11 of the best budget travel destinations for a short Europe trip

Sintra and surrounding area

We Europeans are so spoiled; we’ve got so many wonderful destinations right on our doorstep just waiting to be explored.

But isn’t travelling around Europe expensive, difficult, and time-consuming? It doesn’t have to be. So think about taking a couple of days off work  or going away for the weekend and get out there!

Here are our top budget travel picks for a quick break (in no particular order).

1. Budapest, Hungary

The Basilica in Budapest, one of the nicest places to visit, see here from the Buda hills.
The Basilica in Budapest, one of the nicest places to visit, see here from the Buda hills.

With a tapestry of history like no other, cheap food and drink, plenty of budget accommodation, and some truly wonderful landscapes inside and outside of the city, Budapest should be near the top of everyone’s budget travel list. It’s also a great base for exploring the rest of Europe with great train links to neighbouring countries. Flights are typically cheap too. And who can say no to some natural thermal baths? Count me in!

2. Berlin, Germany

Berlin's famous TV Tower, seen from Alexanderplatz.
Berlin’s famous TV Tower, seen from Alexanderplatz.

While the “poor but sexy” image is gradually blending into a more middle-class picture,  Berlin is still among the best places to visit on a budget. With two airports to choose from, you’re pretty likely to find a cheap flight too. Berlin has a story unlike any other city; it’s only been in its current form since 1989 and has been subjected to more horrors than you can count (some scars still show in the buildings and streets even). So book it up and get ready for a cheap city break where quirky culture meets a colourful historical backdrop.

3. London, England

Looking up the River Thames in London, taken by the Big Wheel known as the Millennium Eye
Looking up the River Thames in London, taken by the Big Wheel known as the Millennium Eye

England overall can be done on the cheap. Just remember this rule: the north is cheaper than the south.

So why choose the most expensive city in England, and of the the most expensive in the world, as a budget trip? While London is getting tougher to explore on a budget, it’s still possible if you couple cheap flights with accommodation booked quite far in advance, and perhaps outside of the city itself. Hostels aren’t as cheap as many places in Europe though, unless you lower your standards a bit.

However, food in London is more than reasonable (greasy spoon breakfast FTW), going out is pretty cheap, and there’s a LOT of free culture. For those reasons alone, London makes a decent budget travel pick.

(And if London is a bit over your budget, England has more to it than just London, despite what the news media tells you. Try Manchester if you like.)

4. Krakow, Poland

Wawel Castle in Krakow. (Picture courtesy of Gabriela Fab, used under Flickr Attribution-ShareAlike Creative Commons licence)
Wawel Castle in Krakow. (Picture courtesy of Gabriela Fab, used under Flickr Attribution-ShareAlike Creative Commons licence)

Poland overall is still probably your best budget bet for a short trip. While flights to the capital, Warsaw, and the prettier second-largest city, Krakow, can be pricey at times, you more than make up for it when you’re there.

Nowhere is this more true than Krakow, a city steeped with history, culture, and beauty. Finding accommodation for under $20 a night shouldn’t be a problem; a meal for under $10 is not a rarity either. And with a saddening wartime history (with Krakow is not far from the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp) it’s a recommended pilgrimage for any history buffs or those looking to pay their respects.

5. Rome, Italy

Domes of Rome, courtesy on *Karl* via Flickr
Domes of Rome, courtesy of *Karl* via Flickr

Alright, so Rome is not generally a cheap travel destination, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be done on a budget. Flights are typically reasonable with budget airlines, accommodation outside of the tourist hotspots is fair too, and the amount of sites you can see in just a day certainly give you a lot of bang for your buck. However, Rome is one of the most visited places in Europe, so a quiet getaway this isn’t. Expect crowds, especially around the Vatican at Easter, and be prepared to queue for some of the most-known Roman sites. But with so many iconic sites in one place, it has to be worth it, right?

