We've already told you why this is the year to head to Europe (Cheaper airfare? Check. A strong dollar? Check.) Now here's where to go. Get packing.
Lisbon’s neighbor on the northern coast has cemented its place on the global cultural map, thanks to a crop of design-forward guesthouses, eye-catching art galleries and standout restaurants — all within budget. The minimalist Miss’Opo is a joint cafe, bar, townhouse and exhibition space, and it's an ideal place to bunk down for the night (studios start at $75 per person). Or check into the swank 4Rooms, a converted 19th-century house that's all marble, wood and granite, with a palette of soft greys, white and lilac. For lunch, there's local favorite Stash, a sandwich shop run by award-winning chef Pedro Lemos. The slow-cooked black Iberian pork seasoned with basil mayo, plus a Super Bock beer is a steal at only $10. If you've got a sweet tooth, head to nearby Confeitaria Serrana, a family-run bakery, which serves the city's best bola de Berlim (a sugar-dusted roll filled with custard). Wash it down with three port tastings at the Touriga Vinhos de Portugal wine shop. If you're looking to bring back some made-in-Portugal souvenirs, swing by Ó! Galeria, which stocks whimsical treasures like paintings by local artists and hand-embroidered stationery.
We know the economic news from Greece hasn't been so rosy, but there is a silver lining: Athens is the least expensive eurozone destination for travelers, and flights to the capital are expected to drop in 2016. (As if the city's historical sites weren't incentive enough.) The Acropolis and Ancient Agora are must-sees, but there are plenty of other noteworthy landmarks that happen to be free — namely Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Panathenaic Stadium, and Aristotle’s Lyceum. Once you've had your fill of history, make a beeline to Manimani for hearty Peloponnesian fare like the homemade hilopites (traditional Greek pasta) with chicken, asparagus, zucchini, sun-dried tomatoes and basil and grilled veal meatballs on pita bread with smoked eggplant and spicy yogurt cream. Pick up some vintage threads at Kilo Shop, where you pay by the weight of your loot, then wrap up the day with a glass of Melissokipos (white wine from Crete) and the Greek cheese platter — aged anthotiro (goat cheese) and smoked cow's milk cheese — at Heteroclito. Not ready to turn in? Catch an alfresco acoustic concert at cafe-bar-garden, Six d.o.g.s.
Budapest has history and romance to rival Paris, without the hefty price tag. Book a room at the Hotel Nemzeti Budapest (from $104 a night), a 19th-century stunner with rotating contemporary art exhibits that compete with most museums. You can take in more modern art at nearby Koller, which is filled with works by Hungarian artists (leave enough time to tour the sculpture garden). A 10-minute taxi ride south, the milk bar and bakery, Cserpes Tejivo, serves the perfect light lunch — we love the egg cream sandwich and pastry filled with cottage cheese. After exploring the the Pest and Buda embankments of the Danube, a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to hundreds of architectural landmarks, make your way to Lotz Terem Book Cafe for a cocktail. The hidden ballroom has a grand piano, gilded chandeliers and ceiling frescoes by Charles Lotz, one of Hungary's most renowned painters. On Sundays, the local farmer's market at Szimpla Kert sells goods like homemade jam, pickled melons and green pepper cheese. Pack a picnic before finding a shady spot on nearby Margaret Island, where you can bike around 12th-century chapel ruins and Japanese gardens.
Skip the pricey Italian seaside for Croatia’s just as breathtaking, yet wildly more affordable Dalmatian coast. The sprawling Dubrovnik Sun Gardens resort — with three pools, 14 restaurants and a 37,000-square-foot spa — is the perfect jumping off point for exploring the city's old town, a 15 minute walk away. Surrounded by medieval ramparts, the historic center is home to romantic winding lanes, late medieval and early renaissance architecture and buzzy Stradun street, lined with small shops and open-air cafes. Stop for lunch at the fish-to-fork Proto, where crowd-pleasers include the Dalmatian smoked ham and olives appetizer and the stuffed lobster and truffle risotto entree. Then work off the calories with a 90-minute hike up Mount Srd. You'll be rewarded for your efforts with knockout coastal views.
This Baltic country bordered by Latvia and Poland wins the title for Europe’s most affordable city. Its medieval old town is a patchwork of styles and eras, with baroque, neoclassical and gothic architecture. Start your day off with a cappuccino and kibinai pastry (stuffed with mutton and onion) at Pinavija, or go for a slice of traditional honey cake at Mamma Mia. Then take a 10-minute stroll through the city center's leafy plazas to Uzupis, an artist republic that has creative galleries, concept stores and a summer Friday market called Open Kitchen that sells all manner of local delicacies (we’re partial to the Fritkės and Juokiasi Puodas food trucks). From there, walk to Literatu Gatve (Literary Street) where open-air mixed-media art installations pay tribute to the country's famous writers like Romain Gary, Rimas Burokas and Arvydas Ambrasas. The subterranean dining room at Forto Dvaras is a great choice for dinner: rustic Lithuanian classics include kugelis (potato pudding) with smoked pig's ears, borscht (beet soup) and didžkukuliai or cepelinai (potato dumpling stuffed with meat, mushrooms, or cottage cheese and speck). For after-hours drinks, there's Bambalynė, a lively cellar bar that serves more than 100 varieties of Lithuanian beer. Before heading back to your cozy room at Stikliai Hotel, swing by Studio 9 to listen to live acoustic music.
Istanbul is a buzzing metropolis, whose storied history and culture has been largely influenced by its location straddling the European and Asian sides of the Bosphorus Strait. Here, Byzantine and Roman architecture exist alongside modern shops and restaurants, stylish bars and hotels. Check into Galata Antique Hotel, a Neo-Renaissance mansion in the boho-chic Pera neighborhood, which has a rooftop terrace and slick lounge. When hunger strikes, do like the locals and hit the street carts for piles of rice pilaf paired with an ayran (the country's national yogurt drink). Or head to Şimşek Karadeniz Pide Salonu, a hidden gem tucked away in the Taksim district, which serves next-level pide (the Turkish answer to pizza). Another go-to lunch spot: Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi Selim Usta for traditional köfte (grilled meatballs). Among the city's many historical sites, the colorful Grand Bazaar is a must, along with the Hagia Sophia and Sultanahmet district. Leave enough time for a tour of the Great Palace Mosaic Museum (one of the few museums that doesn't charge a big entrance fee) and the ferry ride from the Eminönü waterfront on the Golden Horn, an inlet that connects to the Bosphorus.