1. Budapest, Hungary
With its 'fin de siècle' atmosphere on the River Danube, its underground bars in former industrial areas (known as 'ruin bars') and its soothing spas, Budapest is one of Europe's hippest capitals. And for money-conscious visitors, the city also offers accommodation from just €10 per night. We reckon that should be enough to put Budapest at the top of your travel wish list!
2. Rotterdam, Netherlands
The tourist crowds typically flock to Amsterdam, but we recommend that young, cash-strapped travellers give Rotterdam a try. This vibrant port has plenty of culture, lively bars and nightlife and – as you'd expect – attracts a younger crowd. Oh, and you'll find one of the Netherlands' main attractions – its 'coffee shops' – here too ;-)
3. (Eastern) Germany
It still costs a lot less to visit the eastern part of Germany than the tourist hotspots in the west. That's a lasting effect of Germany's past as a once-divided country. Berlin is the undisputed main attraction here (see tip 4 ;-) ), but make sure you don't miss the lively cities of Leipzig and Dresden either.
Leipzig, in particular, is a fascinating city with a dynamic atmosphere, unconventional nightlife and a very active cultural scene. The Spinnerei – a former cotton mill complex that now houses artists' studios and exhibitions – is a major player in the art world.
Here's a quick question: which city brings together Goethe, Johann Sebastian Bach, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bauhaus and Henry van de Velde? Weimar, of course! Another must-visit in eastern Germany.
4. Berlin, Germany
OK, we're recommending Germany again. But this classic destination warrants a mention in any budget travel article. Berlin isn't your average capital city: the cost of living is far lower than the national average – which is why it's made this list ;-). But as well as being affordable, Berlin has enough sights, activities, bars and clubs to keep you going for weeks. Watch out, though: once you've been to Berlin, you'll want to keep coming back ;-) So it's a good thing there's no shortage of low-cost hostels and guest houses…
5. Warsaw and Gdansk, Poland
Poland, like most eastern European countries, is an absolute must for budget-conscious travellers. Guidebooks usually recommend a trip to Krakow, but we reckon Warsaw and Gdansk are just as interesting. The Polish capital used to be very bleak, but there's a real sense of optimism there nowadays. When you're exploring the old town, make sure you try one of the many speciality beers from the area. Gdansk, meanwhile, is a surprising combination of picturesque Hanseatic city, rough-and-ready port and riviera charm on the Baltic Sea coast.
6. Paris, Frankreich
Although Paris is one of Europe's most visited cities, it can be a lot more affordable than other top destinations such as London or Amsterdam. That's provided you find somewhere to stay that's a bit further out of the centre – or if you're happy to make do with a hotel that's seen better days.
The food's amazing and very affordable, which will make up for the less-than-perfect accommodation. What's more, a lot of the main attractions are fairly cheap. And if you make the effort to venture beyond the main tourist areas, you'll discover the real Paris with all its hidden corners – for free.
5 extra tips for budget-friendly travel in Europe
- Travel and accommodation in Europe are generally cheapest during the off-peak season (that's roughly October to April).
- Use public transport: it isn't just eco-friendly and a great way of seeing how the locals live – it's also good value.
- 3. A few drinks here, a few drinks there... and before you know it, you've blown most of your budget in cafés… We recommend packing a reusable drinking bottle. It'll let you save your cash for more exciting things ;-)
- Been bitten by the travel bug? Don't want to stick to a single destination? Then why not go on a big trip around Europe with a great-value Interrail train pass? If you're under 28, you can get a Global Pass with 5 travel days for just €208*, for example.
- Consider taking night trains. They're a time-saving and often very cheap way of travelling to a whole range of countries in northern, southern and eastern Europe.