Europe’s last great cheap cities – with £2 beers and lunches under £5

Europe’s last great cheap cities – with £2 beers and lunches under £5
Europe’s last great cheap cities – with £2 beers and lunches under £5

It feels increasingly hard to find a truly cheap city to travel to. In a time when exchange rates were more favourable, and parts of Europe were far less explored, a holiday abroad could be reasonably affordable. Coffees were cheap; food was cheap. Tapas and a jug of sangria was an indulgence not because of the inevitable financial hit, but because eating patatas bravas in the sunshine felt eminently luxurious. 

While reasonably priced accommodation and restaurants that aren’t aware of their ability to charge tourists extra feel like a vanishing thing, they haven’t totally disappeared. Telegraph Travel has examined the average prices for holiday stalwarts such as taxi fares, meal costs, cappuccinos and beers, to find five of the most affordable places to holiday – that are exceptional cities to visit, too. 

Bucharest, Romania

Bucharest, Romania’s capital city, has all the elements needed for a good city break: think expansive, tree-lined avenues, lively bars and characterful museums. Belle ēpoque architecture leans against Communist-era housing, which, travel expert Monica Suma says, “is best witnessed on Calea Victoriei, the main thoroughfare, that comes alive on summer weekends during the pedestrian-only Open Streets event”.

All of this, crucially, is very affordable. According to the cost of living aggregator Numbeo, a three-course meal for two, at a mid-range restaurant, averages around £43; a bottle of wine will set you back just over £5. A cappuccino averages £2.46. Try Caru’ cu bere, a traditional restaurant resplendent in stained glass and dark wooden panelling – a hearty beef stew costs around £5. 

Getting around is easy, too. Bucharest is eminently walkable, although the transport is so cheap it feels perverse not to use it. A typical single journey on the tram and subway network costs just over 50p. Numbeo has the price per kilometre for a taxi journey at 52p, which, for comparison, averages £1.95 in London. 

If you do decide to explore on foot, however, taking a walking tour – usually free – is a great way to explore the history of the city. The bloody rule of Nicolae Ceausescu, and subsequent revolution, should all be covered, as should Bucharest’s transformation into a place decidedly far away from its vampiric neighbours. 

The secrets of budget Bucharest are, increasingly, less and less secret. The city has become something of a hit on TikTok. Follow the influencer’s itinerary, and tourists will find themselves in the Van Gogh café – a suitably gaudy spot – and the Therme Spa, a rather beautiful modern hammam complex that costs £17.50 for a full day of entry. In this instance, the social media stars have found a true gem – but expect prices to creep up as a result. 

How to do it

Return flights to Bucharest start at £50 from London Stansted with Ryanair. Stay in Hotel Cismigiu, situated in the heart of the old town – rooms start at £120 per night. Read our review here. 

Gdańsk, Poland

Gdańsk is not alone among Polish cities that could make this list: Warsaw and Krakow are similarly reasonably priced. Gdańsk, though, is still relatively unknown, with its terracotta-topped terraces and broad boulevards. 

Gdańsk has a great mixture of history and bar culture

Credit: Alamy

Many pair a visit to the city with a trip to the nearby beach resort of Sopot, and head farther down the coast to Gdynia. A train ticket averages around £4.50, so it’s certainly a viable way to turn a city break into an extended holiday at the seaside. 

But there’s plenty to do just in the city itself. Danzig, as it was known to the Germans during the Second World War, was largely destroyed by 1945, and so its Dutch Renaissance architecture is all actually a modern replication – although no less impressive because of it. To explore the city’s many museums, invest in an £11 tourist card that allows complimentary entry; on Mondays, most cultural sites are free anyway. 

Most unmissable is the European Solidarity Centre: a hulking, rust-coloured monolith that houses a permanent exhibition about the Solidarność movement, the Polish trade union formed in 1980 that was, at the time, the only free mass social organisation in the Communist Bloc. After getting your fill, follow the line of Communist history to milk bars such as Bar Turystyczny – a canteen-style meal will cost around £2.50. 

How to do it 

Ryanair flies from Bristol, Manchester and London to Gdańsk, starting at £30. Nights at the stylish PURO Gdańsk Stare Miasto start at £69. 

