San Sebastian, Spain
San Sebastian, Spain | Botond Horvath/Shutterstock
San Sebastian, Spain | Botond Horvath/Shutterstock

18 Beautiful European Cities You Can Actually Afford to Visit Right Now

We're as guilty of it as anyone: trotting out every ridiculously cheap flight from New York or Boston or Atlanta to some cool-ass European capital or coast and saying, eyes wide and spittle spraying, "Now's the time! Get to Europe!"

There's only one catch, and it's a big one. Even with the euro and the British pound scraping against historical lows vs. the US dollar (gyaaah! Seriously! Get to Europe!!) you still have to pay London prices once you touch down at Heathrow or Reykjavik prices when you pop by Iceland. And clearly if you were in the mood to scrape along like a peasant, you'd just apply to grad school.

But what if we told you -- which, yes, we're literally telling you now -- that you can hit truly world-class destinations that are cheap even when their currency isn't on markdown. That you can enjoy the finest Catalan food, the most calendar-worthy Mediterranean beaches, the time-worn castles and platinum lagers and free-wheeling Croats who make Europe a beloved destination for the world's travelers. And once you cover airfare, you can do it all for less than you'd blow on a normal weekend road trip.

We know, because we asked our stable of cost-conscious writers to pick their favorite spots to hit on the cheap. Here are the 18 European cities they recommend to anyone who'd rather pocket a euro than spend it.

Porto, Portugal
Porto, Portugal | 1shostak/Shutterstock

Porto, Portugal

Port wine and just-caught seafood rule in Western Europe's favorite bargain city.

Why it's so cheap: The dollar and euro are nearly dead even right now and holding steady. Add Portugal's perennial status as Western Europe's top bargain to the equation, and you won't find any bloated price tags along this Atlantic shoreline. Lodging, chow, and booze typically wipe out a holiday budget, but you'll be styling in affordable mode at two- or three-star hotels near the city's medieval/romantic Old Town.

Why you should go: Clean and classy Porto is the heart and soul of Northern Portugal, a World Heritage City where even the McDonald's has chandeliers. Olden, narrow lanes offer unofficial landmarks like squeaky-floor bookshops, indoor-outdoor cafes where patrons converse sans iPhones, and alluring courtyard squares hiding behind every façade. Portugal's pristine coastline and fondness for organic agriculture ensure that no traveler leaves blasé about its food, wine, or truffle butter.

Did we mention it's cheap? Imagine what you'd throw down at TGI Fridays for lunch, but instead you're sipping wine at a white-tablecloth riverside restaurant beside a fishing port, eating seafood so fresh it practically jumped out of the ocean like that. When you leave a tip here, you're a hero, and no one's expecting you to understand Portuguese. The gotta-do granddaddy of charms is Taylor's Port Wine Cellars. Founded in 1692 by a British trader, and family-owned since, it's the dank-but-swank dwelling where you'll finally find out what the hell "tawny" means. -- Bruce Northam, American Detour

BERLIN, GERMANY | Boris-B/Shutterstock

Berlin, Germany

An ever-changing cultural mecca perpetually at low prices

Why so cheap: Berlin is by far one of the cheapest capital cities in Western Europe. It’s also a paradise for budget-friendly travelers as it’s an easy, walkable city. If you don't have the time for a leisurely stroll, a day ticket on the S-Bahn will set you back about $8. And accommodation is a dime a dozen as there’s an abundance of cheap hostels costing between  $15 and $20 a night. (You can also book a few nights in an Airbnb in Kreuzberg for about $50 a night if you’re feeling fancy. Because you saved so much on your lodging, you’ll have plenty of euros to try out all the cheap street food -- you can’t beat a $3 kebab washed down with a can of beer you got at Lidl for less than a dollar.

