The 11 best-value cities in Europe for budget travelers

We recently released our European Backpackers Index for 2011, which ranked 40 European cities by price, comparing the same set of basic budget-travel expenses in each one. While it may be interesting to see which are the cheapest and most expensive cities in the continent, choosing where to go involves more information.

Needless to say, just because a city is cheap doesn’t mean you should go there, and just because it’s expensive doesn’t mean you should avoid it. With that in mind we’ve rated the region by value with this list of 11 cities where the prices of things are most worth it.

1 – Krakow, Poland

While Kraków may not be the easiest city to reach on a standard Europe tour, it offers great rewards for budget travelers who make the trip. With a compact and richly historic city center, this is a destination that offers the best of classic Europe (castles, towers, palaces, town squares, cathedrals) without the massive crowds you get in Prague and elsewhere, all at prices that are still shockingly low.

Kraków also has a great tourist infrastructure with an abundance of affordable quality hostels and budget hotels, along with cheap bars, cafes, and restaurants. Those looking for a place to relax for a while on a hectic tour of the region will find this to be a fun and budget-friendly stop. Beers for under US$ per pint are hard to find elsewhere on the continent.

  • Daily Backpacker Index: PLN78.60 = US$26.55/day

>>>Krakow prices and weather

2 – Budapest, Hungary

While it’s not as cheap as Kraków, Budapest can be pretty close, and it’s a more visually impressive city loaded with worthwhile sights. This is another place where nearly everything seems like a bargain compared to elsewhere in Europe, yet it’s a classic and important city with all the amenities.

The Castle Hill sights are worth a good chunk of time, as are the highlights in downtown Pest, across the river. You’ve also got the many spas based around hot-water springs that tend to be very affordable and unique. Some may not like the paprika-heavy local cuisine, but for those who do it tends to be filling and cheap.

  • Daily Backpacker Index: HUF6900 – US$33.10/day

>>>Budapest prices and weather

3 – Istanbul, Turkey

Absolutely one of the world’s great and historically significant cities, Istanbul has been getting more expensive in recent years, yet it’s still a fantastic bargain by European standards. Overflowing with exotic-feeling temples, markets, cathedrals, and other sights, this is a huge metropolis that is changing rapidly and yet it’s still quite unlike the rest of Europe, partly due to the fact that it famously straddles Asia as well.

You might be going out of your way to get here, but once you make it you’ll find that staying on a very low budget is quite easy, with sandwiches and street food being as tasty as they are cheap, and alcohol is very cheap by European standards as well. Hotels in this city can be expensive if you aren’t careful so we’ve created our Istanbul recommended hotels list with well located bargains.

  • Daily Backpacker Index: TRY 55.80 – US$35.77/day

>>>Istanbul prices and weather

4 – Prague, Czech Republic

It’s definitely true that Prague isn’t nearly as cheap as it used to be, and that it’s also amazingly crowded if you follow the main tourist routes between the top sights, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t continue to be a relative bargain. Hotels in particular seem expensive here, though an abundance of affordable hostels helps a lot, including reasonable private rooms for those who aren’t partial to dorm beds. Choose from our recommended hotels in Prague list for great prices at the highest rated hotels in the city.

The beer, as you’ve certainly heard, is excellent, and it’s consumed by the locals in frightening quantities. Usually at under US$2 per pint to this day, the fact that it was US$0.50 per pint 10 years ago doesn’t mean that it’s still not a bargain now. Try to steer away from the tourist restaurants with big English signs out front and you’ll be able to get hearty local meals for very little as well.

  • Daily Backpacker Index: CZK 754 – US$40.21/day

>>>Prague prices and weather

5 – Bruges, Belgium

Even though it’s firmly in a traditionally expensive corner of the continent, Bruges can actually be quite affordable, and there’s no shortage of old-world charm to go along with that. Thanks to a large number of hostels this compact Medieval city has room for thousands of backpackers and budget travelers, and as long as you avoid the busiest months of summer you’ll actually have little trouble keeping costs down.

This is another town where all the main sights could be taken in on a 2-day stay, but due to its relative affordability, the relaxed atmosphere, and the large tourist infrastructure, this is a good choice for a chill-out stop on a longer European tour.

