The Ultimate cheap European itinerary for 2 to 4 weeks
Whether you’ve been to Europe before or not, sometimes you might find yourself with plenty of time but not plenty of money. If you’ve got at least two weeks and hopefully closer to four weeks, you can still have an amazing experience in some of Europe’s greatest cities on a small budget. If you’ve visited London, Paris, or Rome before, you’ll be happy to know that you can visit many other cities while spending half or even less per day.
The itinerary suggestions below are perfect for two quick weeks. If you have more time this is still a great itinerary to use as a starting place, and you’ll find other places you’ll want to add along the way if you have more time. We use our Europe Backpacker Index to show the price comparisons of the cities suggested. Each of those prices is a typical day’s expenses for someone on a ‘backpacker’ budget. If you prefer 3-star hotels you’ll spend at least a bit more per day, but if you are sharing a cheaper hotel room it can still be shockingly inexpensive.
Note: This article was last updated in August, 2022.
Best four cheap European cities to visit together
- Berlin, Germany
- Prague, Czech Republic
- Budapest, Hungary
- Krakow, Poland
Each of the cities listed above is strong enough to be the highlight of almost any trip, and fortunately they are relatively close together so they work really well as a group. On the map they sort of form a box, so skipping one is easy, and there are plenty of side stops and trips possible in between for shorter or longer stays.
A version of this itinerary can also be found on my new best Europe itineraries for first-time visitors article.
Best cheap and gorgeous small town to add to your trip
- Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
You may not yet have heard of Český Krumlov, but either way you are in for a treat if you can add 2 or 3 nights to your trip. It’s located just 3 hours south of Prague by bus or train, and it’s an excellent contrast to the large cities on the list. Better still, it’s incredibly cheap, and a favorite of almost all who visit.
Getting there and back
While none of these cities is among the cheapest in Europe to fly into, at least 3 of them have cheap enough flights that it’s worth flying directly into one of them.
Of the four cities, Berlin will have the cheapest inbound flights from almost anywhere, and Krakow usually only has cheap flights from within Europe. Check flights from your city into each of these cities to see which one will be your cheapest option.
In many cases you can save the most money by buying a one-way ticket into one of them and a one-way ticket back out of another of them, but you have to price them out to see. Keep in mind that if you buy a round-trip ticket it means most of a day and about US$50 to $70 to get back to that first city, so an “open jaw” ticket might still be a better deal even if it’s US$100 more.
Getting between the cities
There’s little doubt that the most enjoyable way to get between these cities (and most European cities) is by train, but you do have two other main options to consider, namely, flights and buses.
With the exception of Berlin and Prague, which are about 5 hours apart, these cities are about 7 to 10 hours apart by train, and therefore perfect for overnight journeys. If you are the type who sleeps well enough on trains, this method is ideal because you save a night in a hotel or hostel, and you still have all day to see the sights. Taking daytime trains obviously means more scenery, but some of them are quite a bit more expensive than the night trains.
Europe is loaded with low-cost airlines and even though trains are more enjoyable and obviously infinitely more scenic, these cities are all far enough apart that flying between them probably makes sense for most people. With the exception of between Berlin and Prague, it will save time to fly. When calculating the amount of time it takes to fly from one city to another it’s important to add in the time it takes to get to the airport (including the time it takes to get to the airport bus or train) as well as the time you have to arrive in advance to safely get through security. In other words, a one-hour flight usually takes around 5 to 6 hours from one hotel to the one in the next city.
Rarely discussed in most circles, many don’t even know that most European cities have comfortable and cheap long-distance bus service between them. They aren’t as comfortable as trains, but often they are astonishingly cheap, especially if you find a promotional price. There is a system in Europe called Eurolines that coordinates international bus service between major cities all over the continent. Sometimes they have amazing specials, but not always. It’s worth checking them and then also Googling ‘bus from Berlin to Krakow’ to see any other options. If you’ve got more time than money, buses will be your cheapest option and most of them have wi-fi these days as well.
4 Best cheap European cities that are easy to travel between
Below you’ll find the four best cities to use as the foundation of a cheap and wonderful trip to Europe. It’s recommended to spend at least 3 nights in each city, even if you think you are in a hurry.
2022 Backpacker Index: US$64.56/day
Berlin isn’t such an obvious tourist city, but it’s absolutely the kind of place where either you love it, or you’ve never been there. Everyone can find something to enjoy about it, partly because it’s especially trendy and dynamic lately as a new hub of European and world culture, picking up where London and Paris left off.
One challenge is that Berlin is a huge and spread-out city, so it’s important to choose where you stay wisely. Most budget travelers will prefer the former East Berlin section around Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg, which is where most hostels are as well as the best and cheapest nightlife and shopping. Check our list of recommended cheap Berlin hotels for a place to start.
What to see and do in Berlin
Start with the Berlin Free Walking Tour on your first morning, and you’ll have enough ideas for what to do for the rest of your stay from that alone. Being honest, the Reichstag (capital building) is a bit disappointing from the inside, although the city does have a handful of great museums clustered together that appeal to many. The Berliner Dom (cathedral) is well worth a visit and you’ll get some great photos from out front.
But mainly Berlin is about exploring the weird and funky neighborhoods for food, shopping, and nightlife. Fortunately, most of it is quite cheap as well. Probably the most famous food to try is currywurst, which is usually a paper tray containing a sliced up hot dog coated in a curry-flavored ketchup. I’m not really a fan, but you should try it, especially after a few beers.
