The 13 Best-value cities in Europe for budget travelers in 2023
This site – PriceofTravel.com – is perhaps known for our annual publication of our Global Backpacker Index, which compares over 130 destinations around the world and ranks them from cheapest to most expensive. The most popular part of that is our Europe Backpacker Index, which ranks 54 destinations from cheapest to most expensive with much greater detail than our Global list.
If you look at the Europe Backpacker Index linked above you’ll see a long list of cities (from cheapest to most expensive) and obviously the majority of them don’t make this list. Having lived in Europe and visited nearly every corner of the continent a few times, I can tell you that many places are not really worth your time, even if they are shockingly cheap. The list below only contains the absolute highlights and fortunately many of them are still amazingly inexpensive.
Updated for 2023
We did a 2022 version of this list as COVID restrictions were easing and almost everywhere seemed like a bargain, but our 2023 update unfortunately has prices way up in literally every city on the list. We rank them using our Backpacker Index as described above and most of these places are still WAY cheaper than cities in the US, Canada, or Australia, but inflation has hit Europe like most of the rest of the world and things are now reflecting that.
13 Best-value destinations in Europe for 2023 (listed cheapest to most expensive)
Traditionally, Krakow (see below) is the cheapest entry on this list, but Budapest is even a bit cheaper in 2023 thanks in part to a weak Hungarian currency. When you visit you’d never expect this place to be a cheapskate’s paradise because it’s gorgeous and filled with large and super impressive classical buildings, in addition to the amazing and famous parliament building that you see in most photos.
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. The trick to getting good value here is to stay and eat most of your meals away from the river, which is mostly lined with high-priced touristy places. And the nightlife in the ‘ruin pubs’ will be as unforgettable as it is affordable.
- Daily Backpacker Index: US$38.21/day
2 – 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$2.50 per pint are hard to find in most of Europe’s top cities, but pretty easy to find here. Don’t forget a half-day visit to nearby Auschwitz while you are here.
- Daily Backpacker Index: US$41.03/day
Speaking of hard to reach, Sarajevo is also unfortunately remote, but again, the fact that so few package tourists have found the place means that it’s incredibly cheap and still wonderful. The setting between two mountain ranges means that the city is photogenic from pretty much every angle, and the interesting local architecture only adds to the appeal.
The unusual attraction in Sarajevo is the pedestrian-only historic Old Town and its large Muslim quarter. It’s one of the friendliest and most interesting mixes of people and customs you’ll find anywhere in the world, which helps make it popular with Arabians and other Muslims that are less visible in Europe. The low prices on food and hotels are just a bonus, and alcohol is also cheap and free-flowing, just steps from the central mosque. There is train service to Sarajevo, but the trains are pretty slow. It’s often easier, cheaper, and just as fast to take the long-distance buses from major cities nearby instead.
- Daily Backpacker Index: US$47.95/day
If you’ve never heard of Český Krumlov then you aren’t alone. It’s a small town in southern Czech Republic of about 14,000 residents, and it was mostly in ruins after decades of Communist neglect, but it’s been scrubbed and rediscovered by tourists looking for something different. The setting in between a lazy, serpentine river and beneath a 13th Century castle is simply stunning, and everything is within modest walking distance.
As lovely as it is, it’s the low prices and good quality that you might remember most. This is a town where you can enjoy a filling meal of local favorites for around US$4, while seated at one of the restaurants directly on the main square. A local beer will be around US$2.00 per half liter almost anywhere in town, so bargain hunters don’t have to scour the back alleys for happy hours. Hotels in the town center start at well under US$50 per night for something that would cost double or triple that in major European cities. As of 2023 there are still no hostels open in Český Krumlov, and that makes the city look more expensive on the Backpacker Index than it really is. In other words, this place is about as cheap as Krakow or Budapest as long as you can find a decent hotel deal.
- Daily Backpacker Index: US$48.24/day
Vilnius makes the Best Value list here as a placeholder for Riga and Tallinn as well, as all three of the Baltic capitals offer high quality at suspiciously low prices. Tallinn and Riga are both cruise ports so they can feel a bit touristy in places, but Vilnius is landlocked so it feels more authentic and also even a bit cheaper.
The challenge for all three of these cities is that they are hard to reach unless you are on a tour of the area already. If you can find a cheap flight and are looking for a lovely and cheap place to spend a long weekend or even a week, then Vilnuis is worth a look. Great meals for under US$5 and quality local lager for well under US$2 per half pint are pretty much everywhere you look, since there is almost no exploitation of “rich” tourists here, yet.
