Europe is the world's most expensive continent for U.S. travelers to visit; this probably doesn't shock anyone who's ventured across the Pond.
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You might be surprised, though, to discover which cities in Europe are remarkably affordable places to vacation. We analyzed the costs of hotel stays, meals, airfares, and activities in popular European destinations to find out which spots offer the best value for the euros and pounds.
Here are 10 cities in Europe where budget-minded travelers can find low-cost hotel rooms, free activities, and travel bargains galore.
Despite its popularity, this thousand-year-old city is one of Europe's more economical destinations. According to our sister site TripAdvisor's TripIndex, Prague is the 20th-most affordable world destination—that's not bad, considering that Prague is the fifth-most visited European city. Average prices for one night's stay and activities, says TripAdvisor, come to about $248 for two people.
Plus, the city has enough free sites to keep a traveler busy for quite the stretch: No-cost attractions include the Havelska flower market, the picture-perfect Charles Bridge, and the 10th-century castle that towers over the city, Vysehrad. Gather amidst the crowd in the Old Town square to hear the striking of the famous clock during daylight hours—it's free.
It's as easy to find an affordable hotel in Dublin as it is to come across a good foamy pint. Failte Ireland features a collection of two-night minibreaks, which include accommodations and breakfast for two people, starting at €75 per person (about $94 USD) at various local hotels and B&Bs. And you can find a helpful roundup of hotels for less than $150 per night on The New York Times' website. Moreover, Dublin is brimming with free, worthy attractions, including the National Museum of Ireland, the National Botanic Gardens, and the Irish Museum of Modern Art.
Getting to Dublin from the U.S. is quite affordable, too. International budget carrier Aer Lingus makes Dublin, its main gateway, a very inexpensive European hub to fly into. The carrier often features very competitive fare sales, especially during colder months. We've seen round-trip fares from the U.S. to Dublin drop below $500 in the low season and under $1,000 during the high season in summer.
Predictably, your dollars will generally go further in Eastern European cities than they would on the western side of the continent. But out of all the urban centers in Eastern Europe, one city stands out as a haven for travelers seeking luxurious accommodations at bargain-basement prices. According to the Hotel Price Index from Hotels.com, Poland's capital offers the most luxurious hotels for the lowest prices in the world. A five-star property in Warsaw cost, on average, $130 per night in 2011.
In addition, Warsaw ranks as one of the top world cities offering the best overall value for hotels costing an average of $100 per night. For example, weekend stays cost as little as €65 per night at Polonia Palace Hotel, an opulent early 20th-century property that was the only hotel in Warsaw to survive World War II completely undamaged.
Rome is one of the most visited places in Europe, yet—unlike Paris or London—the city is an astonishingly budget-friendly vacation spot. At $190, average nightly hotel rates in Rome are cheaper than most other major tourist destinations in Italy, and they fall well below those in the aforementioned European hot spots.
Additionally, since Rome is the biggest international hub in The Boot, airfares to the city are often much cheaper than fares to other Italian destinations. Flights from New York to Rome in October start at $688 round trip, according to Kayak. Compare this to Venice ($740 round trip), Florence ($934 round trip), or Naples ($753 round trip).
Portugal is, overall, a less expensive place to visit than neighboring Spain. The country's capital city, Lisbon, is no exception, yet it offers ample attractions on par with top European spots: sweeping sea views, cosmopolitan beaches, ancient cobblestoned streets, Gothic cathedrals. The cost of a night's stay in a four-star hotel averages $130, according to TripAdvisor. In addition, The New York Times reports that many Lisbon cultural attractions offer free admission on Sundays, including the Museu Nacional de Arqueologia and the Torre de Belem, a historical fortress.
According to TripAdvisor's annual TripIndex survey, a comparison of prices for accommodations and activities in cities, Budapest is the most affordable city for U.S. travelers in all of Europe. Reports TripAdvisor, the cost for "a one-night stay in a four-star hotel, one cocktail per person, a two-course dinner with a bottle of wine, and round-trip taxi transportation" is $194 in Budapest.
We found nightly rates at Hotel Palazzo Zichy, a popular property that's ranked number two of 333 Budapest hotels on TripAdvisor, as low as €59 per night. That's for a stay during the summer high season, no less.
London is the priciest city in the world for U.S. travelers, at least for now. With the 2012 Summer Olympics taking place in the British capital this season, prices have risen steeply—and that's putting it mildly. According to TripAdvisor's TripIndex survey, a one-night stay in London with activities for two costs more than $500, on average.
So skirt London and head to England's second-biggest city, Birmingham, a historical urban hub criss-crossed with pretty canals and classic British pubs that's all too often overlooked by American tourists.
Birmingham is also a great base for exploring Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare's hometown. And the prices? They're pleasingly inexpensive. The city has some of the lowest average hotel rates in the U.K., with nightly prices falling at about £60 (about $94 USD), according to Hotels.com. And since the dollar has risen against the pound in the past year, those low rates will go even further for U.S. travelers.
On the Hotel Price Index, Berlin is ranked as one of the most affordable cities for luxury hotels in the world. (The average price of a luxury hotel in Berlin in 2011: $198 per night.) And for nonluxury hotels, the rates are even better. According to a representative from the Berlin tourism board, "A survey conducted by Hotels.com showed that Berlin’s average hotel rate of €76 per night lies significantly below those of other top destinations." For example, travelers paid an average of €171 in New York, €134 in London, and €114 in Paris and in Rome during the first half of 2011.
Like Warsaw, Brussels is one of the best cities in Europe for finding high-end properties at affordable prices. It ranked seventh on the Hotel Price Index from Hotels.com for low-priced luxury. And new flights to the city (read: more competition) could make travel to Brussels even more affordable. This June, Brussels Airlines began operating nonstop flights between New York's JFK airport and Belgium's capital. We found flights for less than $800 round trip, including all taxes and fees, for travel from New York to Brussels this September on various airlines.
Although Austria isn't known for being easy on the wallet, historical Vienna can be visited on the cheap, especially if you go the package route. Vacation package providers like Go-Today and Monograms regularly offer tours that bundle Vienna with Prague and Budapest (two other cities on this list) for wonderfully affordable prices. A six-night package to the aforementioned cities (two nights in each) from Go-Today starts at $1,499 for travel on select dates in September or October, including airfare into Budapest and returning from Prague. Accommodations and daily breakfast are included. That rate is excellent, given that rates for open-jaw airfare alone from the U.S. to Europe in late summer can cost nearly the price of the package.