Why you should go: Berlin may be one giant party, but there’s more to this diverse city than clubbing. It’s really a chilled-out city with loads of parks, canals, flea markets, street art and food markets for those who don’t want a wild nightlife. Take a break from sightseeing and instead make your way to Tempelhof Field, a former airport turned into a unique artsy outdoor space, in Neukölln for a day of people watching, brats and beer. -- Yolanda Evans

Zagreb, Croatia
Zagreb, Croatia | Dreamer4787/Shutterstock

Zagreb, Croatia

A lively and quirky capital

Why it's so cheap: The word might be out on Dubrovnik thanks to Game of Thrones, but Croatia's capital hasn't been completely overrun with tourists and tourist prices (yet). You can find a good Airbnb near the city center for as low as $35 or stay at the popular Swanky Mint Hostel for less than $15. The best way to get around is the tram -- a day pass is $7 -- or rent a bike through the nextbike system. The first 30 minutes are free and each hour after is just $1.
Why you should go:
There's a lot more to do here than just wander cobbled streets and photograph old architecture. Zagreb has more museums per capita than any other city in the world -- the Museum of Broken Relationships is a weirdie but a goodie. Also not to be missed is the Grič Tunnel, which runs directly through the heart of the city and opened to the public less than a year ago. If you're there on a weekend, wear your coolest outfit and take part in špica (pronounced "shpitza") where locals get coffee and run errands on Saturday and Sunday mornings for the sole purpose of being seen.

Stop by A Most Unusual Garden, a cafe and bar that's also a treehouse, but set your sights on Mundoaka Street Food when you're ready to tuck into the traditional Croatian cuisine. Zagreb also throws one hell of a late-night party. Head to Opera for the best of the club scene (just don't show up before 1am). But be warned, the locals are likely to drink you under the table and may offer you flaming B-52 shots. -- Hannah Freedman, Thrillist contributor

Tallinn, Estonia
Tallinn, Estonia | TTstudio/Shutterstock

Tallinn, Estonia

A modern city famous for public singing and medieval architecture

Why it's so cheap: It's still shaking off the post-Communism blues. The first ex-Soviet state to adopt the euro is so much cheaper than neighboring Finland that Fins routinely ferry across the Baltic Sea just to buy cigarettes. Slightly larger than Switzerland, this small country (1.5 million people) has a big outlook while the people have even bigger hearts. And you'll feel like a big shot buying them cheap rounds.

Why you should go: Estonia's architecturally brilliant capital city is one of the best-kept medieval towns on our planet. Tallinn's Old Town -- an obvious UNESCO World Heritage Site -- is also a renowned Hanseatic city, now with wireless. (The Hanseatic League was a medieval Northern Europe merchant alliance resembling an early European Union.) Encouraged by the collapse of the Iron Curtain, Estonia metaphorically waved bye-bye to the USSR in 1989 when 2 million Baltic citizens launched into a nations-wide (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) jam-band choir known as the Singing Revolution (a Baltic Woodstock). Today, merry outdoor festival-going still overshadows sport fandom as a national pastime. Song festival fairgrounds and their signature bandshell arches are everywhere. Despite the difficulties they've endured for hundreds of years, cultural traditions have kept Estonians together: Folk dancing, art, hearty cuisine, and storytelling over a few brews top the list. -- Bruce Northam, American Detour

Prague, Czech Republic
Prague, Czech Republic | DaLiu/Shutterstock

Prague, Czech Republic

A literary town with a giant fairytale castle

Why it's so cheap: The secret is out on Prague, so prices have been slowly increasing along with the crowds of tourists. But despite its popularity, it still won’t break your budget. For just $40 a night you can rent an Airbnb near the Old Town center. The city is small so you don’t have to worry about paying for transportation; you can see basically everything on foot -- unless you’ve had a little too much beer, which I won’t fault you for because it bangs out some of the best drafts in Europe for under $2.

Why you should go: Walk through the early morning fog on the Charles Bridge (emphasis on early morning, before the hordes arrive) and you’ll feel like you’re the star of your own spy movie. Prague is almost ineffably stunning, with winding cobblestone alleys, ornate Gothic and Baroque churches, and a fascinating mix of medieval and Communist history (the Museum of Communism, comically located next to a McDonald’s, is an absolute must). It has the largest castle complex in the world, replete with torture chambers, as well as some of the oldest pubs and beer halls in all of Europe. Wandering off the tourist track will reward you here. Explore Malá Strana and take in the full glorious view of the city from the top of Petřín Hill. Make sure you order some late-night smažený sýr (breaded fried cheese) off a food cart. If you’re looking for a unique and admittedly creepy place to have a pint, visit Bunkr Parukarka and drink inside a nuclear fallout shelter. Kafka would’ve bugged out for it. -- Katie Lockhart, Thrillist contributor

