If you have been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I like to start planning my travels at least six months or even a year ahead. Summer months are considered as high season in most of the countries, especially in Europe, therefore planning at least a year ahead to make your vacation as budget-friendly as possible is very important. And to give you lots of options for your cheap vacations, I collaborated with my fellow travel bloggers.
Cheap Places to Travel in Eastern Europe
Albania – Travels of a Bookpacker
Albania is the perfect budget-friendly summer destination due to its affordable prices, stunning beaches and free and affordable activities. Food and accommodation are very affordable in Albania and there is cheap public transport as well as car hire, having your own vehicle is a great way to explore more of the country.
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Some of the best things to do in Albania are free including the white sand or pebble beaches lining the coastline along the Adriatic. Crystal clear waters stretch out before you and if you do a bit of exploring you can find beaches all to yourself. There are accommodation options for every budget from beachfront hotels to amazing spots for wild camping.
For those with a love of adventure, Albania offers amazing hiking in the north of the country known as the Albanian Alps. Hiking between small villages you can discover clear waterfalls, pool, and stunning mountain views. In the south, you can find ‘The Blue Eye’ an impossibly clear deep water spring and a canyon filled with natural thermal pool.
And if you’re not already sold on Albania there are also quirky cities and UNESCO Heritage old towns to explore. The capital, Tirana, offers all kinds of historical, arty and cultural things to do all surrounded by great cafes and restaurants. Berat and Gjirokaster are both gorgeous old towns worth a stop off and a dreamy wander along the cobblestone streets. €25 per day would easily cover travels in Albania.
Ukraine is another off the beaten destination for many travelers no matter the season. With its vast array of landscapes and attractions, the country can easily satisfy the needs of any traveler. The port city of Odessa is considered as the ‘pearl of the Black Sea’, where you can enjoy sandy beaches and clear blue waters, admire the Art Nouveau and Baroque architecture and try their pelmeni or vareniki, the traditional dumplings.
For those of you who love exploring cities and don’t care much about the beaches, Lviv is a perfect alternative. The city boasts a friendly atmosphere, colorful buildings, bustling dining scene with various themed venues, and plenty of things to do for free or on a budget.
Similar to Ukraine, Georgia is a country full of different landscape offering a wide array of activities to its visitors. Whether you are a city person, a hiker, or love spending your day at the beach, Georgia has it all. Still considered as off the beaten path for many travelers, (even though last year 7 million tourists visited the country), Georgia is a combination of gorgeous mountain views, tasty food, and historic sites.
Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia is a bustling city full of old and new architecture, where you can do plenty of things for free or spending around $20 per day on attractions, museums, and food. Moreover, the accommodation venues are quite budget friendly as well, with plenty of charming Airbnb’s for less than $25 per night (get $25 discount coupon on your first booking).
Cluj-Napoca, Romania – LooknWalk
Cluj-Napoca is the capital of Transylvania, Romania, and one of the most visited cities in the country. Served by an airport, a train station, and bus station, Cluj-Napoca is super easy to get to. Should you prefer to drive, you won’t have problems reaching it, either.
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Romania, in general, is (still) considered an affordable country to visit and Cluj-Napoca makes no exception. Affordable accommodation is plentiful but does book in advance especially if you plan your trip for early August. The month kicks in with a popular music festival (Untold) and is followed by a Tango festival (Tango Casino).
There are a lot of free things to do in Cluj-Napoca which will keep you busy for a good while. Also, if you have your eyes on visiting the Botanical Garden, you may want to check when it’s free to visit (many Sundays would fall into this category). My favorite thing to do is stroll in Central Park and then climb to the top of Fortress Hill for some amazing views of the city.
If you love nature, just pack your daypack and make your way to Gilau (there are public buses for less than 2 USD one way) and then hike to the Gilau lakes.
It’s a bit of a debatable subject weather Croatia is a budget-friendly destination or not. I think it depends on where you are traveling from and what’s the exchange rate of the Euro to your local currency is. But this put aside, it’s a gorgeous summer destination to travel to, boasting with crystal clear waters, jaw-dropping sunsets, finger-licking seafood, and beautiful architecture.
However, do note that July and August are considered as the most touristic months with hundreds of visitors flocking famous Dubrovnik and many other nearby islands. Keep in mind that prices do increase during this months and the accommodation is limited, so book as early as possible. However, don’t let this ruin your plans of visiting this amazing country. Try to avoid super popular cities if you are keen on spending your summer vacation here.
And don’t be upset if the accommodation is expensive in those popular islands such as Hvar, Korcula, Brac, and in Dubrovnik. Croatia has more than 100 islands, and instead of visiting Dalmatia, explore Istria region in summer.
The coastal and a bit less known city of Zadar could be a great alternative. Here, you can do plenty of things for free, including listening to the Sea Organ and watching one of the most stunning sunsets.
Hungary’s capital is another great destination for budget-friendly summer vacation. Even though the sights are spread into Buda and Pest sides of the city, you can still embark on a walk and save money on public transportation. The city offers various interesting landmarks and activities for you to see and do for free, including the exploration of the famous ruin bars, enjoying panoramic views from the Fisherman’s Bastion, or strolling down the Jewish quarter and admiring the most gorgeous street art I have seen!
