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5 Cheap European Destinations to Consider This Summer: Central & Eastern Europe

Krakow, Town SquareEurope is more affordable than it’s been in over a decade for the U.S. traveler. Having said that, a European vacation will still set you back a few bones, especially if you plan for a summer trip. There are still deep discounts to be had in Europe however, especially if you’re willing to mix high profile spots (a la Paris, Rome, London) in with a few more off-the-beaten-path destinations.

This post takes a look at the most affordable cities in all of Europe. Predictably, the best bargains are not to be found in western Europe, but don’t let that take the wind out of your sails! While thousands of your countrymen will find themselves paying close to $7 USD for a Big Mac in Norway or Switzerland, you still very easily get by on less than $30 a day (including accommodation) if you venture a bit further east onto the continent. Plus, the cities on our list (being up-and-comers rather than staples of the typical European itinerary) are much less congested and have their own charms.

For the History Nut who likes to get his/her party on…
Belgrade, Serbia
Serbia on the whole hasn’t quite been able to shake off the hangover of the Balkan War which has now been over for 20 years, but still keeps tourism something of a cottage industry. The capital city of Belgrade sits at the confluence of the Sawa and Danube rivers, which has made it strategically significant throughout ancient and modern European history – the city was conquered by Atilla the Hun, by the Ottoman Turks and by the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Considering the bloody history, you’ll find that the citizens of Belgrade are quite open to visitors and are in possession of an infectious joie de vivre – the dynamic café and club scenes imbue the town with a sense of reckless abandon and devil-may-care attitude. Hotels and restaurants are extremely reasonably priced, and Belgrade has developed quite a reputation among European travelers for being a fine spot to dance until the sun comes up. Summertime ushers in a plethora of music and cultural festivals, some of which are positioned on the leafy green islands in the rivers around the city. Loads of free activities are available to tourists, and if you’re an adrenaline junkie, Belgrade has also carved out a tidy niche in the bungee jumping arena.

Belgrade, SerbiaFor the Outdoorsman/woman with a Vampire Itch to Scratch
Bucharest, Romania
For a lot of people, Romania is still mainly remembered for being the birthplace of Dracula. It’s a bit of spotty mythmaking since Bram Stoker never actually bothered to travel to Transylvania to write his novel. The closest thing to an actual “Dracula” figure was a Romanian overlord nicknamed Vlad the Impaler, so named due to his rather gruesome style of dispatching enemies. In any event, Bucharest is a very affordable home base for exploring some of the most lush and beautiful landscapes on the planet – as well as some romantic Romanian towns. Once you venture forth into the dark and lush forests of Romania, you’ll understand why Hollywood has come a’ calling in recent years. The film industry has been drawn to the cheap cost of making movies here as well as the stunning natural backdrops that serve well in period pieces.

If you can’t stomach the though of coming to Romania and not walking in the footsteps of Dracula, Bran Castle is worth a (rather kitsch) visit. Locals will keep their tongues firmly in cheek as they tell tall tales (you’ll likely see an eye roll or two). Sighisoara is another gorgeous little detour of a small town founded by German craftsmen in the 12th century. In recent years it has become the center of the Romanian Bed & Breakfast biz and a great spot for a romantic weekend away for many Europeans on a budget. Bucharest proper is still a city in transition – but Ceausescu’s monstrous Palace of the Parliament is still the number one tourist attraction for international and Romanian visitors and certainly worth a visit. Marvel at the stunning excess of Romania’s last Communist dictator.

Bran CastleFor Culture Vultures & World War II Buffs
Krakow, Poland
For many years Krakow could boast “best kept secret” status for European cities but in 2015 Krakow has finally been outed for all intents and purposes. It remains on our list because – though visitor numbers continue to climb, Krakow still manages to be an extremely affordable option for tourists. The city is the cultural heart of Poland and has a much more vibrant and picturesque visage than does the capital city of Warsaw—which suffered complete architectural ruin during World War II. Krakow boasts the largest Medieval town square in Europe on which sits the Renaissance-era Cloth Hall. This indoor market is where to pick up all of your gifts to take home – tchotchkes galore! The city center is quite walkable and the food is delicious and varied. Boutique hotels are popping up all over and they sell out fast – book far in advance if you can.

Krakow also has the dubious honor of being the city with the closest proximity to Auschwitz – which is an easy day-trip and terrible must-see for most visitors and history buffs. Afterwards, visit the Old Jewish quarter of Kazimierz in Krakow. In the evenings a number of notable local and international Klezmer bands hold court in the handful of traditional restaurants and at Isaac Synagogue year round.

If You Want to Visit a Great European Capital Without the Hefty Pricetag
Budapest, Hungary
Budapest is probably the most high-profile city on our list but it warrants a mention because it has a bit of the “always a bridesmaid never the bride” chip on its shoulder when it comes to attracting tourists. And it’s baffling to us, because this city packs a wallop in historical sights, culture, and cuisine. From the rolling hills of Buda where you can get sweeping views back over Pest, to the varied delights of the grand Andrassy Boulevard (fashioned after the grand-daddy of all boulevards the Champs Ellysees in Paris) to the coffee culture imported by the Turkish invaders so long ago – there’s just more to do in Budapest than you’ll have time to experience. Certainly we recommend getting yourself to one of the “underground” speak-easy style biergardens called Kerts that spring up in the summertime and populate some of Budapest’s most beautifully crumbly old buildings. We love Szimplakert as an introduction – the oldest and some would say most establishment of all of the kerts.

Old Krakow Street Budapest at Night
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