The 10 Best European Destinations for Your Money
With the U.S. dollar strong and summer transatlantic airfares at record lows, it's an excellent time to plan your next European holiday. The continent's best destinations, ranked below, deliver a rich mix of restaurants and attractions, easy public transit and low crime rates, with relatively modest prices for lodging, food, and airfare from the United States. (For more travel inspiration, check out all 17 of the top destinations named in Money’s 2017 Best in Travel.)
Read on, and pack your walking shoes—you’ll need them to explore these European gems.
1. Prague, Czech Republic
Cost to Spend a Week for Two: $3,168
Split in half by the Vltava river, Prague is a city of charm and beauty, with a stunning skyline dotted with modern and medieval spires. And getting there is fairly affordable. Flights to Prague are down 7% over the past year, according to flight booking app Hopper. The average cost from the U.S. is about $950.
To delve into Prague's culture, start with the food. Taste of Prague offers food tours of the city (starting at $100 per person) that showcase both traditional dishes and emerging trends.
Hotel prices won’t break the bank; they've held steady over the past year at an average of $132 a night, according to Hotels.com’s Hotel Price Index. That’s about 17% less than the average price to stay in a European city. Near the center of Old Town, the Unitas Hotel, housed in a former convent, offers a quiet retreat; doubles are around $175 a night in summer.
2. Paris, France
Cost to Spend a Week for Two: $3,523
It may come as little surprise that the French capital makes our list for its culture (there are more than 215 museums) and food (Paris has around 16,000 cafés and restaurants)—but for affordability? Thank a falling exchange rate and cheaper airfares. The average fare from the U.S. is down 21%, falling from $937 in 2016 to $740 this year, according to Hopper. Even your stay will be cheaper, with hotel rates down 14%, reports Hotels.com.
While the central districts continue to draw travelers for their timeless attractions, the outer arrondissements are also getting attention for their charm and great values. Stay in the 18th, where streets are lined with cheese shops, bakeries, and flower stands. At the Hotel Regyn, rooms with big windows—some overlooking Sacre Coeur Basilica—range from $90 to $107 a night. Around the corner, snag a table for the $21 brunch at Les Lèvres Rouges, a farm-to-table bistro with a devoted local following.
3. Crete, Greece
Cost to Spend a Week for Two: $3,697
This Mediterranean island, the country’s largest, has world-famous sites like the Palace of Knossos, as well as a distinct culture, beautiful beaches, and great tavernas serving fresh seafood and house-made raki and cheeses. Now is a great time to book your flights: Tickets to Crete have gone down 9% since 2016, according to Hopper. Hotel rooms, too, have edged down since last year, according to Hotels.com.
Crete's 3,200-plus square miles are home to an abundance of outdoor attractions, from farmers’ markets to mountain biking excursions and glass-bottomed-boat rides. Take a day trip to popular Elafonisi Beach, known for its light-pink sand and turquoise waters. Balos Beach and Lagoon, set in a nature preserve, is also a stunner.
4. Krakow, Poland
Cost to Spend a Week for Two: $3,200
One of the oldest cities in Poland, Krakow has stately places and medieval markets. Hopper reports flights from the U.S. are down 5% over the past year, while the cost to spend a night averages $107, according to Hotels.com.
Start your journey in Krakow’s historic central district, which holds the 10-acre medieval Main Market Square, centered around the Renaissance-style Cloth Hall. The 14th-century building is home to vendors selling traditional Polish handicrafts, lace and woodworking. And don’t miss out on Wawel Royal Castle, one of the most iconic buildings in Poland. The site offers free admission on Mondays during the summer season and on Sundays during the off-season (it's $10 for adults at other times).
5. Rome, Italy
Cost to Spend a Week for Two: $3,530
Now is the time to visit the Eternal City, thanks to lower airfares and a slight dip in hotel costs. Flights from U.S. cities to Rome, on average run about $800—that’s down roughly 13%, according to Hopper. And hotel prices in this historic city have fallen about 5% year-over-year.
If it’s your first time in Rome, stay in the Centro Storico, the historic district, which is close to all the major attractions on your bucket list. Just steps from St. Peter’s Basilica is Al Colonnato di San Pietro, a bed and breakfast offering double rooms that start at $80 a night.
Don’t forget the gelato—Gelateria dei Gracchi is a traditional shop that has dozens of homemade flavors for under $3 a cone. It’s one of the best gelato shops in the city, according to celebrity travel expert Anthony Bourdain.
6. Lisbon, Portugal
Cost to Spend a Week for Two: $2,968
Spread across seven hills, Lisbon pairs old-world charm with a galvanized new attitude, evidenced by the makeovers underway at many of the city's once-dilapidated buildings. With flight prices down 16% year over year, averaging $749 round trip from the U.S., according to Hopper, you can experience the ambitious renovations and stunning architecture for yourself.
Start with a trip to the Belém neighborhood to view the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and Torre de Belém, both UNESCO world heritage sites. A combo ticket for both only costs about $13. Get out of the brilliant Portuguese sun in the afternoon by visiting the free Museu Berardo, which showcases modern and contemporary art masterpieces. End the day by biting into Portugal’s national treasure, the eggy pastry known as pastel de nata, at Pastéis de Belém, world-famous for its version.
