19 Unforgettable Bucket List Trips You Can Do On A Budget

Emily Zemler
Refinery 29 UK
Photo: Anna Stowe Travel / Alamy.

If you like to travel, you probably have a bucket list of places you want to hit throughout your lifetime. If you've been under the MO that seeing them will have to wait until you’re flush with cash, we have good news: There are lots of unforgettable, exotic locales that are entirely doable on a budget — without slumming it.

The flights are the priciest part, but once you get there, you can find inexpensive lodging that will give you a base to explore cities like Tel Aviv and Berlin and visit iconic sites like Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat. Ahead, get the scoop on 15 must-see destinations, along with an under-£70/night hotel recommendation, and insider tips on what to do — and see — in each place. So, start saving your airline miles now, because before long, you'll be ticking things off your travel bucket list. Just remember to send us a postcard.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Cross this impressive location off your ye olde bucket list — it'll be worth your while. Edinburgh is known as a hotbed of culture, especially because it houses the largest theatre festivals in the world: the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Theatre lovers should head to the Scottish capital in August for the fest, which featured over 3,000 shows in 2015.

If you can't make it in August, the city still has plenty to offer year-round, with many cheap to free museums, like the National Museum of Scotland and the Museum of Childhood. A short walk from the downtown, Holyrood Park will allow you to live your Outlander fantasies just steps from a bustling urban center.

Photo: Franz Pritz/ Getty Images.

Where to Stay: The Balmoral Edinburgh in Edinburgh is a vision in Victorian architecture. Just a 13-minute walk from the Edinburgh castle, the hotel makes an effort to represent Scottish culture — the doormen all wear tartan kilts! At roughly £150 (if booked well in advance), a night at the Balmoral is pricier than most, but the optimal location and luxury is worth it.

Insider Tip: Taste the finest of Scottish ales and whiskeys at The Doric, Edinburgh's oldest gastropub. It's been serving brews since the 17th century and features live folk music on Fridays and Saturdays.

Photo: Courtesy of the Balmoral Edinburgh.

Saint Petersburg, Russia

The largest country (in landmass) in the world is calling your name. Russia's capital city belies the country's cold reputation. Riddled with canals that recall the layout of Venice, it's a city teeming with culture. And it's not that expensive! An expansive metro system will help you gain access to the 221 museums that the city features. Delicious street food will keep you going as you explore the historic sites of the second most populous city in Russia.

Photo: Getty Images.

Where to Stay: For your stay, settle in Kotor, a historic town off the Adriatic coast of Montenegro. The Guest House 455 can cost as little as £35 a night. For that low cost, you'll have the Bay of Kotor and the city's impressive architecture just outside your door.

Insider Tip: Lovers of the great outdoors should head to Lovćen, a national park in the southwestern part of Montenegro. The main attraction? The mausoleum that houses Petar Petrović Njegoš, a revered poet and philosopher of Monenegro.

Photo: Courtesy of Guest House 455 Kotor.

Tara River Canyon

The picturesque canyon between the countries of Bosnia and Herzegovina will give you ample opportunity to experience once-in-a-lifetime outdoor travel. Stretches of the river are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can enjoy the stunning views via a scenic rafting route that includes 3 hours of unadulterated beauty.

Photo: Getty Images.

Where to Stay: For just 2900 rubles per night (or about £40) your stay at The Friends Loft will afford you a private bathroom and space all to yourself. Located near the Fontonka river, the hostel is in walking distance to most of the city's amenities. A metro station nearby can whisk you to the more far-flung parts of the city.

Insider Tip: Once you've explored all of St. Peterburg's rich history, check out the contemporary art scene at Loft Project Etagi, a vertical mall in the centre of the city. A self-proclaimed "mulifunctional art space," the project, which lives in a refurbished bakery, hosts 2 contemporary art galleries, 3 exhibition areas, and one cafe that takes a "philosophical approach to dining."

Photo: Courtesy of The Friends Loft.

Tofo Beach, Mozambique

If you're looking for a truly unforgettable beach vacation, consider looking no further than the ice-blue oceans and sandy shores of Tofo Beach, Mozambique. Fly into nearby Inhambane (you'll have to connect at Johannesburg) and take a 30-minute bus ride to the relatively undisturbed shoreline of Tofo. Enjoy fresh seafood from local fisherman and, if you're daring, go ahead and get a scuba certification at one of Tofo Beach's multiple diving spots. Getting to the beach will be a bit of a trek, but it will be worth it for its relatively undeveloped appeal.

