Alternative European city breaks on a budget
It’s always nice to escape on a holiday every now and then - and as a nation, we love to go on holiday! Low cost city breaks can be a great alternative to the beach: not only do you get to soak up the culture and atmosphere of a new city, but you can easily do so over a long weekend.
Different cities are more expensive than others, but there are some great deals out there. If you’re looking for your own little European adventure that doesn’t break the bank then look no further, as we uncover some of the top budget holiday destinations.
Located in the heart of the Balkans, Belgrade is fast finding a name for itself as an achingly cool, yet cheap European city break destination; and for that reason alone, should be on your list of places to go.
Wizzair operates direct flights to Belgrade from Luton Airport. One thing to be aware of is while Wizzair is a low cost operator, they’re even more stringent with baggage allowance than Ryanair, and you’ll have to pay extra even if you want to take a cabin bag.
Nevertheless, this small extra cost is certainly outweighed by the low prices you’ll pay once you’re in Serbia, so don’t let this put you off.
Transport in the city
Nikola Tesla airport is 18km away from Belgrade, and the quickest way to get there is by taxi. The official taxi service has broken the city down into six zones, with journeys to these costing certain specified prices.
For instance, travelling to zone 1 from the airport will cost you 1,400 RSD (approx. £9.50). To avoid any extra charges, the airport recommends you go to the information desk and get a taxi receipt with the name of your destination, and price for the zone it’s in.
If you’re looking for a cheaper option, then you can catch a mini bus to Slavija Square for 300 RSD (around £2), which takes 30 minutes. Alternatively, for half the price (and a ten minute longer journey), you can take the 72 bus instead.
Things to see and do
This historic city has so much to see and do. One place that you must visit is the Belgrade Fortress. There’s free admission to the grounds which are open 24/7, although you’ll have to pay extra if you want to visit any of the attractions on-site. With beautiful views of the Sava and Danube rivers, this fortress has seen many fights during its time, with over six million people losing their lives there.
To access the Belgrade Fortress, you’ll need to walk down Knez Mihailova. You’ll probably find yourself visiting this street several times during your stay, as it’s the main pedestrian street in Belgrade, and is lined with many shops and restaurants.
History buffs should definitely visit the Tito Mausoleum – more commonly known as the House of Flowers. Alongside his resting place, you can find many of Tito’s personal items, as well as several objects saved from the Yugoslavian era.
If you’re visiting Belgrade when the weather is warm, then take a trip 4km out of the city centre to Ada Ciganlija. This peninsula is extremely popular amongst the locals, where you can swim in the water or dine at one of the floating restaurants.
When it comes to a night out in Belgrade, there’s something for everyone. Outdoor Dali Bar is not to be missed in the summer, and you can buy a glass of Serbian delicacy Rakija, or a cocktail for around £2.50 - perfect for those looking at low cost city breaks.
Drinka Bar on Kosovska is the perfect place if you want to get dressed up, and is apparently a favourite haunt amongst many Serbian celebrities (well done if you know who they are!). Alternatively, if you prefer a more laid back scene, then spend your night in Idiott, with an outdoor garden in the summer, and a pinball machine in the basement.
If you’d like to discover somewhere further afield, then you can catch the train to Novi Sad. As the second largest city in Serbia, it has so much more to offer than the annual Exit Festival! Trains from Belgrade take 1.5 hours and cost around £10 for a one-way ticket, so you can easily fit this in as a day trip.
Here, you can start your day right in the centre at Svetozar Miletic Square, where the Church of the Virgin Mary and City Hall are both found. From there, take a stroll through the green Danube Park, which connects the city to the banks of the river Danube. Novi Sad also boasts its own beach – the Strand – which is lined with several bars, so if the weather’s hot then it’s a great place to head to.
The northern-most of the Baltic States, Estonia is situated to the west of Russia and south of Finland.
It’s no secret that Estonia tries to remove its ties to Eastern Europe, seeing itself as a part of Scandinavia instead. In fact, something you may not know about this small country is that it’s extremely technologically advanced: Skype was created in Estonia; and paying for parking spaces with your mobile phone is an everyday occurrence here.
The Baltics are still relatively undiscovered, but that’s a good thing – it means you can enjoy your time here without a hoard of other tourists. And the charming mediaeval city of Tallinn is definitely somewhere to discover and fall in love with!
Ryanair and EasyJet operate flights to Tallinn from London Stansted and London Gatwick, respectively; and if you book in advance, you can easily get return flights for under £100, making it one of the most affordable European city breaks.
Transport in the city
Once you’ve touched down in Tallinn, you have two options to get to the city centre. The fastest way is by taxi: Tulika Takso, Tallink Takso and Tulika Business are the official taxi partners of the airport, so ensure that unless you’ve pre-booked, you use these companies. To avoid any extra charges, ask your driver for an estimated fare before you set off.