  • Daily Backpacker Index: €41 – US$54.67/day

>>>Bruges prices and weather

6 – Lisbon, Portugal

Upon arriving in Lisbon people are often shocked at how different it is from the large cities in Spain, and also that it’s even a bit cheaper than Madrid and Barcelona as well. This historic port city is stunningly situated on 7 hills (like so many other cities) overlooking the port area, so it’s similar to San Francisco in that there’s interesting contrasts no matter which direction you are looking.

Another interesting thing about Lisbon is that it’s loaded with fiercely competitive hostels which somehow all rank very high on the annual Hostelworld Best Hostels list. Lisbon is a bit more formal than Spanish cities as well, and there are excellent restaurants and cuisine at moderate prices, plus very good nightlife that won’t break the bank either.

  • Daily Backpacker Index: €41.50 – US$55.33/day

>>>Lisbon prices and weather

7 – Berlin, Germany

It’s more than a little surprising that this many years after German reunification, Berlin continues to be so much more affordable than Munich or Hamburg. The key seems to be the fact that almost half the city used to be East Berlin, and the tens of thousands of communist-era buildings still offer cheaper rents and more flexibility compared to West Berlin. This means that cheap hostels are dotted between weird bars and trendy galleries, with prices that are still influenced by their former incarnations.

Start with the excellent and free walking tour from New Berlin, and you’ll be acquainted with all the main sights in the city center, ready for one of their cheap and interesting pub crawls later that night. Some hotels offer very good rates when there isn’t a trade show in town, so see our recommended Berlin hotels list for great options.

  • Daily Backpacker Index: €43.80 – US$58.40/day

>>>Berlin prices and weather

8 – London, England

Many people consider London to be the most expensive city in Europe, and in some ways it is, but it doesn’t have to be. Also, this list is about value rather than pure cheapness, and a city like this is worth more than most other places. While it’s true that so many things (like fish & chips, for example) can be stunningly expensive, London is also loaded with hostels, where decent rates are possible most of the year if you look around. Check our recommended hotels and hostels for London to find great value and low rates.

Perhaps London’s best budget-traveler feature is that all of the state-run museums are absolutely free for everyone. Visit the British Museum one day and the Tate Modern another and you’ll be in cultural heaven without having spent so much as a ha’penny. And unlike some other cities in Europe, finding affordable meals isn’t terribly difficult as long as you aren’t looking in Leicester Square or near Harrods. The British pound is also at a level that is reasonably favorable for the US dollar and even the Euro, and that situation may not last much longer.

  • Daily Backpacker Index: £38.00 – US$58.46/day

>>>London prices and weather

9 – Athens, Greece

Athens isn’t nearly as cheap as it used to be, but in its favor it has dramatically cleaned up its act since the recent Olympics, and it still surrounds a few of the world’s most impressive tourist attractions on the Acropolis. Some good-value hostels help the situation, many of which have ideal locations in the center of everything.

Also in Athens’ favor is that it’s not difficult to see the main sights in only a few days or even less, and then take the metro down to the port of Piraeus to hop on a ferry to one of its holiday islands. This is a cheap and easy way to inject a bit of culture into a trip that will otherwise be about downing pints on a sunny beach.

  • Daily Backpacker Index: €45.30 – US$60.40/day

>>>Athens prices and weather

10 – Madrid, Spain

Compared to France or Germany, all of Spain is easier on the budget in general, and though Madrid is relatively expensive for the country, it’s still a bargain all things considered. The city center still has a classic and important feel to it, yet in the wee hours the parties start up and everything changes.

Those who can’t wait for 2am to start imbibing should be pleased that glasses of beer and cheap snacks and meals are very easy to find at any of the tapas places or the jamon restaurants. Barcelona could also be on this list, and many people actually prefer it to Madrid. They are dramatically different places, and both offer good value compared to most of Europe’s large cities.

  • Daily Backpacker Index: €47.10 – US$62.80/day

>>>Madrid prices and weather

11 – Reykjavik, Iceland

It’s not really that Reykjavik is cheap, because it’s not; it’s more that Reykjavik is now a lot cheaper than it was only a couple years ago, and it’s hard to know how long that situation will last. Actually, the capital city is mostly just a jumping-off point for trips to all the dramatic natural sights around the island, but it’ll be necessary to spend a night or two here anyway.

