist destination, but it’s gained popularity in recent years thanks to its breathtaking Dalmatian Coast. Fronting the Adriatic Sea, Dubrovnik is bursting with charm, especially within the Old Town, a pedestrian-only area that lies within medieval barricades. The beautifully preserved city offers so much to see and do, from exploring secretive monasteries and grand Baroque churches to filtering in and out of the buzzing restaurants and bars lining the quaint streets. For a relaxed atmosphere with high-quality cuisine, check out Buono Restaurant & Lounge Bar, or Konoba Lanterna, located in the heart of the old city, which serves traditional Croatian cuisine in a rustic, cozy space. Stay at a four-star for under $200, like Valamar Lacroma Dubrovnik Hotel, which offers views of the Elaphiti Islands. Croatia joined the European Union in 2013, but the kuna remains the country’s currency of choice, meaning there is a lot of value to be had here.

Berlin, Germany

Not many capital cities are considered affordable, but Berlin makes the list thanks to its Bohemian-cool way of life that offers plenty of things to do and places to stay that won’t break the bank in comparison to other European cities. Check out the permanent collection of national history spanning 2,000 years at Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum) while strolling Unter den Linden, a boulevard that leads into the heart of the city. You’ll likely want to snap a photo in front of the Brandenburg Gate, which was inspired by the Acropolis entrance in Athens and built for King Frederick Wilhelm II in 1788. For sweeping views of the city, trek up Alexanderplatz TV Tower; at more than 650 feet, it’s the tallest structure in Germany. Once you get to the top, enjoy a bite at the rotating Sphere restaurant.

Hungry? Be sure to go to Rogacki, the legendary deli that dates back to the 1930s. You can expect delicious meats, charcuterie, and smoked seafood all at an affordable price. Another Berlin institution is Lokal, where you can expect an incredibly fresh seasonal menu in a casual atmosphere. You can rest your head at Orania.Berlin, a classy boutique located in the hip area of Kreuzberg, for about $120 a night, or Michelberger Hotel, offering creatively decorated rooms located across from the river in Friedrichshain, for about $100 a night. If you want to explore more lesser-known cities, check out this list of underrated European cities.

Salzburg, Austria

This western Austrian city, situated within the northeastern borders of the Alps, is a stunningly quaint getaway with a bounty of cultural offerings, including being the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Tour his residences and check out the streets of Altstadt, also called Old Town, where ancient marketplaces and restaurants entice. Visit Mirabellgarten, a gem on the east side of the Salzach River with incredible sites including Pegasus Fountain, Dwarf Garden, and the set of stairs where Julie Andrews and company practiced “Do-Re-Mi” in The Sound of Music. Another setting for the movie, Schloss Hellbrunn is a palace with ornately decorated rooms, ballrooms, and halls.

For good eats, go to the mountainside bakery Stiftsbäckerei St. Peter, which dates back to the 12th century, when it was built by the monastery. Also, check out Augustiner Bräu, a former monastery turned beer hall offering sausages, pretzels, and more at the food stalls. Late night fun can be found in the medieval street of Steingasse. You can stay at one of the city’s most luxurious hotels, the five-star Hotel Goldener Hirsch, for just $245 a night. Hotel Turnerwirt will cost you under $100 a night. Built in 1437, it’s a family-run three-star hotel only 1.2 miles away from the center of Salzburg. According to data compiled by Expatistan, the city’s hotels are at least 50 percent cheaper than what you’ll find in Vienna, while meals and entertainment cost anywhere from 50 to 80 percent cheaper than in Geneva.

Palermo, Italy

Situated on the island of Sicily, Palermo is southern Italy’s cosmopolitan city by the sea, yet due to economic setbacks largely overpowering the south, Palermo makes for an affordable holiday. Eating and drinking feels like a steal compared to what you’ll find in Rome, and you can expect walking tours at half the price. Because the weather is warm, the streets and beaches are filled with eagerness and excitement by locals and foreigners alike. History unfolds before your eyes at the 12th-century Palermo Cathedral, featuring royal tombs; the Palazzo dei Normanni, a royal palace built in the 9th century; and the Cappella Palatina, which features Byzantine mosaics.

The city’s markets are one-stop shops for cheap food, vintage clothing, and intriguing souvenirs; two of the best include the central Ballarò street market and La Vucciria. If street food is your thing, you’re going to find plenty of it here, including Sicilian lemon gelato and focaccia. Other good eats include a dining experience at Ai Cascinari, which resides in the heart of Palermo’s antiques-shop area and specializes in traditional Sicilian dishes. For a truly relaxing vibe, hit the beach! Arenella beach, though in the heart of the city, is rarely busy. Stay at the centrally located Butera 28 for a bargain of $80 a night, or pick the five-star accommodations of Grand Hotel Villa Igiea for under $200 a night. Here are some more European islands you never thought to visit (but totally should).

