When most people consider traveling to Europe, their minds immediately think of the most obvious — and most expensive — urban options. From Paris and Madrid to London and Amsterdam, Europe’s most popular cities are truly fabulous places to visit, but when you’re pinching your pennies their price tag can exact too heavy a toll for the budget-conscious.
Thankfully, the continent is teeming with cities that cost less and are just as fantastic. If you’re looking to indulge in a European experience, but you need to stick to a budget, here are five cities you should consider traveling to.
1. Antwerp, Belgium
Europe’s second biggest port, Antwerp is known for its style and class. Stunning and innovative architecture, art galleries that rival those found in New York and Paris, and cozy, chic cafes abound, and because it’s not on anyone’s top ten list — although it should be — the prices for lodging, food, and entertainment are well below more popular cities.
Visit the Museum Aan de Stroom, and discover the relationship between Antwerp and the world in one of the most unique buildings you’ll ever happen upon. Make the short drive to Mons, this year’s European Capital of Culture. Spend a day exploring antique shops and vintage stores on Kloosterstraat, and be sure to head over to Het Steen, the “old fort” that looks an awful lot like a castle. It was originally built in the Middle Ages to defend against Vikings.
2. Lisbon, Portugal
The capital of Portugal is woefully overlooked by visitors from abroad, a shame you can easily help rectify by traveling here. Laid back and lovely, Lisbon is set on top of seven hills, and the city itself winds and turns on narrow streets between bleached limestone buildings.
At once cosmopolitan and old, the city boasts bustling coffee shops, bull fighting, St. George’s Castle, wonderful beaches, and plenty of ways to save money. Stay in a guest house, known as a pension, instead of a hotel, and make use of the Lisboa Card, which will grant you free use of all public transportation and supply you with free or reduced rate access to popular attractions and museums.
3. Budapest, Hungary
A place of remarkable natural beauty, fascinating culture, and memorable history, Budapest makes for a perfect European budget vacation. Made up of three primary regions — Pest, Obuda, and Buda — the city is a charming blend of contemporary convenience, old world architecture, and sumptuous green parks.
The food is exceptional, and most of it is affordable, so you won’t always need to pack a lunch before you head out to sightsee. Take a thermal bath. Experience the local nightlife. Pick up a Budapest Card for reduced rates on local attractions, and rejoice in the cheap public transportation.
4. Kiev, Ukraine
Due to the unrest it experienced in 2014, and the potential unrest that remains, Kiev can feel like a bit of a wild card when it comes to travel for people who easily unnerved by political unrest. That being said, it’s easily one of the cheapest places to visit in all of Europe, so you’ll have no trouble staying within the confines of your budget calculator if you travel there.
Also, its architecture, history, and culture make it one of the more unique places on the continent. Visit St. Cyril’s Monastery and St. Sophia Cathedral. Spend an afternoon at the National Chernobyl Museum, and learn what it was like to be just a couple miles from the reactor when it melted down. Kiev will enliven and satisfy your curiosity, and it will do so cheaper than any other city on this list.
5. Krakow, Poland
Another remarkably budget-friendly and fascinating place, Krakow is a city alive with over 750 years of history that sets formidable gothic churches against ornate royal palaces amidst charming restaurants, shops, cafes, and bars.
A great place to travel with a good friend or lover, Krakow allows for plenty of sightseeing — there’s Rynek Glowny, which is the main square in Krakow’s Old Town; Wawel Cathedral, which is a 14th century Roman catholic church set inside a castle; the Wieliczka Salt Mine, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts over 1 million visitors a year, and the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps — but its easygoing pace also allows for plenty of inexpensive and deliciously idle lazing about that’s perfect for enjoying another person.
Travel to Europe on a budget by visiting one of these five cities. From Krakow to Budapest, they’re just as charming and unforgettable as any other place on the continent.