The continent of Europe is so vast and diverse that when it comes to holidays, we are spoilt for choice. Do you go for an extended beach break along the Mediterannean coast, or a shorter city break in Central Europe? Do you go to the edge of the continent where it meets the Middle East, or do you stay close to home?
There’s so many options to consider, and that is something we can’t help you with. What we can help with, however, is finding the type of holiday you want on a tight budget.
So whether it be near, far, culture-packed or relaxed, read on to discover our list of Europe’s most budget-friendly destinations.
Budget Friendly Summer Destinations In Europe
For a laidback, slow-paced, and care-free summer holiday, Lecce, a history-packed city on Italy’s southeastern coast, is the place to go. With so many awe-inspiring pieces of baroque architecture sprawled throughout it, such as the Basilica di Santa Croce and Lecce Cathedral, the city is on a par with its more famous rivals like Florence and Milan, but without their hefty price tags.
While you can easily spend all your time strolling through the city, adventure awaits just beyond it. Drive along the stunning cerulean coast to balmy towns like Gallipoli and Otranto, where Italian charm, gorgeous coastal scenery, and delicious seafood await.
If you’re looking for culture, sun, and fun on a budget, then look no further than Valencia on Spain’s notoriously sunny east coast. Valencia is much cheaper than Barcelona or Madrid, but you get just as much pack for your punch with its alluring blend of ancient and modern architecture, and vibrant artsy edge.
Head to the plazas of the old city where you’ll find the 13th century Valencia Cathedral and other historic delights, then wander through the rustic lanes of El Carmen to spot the city’s famous street art. For your fill of fascination, head to the City of Arts and Sciences’ best museums, and then get your fill of sunshine on a nearby beach.
Despite Cork being one of Ireland’s most popular destinations, it has maintained its modest prices and its cheeky Irish charm. Known for its rows of rainbow colored houses, gothic architecture, and the delightful English market which sells Britain’s best produce, this historic port city is a wonderful place to explore and fill your stomachs.
Surrounding the city is miles upon miles of lush Irish landscapes with excellent walking routes, highlighted by grand castles and quaint country farms. The medieval Blarney Castle is a must-visit whilst in Cork, as is the Old Head of Kinsale, a breathtaking peninsula along the rugged coast where tall cliffs meet crashing waves.
Bordeaux boasts the style and elegance of the capital, with grand French-Renaissance buildings, charming bridges, romantic river walks, and cute cafes lining the streets, but with a world-famous wine country to boot. And although it’s a surprise to many, Bordeaux can be an affordable place to go, whether you stay in a chic apartment inside the city, or in a rustic village on the outskirts.
Instead of shopping in the Triangle d’Or, head to the St Pierre district, and instead of sampling pricey oysters, why not find a cheaper local restaurant in a quaint neighborhood? Or why not simply spend your days meandering through Bordeaux’s rambling countryside.
Once an expensive and somewhat overpriced city to visit, Amsterdam is now becoming more and more affordable with cheap, regular flights and a wide range of Airbnb’s. What’s even better about Amsterdam is that you can take the city at your own pace, allowing you to rein in the spending whilst still having a good time.
Cut out the over-priced tourist attractions like the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum, and swap them for a morning bike ride around the canals and an afternoon spent in a vibrant independent cafe. Isn’t that how the Dutch would do it?
For some real bargains, make your way around the ‘Nine Streets’ that connect Amsterdam’s inner canal circles, where you’ll find cute boutiques and vintage stores.
Whilst Mallorca is one of the wealthiest parts of Spain, this scenic sun-trap is an affordable place for all. Sure, its dazzling Balearic coastline is dotted with over-sized ultra-modern villas, but you don’t have to own one to enjoy those incredible sea views.
As car rental is cheap in Mallorca, you can explore its pricey parts, like the capital, Palma, and Port d’Andratx where A-list celebrities and business moguls live, without having to stay there. You can also drive along the mountainous coastal roads, climb down craggy rocks to find yourself on a hidden beach like Es Calo des Moro, or simply pitch your parasol on one of its many long stretches of sand.
Not only is Sarajevo one of Europe’s cheapest cities, it’s also one of the most culturally and historically unique. During the Bosnian War, Salajevo, the country’s capital, went under siege, and today there are still stark reminders of its frightening past, which you can discover on a free walking tour.
Along with its war wounds, Sarajevo is filled with reminders from a much greater past, as it was actually founded by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. From the old town’s Arabian-style bazaar stalls to the Turkish restaurants dotted throughout, the city is very much where the east meets west. The best part of the city however, is the jaw-dropping views of it from the top of Mount Trebevic.