- Daily Backpacker Index: US$55.77/day
6 – Istanbul, Turkey
Absolutely one of the world’s great and historically significant cities, Istanbul had been getting more expensive in recent years, but the Turkish Lira has been in a freefall for years now and it’s back to being cheap. 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.
After a few years of minor turmoil, Turkey seems stable again and they’ve just had an election that was deemed to be fair. Not everyone loves what has been happening, but at least you should be able to visit without worrying about large protests and crackdowns, although it is always wise to keep an eye on the news. The rest of the country is also quite nice and cheaper as well. Antalya is a worthwhile Mediterranean city that it usually out of the spotlight with protests and so forth.
- Daily Backpacker Index: US$56.35/day
7 – Athens, Greece
Athens isn’t as cheap as it was in the 1990s, but in its favor it has dramatically cleaned up its act since the Olympics, and it still surrounds a few of the world’s most impressive tourist attractions on the Acropolis. The country had struggled with a financial crisis about 10 years ago, and fortunately that appears to be behind them so tourists are welcome and having a good time.
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. Santorini is the most famous of the nearby Greek islands and the most crowded as well. It’s probably better choosing Rhodes or one of the other islands that doesn’t get overrun with cruiseship crowds. 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: US$59.30/day
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$2.50 per pint to this day, the fact that it was US$0.50 per pint 12 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. The public transportation system here is quite good so you can save a good chunk of money by staying away from the tourist center and still be able to cheaply go back and forth in a short time.
- Daily Backpacker Index: US$62.94/day
9 – 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 various Best Hostels in the World lists. The fact that Lisbon is hard to combine with other cities on a European tour is the main reason why it’s not far more popular. Hotels and food here are also excellent bargains by European standards, and you’ll be impressed at how lovely and organized things are in that price range. The train service from Spain consists of an overnight train from Madrid, so it’s better for most people to fly, or perhaps look into the long distance buses if you are coming from western Spain.
- Daily Backpacker Index: US$71.59/day
10 – Berlin, Germany
It’s more than a little surprising that this many years after German reunification, Berlin continues to be 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.
Except perhaps for the Brandenberg Gate monument, Berlin lacks famous checklist attractions similar to the Eiffel Tower or Roman Colosseum, but first-time visitors generally love the place anyway. Berlin has an edge and a spirit that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. It’s also very English-language-friendly, more so than the rest of Germany, so you can just speak in English to locals (as long as they are under 60 or so) without having to ask if they speak English or not. It’s similar to Amsterdam and the Scandinavian capitals in that way and it makes visiting and getting around much easier.
- Daily Backpacker Index: US$75.49/day
11 – 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. Bruges looks a lot like Amsterdam because it was also a major trading city during the 17th Century when all of those gorgeous canalside buildings were constructed. Fortunately, Bruges is much cheaper than Amsterdam and much less crowded as well.
- Daily Backpacker Index: US$86.99/day
12 – Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh is new to this “best value” list mainly because the British Pound feel in the wake of the Brexit vote and it continues to be fairly low in 2023. You’ll probably want to start in London (see below), which is also unusually cheap these days, and Edinburgh is the best second stop in Britain for most people.
The center of Edinburgh is compact enough to be able to see most of the sights on food, especially if you are staying near the Royal Mile or nearby in the New Town (which is still very old). This was always a fabulous city, but now that it’s cheaper than it has been in many, many years, it’s also a fabulous bargain within Europe.
- Daily Backpacker Index: US$94.93/day
13 – London, England
London needs no introduction and we don’t really need to tell you why you should want to come here. The reason it’s now on the “best value in Europe” list is that the currency has dropped since Brexit and in 2023 it’s still quite low by recent historical standards. They have had some inflation as well in recent years (like almost every other country), but at least the place won’t feel insanely expensive like it did in 2015 or so.
Visiting London on a tight budget can be challenging if it’s your first time, but it’s definitely possible if you do a bit of research. Staying in neighborhoods that aren’t packed with other tourists helps because most locals are not rich and the restaurants and pubs have to charge reasonable prices in order to stay open. You can ride the Tube for about £6 per day with an Oyster card as it has a maximum daily charge and the rest of your rides are all free, which helps a lot if you are staying a bit away from the main sights.
- Daily Backpacker Index: US$122.18/day