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Budget airlines mean it’s easier than ever to get carried away and snap up some killer flight deals. But what happens when you get there? There isn’t much point booking a £30 return flight to Oslo to discover that Norway is one of the most expensive countries in the world. We’ve run the numbers and outlined the best European destinations to make your buck stretch further.
With a history of resilience since the Nazis tried to wipe out 90% of its buildings in 1944, Poland’s capital today is a mix of restored buildings and modern skyscrapers. Take the tram from the city centre to Warsaw’s newly cool Praga neighbourhood, and unearth a neon nirvana restored and presented by photographer Ilona Karwińska and graphic designer David Hill. Entry will cost you a bargain about €3. Pierogis (Polish ravioli) should be on your “must eats” while in Warsaw, they’re inexpensive and you’ll find them everywhere in the capital.
A must-see due to its Asian-Euro charm, Budapest is packed with independent coffee shops, beautiful architecture and history at every turn. We’re checking in at the shabby-chic Brody House in Pest for just £60 per night and catching some zzz ahead of day of exploring. Head to Great Market Hall for eccentric wares and people watching, while for vintage shopping, Szputnyik will hit the mark.
Beautiful cities like Prague are prey to tourist traps – but you’re smarter than that. Explore the Jewish quarter and see where novelist Franz Kafka was born, catch a concerto for £20 or less and sip on cheap-as-chips Czech beer morning, noon and night. For the best beers and beer gardens (weather permitting) head to the Žižkov neighborhood, littered with pubs vying for your attention.
You don’t need us to tell you that the German capital is overflowing with history, art, culture and nightlife, buzzing with activities all year round. Spend the day at RAW, a large area in central Berlin that was once an abandoned train depot and is now a hub for graffiti artists and locals, featuring clubs, bars, a swimming pool and a bunker that’s been turned into a climbing wall. Check in at Linnen Hotel in Prenzlauer Berg, where the owners will load you up with tips for exploring their city while you munch on breakfast at neighbouring Linnen Café.
Situated on the Danube River, Vienna’s musical legacy was shaped by residents such as Mozart, Beethoven and Sigmund Freud. Take a sightseeing bus, visit the natural history museum and the Schönbrunn Palace as well as food, drink and accommodation, all for just over €400.
As fun the fifth time you visit as it was the first, Madrid keeps you coming back for more. If you’re a return visitor looking to stay somewhere new, check in at the Hat – an inexpensive boutique hotel that is centrally located and boasts a rooftop bar. Weekend visitors should pack a picnic and head to Palacio de Cristal in Retiro Park or the lesser-known Parque el Capricho on the outskirts of the city. Malasaña, the Shoreditch of Madrid, is home to candy-coloured buildings, tattooed baristas and great indie design shops. Scan the shops along Calle de Velarde and pop into Hijo de Epigmenio for your fill of handmade Spanish ceramics. The jewel in Malasaña crown? It’s home to the oldest churrería in the capital, La Churrería Madrid 1883.
Whether you’re throwing a coin into the Trevi fountain or gazing at the Colosseum, Rome will grasp you with its romantic charm. Experiencing the city (and gorging on pasta and negronis) can be done on the cheap. Half the appeal of the Eternal City is it’s labyrinthine layout. With meandering aimlessly on the agenda, you don’t even need to buy map (we’re saving a cent a second over here). To make your funds stretch, move a little further out from the tourist route. Head for the hills above the Forum to Monti – one of Rome’s oldest and most colourful neighbourhoods populated by dapperly dressed old men and flower vendors. Snacks in the form of gourmet gelato at €2-3 per scoop is the hood’s sweet spot.
