Home » 5 budget destinations in Europe you won’t want to miss

5 budget destinations in Europe you won’t want to miss

written by Julie Faye Germansky January 29, 2018
Europe on a budget

The ability to experience a number of different European cultures on one trip is priceless, so to speak.

But if you want to travel Europe on a budget as well as achieve cultural immersion, you’ll probably want to choose your destinations wisely. Because from France’s iconic capital to Greece’s hedonistic islands, Europe’s rich diversity can make for a relatively high price tag to boot.

Luckily, however, some countries offer more bang for your buck than others.

As a general rule, the further east you travel, the cheaper the destination (in terms of food, attractions, accommodation etc.). But, there’s more to it than that. There’s an art to making your Europe trip work for your budget. And a lot of it’s to do with using our insider tips.

Europe on a budget Madrid sunset

An Intrepid group soaking up the sunset in Madrid

Being budget-friendly is far from the only appeal of these five countries, but it’s not a bad place to start:

Romania: Budget-friendly on all levels

Preserved medieval villages with cobblestone roads, storybook castles and beautiful churches galore, Romania offers a quintessential European experience. The kicker: it’s all for a fraction of the price of other areas of Europe. To add to the allure, the Eastern European gem is also home to what’s known as Dracula’s Castle. Yep, Transylvania is the place to check out this cliff-top castle set against the dramatic backdrop of the Carpathian Mountains.

Europe on a budget Sighisoara Romania

Sighisoara

One of the major treats of Romania is that a lot of the worth-seeing attractions are free. Hike in Brasov, wander the amazingly-preserved medieval town of Sighisoara (the reported birthplace of Dracula) or gawk over the architectural beauty of  Cărtureşti Carusel, a bookstore in Bucharest.

To see the extravagant castles (which you really should), you’ll only pay between $5-$10. The food scene is also great value for money. In Romania you can eat well for around $8.

Visit this destination: Intrepid’s 10-day Budapest to Bucharest trip takes you to many of Romania’s highlights.
Read more about it: 8 places you didn’t know you needed to see in Europe (Romania included!)

Spain: Underrated cities that your budget adores

Ah, there is much to envy about the day-to-day life of Spaniards. Daily siestas, Gaudi architecture to gawk over and the food, oh yes, the food. But there’s much more than Spanish stereotypes to be uncovered, especially if you venture to underrated Spanish cities such as Bilbao and Salamanca. Oh, and it’s really not as pricey as expected.

Venture inland to Madrid, one of Europe’s cheaper-than-expected capitals. The lively barrio of La Latina is the area to hit up for all your budget needs. The city’s oldest neighborhood, it brims with tapas, bars, cantinas and street-food stalls. Alternatively, the market hall of Mercado de la Cebada is the perfect launch point to mingle, fill your belly on local eats and check out its exterior walls (containing one of the world’s biggest works of street art), all while on a budget.

Europe on a budget

Exploring Madrid on an Intrepid trip

For a truly immersive cultural experience in Europe, food undoubtedly plays a massive role. Instead of gathering at restaurants off of the main drags, opt for the more hidden gems (experience them on Intrepid’s 10-day Real Food Adventure). This is hardly a compromise to fit a budget. Street food, locally-owned restaurants and food markets have become essential to most European food scenes — not to mention that they contribute to the local economy.

READ MORE: 6 MUST-TRY DISHES IN MADRID

In Spain, you’re obviously going to get to grips with tapas. But, did you know they come with a bonus? The snack-size shareable dishes sometimes come free with the purchase of a drink, like at Entre Cáceres y Badajoz in Madrid. Local restos often offer menu del día (menu of the day) which come with an appetizer, main and the option of a drink or dessert. All of this comes to about $15, so is worth hunting down.

Europe on a budget tapas

Tapas in Barcelona

When you find yourself in a major city like Barcelona, gravitate towards public markets. La Boqueria, for example, is a dream for street food. Its grand setting hosts an array of budget-friendly food vendors to take your pick from, including massive paella and fresh juices for only $1.50. Take it to go to make it a picnic and you’ve basically mastered Europe on a budget.

