11 Top Cheapest European Countries to Visit

Written by Diana Bocco
Jun 30, 2020

Europe offers plenty of destinations for all tastes and interests — from blue coastlines with sandy beaches to winding mountain trails to historical destinations that date back over a thousand years. Unfortunately, many of these destinations — especially in popular countries such as France, Germany, and the Netherlands — will also stretch your budget to the max.

If you're looking for the cheapest European countries to visit, you'll have to think outside the box and head to lesser-known (but equally magical) destinations. Choose the best places to visit from our list of the most affordable European countries.

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1. Bulgaria

Bliznaka (The Twin) Lake, Rila Mountain, Bulgaria
Bliznaka (The Twin) Lake, Rila Mountain, Bulgaria

Bulgaria often tops the list of inexpensive countries to visit in Europe — and with good reason. For starters, Bulgaria remains largely undiscovered by tourists except for the visitors that come over in summer for a cheap vacation alongside the Black Sea. Even then, accommodations, flights, and entertainment will still cost you a fraction of what you would pay in Western Europe. In the off-season, prices drop considerably, and you can ski, eat, and travel around the country for a tenth of what it costs in the West.

One of the best parts of visiting Bulgaria is the countryside, where castles, villages, and hiking trails — the Central Balkan National Park tops the list for great hikes and breathtaking views — are either free or very cheap to visit. While Sofia is the first stop for many visitors, smaller cities such as Plovdiv — home to over 200 archaeological sites — are even cheaper to explore.

Hotels in Bulgaria are particularly cheap outside of the summer months, and many include not only free breakfast but also free shuttles.

2. Romania

Bran Castle, Romania
Bran Castle, Romania

Romania is one of the cheapest destinations in Europe, especially if you're heading to the Carpathian mountains for some hiking or mainly focused on exploring the countryside. Even a visit to Brasov — home to Dracula's 14th-century Bran Castle — can be very affordable if you book a day tour or don't mind slow train connections out of Bucharest. Trains aren't always in the best condition in Romania, but they are safe and very cheap.

Some of the most beautiful structures in Bucharest — including the 15th-century Old Town, Revolution Square, and Romania's own Arch of Triumph — are either free or very cheap to visit. In warmer weather, renting a bike can be a great way to explore smaller cities, or you can join one of the many free walking tours that depart from the center of town.

In most cases, it doesn't pay to shop at supermarkets here, as eating out is cheap in Romania, and the meals are hearty and filling. Local specialties such as sarmale (cabbage rolls), cozonac (sweet bread), or mamaliga (polenta, usually served with sour cream and strong cheese) are cheap, often sold at street food stalls, and a great way to get a quick intro to Romanian food.

3. Poland

Gdansk Old Town, Poland
Gdansk Old Town, Poland

Poland's main cities — Krakow and Warsaw — are not always cheap, so if they are your main destinations, avoid visiting in summer. Shoulder season (especially the months of March and April) are ideal months to travel to urban Poland — the weather is warming up, the prices are still low, and the castles and palaces that were closed during the winter are opening up again, often at discounted prices.

Poland's most famous destinations — including the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps, the Wieliczka Salt Mine, and Schindler's factory — are much less crowded in the off-season, so you won't waste time waiting in line. Many other attractions around the country are either very cheap or free to access, including climbing the Old Town Hall tower for great views in Krakow, the 13th-century Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork, and the ancient Bialowieza Forest.

In the larger cities, museums often offer one free day a week — for example, the Royal Castle in Warsaw is free to enter on Wednesdays, while the Chopin Museum is free on Sundays.

While trains aren't always very cheap in Poland, you can get almost anywhere via bus for very little money. Long-distance buses such as Flixbus are comfortable, offer free Wi-Fi, and will get you to even the tiniest towns in Poland.

4. Montenegro

St. George Island in Montenegro
St. George Island in Montenegro

Montenegro is a very new country — it regained independence in 2006 — and one many people couldn't even place on a map. Montenegro is a bit of everywhere in a country still trying to find itself — expect very cheap food prices as long as you stick to the hearty, meaty local foods such as a meat-stuffed pie-like burek; anything else will mean tourist prices. Most cities also host farmers markets on weekends — a great place to pick up a snack or a quick bite to eat for very cheap.