Also, thanks to weirdly cheap fares from IcelandAir and Iceland Express Airlines, even a two-day stopover in Reykjavik can be cheap and very worthwhile. Whether on a proper weeklong stay or on a short layover, this is a destination that many of us have long dreamed about, and it may not be this affordable for long.

  • Daily Backpacker Index: ISK 7,660 – US$66.34/day

>>>Reykjavik prices and weather

Additional photo credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 11

Do you agree or disagree with these choices? Feel free to voice your own opinion in the comments below.



11 Responses to “The 11 best-value cities in Europe for budget travelers”

fred says:

Who wrote this? Someone at a desk somewhere who has never traveled. It’s not “HAYPENNY” – it’s “ha’penny”, for ‘HALF’ penny. Obviously someone who is NOT european.

(Fred, thanks for pointing out such an unforgivable error. Our house-bound non-European writer has been given a final warning. It’ll be fixed. -Roger)

 

“Upon arriving in Lisbon people are often shocked at how different it is from the large cities in Spain,”

Really??? Maybe it’s because Lisbon is in Portugal, not in Spain…

“Lisbon is a bit more formal than Spanish cities as well,”

Again? you should study some geography before writing anything about cities.

 
    admin says:

    Antonio, thanks for the comments. I’ve traveled extensively in this region and the point was that Lisbon and Portugal, in spite of being completely surrounded by Spain, don’t share as many traits with Spain as most people would expect. In most parts of the world there is a continuum, but Lisbon is an exception for many of us. I’m sorry if you somehow thought I was implying that Lisbon is in Spain, because it never says that. The word “Portugal” is right in the header. -Roger

     

What about Graz, Austria as an alternative to Venice? It’s much smaller, generally not a tourist destination which means you get local Austrian culture, EXCELLENT and I mean excellent restaurants, some dirt cheap but all with VERY good food, zero crime, and incredibly friendly people. Hotels near downtown are all within walking distance or a short trolley ride to Schlossberg Castle, numerous cafes and bars, restaurants, sports arenas, theaters, etc. Proximity to Italy, Hungary and Slovenia means you can base out of Graz and day-trip to these other near-by countries.

 
Maxine says:

How about Dubrovnik in Croatia, Brasov in Romania or Riga in Latvia?

 
Lili says:

Try researching Bitola, Macedonia. It is a beautiful city with a lot of history and also modern at the same time. There are many low price hostels and hotels right in the city. The cuisine is exceptional and very well priced even at a nice place. The locals are very friendly and very welcoming. No matter what your interests, you will find something to do from museums, shops, cafes, night clubs, historical sites, hiking or just sight seeing, I promise you won’t regret it. I have traveled a lot in North America, the Caribbean and Europe and it is by far the best city I’ve ever visited. A person could eat, play and sleep for around $20 USD per day.

 
Jai says:

Hi,

I am a 26 year old guy from Delhi. Planning a solo backpacking trip across Eastern Europe during Mid of June 2014 for approx. 30 days and could use all the help / information for this.

My date of travel starts from 14th June and the rough itinerary is below:

Start – London – 14th June – 4 Nights
Czech Republic (Prague) – 3 Nights
Slovakia (Bratislava) – 2 Nights
Hungary (Budapest) – 3 Nights
Slovenia (cities to be decided) +
Croatia (Zadar, Drubovnik, Split) +
Montenegro (cities / beaches to be decided) +
Albania (Ksamil, Dhermi) – The above four countries I plan to cover in 12-13 Nights (still uncertain how much time to allocate to which country / city..plz suggest)
Romania (Bucharest, Mamaria) – 2/3 Nights
Ukraine (Kiev, Lviv) – 3 Nights
Back to London from Ukraine

The above is a rough plan.

Plz suggest if that is being too ambitious. I am more interested in seeing a place, walking around and exploring the cities, history, meeting locals / fellow backpackers, beaches, relaxing, a little partying.

I have a few questions and would be happy if anyone can answer them:

Are the number of days enough or more or less for the countries? I have researched and found that these days should be enough, but if you have any other suggestions, I shall be happy to know / replan.

Since all countries are close to each other and Euro Rail pass is very expensive, would it be better to travel by bus between countries? And do you suggest booking them beforehand or are they easily available?

