We canvas the combined wisdom of the Urban Travel Bloggers to present you with a canny selection of cheap weekends away in Europe, including advice on how to make them even cheaper, and links to our city guides and features for even more specific tips and counsel…
As professional travel bloggers you can trust us when we say we’re no strangers to Lady Poverty… and yet struggling to earn a living wage has never stopped us hopping on a plane and exploring. So it definitely shouldn’t stop you either! Especially when we’ve armed you with all of our travel-savvy know-how and experience, easily accessible via this here blog…
To make it easy for you to choose an affordable city break we’ve rounded up some of our favourite destinations that can be reached easily from London and many more major UK and European airports, all of which have reasonably priced accommodation on offer, some amazing free things to do around town, and bars and restaurants cheap enough to make you feel like a millionaire… if only for the weekend.
We’ll also give you some advice on how to save money in that destination and when is a good time to go. For general money-saving tips keep scrolling to the bottom of the article.
1. Budget Budapest
Recently calculated to be Europe’s cheapest getaway by the Post Office, we’d have to dispute that but nonetheless this is a city that should be near the top of any hitlist, budget or otherwise, of places to visit. With its castle sitting on top of Buda, the mighty Danube running through it, and the palaces of Pest – relics of the once mighty Austro-Hungarian Empire – this capital deals with grandeur on an epic scale, which together with the famously hearty cuisine and great nightlife options make it a winning option. Prices wise the first place you can save a few pennies is on flights. As well as the regular carriers, Budapest is the home base of the Hungarian airline Wizzair meaning there are a large number of cheap connections around Europe. For accommodation check the “Pillow Talk” section of our Long Weekend guide, where our insider expert recommends several great hostels. One expense you can’t skimp on is a trip to the baths (check our extensive guide here!) and whilst the best of the bunch – Szechenyi – costs 4500 forints for a day ticket with locker (around €15) that will feel like money well spent, we promise, when you emerge several hours later. Food and drink remains very reasonable almost everywhere, but take our advice and spend most of your time drinking in the amazing ruin pubs. One final word of advice, avoid heading over during Sziget festival week in August as room prices can double…. unless of course you’re heading over for Sziget festival… in which case have fun you lucky b@st@rds!
2. Affordable Athens
What’s bad for the locals isn’t necessary so bad for visitors, and the Greek capital’s economic woes have at least kept down prices in restaurants and chased away fair weather tourists from occupying all the hotel rooms. Not that you really feel there’s a crisis going on when you walk the crowded streets where terraces are packed full of locals happily laughing chatting and drinking (in fact half of whom seem to be splurging out on fancy creative cocktails at €10 a pop!). You’ll be hard pressed to spend too many drachma on anything other than those cocktails in fact, as even the mighty Acropolis is only €12 to enter, and the Ancient Agora a paltry €4… how very democratic! Flights wise and naturally Stelios has laid on a fair few Easyjet flights for us from around Europe. The best time for penny pinchers to visit is out of season, as during summer a) it’s way too hot and b) those on their way to the Greek islands will be driving all the prices up. Otherwise be sure to sign up for the Meet A Local experience that pairs you with an enthusiastic local for a bespoke – and free – walking tour. And talking about free, keep ordering the retsina and/or raki and your barman will usually bring you one on the house before long. Yes we love Athens! More tips on our weekend city guide and our Secret Seven things to see and do.
3. Credit Crunch Krakow
Like all Polish cities, Krakow represents amazing value and whilst you’re not quite in Monopoly land with the zloty you’ll feel not far off it if you’re banking an average wage anywhere in the UK or Northern Europe. A pint of beer will barely reach two yoyos (that’s coolspeak for “euros” btw) in most of the best boozers and a plate of pierogi (try them!) not much more. Be sure to track down one of the cities bar mleczny or milk bars. These communist institutions once served workers ladles of gruel for pennies, and whilst most of the authentic ones are now sadly gone, even the fake modern ones do a job of stuffing you for small change. And with a far improved menu than the “good ol’ days”. Attractions wise and the Wawel castle is free to meander around, as are the pagan burial Mounds, whilst you can travel to Auschwitz by public transport (no need to splash out on a tour). One cost not worth cutting would be to miss out on Crazy Mike’s Communist tour of Nowa Huta – if traipsing around town in a beat up Trabant doesn’t appeal then we order you to leave this blog now! Full city tips on our weekend guide.
