I lasted about a week in Western Europe this summer before my bank account told me I had to go. Once I saw that hostel dorms in Amsterdam and Paris were soaring to over $80 a night, I knew it was time to leave. Revenge travel is a real thing, y’all. Summertime in Europe is unmatched but I’m still ballin’ on a budget here. Luckily, Europe is a diverse continent with tons of destinations to fit any travel style and budget. As a backpacker traveling on a shoestring budget, these are some of my favorite affordable European travel destinations.
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Let’s kick off the list with one of my favorite hidden gems on the continent. I first visited Albania without really knowing what to expect. I’ll admit, Albania took a little getting used to at first. After leaving Greece, I was struggling with figuring Albania out. Everything was so easy in Greece. Albania, not so much. Once you accept that nothing in Albania will go as planned, you’ll have an incredible time. Albania rewards those free-spirited travelers who go with the flow and stay optimistic through the highs and lows of travel.
Despite being a small country, Albania is home to a variety of regions. To the north, you have the Albanian Alps, where you can use small villages like Valbona and Theth to explore this wild and rugged hiking mecca. Along the coast, you’ll find cities like Saranda, Durres, and Vlora, as well as charming villages like Dhermi. Berat and Gjirokaster are two of my favorite destinations in Albania, with uniquely beautiful historic centers and then a slew of outdoorsy adventures in the nearby area.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina stole my heart immediately. Within my first day in Sarajevo, I was met with so much kindness and hospitality that I could have had the worst time in Bosnia from then on out and still left happy. The infrastructure in Bosnia isn’t quite developed for tourism yet, but in a way, that makes it more of an ideal travel destination for the off-the-beaten-path traveler. Expect long bus and train rides and a relatively smaller pool of accommodation options to choose from. However, the country is full of beautiful places and beautiful people who are among the most welcoming and hospitable in all of Europe. Be sure to check out the cute town of Mostar while you’re in Bosnia.
Georgia, or Sakartvelo in the local language, is a unique destination in Eurasia. It’s home to some of the most stunning mountains I’ve seen, and an unforgettable 4-day trek from village to village that remains one of my favorite I’ve ever done. The capital city of Tbilisi is vibrant, with a mix of modern and historic. Cost of living is affordable, and with a visa-free policy for the first year, it’s become a hotspot for long-term travelers and digital nomads.
There are no shortage of amazing destinations in this country, from the caves of Vardzia to the mountains of Kazbegi. Traveling around the country is easy and affordable, with reliable buses and trains, as well as an abundance of minibuses known as marshrutkas. Getting from place to place is cheap and easy, and accommodation can be found for as low as $15 a night per room in some parts of the country. When hiking in the mountains, the guesthouses often include three hearty meals with your nightly rate. Georgia is a dream destination for outdoors lovers, and a perfect alternative to pricier destinations like Switzerland or Austria.
Despite being one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, Spain remains budget-friendly in many parts of the country. While you may have a hard time sticking to a budget in places like Ibiza, Spain is a richly cultural and diverse country with countless unique travel destinations. Even in big cities like Madrid, it’s easy to have an amazing time while sticking to a budget. I was feasting on calamari for like 3 euros per plate in some places in Madrid. Even more expensive cities like Barcelona are much more affordable once you get away from the coast. Spain gets more expensive during the summer season, so visiting in the offseason will help keep costs low.
Romania is one of Eastern Europe’s finest gems. With coastal destinations along the Black Sea, hiking destinations in the Carpathians, and countless historic villages and castles to explore, Romania will keep you busy. It’s also an underrated nightlife capital of Europe, with some incredible festivals during the summer that will run you a fraction of the bigger name festivals in Western Europe.
A few highlights of my time in Romania were Cluj-Napoca, Brasov, and the grungy but fun capital city of Bucharest. Along with the cities, Romania has some stunning nature. Go hiking in the Carpathians or lounge along the coast of the Black Sea. Romania is also littered with charming castles, and not-so charming ones like Dracula’s Castle located in Bran.
Even if you don’t go anywhere in Hungary besides Budapest, it’s worth the visit. Budapest is one of my all-time favorite cities, especially from a backpacker’s perspective. It’s got a vibrant nightlife scene and plenty of monuments and cultural attractions to keep you busy during the day. And hey, if you feel like relaxing a bit, Budapest has got several thermal baths to treat yourself to a laid-back spa day. If you travel throughout the rest of Hungary, expect even more affordable prices, especially outside the summer tourist season.
Bulgaria is one of the most overlooked travel destinations in Europe. That might be a reason why it’s also one of the cheapest places to visit on the continent. The capital, Sofia, becomes a vortex for those who visit. One might find it hard to leave after setting foot in this lively city. It definitely helps that it’s so affordable, but it’s also very trendy and has a vibe unlike any other European city.
Bulgaria has no shortage of worthwhile destinations outside of its capital. Plovdiv is oozing with history dating back thousands of years. The coastal city of Varna is an excellent place for a relaxing retreat along the Black Sea. If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path and affordable travel destination, Bulgaria is for you.
Czechia (Czech Republic)
The Czech Republic was among the first countries to make me fall in love with traveling. I spent a summer “studying abroad” in Prague and fell in love with the country from the get-go. Prague is a magical city and its Old Town might be the best in all of Europe. It’s no wonder many travelers speak so highly of Prague.
Outside of Prague, Czechia has a number of bucket list destinations. For nature lovers, Bohemian Switzerland is a must-visit. The charming towns of Cesky Krumlov and Karlovy Vary also can’t be missed. However, Prague reigns supreme. One can easily spend weeks in Prague without ever getting bored. It’s got an incredible nightlife scene to go with its numerous historical attractions, from Prague Castle to Vysehrad. Prague is as budget-friendly a place to party as it gets. Seriously, a beer can be as cheap, or even cheaper, than water in most bars and restaurants. If that’s not enough to get you to visit, then I don’t know what is.
Poland is one of my favorite countries in Europe. Along with being budget-friendly, it is filled with culture, history, and dozens of charming villages to visit. Some can’t-miss destinations in Poland would be the coastal city of Gdansk, the backpacker haven of Krakow, and the modern and trendy capital of Warsaw. To the south of the country, you have the town of Zakopane, a charming home base for exploring the natural beauty of the Tatra Mountains. Whether you’re looking for a crazy party scene like Krakow or looking to chill out in the quieter cities of Wroclaw and Poznan, Poland can’t be missed.
Portugal is the travel destination of dreams. It’s got a stunning coastline, historic cities, and budget-friendly prices. Many travelers fall in love with Portugal, and it’s not hard to see why. The big cities of Lisbon and Porto quickly become favorites among travelers that visit them. Along with low cost of living, they are just vibrant, historic, and lively cities with an amazing vibe. And of course, there’s the coast of Portugal, with no region being more famous than the Algarve. If you’re looking to see otherworldly beaches on a budget, then Portugal might be your best bet.
Closing out the list, we have the hidden gem of Armenia nestled in the Caucasus Mountains of Eurasia. Like Georgia, Armenians often say they are geographically in Asia, but culturally in Europe. You get the best of both worlds in Armenia, a very affordable destination with natural beauty, a unique culture, and an abundance of historical sites. From majestic monasteries on mountaintops to ancient caves with the first traces of wine and civilization, Armenia has a wide variety of places to visit.
While some parts of downtown Yerevan might be pricy, the rest of the city and country is affordable and well worth a visit.
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