10 Affordable European Getaways
For travelers on a budget, there's never been a better time for a trip across the pond. Here, 10 wallet-friendly destinations we can't wait to explore.
Krakow has all the romance, medieval squares and Gothic architecture of Budapest and Prague, at a fraction of the cost. Make your base Puro Hotel on the edge of the Old Town. It's got a modern, poppy style and a host of extras like free WiFi, coffee, bike rentals and a calendar of cultural events. For a traditional Polish meal, head to one of the city's many "milk bars," classic eateries serving simple, hearty dishes like pierogie ruski and kotlet schabowy for just a few bucks; or fill up on street eats like the ubiquitous obwarzanek krakowski rolls. After dark, make your way to the hip Kazimierz neighborhood for a drink in one of the candle-lit cafes ⎯ we love Singer, where every table is actually a Singer sewing machine ⎯ and people watching on buzzy Plac Nowy.
Hear us out. No, the British capital isn't a budget destination, but if your wallet's still recovering from the early-2000s $2 to £1 exchange rates, you should know that we're back in the $1.50 to £1 range. Plus, getting there from the east coast just got easier, with new routes from Boston and Washington D.C. on Iceland-based airline Wow Air, and occasional bargains on direct flights from Norwegian Airlines. London has also embraced hip hostels, with a Generator Hostel opening near King's Cross in 2014, joining popular CitizenM Bankside and Clink Hostels. Once you're there, it's easy to be thrifty thanks to free entry to most museums, culture centers and historic homes; gratis music events (many listed on London Ears); and good, cheap eats at Exmouth, Borough and Broadway markets.
It’s easy to spend a fortune in the Turkish capital of cool, where Ottoman palaces have been turned into ritzy hotels and eye-catching designer stores line the chic streets of Nisantasi. But for travelers looking to save, Istanbul is a treat of street eats and affordable lokantas (local restaurants), free tourist attractions and little-explored walkable neighborhoods. On your first morning, grab a bagel-like simit for 1TL (around 35 cents) at any street cart, then stop at a metro station for an Istanbul Kart, your key to getting around the city's trams, buses and funiculars. Skip the expensive tourist cruises on the Bosphorus and hop a ferry from Karakoy to Kadikay on the Asian side. The views of the sun setting behind the Blue Mosque are just as magical and you can sip sweet Turkish tea and listen to the busking music troupes. Once on the Asian side, don't miss dinner at Ciya Sofrasi, a local favorite known for its simple village fare.
Although you’re technically traveling to the Asian continent, flights to Georgia’s capital from the US are comparable to legs to other European cities. Exploring leafy Tbilisi can feel like traveling back in time to 19th-century Europe, as you navigate the Parisian-style wide boulevards, feast on classic acharuli khachapuri (cheesy bread with a raw egg on top), and knock back lethal chacha (homemade schnapps) with friendly locals. International chain hotels like Radisson Blu and Marriott are well located but pricier than Tbilisi's standout stay, Rooms Hotel, in the upscale Vera neighborhood. Make sure to hit the hotel restaurant The Kitchen for brunch; it's worth the splurge for the seasonal New American fare and lively scene. Otherwise, eating out is a bargain, whether you dine at popular spots like Shemoikhede Genatsvale or try the busy Desertirebis Bazari market for classic eats.
Your Euros will go further in Puglia than in any other tourist hotspot in Italy. Pick up a rental car (essential) at Bari or Brindisi airport and plan on a roadtrip down beautiful, craggy Strada Provinciale 358 from Otranto to Leuca. Drive through the knotted olive groves around Fasano and stop for an olive oil tasting; go on a gelato and culture crawl from Lecca and Otranto to Martina Franca and Ostuni; and snap shots of the round trulli houses in Alberobello. In the summer months, join the locals on free beaches like Porto Giardino (others are privately owned and command a small fee) and dine at outdoor cafes where an antipasto platter and heavy pour of primitivo will fill you up for almost nothing.
Sofia is a perfect pick for history and architecture buffs, with a skyline marked with neo Byzantine, neo Classical, Ottoman and Red Army-era relics. Flights from the east coast connect through major European hubs (giving you the option to extend a stop in Amsterdam, London, Rome and more), with the cheapest fares on Aeroflot in the winter months. Spend your Bugalrian levs at the city's exceptional culture centers, including the new museum inside the Sveta Sofia Church and world-famous St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, then explore Vitosha Boulevard and the many manicured squares. As for where to stay? Rates at the city's first design hotel, Sense Hotel Sofia start at just $110 per room, per night.
While Vilnius might not feature on many travelers’ wish list, cheap flights from Washington D.C. on Aeroflot until spring 2016 should bring this Baltic belle into the spotlight. The city is known for its baroque Old Town, exceptional sacred architecture and maze-like cobblestone streets; it's small enough to tackle in three days, which leaves time for day trips to the Trakai National Park and Gothic Island Castle, or, in the summer months, a longer jaunt down to the Curonian Spit. Vilnius is low on style steals, but two standouts are Shakespeare Hotel and the Narutis Hotel.
Thank Wow Air and Norwegian Airlines for your next European jaunt: flights to Berlin from Boston and JFK are under $400 next spring, and just over $500 from LA and Florida over the same period. Once there, go gallery-hopping on Auguststrasse and pick up the Berlin City Pass, which gives you entry to more than 50 museums for three days. On Thursdays from 5 to 10 p.m., Markthalle Neun offers a food truck eatathon, where you can sample traditional German dishes, along with Thai tapioca dumplings, Mexican tacos and even Nigerian fufu. Berlin has plenty of chic affordable digs, including the Generator Hostels, and the slightly more expensive H10, Axel and art'otel.
All eyes were on Scotland’s largest city in 2014 as the Commonwealth Games kicked off for two weeks at the end of July. With it came new attention and investment that’s proved a boon for budget travelers. New routes on Icelandair from the US have made getting there more affordable, especially if you're willing to travel during Glasgow's generally wet winter. Hotels are also cheaper before April; rates at the hip Abode and wallet-friendly citizenM are around 50 percent less expensive before spring arrives. Plus, a winter trip means more time indoors, and Glasgow is full of affordable museums and cultural activities, including Zaha Hadid's spectacular Riverside Museum and the Hunterian Museum on the grounds of the Glasgow School of Art. On the dining front, don't miss classic fish 'n' chips at Old Salty's, curries at Babu Bombay Street Kitchen and toasties (posh grilled cheese) at Where the Monkey Sleeps.
The cultural and financial capital of Andalusia, Seville is all about mosaic plazas and palaces, lush city gardens and innovative Spanish cuisine. Start your tour at Plaza de España followed by the Plaza del Salvador and the Metropol Parasol, a new architectural icon with knockout views of the city from its rooftop. To sample the city's finest tapas, head to Mechela Restaurante, a favorite for seafood and big portions, and Bodeguita Antonio Romero, known for its meat-topped mini baguettes. Don't leave the city without catching a flamenco show: We recommend La Carbonería, which has nightly performances at 11 p.m. for the cost of a few cervezas.