Living in Europe we are very lucky to have a number of budget airlines to choose from and we quite often pick up flights at great prices. However, sometimes even if the flight is cheap, the destination is not. We found that to be the case on our recent visit to Oslo, where the bus from the airport to the city centre cost us three times more than the actual flight to Norway did. Therefore, a short ‘cheap’ citybreak soon became very costly.
So, if you are looking for a reasonably priced citybreak it is important to check out a number of factors before you book, not just the cost of the flight. For us, factors include the cost of transfers between the airport and the city, accommodation, activities, eating out and of course, how much a pint of local beer will set us back. Over the years we have travelled extensively around Europe and here are our top 5 favourite European citybreak destinations where you won’t blow your budget.
We visited Bratislava in June 2016. Many people questioned our citybreak destination choice when we said that we were visiting Bratislava, why? I simply do not know. Ok, Slovakia is probably not at the top of everyone’s or maybe even anyone’s bucket list, however, it is a lovely city and one that I am very pleased that we visited.
Transfer to the City
With flights under £100 for both of us, we were off to a good start. We grabbed an Uber from the airport to our hotel which cost €10 and took around 20 minutes. Unfortunately, it seems that Uber has stopped operating in Slovakia now; therefore the option is no longer available. Taxis outside the airport are the expensive option at around €25 each way. However, the bus (no. 61 which takes you to the main train station) is less than €1 per person – bargain.
Finding somewhere to stay in the heart of the city is also super reasonable, we stayed in a deluxe apartment at the four-star Tulip House Hotel for €125 per night where everything was within walking distance. However, if that is a stretching your budget too far then there are plenty of mid-range hotels and hostels that start from €13 per night.
There are loads of free attractions in Bratislava if you are on a budget or watching the pennies. The Slovak National Gallery is free to visit and is home to a number of paintings and sculptures. Visiting the grounds of Bratislava Castle is also free and it offers great views of the River Danube on one side and the city on the other below. Also, there are numerous bronze statues dotted around Bratislava. We had great fun walking around the city seeing how many we could spot. And if you are like us and love churches a visit to admire the Blue Church (Church of St. Elisabeth) is a must, it is stunning.
We visited Budapest in June 2015 for our 4th wedding anniversary. Budapest was a city that had been on our list of places to visit for so long, it seemed fitting to take a citybreak and celebrate our special occasion. From what I have heard Budapest is quickly becoming popular with stag parties due to the low prices and numerous bars and clubs. Therefore, maybe it is somewhere to visit sooner rather than later.
Transfer to the City
Our flights to Budapest were slightly more than we would have liked to have paid at £125 each. However, if you are willing and able to visit at any time other than during the summer months, the likelihood is that you will find cheaper flights. We opted for the 100E bus from the airport to our hotel which took around 35 minutes. It cost 350 HUF (less than £1) per person from the ticket machine in the airport Yet we grabbed a taxi from our hotel back to the airport, simply because of our super early return flight time, which cost €25.
We stayed at the beautiful and modern 4 star Hotel Palazzo Zichy which is situated in the Palace District surrounded by restaurants, bars, terraces, cafes and little shops. It is close to the Liberty Bridge, around a 15-minute walk and around a 22-minute walk to the city centre with plenty to see and do along the way. If you want to stay closer to the heart of the city there are plenty of hotels and hostels starting from a mere €8 per night for you to chose from.
Budapest has a lot of architecture, buildings and monuments that are all free to visit. Our favourites include Heroes Square, Fishermans’s Bastion and Castle Hill where Budapest Castle stands and is also free to wander around and of course not forgetting the impressive, especially when lit up at night, Parliment Building. Budapest also has a number of bridges that join Buda to Pest, they are all very different and a wander along the waterfront is worthwhile just to see the bridges, particularly at sunset.
We visited Gdansk earlier this year back in January as a last minute getaway. Poland had never really been somewhere we were bothered about visiting however now we’ve been once we are itching to get back and take another citybreak soon. Yes, it was freezing with snow on the ground but we loved our time in Gdansk and there was so much more to do and see then we imagined there would be and we had a fantastic time.
Transfer to the city
As the snow was falling and we’d taken an early morning £10, YES £10 flight we decided that taking a taxi would be the quickest and easiest option for us as we were quite cold and tired. It cost us around PLN70 (approximately £16.50 each way) and took 20 minutes. If you are not in a rush and want to save a few quid then the bus (bus line 122 or bus line 110) is a great option. They run frequently from the airport and tickets cost a mere 80(ish) pence with the journey taking 40 minutes, traffic dependant of course.
We stayed at the wonderful Hotel Liberum, which is located right next to the Golden Gate and gets rave reviews on Booking.com, Hotels.com and of course Tripadvisor, amongst others. We thought it was fantastic, especially as we only paid £60 a night for a lovely room with a great view. It overlooked Dulga Street, the main street running through Gdansk Old Town, which is lined with bars and restaurants. We stayed on a room only basis, however, there is a restaurant on the ground floor which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily and as a guest of the hotel, we received a discount card which gave us 20% of our food bills.