Photo: Getty Images.

Where to Stay:Baia Sonambula guest house is only £70 a night during the low season, and that price includes breakfast in the morning and a direct view of the Indian ocean.

Insider Tip: Diving in the clear blue water is one thing — but diving with whales?! That's another matter. Humpback whales migrate along the coastline during the winter season (that's May to October). If you miss the whales, that's okay. Whale sharks, those gentler versions of the great whites, frequent Tofo's shores.

Photo: Courtesy of Baia Sonambula.

Cappadocia, Turkey

The Cappadocia region of Turkey looks like something created for a fantasy movie, with towering, psychedelic rock formations. The quintessential experience is floating over the landscape in a hot air balloon, and they generally take off in the early morning hours to see the sunrise. Most of the activities are for the outdoorsy — hiking to various rock formations and exploring caves in Ala Dağlar National Park. You can also visit the underground cities of Derinkuyu and Kaymakli, which are carved out below the ground (and not for those with claustrophobia), and head to volcanic rock outcropping Uçhisar Castle.

Photo: Chine Nouvelle / REX Shutterstock.

Where To Stay: Have you ever wanted to sleep in an ancient rock cave? You can, at the Phocas Cave Suites in the village of Cavusin, where rooms will set you back around £60per night. The old town ruins are walking distance from the hotel and there are several restaurants and cafés nearby.

Insider Tip: If you want to try the local cuisine, indulge in a "pottery kebab," which is a style of kebab that involves slow-cooking meat inside a sealed clay pot. Once it’s cooked, the waiter will break the pot open in front of you. There's some debate over which restaurant does them best, but try Somine Café & Restaurant or Cappadocian Cuisine.

Photo: Courtesy of Phocas Cave Suites.

Marrakech, Morocco

Morocco's third-largest city offers a dizzying array of souks (markets), mosques, and restaurants. The Medina district in particular boasts a labyrinth of souks, where you can haggle for crafts, carpets, spices, and more. It’s a mix of European, Middle Eastern, and African cultures, a confluence that will make the experience even more interesting, especially when it comes to the food. You can also use the city as a starting point to travel around the rest of the country.

Photo: Bart Pro / Alamy.

Where To Stay: Marrakech boasts a lot of nice, inexpensive hotels. Check out the Riad Al Badia, a small four-star guesthouse that’s only a 10-minute walk from the Royal, Bahia, and El Badi Palaces. Rooms will set you back about £70 per night and include an airport transfer.

Insider Tip: It’s easy to get overwhelmed in the souks, so download the Marrakech-Riad app, which will help you find your way. Once you find something you want to buy, be sure to barter. Travel blog On The Luce suggests comparing prices for any item you’re interested in at a few different market stalls, then offering half the quoted price. If you get overwhelmed, take a break at a café, like the Café Glacier or the Café du Grand Balcon.

Photo: Robert Harding World Imagery / Alamy.

Machu Picchu, Peru

The 15th century Incan city of Machu Picchu is one of the most iconic locales in the world, and it’s not as difficult to reach as you might assume. If you’re really ambitious, you can travel by foot along the Inca Trail. But, if that's not your style, take a quick flight from Lima to Cusco and hop a train to the small town of Aguas Calientes, located at the base of Machu Picchu. From there, you either hike or take a short bus ride to the ruins. All entrance tickets to the ancient city must be booked in advance, because the government limits the number of people who can visit each day, so be sure to plan ahead.

Photo: Anna Stowe Travel / Alamy.

Where To Stay: Most travellers bunk up in Aguas Calientes when visiting Machu Picchu. The hotels there are relatively low-key and sparse. For a clean, safe bet, try Hotel Flower’s House, which has rooms for around £60 per night, including breakfast. It’s located near the train station and walking distance from all the restaurants in town.

Insider Tip: On your way back, stop to see Cusco, a UNESCO World Heritage city located 11,000 feet above sea level. For dinner, head to Cicciolina, a Peruvian tapas restaurant located in one of the city’s old colonial houses.

Photo: Ramona Settle / Alamy.

Budapest

Budapest is a lesser-discussed Eastern European city, but it’s one worth checking off your list. The city is divided into two parts (Buda and Pest) by the Danube River, and has a massive and beautiful Parliament building you can tour. There’s a young, hip nightlife scene and tons of cool, new restaurants, including ones that serve vegetarian and vegan fare. You can check out history in the hilltop Castle District before heading to A38 Hajó, a nightclub and concert venue set on a reconstructed Ukrainian ship. Just outside of town is Memento Park, which houses all the communist statues that populated the city before the fall of the regime.