Any other must see cities in these countries? Also, i want to see more beaches. Any suggestions?

Any hostel recommendations?

I wanted to keep my travelling very flexible and wanted to know can I walk into a hostel and get a dorm / room / place to sleep immediately, so that I am not bound by timelines to make it to my hostel / room bookings, except for entering from Prague and leaving from Ukraine. How much in advance do you suggest should I book a hostel to ensure a place to sleep? Same with the travelling between cities as well and the bus / train tickets reservations, i.e. If I can get on the spot reservations?

I know the above is a lot of information / details / requests, but I wanted to be as planned as possible, while try to keep my travel as flexible as possible, without any surprises.

Also, if anyone would like to join me, please feel free, wouldn’t mind any good like minded company.

Look forward to your expert advises.

Jai

 

    Jai,

    You’ve got quite a few questions here, and I’ll try to answer as many as I can.

    As for transportation, you’ll want to fly from London to Prague, and once you are in eastern Europe a rail pass doesn’t provide good value. The trains tend to be quite cheap on their own, and there are buses that are usually cheaper, and sometimes just as fast. In other words, the trains in that area tend to be slow, and they don’t reach everywhere (like Dubrovnik). You’ll want to research each journey, as some of them might have cheap train tickets if you buy them well in advance, and sometimes buses are cheap if bought early as well.

    I’d also recommend visiting Vienna instead of Bratislava. They are essentially suburbs of each other. Vienna is more expensive, but it’s also far more interesting.

    Really, aside from Prague, Budapest, Split, and Dubrovnik, you seem to be planning mostly secondary tourist cities. The places you have on your list are almost all quite cheap (except Split and Dubrovnik and London), but that alone isn’t a great reason to visit any of them. I’m curious why you’ve chosen the ones you have? It would help to know more about your motivations in order to help you plan the best trip.

    Ukraine has gotten even cheaper lately with its currency dropping like it has, but have you been watching the news? I’ve yet to visit Ukraine, and there’s no way I’d go under the current political climate. I don’t necessarily mean that it’s dangerous, just that it’s volatile right now, and many people expect the borders to change again soon.

    Most of the places on your list are also countries where English isn’t widely used or understood. In other words, in a city like Amsterdam or Berlin, you can literally go up to anybody and speak English to them, and they’ll happily respond in English. But in most of those non-touristy areas you have in mind, you might have to ask 10 people before you find one who speaks fluent English. The people at the hostels and bars will know enough English to help you, but a random bus driver or shopkeeper might not speak English at all.

    As for booking hostels, this is how it tends to work: Let’s say a city has 8 hostels. The best 2 or 3 will sell out in advance, but maybe only a few days in advance. The middle 2 or 3 hostels (quality and location-wise) will fill up on arrival day (at least in high season), but that might be the morning or it might be late in the evening. The worst 2 or 3 hostels will rarely sell out at all, but they tend to be in lousy locations and have poor service. Often they charge high prices as well, because they can get more from people who didn’t plan ahead.

    My recommendation for booking hostels is to book at least your first night, as soon as you’ve decided on your arrival day. Like, it’s Saturday and I’ve decided to go to Budapest next Tuesday, I’ll go ahead and book the hostel right now. You get the best hostels with the best locations that way, often at the best prices as well. From a social standpoint, that makes a huge difference. The “party hostels” with good locations tend to be social centers with their own bars and restaurants and such. The low-rated hostels tend to be outside of the center, so the guests rarely hang out in the common areas. I have hostel recommendations on most of the city pages on this site, and those are a good place to start looking, at least for the cities that are covered here.

    Rather than countries, I’d think more about individual destinations and stops. In other words, you are spending 3 nights in Prague, not really 3 nights in the Czech Republic. Whether your destinations are in the same country or in different countries isn’t as important. Many of those countries used to all be part of Yugoslavia only 25 years ago. Even today, there aren’t great differences between most of them. I’d plan for at least 2 nights in every destination, and 3 nights is better unless you are really in a hurry. You can see the main highlights of almost any city in 3 nights, so there’s no need to go much slower than that, unless you are in the mood to just chill out for a while, which is natural on a longer trip like this.

