Offering some of the world’s most iconic sights, best museums and superb cuisines, Europe is always an attractive and exciting destination, though overpriced hotels, extortionate entry fees and eye-wateringly priced restaurants in many parts of the continent can make travel here feel less than a bargain at times. Below we give you our tips for the best value destinations in the continent that has it all – whether it’s a city break with style or an extreme sports adventure, these are the places to go in Europe to get the best travel experiences for your money in 2013.
It’s perhaps worth noting that old fallacy that the Chinese word for ‘crisis’ is the same as that for ‘opportunity.’ While Greece’s economic miseries may continue, there’s never been a better time to island hop, with perceived instability deterring many regular visitors. As a result Greece’s normally packed beaches will be far quieter than usual this summer, more welcoming than ever and island economies are likely to be far cheaper especially if you travel outside of peak season. Some of our favourite spots include Hydra, Kefallonia, Ikaria and Santorini.
In the charming and dramatically hilly Portuguese capital of Lisbon your money goes a long way: delicious coffee or a pastel de nata (traditional custard tart) in the sun tend to cost less than a euro, and you can eat well and ride around town on the rickety but romantic network of old trams for similarly bargain prices. Free museums such as the contemporary collection of the Museu Colecção Berardo are further deal sweeteners – and there are always the beaches to the south of the city to enjoy on a day trip if you tire of the city’s plentiful urban pursuits.
It may never become a true budget destination, but Iceland is cheaper that it has been in a decade following several economically tumultuous years and a currency devaluation that suddenly made its once outrageous prices far more reasonable. This makes now a superb time to discover this stunning North Atlantic island where volcanoes, geysers, glaciers and hot springs create one of the planet’s most exciting landscapes. For those on a very tight budget, wild camping is allowed across Iceland and is a great hotel alternative for those that don’t mind roughing it.
Getting Mediterranean beaches to yourself can be a mission anywhere in Europe, let alone getting them at a decent price. Even Albania’s Ioanian coastline, long a backpacker magnet, has become pricey and crowded in parts, as new roads and hotels have been constructed along what is certainly some of Southern Europe’s most beautiful coastline. But there are still bargains to be had: Vuno and Drymades are still development-free and boast access to superb slices of idyllic beach. Elsewhere Albania offers superb mountain walking, ancient mountain towns and a plucky, fun and cheap capital city, Tirana.
Surprisingly, Berlin, the capital of Europe’s largest economy is also one of its cheapest cities. And what a city: where else can you see Cold War and WWII relics in the flesh, enjoy a selection of some of Europe’s best contemporary art and shopping before dining on traditional German food with a modern twist and then spending a pittance as you bar hop between some of the coolest and most fun bars and clubs on the planet? What’s more, mid-range accommodation is at rock bottom prices here, just a fraction of what you’ll pay in cities of similar stature such as London, Paris or Rome.
Where? Few people can place the treeless Faroe Islands, a self-governing nation within the Kingdom of Denmark, approximately halfway between Scotland and Iceland, and that’s a shame as the 18 extraordinary-looking volcanic creations that soar out of the Atlantic offer some of Europe’s best-value hiking and bird watching. With the Faroese government generously subsidising the helicopters and boats that function like buses between the islands, you can zip about very affordably and enjoy world-class walking without seeing so much as another soul. Accommodation is in surprisingly comfortable hostels and increasingly popular homestays arranged by the tourist board.
Right on the edge of Europe, with Asia tantalisingly just across the Bosphorus, Istanbul is nevertheless one of the great European cities, with an almost endless list of world-class attractions that keep visitors busy for days. Now is a superb time to visit as the twenty-year renovation of the iconic Aya Sofya is finally due to be completed this year and is looking incredible both inside and out. Low hotel prices at the budget end of the spectrum combined with plentiful cheap flights due to the city’s status as a major air hub combine to make any trip here very competitively priced, while a generally low cost of living by European standards keeps things very affordable in other spheres as well.
The word is well and truly out about tiny Slovenia, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still great value. Nestled between tourism behemoths Italy, Austria and Croatia, it’s cheaper than all three, though its main attraction is its superb range of deals on all kinds of activities such as skiing, rafting, canyoning and hiking. Tiny capital Ljubljana’s prices may have been steadily rising since the adoption of the euro, but you can still bed down and eat cheaply.
Tom Masters is the coordinating author of Lonely Planet's Europe on a Shoestring travel guide among many other titles. He lives in Berlin when not travelling the continent and he can be found online at www.tommasters.net.
Article originally published in April 2013, updated in May 2013.