Brussels, Belgium
Brussels, Belgium | Rostislav Glinsky/Shutterstock

Brussels, Belgium

All the chocowafflemusselbeerfries you can handle

Why it's so cheap: Home to the European Commission headquarters, Brussels buzzes with purposeful business travellers during the week. Yet on the weekends, when the briefcase-toting contingent vanishes -- and other tourists are more keen to gawk at the medieval treasures in oppressively crowded nearby Bruges -- the Belgian capital acquires a more inviting, artsy vibe. Hotel prices tend to drop considerably, too, meaning you can shack up in the bright, modern, aptly named Pantone Hotel in the swarms-with-creative types Saint-Gilles quarter for $99 a night.

Brussels is an especially good value when it’s paired with other Euro metropolises. Brussels South Charleroi Airport (easily accessed via a $19 one-way bus ride from Brussels-Midi station) is the hub for low-cost carriers making short-haul flights.

Why you should go: Brussels often gets pegged as one of Europe’s blander cities, but the reputation is undeserved. Just stand in the middle of cobblestoned Grand Place and try not to be seduced by the melange of Gothic architecture and gilded statues surrounding you. Then, escape the hordes hell-bent on seeing the anti-climactic Manneken Pis sculpture, and head to Le Pantin. Located in a multi-cultural stretch of Ixelles, this timeless spot with the brick-fronted bar is where to knock back a $4 St. Bernardus Tripel or two before devouring a cone of bronzed fries at nearby Frit Flagey.

Heaps of museums keep the culture-curious sated in Brussels, and one of the best is the Musical Instruments Museum. Bonus: the roving, yellow Pascalino truck hovers close by, dispensing glorious, golden, Liège-style waffles (that’s the superior kind that flaunts arbitrary clusters of sugar in some of its grooves, by the way).

To savor Brussels’ most famous export, skip the glitzy city-center chains and visit the Frederic Blondeel Chocolate Factory & Shop in Koekelberg. It’s big on industrial charm, and for $13 you can snag a two-layered box of some 20 from-scratch bonbons. -- Alia Akkam

Krakow, Poland
Krakow, Poland | Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock

Krakow, Poland

Shabby-chic charm and meaningful history

Why it's so cheap: Poland's Communist history has kept it catching up in the capitalist market, which means today even the thriftiest bugger can still, quite literally, ball out in even its most touristed city. A slick, artsy Airbnb in Krakow's historic Kazimierz won't set you back more than $50 a night, taxis are affordable (and even better, meter prices are usually trustworthy), and central Old Town is conveniently walkable. Be prepared to spend nominally, but gain a lot -- of pleasant experiences, yes, but also pounds, from gluttonizing on $2 pints, $2 grilled kielbasa, and entree platters bulging with meat, dough, and cabbage medleys starting for as low as $4 a pop.

Why you should go: As the country is fond of saying, “If you want to see the history of Poland” go to Krakow. It’s true. From walks through former communist neighborhood Nowa Huta (fascinating), to tours of Former concentration camp Auschwitz (haunting, but a necessary stop to understand this atrocious chapter in history) to an old town untouched by bombings during World War II (enchanting), the historical index runs deep.

Get lost in the Kazimierz area. This Jewish district is home to the city’s bulk of street art, independent galleries, and cafes. After you’ve found yourself at the bottom of an ice cream cone or kebab from one of the area’s many vendors, use your newfound energy to charge the hill and visit Wawel Cathedral, a landmark that many believe contains actual dragon bones. (Who needs Game of Thrones?) This fun fairytale fact is commemorated with a fire-breathing dragon sculpture at the banks of the of the Vistula river.
Scaling to greater heights more your bag? Krakow is a daytrip away from the Pieniny Mountains, where in addition to river rafting in traditional Polish wood boats, you can scale the intimidating (but surprisingly manageable) Sokolica Peak, where breathtaking views of both Poland and Slovokia await. -- Laura Studarus 

Athens, Greece
Athens, Greece | Nataliya Nazarova/Shutterstock

Athens, Greece

Where simplicity is the ultimate extravagance

Why it's so cheap: Greece is a financial hot mess at the moment, teetering on the brink of Grexit and stumbling over debt repayments. For you, that means a heck of a deal on a badass summer holiday. In Athens, you'll find all the typical tourist-gouging around the Acropolis and surrounding area, but put some distance between yourself and the Parthenon and you'll be treated with some very reasonable prices. You'll find that you can eat very well in the Greek capital on a budget, save for splurging on a seafood dinner or two. Some of the cuisine's best are cheap, simple pleasures made on the fly -- there's souvlaki, pastries such as spanakopita and tiropita, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and everyone's favorite foamy coffee, frappé.

