It’s easy to mistakenly generalize that “Europe is expensive” for those from abroad, and while the most famous cities do tend to be pricey, there are some great bargains as well. You can do more or less the same set of things in one city and spend only about 20% as much as you would in the most expensive cities.
Thankfully, a new site called Price of Travel has been tracking the prices for accommodation, attractions, transportation, food, and drinks, for over 110 cities around the world. They’ve also just released the European Backpacker Index for 2011, which shows what a typical backpacker would spend in 40 different cities in Europe.
It’s true that the price of a cheap hostel and a budget meal doesn’t always mean that everything else is cheap, but still generally these trends tend to work for most major costs, so if you are looking for a cheap place to stay in Europe, here are the ten cheapest cities overall.
10 – Moscow, Russia
Backpacker Index: US$46.79/day
It’s not necessarily easy to plan a holiday to anywhere in Russia due to the paperwork issues, but at least once you get there things tend to be quite cheap. The huge capital is still building a proper tourist infrastructure, and things can be mysterious or complicated if you are on your own without knowing the language, but once you figure things out bargains should be easy to find.
9 – Zagreb, Croatia
Backpacker Index: US$43.04/day
This one should appeal to quite a few people, partly due to Croatia’s reasonable climate for most of the year. Zagreb is another ‘former-East’ capital that didn’t have many tourist hotels or restaurants as of two decades ago, but things are moving fast and this city is far more welcoming than many others in the region.
8 – Prague, Czech Republic
Backpacker Index: US$40.21/day
Prague is already legendary on the backpacking and budget travel scene, even though prices have crept up for many things in the past few years while the Czech currency crept up to. Still, though it’s not the bargain it once was, Prague is still great value for visitors, especially those willing to stay in hostel dorms and look for cheap beers.
7 – Saint Petersburg, Russia
Backpacker Index: US$39.67/day
Most visitors agree that Saint Petersburg is really the better tourist city compared to Moscow, so it’s just a bonus that it’s also at least a bit cheaper, and it tends to be easier to reach for many as well. Again though, it can be challenging to visit and then find your way around without getting ripped off, so this isn’t an ideal destination for the inexperienced.
6 – Warsaw, Poland
Backpacker Index: US$38.18/day
Poland is another country that is rapidly updating and improving things after decades of being cut off from most travelers, and much of Warsaw is booming as a result. This city has plenty to see and do, even though it lacks the charm of Krakow, which is also even cheaper and further down this list.
5 – Istanbul, Turkey
Backpacker Index: US$35.77/day
Another city where prices have been creeping up noticeably lately, Istanbul continues to be a great bargain for most people anyway. This is a huge city where the list of things to see and do is endless, and yet if you are careful you can get by for a long time on a very modest sum.
4 – Budapest, Hungary
Backpacker Index: US$33.10/day
In some ways Budapest is picking up where Prague left off 10 years ago, with many Westerners moving in to start internet businesses or work on creative projects. This city is very tourist friendly and foreigner friendly, so it might be wise to head there before prices begin to reflect its real value.
3 – Bucharest, Romania
Backpacker Index: US$28.30/day
Thankfully it’s quite cheap because Romania is not one of the faster movers when it comes to developing a proper infrastructure for Western visitors and expats. Bucharest is large enough that a huge variety of options is always present, but still not the favorite city of too many people, yet.
2 – Krakow, Poland
Backpacker Index: US$26.55/day
Poland’s best tourist city is also quite a bit cheaper than Warsaw, so don’t wait too long to plan a visit or even a longer stay. The tourist district around the main square is filled with good and cheap hostels and restaurants, so competition is high and quality is too. A real bargain.
1 – Sofia, Bulgaria
Backpacker Index: US$20.75/day
Bulgaria stands at the edge of the “former East” that is becoming popular with new visitors, so it stands to reason that its capital is the cheapest on this list. Still building out a proper tourist infrastructure, Sofia at least is very cheap, and a good gateway to other parts of Bulgaria and the region that are still very much in transition.
The most expensive?
In case you are curious and don’t want to click on the original list, the most expensive city is Zurich, Switzerland, with a Backpacker Index of US$111.49/day, which of course, is more than 5 and a half times more expensive than Sofia.