Things to see and do
The Old Town of Tallinn is undoubtedly the first place you should visit, and it’s where many of the attractions can be found. During winter, the cobblestoned streets are scattered with snow, making it truly picture perfect; and during the summer you can sit outside one of the many outdoor bars. Its versatility means that there’s no best time in the year to enjoy Tallinn.
If you love shopping then you need to visit Viru Keskus. This shopping centre is found right in the heart of the Old Town and offers a range of shops, alongside a supermarket in the basement – ideal for picking up food and drink at ridiculously cheap prices. You’ll find numerous shops throughout the Old Town, from major European retailers, to chic Estonian boutiques and souvenir shops.
Tallinn is famed for its beautiful buildings – the Alexander Nevsky cathedral being a perfect example, highlighting past Russian influences. Kiek in de Kök (literally translated to ‘peek in the kitchen’) is a tower founded in the fifteenth century. You can visit the museum for €5, or €3 for concessions (approx. £4.20 and £2.50 respectively).
Follow the winding streets of the Old Town past Old Hansa (a traditional Estonian pub that’s not to be missed) and the marzipan museum, right to the top of Toompea Bill, for views of the Old Town.
For an insight with a difference into Estonia (and all other ex-Soviet states), a visit to the KGB museum is a must. This is found in the Sokos Hotel Viru, which was very popular amongst international visitors during the time of the Soviet Union. To everyone who visited, it was assumed the hotel only had 12 floors. What they didn’t realise, was there was a secret thirteenth floor, where the KGB spied on visitors. Much of it has been left as it was originally, and the guides are extremely clued up on their subject – it’s definitely worth a visit.
While there are many things to do in the Old Town, you should also take some time out to visit the attractions outside the centre. One of these places is Kadriorg Park – home of Kadriorg Palace.
Entry to the palace costs from £4.60 and here, you can see the Estonian Art Museum. Nevertheless, you don’t need to visit the palace to enjoy the park. Just catch tram 1 or 3 (£1.35 for a single ticket) and get off at Kadriorg. The lake within the park is home to two black swans, and has often been said that it was the inspiration for Swan Lake!
The other area you should visit is Pirita, which is a 20 minute bus ride away – you can catch either number 8 or 1A at the bus terminal. Pirita Beach is packed during summer with the locals, who sunbathe on the shore and swim in the waters. However, it’s equally as pretty in the winter, with the sand covered in snow and backed by a pine forest.
If you’re looking to extend your holiday, then you can easily add on a trip to Helsinki. The port is just a short walk from central Tallinn, and the crossing only takes two hours. Prices start from as little as £35 return for on-foot passengers. Here, you can visit the iconic Helsinki cathedral and Uspenski cathedral – and we’d definitely recommend sampling the delicious Moomin cupcakes at the Fazer Café!
Avoiding the tacky stag do haunts is easy, when nightlife is as varied as Tallinn’s.
The latest craze is the conversion of the coffee shop to bar – led by the likes of Must Puudel and Paar Veini. So while you can sit there and sip your coffees during the day; at night you can mix with the locals and enjoy a few glasses of wine, or bottles of beer in laidback surroundings.
Alternatively, if you’d prefer a more sophisticated night out, you could try Lounge 24 – located on the top of the 24th floor of the Radisson Blu Sky Hotel, enjoy views of the city whilst sipping a cocktail (with drinks from €6, it’s one of the more expensive places in town). Afterwards, visit Butterfly Lounge – founded by two of the top Estonian bartenders, they’ve won over 50 trophies between them, all of which are displayed behind the bar… so you know your drink is going to be good there!
So often viewed as an unknown in central Europe, Bratislava is usually overlooked. If people have heard of it, then it’s probably after having watched the horror film ‘Hostel’.
However, forget any preconceived misconceptions and take the time to experience this undiscovered city. With its distinct lack of tourists, you can truly get to explore the Slovakian capital as if you were a local.
If you're looking for a destination that's convenient to reach, then you should definitely consider Bratislava for one of your European city breaks. Getting there is so easy: Ryanair operate multiple flights out of various UK airports, and you can often get a return ticket for less than £100. Accommodation in Bratislava is cheap too – you can rent out an apartment that has a kitchen, so you can buy in any food if you’re looking to keep the cost down. Visit Booking.com to see what’s on offer.
Transport in the city
Once you’ve touched down in Bratislava, you’re only 15 minutes away from the city centre. For just €0.90 you can catch bus 61, which will drop you off outside the train station. If you’d prefer to get a taxi, take the registered Taxi Slovakia ones just outside the airport – a journey to the city centre should cost you no more than €20.00.