Why you should go: Athens' ancient history will lead you to believe it's old-fashioned, but it's actually gloriously dualistic, with modern industrial venues and hipstery vintage-cloaked cafes. It's actually home to Europe's most creative, happening bar scenes at the moment, with the kitschy haunts of neighborhoods Exarcheia and funky Psiri, which was a very rough area up until the '90s. Besides legendary bars such as The Clumsies and Brettos, one of Europe's oldest bars with its own distillery making liqueurs, there are underground jazz bars and, of course, traditional taverns. Along with all the shopping at the flea market Monastiraki and upscale Kifisia, you'll likely be boozed- and browsed-out before even hitting the islands. -- Barbara Woolsey, Thrillist contributor

Glasgow, Scotland
Glasgow, Scotland | DrimaFilm/Shutterstock

Glasgow, Scotland

William Wallace died for your 15-pint sub crawl

Why it’s so cheap: From the East Coast you can fly to Glasgow for under $500 -- it’s also just a train ride away from London, Edinburgh, or pretty much any major UK city. (The Virgin rail from London leaves every 40 minutes, takes less than five hours and can be had for less than $40.) Hotels -- including major US standard bearers like Hilton -- can be snatched up for under $100 a night, and an all-day subway pass is about $3. You’re going to need to that, by the way.

Why you should go: The largest city in Scotland is often overlooked for its capital sister to the east. And while Edinburgh boasts gorgeous castles and hilly historical charm, Glasgow’s got grit, baby. Glasgow’s industrial core drips with authenticity; there’s no mistaking its independent ruggedness. But she’s a cosmopolitan place, too, with far more to offer than haggis and Scotch whisky (you should try both, though, and stick with multifarious options of the latter throughout your stay).

Glasgow has great museums, parks, churches, blah blah: If you’re hunting for a truly unique experience, do what droves of idiot collegiate American students abroad have done for years: The Glasgow Subway is a loop. Hop on and, then, hop off at each station, heading to the first pub you spy. Once there, have a drink, chat up the locals, and repeat. There are 15 stations (and, therefore, drinks) in the “sub crawl” and, from experience, a couple of them are in dodgy areas. So, be careful but, ya know, go nuts and see the city -- if through blurry lenses by the end of the affair. -- Colin St. John, Thrillist contributor

LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA | Kiev.Victor/Shutterstock

Ljubljana, Slovenia

A friendly, mountainous jewel at post-Yugoslavian prices

Why it's so cheap: Slovenia adopted the euro in 2007 and those euros go a looong way. It’s easy to bounce over here on Rail Europe after fretting over your budget in neighboring Austria. Relish the easy stroll from the rail station into the heart of Ljubljana (pronounced "youb-blee-ahna") along curvy, cobbled medieval lanes lined with ultra-bargain cafes, shops, and open-air watering holes.

Why you should go: Vastly photogenic, this mountain-encircled Baroque city is a remarkable crossroads of Germanic, Latin, and Slavic history. These are stalwart, hard-working mountain folks who enjoy socializing, hanging outdoors, and outdoing Croatia. The architecture, scenery, and humanity in this proud capital city do not disappoint -- majestic Ljubljana Castle looms over the antique hamlet, and water melting from the ice-encrusted Alps flows from the taps. Not far off from Ljubljana are the gorgeous mountain-lake towns of Bled and Bohinj. You'll find this northwestern corner of the Western Balkans is more Euro than Slavic, so they vibe well with Americans and most people speak excellent English. -- Bruce Northam, American Detour

SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN | M.V. Photography/Shutterstock

