Traveling to great cities in the US and around the world doesn’t have to be a wallet-draining experience. Thanks to favorable exchange rates, low hotel and restaurant prices and other factors, here are 11 exciting destinations that are shockingly affordable…
Bargains in Europe
Budapest, Hungary, is a city on the beautiful Danube River, notable for its grand historic castles, medieval architecture, world heritage sites such as Heroes’ Square and bustling marketplaces selling everything from Hungarian sausages to collectibles. Nicknamed the world’s spa capital, it boasts Turkish baths and hundreds of thermal springs. It’s easily the most affordable of Europe’s impressive capital cities—especially now, with the US dollar trading near its highest level against the Hungarian forint in more than a decade. Entry to Budapest’s Royal Palace is free, and the National Gallery art museum costs less than $6 at recent exchange rates. Restaurant meals generally cost $5 to $10, and a room in a three-star hotel typically costs $25 to $75.
Česky Krumlov, Czech Republic, is not well-known in the US, but it’s the second-most-popular tourist destination in the Czech Republic. This is a charming little city about three hours from Prague and Vienna with a massive castle that you can tour, a tremendous sense of history and a picturesque river that winds through town—you can take a boat tour and see the city from the water. Historic Svornosti Square is a wonderful place to sit at a café and soak up Old World European ambience without getting soaked by touristy café prices. The city is not large enough to justify a weeklong stay, but it’s an enjoyable—and affordable—two-day side trip. Meals typically cost less than $10, local beer just $1 and two- and three-star hotel rooms $30 to $100.
Kraków, Poland, is a beautifully preserved historic city that’s much less expensive (and less crowded) than most of Europe’s other tourist-worthy historic cities. If you’d like to stroll through medieval town squares, explore centuries-old castles and churches and dine on interesting local food such as wild boar, Kraków is a great place to do all that on a budget. You can eat well for around $5 per meal if you avoid overpriced tourist-oriented restaurants. Expect to pay anywhere from $30 to $90 for a room in a three-star hotel.
Lisbon, Portugal, is perhaps the best travel bargain in Western Europe, though it’s pricier than the Eastern European cities mentioned earlier. It’s a hilly, riverfront city full of colorful, tiled houses, afternoon wine bars, boutique shopping and historic monasteries. Plus, there are great sun-drenched beaches just 30 minutes from town. Expect to pay $10 to $20 for meals and $35 to $170 for a three-star hotel room.
Bargain Island Escapes
Tenerife, The Canary Islands, is officially part of Spain, but it’s located off the coast of southern Morocco. Its beaches are beautiful, and temperatures are pleasant year-round. Because it’s outside the hurricane belt, it’s rarely hit by big storms, a major plus when planning an island escape. Tenerife is a top-notch travel destination if you’re looking for sun and sand, but don’t expect to find much excitement there—it’s popular among those who want to stroll along a quiet beach or kick back over drinks. There’s also a national park featuring 12,000-foot-high Mount Teide, a dormant volcano, accessible by cable car. Meals typically cost $5 to $15, and during happy hour, it’s easy to find bars selling beer for between one euro (around $1.13) and 1.5 euros ($1.70). Expect to pay $35 to $100 for a room in a three-star hotel, with the highest prices for hotels right on the beach.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, is where to go for great deals on all-inclusive Caribbean beach resort vacations. It escaped major damage from the hurricanes that have devastated so many other Caribbean islands in recent years. A couple can get an all-inclusive deal that includes a double room, enticing buffet meals, alcoholic drinks plus other amenities and activities for $200 to $300 per night—but quality varies, so choose your resort carefully. One recommendation: Grand Bahia Principe, Punta Cana, is not luxurious but provides dependably high-quality rooms and meals considering its affordable prices—sometimes less than $100 per person per night.
Notable: Low-priced airfare can make other islands affordable. Discount airline JetBlue has direct flights from New York City to the Caribbean island Curaçao, lowering the cost of getting there.Curaçao is known for beautiful beaches tucked into hidden coves, incredible snorkeling on reefs and a somewhat European feel. Discount airline Norwegian Air now flies directly from New York City and Fort Lauderdale to Martinique, a volcanic island that offers French-influenced dining and, of course, beaches, and Guadeloupe, a tropical hideaway known for spectacular beaches and rain forests.
Bargains in the Americas
Buenos Aires, Argentina, is unlike any other city in South America. Its grand European-style architecture, cobblestone streets, museums, live music and theater performances, late-evening fine dining, cafés and wine bars make it seem more like a major city in Italy or Spain—only at significantly lower prices (and with the seasons reversed because Argentina is in the Southern Hemisphere). Rapid price inflation has offset much of the potential exchange-rate savings, but Buenos Aires is a relative bargain regardless—a delicious steak costs about $7 to $8 and a budget dinner can be $3 to $6. For the best hotel deals, avoid the major international chains and opt for small local hotels or Airbnb accommodations in or around the Palermo neighborhood—appealing accommodations can be found for just $40 or $50 a night.
Mexico City is a big, bustling, historic city—an overlooked gem of a travel destination. It has more museums than any other city in the world, many of them free or inexpensive. The National Museum of Anthropology, perhaps the most fascinating, costs less than $4 at recent exchange rates. The downtown is as clean, safe and pleasant as a typical big US city—Mexico’s well-publicized gang crime problems are concentrated in other parts of this big country. And Mexico City’s high elevation means that it’s not too hot (although June through September can be rainy). Meals typically cost $5 to $10, and for $70 to $100, you can get a very nice room in a three-star or even four-star hotel.
Bargains in Asia
Bangkok, Thailand, is an incredibly good deal for travelers—the stunning Grand Palace and Wat Pho Temple are among the highlights. It’s a vibrant city where terrific meals cost as little as $1 at street stalls and perhaps $5 to $10 in sit-down restaurants. A room in a three- or four-star hotel typically costs $15 to $65 a night. Other southeast Asian countries are even less expensive (see below), but Thailand has a well-developed tourist infrastructure—you can visit the major cities without feeling as if you’re roughing it.
Hanoi, Vietnam, is a lively Asian city with distinctive French influences. You can breakfast in a French café and then enjoy a bowl of authentic Vietnamese pho (pronounced “fuh”) for lunch. It’s even less expensive than Bangkok—a meal might cost $2 or $3, and a local beer $1 or less. Tourist infrastructure is not as well-established here as in Thailand, however, and travelers often have to fend off pushy tour operators. It’s a destination for people who consider travel challenges part of the adventure. Rooms in three-star hotels often cost $20 to $50, and even four-star hotels can be found for $80 or less.
Also notable: Chiang Mai, Thailand, is a city of markets and temples that’s an hour flight from Bangkok. The climate is cooler, the vibe more laid back, and the prices even lower than in Bangkok. Hoi An, Vietnam, is an eclectic port city where Eastern and Western cultures have intermingled for centuries.
A Bargain in Africa
Marrakech, Morocco, is an exotic and unforgettable destination. There’s Djemaa El-Fna, a massive market square that becomes an open-air food court in the evening…and the souks, a tangle of alleys, shops and street stalls. The Musée de Marrakech, a museum housed in a former palace, and the Saadian Tombs, a lavish 16th-century mausoleum, are among the other sites. A visit to Marrakech can be a bargain—if you haggle well when you shop and don’t stay in the city’s pricey five-star hotels. A less prestigious but still well-reviewed hotel such as Riad Le J or Riad Malika often costs less than $100 per night. You can eat well for just $10 per meal.