The colourful and intricate architecture in Gdansk is stunning and an attraction in its own right. Although Gdansk was almost destroyed in World War II it has been rebuilt to look just like it did before the war. There are also a number of churches in Gdansk Old Town which are of course free to visit and look around, they also provided great shelter for us when the cold temperatures became almost too cold to bear. Gdansk also has a number of museums which although you have to pay to visit, are well worth it, including the European Solidarity Centre, National Maritime Museum and the Polish Post Office Museum
We visited Ljubljana in April 2106 after it was recommended by a colleague. We had never even heard of Ljubljana, therefore we did not have a clue where in the world it actually was. However, we booked our trip, did our research, planned out an itinerary, had a thoroughly great time and now have mad love for the city. So much so Ljublana currently sits in our worldwide top 5 citybreak list, we loved it that much and always recommend it to people if they ask for suggestions on where they should visit – talk about paying it forward.
Transfer to the city
Our flights cost just over £100 each which it appears to be a pretty standard price, especially between April and October. If you keep your eyes peeled (or set up a Skyscanner alert) you may be able to find a bargain during the winter months. We found the most cost-effective airport to city transfer was on an airport shuttle bus. It cost €18 per person return and it was almost a door to door service (the street our hotel was on was pedestrianised, therefore we were dropped off and picked up on the street behind it. A taxi would have set us back around €28 each way. As the journey only took 20 minutes the shuttle bus was more than adequate and we were the first drop off, which is always a bonus.
We stayed right in the heart of the city at the 4 Star Antiq Palace Hotel and Spa hotel. As a member Small Luxury Hotels of the World Group we thought the £280 per night price tag was fitting, especially as we had a massive 2 bedroom apartment and the level of service and facilities on offer. In all honesty, it was more than we would ever really pay for a hotel, especially in Europe. If you are looking for a cheaper option, there are plenty, with the average 3-star hotel and hostels starting from approximately £40 per night. Ljublana is extremely compact and walkable, therefore location is less important than in other, larger cities. Providing you are somewhere in the city centre, you’ll be good.
Trekking up to Ljubljana Castle is something we would recommend as the views from the top over the city are amazing. It is quite a long, steep walk and if it is too much for you then not to worry as you can jump on the funicular railway which will take you up for €2.20 one way or €4.00 return. Other great things to do include wandering through the market and pick up free local products to enjoy during your trip, taking a food walk which is a great way of combining the amazing food the city has to offer together with learning about the city itself and cruising along the waterway running through the city and seeing Ljublana from a different viewpoint.
We visited Riga in January 2008, yes a whole decade ago. No one we knew had ever visited and it certainly wasn’t the tourist hotspot it is today. Therefore we did not know what to expect from the city at all. In fact, back then, I don’t even think I could point to Latvia on a map. I think because we really didn’t have a clue about the place we had no preconceptions and it really did surprise us in the best way. We can only imagine it has got even better over the past 10 years and we would not hesitate to recommend Riga as a great citybreak destination.
Transfer to the city
If you are lucky enough to remember when Ryanair offered 4p flights and was able to take advantage of them, I’m sure you travelled as frequently as possible late 2007/early 2008. We went to around 6 countries in 4 weeks, Riga was one of them. The price was simply too good to not say yes to. Also, a decade ago we travelled on a tighter budget so we opted for the number 22 Bus from the airport to the old town. I can’t remember how much we paid, but the prices are now €1.15 euro if bought from the ticket machine or €2.00 euro if bought from the driver and the journey takes around 20 minutes. A taxi costs €29 each way, however, reduces the journey time to only 13 minutes.
Again, as we travelled on a budget we chose the Avitar Hotel, which for a studio apartment only cost at the time £30 per night. Even now, economy rooms only cost £20 per night, which for the quality of the place is a bargain. It was clean and our room had a little kitchenette and living area as well as a double bedroom and ensuite bathroom. The only downside was the 30 – 40 minute walk into the Old Town and back daily. If we were to return to Riga we would definitely stay somewhere more central and a higher star rating, somewhere like the Grand Palace Hotel – The Leading Hotels of the World which is one of, if not the highest rated hotels in the city, yet still only costs from £120 per night.
A lot of Riga’s main tourist attractions are free to visit as the majority of them are actual buildings, churches or monuments. The most famous include the Freedom Monument, House of the Blackheads, The Three Bothers, Riga Cathedral and my personal favourite The Cat House. However, there are many more. Basically, it’s impossible to walk down a street in Riga without being greeted by a fantastic example of architecture. If you want to learn more about the city/country, Riga is also home to a number of museums which are all reasonably priced including the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation, the Latvian War Museum and the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia.
Here are only 5, others we have visited which we have found to be reasonably priced for a European citybreak include Prague in the Czech Republic, Budva in Montenegro and Tirana in Albania, amongst others. We also have a list as long as our arm of places where you can get more bang for your buck including Sofia in Bulgaria, Bucharest in Romania and Warsaw, Wroclaw and Krakow in Poland. Can you recommend any other cities to add to our list?