Things to see and do
If it’s your first time in Bratislava, then you should head straight to ‘Bratislavsky hrad’ (the Bratislava Castle), which sits on top of a hill overlooking the Old Town. Built in the 9th century, it was once the home of the rules of Slovakia. Now, it houses the Slovak National Museum, with entry costing just €6.
Afterwards, visit the Presidential Palace on Hodžovo námestie. Often referred to as the White House of Slovakia, it’s certainly impressive to look at.
Surprisingly, Bratislava is rather good for shopping! If you’ve scoured the souvenir shops in the Old Town and are in search of something more, then cross to the south of the Danube and visit Aupark. This mall is open until 9am every day of the week; and with over 200 major European brands under one roof, in addition to a range of cafés and restaurants, you can be sure to get your fix of retail therapy. Catch the 83, 84 or 93 bus from the city centre, and they will drop you off right outside Aupark.
If there’s one thing Bratislava knows how to do, it’s make a great hot chocolate. Best sampled in the winter (although we dare you to resist ordering one in the summer too!); cafés literally melt chocolate into a cup, and serve it with a spoon. Visit ‘Chocobon’ on Laurinská for the best, and choose from the various toppings including banana or chilli flakes for a difference. They also make their own chocolates onsite… well, it would be a shame not to try them!
If you’re staying for more than a few days in Bratislava, then you may decide to discover further afield. Rent a car and head to the region of Tatranský, right by the Polish border. Here, you’ll find the Tatra mountains (referred to as ‘miniature Alps’) and northern Spiš, with an abundance of monasteries, manor houses and castles.
Alternatively, you can go west; with an hour’s train ride taking you from Bratislava to Vienna. Trains run frequently, so you can easily make it a day trip, with a return ticket costing around £26. Spend your time experiencing the beauty of Stephansplatz, indulging in some retail therapy on Mariahilfer Straße – just be prepared for some serious Mozart memorabilia overload (it’s everywhere in Vienna)!
When it comes to a night out, then you can’t go wrong with Sky Bar. Situated in the heart of the Old Town, it boasts beautiful views of the city. Its range of Mediterranean and Thai food will leave your mouth watering; and its Vodka Tea Party cocktail is a must (vodka served in a teapot with a side order of gummy bears – what’s not to like?!).
Krakow’s intriguing history and abundance of attractions makes it an extremely popular city break with tourists – in fact, it welcomed a record-breaking 10 million visitors in 2015.
When it comes to getting cheap flights, you can’t go wrong with EasyJet and Ryanair – between them, they have most UK cities covered at really cheap prices.
Much like Bratislava, a great cost-effective way of staying in the city is by booking an apartment. Booking.com has some great options to choose from; and by having a kitchen, you can cut the costs by buying in food if you’d prefer. We recommend the Exclusive Apartments on Lubicz: situated opposite the train station, a short walk from the Old Town, these luxurious apartments are extremely affordable – a three night stay for four people only costs around £90 each! Who wouldn't want a little luxury from a low cost city break?
Transport in the city
A train station has recently opened up at Krakow airport, connecting the airport to the city in 17 minutes. Tickets are just 8 PLN (approx. £1.50), and with trains running frequently, it’s probably the easiest way to get to the city.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for an even cheaper option, then you can catch either bus 208 or 292 (bus 902 runs at night). A single ticket will set you back 4 PLN (approx. 75p), although it will take about 40 minutes to reach the city centre.
Krakow Airport Taxi is the official airport taxi service, and they operate a flat rate fare depending on which zone you want to go to (a taxi to the train station is likely to cost 89 PLN, or £17). You can even book a taxi online beforehand, if you’d rather plan ahead.
Things to see and do
It goes without saying that if there’s only one day trip you can make when in Krakow, it’s to Auschwitz.
You can make your way independently by catching the train and the bus; but for a slightly higher cost, you can take the much easier option and book a tour. For 155 PLN (approx. £30), See Krakow will pick you up from your hotel, drive you to Auschwitz and Birkenau; and drop you back to your hotel at the end of the day This price also includes a guided tour of the two camps. You can find out more about this package here.
The guided tour covers Auschwitz I, and death camp Auschwitz II - Birkenau, which is a ten minute drive away. In total, the tour lasts approximately 3.5 hours, and you’ll learn so much from it. The guides are insightful and respectful, and you’ll get an insight into the tragedy of the thousands of lives lost, and the terrible atrocities committed under the Hitler regime. Perhaps the scariest part of all, you’ll realise, as you walk around the camp, is that all of this only happened a mere 70 years ago.
Another place you should definitely make time to visit is the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Catch the train from Krakow to Wieliczka Rynek Kopalnia (it only takes 20 minutes); and the entrance to the mine is just across the road from the station.
A guided tour of the salt mines costs 84 PLN (approx. £16) per person; but children, students and families can get discounted rates.