Visit this destination: Check out the highlights of Spain on Intrepid’s 8-day Highlights of Spain trip (Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and more included!)
Read more about it: 6 cities in Spain to visit before everyone else does

Hungary: affordable luxuries and great value sights

Hungary may not be as much of a bargain for travellers as it once was, but it’s still more wallet-friendly than many countries in the west. Budapest is one of pricier capital cities in Eastern Europe – but if you know where to look, you can experience its best bits for next to nothing.

Budapest is actually split in two by the Danube, with one side named Buda and the other Pest – who doesn’t love a two-for-one deal? While the majority of the city’s buzz sits on the Pest side, it’s worth crossing the Liberty Bridge (an excellent – and free! – sunset viewing spot) to explore the hills of Buda and take in panoramic views of the city.

Bathers in an outdoor thermal pool at night at Szechenyi Baths, Budapest

Szechenyi Baths, Budapest

If you’re here for the thermal baths but don’t want to splash too much cash, here’s how to soak while saving a few hundred forint. The most famous bathing spot, Schechenyi, is better value if you opt for locker-only entry after 6pm on weekdays. But for an even better deal without the crowds, take your pick of the city’s lesser-known but equally soothing baths, such as Kiraly, a quaint old bathing spot with an atmospheric octagonal pool; tickets come at a fraction of the cost of Schechenyi.

Visit this destination: Many of our Central Europe tours start or end in Budapest.
Read more about it: What to eat and drink in Hungary.

Portugal: The free outdoors

When you visit a destination that has as many beautiful beaches, boardwalks, lookout points and maze-like streets to wander as Portugal, it’s easy to stay on budget. Bask in the sun on a beach cove by the jagged cliffs of the Algarve coast. Take a break from wandering the streets of Lisbon at a Miradouro (lookout) da Graça and stare in awe at the panoramic views.

lisbon portugal

Lookout point in Lisbon

Also visit Baleal Beach in Peniche and check-out the skilled surfers carving waves on the Atlantic. There’s so many outdoorsy things to do that your visit really doesn’t have to break the bank.

But, it’s not all about beaches and riverside strolls. We wouldn’t blame you if you go to Portugal just for the food (here’s a cheeky guide). Why? Well it doesn’t hurt that the price of food and drink is also some of the cheapest in Europe! Pastel de nata (custard tarts) are delightful and cost less than $3, plus they can be found pretty much everywhere. Delicious ocean-to-table fish and churrasqueira (BBQ) chicken are also plentiful and often cost less than $5. Coffee also costs as little as $1…

Europe on a budget custard tarts

Pastel de nata

Heading north beyond Lisbon is a great bet to scale back your spending. When it comes to enjoying Port, a traditional Portuguese wine, there’s no better place to visit than its birthplace, Porto. Enjoying a glass of port can cost as little as $3.

Visit this destination: Eat your way through Lisbon, Porto and so much more on Intrepid’s 8-day Portugal Real Food Adventure.
Read more about it: Why Porto is the hottest destination in Portugal (and what to do there!)

Poland: off-season budget travel

Poland is the ideal place for a budget-friendly, off-season escape. Perched on the edge of the Baltic Sea, this Eastern European country sees Jewish heritage and medieval architecture join forces for a destination with history, food and cities like no other.

Our best tip is to skip the peak summer months and travel on the shoulder season, which falls just before Easter or after October. The benefits? Cheaper flights and fewer fellow travellers.

Europe on a budget Polan

The Wawel Castle in central Kraków.

Winter here captures the country in all of its magical, snowcapped glory. And fewer people go to the slopes of the Tatra Mountains (a range forming the border with Slovakia), which means you can hike their trails in relative seclusion. After you ease your way through the mountains, you can enjoy a hearty fireside meal in the company of locals who wisely benefit from the off-season perks.

Regardless of the season, Poland is already incredibly inexpensive for travellers. Yet to adopt the Euro, the currency of the Polish Złoty will do your wallet wonders. At traditional restaurants such as Kurna Chata in Wroclaw, you can feast on pierogi with sauerkraut for less than $8, and pair it with a glass of wine for around $3. And wandering around the stunning streets of Krakow, for instance, is absolutely free. Bliss.

