Fifty dollars; 3230 roubles; 1.2 million Vietnamese dong; in some cities this amount of money can bankroll a miscellany of merriment and memorable cultural experiences, in others it will barely cover lunch.

But just how far can budget travellers stretch $50 in major metropolises around the world? To find out, we set Lonely Planet writers based in cities around the world the challenge of creating an exciting one-day itinerary in their hometowns – that includes dining, transport and activities – with just $50 in local currency at their disposal.

From sipping cocktails on rooftops in Singapore to getting whipped with tree branches in Moscow, here’s the best way to spend $50 in seven cities around the world.

People relax on benches on Limmat River quay in Zurich, with the Fraumunster church in the background
Wandering around Zurich's Old Town is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon (and it's free!) © MarinaDa / Shutterstock

A 50 Swiss Franc day in Zurich

With its swanky shopfronts along Bahnhofstrasse and lavish high-rise restaurants, visitors to Zurich can often burn through 50 Swiss Francs in a matter of minutes. If you want to make it last a full day, you will have to be a touch more tactical with your spending.

Start with a flaky croissant and an iced coffee for breakfast at one of the supermarkets in the main U-Bahn stations (Sfr4) en route to catch the Polybahn funicular (Sfr1.20) up to the university quarter. There, the Polyterrasse boasts one of the finest free views in the city and many of the university museums such as Focus Terra cost nothing to explore. Grab lunch at one of the university cafeterias (Sfr11), before wandering among the medieval houses and churches of the city’s charming Old Town. The latter is also home to the Kunsthaus fine-arts gallery, which is free to enter on Wednesdays!

As evening approaches, dive into Tschingg for pasta (Sfr17.50) and a glass of wine (Sfr6). That leaves Sfr10, so either get drinks and sweets from a supermarket and head down to Lake Zurich for a romantic evening, or find a free concert in one of the indie bars around Langstrasse and spend the rest of your money on a well-earned pint of craft beer (or maybe even two... if you're lucky).

Claudia Peter is a journalist and traveller based in Switzerland.

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A man being rubbed with a birch branch in one of the halls of sanduovskiye bathhouse, popularly known as sanduny
Who wouldn't want to spend a morning being massaged suggestively with a tree branch? © SVF2 / Getty Images

A 3230 rouble day in Moscow

Despite being a cosmopolitan capital, 3230 roubles is enough for a rip-roaring 12 hours in modern-day Moscow. First, get energised at the popular all-day breakfast place Cookkareku, which offers a selection of breakfast dishes from around the world (R336; when ordered from the discount menu).

After that, you’re ready for a couple of hours at the famous Sanduny Baths (off-peak entry ticket is R1775) where visitors are treated to a regenerative banya (hot bath) before being repeatedly whipped with a venik (a broom made from twigs) to massage the skin and improve circulation. Once dry, spend some time marvelling at contemporary Russian art at Winzavod; its galleries are housed at a former wine factory and entrance is free.

By now, your stomach may once again be starting to rumble. One of the cheapest ways to dig in to the wonderful food scene in Moscow is at one of the recently opened gastro markets, with Tsentralny Market at Trubnaya square one of the best. Get your fill of hearty Georgian cuisine at Gamarjoba or vegetarian food at Flora No Fauna (around R800). You can spend the remaining amount travelling by Moscow Metro (R50 per trip). Set aside some time to explore it, since every station is an architectural masterpiece in its own right.

Andrei Muchnik is a travel and lifestyle journalist based in Moscow.

Sforza Castle (Castello Sforzesco), as seen from across a lake in Parco Sempione (Sempione Park)
Milan's beautiful Parco Sempione is also home to the Triennial Museum © faber1893 / Shutterstock

A 45 euro day in Milan

With a reputation for high finance and haute-couture, Milan may not be the first city that springs to mind when travelling on a budget. Yet 45 euros takes you further than you would imagine...but only if you plan carefully.

Start your day with brunch at Pave, one of the hippest cafes in Milan and renowned for its pastries (10 euro, with sandwich and coffee). Then make your way to the centre of Milan. Admire the many spires and marble exterior of the Duomo, before strolling through the soaring arches of the Galleria. From there take a short walk to the La Scala ticket office for bargain tickets (10 euro) to the night’s theatrical performance.

Spend the afternoon exploring the largest green lung in the city, Parco Sempione, which also hosts the Triennial Museum (tickets 12 euro), a must for all design fans. Finally dine on a big oozy Neapolitan-style pizza (10 euro) at Gino Sorbillo, before finishing your night at La Scala, with just enough for a quick drink before the curtain lifts.

Stephanie Ong is a writer and editor living in Milan.

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A mochaccino 50 floors above Ho Chi Minh City at Cafe EON in Bitexco Tower
Grabbing a coffee at EON51 is one of HCMC more luxurious experiences, and still comes in under budget © James Pham / Lonely Planet

A 1.2 million dong day in Ho Chi Minh City

With a money belt stuffed with just under 1.2 million Vietnamese dong and a semi-sensible attitude towards spending, you can create a wonderful one-day itinerary in budget-friendly HCMC, that combines memorable cultural sights and luxurious travel experiences.