Greece’s largest island, Crete, is a place built upon rocky arid hills, authentic Greek food, crystal-clear seas, and friendly locals. Whether you stay in a city, like Chania, or a sleepy fishing town, like Agios Nikolaos, expect to live life at a glacial pace.
You can easily spend a slow morning at one of the island’s many traditional tavernas and an afternoon on the beach, but however relaxed you may be, get some pep in your step and explore this beautiful island’s nature too. The Samaria Gorge offers some of the island’s most spectacular views and hiking trails, while Balos Lagoon offers its most still, shallow, and clear seas — and they don’t cost a thing!
Athens is one of Europe’s most affordable major cities, and although its economy has struggled over the last decade, it is still filled with exciting shops, bars, restaurants and hotels. Thanks to its extensive underground system, you can also get around Athens easily for less than five euros per day.
However, Athens is a very walkable city, and you can walk from the parliament building on Syntagma Square to the Acropolis, where you can enjoy close-up views of the Parthenon and views of the city below. In between, you’ll discover Plaka, the city’s oldest and most quaint neighborhood characterized by its white-wash houses and steep cobbled streets.
As a central European city, Budapest is more budget-friendly than those in the west, yet it’s equally exciting. While the city has some high-end hotels and restaurants in its bustling centre, the best parts of the city are both, figuratively and literally-speaking, underground. The city is built upon a labyrinth of caves, a number of which can be explored, including the 7km-long Pálvölgyi Cave and the crystal-lined Szemlőhegyi Cave.
Meanwhile, in the Seventh District (or Jewish Quarter), you’ll find the city’s artsy crowd hidden in cheap but cool restaurants and bars serving Hungarian classics. However, even Budapest’s main attractions, like the great Buda Castle, are cheap to visit.
Not only is Malta one of the cheapest countries to visit in Western Europe, it has some of the continent’s most stunning beaches, and favourable temperatures.
Gozo, a small island just a short (and cheap) ferry ride from the capital, Valletta, is a peaceful place surrounded by striking turquoise sea, tall rocky cliffs and outcrops, and mystical caves. You can happily spend hours soaking up the sun and splashing in the sea, or you can get your snorkel and flippers on and explore the island’s vibrant underwater world.
Alternatively, you can explore its ancient world at the Ġgantija temples, which predate the Egyptian pyramids, or wander around the Valletta and the other Maltese islands.
If you’re looking for a more drastic cultural change on your summer holiday, but you’re on a budget, then Antalya on Turkey’s spectacular Mediterranean Coast is where you’ll find it. In the romantic old town, traditional Arabian goods like spices, oils, and scarves are sold amongst Roman ruins, old mosques, and Ottoman mansions.
Beyond the city itself, Antalya’s diverse history becomes even more apparent; you’ll find the Greek Temple of Apollo, the Roman ruins of Perge, and many beautiful Turkish villages. Backed by the Taurus Mountains and fronted by miles of dramatic coastline, Antalya even satisfies the nature-loving adventurous souls, from the beach-goers, to the hikers and waterfall-chasers.
Sat on a wide inlet on Scotland’s chilly north coast, with Loch Ness and Cairngorms National Park just a short drive away, the tradition-rich city of Inverness is one of the best locations from which to explore the Scottish Highlands and its rugged scenery.
Coastal paths featuring sandy (but windy) beaches and undulating cliffs feed into Inverness from one direction, while the path to Loch Ness feeds out from another, offering some of the Highlands’ typical views. A number of the country’s most prominent landmarks are also found here, including Inverness Castle, Cawdor Castle, Clava Cairns, and of course, the Glenmorangie Distillery.
Despite its every-growing popularity, Prague remains a very affordable destination to visit, and unlike some European cities, it has enough to keep you occupied for more than a few days. Free walking tours run daily from the Old Town Square, where the famous Astronomical Clock strikes every hour, and a guide takes you through the ice cream colored streets of the center and across the Gothic Saint Charles bridge to Prague Castle.
The castle is the most expensive of the city’s attractions, but the history, architecture, and incredible city views more than make up for it — as do the city’s generously-priced bars and restaurants.
About the Author: Emily Draper
Originally from the UK, Emily Draper has lived in Chile, with an Amazonian tribe in Peru, in a Wisconsin trailer park, and on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea. Considering herself, and the rest of us, as global citizens, Emily’s mission as a writer and journalist is to expand global consciousness of the fundamental importance of travel, culture, and diversity.