Do you understand economics? It’s just a little weird how some cities that were once expensive to visit now offer good (or at least reasonable) value for money. Places that once represented excellent value for money now require you to take out a second mortgage on your home in order to do anything more than sleep in a hostel and eat tubs of salad from the supermarket. And some places remain the same. Paris is really not as expensive as you might be thinking, and yet Australia and New Zealand are becoming shockingly pricey… for locals and visitors alike. And then there are places like Tokyo, which has always been fairly expensive, and will probably continue to be so. But there are some cities that are notable for the fact that you can enjoy an extremely high quality of life for a fairly small amount of money. Things such as accommodation, food, drinks, public transport and entertainment really don’t cost a lot of money. And this is even the case when you convert your own currency into euros, pesos, baht, or whatever. So where are these stunningly fun and inexpensive holiday destinations?
1. Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon is a revelation. The Portuguese capital is compact, sun-drenched, rich in history, and wonderfully inexpensive. And it’s not as though you really need to make all that many sacrifices. You can live well, on a budget. Take a tour of the central city by catching Tram 28 (for just a couple of euros). It takes you through the neighbourhoods of Baixa, Graça and Alfama, taking in all the key sites. Bairro Alto is the old town of the city, and you can see the changes brought about by tourism. Essentially the bars in this part of town will ply you with alcohol for little more than loose change. To enjoy a selection of the city’s seafood (caught that very day), head to the Time Out Market (Av. 24 de Julho 49). If you are truly on a budget, go to one of the numerous Minipreço supermarkets. Their deli counter sells rotisserie chickens and piping hot BBQ ribs. You can eat until you’re bursting at the seams, and it’s surprisingly inexpensive… like you think the cashier made a mistake.
2. Berlin, Germany
Another ludicrously cheap European city, the German capital is becoming somewhat more expensive (thanks, gentrification) but it still only makes a minimal dent in your finances. Most of the city’s best-known sites (Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the Holocaust Memorial, the site of Hitler’s Bunker, the remnants of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie) are located in Mitte, and can be seen in the space of a couple of hours on foot. Avoid the increasing number of hipster bars (they have ironic signs in English) and head to a kneipe (corner bar). These places have remained unchanged since Germany was two different countries, and you would be looking at around two euros for a large beer.
3. Bangkok, Thailand
It’s one of the most-visited cities on earth for a good reason. Bangkok is an exotic metropolis with a weirdly wonderful scent… think of something pungently sweet with an undertone of diesel exhaust, slightly baked by the humidity. You hear horror stories about people becoming ill from eating street food, but it’s really not a huge issue. If there’s a crowd of people eating there, you know that it’s going to be safe… and delicious. Deep fried grasshopper anyone? Head to MBK Centre in Siam Square for cheap (and yes, sometimes counterfeit) goods. But the best place to shop on a budget is the Chatuchak Weekend Market.
4. Havana, Cuba
In many ways, Havana is exactly what you would expect. In other ways, it can be so much more. Yes, there are those ravishingly beautiful vintage cars prowling the streets, cheap cocktails, friendly and warm locals sucking on massive cigars, and seemingly unending great weather. You will literally be gasping at the beauty of Havana’s Old Town as you spend many, many hours wandering around to soak it all in. Cuba is an island, so you don’t need to limit yourself to Havana. The rest of Cuba’s marvels are just a short journey away, so be sure to consider a list of tours in Cuba.
5. Bucharest, Romania
Bucharest has clearly emerged from its communist past and has blossomed. The brutalist architecture of the era still dominates the atmosphere of the city, and yet something has changed, and changed quite quickly at that too. Avant garde nightlife abounds, and the city has a brilliantly sophisticated cafe culture. And it’s one of the cheapest cities in Europe.