10 Lower-Cost European Destinations
Instead of visiting Paris, Rome or some other popular and pricey destination, opt for a more affordable alternative. These European spots, while admittedly not cheap, tend to be less expensive and less crowded, giving you more value for your vacation buck.
Instead of hitting an Italian beach, try one of Croatia's 1000+ islands. While luxury yachts are starting to tie up on Croatian shores, you can still find bargains on Lastovo, Split and other lesser-known islands. Split is in the region of Dalmatia; visit its Roman ruins and shop in its chic boutiques, or dip your toes in the Adriatic Sea. Diocletian’s Palace, which dates to A.D. 295, is on Split, and has occasionally served as a backdrop for the popular television series Games of Thrones. Lastovo, known as “the island of bright stars,” is another great destination for budget-minded beach-goers. Swim Lastovo's clear waters, sample its seafood, or explore its historic structures. You can rent a room from a local to save money, and island-hop via ferry to see more of Croatia's beautiful scenery and quaint towns.
Paris, the City of Lights, is one of Europe’s top vacation destinations, and tourists flock to see the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and hundreds of other French museums and landmarks. But Lyon holds its own as the gateway to the Beaujolais wine region and the French Alps. It’s also known for its beautiful Rhone and Saone rivers, outdoor music scene, (the Nuits de Fourviere) and old architectural remnants. Lyon’s cuisine rivals that of Paris, and best of all, the prices are better. Look for good airfares and lodging prices in late fall or early spring. The French government ranks campsites by stars, in much the same way hotels are rated, so you can even pitch a tent to save money.
London, Zurich and Amsterdam are perennial favorites of European travelers, but Warsaw, known as the home of the musical genius Chopin, is more reasonably priced. Visit Old Town Square, restored after its destruction in World War II, and now a UNESCO World Heritage site, to experience the city's cafes, open-air galleries, and free performances of music and drama. Nearly one-fourth of Warsaw is made up of green spaces, including public parks and gardens, so you can also enjoy a family outing—no cost for that—or catch an outdoor concert.
Krakow is another travel bargain, with inexpensively priced hotels, bars and restaurants that make it a trending vacation destination. Like Warsaw, the city bears witness to World War II. Spring and fall are the best times to visit, when the crowds die down. Explore the lessons of history at the Galicia Jewish Museum, the interactive exhibits at Schindler's Factory or see Wawel Royal Castle, with its collection of state art, including a Leonardo da Vinci painting.
Although it's an island, Ireland is considered part of Europe. Belfast, the capital city, was once known for its violent conflicts, but now the welcome mat is out for tourists. Make time to visit Ulster Museum, where admission is free, to learn more about the country’s history, natural sciences and art, or shop for handmade items and delicious street foods at St. George’s Market, which is also free. Inexpensive attractions include the SS Nomadic, the last vessel in the White Star Line; go aboard to see how Belfast residents lived during the age of the ill-fated Titanic. A Belfast Visitor’s Pass saves you money when you travel via Metro buses, Ulsterbuses or Northern Ireland rail, and gives discounts and deals on tours, restaurants, shops and attractions.
Norway has a reputation as an expensive travel destination, and Oslo, the capital city, charms with its brightly painted homes and spectacular fjords and mountains. But for a trip that’s easier on your wallet, try Stockholm, about four and a half hours away by high-speed train. (Book your ticket early, for the best fare.) Stockholm can be pricey, but you can often find affordable lodgings in “botels”, which are combinations of boats, hotels and hostels.
Stockholm keeps visitors busy with its castles, green spaces, great restaurants and lively clubs, museums, galleries and Old Town, one of the best preserved medival towns in all of Europe. Many hotels and hostels offer affordable stays, and the Swedish government has eliminated entrance fees to some museums, like the Historiska, or Swedish History Museum; it's packed with treasures from prehistory through the Viking era and Middle Ages.
Prices in Stockholm run high in the summer, but start to decline around July. If you can brave colder temperatures, rates on attractions, airline tickets, and hotels drop from September to November.
Instead of more popular Munich, Germany, raise your beer mug for a toast in Prague, where you’ll find the Pilsner Urquell brewery. Smaller, regional breweries are also popping up around the countryside, producing a great selection of craft beers. Try the Bernard Praha Beer Spa, where you can bathe in a tub of beer while you down your favorite beverage (beer, of course). Or sample rare varieties from local brewers as well as favorites from countries like Denmark and Norway at the BeerGeek Bar.
You don’t have to imbibe to embrace this "City of A Thousand Spires," where Gothic cathedrals tower over 5-star hotels and monuments testify to the country’s Communist past. Plan your Prague trip in spring or early fall, when crowds thin out and room rates decrease. July is also a great time to visit, when many concerts, food festivals, art exhibitions and other events are held.
Rome is expensive, and Florence isn’t exactly cheap, but it can be a good alternative because it's less crowded, easier to navigate and somewhat more affordable. Tour the city by bus or tram, or simply walk through the city center to hit the main tourist sites. Nicknamed “the Cradle of the Renaissance,” Florence is ideal for art lovers and history buffs. Don’t miss the Accademia Gallery Museum, one of the most visited museums in the world, where you’ll see the famous statue of David and works by Botticelli and other painters. Save money by staying outside the historical center, in a small, safe neighborhood; in a hostel or campground; or on the outskirts of the city. You'll get free admission to some of the smaller museums and many churches, including Florence’s Gothic Cathedral, the Duomo, which dates to the late 13th century.
Wait until late fall or winter for a break on lodgings and crowds, but expect temperatures to drop into the 30s. Prices peak in June, but you can start scoring some savings as early as August.
Again—instead of Munich—down your suds in a biergarten in Berlin. Prices drop from October to December, although the mercury drops, too, registering in the 30 to 50-degree range. Admission is free to Berlin’s famous Oktoberbest, and you’ll find its popular Jazzfest and Christmas markets, among other events and attractions, in the fall and winter. (Ticket prices to Jazzfest haven’t been released yet; some Christmas markets are free.) At other times of year, watch your budget by dining on street food, or take a free tour of Alternative Berlin to see the city’s diverse neighborhoods, graffiti, flea markets and more. Berlin is said to be one of the cheapest capital cities in Western Europe, and tourists and backpackers flock to its clubs, affordable museums, free parks and ethnic eateries. Public transportation, from bikes to buses and trams to subways, is readily availble. Hostels are cheapest mid-week, and you can find basic, budget-priced hotels.
Budapest lies about two hours east of Vienna, and is a popular but pricier European vacation spot. While Vienna has Naschmarkt, a large and popular flea market, Budapest has Falk Miksa Street, a collection of antique stores off the usual tourist path that are packed with treasures waiting to be found. Vienna may have Schonbrunn Palace, the former summer residence of the Hapsburgs, but travelers to Budapest can admire the Hungarian crown jewels in the stunning, Neo-Gothic Parliament Building. Cruise the beautiful Danube River, just as you would in Vienna, and sightsee by day or sail in the evening to dine and dance. March through May and September into November are good months to visit, when the climate is mild, fewer tourists are in town, and lodgings are more affordable.