During July and August, the coast of Montenegro is filled with tourists — mainly from Russia, whose citizens don't need a visa to get in. If you're heading to hip coastal Budva or Herceg Novi towns, skip the summer months; otherwise, head inland for a visit to rugged mountains, glacial lakes, and UNESCO walled towns. For example, Crno Jezero, a mountain lake surrounding by deep green-bluish forest, is a stunning destination for hiking and swimming and completely free to enjoy.

Ada Bojana, a small island away from the pricey shoreline towns, is a prime destination for kitesurfing and a lovely summer destination with very affordable prices.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Beach Resorts in Montenegro

5. Ukraine

Kiev Monastery of the Caves, Kiev, Ukraine
Kiev Monastery of the Caves, Kiev, Ukraine

Ukraine has remained off the radar as a tourist destination for decades, and visitors are only now discovering everything this former Soviet country has to offer.

Most international tourism is focused on Kiev and day trips not far from the city, and picking the right time to visit will keep those trips even cheaper. For example, tours heading to Chernobyl and the abandoned city of Pripyat are cheaper in winter, as temperatures are unforgiving in the area, and most visitors don't want to deal with ice and snow. Early spring, fall, and winter are also cheaper times to head to the Black Sea coastline, as most tourists visit in summer to enjoy the beaches and hot weather.

The bigger expense when visiting Ukraine will be finding a place to stay in — as there isn't much of an international tourist season, hotel prices don't vary much throughout the year, especially in the largest cities. The resort town of Odesa on the northwestern shore of the Black Sea and Kiev are slightly cheaper in the off-season (late fall and winter), but the rest of the country remains very affordable all year long.

Perhaps one of the biggest ways you'll save money in Ukraine is food. If you eat local, food is very cheap in Ukraine — order varenyky (filled dumplings) or holubtsi (stuffed cabbage), and the entire meal will cost you the same as a quick snack in any other country.

6. Portugal

Porto, Portugal
Porto, Portugal

Portugal's most attractive destinations are all about nature, sun, and the outdoors — meaning they're mostly free. The Faro District in the south of the country is a popular destination for its soft golden sands, cliffs, and lighthouses, while visitors to Madeira head there for the rugged volcanic hiking trails, the beautiful harbor, and the great scuba diving.

The biggest expenses on a trip to Portugal will be food and accommodations, though visiting outside peak season (June to August) will reduce costs considerably. From November to February, prices drop even more, but the temperatures remain around 17 to 18 degrees Celsius, so it's the perfect time to visit to score great bargains.

Some of Portugal's most interesting destinations are free to explore — aside from the cost of the transportation to get you there. These include the ancient town of Evora, a World Heritage site, and the 12th century Templar Castle and Convent of Christ in the town of Tomar.

Accommodation: Best Holiday Resorts in Portugal

7. Slovenia

Lake Bled, Slovenia
Lake Bled, Slovenia

A tiny country surrounded by giants — Italy, Austria, and Hungary are against its borders — Slovenia is a mountainous country covered in forest. Still, most visitors arrive here for the shoreline — sitting against the Adriatic Sea, Slovenia offers plenty of affordable sandy beaches and lots of sun.

While the summer season means more expensive accommodations along the coast, the beaches are all public and free, so it's possible to keep the costs to a minimum even during high season. Koper beach and nearby Mestna beach, Moon Bay, and the famous seaside resort of Portoroz are all very affordable in late spring, when temperatures are already summery, but the tourists haven't arrived yet.

Away from the coast, Lake Bled is perhaps the best-known destination. Located just 35 kilometers from the capital city, Ljubljana, the lake is an affordable destination and one of the most stunning sights in the country. Other budget destinations include medieval town Piran; the fortified village of Štanjel; and Triglav National Park, where you can hike to the top of Mount Triglav in two days with an overnight at a mountain hut.

8. Hungary

Parliament building and the Danube River in Budapest
Parliament building and the Danube River in Budapest

Hungary is one of the most expensive countries in Eastern Europe — but still a fraction of the cost of traveling to major destinations in the Western half of the continent.

Hungary's capital, Budapest, is home to a long list of free attractions, including walking on the Chain Bridge across the Danube and exploring the Castle Hill area. Although some of the attractions in the Castle area — which includes the Buda Castle and the underground Castle Labyrinth — aren't free to visit, they're still very affordable. In the month of June, the city sponsors a "Night of the Museums," where you can visit many landmarks around Budapest for free.

The neo-Gothic Great Market Hall, Budapest's oldest indoor market, is a great place to search for budget souvenirs and cheap snacks, including many traditional Hungarian foods. Street food is another great way to save money when visiting — the country's favorite fast food is lángos, a sort of deep-fried pizza topped with cheese, tomato sauce, or sour cream.