San Sebastián, Spain

No Michelin-starred budget? No problem

Why it’s so cheap: Flush vacationers might not think twice about ponying up the cash for dinners with price tags ending in three zeros at Arzak or Martín Berasategui, but everyday Donostiarras have to eat too -- and when they go out, they have no patience for inflated tourist prices. That’s why so many locals wind up dining in Gros. Removed from the tourist hubbub, this barrio is a top spot for pintxos that go easy on the wallet such as the “mini completo”at Bodega Donostiarra, a wham-bam sandwich stuffed with oil-packed albacore, Basque anchovies, and pickled piparrak chilies. (That grease running down your forearm means you’re doing it right.) For $3ish you can cross another Gros classic off the list: the “txalupa” at Bar Bergara, a cheese-topped tartlet filled with king prawn-flecked bechamel that disproves the notion that seafood and dairy don’t mix.

Why you should go: Beyond San Sebastián’s quintessential attractions -- the knockout food, the storybook Parte Vieja (old town), and one of Spain’s most fetching urban beaches (La Kontxa) -- you’ll want to check out the Chillida–Leku Museum ($7 entry) before everybody else gets word of its reopening, following an eight-year hiatus. Bus 25 ($4 round trip) will drop you in front of this serene sculpture garden strewn with outsize abstract works in metal and stone by the Basque Country’s most famous sculptor, best known for his Comb of the Wind series in San Sebastián. After wandering the grounds and touring the 16th-century farmhouse brimming with Chillida art and memorabilia, have a nibble or two at the new locavore restaurant and check out the high-design gift shop with posters, apparel, and one-of-a-kind sculptures by Basque artisans. -- Benjamin Kemper

Split, Croatia
Split, Croatia | M.V. Photography/Shutterstock

Split, Croatia

A discounted paradise on the Adriatic has everything except sand

Why it's so cheap: Having ventured to Split and its surroundings every year for the past decade, I still find the Croatian paradise brimming with giddy wonders. Go for a week with a good book and a pocket full of change and you will leave with a tan, a full belly, and a face aching from smiles. Return flights are just under $100 from most European international hubs. Ten bucks will get you a plate of freshly caught fish and a glass of local wine next to the turquoise blue Adriatic. A $5 ferry will take you to a lush island retreat just under an hour away from the mainland, where you’ll be blessed with miles of beaches, remote hideaways, natural parks, and some of Europe’s friendliest people.

Why you should go: That Croatia is not mobbed by thousands of tourists every year is both a blessing and a scandal. This idyllic, James Bond-esque port city has the feel of a rustic, 19th-century harbor -- albeit one with Wi-Fi and yachts. But it still holds to its wistful culture and prices that all seem to be missing a zero. Delight in the lush Mediterranean climate and journey to the beaches on the city’s edge (just know that they’re stone beaches, unfortunately; the one drawback). Hire a boat, explore old Roman ruins, and embellish your gluttonous desires with Dalmatian ham, olives, and whatever else you can gorge upon. -- Dan Cole, Thrillist contributor

Budapest, Hungary
Budapest, Hungary | Ungvari Attila/Shutterstock

Budapest, Hungary

Your historic spa capital for finding love (and chess) on the Danube

Why it’s so cheap: Between the touristic allure of the city’s heady thermal bath culture, the countless stag parties that swarm the bar-lined streets of District VII, and (thankfully) a rise in local labor costs, prices in Budapest have steadily increased over the past several years. Still, your Hungarian Forints -- although part of the EU, Hungary clings to its national currency -- go a long way in this downright beautiful and gritty Central-Eastern European capital. Check into a colorful hostel smack in the center of town like Lavender Circus, where the private rooms (there’s no escaping fellow guests in the shared bathrooms, though) are spruced up with whimsical hand drawings.

Why You Should Go: Relaxing in the gurgling mineral waters of Budapest’s storied baths is often the centerpiece of any trip to the city, and around $20 leads to all-day access, for example, to the healing pools at the Ottoman-era relic, Rudas Bath. Feast on traditional Hungarian cooking at Tüköry Étterem, an old-fashioned joint adjacent to the Hold Street Market with loads of wood and red-and-white-checkered tablecloths. Hefty portions of beef goulash and stuffed peppers will set you back around $12.