And don’t forget to take a ride on Lisbon’s classic No. 28 tram. With yellow cars dating from the 1930s, the route passes through the city’s oldest district, Alfama, taking you right by Se Cathedral and the Santa Luzia viewpoint before ending at the Estrela Basilica—and all for about $3 a ticket.
7. Budapest, Hungary
Cost to Spend a Week for Two: $2,958
Budapest reigned supreme during the glory days of the Austrian-Hungarian empire, but the city retains a vibrant atmosphere even today. Flights to the city average roughly $850 from the U.S., reports Hopper. And lodging won’t break the bank either, with rooms averaging $125 a night, according to Hotels.com.
Budapest is best viewed from a good vantage point, so head to the Fisherman's Bastion for the best (mostly free) views of the city skyline and the famous Parliament building (pictured above). You can ease the stress of travel with a trip to the Szechenyi Baths and Pool—luxurious thermal spas that are said to have healing properties, with water high in calcium, magnesium and hydrogen carbonate. (Entrance fees and use of a locker start at $20.) And make sure to visit the Central Market Hall for all your souvenirs, especially if you’re looking for some Hungarian paprika.
8. Barcelona, Spain
Cost to Spend a Week for Two: $3,381
The capital of Spain’s Catalonia region, Barcelona has become beloved by tourists the world over for its art and art nouveau architecture. And it's become increasingly affordable: Airfare dropped 10% year over year, costing about $760 round trip from the U.S., Hopper found. A beer will set you back $2.50 and a simple restaurant meal about $10, according to Numbeo, online database of user-contributed information about the cost of living in cities around the world.
As the home to famed architect Antoni Gaudí, the city hosts several of his stunning creations—from Park Guell (above), $7.50, to Casa Batlló, $25. The crown gem is his 135-year work-in-progress Catholic basilica, the Sagrada Família, which features a riot of abstract stained-glass color inside and beautiful naturalistic sculpture outside. (Admission is about $16.)
Learn more about the area by visiting the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, $13, which showcases Catalan art spanning from the early Middle Ages to the early 20th century. For $2, you can pop up to the rooftop for a drink and sweeping views of the city skyline and the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc, which fronts the many staircases up to the museum.
9. Berlin, Germany
Cost to Spend a Week for Two: $3,242
More than a decade ago, Berlin’s then-mayor called the city “poor but sexy” to lure creative types. Today it is home to a vibrant party scene, cutting-edge architecture, sharp reminders of 20th-century history, and a laid-back attitude—making it an ideal destination for those seeking a European capital that has both glamour and a libertine edge.
A round-trip flight will set you back about $840, on average, according to Hopper, but that’s 6% cheaper than it was last year. And hotels have come down 1.3%, averaging about $131 a night, Hotels.com found.
In summer, cruise some of Berlin’s 122 miles of inner-city waterways, by taking a boat tour at the Hauptbahnhof pier for about $13. You’ll pass sights like the Reichstag, the Palace of Tears, and Museum Island, and can view progress on the resurrection of the City Palace.
Don’t miss out on two of the city’s greatest art collections. The Berlinische Galerie ($8.50 entry) houses pieces from 20th century art movements such as the Berlin Secession, Expressionism and Dada, while the in-demand Sammlung Boros, $13, showcases a private collection of more contemporary art—from such international stars as Olafur Eliasson and Ai Weiwei—in a former Nazi bunker.
10. Riga, Latvia
Cost to Spend a Week for Two: $3,107
The largest of the three Baltic capitals, Riga is home to an eclectic mix of Gothic spires, Art Nouveau buildings, Soviet block housing and creative new restaurants and nightlife.
Round-trip airfare dipped 4% this year, bringing the price below $1,000, according to Hopper. And once you’re there, the city is one of Europe’s most affordable: Hotels cost only $96 per night on average, Hotels.com found, and for about $8 you can enjoy a beer and meal out.
At the historic heart of Riga is its Old Town, a UNESCO world heritage site. For $9.50 you can scale St. Peter’s Church, the tallest church in the city, to get an aerial view that extends to the Riga Bay and the Daugava River. Then visit the House of Blackheads, a former merchant guild that houses both tourist information office and museum. Inside, you’ll find grand ballrooms featuring exact replicas of the 19th century furniture that once adorned it as well as several exhibits about trading in Riga.
Around the city center, you can visit the eye-popping Art Nouveau buildings on Alberta iela, view the Freedom monument, and stop by the Central Market, housed in five former zeppelin hangars, to haggle over smoked fish or fresh vegetables.
—Additional reporting by Stirling Kelso
To make the preceding selections, Money weighed more than 6,000 data points for almost 100 of the most popular destinations in Europe. Then we ranked the top 10 cities that scored highest on overall cost factors, giving the most weight to the price of airfare, lodging, and food, as well as the biggest year-over-year price drops. We also considered the number of restaurants and attractions each city offered, as well as experience factors like low crime rates, pleasant weather, and ease of access to public transportation. Only one winner was chosen per country.
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