Kraków, Poland

Kraków is rich with classic European attributes, from its castles, towers, and palaces to its town squares and cathedrals. Even a mere stroll through its compact city center will leave your eyes wide as you take in the overwhelming rich history around you. The city is ideal for tourists looking to escape massive crowds while still enjoying top-notch architecture and being immersed in a new culture. It helps that the prices are incredibly low as well. For a hip environment, be sure to escape the main square and check out Tytano. This old tobacco factory is filled with old productions halls and offices that have been transformed into bars, restaurants, and clubs. Cheap and delicious eats for vegans can be found at Veganic, with main courses like beetroot falafel burgers.

Another all-in-one spot to stop is Bunkier Café, which is attached to the Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Contemporary Art, where many fascinating exhibits take place. The café is situated in the middle of the Planty Garden Ring, with transparent walls that are open in warm weather and lowered when it’s cooler. For a menu of authentic Polish ingredients prepared with French techniques, dine at Restauracja Wentzl, which sits in the middle of Old Town with Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architectural sites all around. With posh rooms and suites in a landmark 19th-century palace available for just $110 a night, it’s hard to beat the Grand Hotel Kraków. These are the most underrated travel destinations all over the world

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest not only feels like a bargain in comparison to other European cities, but it’s home to some of the most mesmerizing sites, including the Great Synagogue, Memento Park, St. Stephen’s Basilica, House of Terror, Parliament, and the Liberty Statue. The thermal baths are another major draw of the country’s capital. The Rudas Baths are one of the city’s most picturesque spots, featuring much of its original Turkish architecture, while recent renovations have welcomed modern spa facilities, a Turkish-Hungarian restaurant, and a panorama pool on the rooftop.

Head to the Jewish Quarter for a mix of historic sites and trendy shops and nightlife. The array of ethnic restaurants makes for cheap and delicious cuisine, including the Japanese-style ramen bar Ramenka. For a more traditional Hungarian dish, head to the family-run Rosenstein Restaurant, which serves incredible traditional Hungarian and Hungarian-Jewish food. For views of St. Stephen’s Basilica, check into 12 Revay Hotel for about $113 a night. Even the five-star Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest is just $140 a night.

Athens, Greece

Greece has experienced financial turmoil, and while it continues to stabilize, tourism benefits both the country and frugal travelers alike. Sightseers will love the all-inclusive ticket for about $35 that gives you access to an incredible range of archaeological sites, including: Acropolis of Athens, Ancient Agora of Athens, Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos, Hadrian’s Library, Kerameikos, Museum of the Ancient Agora, North Slope of the Acropolis, Olympieio, Roman Agora of Athens, and South Slope of the Acropolis.

When you’re ready for a little less structure, peruse the souvenirs in the Monastiraki district just under the Acropolis, see a performance at the Dora Stratou Theatre, and stroll the narrow streets of Pláka, the oldest neighborhood of Athens, taking in the neoclassical houses, shops, restaurants, and ruins from the Roman era. Foodies will love visiting Varvakeios Central Market, which is the city’s central market where you can peruse the food stalls selling meat, fish, vegetables, and more. For an unpretentious fish taverna that’s affordable, check out Atlantikos. For a hip yet relaxed environment, check out Cabezon, which offers lively and pleasing outdoor seating. For an affordable boutique-y lodging choice, stay at Alice Inn for about $76 a night. Or enjoy stylish rooms and suites in the elegant Royal Olympic Hotel for $175 a night. 

Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

Český Krumlov is a charming European escape featuring Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque-style buildings. Here, you can explore the second-largest castle complex in the country, Český Krumlov Castle, known for its variety of architectural styles; walk the historic center, Old Town, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site; try night rafting in the Vltava River during the summertime; and get a tour at the Eggenberg brewery to learn the ins and outs of Czech Republic beer making.

For a delicious mix of Czech and French cuisine, go to Le Jardin, which has long been touted as one of the best restaurants in the city. For reasonable prices with a luxurious atmosphere, go to Restaurant Konvice, which features the best of Czech cuisine, live music, and seating on the terrace in the summertime. Stay at the upscale Hotel Bellevue for about $100 a night, or try the vintage-style rooms at the Hotel Old Inn for $90 a night. Don’t miss the most popular travel destinations in Eastern Europe.

Bruges, Belgium

Bruges is beaming with Old World charm. It’s a compact city that’s great for travelers looking to take in sights in a weekend. It’s also very affordable and relaxed—perfect for the no-fuss folk who enjoy architecture, delicious food, and learning about local life. When you’re not taking a boat ride on the canals, strolling around the medieval city, or visiting the array of galleries, indulge your taste buds with good eats at Den Amand, a bistro offering a variety of traditional Belgian food. For fine dining without the price tag, try out ProDeo. It’s located in a building that dates back to 1562, and offers topnotch Belgian cuisine.

Stay at the four-star Hotel Academie Bruges, which features modern rooms in a chic hotel for just $95 a night, or check into the posh hotel within a 15-century palace, Hotel Dukes’ Palace, for $169 a night. Read on for 10 unforgettable European vacations for under $400.

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