4. Penny-friendly Valencia
You have to feel for Valencia… in any other country this might be the most visited destie in the nation. But with Madrid (the capital!), Seville (the real Spain!), Barcelona (the glamorous one!) to contend with this wonderful city gets criminally overlooked. Whilst it could be said to lack the strong individual identity of the others, it doesn’t lack great beaches, beautiful plazas, amazing architecture (both old and new… if you haven’t heard of Santiago Calatrava then prepared to get acquainted with your new favourite architect) and easily enough attractions to keep you busy for two to four days. Prices wise accommodation is significantly cheaper than in more popular Spanish destinations, whilst even paupers will feel like kings when ordering cervezas and paellas in the local bars and restaurants. If Barcelona is looking too pricey then you’ve just found your alternative… and you’ll get a few extra street cred. points for originality with your shots of the City of Arts and Science than another photo from Gaudi’s Park Guell (yawn!). For more tips here’s our Long Weekend city guide. If however you’re going for the world-famous Las Fallas festival (every March) then book a looonnng way in advance to secure accommodation… or prepare to sleep rough.
5. Tariffic Tallinn
For a cheap city break sprinkled with a bit of fairytale romance, think Tallinn, a picture perfect destination that also packs a pretty punch, whether you’re a culture vulture,
alcoholic barfly…. or even a beach bum. Yep, bet you never twigged that Tallinn’s locale on the Baltic coast means it boasts several city beaches, plus a whopping 1,500 islands you’ve never heard of within ferry distance (find out what happened when Urban Travel Blog visited one of them right here!). Whilst not quite as dirt cheap at fellow Baltic capitals, Riga and Vilnius, in our humble collective opinion Tallinn has that extra sparkle that nudges it ahead of its neighbours, whilst still being very affordable. Estonian cuisine ranges from hale and hearty to swish and innovative, but you can eat handsomely for less than €20 a head whichever way you go, whilst a night out surrounded by glamorous model types will make you feel V.I.P even if you’re officially more of a V.P.I (Very Poor Individual). If you want to save some money you don’t absolutely have to lodge in the Old Town to have fun, as Kadriorg and Kalamaja are also cool districts. (Naturally you’ll find some concrete budget accommodation suggestions in the Pillow Talk section of our weekend guide). Finally one of them there Tallinn cards gets you entry to forty sights and a free sightseeing tour.
6. Low Cost Ljubljana
A little bit tricky to get to, at least until you look at a map and realise that it’s right next door to Venice, Trieste, Zagreb and Graz to name but a few nearby cities you can fly to (after which reasonable price transfer options are available), once you’ve arrived in the small but beautiful Slovenian capital it’s hard to do any serious damage to your bank account. Ljubljana’s best restaurants pride themselves on using locally grown produce whilst a main dish usually costs little more than Whopper with fries in London, and the underrated Slovenian wines are so good that they the locals don’t even like to export them. Activities that take you out to the wonders of the surrounding countryside are reasonably priced, although you can get to the most popular of them, the magnificent Lake Bled, by public transport. At night you can even bring your own supermarket booze and kick back with the crusty kids of the Metelkova autonomous zone – not that the bars there are anything but dirt cheap anyway. The only cost caveat is that hotel accommodation is at a premium, so best to book a bit in advance before rates get inflated. More info on our Long Weekend travel guide.
7. Value-for-money Vilnius
Not quite as arresting as its fellow Baltic Capitals, Tallinn (see above) and Riga, Vilnius nonetheless has a homely beauty and gentle charm that is sure to beguile all those who visit. A view from the Hill of the Three Crosses reveals why it’s called the city of a 100 churches, but there are plenty of secular pleasures to be enjoyed too… foremost amongst them trying some of the wide range of Lithuanian beers that are said to be completely unique in Europe. There is also the important matter of visiting Uzupis, an independent republic with its own constitution whose mandates include such lofty ideals as: “Everyone has the right to be idle”, and: “A cat is not obliged to love its master, but it must help him in difficult times.” I don’t think anyone can argue with that. Oh yes and there’s a statue of Frank Zappa. Who is not Lithuanian, never visited Vilnius, and probably never even heard of it. Wizzair and Ryanair both fly there, meaning you can afford to get there, hotels are reasonable and for eating and drinking it’s even cheaper than Riga and Tallinn. More tips on our city guide.
