Warsaw, Poland (Photo: Hilton.com)
By Tommy Burson
Is it possible to plan a budget-friendly European vacation — and one that doesn’t involve endless street food or scenes out of Hostel? Of course it is! We rounded up the cheapest spots across the pond for almost anything, from flights to five-star hotels to macchiatos.
For overall costs: Bucharest. Sure, the Romanian capital isn’t flooded with cultural tourism, likely due to a lack of infrastructure, but the Romanian capital is the most inviting for budget travelers. One average vacation day in Bucharest could cost less than $45, according to this calculator, including three meals at solid affordable restaurants, a night at a three-star hotel, transportation, attractions, and some boozing.
For a beach vacation: the Adriatic. Spots like Ulcinj, Velika Plaza, and Montenegro are as beautiful in summer as they are cheap. While a night in Dubrovnik will easily exceed $100, a night in Ulcinj — at a central three-star hotel — costsonly $33.
Related: Europe’s 10 Best Airport Hotels
For a ski vacation: Bansko, Bulgaria. Lower cost, similar quality: That’s how Bansko wants travelers to compare its slopes with the Alps. A ski holiday here at the foot of the Pirin Mountain costs roughly $400 for six days on the slopes — and that includes rentals, ski school, and food/drink on the hill. Compared to the $1,100 price tag in Zermatt, Switzerland, this is a beyond-good deal.
For flights from the States: Moscow and Istanbul. It may not be the cheapest place to stay — in fact, it’s among the most expensive cities in the world — but Moscow is the cheapest city to reach for most Americans. Of course, some cities have different results, but the average price of a plane ticket to the Russian capital is just $825.Once you get here, it’s easy to hop aboard a train or a regional carrier for less. Coming in a close second is Istanbul with an average flight costing $857, and the cheapest Western European destination to reach is Stockholm, Sweden, where flights average out to be $898.
For a five-star hotel: Warsaw. Many of us dream of five-star luxury but rarely experience it. You’ll have the best chance in Warsaw, where a night in a posh hotel in the Polish capital averages $130 per night—the price of a Holiday Inn in many U.S. cities. In London? Expect to pay closer to $500 per night for five-star digs.
For backpackers: Kiev. While we’re all familiar with violent clashes, planes getting shot down, and some dude named Putin tip-toeing the term “invade” in Ukraine, these clashes occur roughly 400 miles from Kiev, and they’re unlikely to spread. In the home of the beautiful Saint Sophia Cathedral and the newly reopened Kiev Pechersk Lavra monastery, tour guides hardly seemed worried. Tourists are still flocking here for good reason: a complete day in Ukraine, including hostel, food, attractions, and binge drinking, is a mere $24.32 per day.
For rentals: Also Warsaw. Earlier this year, Airbnb dug up the European cities with the cheapest rentals up for grabs, and the Polish capital came out on top again. Rentals here go for an average of $47 per night. The runner up, in case you were curious, is Belgrade in Serbia, at $48 per night.
For “cultural breaks”: Again…Warsaw. What constitutes a “cultural break?” The term pertains to visitors seeking art and history holidays, be it attending an opera, touring old war sites, or art gallery hopping. Warsaw has the best value in Europe for all things culture, considering tickets to six different museums and galleries cost about $110, with tickets for the ballet, opera, and classical concerts clocking in at under $32 each. Compare that to London, the most expensive city on the list, where tickets to performances and attracts can cost $400.
For museums: London. This might be surprising considering the math we just did for general cultural events. But if it’s just museums you’re after, there are more than 50 institutions in the British capital that are completely free to the public. Major museums like V&A, the British Museum, Museum of London, the National Gallery, Tate Modern art museum, and the Imperial War Museum don’t charge an entry fee.
For cheap eats: Krakow. Poland seems to be a budget traveler’s dream. With Warsaw raking in accommodation and cultural deals, Krakow pleases the palate. For backpackers, a day’s worth of street eats will cost you a grand total of $6.37 on average. Off the streets, a day’s of budget-conscious meals should still cost around $10.63 only.
For cost of living: Moldova. Moldova’s known being the poorest country in Europe (and for producing this sensational video), but it seems to be on the rise. The country’s GDP has recovered strongly following a drought in 2012, and has largely inclined since 1999. Moldova maintains the lowest cost of living in Europe and the sixth lowest in the entire world.
For expats: Skopje. Skopje might be the next city to claim the “poor but sexy” title. The kitschy capital’s neoclassical splendor is, well, interesting — gaudy to some, beautiful to others. According to a survey by Mercer, Skopje ranks fifth in the world’s cheapest cities for expats (the average local salary is roughly $400 per year).
For the best, cheap cup of coffee: Priština. Who knew Kosovo had a cafe culture that rivaled Italy’s — and macchiatos tastier than what you’d find in Napoli? (The magic’s in the secret cream atop the milk.) Even better, while that same macchiato in Italy may run you up to $3 or $4, you’ll enjoy it in Priština for under $1.
For booze: Budapest. Prices here are generally half as expensive as they are in popular party spots like Amsterdam and Ibiza, with beers and wines starting at under $1 — quite literally cheaper than water. According to a report by the Post Office, a research agency, the average price of 10 different drinks cost about $30 total.