Visit this destination: Explore epic mountains and incredible cities on Intrepid’s Best of Central Europe adventure.
Read more about it: 5 reasons why Poland is Europe’s most underrated destination

Bonus tips

Europe on a budget

An Intrepid leader showing off Lisbon’s coolest sights

  • Use helpful and sustainable apps like Too Good to Go. It lets you snag end-of-day food sales from dining spots all over.
  • Bring a reusable water bottle. Not only is this good for the environment, but it saves you money to put towards more exciting things.
  • Opt for a multi-day public transit pass. Taking public transit not only means you reduce environmental impact, but you can get from A to B like a local while saving some coin.
  • When at a restaurant, ask for the lunch menu. Often these dishes are cheaper than the dinner menu.
  • Travel with a local as your guide. It’s as authentic as it gets when locals invite you for food or take you to their favourite spot in their hometown. A cool experience AND one that’ll save you money? Tick.

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Now you’re equipped with budget savviness. Check out Intrepid’s range of small group adventures in Europe.

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(Moldova image c/o iStock/SpVVK. Romani image c/o iStock/AnSyvanych. All other images c/o Intrepid Travel.)

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35 comments

Sahil January 23, 2019 - 7:50 pm

Looking for trekking destinations across Europe, but on a tight budget. Any suggestions, also specific gear or permits required for that
Thanks

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LOUISA CURVELO November 4, 2018 - 5:02 pm

I am traveling solo and very interested in Bulgaria?, Croatia?,, or some place similar?
I am on a budget and really need more info please
I am also interested in CUBA for a 10 days or so?
I live in Victoria BC

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Chloe September 14, 2018 - 1:59 am

Hungary is cheaper too by the way

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Lynn September 11, 2018 - 1:08 pm

Going to Porto, Portugal in October. Any suggestions for clothing (temp) and also ideas of amazing places to see and eat?

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Anonymous October 16, 2018 - 10:42 am

Port flights at Bacchus Vini, right along the river on the Porto side, near the Maria Pus bridge. So good!

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Patricia Aldred July 18, 2018 - 9:53 pm

Planning a solo Paris/London trip in September.
Any suggestions are welcome

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Margaret March 25, 2019 - 4:52 am

Versailles is amazing and with the short ride!

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Purvi Kamaliya June 23, 2018 - 5:16 pm

Some really useful tips here. Loved seeing a few destinations which i had skipped somehow despite being on a budget trip to Europe. Thanks for such a useful article.

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Imelda June 23, 2018 - 3:03 am

Hi do you have itenerary for sevilla and andalucia ?

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Rebecca Shapiro June 26, 2018 - 1:25 am

Hey Imelda! I’ve picked a few trips that feature those destinations. Feel free to email me (rebecca.shapiro@intrepidtravel.com) if you have any questions or would be interested in booking!: https://www.intrepidtravel.com/spain/cycle-andalucia-112405, https://www.intrepidtravel.com/spain/marrakech-barcelona-107988, https://www.intrepidtravel.com/spain/explore-spain-and-portugal-107977

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Andy Kuiper June 15, 2018 - 5:52 pm

Hoping to see a bit of Portugal this September. I too found Madrid to be reasonably priced with cool architecture when visiting a few months ago.

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Imelda Generoso April 17, 2018 - 2:09 pm

I love to travel and to join groups. I am a solo traveler and want to explore and discover different places and culture but in a budget.
Thank you for more tips.

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Mary Harrington March 23, 2018 - 4:01 am

You got me at solo travel. A first.

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Herlinda July 1, 2018 - 1:40 am

Info please

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Jim Bren November 5, 2018 - 3:39 pm

Hi Mary, Are you in Madison? If so, email me at: “JimBren@Charter.net. Jim

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Karen March 16, 2019 - 5:56 am

I am a solo traveler too. But need a trip without too much walking.

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Gerry March 20, 2018 - 7:39 am

Love your suggestions

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Norman Ridenour February 28, 2018 - 3:05 am

Rob, Barcelona is now EXPENSIVE and over run. I agree, Bilbao but Cordova & Toledo are wonderful for city browsing. Sevilla is well marked according to scenes from Carman.

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Ulyana February 27, 2018 - 9:03 am

You forgot to mention Ukraine, specifically Lviv in Western in Ukraine, called Little Paris. Top notch entertainment and restaurants for reasonable prices. Beautiful.

