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City break savers: the cheapest European cities for budget holidays

Looking for a weekend city break but not got much spare cash? Europe has plenty of affordable cities for you to explore on a budget - plus flights are usually quite cheap. But which city has cheap hotels and doesn't charge a fortune for dinner or a night out? We've calculated cost of accommodation plus a few extras and here are the cheapest holiday destinations across Europe.

1. Bucharest, Romania

Average hostel price: £8*

Average hotel price: £18

Average price for a beer: £1

The prices speak for themselves. Bucharest can be a little rough around the edges, but your money will go a long way in this energetic city – and there are some fascinating sights to see. Top of the list is the Palace of the Parliament (entry 45 lei, open daily 10am to 4pm), the utterly enormous 3,000-room building that was commissioned by dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu at vast expense – estimates put the cost at around 3 billion euros. Then there’s the quirky Museum of the Romanian Peasant (entry is a snip at 8 lei, or just over £1; opening times 10am to 6pm Tuesday to Sunday). It features an eclectic collection of items that detail the life of the poorest Romanians over the past four centuries, and the joy is to be had in the more esoteric objects, like hand-painted Easter eggs. Make sure to visit the fascinating Communist exhibition while you’re there to get a flavour of what life was like before the collapse of the Soviet Union. To find out more about the city’s markets, museums and restaurants, take a look at our guide.

The Palace of the Parliament, Bucharest

2. Krakow, Poland

Average hostel price: £9

Average hotel price: £20

Average price for a beer: £1.40

Whereas Warsaw was devastated during the Second World War, Krakow made it through the conflict relatively unscathed, and the famous Wawel Castle (entry price varies according to exhibitions, opening hours 6am until dusk) still proudly overlooks the city, as it has done since the fourteenth century. The huge edifice is now home to various art exhibitions, and entry is free on Mondays between April and October, and on Sundays between November and March, not that the exhibitions cost much anyway – they won’t set you back much more than £3. Another free attraction is a stroll around the city’s Jewish quarter: once home to scenes of barbarity under the Nazi regime, the area is now home to some wonderful cafés and bars. Stop off at Cafe Młynek for a coffee and cake – or even some vegan wine. Find out more about Krakow in our guide – including how they stopped the city’s deceased from returning as vampires.

Wawel Castle, Krakow

3. Sofia, Bulgaria

Average hostel price: £8

Average hotel price: £28

Average price for a beer: £1.50

Sofia sports a few notable attractions – such as the distinctive domes of the 53-metre-high St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (entry free, open daily 7am to 6pm) – but the real draw of this city is its vibrant café culture and nightlife. The Antrakt café doubles as a gallery showcasing alternative artists, so you can appreciate Bulgarian art while sipping your coffee, and there are plenty of buzzing pavement cafés on the pedestrianised Vitosha Boulevard. Sofia is very much a party city, too: the clubs stay open well into the early hours, often as late as 6am, and the drinks are super cheap. Night Flight is one of the biggest venues, boasting a capacity of more than 1,000 guests. And if cheap isn’t good enough for you, how about free? The Free Sofia Tour is run by a non-profit organisation, and as the name implies, it’s totally gratis. Tours depart daily at 11am and 6pm from outside the Palace of Justice. Check out our guide to find out more things to do in Sofia, including where to see priest grafitti.

St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia

4. Budapest, Hungary

Average hostel price: £10

Average hotel price: £18

Average price for a beer: £1

Not only is Budapest amazingly cheap, it’s also utterly stunning. The city is home to a slew of grandiose buildings, such as the enormous Buda Castle, which covers nearly five square kilometres on Castle Hill and was constructed between the fourteenth and twentieth centuries. Entry is free, and the courtyards of the castle are open 24/7, but beware that festivals take place there regularly, so you may have to pay an entry fee if you turn up on one of those days. Usually the entry price is worth it though, especially if you time your visit to coincide with the mouth-watering Budapest Palinka and Sausage Festival (palinka is a type of Hungarian fruit brandy), which takes place on October 2-4 . For more ideas on what to do in the city, including paying a visit to the mightily impressive, 96-metre-tall parliament building that hugs the banks of the Danube, check out our guide.

Budapest parliament building

5. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Average hostel price: £10

Average hotel price: £25

Average price for a beer: £1.30

Before the Balkan wars of the 1990s, Sarajevo was probably most famous (in the UK at least) for hosting the 1984 Winter Olympics, where British couple Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean won a figure-skating gold medal to the tune of Ravel’s Bolero. During the war, most of the Olympic venues fell into disuse, and now many stand abandoned. But aside from the crumbling bobsleigh runs, there is little to remind you of the devastating conflict – and the people of Sarajevo have a deserved reputation for friendliness and fun-loving. The picturesque Old Town (Baščaršija) is home to beautiful Ottoman-style buildings and cosy cafés, making it the ideal place for a spot of people watching. Make sure to try ćevapi while you sit, a kind of minced meat on flatbread. For more inspiration on where to go in the Balkans, including Tirana, the little-visited capital of Albania, try our guide to the best the region has to offer.