After a few shots of Hungary’s fierce fruit brandy pálinka -- try the plum -- sipped at the kitschy, sprawling, have-to-visit once ruin pub Szimpla Kert, you’ll be glad that your wee-hours cravings can be indulged at Retró Lángos. Giant orbs of fried-to-order dough slathered in the likes of garlicky sour cream and cheese, it’s the perennial Hungarian street food. -- Alia Akkam

Madrid, Spain | Eloi_Omella/E+/Getty

Madrid, Spain

Many of Madrid’s top sights aren’t just cheap -- they’re free (if you play your cards right)

Why it’s so cheap: While the annual tourist hordes (15.8 million of them, to be exact) have been busy overturning every last stone in Barcelona, inadvertently causing lodging and dining prices there to balloon, most neighborhoods in Madrid have managed to retain their local character -- and honest prices -- despite the tourism boom. A vibrant, penny-pinching student population and plenty of competition among businesses have also helped keep costs down. The epitome of Madrileño affordability is the menú del día, or weekday prix-fixe, a mainstay of neighborhood tabernas that’ll set you back a paltry 11-ish euros ($12) despite including a first and second course, dessert, and (often unlimited) wine. Casa Dani, El Rincón de Sancho, La Figal, and Casa Macareno are particularly legendary for their menús; expect comfort-food classics like lentils with chorizo, tripe stew, and roast chicken and fish.

Why you should go: Gone are the days when overnighting in Madrid meant either shelling out for an expensive hotel or slumming it in a gunky hostel. A spate of new “designer hostels,” distinguished by photogenic rooms and common-area furnishings that go far beyond the beanbag, has hit the city, with properties like The Hat and Generator Madrid leading the charge (the latter was deemed one of the 100 greatest places of 2018 by TIME). Sightseeing-wise, there might be no more important place than the Prado, arguably one of the world’s top five museums with unparalleled collections of paintings by Goya, Velázquez, El Greco, and other Spanish artists. The trick is to arrive at 6pm sharp to score free entry until 8 (on Sundays, there’s complimentary access from 5 to 7pm). The nearby Museo de Reina Sofía, the Prado’s modern counterpart housing Picasso’s Guernica, has the same policy from 7 to 9pm daily and on Sundays from 1:30 to 7pm -- Benjamin Kemper

photography by Philipp Chistyakov/Moment/Getty
photography by Philipp Chistyakov/Moment/Getty

Tbilisi, Georgia

New flight routes are about to make visiting the heart of the Caucasus even cheaper

Why it’s so cheap: Georgia’s exchange rate is so low that every time you pay for a room ($25, on average) or a meal (usually $5, tops), you’ll feel like you’re getting away with something. In fact, most Tbilisians would spit their kvevri wine in your face if you told them New Yorkers were spending $15 a pop on khachapuri, the Instagram-famous cheese bread, since Retro’s $2.85 pies are the ooziest on earth. Even frugal travelers can roll like the Bagrationi Dynasty in Tbilisi; rates for professional private guides like InterGeorgia Travel hover around $120 per vehicle per day (ideal for winery-hopping and trips to far-flung monasteries), and even the most immersive experiences, like Culinary Backstreetsfull-day walk hitting vibrant markets and secret neighborhood restaurants, will run you less than a hundo.

Why you should go: With colorful balconied houses, natural sulfur baths, a rave scene envied by Berlin, and a cable car that plops you at the top of a 13th-century fortress, the better question is, why wouldn’t you go to Tbilisi? If your answer is the seemingly high expense of flying halfway across Asia, think again: It’s borderline impossible to keep up with all the new flights into Tbilisi -- Air France joined the club in spring 2019 with its first Paris–Tbilisi flight, and there are mumblings that Ryanair is next, making a visit to the heart of the Caucasus even more budget friendly. -- Benjamin Kemper

© Roberto Conte/Moment/Getty
Matera, Italy | © Roberto Conte/Moment/Getty

Matera, Italy

The 2019 European Capital of Culture happens to be supremely affordable

Why it’s so cheap: This ancient city in Basilicata, crowned the European Capital of Culture of 2019 (and one of Thrillist’s 2019 picks for planning your next Big Trip), has become Italy’s golden-boy vacation spot in recent years for its jaw-dropping cityscape, medieval churches, and UNESCO-protected cave dwellings -- but its affordability is almost as rave-worthy. Matera is a one-hour jaunt from Bari airport, known for its wildly cheap flights from dozens of European cities. (If you’re arriving from the US, consider round-tripping it to a larger city in Europe and sleuthing the budget airline websites separately.)

