7 Cheap & Charming Cultural Cities in Europe

You love to travel. But everything is getting more expensive and all the museum visits add up. But as a lover of lists, I’m here to help.

There are many lists of the cheapest destinations out there, but I used a statistics website Statista comparing backpack traveller’s typical spending areas. These 7 selected budget destinations are among the 20 cheapest cities to visit for backpackers (and hence everyone else) based on data from March 2022.

I’ve only included the cities, I’ve visited myself. You’ll find the cheapest city at the end of the list.

DISCOVER 7 CHEAP EUROPEAN CULTURAL CITIES

RIGA, LATVIA

The Latvian capital is quite cheap compared to most European cities.The Baltic countries are often on list of destinations for budget travels. But I have yet the two other countries to visit (I’m planning a trip to Lithuania this December).

Head for the historic centre of Riga, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Not many know that the charming city has the finest Art Nouveau buildings in Europe.

Riga is also the city, where I tasted my first bear-burger. Riga is definitely cheap, and with my 4 friends, we could easily afford a luxury hotel and fine dining every night – as well as plenty of wine. This makes Riga perfect for a  Weekend Trip.

Not bear-burger

Don’t miss the view from the Latvian Academy of Science Observation deck. I can see on Instagram most people just photograph this classic communist-architecture palace, but the view is really nice.

ZAGREB, CROATIA

I only just recently (June) visited Zagreb during my 2. trip to Croatia. The capital is completely different from the coastline and with only few tourists, Zagreb is much nicer than expected and has a few cool sights.

Zagreb Cathedral from mid 13th century. The earlier one was destroyed by the Mongols.

Besides being cheaper than average city in Europe, Zagreb has huge amount of beautiful buildings. Not only the famous St. Mark’s church with the beautiful tiled roof (not the one in the picture) with the emblem of the city, but also (like Riga) Art Nouveau buildings in a special geometrical version. My favourite was the one with the bats. And of course the Medieval stone gate Kamenita vrata.

buildings in zagreb
The National Theatre

Don’t miss the Museum of Broken Relationships. It started as a pop-up, but is now permanent. And yes, it’s about broken relationships based on true stories. Also don’t miss the underground Gric tunnel system.

SARAJEVO, BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA

I went to Sarajevo with a friend on a business trip to keep her company, but I left charmed. And that’s despite the city’s well known grim past, the many war museums will remind you of. I’m a huge favourite of Balkan. It’s not only great for budget travel, but it also has a unique blend of cultural traditions and religions merging into a special atmosphere.

bridge in sarajevo

Highlights – besides the mandatory war museums – include the Bascarsija fountain and the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque from 1530. The mosque is a masterpiece of Ottoman architecture, which I love, and has a very pleasant courtyard.

And the food is great. Delicious lokum and great tea. I spent hours, while my friend where at seminar, just sipping tea and people-watching.

sarajevo
City Hall is a symbol of the multiculturalism of Sarajevo

Don’t miss the old Olympic Bobsled Track. Take the funicular up and hike the weird, but fun track. And hurry, for I’ve read the government wants to do something else here.

If you’re a history nerd like me,you also have to find the corner, where the Archduke Ferdinand and his wife was shot in 1914 – starting WWI. Dark tourism for sure, but extremely important historical place of events.

WARSAW, POLAND

Poland is on every list of budget destinations I’ve read. And it’s a country I like to visit due to it’s fascinating history.

statue in warsaw
The warrior mermaid (maybe related to the one in CPH?)

Warsaw is a very old city and a very new city. It’s been under Prussian, Swedish, Russian and German rule in its 1000 year long history. But during WWII 85% of the city was bombed into oblivion. The painstakingly rebuilt  placed the historic centre on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Discover the history in the top 6 Museums.

The royal castle in the old (new) town

Don’t miss the small private Neon Museum. It’s just fun, the signs tell about the history, and they make for excellent pictures.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY

It’s so cheap, you can enjoy a luxury weekend trip in the Turkish capital on a budget. And there’s absolutely no excuse not for visiting the city of cities. No, it’s not Paris or New York, it’s Constantinople! Definitely my favourite city on the list.

blue mosque in istanbul
The Blue Mosque

I can’t name all the top sights in the UNESCO World Heritage area here. But obviously you have to see the Hagia Sophia/Aya Sofya (church, mosque, museum and now mosque again) as well as the Blue mosque/Sultan Ahmet Cami. And eat delicious Turkish food until you burst and shop a golden ring at the Grand Bazaar without breaking the bank.

Great Bazaar

Don’t miss anything! It’s hard to pick anything. But unfortunately reports from UNESCO says the authenticity of  Hagia Sophia is under pressure after being turned into an functioning mosque. So support it.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed the Topkapi Palace. Home to the rulers, the harem and the court of the Ottoman empire, this is a 1001 nights extravaganza.

SOFIA, BULGARIA

Sofia is not only a great budget destination, but also has a lot to offert he cultural traveller as one of the oldest capitals in Europe. In fact, Bulgaria is fantastic country to travel and the countryside is even cheaper.

church in sofia
St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

You can’t see everything in Sofia in 24 cultural hours, but you can see a lot.

Must-sees in Sofia is the Nevsky Cathedral and the National Archaeological museum. The Cathedral is not very old, but it’s the largest Orthodox temple on the entire Balkan and very impressive inside with several relics. The museum is inside what was the Grand Mosque and shows artefacts from the Stone Age up to modern times. It has some exceptional golden treasures.

For something old, the Rotunda Sveti Georgi is said to be the oldest church in the Bulgarian capital from the early 4th century.

Don’t miss the small, but spectacular church Boyana just in the outskirts of town. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and only a few people are allowed to enter at the time due to the fragility of the exquisite frescoes.

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY

The two cities Buda and Pest merged into one and created my final cheap cultural destination. I haven’t been elsewhere in Hungary, but would definitely like to see more after visiting the capital.

Billede af Jo Stolp fra Pixabay

Budapest has many sights and just like many of the other cheap destinations it’s on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

 A highlight is a guided tour of the 3. largest parliament in the world. There’s a lot of gold inside including the crown jewels. And who doesn’t love some bling. Also take the funicular up to castle hill. the photogenic Fisherman’s Bastion is also worth a visit early in the day or very late to avoid crowds.

After all this sightseeing, make sure to visit one of the many ruin bars. Close to the synagogue is Szimpla Kert which also has excellent food. And end the day in the famous, yellow Széchenyi Thermal Bath.

The Great Synagogue

Don’t miss the Dohaney Street Great synagogue to learn about the history of the Hungarian Jews. It’s the largest synagogue of Europe, the second largest one in the world. The onion shaped and gilded domes made fashion, that synagogues built later around the world were often designed in the same style. 

BUDGET TRIP

I hope you found inspiration for your next trip.

Of course, your budget trip will be even cheaper with street food and taking the train. And I love both. Hotels however, I do not like the cheapest options, since they are often far away from the sights and you spent way too much time on transport. But everyone to his own.

The train in Slovenia is very cheap and the most beautiful wayto travel

Besides these budget destinations, you can also consider Bucharest, Bratislava, Tallinn, Timisoara, Cesky Krumlov, Vilnius and Belgrade. All are less costely than other European cities. But I haven’t been – yet. 

Have you?