Poland’s second-largest city is a cheaper option than many other European breaks. With a growing reputation as an affordable dining destination (despite Poland’s meat-and-potatoes reputation) and a vibrant art scene Krakow draws a cool crowd, as the gallery-studded Zablocie neighbourhood can attest. Subverting fad food trends in favour of good grub and great value, in Zablocie you’ll clock umpteen old warehouses that have been converted into quirky cafés. We recommend Restauracja Pod Baranem for a multi-course lunch where you’re also likely to brush shoulders with Krakow’s most prominent artists and writers. For dessert, head to the signless Cukiernia Dominikanska for some traditional sernik (cheesecake).
For Brits, the words “budget” and “Brussels” induce a Brexit-specific anxiety, but regardless of your hesitations pre-March 29, travelling to the EU’s capital remains a good deal. Despite popular opinion, Brussels isn’t only accessible to those with a business expenses account. With a reasonably broad choice of boutique hotels and postcard-worthy streets to explore, Brussel’s bounty will put a pep in your step. Comic geeks will revel in the city’s cartoon lineage – from Tin Tin to the Smurfs. Head on a free comic- strip- free walking tour or stop off in the Comic Art Museum for a charge of as low as €6.50. Also, eat chocolates, frites and waffles. That’s all.
Planning a European sojourn? Incredibly charming – and affordable – Latvia’s capital is an ideal option for travellers looking to discover somewhere new without dipping into your overdraft. Explore colourful cobblestone streets in Rīga’s Old Town for a heady mishmash of architecture and when your feet start to ache, join the snaking queue and stop for a snack at Šefpavārs Vilhelms – order pancakes for everyone (they’re just €0.80 each after all).
The most expensive component of a trip to Russia is likely to be your visa application fee. Once that’s sorted, you’ll be nicely surprised by the value for money you’ll encounter. After the strong devaluation of the ruble, a Russian romp has become far more accessible. With a flight time of just three hours from London, sinfully cheap Uber fares for out-of-town excursions and a web of bridges and canals interlaced by the Neva River to explore on foot, we’re hooked on St Petersburg. For a culture fix on the cheap, it’s wise to note that entry to many museums in the city is free on the first Thursdays of the month. Another costcutter, the metro is a speedy way to get around, and you’ll take in some spectacular designs on your way from A to B. While not as grand as Moscow, some stops do give the capital a run for its money.
Lisbon’s popularity is reaching its peak, but it can still make for a relatively affordable weekend away. Food and lodgings are well priced and munching on pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) for breakfast lunch and tea at €1 a pop is sure to keep meal costs way down. On the first Sunday of each month, you can catch the big sights for nothing. Otherwise, a sunny climate lends to uninterrupted city rambles, with Alfama a favourite spot for exploring. This former fishing village is the oldest neighbourhood in the capital, beckoning tourists off the trodden path and down its meandering paths. Stumbleupon cafés, restaurants and pastel-hued tiled facades as you wander.
At a centre point between London, Paris and Brussels, Lille is a great tag-on option for any trip. Take the Eurostar from St Pancras and at just one hour 20 minutes it’s just as good for a day trip (thereby eliminating the hotel bill) as it is a short break. On arrival drop into patisserie and chocolaterie Maison Méert for coffee and waffles before heading to either the Palais des Beaux-Arts or Braderie de Lille. The former is the largest fine-arts museum in France after the Louvre and the latter the biggest flea market in Europe – an ideal destination for frugal flaneurs. Don’t miss a hearty plate of moules frites either.
Head to Marseille directly from Brussels in just five hours via TGV and see for yourself that the south of France isn’t all yachts and jewel-drenched celebrities. Detour from the busy port for a culinary feast of traditional Provençal cuisine aside. Alternatively, eat your way around the Med – a large proportion of immigrants means Greek, Italian, Corsican and Armenian cuisine are in broad supply opting for tapas, pizza and fresh fish for some cheap chow. Further off the beaten track, the hidden bays and rocky cliffs of the Calanques await. Accessible by boat or on foot, a hike there will cost you nothing and this stretch of coast between Marseille and Cassis is well worth the detour.
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