    So let me know why you’ve picked the sorts of places you’ve picked, and I’ll try to help you make the list the best it can be. -Roger

     
      Jai says:

      Hi Roger… Thanks.. that was really helpful.. Sorry for not replying earlier but was caught up with some thing else…
      so for now I have revisited the itinerary and the broad travel plan…
      I have now decided on the countries broadly to travel during the time…

      INDIA – HUNGARY (BUDAPEST) – SLOVAKIA (BRATISLAVA) – CZECH (PRAGUE) – SLOVENIA (LAKE BLED + LJUBLIANA + ONE MORE TO BE DECIDED) – CROATIA (ZADAR + SPLIT + DUBROVNIK) – MONTENEGRO (NEED TO DECIDE CITIES) – ALBANIA (NEED TO DECIDE CITIES) – SERBIA (BELGRADE – JUST MAYBE A NIGHT STOP OVER ON WAY BACK TO BUDAPEST) – BUDAPEST – INDIA

      All the countries have common borders, so I am guessing traveling should be fairly easier and cheaper
      the total number of days is 30 days…maybe I am being a little ambitious but it all depends on the trip while I am on it and what recomendations I receive from other travelers / locals…
      will definitely work on booking hostels before entering a particular city

      Also, my main aim for the trip is exploring, cultura, history (museums not so much maybe), meeting people, locals, partying, relaxing, and just other interesting stuff to do around cities…

      How does the plan above sound? doable? anything I should note / alter?

      Thanks

       

        Jai,

        For a trip of 30 days in Europe, I think about 12 stops is probably the most you’d want to do before all the moving around would start making the trip worse instead of better. It looks like you’ve got around 15 on your list, so it’s not totally crazy, but I do think you’d be happier if you slow down at least a bit.

        On your list, Budapest, Prague, Split, and Dubrovnik are all very worthwhile stops. Belgrade is interesting for a day or two as well. I’d think about adding Sarajevo if you are going to be in the area because that is a particularly interesting one. But Montenegro, Albania, and the rest of Serbia aren’t really in the same league as far as tourism goes. And I say that as someone who lived in Nis, Serbia for about 5 months, less than two years ago. My Serbian friends would go to Montenegro for a beach holiday in the summer if they could afford it, but it was also because they couldn’t afford to go anywhere else.

        I know I mentioned this before in the previous comment, but I want to make sure you understand that your plan is a bit unusual. Except for the coastal resorts in Croatia, the former Yugoslavia area is still quite new at the tourism game, and there aren’t all that many checklist attractions in any of those places either. My best guess is that if you spend time in that area, that most other people in the hostels will be visitors from neighboring countries, and hard-core backpackers who have been to the main highlights in Europe already.

        As long as you go in knowing this, I think you’ll be fine and you’ll probably enjoy it all quite a bit. One nice thing about that region is that since there are very few tourists, it means that you shouldn’t have to plan too far in advance. Once you get to Split (and maybe even before then), buses will be the best way to get around. In that part of the world they still tend to have the same prices no matter when you buy, so you can just go to the bus station, buy a ticket, and climb on board in most cases. With trains that can be expensive because advanced tickets are much cheaper than walk-up tickets.

        The point is, I think you should keep a general route in mind, but don’t get too locked-in on it. If you get to Ljublana and decide that you want to go more on the main tourist trail than the less-traveled trail, you can do it. Since you can get cheap bus tickets and hostel beds with little notice, I think you can keep a lot of flexibility. And as mentioned up top, I think you’ll probably want to stay with 10 to 12 total stops once you notice that you can’t do much sightseeing on travel days. Enjoy, and feel free to follow up if you have other questions I might help with. -Roger

         
Jai says:

Hi Roger.. Thanks… That is very helpful.

I know it might get cramped up but the itinerary is not set in terms of places I MUST go to.. These are just places that even if I do spend the minimum time in each I can cover, in case I do not like one / two specific places and want to move ahead.. If I do end up loving one particular place I am going to carry on in that region itself and whichever place I do not like I will just leave earlier than I would have planned and spend more time in places I like more..hence, not making prior bookings… Also, as I move, I can get recommendations from other travelers / locals and move accordingly..

Just wanted to know in case there is any specific city / place that you think I should let go of and not bother with..

Thanks

 

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