Outside the capital, things get considerably cheaper. Visitors to the lake resort town of Tihany and those heading to Bükk Mountains for outdoor adventure will find that prices are even lower there all year long.

9. Slovakia

Lake in the High Tatras, Slovakia
Lake in the High Tatras, Slovakia

As Slovakia's capital, Bratislava is definitely the most expensive destination in the country — but even here, you can keep your trip cheap by taking advantage of the many free things the city has to offer.

In addition to many tiny galleries spread throughout the entire city, Bratislava is also home to lots of street sculptures — from bronze workmen coming out of sewer holes to life-size Napoleon's soldiers leaning against benches. Despite being the capital, Bratislava is relatively small and can be easily explored on foot, as most of the attractions are located around the Old Town center area — if you're headed outside the city, trains and buses are cheap and very comfortable.

If you're looking for outdoor adventure, however, Slovakia offers plenty of things to do — and most of them are free. The High Tatras, Slovakia's tallest mountains and a massive national park, has hundreds of kilometers of hiking trails. Between June and October, the trails are perfect for hiking and exploring. In winter, many of them become great destinations for snowshoeing, as well as downhill and cross-country skiing. All national parks are free in Slovakia.

Slovakia is also home to many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, castles, memorials, and monuments — all free or very cheap to discover.

10. Czech Republic

Prague, Czech Republic
Prague, Czech Republic

The Czech Republic is not as affordable as it used to be, but if much of your travel is outside the capital city of Prague, you'll be able to find plenty of bargains. This is especially true during the colder months (except for the second half of December, as the weeks around Christmastime are prime tourist season). January and February are the cheapest months, with March through May also offering some great discounts on flights and accommodations.

Many of Prague's main attractions are free but also part of many paid tours — rather than paying to be taken there, it makes more sense to grab a map and explore them on your own. This includes walking on Charles Bridge, stopping by the Astronomical Clock, and walking the cobblestone streets of Old Town Square and its medieval buildings.

Things get much cheaper at other major destinations around the country — including the fairy-tale town of Cesky Krumlov, the unusual town of Sedlec and its ossuary chapel, and the never-ending trails and mountains in Bohemian Switzerland National Park. Even during high season, the hotels at these destinations will be affordable if you book enough in advance.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Prague: Best Areas & Hotels

11. Italy

Colosseum in Rome
Colosseum in Rome

Italy is one of the cheapest Western European countries to visit. The public transportation system in Italy is so amazing, there's truly no reason to ever grab a taxi while there. That said, if you're trying to cover everything from Milan to Pompeii in one visit, you'll end up spending lots of money on high-speed trains — if at all possible, just pick one region and stick to it, so you can just use local trains and buses to move around.

If you absolutely must see the sights of Rome and Venice on one trip, the local slower trains will take three times longer but cost you a quarter of the price. The same is true when it comes to the country's major attractions — the bigger ones, such as the Colosseum or the Vatican, all have significant entry fees, so pick just a few favorites and spend the rest of your trip visiting cheap or free attractions, such as strolling around the Villa Borghese Gardens or tossing a coin into the Trevi Fountain.

The best thing you can do to save money in Italy is avoid visiting in summer, when everything costs more, the lines for attractions are hours long, and the sticky weather makes it all a little more inconvenient. Even winter is a good time to visit, as most of Italy never gets truly cold — the average temperature in Rome in January is 7 degrees Celsius, but on sunny days it can easily reach 12 degrees Celsius. From November to February, you'll get great deals on accommodations and often cheap flights.

It's almost a crime to visit Italy and not order a big plate of pasta at a trattoria, but the country's local markets are an equally great choice. Spend a couple of hours browsing through the weekend markets to pick up some cheese, fresh bread, and sweets like fette biscottate to create your own snacks or quick lunches. In big cities, you'll also be charged to sit at most cafes and restaurants, so order your coffee to go or drink it standing up — the savings add up if you're a coffee fan.

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imageExtending Your European Vacation: Looking for specific cheap European destinations to discover? Take a look at our list of Top-Rated Cheap Places to Visit in Europe for some inspiration. For warm-weather destinations that match all budgets, see our article on the Top-Rated Places to Visit in Europe in Summer.

imageDiscovering Eastern European Countries: Castles, mountains, and historical destinations await in Romania — take a look at our article on the Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Bucharest for some inspiration.

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