Photo: Courtesy of Emily Zemler.

Where To Stay: The Mirage Fashion Hotel will run you about £50 per night (including breakfast) and is adjacent to City Park, where you can find the iconic Szechenyi Thermal Baths, Heroes Square, and the Museum of Fine Arts.

Insider Tip: It’s hard to describe Budapest’s infamous ruin pubs without a visit. The eclectic bars — set in old buildings and courtyards, and decorated with mismatched, collected furniture and objects — are all completely different. Szimpla Kert is the original, and is located in the Jewish Quarter. It hosts a weekend farmers' market (look for the homemade peanut and almond butter), live music, and screenings. Also worth checking out is Racskert, which is housed in an abandoned carpark.

Photo: Matthew Fletcher / Alamy.

Havana, Cuba

The Spanish colonial city of Havana, Cuba’s capital, is becoming increasingly accessible to American travellers. Old Havana has architecture and history to check out, but visiting Cuba is more about experiencing its culture and music. You can visit a cigar factory, hang out at local cafés, check out a cabaret show at the Tropicana theater, or go dancing at one of the many salsa clubs. Those looking to better understand the history of the country should visit The Museum of the Revolution, located in the former presidential palace, and the Plaza de Armas, where the city began.

Photo: Iuliia Mashkova / Alamy.

Where To Stay: There are a lot of good options in Havana, but if you’re into literary history check out Hotel Ambos Mundos in Old Havana, which is where Ernest Hemingway famously wrote in room 511. It’s sparse, but the location is central and rooms will only set you back £70 per night.

Insider Tip: Head to El Floridita, a bar and restaurant famous for its daiquiris (and for being one of Hemingway’s favourite haunts). The bar first opened back in 1817 and is still a happening spot. The food is pricey, but go for a cocktail, which you can drink next to a bronze statue of Hemingway that rests in his favourite seat.

Photo: Alex Segre / REX Shutterstock.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai is the largest city in northern Thailand and is home to more than 30 temples, the two most famous being Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang. You can check out the shopping at the Night Bazaar, visit various gardens, and (of course) get your fill of Thai food. The Thai Elephant Conservation Centre is located near the city and accessible via bus. There, you can ride the elephants and learn about the conservation of the animals. (Just getting on top of an elephant should help you check off a box on your overall life bucket list.)

Photo: Paul Brown / REX Shutterstock.

Where To Stay: Chiang Mai has a lot of options to suit all budgets. Try the De Lanna Hotel, located in the historic old town district of the city. It’s close to the temples and historic sites, as well as the old town square and Three Kings Monument. Rooms go for as low as $65 per night, including breakfast, and there's also a swimming pool.

Insider Tip: Serious Eats recommends chowing down on Northern Thailand’s signature egg noodle dish khao soi at Lamduon Fahrm Kaosoi. The restaurant, which has been around for more than 70 years, has two locations (the original is near the old town centre).

Photo: Courtesy of the De Lanna Hotel.

Reykjavik, Iceland

Iceland’s capital city is a good starting point for seeing the small island country. Visiting Iceland is mostly about seeing its natural majesty, which is best experienced by renting a car to drive through the mountains, near the seaside, and past glaciers and volcanoes. The Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa, is a hugely popular tourist destination (and recommended on your way to the airport), and Reykjavik also boasts a lot of interesting museums and restaurants. You can even find somewhere to try the country’s national dish, Hákarl, shark that’s been cured for several months.

Photo: Cultura / REX Shutterstock.

Where To Stay: Hotel Cabin has small but functional rooms for about £70 per night. The hotel is next to the ocean and within two miles of all the sites in central Reykjavik. It’s a five-minute walk to geothermal swimming pool Laugardalslaug and 10 minutes to the Reykjavik Zoo.

Insider Tip: If you want to see the Northern Lights, head to Iceland between mid-September and April, when there are fully dark nights. Travel site Northern Lights Iceland notes that it’s hard to know when the Aurora Borealis will appear, but you can attempt to predict their appearance by factoring in time of year and weather. It is recommended that you leave the main city for the best views.