Why you should go: Put the euros you saved on airfare toward pampering yourself at Sextantio Le Grotte Della Cività, not a budget hotel by any stretch but well-worth the splurge to stay in its candlelit 13th-century cave rooms. (Rates plummet in the off-season, November to March, so keep an eye out for deals.) Your time in Matera will no doubt center around the Sassi, the old cave city that was settled some 9,000 years ago -- here you’ll stumble upon rupestrian churches, charming cafés, and museums like the Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario, an immaculately preserved cave house where humans and animals shared living quarters until the 1960s. But when hunger strikes, you’ll want to venture beyond the polyglot menus and hiked-up prices of the old town. Enter Basquiat, a snug Italians-only spot whose fried fresh-picked olives and baked Lucana sausage you’ll find yourself craving long after your trip. -- Benjamin Kemper

Sugere Loic/EyeEm/Getty
France, Lyon | Sugere Loic/EyeEm/Getty

Lyon, France

France’s gastronomic capital talks a big game… and delivers

Why it’s cheap: Most travelers opt to go to Paris over Lyon, France’s third largest-but-oldest city. Huge mistake. While they eat away at their savings account in the capital, you can have a great time in Lyon with hotel stay as low as $42 a night. Save on bus fare by exploring the city with Vélo’v, the city’s new bike service -- a day pass costs a little over $1, while a weekly goes for $3.50. Lyon is marked with ancient Roman ruins and medieval cathedrals, with many sites costing free-99 or just a couple of euros. Get a free map of the traboules in the Old Town and the Croix-Rousse districts, the city’s secret network of hidden passageways once used by craftspeople and artisans to avoid crowded streets but in World War II, utilized by resistance fighters to conduct secret meetings.

Why you would go: Lyon fancies itself the gastronomic capital of France (it was home of the so-called Pope of French Cuisine, Paul Bocuse, RIP). With over 2000 restaurants, ranging from cheap eats to Michelin-starred temples to fine dining, you’ll want for nothing, from famed Lyonnaise salad (frissee lettuce, poached egg and bacon) to rich offal-based dishes (think blood sausage, pates and the like). The city’s bouchons -- essentially bistros -- specialize in this kind of cooking; Chabert & Fils is popular for tourists and locals. Of course, the wine flows aplenty -- the city is on the doorstep of the famed (and excellent) Beaujolais wine region. -- Yolanda Evans

Dhërmi, Albania | DaveLongMedia/E+/Getty

Dhërmi, Albania

After years of isolation, this Eastern European nation is one of the Mediterranean’s least explored destinations

Why it’s so cheap: For decades, Albania felt underwater thanks to political and economic unrest, from one of the modern era’s most tyrannical communist regimes to pyramid schemes that affected the whole country. Luckily, this recent past -- this all happened in the ‘90s, folks -- is now a memory. Once considered Europe’s poorest countries, modern Albania has evolved into one of the Mediterranean’s unspoiled destinations.

Get to Dhermi, a small beachside village directly across from the heel of Italy’s boot. Here, transit, food and lodging is extremely gentle on the wallet. Whether you opt to stay on the beach tent-style ($12/night), vacay in a hip Airbnb apartment ($28/night) or posh it up at a four-star hotel on the Ionian Sea ($80/night), there’s something for every budget.

Why you should go: Unlike Dhërmi’s neighbors, it’s still relatively untouched. During the country’s communist era, the coastline was off-limits for development, which translates to sweeping vistas and pristine waters these days. It also means you’ll have plenty of space to choose from on the white sandy or pebbled beaches. Whether exploring secluded beaches or the surrounding caves, you’ll work up an appetite. Seek out one of Albania’s most praised dishes, byrek, a delightful type of pie made with papery sheets of fillo pastry and stuffed with feta, spinach or meat. Nosh on some of the most delicious fresh catches of the sea for less than $8 a meal, as well. If you’re a music junkie, the city is also home to Albania’s first-ever international music festival, KALA. Additionally, this year marks the debut of the five-day music experience Anjunadeep Explorations. --Gabrielle Nicole Pharms

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