7 Jul,2016 By jagabond
I’ve been posting a lot on Quora lately, the social media forum that acts as a question/answer repository for any topic you can think of. Frequently, prospective travelers are trying to save money, particularly in expensive regions like Europe. I thought I’d address this by suggesting value cities that meet two key criteria – cheap and nice. Of course you can have one without the other, but finding a city with both can turn a budget traveler into a three meals a day restaurant-goer. I wanted a comparison price, or ‘average’ city in Europe. Based on some research I did, I decided on Berlin as a median-priced European city. Thanks to the website Numbeo for the cost information.
1. Budapest, Hungary
Pint of Beer = 1.27 Euro
Restaurant meal for two (3-course) = 25.47 Euro
Taxi per mile = 1.43 Euro
Consumer prices 32.9% below median
Budapest is at the top of this list, because you can easily spend a week here and have a full itinerary everyday…TripAdvisor currently lists 379 ‘things to do’. The city is split into two regions – Buda and Pest – separated by the Danube river. Pest has all the cheap hotel/hostel options, and you get your holiday exercise by walking through Pest and across the chain bridge to see Castle Hill in the Buda region. Everything here is inexpensive, but for super great deals on beer visit one of the many ‘ruin bars‘ in the area, which are similar to what the US calls ‘dive bars’ but with a more artsy touch. The only drawback is the lack of day trip opportunities, but why bother when you can spend all your time in a wonderful city like this.
2. Gdansk, Poland
Pint of Beer = 1.59 Euro
Restaurant meal for two (3-course) = 22.64 Euro
Taxi per mile = 0.80 Euro
Consumer prices 38.4% below median
Although Gdansk is only marginally cheaper than Krakow, it’s less touristy and thus if you dislike crowds like I do it can offer a more stress-free experience. The old town area is gorgeous, with the Neptune fountain shown below, and a towering Ferris wheel overlooking the Vistula river. History addicts will also be satiated, as this is where World War II began when Hitler launched an attack on the port, and also where the solidarity movement started that eventually helped bring down communism. The most cost-efficient lunch here, like the rest of Poland, is pierogies and a beer, and you can get a nice hotel in old town for less than 90 euros a night.
3. Zadar, Croatia
Pint of Beer = 1.86 Euro
Restaurant meal for two (3-course) = 26.59 Euro
Taxi per mile = 1.07 Euro
Consumer prices 18.2% below median
The most expensive city on this list gets third place due to the pleasant old city feel of Zadar and the unique day trip opportunities. You can walk the old town rather quickly, check out the nice belfry tower for great views, and settle down for dinner and some cheap but good local beer. Take a day trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park, which boasts a multitude of big, medium, and mini waterfalls, and I recommend the tourist company Romeo and Juliet for getting you out there. You can also spend an overnight trip on the island of Dugi Otok, and drive a cheap rental car down the Dalmatian coast to Split, which is only two hours away.
4. Bucharest, Romania
Pint of Beer = 1.32 Euro
Restaurant meal for two (3-course) = 22.05 Euro
Taxi per mile = 0.49 Euro
Consumer prices 41.1% below median
Bucharest is the cheapest city on this list, in my opinion. I remember paying a ridiculously small fee for a taxi from the airport, eating a hearty dinner at an Afghani restaurant for ten euros, and booking a great hotel in the heart of old town for fifty euros per night. There’s a lot said about how gritty and rough Bucharest looks, but it’s really not that bad so long as you can get past all the stray dogs running around. The city also has an interesting recent history pertaining to their ex-dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, who was famously executed along with his wife on Christmas Day, 1989. You can even day trip to Bulgaria from here.
5. Kotor, Montenegro
Pint of Beer = 1.50 Euro
Restaurant meal for two (3-course) = 30.00 Euro
Taxi per mile = 1.13 Euro
Consumer prices 33.5% below median
Kotor was a place I wished I’d stayed longer. I spent most of my Montenegro trip in a city called Budva, the known party place for locals and tourists, which had both dirty beaches and trashy night clubs. After spending the day in Kotor I realized my mistake. The Bay of Kotor is stunning, and walking the town with the tucked-away side streets reminded me of Croatia…not surprising since it’s the next country to the north. I remember sitting with my Belgian friends on a terrace, drinking margaritas all day and enjoying the majestic views. We were in no condition to hike that day, but I’ve heard that’s quite an experience as well.
6. Belgrade, Serbia
Pint of Beer = 1.30 Euro
Restaurant meal for two (3-course) = 21.07 Euro
Taxi per mile = 0.91 Euro
Consumer prices 44.1% below median
There is nothing bad to say about Belgrade. I felt so comfortable here that at times, I thought I was back home in the US. I must’ve eaten out for every meal during my trip…half the time at the same restaurant that served local cuisine for insanely low prices. I also went to the spa and remember paying a quarter of what I’d pay in the states. I didn’t get the chance to experience too much nightlife, but from what I did see it was both cheap and wild. For science geeks like me, don’t miss the Nikola Tesla museum to learn about one strange but superbly smart dude! If you have time you can even day trip to the nearby wine country in Topola.