Wishing you could escape for a weekend city break, but need to stick to a budget? It’s more than possible to enjoy a city break in a European capital without breaking the bank if you grab a cheap flight and have some inside local knowledge! Our favourite cities for weekenders on a shoestring have cheap eats, stunning views, budget accommodation and free activities galore if you stick to our travel hacks and don’t mind getting off the beaten path a little. So grab your passport, leave your credit card at home and head to one of our picks for the best city breaks on a budget!
Budapest is consistently near the top of lists of the best cities to travel to if you’re on a budget, and with good reason. When it comes to great value accommodation, Budapest has more than got it covered, and whether your budget is hostel or hotel you’ll pay much less than in other European cities. There’s cheap eats galore and to drink on a budget you can’t go wrong with the delicious beers the city is famed for, but we’d also recommend checking out a ‘ruin pub’ or two. If you’re looking for fancy cocktails then possibly not for you, but to really feel the soul of the city whist keeping things cheap, these local spots are the best option! You’ll find them in old factories or abandoned houses, and each has it’s own distinct vibe thanks to the eclectic mix of second hand and reclaimed furniture for you to sit back and enjoy a very reasonably priced beer on!
When it comes to free activities, Budapest is certainly one of the best - as well soaking up the incredible architecture and taking advantage of the numerous free art galleries around we’d recommend walking the city to get orientated while you learn about Budapest’s history. Also not to be missed is the climb up Castle Hill for incredible panoramic views, getting lost in the labyrinth of streets in the Jewish quarter and tasting the flavours of the city in the Great Market. But our top pick is to do as the locals do and spend a day on Margaret Island; even if you don’t feel like you need to escape the city just yet we promise the short bus ride to this island in the middle of the Danube river to relax under trees with a picnic or book, admire the monuments or take a dip in one of the thermal spas will not disappoint!
Dublin might not have been your very first thought for a cheap weekend away, but you can easily find great deals on flights with budget airlines (not naming names), accommodation can be reasonable, especially in hostels, and sight seeing can be done on a shoestring - although a lot of our favourite local things to do are actually free. And don’t forget that because the city is pretty small and compact, it’s easy enough to explore on foot - which we think is the best way to travel if you want to soak up the atmosphere - meaning you can sidestep the travel expenses that come with city breaks in larger capitals. Sneaky. And to be perfectly honest, our favourite things about Dublin are the city’s charming (and cheeky) personality, the friendly locals and good vibes that you’ll find everywhere from the pubs to the bookshops. And the best things in life are free, right?
Temple Bar is famous for its great pubs and nightlife, but if you need to tighten the purse strings, don’t spend every evening in this touristy area. Instead, ask around and head to more local pubs, where the prices are a little more reasonable and you’re almost guaranteed to have some live music thrown into the bargain with your pint! Eating out in Dublin can be expensive, but if you know where to look you can stick to the budget. For a proper Irish fry up, head to Gerry's, where anyone and everyone comes for their breakfast fix, and for the best burritos in Ireland try Boojum, where a meal and a drink will only set you back around €8. Our other little tip is Fallon and Byrne; from the food hall on the ground floor, put together your own selection of organic salads and sandwiches (€8 for a large plate), and then head downstairs with your meal to the wine bar to dine in in style and on budget!
We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but you might encounter a rainy day or two. The upside? All the more time to be spent cosying up in coffee shops and literary cafes, or making the most of Dublin’s free museums! The National Museum of Ireland, which has three locations in Dublin (our favourite is Archeology); Dublin City Gallery, where you’ll find an incredible collection of contemporary art; and the grounds of Dublin Castle won’t cost you a cent to visit, meaning you can save your money for the slightly more expensive pursuits of dining out and enjoying a few pints of Guinness. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Dublin over the summer, do like the locals and head to St Stephen’s Green with a book or a picnic. You probably won’t be the only one who’s had this idea, but there’s a good reason why most of Dublin sets up camp here to make the most of the sunshine.
If you’re looking for incredible food, laid back vibes, festivals, maritime charm and year round sunshine (and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t be looking for any of those?), look no further because we’ve found them, and they’re all in Lisbon. This year, Lisbon has come out at number 8 on the list of the cheapest city breaks, so if you haven’t visited yet, now is the time! Although the Portuguese capital is a great year round destination, we’d recommend avoiding August when the whole city seems to de-camp to the beach suburbs and surf towns further along the coast, swapping the heat of the steep, cobbled streets for the cool breezes of the Atlantic. And if you’re looking to get involved in a local festival or two, June is the month to visit, if for no other reason that to party with the locals on Dia de Santo António (although there are plenty of other free events and festivals held in this month). Also known as the Sardine Festival, this open air street party celebrates both the city’s patron saint, and sardines. (Yes, it’s exactly how it sounds and yes, it’s amazing). Head to Bairro Alfama for packed out streets, dancing all night with the locals and a whole lot of grilled sardines.
Lisbon is packed full of old-world charm, and the best way to experience the city is to hop on one of the century-old trams that trundle over the seven hills. Transport can add up here, so the thriftiest way to get around is using a Viva Viagem card and topping up for a day pass which allows you unlimited transport on the metro, trains, trams and buses. Museums here can also be pricey, so our other little tip would be to visit them on a Sunday (it’s usually the first Sunday of every month, but some have an alternative day of the week) when they’re free!
For foodies on a shoestring, Lisbon is a perfect destination. You can wine and dine here on a budget that won’t break the bank, but without sacrificing on quality. Dining at pretty much any the restaurant here will set you back less than the equivalent meal would at home, provided you steer clear of the touristy central areas. Our tip would just be to wander, explore, and get a little lost in the back streets - we promise you’ll stumble across something incredible! To truly experience the best of Lisbon’s cuisine and to stick to your budget, head to a local tasca - one of our favourites is O Tasco do Vigário, where ordering the whole menu will set you back only 7€ and the main dishes that change daily are cooked to traditional perfection. These modest eateries might not look fancy, but we promise the food will be doing all the talking! Well kept local secrets (so don’t tell anyone) are Tendinha do Rossio (Praça D. Pedro IV, 6) a lunch spot where locals in a hurry drop by for a glass of house beer or wine and a pastel de bacalhau (a sort of cod cake) or two, and Cantina das Freiras, a self service cafeteria run by nuns where you’ll find some of the most authentic food in the city (and the two courses will only cost you €6.50).