It’s that time of year, when every second person is jetting off to Europe for the summer. A trip to Europe can get pretty expensive, pretty quickly – especially with the way the Aussie dollar is going right now. But you can make your cash stretch a little further if you hit up some of the more underrated and up-and-coming destinations.
Whether you’re booking a last-minute trip or planning next year’s holiday, these are 5 of the most affordable cities in Europe.
CHEAPEST EUROPE DESTINATIONS
#1 BUDAPEST, HUNGARY
Budapest has the beauty and history to rival $$$ cities like Paris – but it’s insanely cheap. When you stroll through Hungary’s glittery capital city, you’ll spot incredible cathedrals, castles and the winding Danube River, and feast on some of the best street food on the planet. The city is also famous for its bubbling thermal baths, and we’re not kidding when we say that Budapest is serious about a good ol’ soak! There are 118 mineral baths in total, and some of them – like Rudas Bath – date back to the Ottoman era. A few even have neck massagers (City Park, we’re looking at you)! If you want to turn up, many of the baths are bonafide party zones.
Must-dos in Budapest:
- Visit the Széchenyi Thermal Bath – the city’s largest, grandest and first thermal bath. It’s a scene.
- Check out the Great Market Hall to taste the local cuisine and sip on pálinka, Hungary’s fruit brandy.
- At the street food stalls, try langos, which is fried bread topped with sour cream, cheese and garlic. It sounds weird, but it’s a cheesy, carb-y dream.
- Spend some time at the Royal Palace, which dates back to the 13th century, Matthias Church and Buda Castle.
- Cruise down the Danube River and snap photos of the Chain Bridge. It’s always ready for its close-up.
- Bar-hop through District VII. It’s home to ‘ruin bars,’ which are cute bars tucked away in the area’s courtyards.
#2 ATHENS, GREECE
Instead of flying into Athens and flying straight out to the islands, linger a little longer. Now that the financial crisis is over, the Greek capital has finally come into its own. In other words, it’s buzzing! Athens was a political and cultural powerhouse back in the day, and there are hints at its history at every turn. But there’s something even sweeter about Athens: it’s all about slow and steady living. Most shops don’t open until 11am – but that’s because the locals were feasting on slow-cooked lamb and tzatziki, wandering the cobblestone streets and dancing till the early hours. Now’s your time to join them!
Must-dos in Athens:
- Visit the Parthenon and the Temple of Athena Nike Acropolis. Not doing that would be like going to Rome and skipping the Colosseum. For the best view, time your visit with sunset.
- Sunbake at Astir Beach.
- Check out the National Museum of Contemporary Art, and then stroll the streets of Monastiraki, one of the hippest zip codes in Athens.
- Hit the markets at Kifisia.
- Throwback ouzo shots and eat souvlaki and spanakopita and at every local taverna in town.
- Pop into Brettos, which is one of Europe’s oldest bars.
- History buff? Add the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Aristotle’s Lyceum and the Panthenaic Stadium to your list.
#3 DUBROVNIK, CROATIA
You can still sail Croatia – but save some $$$ by chilling in Dubrovnik first. Perched on the edge of the Adriatic Sea, a visit to the city is like taking a trip back in time. As you walk down the limestone streets, you’ll see baroque buildings, medieval forts and the ancient walls that protected the sophisticated capital for centuries. And if some parts look familiar, that’s because they are: Game of Thrones filmed its King’s Landing scenes in Dubrovnik. With its cool architecture and ocean views, some people say it has Santorini vibes.
Must-dos in Dubrovnik:
- Buy beautiful lace and embroidered pieces at the shops in Old Town.
- Check out Rector’s Palace, Sponza Palace, and the Cathedral of the Assumption. And look closely at the detail – it’s hard to believe these sites were built hundreds of years ago!
- Stop by Hotel Excelsior – which is where Queen Elizabeth II and Elizabeth Taylor rested their heads whenever they were in the city. It’s stunning.
- Spend the afternoon at Trsteno Arboretum, a lush garden that’s full of exotic plants and trees.
- Lace up your sneakers and hike up to Mount Srd. At 412 metres, the peak has gorgeous views over the city.
- Catch the ferry to Lobrum, an island off the coast of Dubrovnik’s Old Harbour. Bring your cossies!
#4 VALENCIA, SPAIN
If Madrid and Barcelona had a baby, it would be Valencia. It may be Spain’s third-largest city, but it’s a quiet achiever – and that’s just how the locals and travellers-in-the-know like it. With beaches and colourful buildings, Valencia is seriously beautiful. The lush park that winds its way through the city is fringed by futuristic buildings and the Old Quarter – which feels like a fairytale town. The city is the perfect mix of old and new, and nature and manmade beauty. Oh, and it’s the birthplace of paella.
Must-dos in Valencia:
- See the city’s most famous site, the City of Arts and Sciences. The ultra-modern buildings were designed by a local guy, Santiago Calatrava.
- Get lost in the Old Quarter.
- Eat your way through Mercat Central – and don’t forget to try paella!
- Pelt tomatoes at people as part of La Tomatina. The tomato festival takes place in Bunol, a town near Valencia, and it’s messy, memorable and glorious. Think of it as the world’s largest food fight.
- Pop into Catedral de Valencia and the Museo National de Ceramica.
- If you’re there in mid-march, go nuts at the Las Fallas de San Jose festival. Expect fireworks, music, bonfires and parties that last alllll night.
#5 PORTO, PORTUGAL
The second largest city in Portugal, Porto is Lisbon’s cheaper sister – and it’s just as charming. It’s famous for its fabulous wines, and in particular, rich, red port. But there’s a whole lot more to Porto than vinho. You could spend hours exploring the city’s old, narrow streets, admiring the architecture and hopping from one buzzing bar to the next. Porto is also a waterfront city, and you can bet that any seafood you order will be as fresh as it gets (and cheap as chips).
Must-dos in Porto:
- Drink port. Obvs! If you want to learn more about your bevvy, head to Taylor’s Port Wine Cellars.
- Wander through the Old Town and then the Mercado do Bolhao markets.
- Drop by the art galleries along Rua Miguel Bombarda.
- Make your way to Ribeira. The neighbourhood is a hotspot, and home to the city’s best bars and cafes.
- Snap the six bridges that run along the Rio Duoro. Fun Fact: Porto’s nickname is Cidade das Pontes, or the City of Bridges.
- Curl up with a book at Livraria Lello, the country’s oldest bookshop.
- Get inspired by the classy yet cool architecture at Casa da Musica.
Words by Katia Iervasi.