6. Sofia, Bulgaria

Sofia, Bulgaria (picture titled SOFIA BULGARIA 316, courtesy of DAVID HOLT via Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike licence).
Sofia, Bulgaria (picture titled SOFIA BULGARIA 316, courtesy of DAVID HOLT via Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike licence).

Bulgaria is a country which pops up time and time again as one of the cheapest to visit. It’s actually previously been known as the cheapest place in Europe. Sofia, the capital, is well-connected to the rest of Europe and beyond, and frequently appears on the recommended lists from sites such as Rough Guides and Lonely Planet. Cheap travel here is similar to Poland, so expect more-than-reasonable accommodation prices and wallet-saving food.

7. Madrid, Spain

Over the rooftops of Madrid, Spain (picture courtesy of Nicolas Vigier via Flickr)
Over the rooftops of Madrid, Spain (picture courtesy of Nicolas Vigier via Flickr)

Spain has long been a favourite among many Europeans, particularly the British. It’s fair weather, generally calm pace, cool beaches, colourful scenery and diverse architecture attract millions of tourists each year. Yet while many flee to the cheap-and-cheerful coasts, the Spanish-owned islands (such as Tenerife), or to famed Barcelona, why not give Madrid a look? Yes, it’s not the cheapest on this list, but its temperate climate, good transport links and wide selection of historical sites make it an easy city to wander around and enjoy from day one.

Tip: it’s good to visit in the ‘peak’ summer months too (July and August) as the hot climate at this time of year forces many to the coast.

8. Athens, Greece

Athens, Greece (picture courtesy of Nicolas Vigier via Flickr)
Athens, Greece (picture courtesy of Nicolas Vigier via Flickr)

One of the oldest cities in the world and one of the cheapest to visit. And with the weather generally in double figures the year round, it’s a popular warm getaway for many. Steeped in history – including the famous Parthenon – you’ll be in awe in Athens pretty much the entire time. Do be aware that while Athens is certainly cheaper than most capital or big cities, certainly those in the US, it’s still not dirt-cheap. You’ve got the global recession and Greek economic crisis to thank for that.

9. Lisbon, Portugal

Jo and Ash atop the hill by the Castle of St. George in Lisbon, with the River Tagus in the background.
Jo and Ash atop the hill by the Castle of St. George in Lisbon, with the River Tagus in the background.

Despite taking more than a few punches in the global recession, Portugal is slowly picking itself back up to be a major player in the European sphere. It’s partly down to the steady tourism industry the country has, and with places like Lisbon it’s no mystery why tourists come back again and again. Lisbon is a city like no other: undulating, confusing, dense, yet wonderful to get lost in. Get up high and get a glimpse if you can, and definitely go over the Tagus River and explore ‘the other side’. Oh, and head up towards Sintra and prepare to be amazed. Go!

10. Bucharest, Romania

See, Bucharest isn't all that bad, right? Bucharest at night
See, Bucharest isn’t all that bad, right?

Romania has a raw deal; it’s often assumed to be dirty, stuck in the past, and rather ugly (doesn’t help that Bucharest was voted the ugliest city in the EU in 2011). Some reputations are deserved, but the Romanian reputation is not one of them. While a language barrier can be a problem, most people are truly curious and welcoming to foreigners. Towns and cities are gradually catering for more tourists with cheap hotels and food, as well as simple transport links. We’ve only ever heard good things about it. But yes, we’ve also heard that Bucharest isn’t really a looker…

11. Tirana, Albania

Albania, Permet (picture courtesy of Rob Hogeslag, used under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution licence).
Albania, Permet (picture courtesy of Rob Hogeslag, used under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution licence).

Climbing high in popularity is Albania’s capital Tirana. Gradually it’s shaking off the ‘most corrupt country in the world’ image and becoming quite a treat for travellers looking for something a little different. Current prices for accommodation, food and entertainment are among the cheapest in Europe. Just don’t expect all that many flights – a regular flight schedule doesn’t run to all airports, or for a small cost either.

Got more suggestions?

Let us know your best budget travel destinations in the comments!

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