Looking for somewhere new to discover, or even a place to rediscover, without having to break the bank? While the easy option might be to choose one of Europe’s cheaper destinations, we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to visit some of the continents major cities on a budget. With a bit of research, you can find free attractions and cultural events in abundance, cheap eats, discounted accommodation and free tours. Read on to find out which cities made our list:
Every keen traveler should visit this iconic European capital at least once in their lifetime. Magnificent sights, including the Acropolis and Panathenaic Stadium, can be seen by simply wandering the streets of the compact city center. If you want to get up close to them, simply purchase a combo ticket for just €30 ($34), which grants unlimited entry to seven major city sites over a period of five days. A great, affordable attraction is the Monastiraki Flea Market, where dozens of vendors hawk antiques, art, musical instruments and trinkets at bargain prices. Do your drinking and dining in the bohemian neighborhood of Exarchia. Here, cold beers, grilled halloumi, pastries and other tasty treats are available for less than in the city center.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Although Dublin is the common go-to destination on the Emerald Isle, the thriving capital of Northern Ireland should also be on your radar. Start your day with a hearty breakfast at Maggie Mays, where the most expensive thing on the menu is £10.99 ($14). With your stomach full you’ll have the energy to explore the architectural delights of the Queen’s Quarter and the Cathedral Quarter, where bars and pubs oozing with the legendary Irish craic line a network of cobblestone streets. Take advantage of free major attractions, including Belfast City Hall, the Botanic Gardens and Ulster Museum. If you aren’t one for walking then ride on the City Sightseeing Belfast hop-on, hop-off bus. For an extra £1.50 ($1.95) you can extend your ticket for two days of unlimited travel.
England’s glorious capital has so many things to see and do without putting your hand in your pocket that there’s no reason to think you can’t afford a stay here. The British Museum, Natural History Museum, Tate Modern and The National Gallery are all free. Brick Lane Sunday Market, Camden Lock Market and Portobello Road Market are other cool places where you don’t have to spend a penny. Watching street performers while walking along the South Bank doesn’t cost anything and neither does attending the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace. If it all feels a little daunting to do it alone, join one of the Free Tours by Foot. With all that extra cash in hand, you can enjoy a night at a West End theater, indulge in a few pints of beer at a traditional London pub or pick up some fancy treats and have a picnic at the Royal Parks.
Milan is among Europe’s most elegant and fashion-conscious cities but visiting the capital of Lombardy doesn’t always have to be about high-brow glamor. Go bargain-hunting at flea markets, such as Sunday’s Fieria di Sinigaglia, rather than shopping at the upscale fashion outlets. Fill up on stuzzichini, which are complimentary snacks served at bars during the aperitivi (happy hour). Turn this into a bar-hopping excursion and you’ll satisfy your appetite with bread, cheeses, cold cuts, olives, pizzas and more. Some of the city’s major landmarks are free to enter, including the Duomo di Milano and Santa Maria delle Grazie church. Meanwhile, admission to the Sforza Castle and Teatro alla Scala is €5 ($5.70) or less. You might want to get around via the BikeMi bicycle sharing system, which costs just €9 ($10) per week.
From its Mediterranean coastline to its atmospheric old town and flamboyant Las Fallas festival, Valencia is a must-see and in parts resembles a mini Barcelona. One of its greatest assets is its small size, meaning you can get around the city center attractions easily by foot. Stop by the Mercado Central for some cheap eats. If you hang around long enough at some counters, the owners will hand out samples. The Ciutat Vella is full of pretty squares lined with tapas bars, where a bottle of beer costs as little as €1.50 ($1.70) and is served with a bowl of olives. IVAM Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Fine Arts are two excellent free galleries. Use the money saved on these to pay the admission to the enormous City of Arts and Sciences. Then hang out at no expense in the nearby Turia Gardens.