Photo: Jon Arnold Images Ltd / Alamy.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat temple and its surrounding complex is a UNESCO World Heritage site that will earn you a lot of likes on Instagram. To visit, you fly into and stay in the nearby city of Siem Reap. It’s best to travel here during the dry/hot season and head in early to see the sunrise over the ancient temple architecture. You can hire a guide or explore on your own. There are several other worthwhile sites to see around Siem Reap, too, including Angkor Archeological Park and Ta Prohm Temple.

Photo: Paul Brown / REX Shutterstock.

Where To Stay: A little goes a long way in Siem Reap. Check out Golden Temple Residence, which you can book for as little as £80 per night. It’s walking distance from the Angkor Night Market, Pub Street, and Psar Chaa Market, and a good homebase for your visit to Angkor Wat. The picturesque swimming pool alone should convince you.

Insider Tip: Take a break from the temples and check out Siem Reap restaurant Marum, which is part of an alliance called TREE that trains local at-risk and homeless youth to be chefs. It serves affordable, local Cambodian cuisine, and you'll be supporting a good cause.

Photo: Courtesy of Golden Temple Residence.

Aix-en-Provence, France

Most people think of Paris as the go-to city in France, but if you’re interested in exploring the best of the country’s wine, food, and culture, Aix-en-Provence is a worthwhile visit. It’s an easy train ride from Paris or Marseille, and has lots of museums, cafes, and historical sites sans the heavy tourism. If you’re feeling ambitious, it’s also a quick drive to massive ancient Roman aqueduct Pont du Gard, the medieval walled city of Avignon, and wine mecca Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The latter will feel like a bucket list achievement in itself when the iconic wine cellars offer you free tastings, or "degustations" in French.

Photo: Norbert Scanella / Alamy.

Where To Stay: Hotel du Globe offers rooms for around £55 per night (£36 if you’re willing to take a “student” room with a communal bathroom). It’s close to the center of Aix, which is key, since everything in town is fairly walkable.

Insider Tip: Visit the daily farmers' market in the Place Richelme, where you can buy French cheese, fruits and vegetables, and, most importantly, macarons. After, stop by the Musée Granet, an art and sculpture museum that houses several works by the famous 19th century artist Paul Cézanne, who was born here.

Photo: Hemis / Alamy.

New Orleans, Louisiana

There are a lot of reasons to tick New Orleans off your bucket list, although for many it’s due to the city’s infamous Bourbon Street. There, it’s a raucous party every night of the year, and you can carry your booze on the streets, hopping from bar to bar. It’s at its height during Mardi Gras, of course, but if partying isn’t your scene, there’s plenty of other things to do around town, especially if you’re into food. Plus, the Southern architecture is beautiful and — depending on what you believe — possibly haunted.

Photo: Ian Dagnall / Alamy.

Where To Stay: Hotel Villa Convento, located centrally in the French Quarter, is a small, charming guesthouse that offers rooms for $89 per night. The hotel is near the river and close enough to Bourbon Street to be convenient to the action. There are many rumours about the hotel, including that it’s a former (and haunted) brothel, and that Jimmy Buffett once lived there.

Insider Tip: Café du Monde is the most famous place to grab a coffee and beignet, but if you’re looking for the best drip to cure your hangover, head to Spitfire Coffee in the French Quarter.

Photo: Ian Dagnall Commercial Collection / Alamy.

Queenstown, New Zealand

Seeing virtually every part of New Zealand should be on your bucket list, but Queenstown, on the end of the south island, is one of the most beautiful and exciting places to visit in the country. It’s an easy flight from Auckland and close to Milford Sound, which has been called the Eighth Wonder of the World. Depending on what time of year you visit, you can ski or partake in adventure tourism activities like whitewater rafting and bungee jumping. If you’re a Lord of the Rings enthusiast, the nearby town of Glenorchy was used as a stand-in for Middle Earth in several of the films.

Photo: Chameleons Eye / REX Shutterstock.

Where To Stay: Rydges Lakeland Resort Queenstown is a big chain hotel located lakeside, a short walk form downtown Queenstown. There are a variety of room prices depending on your budget, but you can score a lakeview room for as little as £70 per night.

Insider Tip: There’s a lot to do in Queenstown and its surrounding areas, but your most important stop is Fergberger, a hip burger joint downtown that boasts menu selections with names like the Chief Wiggum and Sweet Bambi. Start with the Little Lamby, made with New Zealand lamb, and then make your way through the rest of the burgers. Afterwards, stop by Mrs. Ferg next door for gelato.

Photo: Courtesy of Rydges Lakeland Resort Queenstown.

Berlin, Germany

If you’re into art and history, Berlin is where it's at. The city houses more than 175 museums, including the must-visit Jewish Museum and the sprawling Hamburger Bahnhof, which features modern and contemporary art. You can see a lot for free, too, like the East Gallery, a lengthy section of the Berlin Wall covered in graffiti, and the Berlin Wall Memorial to learn about the history of communism in Germany. The city also has great shopping, good food, and cool bars, as well as outdoor markets like the Mauerpark Flea Market.

Photo: Courtesy of Emily Zemler.

Where To Stay: The Michelberger Hotel is a hip place to rest your head near the East Side Gallery in Friedrichshain. You can score a "cosy" room for £67 dollars a night. Make sure to hang out in the lobby, which is a coffee shop by day and lounge by night.

Insider Tip: This might sound unappealing, but order a currywurst — chopped-up sausage covered in ketchup and curry powder. The best one comes from one of Curry 36 ’s two locations. You’ll eat it outside the restaurant window while standing at tables. It’s cheap, too.

Photo: Agencja Fotograficzna Caro / Alamy.

Tel Aviv, Israel

The seaside city of Tel Aviv was founded around the ancient port city of Jaffa, and is famous for its lively, 24-hour nightlife and beach culture. It has numerous museums, including the Eretz Israel Museum and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. You can sprawl out on the beaches and spend your evenings at one of the city's many hot spots, or spend your time soaking up culture and history instead of sunlight. If you want to see more of the country, Jerusalem is a quick flight away.

Photo: Maria Grazia Casella / Alamy.

Where To Stay: The hotels in Tel Aviv, especially the beachfront ones, are on the pricier side, but if you want to be close to the water on a budget try Hayarkon 48 Hostel, where you can book a private room for £50. It has a rooftop bar and is only a two-minute walk from the beach. It's also close to much of the nightlife and live music venues.

Insider Tip: The Dancing Camel is Tel Aviv’s first microbrewery, and its pub serves beer every night — except Friday — "till last customer." They have 13 signature brews and you can get a taste of multiple draughts with beer flights. If you need more excitement, October Bar is a recent addition to the city’s nightlife that offers happy hour until 9 p.m.

Photo: Courtesy of The Dancing Camel.

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague is an ideal European city in that it’s less hyped than Paris and London, but still offers all the culture, nightlife, and historical significance of its counterparts. It’s extremely walkable, filled with museums and historical sites, and is well-known for its beer. A lot of tourists now make it their New Year’s Eve destination, with massive crowds gathering on the Charles Bridge to ring in the New Year with unofficial firework displays and endless Champagne. If you like clubs, the five-floor Karlovy Lázně is the largest in Central Europe.

Photo: Courtesy of Emily Zemler.

Where To Stay: The Golden Star is located just below Prague Castle in the Mala Strana area, and offers a view of the city and the Charles Bridge. Prices vary depending on the time of year, but if you dig around you can find a room for around £75 per night, which includes breakfast. It’s an easy walk to the Castle, the Franz Kafka Museum, and Museum Kampa, which houses modern and contemporary art.

Insider Tip: Head uphill in Mala Strana toward Petrin Hill to the Strahov Monastic Brewery, a brew pub and restaurant that features beers crafted by monks. You can also order traditional Czech dishes like pork knuckle, sausages, and wild boar (get the pork knuckle).

Photo: Mo Peerbacus / Alamy.

Montreal, Canada

If you can't afford to fly to Europe, Montreal will make a good stand-in, both in terms of architecture and culture. The majority of its inhabitants speak French, and it's filled with museums and festivals that celebrate Québécois life. The Parc du Mont-Royal is a good place to be outdoors and walk around, and if you visit during the warmer months, it's easy to walk or bike around the city. If you have time, taking the long, but scenic, train ride from New York City is worthwhile (and cheap).

Photo: Image Source / REX Shutterstock.

Where To Stay: Try the affordable and quaint Auberge le Jardin d'Antoine in the Latin Quarter. It runs around £70 per night, and is located close to the St. Denis Theatre, Notre Dame Basilica, and Vieux-Port de Montreal.

Insider Tip: There's a lot of good food in Montreal, but none of it better than the city's famous bagels. They're smaller and sweeter than traditional American bagels, and you'll want to eat several at once. The best ones come from St-Viateur Bagel in Mile End, where you should order a dozen sesame bagels — all for yourself.

Photo: Hemis / Alamy.

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