Cheap Holiday Destinations in Western Europe
Madrid, Spain – Crashed Culture
The reason Madrid, Spain is so budget-friendly is that everything is so reasonably priced! Because of the Spanish economy, someone accustomed to an American or more expensive country will be amazed at how far they can stretch a euro. Everything from groceries (shopping just for myself was around 20 euros a week) to eating out to goods is generally cheaper. There are only a few random things that can be incredibly expensive; for example, over-the-counter vitamins that are normally about $15 for a 90-day supply in the US was about a dollar per pill in Spain!
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That being said, the sites that you’ll want to see around Madrid are usually free, cheap, or available for free at certain times/for students. For example, Madrid has some world-famous museums that you can check out for free if you go at certain times, or get a significant discount by flashing a student ID. Other things to do, like Retiro Park or Puerta del Sol, are completely and utterly free.
One thing that Spain is famous for is its tapas – in particular, free tapas when you purchase a beer. Now, this isn’t the case in all restaurants (in fact, it’s more common in Southern Spain than Madrid), but you can pay a visit to El Tigre, which gives you a free plate of tapas when you spend 5 euros on some alcohol! While the tapas may not be the highest quality, it’s free food!
Valencia, Spain – Veni Vidi
Valencia is a very different city compared to Barcelona and Madrid, but it might be my favorite city in Spain. Valencia has everything you could wish for: it has modern architecture, historic buildings, and Roman ruins. Moreover, the sea is very close. It is also the perfect place to eat paella since this dish originates from Valencia!
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The city is also surprisingly cheap. We purchased a Valencia Tourist Card (22.50 euros for 72 hours if you purchase it online), which includes free public transport, free entry to municipal museums and monuments (such as the Llotja de la Seda, the old silk exchange), and discounts for many other attractions. There are also several things in Valencia you can do for free, such as exploring The City of Arts and Sciences complex. You don’t need to go inside these modern buildings. Instead, you can admire the architecture of the exterior for free.
If you’d be spending 3 days in Valencia (like we did), you would only need around 15 euros a day for tourist attractions and public transport (using the 72 hours Valencia Tourist Card). You would typically need 30-40 euros for meals. Budget tip: there are several lunch deals which give you quite a large meal, so you can have a lighter meal at dinner.
Barcelona, Spain – Greta’s Travels
Barcelona in sunny Spain is, in my opinion, one of the most fun and budget-friendly cities that you can visit this summer. Like a lot of Spain, it’s a much cheaper destination than a lot of its neighboring countries. Barcelona is full of bars and restaurants that offer typical Spanish tapas or pinchos, tasty meals that won’t break the bank. I personally really enjoy pinchos, as they are usually served at a buffet where the food is served skewered on a piece of bread. You can take as much as you want and at the end of the meal, you pay depending on the number of skewers you have on your plate. The price per skewer is usually around 1 EURO so you can see how nice dinners outs in Barcelona can be budget friendly.
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In Barcelona, there are also plenty of free attractions that you can enjoy. For example, the Barcelona Cathedral has a free entry every morning excluding Sundays. Other popular attractions such as the Sagrada Familia, Casa Battlò, and Park Guell you will have to pay a small fee to access, or if you’re not interested in seeing the interiors you can enjoy Gaudì’s architecture for free from the outside.
My personal favorite spot in Barcelona is Bunkers del Carmel, a park where locals go to hang out, have picnics and enjoy the view over Barcelona. It’s also completely free to visit. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly destination in Europe, Barcelona in Spain should definitely feature in your travel plans.
Porto, Portugal – Around the World in 24 Hours
Two of my favorite words in the English language are tasty and cheap, and that is why I love Porto, Portugal. It is one of the few places where you can feel like you are living the high life on a shoestring budget. I think a person could have a wonderful time in Porto for no more than 55 Euros a day, including a room.
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One of the most popular things to do in Porto is a stroll along the gorgeous Douro river and cross the Dom Luis I Bridge, and this experience costs absolutely nothing.
Azores, Portugal – Passions and Places
If you want a European vacation that’s both budget-friendly and off the beaten path, check out the islands of Portugal’s autonomous region known as the Azores.
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The chain of volcanic islands is a budget traveler’s dream with inexpensive accommodations (entire villas are available for less than $75 a night on Airbnb), amazing food (a good meal can be had for $5 and a bottle of wine for $3), and astounding natural beauty that costs nothing to explore. Frugal travelers can easily enjoy a holiday here for less than $50/day.
Sete Cidades, the twin volcanic lakes on the western tip of the island of Sao Miguel are one of the most popular and postcard-worthy attractions. A hike from the picturesque lakes to the rim of the caldera takes a few hours and provides some of the most stunning views of the island. At the summit is an unexpected treat for urban explorers – the abandoned Monte Palace Hotel. Built in the late-1980s when islanders believed hordes of tourists were just around the corner, it now sits as a vacant shell beckoning adventurous travelers to wander its interior.
You can also experience the island’s healing volcanic waters (and overpowering sulfuric stench) in the town of Furnas, near the eastern edge of the island. The Poca da Beija hot springs are free, though you’ll want to wear some older swimwear as the orange-tinted waters will permanently stain it.