The Sebilj wooden fountain in Sarajevo Old Town

6. Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

Average hostel price: £12

Average hotel price: £30

Average price for a beer: £1

Prague may grab all of the attention, but Český Krumlov, which is around three hours by bus from the capital, is cheaper and arguably more magical – although Prague is probably the easiest airport for you to fly into to get there. This fairy-tale town looks almost like a real-life Disney World, with its neat medieval buildings and pastel-coloured castle, and it fact it was used as a filming location for the 1996 movie The Adventures of Pinocchio, starring Martin Landau and Rob Schneider. The castle, with its distinctive pink tower, is free to enter, but to get the most out of it, it’s good idea to join one of the tours – see their website for prices. This way you won’t miss all sorts of interesting things – like that some of the windows are false and are just paintings. If you can fit in a stay in Prague during you trip, make sure to check out the cheeky urinating statues in front of the Kafka museum, plus 6 other top things to see and do in Prague from this list.

View across Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

7. Bratislava, Slovakia

Average hostel price: £15

Average hotel price: £35

Average price for a beer: £1.75

Another city overshadowed by it’s neighbour Prague, the capital of Slovakia is much less visited. Bratislava is older than Prague, dating back to around 500BC, but it has a cosy, rural charm of its own – the tiny old town is beautifully compact at just a kilometre square – and the residents are friendly and relaxed. Once you’ve finished admiring the eighteenth-century pastel buildings, try exploring the city’s more modern side at its contemporary art galleries – including Danubiana, a curving art space built on a finger of land that thrusts into the Danube just south of Bratislava. Opening hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 11am to 7pm (summer) and 10am to 6pm (winter), and entry costs €8.

Bratislava castle

8. Vilnius, Lithuania

Average hostel price: £8

Average hotel price: £27

Average price for a beer: £1.75

Vilnius might not occur to you as the most obvious choice for your next holiday, but it’s home to some beautiful Baroque architecture and plenty of quirky surprises. Vilnius is known as the ‘City of Spires’ thanks to its many churches, with the main draw being the eighteenth century cathedral (open daily 7am to 7pm). The building was turned into a warehouse during the Soviet era, being renamed ‘The Gallery of Images’, but it was reconsecrated in 1989. But if churches leave you looking at your watch, you could always try to track down the elusive statue of rock legend Frank Zappa. His disembodied head can be found up Tauras Hill, near the junction of Pylimo and K. Kalinausko, having been exiled from the Old Town. Always thought Czech beer better than the rest? Try a fresh, crisp Lithuanian pilsner at Alaus namai (translates to ‘House of Beer’) and prepare to be proven wrong. Check out our guide for more to see and do in Vilnius, including an eerie prison tour.

Vilnius, Lithuania

9. Split, Croatia

Average hostel price: £11

Average hotel price: £38

Average price for a beer: £1.75

This beautiful waterfront city grew up around the palace, built here in around 300AD by Emperor Diocletian essentially as a retirement home for the ageing Emperor, and it has expanded over the years to create the current warren of historic buildings. Split is bristling with bars, cafés and restaurants in splendidly ornate surroundings – and try searching out the rather bohemian Ghetto club for some serious partying. But if none of that appeals, there’s always the 1,200 or so islands off the Croatian coast to explore, like Hvar and Brač. For more on what to do in Split, and to find out what picigin is, check out our guide.

Split in Croatia

10. Ljubljana, Slovenia

Average hostel price: £10

Average hotel price: £37

Average price for a beer: £1.90

Ljubljana is possibly the most laid back capital city in Europe – and with a population of just under 280,000, it’s certainly one of the smallest. The relative lack of people means that the streets never feel crowded, and although it may not have the major tourist sites of other capitals, it’s a thoroughly pleasant place to wander around and take holidaying at a slower pace than you might be use to. Traverse the iconic Triple Bridge and saunter along the elegant boulevards taking in the atmosphere, or clamber up the hill to the castle to take in views of the (tiny) city. Then head to one of Ljubljana’s many top-class, like JB’s, or head for a cocktail at the swanky Nebotičnik café bar on the thirteenth storey – don’t worry about the price tag, you’ll be paying about £40 a night on accommodation, so you can afford to live a little!. To find out more on Ljubljana, including what all the dragons are about, check out our guide.

Panorama of Ljubljana, Slovenia

If you think we’ve missed one of best European cities for a cheap break, make sure to let us know in the comments below.

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*All prices are approximate and subject to fluctuation owing to exchange-rate differences.

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