Porto, Portugal 

In data shared exclusively with The Telegraph, Porto comes 13th in the Post Office’s biannual City Costs Barometer. That cheapness does not indicate a trade-off, however: think elegant restaurants and varied attractions to rival the best of the Continent. And the weather is spectacular, too. Averaging 2,667 hours of sunlight each year, it’s an ideal destination for a vitamin D fix. 

Porto Portugal

Porto combines the glamour of Portugal with affordability

Credit: iStock

Porto is undeniably very charming, too – inclining towards the river Douro, the visitor finds themselves bouncing between stylish tinned sardine shops and dodging custard-yellow trams, until the narrow streets open on to the bright waterfront. In most cities, this would be an extortionate, if very beautiful, place to stop for a drink. Not so in Porto: a glass of wine at the beautifully appointed Esplanada do Teleférico bar costs just £3.43. In the city more generally, a meal for two averages £34; a pint of beer around £2.14.

As for things to do? Walking over the Dom Luís I Bridge is free. As is gawping at the ornate tiles in São Bento railway station. In fact, it’s possible to escape the city with an affordable, rambling train journey to Pinhão in the Douro valley, where vineyard tours start at around £20. 

How to do it

EasyJet flights from London to Porto start at around £30. Read our guide to the best hotels in Porto, such as the trendy M.Ou.Co (nights from £66). 

Kaunas, Lithuania 

As Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, celebrated its 700th birthday last year, the rest of the country basked in its rays. Among the glowing sister cities was Kaunas, a cool, lively spot with great cafés and remarkably low prices. 

Street in Kaunas, Lithuania

At 700 years old, Kaunas is the perfect place for history buffs

Credit: Alamy

The city is built outwards from the 14th-century castle complex, but for something weirder, head to the Devils Museum (entry costs £3.40), an exhibition of, naturally, depictions of the Devil. Formed from a private collection, plinths display folk art depictions and ancient stone deities from around the world – it’s certainly a memorable place to visit. 

If you prefer your city breaks to have direction, Kristina Stalnionyte, a travel writer based in Lithuania, recommends Urmo Bazė, an open-air market where locals hunt for antiques. Combining shops and stalls, you’re likely to find a quaint souvenir without breaking the bank. 

While prices in Vilnius remain cheap, Kaunas is even less expensive – a lunch is usually between €5 and €7, or £4.30 to £6. Kristina warns that the penny-pinching visitor might feel hesitant to enter the more upmarket-looking restaurants, but says the exteriors don’t necessarily indicate high prices. 

“The best restaurants, coffee shops and bars are usually very cosy and good-looking, as Lithuanians don’t like to go to places which don’t look appealing. I think this is a national trait.” A three-course meal for two, according to Numbeo, costs around £34. As the nation ramps up its tourism offering, now is the time to take advantage. 

How to do it

Ryanair’s return flights from London Luton to Kaunas start at £31. Viešbutis KAUNAS, a grand hotel in the centre of the city, is equipped with a pool and gym facilities. Nights from £56.

Valencia, Spain

“You can keep your spending down in Valencia without even trying,” says Telegraph Travel destination expert Annie Bennett. This year, the Spanish city is the European Green Capital, although it has long been lauded for its extensive park network. 

Cafe in Valencia

Valencia is the European Green Capital this year

Credit: Alamy

“Get into the swing of things by walking or cycling through the Turia park that wraps around the city before heading down to the miles of beach,” she says. Then grab a coffee – Numbeo has the average price for a cappuccino at £1.57 – or, later in the day, a bottle of wine, which should be around £4.30. 

Green space aside, Valencia is bursting with cultural attractions. Head to the Museo de Bellas Artes for Velázquez, Goya and El Greco; entry is free, so escape the heat in its airy galleries. For more culture, the cathedral is a remarkable place to stop: once a Roman temple, then a mosque, and now a glorious tumble of centuries’ worth of extensions and reworkings. It’s indicative of the lively city as a whole, and, of course, an entirely affordable place to spend an afternoon. 

Staying the night shouldn’t break the bank, either. Dotted across Valencia are a wide range of reasonably priced hotels, from the boutique, beachside Hotel Balandret (£81 per night) to the more traditional Ayre Hotel Astoria (£51 per night), in the heart of the old town.

How to do it

Return flights from London to Valencia start at £37 with Ryanair, or £45 with Vueling. Explore places to stay by reading our guide to the best hotels in Valencia. 


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