It’s time to start dreaming of summer holidays, but with the cost of living as high as it’s been in recent memory, many will be looking for more affordable options. Thanks to the depth of culture and variety in Europe, this doesn’t have to mean sacrificing adventure, delicious food, or idyllic beaches

From up-and-coming Mediterranean coastal towns and volcanic islands to UNESCO centres and food paradise, here are the best places to go to in Europe if you’re on a budget. 

The Azores, Portugal

Go instead of: Faro

Why visit? These Portuguese Islands lie smack bang in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. An archipelago of nine volcanic islands, the dramatic landscapes bring to mind Hawaii or a tropical version of Iceland. Distance and convenience mean it’s harder to get to, but once there you’ll be rewarded with unique vistas, hot springs, azure calderas, and lush greenery. As a bonus, there are fewer crowds and it’s significantly cheaper than the Algarve. 

Must-visit attraction: Swim in a thermal spring – You can find hot springs all over the archipelago, created by volcanic activity and providing spa-like water for free. 

Dish to try: Pineapple – The Azores Pineapple is slightly smaller than its more familiar counterpart but makes up for that with more sweetness and less acidity created by a unique maturation process. 

The dramatic landscapes bring to mind Hawaii or a tropical version of Iceland.

Tatras Mountains, Slovakia and Poland

Go instead of: The Alps

Why visit? All the peaks, vistas, lakes, and hiking trails of a summer Alpine trip at a fraction of the price. The Tatras Mountains on the Slovakia-Poland border are some of the most beautiful ranges in Europe and a hillwalker’s paradise. As a bonus, combine it with a city break in either Bratislava or Krakow. 

Must-visit attraction: Morskie Oko – Translated to English as Eye of the Sea, the largest lake in the Tatras is also its most beautiful, a well of turquoise water surrounded by jugged peaks and lush forest. 

Dish to try: Oštiepok – After a day on the hills you want something rich, and this smoked cheese hits the spot. A true Tatras delicacy. 

Marseille, France

Go instead of: Nice

Why visit? Marseille might not have the glitz and glamour of nearby Riviera hotspots Nice or Monte Carlo, but it more than makes up for that with arguably more charm, character, and culture – and the same natural coastal beauty. A port city, it’s also the oldest in France and a cultural melting pot influenced by trade and immigration across Southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

Must-visit attraction: Calanques National Park – This unique rock formation made out of limestone is 200 miles worth of unique hiking trails, cave exploration, and diving from cliff faces into the Mediterranean. It’s also a wildlife haven, home to animals such as the peregrine falcon, Bonelli’s eagle, free-tailed bat, Montpellier snake, and Mediterranean tree frog.

Dish to try: Pizza – Don’t believe those who try to talk to you about ‘bouillabaisse’ – Pizza is the true iconic dish of Marseille, stemming from a wave of Neopolitan migration.

Don’t believe those who try to talk to you about ‘bouillabaisse’ – Pizza is the true iconic dish of Marseille

Tbilisi, Georgia

Go instead of: Paris

Why visit? You might think Paris is an odd comparison and, yes, truly Georgia is a country in Europe so unique there are no easy parallels. But a beautiful town prenaturally concerned with all things art, food, and wine? We see the similarities. 

Must-visit attraction: Sulfur BathsSituated in the ancient district of Abanotubani the natural sulfur baths were, according to legend, the entire reason the city was first built. History and a spa treatment, what’s not to like? 

Dish to try: Khinkali These legendary Georgian dumplings can be filled with meat, fish, or vegetables and flavoured with onion, chilli, and cumin. Try not to eat ten of them in one go. 

Gdańsk, Poland

Go instead of: Copenhagen

Why visit? This seaside town is known for its pastel-coloured buildings, cobbled streets, historical significance, and as one of Europe’s ultimate cheap destinations.

Must-visit attraction: Museum of the Polish Post Office – Gdańsk is best known as being the site of the first battle of World War II, and the first city Germany invaded. The post office, rebuilt after the war, is dedicated to the events.

Dish to try: Pierogi – Another country, another variation on the dumpling. The Polish variation traditionally calls for cottage cheese and potato, or a sweet version with fruit and breadcrumbs.

Seville, Spain

Go instead of: Madrid, Spain

Why visit? Known for its stunning Moorish architecture, delicious food, flamenco dancing, and deep history, Seville is one of Europe’s best weekend breaks, and a more affordable one than bigger Spanish cities Madrid or Barcelona. Stay in a central hotel like Ocean Drive and amble around from landmark to landmark, with regular wine and tapas intervals. 

Must-visit attraction: Parque de María LuisaThe best place to take shelter from the afternoon heat is in this beautiful garden, full of Roman sculptures, Plaza de España, and verdant greenery. 

Dish to try: Tapas – Andalusia is the birthplace of Tapas, so indulging is an absolute must. Jamón Ibérico and the traditional cold soup salmorejo are special standouts. 

Seville is one of Europe’s best weekend breaks, and a more affordable one than bigger Spanish cities Madrid or Barcelona

Ksamil, Albania

Go instead of: Greek Islands

Why visit? Albania has sprung up over the past few years to rival even the best spots in Greece and Croatia, offering the same sprawling blue coastline at a cheaper price, and with far less tourism overcrowding.

Must-visit attraction: Ksamil Islands – Go island hopping off the coast of this coastal holiday village in search of hidden beaches, rocky inlets, and Mediterranean forests.

Dish to try: Byrek – This salty filo pastry filled with spinach and cheese is famous all over the Balkans, but tastes infinitely better while gazing out over the sea.

Estonian Islands

Go instead of: Scandinavia

Why visit? For the ultimate low-key, relaxing, and peaceful retreat, look no further than the islands off the coast of Estonia. From wellness spa hotspot Saaremaa to the traditional folk lifestyle of UNESCO site Kihnu, each comes with its own individual quirk but they share the same natural beauty. 

Must-visit attraction: Kihnu Museum – This museum tells the story of the island of Kihnu, which still today preserves its way of life which features folk clothing, fishing, handcrafts, and traditional celebrations. 

Dish to try: Smoked herringThe food in Estonia is intensely seasonal, which means it’s incredibly fresh. Herring can be found on most Estonian dinner tables in a variety of forms, but for the purest taste try it smoked. 

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