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George Kurimsky February 25, 2018 - 10:13 am

Hi, travel to Slovakia too, the beer costs €1,5 in restaurant and many of them have a lunch menu for €3,50 – €3,99! There are beautiful cities in East Slovakia, especially Košice!

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ANNIE DIMEN February 23, 2018 - 10:20 pm

Please send me travel updates. My husband and I enjoy this kind of trips. We have been to several parts of Europe in the past. We still have a lot in our bucket list….next up is Portugal and Benelux….looking forward to see your itineraries.

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Binnie February 14, 2018 - 10:27 pm

I’d like to travel to Eastern Europe with my 9 year old grandson. Do Amy if your tours accept children?

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Emily Kratzmann February 15, 2018 - 9:01 am

Hi Binnie,

We have a range of family tours that might be a good option for you and your grandson! You can check them out here.

Cheers,
Emily

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Ana February 13, 2018 - 2:15 pm

What about Moldova do you have any trips there!???

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Rebecca Shapiro February 14, 2018 - 3:34 am

Hi Ana! We have a bunch of great trips to Moldova: https://intrepidtravel.com/moldova. Please drop me an email to rebecca.shapiro@intrepidtravel.com if you’d like more info or for me to connect you with our sales team 🙂

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Jennifer February 11, 2018 - 8:21 am

Poland is a wonderful country! We spent 3 weeks traveling throughout the country this past May and loved every minute of it. We can’t wait to go back! One thing- you’ve got a typo… It’s pierogi, not perogies. And contrary to popular (non-Polish) belief, pierogi is actually the plural – no ‘s’ needed! 🙂

Next up for us is Portugal in the fall. Can’t wait!

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Emily Kratzmann February 13, 2018 - 11:04 am

Thanks so much for the comment Jennifer (and for letting us know about the pierogi typo!!). So glad to hear you enjoyed Poland so much – I have a feeling you’re going to LOVE Portugal!!

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Merla February 8, 2018 - 10:24 am

Romania looks really authentic and I’d love to travel there. I’m older Canadian (ontario) woman in need of a travel companion who has a sense of direction.

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Rebecca Shapiro February 9, 2018 - 4:08 am

Hi Merla! Great to hear you are interested in travelling! Do let me know if you’d be interested in visiting Romania on small group tour with Intrepid :). We have a bunch of really cool trips https://www.intrepidtravel.com/ca/romania and they’re for people of all ages and from all countries and backgrounds. Feel free to email me at rebecca.shapiro@intrepidtravel.com if you want to know more, and want me to look into the people booked on certain departures!

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Donna Alander February 11, 2018 - 4:19 am

Hi Merle. My name is Donna and I am also looking for a travel companion. I am also an older Canadian. I live on Vancouver Island, but don’t let that scare you, we can either fly direct from Vancouver or Toronto. Doesn’t matter much to me. Please let me know when and where you would like to go.

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Merla Kay February 27, 2018 - 9:40 am

Hi Donna
Sorry about my late response. I just found it now so I do hope you read this . I have travelled in Europe quite a bit and just love it! I would like to check out Eastern Europe, especially on a tour and do like the idea of these small tours. In the past, I’ve travelled indept as Far East as Croatia, Slovenia and Czech Rep.
Would you care to correspond with me privately? My email is merlarn@hotmail.com. I’d love to hear from you!
~~Merla

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Merla Kay March 1, 2018 - 9:40 am

Hi Donna
I’d love to chat with you. Hope you read this. I am very open to times and destinations. Please contact me (merlarn@hotmail.com).

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Titin Wigmore June 28, 2018 - 1:36 pm

Hi Donna
My husband n I love to visit to Vancouver . Hope we can chatt soon. Please contact me at tienwigmore@hotmail.com

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Mr & Mrs Gist January 30, 2018 - 10:49 pm

All of these places look beaaaaaautiful! We are planning a budget family trip to Portugal based on this post so thanks for sharing 🙂

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Rebecca Shapiro January 31, 2018 - 1:28 am

That’s great to hear, Portugal is such a beautiful destination for everyone! Intrepid have a great family trip in the Azores – thought it was worth linking you to 🙂 https://www.intrepidtravel.com/portugal/azores-family-holiday-108502

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