You’ll walk down 3km of corridors deep underground, visiting 20 opulent rooms and deep lakes, whilst climbing 800 steps in the process. St Kinga’s Chapel – 101 metres underground – is still in use today, and is a popular wedding venue.
Despite exploring further afield, make sure you set some time aside to discover Krakow itself! Most of the attractions are found within the Old Town walls; including Wawel Castle and Cathedral which between them, house the Cathedral Museum, Royal Tombs and Sigismund Bell (it costs 12 PLN - £2.30 – to visit).
If you’re after a more hipster vibe, then Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter located to the south of the Old Town, is the perfect place. Bars, cafés and art galleries line the streets, and make it an ideal spot for people watching in the summer months.
When in Poland, you should definitely give the local cuisine a try. There are plenty of traditional restaurants to try in Krakow – ‘Czerwone Korale’ and ‘Jarema’ being a select couple. Wash food down with a bottle of vodka (you can often pick up a bottle for less than a bar of chocolate!). Alternatively, try a Polish Martini; a concoction of Zubrowka Bison Grass vodka, Krupnik honey liqueur and apple juice – Movida, on Mikołajska makes a good one.
Regularly hailed as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, this capital may be small, but it certainly packs a punch.
EasyJet operate multiple direct flights to Ljubljana (pronounced Loo-bli-ya-na to those not in the know!), with prices low, making it very easy to get to.
Transport in the city
You can reserve a taxi before you even touch down with Taxi Society – simply email them before your holiday, and they will reply back with a quote. Alternatively, you can catch the Alpetour bus, which will take you directly to the city centre for 4 EUR (approx. £3.40). Buses run every hour on the hour, so you won’t have to hang round the airport for long.
Things to see and do
The most photographed building in Ljubljana (and probably the thing you’ll end up seeing first!) is undoubtedly the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation (a bit of a mouthful, but Google it and you’ll see how pretty it is!). Located in Preseren Square, this marks the start of your Old Town, and the beginning of your discovery of the Slovenian capital.
In fact, you’ll need to spend a couple of hours strolling through the Old Town, just to appreciate its beauty. Visit the Tromostovje (triple bridge), designed by Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik created Tromostovje. It’s a popular meeting place amongst locals, and gives you great views of the city.
You could easily spend a day at the Castle of Ljubljana. Entry to the grounds is free, and you can visit numerous art museums – including the Galerija Rustika, where you can purchase traditional Slovene goods.
If you’re visiting during the summer, try and catch one of the concerts, or a film at the open air cinema – both of which are regular features at the castle. To get to the castle, you’ll need to walk to the top of the hill which takes about ten minutes. If you don’t fancy walking it, you can catch the finical railway, which runs every ten minutes, and picks you up on Krekov trg.
You simply can’t visit Ljubljana without visiting Lake Bled. Close to the Austrian border, its Alpine beauty makes it feel like you’ve stepped into a fairy tale.
The easiest way to get here is by bus. Taking 80 minutes in total, a one-way ticket costs 6.30 EUR (approx. £5.30). Alternatively, you can catch the train, but the closest station (Lesce-Bled) is 4km away from the lake, so you’ve either got a long walk ahead of you, or a short bus ride.
During the summer, the waters reach a warm 26 degrees Celsius, and you’ll often find many people swimming. You can take a Gondola out into the lake, and row over to Bled Island, where the Church of the Assumption is located. If you choose to get off, you can walk up the South Staircase – the local tradition is for the husband to carry his new bride up the 99 steps – perhaps an alternative destination for your honeymoon?!
The castle on the rocks and the backdrop of Julian Alps and Karavanke are truly breath-taking, but contrary to popular belief, Lake Bled isn’t just a summer destination. In fact, when winter comes, tourists descend on the ski resort, and the area transforms into a winter wonderland, with the lake freezing over with a sheet of ice.
When in Ljubljana, no doubt you’ll want to experience the nightlife. Pr’Skelet is certainly a venue with a twist – its skeletons hanging on the walls will certainly make the visit one to remember!
If you’re more of a foodie, then Ljubljana is a dream. Visit Cajina Hisa for their vast range of cakes and sweets; or Cacao if you’re after an ice cream fix. Alternatively, if you’re looking to sample some traditional Slovenian cuisine, then make a reservation at the award-winning Most, located by Butchers Bridge.
No matter where you go for some European city breaks, you’re sure to have a great time. With these low cost city breaks, you can still have fun, even if you’re watching the pennies. One thing you can do to ensure your break remains low-cost, is to purchase your travel money in advance, to ensure you get the best rates. Alternatively, you can check out more money saving tips on our blog!
Remember, do not buy what you can’t afford, and think carefully before taking out a loan for any non-essential purchases.
*Please note, all prices are correct as of Tuesday 12th July 2016.