When most people think of affordable travel destinations, they think of Asia or certain parts of Central and South America. Europe doesn’t usually make the cut. And Europe is certainly not known for being one of the top destinations for people looking to get the most out of their dollar.
It’s true that cities like London, Zurich, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen – as lovely as they are – aren’t topping the list of places to go if you’re watching costs. But the dollar is particularly strong right now, and there are so many cheap places to visit in Europe that have lots to offer. From nightlife to history and everything in between, these five European capitals are some of our favorite wallet-friendly options.
A fascinating combination of old and new, Riga has a character all its own. Its historic center has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but that history is complemented by a mix of modern hotels, fun cocktail bars, and numerous other things to do. You can wander around the market (located in an old German Zeppelin hangar), visit an open-air museum, our do our personal favorite and walk through the Art Nouveau district. There’s so much to see and do for free or at an affordable cost.
Fun, affordable things to do in Riga:
- Visit Riga’s Central Market – free
- See the unique architecture of the city’s historic Art Nouveau neighborhood – free
- Visit original and artfully reconstructed buildings in the Old Town – free to walk by and usually quite reasonable to go inside
- People watch in one of the city’s pretty squares – free
- Get a unique view of Riga, cruising the river or a canal – $8-20, depending on the company and waterway
Of all our travels, so far, Budapest is the city that has surprised us the most. We were blown away by its ornate architecture, its buzzing social life, and its flavorful food. In one day, you can relax in a hot tub, take a walk through the city’s complex history, and try out the best Hungarian wines you’ve never heard of. And all the best things to do in the Budapest are available at fair prices, so you won’t have to choose.
Fun, affordable things to do in Budapest:
- Take in the atmosphere at the Great Market Hall – free, with food and drink available at reasonable prices throughout
- Relax at one of the city’s famous thermal baths – $15-$20 for the day, but less for partial days or on weekdays
- Visit Castle Hill and Fisherman’s Bastion – free to walk around and only $5 to visit the stately Matthias Church
- Take in the view of the fabulous Parliament building and visit the moving Shoes on the Danube – free
- Visit some character-filled ruin bars – cost varies, but most drinks are in the $2-5 range
Tirana is never dull. Way off the radar for most Americans (and many others), Tirana is a loud, colorful, traffic-laden city only two decades post-Communism. In that relatively short time, the city has been through a huge transformation – turning from gray and grim to bright, art-filled, and buzzing. But it is still very much coming into its own, and this transition is why it’s still one of the cheap places to visit in Europe…though it probably won’t be for long. Breathe in the city’s café culture or try some traditional food. Explore the remnants of Communism in the underground world of BUNK’ART (a massive Cold War bunker turn museum and art space) or the city’s famous pyramid. Whatever you do, it’s guaranteed to be inexpensive.
Fun, affordable things to do in Tirana:
- Take the cable car up Mount Dajt for great views of the city – $6.50 for the ride and a bit more for a great lunch at the top
- Stop by the Sky Bar in the Blloku for interesting surroundings, a cheap cocktail, and a rotating look at Tirana – costs vary, but most drinks are in the $2-6 range
- Count the bunkers (they’re everywhere) – free
- Explore the area around Skanderbeg Square, Tirana’s main historic area – free
- Enjoy the view as you walk by the rainbow-colored apartments downtown – free
Krakow is the second-largest city in Poland, but when it comes to culture and history, it’s second-to-none. Having survived the destruction of World War II, Krakow’s Old Town and main square are filled with gorgeous historic buildings, which are now joined by lively restaurants and cafes. Its Kazimierz district (the former Jewish quarter) and Wawel Castle complete the impressive Krakow trifecta. Walking through any (or all) of these areas is a great way to spend the day, but there are lot of other things to do in Krakow, too.
Fun, affordable things to do:
- Stroll through the Planty, one of the largest city parks, which encircles the Old Town — free
- Take in the ambiance of Rynek Glówny, Krakow’s medieval market square – free
- Visit sites related to Karol Wojtyła, archbishop of Kraków, better known as Pope John Paul II – free
- Tour the 16th-century Wawel Castle — $4-17, depending on how many areas you visit
- Go vodka tasting. Because, Poland – tasting six flavors (shots) can run as little as $10, depending on the establishment
A cornucopia of buildings in the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical styles, Vilnius, Lithuania, is one of Europe’s unassuming gems. Less popular than the newly-fashionable Tallinn and Riga, Vilnius completes the triumvirate of the Baltic State capitals. It holds much of the same intrigue as its sister cities, but, without their ports, is much less touristy. Vilnius’ old town is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has lots of things to see, but the overall effect is a pretty, interesting city where normal people live. You can soar high above the city in a hot air balloon for minimal cost, see the faithful at the Gates of Dawn, and explore the city’s Jewish heritage. While you’re at it, have a cheap dinner while watching people stroll down Pilies Street and wander around Cathedral Square.
Fun, affordable things to do:
- Stroll around Uzupis, the city’s “independent” artist enclave – free
- Visit the belltower of the Church of St. John for great views of the city – $3
- Get a dose of history at The Museum of Genocide Victims – $5
- Climb up to the historic Gediminas Tower – free to walk around, $6 to visit
- Visit the spectacular 16th-century golden icon, Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn – free