A $5 bill might not go far in big-ticket cities like Paris or Tokyo, but the best meal in Bali costs three bucks, one of the funkiest cool hotels in Berlin has rooms for 80 Euros, and a five-day yoga course in Guilin, China, costs the same as a couple hours of Soul Cycle in New York City. Read on for more about these and other fun, affordable cities.
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Catering to a hip (and football-crazed) student population from the University of Texas, Austin is also a fantastic destination for cheap travelers. On the first Thursday of every month, South Congress Street hosts a block party, where restaurants give out free drinks and have special sales.
Eat: The thriving food truck scene is both budget-friendly and creative. The Southern-and-Asian fusion Peached Tortilla truck serves global tacos and delicious sliders like crab cakes with Sriracha mayo, from $3 to $3.50 apiece.
While it’s not the first place that comes to mind as an American tourist destination, the Motor City is earning a reputation for its creative postindustrial renaissance, with boutiques (don’t miss City Bird), bars and restaurants popping up in the Corktown and Midtown neighborhoods. Wednesday and Saturday tours of the edgy Museum of Contemporary Art are free, and Eastern Market is the spot to shop for budget produce. At night, catch live jazz at Bert’s, a legendary Eastern Market barbecue joint known for its ribs and jam sessions since the 1980s.
Eat: Supino’s rivals NYC pizzerias, and 12-inch pies like the Red, White, & Green with spinach, capers, roasted red peppers, mozzarella and ricotta are only $10.
In the up-and-coming Gulch neighborhood, the Station Inn hosts respected local singer/songwriters and bluegrass musicians, and Robert’s Western World is the spot for honky-tonk dancing, live music and a great selection of cowboy boots. The Loveless Café, around since the 1950s, attracts big bluegrass names on Wednesday nights and serves rich Southern food.
Eat: The Family Wash offers big plates of meatloaf or roast chicken for $12. Famous Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack merits waits for extra-spicy fried chicken, which is just $8 for half a bird.
One of the country’s best hubs for live music, New Orleans has plenty of cheap shows and even street performers worthy of ticketed events in other cities. Frenchman Street in Marigny is lined with bars offering free live music, like jazz at the Spotted Cat and Latin tunes at Café Brasil. During the day, Royal Street, in the French Quarter, and Magazine Street, which stretches between Uptown and the Garden District, are both great for browsing antique shops and lingering at outdoor cafés.
Eat: Three Muses has jazz singers and cheap entrées — pork belly with scallion pancakes is $9.
One of America’s hottest food cities, Portland also offers fantastic access to the outdoors. The Saturday Market, in the city’s historic Old Town, features artisans selling everything from handcrafted bamboo flutes to bonsai trees, while food stalls sell Greek, Lebanese and Polish specialties. In warm weather, kayak or tube trips down the Clackamas River are only $10 for two hours.
Eat: At Sunshine Tavern, Best New Chef 2012 Jenn Louis created an up-market comfort food menu with $15-and-under entrées such as fried chicken and semolina waffles.
In the last several years, creative types have flocked to Berlin, attracted by cheap rents, like-minded artists and an edgy music and culture scene. Nightclubs like Berghain and Watergate host world-class DJs for 48-hour parties at reasonable entrance fees, if you can get past the doorman. Beyond nightlife, visitors explore Berlin’s many parks and lakes by bike for a $10 rental fee.
Eat: For traditional salads and sausages, Rogacki is an overflowing deli that’s been a go-to for German food since 1928.
La Paz, Bolivia
The world’s highest capital city, La Paz is enveloped by the dusty Andes Mountains, making hiking, mountain biking and ATV riding cheap and popular pastimes, with half-day tours for two costing under $100. Those who want to stay in the city center can stroll the Witches Market to find Alpaca scarves and brightly colored knit pillow covers for just a few dollars apiece.
Eat: Locals dine on cheap set lunches, like at the popular Bolivian spot Surucachi, which serves Lake Titicaca fish plus a soup, salad and dessert for just a few dollars.
Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Local coffee plantations, scenic volcanoes and inland lakes can be reached by hired drivers ($40 for the day), but there is plenty to see in the heart of Bali’s cultural center. Monkey Forest Road (named for the monkey-filled preserve) and adjacent streets have craft shops, and lucky visitors might catch a fire dance performance.
Eat: People travel here from hours away just to lunch on the spit-roasted, coconut-milk-basted suckling pig with wilted greens and rice at the open-air Warung Ibu Oka, where the featured dish ($3) runs out by early afternoon.
Visitors come here to explore the city’s otherworldly beauty, with the Li River winding through it, and karst rock formations peaking jaggedly among buildings. Outdoor activities are popular, with bamboo boat tours of the river, ubiquitous bike rentals and hikes up Moon Hill, an oddly shaped peak with a natural arch inside that offers panoramic views of the area. Visitors can take cooking classes that tour the local markets through outfitters like the Yangshuo Aiyuan Hotel Cookery Class.
Eat: Anyway café is very welcoming to travelers and has cheap Taiwanese-style food. A meal for two with items like fried rice or marinated pork costs $6.
The old city feels European, and the gentrifying St.-Roch neighborhood boasts galleries, well-priced vintage clothing shops and excellent restaurants. Rue St. Paul, in the Old Port neighborhood, has art shops and antiques, while Le Marche du Vieux-Port is the place to pick up cheeses, meats and pastries. In winter, the city is dotted with vendors making maple syrup lollipops in troughs of snow.
Eat: Bar La Cuisine offers a dinner for two of French-Canadian comfort food, like casseroles and croque-monsieur plus local beer, for $30. Stalls at the Marché du Vieux-Port hawk liver pâtés, fruit compotes, artisanal chocolates and floral honeys.