For those of us whose dreams are bigger than our bank accounts, thinking up our next big European adventure can often seem unattainable and, therefore, a little discouraging. Because let’s face it — sometimes we simply can’t afford to fork out the big bucks and make it to those highly regarded places we spend our time lusting over. But don’t worry about finding the cheapest European cities all on your own…
Whether you’re dreaming of majestic landscapes, turquoise-blue waters, or magnificent craggy mountains, we’ve got just the list for you. So, save your pennies and get back to the drawing board — there’s a whole world out there waiting for you.
Situated in the heart of Slovenia, Ljubljana has all the appeal of its bordering Italian and Austrian neighbors — but with little of the expense. Thanks to its university population and large green spaces, the capital city possesses infectious good vibes, and its accommodation and food are cheap compared to most places around Europe.
Admire the city’s architecture and muse over the street art in its army-barracks-turned-creative-hub, Metelkova City. Then dine out on budget-friendly local dishes that combine the best of Italian, Swiss, and Eastern European cuisine. Ljubljana also makes a perfect home base for day trips to nearby attractions, such as Lake Bled and Vintgar Gorge. So, if charming old towns, castles, vineyards, and Insta-worthy scenery are calling your name, a trip to Slovenia is a surefire answer.
If you’re saving for a Greek island getaway but can’t afford the price tags associated with Santorini or Mykonos, Kos is bound to fit the bill. This beautiful Grecian oasis is actually closer to Turkey than it is to mainland Greece, and not only is it cheaper than surrounding islands, but it also boasts ancient historical sites, a stunning coastline, and sleepy back roads lined with fig trees.
Spend time, not money, wandering the island’s sandy shores and picturesque villages. Wander through museums and archeological sites such as the Castle of the Knights of Saint John or the Asklepion “healing” temple. Gobble up Greek and Turkish cuisine, and hop on a quick 45-minute ferry to tour Turkey’s medieval city of Bodrum and spend the day traversing the markets for bargains galore — just remember to bring your passport along!
Naarden, The Netherlands
When the Netherlands (or Holland) springs to mind, the iconic city of Amsterdam rules the roost. While it is definitely one for the bucket list, there are plenty of other places around the country that are worth a visit and won’t cost you nearly as much. A mere 30-minute drive from the Netherlands’ capital city lies the quaint town of Naarden, which remains one of the best-preserved fortified towns in all of Europe. If you’re one to seek out lesser crowds and a bit more bang for your buck, Naarden should be on your radar.
Arrive by car or via public transport and begin your explorations with a free walking tour. The town’s fortress museum welcomes those who wish to peruse the region’s turbulent past, both underground and in an open-air setting. If you’re lucky, you might also witness the firing of the museum’s cannons, which happens between 14:00 and 16:00 on the third Sunday of every month. Continue your jaunt around town on foot or bicycle and picnic in the gardens or enjoy a meal beneath café terraces. Lastly, be sure to take a stroll along — or down — the town’s many canals. Famous for its Spanish “star” fort, complete with a moat and bastioned walls, Naarden makes a peaceful getaway from the bustling and sometimes chaotic streets of nearby Amsterdam and calls out to all history buffs as a must-see in the region.
Perched on the coastline of the Baltic Sea, Poland’s delightful port city of Gdansk invites budget travelers to explore its rich history within its museums, medieval promenades, and cozy cafés. Gdansk can be reached via various budget airlines from the U.K, via intercity and international train and coach connections, and even on a ferry departing from Sweden. Getting around the city itself is a breeze, and most of the major sights and attractions are within walking distance of each other. To top it off, public transport within Gdansk is both affordable and easy to navigate.
The historic center in the Old Town features stunning architecture, equally influenced by its Polish and German heritage, with a nod to the Dutch Renaissance style, thanks to the artisans who reconstructed much of the city after World War II. For the best views of the city, climb to the top of the Town Hall or up the bell tower of St Mary’s Church, which commands a dominating presence within the Old Town and is one of the largest brick churches in the world. From there, be sure to meander your way through the city streets and explore some of the best museums in Poland. And don’t forget to browse Gdansk’s iconic flea markets, where the city’s famous amber jewelry is sold, before making your way to the marina for a glimpse of the sea and a taste of local beer.
If you’re after a slice of Venice but can’t quite afford the experience, the small town of Perast might just hit the spot. Approach its shores via the ancient Bay of Kotor, and perch upon its banks for views of the surrounding water and mountain vistas. The Bay of Kotor has inspired generations of artists and poets, and with its waterside palaces, churches, and towers, it’s sure to ignite feelings of awe and inspiration in all who visit.
Step back in time and take a trip to the nearby island of Our Lady of the Rocks to learn of Perast’s historical importance in the region and the significant marks left by its previous conquerors. Sip local wine for costs on par with Southeast Asia, and feast on fresh seafood for a fraction of the price of other coastal European towns. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site that will steal your heart and not your dollars, Perast has a charm that few other waterfront locales can match.
The Azores, Portugal
The Azores make up a chain of nine volcanic islands situated 1,000 miles off Portugal’s coast in the mid-Atlantic sea. The islands are known not only for their budget-friendly appeal but also for their untouched and well-preserved natural beauty, where Mother Nature rules supreme. Revel among breathtaking lagoons, volcanoes, meadows, and waterfalls in this dramatic and geologically charged slice of Eden. And the best part? These views won’t cost a dime.
The main island of São Miguel is the easiest to get to, with carriers such as Ryanair and Delta Air Lines offering direct flights from Europe and U.S. hubs such as Boston. Hike, surf, and paraglide your way around São Miguel but also remember that the rest of the Azores are right at your fingertips via inter-island flights and ferry options. You’ll find well-priced accommodation in small-town bed-and-breakfasts and tasty local food so cheap that you’ll never want to leave. The archipelago’s favorable climate and fertile soil means that the islands remain completely self-sufficient, which results in delicious food that deviates from the usual inflated costs of imported produce. From juicy local fruit to Cozido das Furnas (a stew that is buried underground and cooked slowly by thermal hot springs), to rolling green hills and towering mountains, the Azores are a must for foodies, nature lovers, and adventure junkies alike.
Take inspiration from above and go forth with your plans — there are many places you can explore without breaking the bank. If you’re looking for more travel inspiration, check out these budget destinations on every continent and learn how to explore while saving for your next adventure.
Header image by Zach Murphy