8. Bargain Bucharest
Practically on the Black Sea if you want to take your weekend away right to the borders of Europe, Bucharest can be a fun and relatively inexpensive option. Being a capital there is a bit of a bling factor to some of the bars, restaurants and clubs, but the relatively weak Romanian economy means you can still get a lot of bang for your buck. Recommended mostly for its wild nightlife, the natives can hold their own against most nations when it comes to staying out late and partying and you might find that even after you’ve forked out for flights (budget airline Wizzair fly from London for example) you have still spend lost on a weekend of boozing and carousing than you might have back home. Meanwhile entertainment like the opera or even a football match are peanuts compared to Western European capitals and a fun treat to fit into your itinerary. Although the city is not known for its beauty, in fact Bucharest’s Old Town is very attractive and there are plenty of grand buildings from the Communist era – not least Europe’s largest, the epic Parliamentary Palace. More travel tips here.
Coming soon! Check back and we’ll update this page with some more affordable options soon… in the meantime check out our complete A-Z of City Break destinations where you’ll find over 50 free insider guides on the best cities in the world. Be sure to subscribe and you can relax as you won’t miss a thing!
General Money Saving Tips
Travelling is an expensive hobby, and whilst we don’t pretend to have any magic tricks or never-heard-before-advice, here are some useful, common sense tips from (a lot of) experience for keeping your costs down on a weekend away…
Getting there and back tends to be the biggest expense on any city break, and the simplest advice here is buy your tickets in advance. Airlines use dynamic pricing to basically screw over anyone making last minute journeys, so try to book a couple of months in advance at least. Also flying out Friday night and back Sunday night will be some of the most expensive options. Try taking Friday and Monday off work (most cities deserve at least four days!) and heading out on Thursday night / Friday morning and back on Monday night. If you’re lucky enough to be able to make midweek flights even better. Prices always depend on the season, and the best time to take a city break, in Europe at least, is usually spring and autumn, avoiding the high prices (and mass tourism) of summer. Winter is even better prices wise, but you have to consider as well that you will have less daylight hours for sightseeing and of course there’s the cold to contend with, depending on the destination.
Also, however tempting, it’s usually best to avoid the cheap flights to airports in the middle of nowhere (yes, we’re looking at your Ryanair). If you’re only on holiday for two or three days you don’t want to waste precious vacation time getting to and from these distant outposts, plus the additional transport costs can often make them just as expensive as the flights into a central airport anyhow. If you can it’s also best to avoid arriving or leaving airports in the middle of the night, when your only transport option might be an eye-wateringly expensive taxi ride.
Finally pack hand luggage only. Not only will you save 15 to 20 euros per leg on most airlines, but you will save time as you won’t have to hang around waiting for your hold luggage to be unloaded.
Apartments are great for a cheap stay vs. hotels, and that’s especially true for groups, as most apartments have two or more bedrooms and/or the option to convert a sofa into a bed… meaning you can divide the cost. Whilst hotels do tend to include breakfast, apartments have the advantage of a kitchen, meaning you can cook yourself food (perhaps bought from a local market) instead of eating out at restaurants for every meal. For a short weekend hotels might simply be more convenient, but for 4-5 days apartments tend to be better. Meanwhile hostels are not just the preserve of unwashed backpackers on gruelling train-driven itineraries around the whole continent. Nearly all vaguely respectable hostels offer private rooms at very good prices, and increasingly comfortable dorms. In virtually all of our Long Weekend City Guides you’ll find a great hostel or two in our Pillow Talk sections.
Orientation / Transport
Try and pick somewhere central to stay so you don’t have to get taxis, or stay in a cool district where you plan to spend most of your time. And don’t be intimidated by a new city’s public transport system… metro is always the easiest method of transport as it’s hard to get lost. Buses can be a bit trickier and you may need to ask a friendly looking person when you should get off! If you are going to need to make several journeys ask if there is a travel card or pass that’s worth buying, as single tickets are always the worst value.
Eating / Drinking
Generally restaurants on small alleys and side streets are always cheaper than those on the middle of touristic square, plus you often get better food and service (even if the views aren’t so good, so depends on your priorities!). Consider staying in a local district, where you’ll pay local prices for everything in restaurants, cafes and bars that don’t cater just for tourists. Our “In The Zone” district guides might be a good place to start your search.
Using Credit Cards / ATMs
As you typically get charged for any ATM use when abroad, it’s best to take out one fair wad of cash when you arrive (rather than multiple trips to the ATM, each at a cost). Remember you can buy nearly anything on your Credit Card as well, for only the cost of exchanging the currency, so the smart person only need make one trip to the bank per weekend away.
And if, at the ATM, the bank ever kindly offers to convert the cost of your withdrawal into your home currency tell them
to f#ck off no thank you, as it’s basically a legal scam to make you convert your currency twice… ie. costing you money! Ditto for Credit Card transactions. It’s called Dynamic Currency Conversion if you want to read up on it.