Start your day at the ornate Thien Hau Pagoda in Cho Lon (Chinatown) and stroll the nearby streets lined with Chinese medicine shops housed in colourful heritage buildings. After a Hainanese chicken and rice and fresh coconut (100,000d) at simple eatery Com Ga Dong Nguyen, head to the Fine Arts Museum (scooter 30,000d, entrance 10,000d); a beautiful French-colonial building housing an impressive array of traditional artwork from sculptures to woodcut paintings.

See more of France’s architectural influence on the city while sipping a cappuccino (200,000d) in EON51; a swanky restaurant 50 storeys up. Return to street level for a modern take on Vietnamese staple pho (noodle soup) at award-winning Anan Saigon, served here with truffle and Wagyu beef (300,000d), then end the night with a classical music performance (VND 450,000d) at the cream-hued Saigon Opera House; quite the finale to a day of supposed penny-pinching.

James Pham is a writer, editor and photographer based in Ho Chi Minh City. Follow his tweets @trvlwrtr.

A close up shot of a jazz musician playing a saxophone
End your budget day in New York with live jazz at Paris Blues club, but remember to save enough money to tip the band! © Tsuguliev / Shutterstock

A 50 dollar day in NYC

Fifty dollars to see all the juiciest bits of the Big Apple? Not a problem as long as you are happy to skip some of the core (read: expensive) sights in NYC.

Start your day in Nolita with a bagel and schmear at Black Seed Bagels ($3.50) and a latte ($4.50) from hipster-hangout Gasoline Alley on Lafayette St. Stroll over to Washington Square Park to eat and listen to the buskers before hopping on a Citi Bike ($12/day) and pedalling to the southern entrance of the High Line. Wander along the elevated rail tracks, admiring the public artworks, before exiting at 23rd St and grabbing another bike for an easy pedal east to Madison Square Park.

Try a burger and some crinkle-cut fries ($9) from the original Shake Shack (now a beloved international burger chain); then walk up Fifth Ave to Central Park, detouring to snap pics of the Empire State and Chrysler Building at one of the city’s iconic Instagram spots. Undock a Citi Bike in front of the Plaza Hotel for a leisurely ride through Central Park up to the Paris Blues jazz club in Harlem. Treat yourself to a drink ($10), save $2.75 for the subway ride home, and use your remaining funds to tip the band.

Mikki Brammer is a writer, editor and photographer based in New York. Follow her tweets @mikkibrammer.

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Tourists snap pictures from the observation deck atop Singapore's Marina Bay Sands building
A cocktail atop Singapore's Marina Bay Sands building is worth the eye-watering drinks prices © 2p2play / Shutterstock

A 67.50 Singaporean dollar day in Singapore

Every year since 2014 Singapore has been crowned the world’s most expensive city to live in, but surprisingly tourists can still experience this island nation in all its glory on a meagre S$67.50.

Fuel up with a Singaporean breakfast set (S$2) of runny eggs, kaya (coconut jam) toast and strong kopi (coffee) at any local kopitiam (coffee shop), before enjoying the free tranquility of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Get there on the sleek MRT system; an unlimited one-day Tourist Pass is just S$10. Pre-lunch, hit lantern-filled Chinatown and learn about the first inhabitants of the area at the Chinatown Heritage Centre (S$15), before entering the labyrinth-like Chinatown Complex for some of the cheapest and best grub on the island (plates from S$2).

Spend the afternoon discovering a wealth of ancestral cultures at the Asian Civilisations Museum (S$8) before completing your adventure nursing an eye-wateringly expensive cocktail (S$30) at rooftop CÉ LA VI SkyBar; the blockbuster skyline panorama is worth the splurge!

Ria de Jong is a travel writer based in Singapore. Follow her tweets @ria_in_transit.

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A bowl of butter chicken garnished with rice and a roti
Some 3500 rupees can fund a day of cultural experiences in Delhi; or buy a ton of delicious Indian cuisine... © Santhosh Varghese / Shutterstock

A 3500 rupee day in Delhi

Whether you’re looking for the high life or best bang for your buck, 3500 Indian rupees is ample for a fun-filled day in Delhi. Hang around its midriff , New Delhi and the near southern suburbs, to save time and money.

Take in an exhibition at Habitat World for free, then pop into Lodi Garden (also free) and admire the Lodhi Colony’s colourful street art. When hunger strikes, walk to Khan Market, and pop into Perch for light bites and a glass of Coffee Sangria (Rs1250). To digest in peaceful calm, ride a radio cab to Nizamuddin (Rs150) to Sunder Nursery, a beautifully restored 16th century garden (entry Rs100).

To assuage tea-time hunger pangs, hail another taxi to Hauz Khas Village (Rs150), an arty enclave located beside a collection of 13th- and 14th-century monuments, to window-shop at vintage stores with a gourmet coffee in hand (Rs350). End the day with sundowners and live music at the Piano Man Jazz Club (Rs1500). Alternatively, head straight to Chadni Chowk in Old Delhi and splash the lot in the district’s street stalls and family-run restaurants that serve up delicious north Indian dishes – with 3500 rupees to hand, you should just about get your fill...

Puneet Kaur Sidhu is a writer and literary critic based in Northern India. Follow her tweets @babesbanter.

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This article was first published in May 2019 and last updated in February 2020. 

This article was first published May 2019 and updated February 2020

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