2022 Backpacker Index: US$53.95/day
You may not realize that most large cities in this part of Europe were practically flattened during WWII and then rebuilt just after. Fortunately, Prague is one where the historic center survived mostly intact, and it remains one of the continent’s most beautiful and interesting. The downside is that the city center is almost always packed with other tourists, so you might have to work around them a bit.
Prague is also fairly compact, with most things walking distance from each other. The city is also quite cheap still, at least compared to Western Europe, although hotel prices can seem high if you want to stay in the middle. Check our list of recommended cheap Prague hotels for some really good ones only a quick and cheap tram ride away.
What to see and do in Prague
Aside from the famous clock in the town square, Prague has a few other very worthwhile checklist attractions. The Prague Castle is one of the largest and most incredible in Europe, and the Charles Bridge and its statues feels like you should have to pay to cross it. As with most European cities, it’s wise to start with a “free” (tips-based) walking tour on your first morning in town. The Prague ones are excellent and in a couple hours you will have seen most of the famous landmarks while hearing the interesting stories behind them. Even a US$10 equivalent tip per person is a great bargain, but tip whatever you feel good about.
There is plenty more to fill a few days, plus you can catch a cheap classical concert in one of the many venues offering them, or just indulge in cheap and excellent beer like everyone else.
2022 Backpacker Index: US$30.45/day
Though it’s in the heart of part of Europe that isn’t known for being well off, Budapest is quite a grand city that makes it feel rather rich. Still, it’s among the cheapest European cities, and it offers very good value. Even if the castle up on the Buda side of the river isn’t a stunner, and that the parliament building on the Pest side is a copy of the one in London, this is an attractive city with a feel of its own.
Budapest is also compact enough that budget travelers can stay in the cheap hotels and hostels a bit inland on the Pest side, and still walk everywhere while sightseeing. The Free Budapest Walking Tour covers highlights on both sides, and is a great introduction.
What to see and do in Budapest
During daylight hours, Budapest has the standard selection of monuments and museums in addition to its castle complex, but separates itself from other big cities with its abundant hot springs and spas. Tourists can easily mix with locals and take a dip at a modest fee in one of the unique facilities spread around town.
At night, however, Budapest really comes into its own, with some of the most interesting nightlife in Europe. Head for what are known as “ruin pubs” on the Pest side in the old Jewish Quarter to quaff cheap drinks in converted courtyards that each has its own weird vibe.
2022 Backpacker Index: US$30.72/day
When you hear that Krakow is among the very cheapest cities in Europe you might not expect much. But in reality, Krakow is also one of Europe’s loveliest and most pleasant cities, with quite a lot to do. At its center you’ll find about 30 square blocks of a historic medieval town, surrounded by a peaceful park, and with an enormous cafe-lined town square at its heart.
For those who like hearty portions of meats and sausages, Krakow is wonderful, but there are also many Italian and other international cuisines, including many vegetarian options, so something for everyone. Hotels just on or near the central square are reasonable, but you can stay for a lot less by going a few blocks away.
What to see and do in Krakow
As in many other cities, taking the Krakow Free Walking Tour is a great way to get oriented on your first day so you’ll know what you want to explore more deeply. You can also cover many of the main central sights on that tour, which leaves time for day trips and hanging out. Sad though it may be, a half-day trip to nearby Auschwitz is something you’ll never forget, and there is a fun salt mine attraction not far away as well.
In the evening you’ll probably find out why Krakow is very popular with the weekend party and stag-do crowds. You can sip affordable wine at one of the cafes on the square, but it might be more fun to do a pub crawl through the varied drinking establishments in the nearby Jewish Quarter. It’s easy to find a .5L beer for around US$1.50, so getting carried away is common.
2022 Backpacker Index: US$40.47/day
With a population of only about 13,000 people, Český Krumlov will be an extremely welcome stop in between Prague and Budapest, or Prague and Vienna or Salzburg. This well preserved town was forgotten and almost abandoned in the later years of Communism, and it wasn’t rediscovered and renovated until well into the 1990s. Since it’s still a relative newcomer to the tourist scene, it isn’t yet “touristy” even though it’s very tourist friendly.
There are almost no chain hotels or restaurants of any kind, so staying here will be a very local experience. Better still, hotels and food here are much cheaper than even in Prague, so the value is outstanding. The historic town center is small enough to walk through in less than 10 minutes, yet you can still get nice hotels in its heart starting at around US$50 per night. As of 2022 the hostels in Český Krumlov are closed so we had to use hotels for the Backpackers Index, which makes the index price artificially higher than it should be. In other words, if you visit this town you’ll find it to be pleasantly affordable.
What to see and do in Český Krumlov
Český Krumlov does have an impressive castle perched above the compact town center, and you’ll definitely want to tour at least part of it. But really the main reason to visit the town is to slow down and appreciate being outside of Europe’s large cities for 2 or 3 days. Those other four cities are always busy and crowded, while this one is gentle and lovely, although you will be surrounded by quite a few other tourists.
As with the other cities on the list, there is a highly recommended free walking tour in Český Krumlov, which is a great place to start. That tour will also show you and explain all of the other worthwhile nearby sights, but I won’t blame you if you just prefer to grab a seat at one of the cheap restaurants with outdoor seating on the main square, and relax over a few delicious and inexpensive beers for a while.