Break free: The cheapest holidays around the world
Want a budget break? Conor Pope finds the best destinations, how to get there and what to do
Sri Lanka: five days in a suite in a fairly high-end beach resort costs less than €100. Photograph: iStock
What if you were to pick your holiday destination based purely on price? What if money was the sole object as opposed to no object? Where could you end up? There are rock-bottom deals to be found in places that have been blighted by terror attacks and natural disasters – and we have even come across one person in recent days who extolled the virtues of a cheap-as-chips trip to the shadow of Chernobyl where – he boasted – he was able to buy vodka for two cent a shot.
But travelling to places where prices have fallen because the risk to tourists is deemed too high seems foolhardy, while a trip to a region laid waste by the worst nuclear accident in history is just foolish.
So what places would you go if you planned your holiday or city break around destinations you knew to be cheap for more benign reasons than terror or catastrophe? How would you get there? And would you have a good time? Is it really possible to spend less than 50 quid a day on your holliers and still live the life of Reilly?
These are the questions we asked and then tried to answer with the help of price comparison websites such as expatistan.com, priceoftravel.com, numbeo.com, the British Post Office – weirdly – and the Economist Intelligence Unit as well as hotel booking platforms, Airbnb and flight search engines.
But while money is important, it is not everything and life is short – who wants to spend two weeks staying in a sweat box overlooking the Thai equivalent of the M50? With that in mind, we steered clear of places we’ve been told are cheap but excessively grim and while some people did raise an eyebrow at our inclusion of Kiev, we reckon what it lacks in beauty and charm, it makes up for in novelty and value for money.
Multiple surveys over recent years have ranked the Ukrainian capital as the cheapest major destination in Europe. The website www.priceoftravel.com totted up the cost of one night in a cheap Kiev hotel, two trips on public transport, a visit to a paid attraction, breakfast, lunch and dinner and three local beers and declared that a person could get by on just €20 a day. And the good news for the budget conscious is that Ryanair will make the city infinitely more accessible with the opening of 10 new routes to Kiev from October.
While there are no direct flights from Dublin, anyone anxious to experience the delights of the east will be able to fly via Stansted and with a return flight from London in November – excluding extras – costing just over €55, to which we would have to add the cost of getting to Stansted, meaning we could get a winter week there for less than €200.
Poland’s second city is widely recognised as its first when it comes to beauty, with ancient squares and rambling markets to keep the tourist busy. It is also close to Auschwitz which, for many, will be the most memorable part of any such trip. The area is not only beautiful and challenging in equal measure, it is also one of the cheapest cities in Europe, and a decent hotel can be found for about €45 a night.
A meal for two will cost less than €40, while a glass of wine or beer will come in at under €2. The cost of a sightseeing tour bus – if that’s your thing – is about €14. Ryanair flies from Dublin to Kraków with return flights in May available for not much more than €200.
Another city to the east where real bargains are to be found when it comes to food, drink, accommodation, bath houses, and random devilment, as long as you veer ever so slightly away from the very well-worn tourist trail – and avoid all the tiresome stag parties. A combo meal in a well-known fast-food restaurant will cost €4, but why would you bother when you can get a much better meal for two in a decent restaurant for about €35, a price which includes a bottle of wine.
Decent-looking Airbnb accommodation for two in the old part of the city is less than €30 a night, while a return flight from Dublin with Ryanair in June was available for just under €190 when we priced it. That could see us having a Hungary week for two covering flights, accommodation food, drink and entertainment for about €800.
It is not all about the east and Lisbon has long been ranked among the cheapest capital cities in the European Union. It is also the easiest for Irish people to get to and to navigate around, with excellent flight connections, great public transport and a population with a linguistic ability that should put us all to shame. The website expatistan.com – which compares prices in cities all over the world – puts the cost of a meal for two in an Italian restaurant in the city including starters, mains, desserts and wine at €44, with the price falling to €28 if you eat in a local pub.
Gorgeous-looking apartments in the city centre are available in September – when the weather is almost perfect – for about €50 a night on Airbnb. Both Aer Lingus and Ryanair are selling return flights for under €200.
How do you fancy staying for five days in a suite in a fairly high-end beach resort for less than €100 and eating four-course meals in decent restaurants for €22 per person, a price which includes a substantial amount of beer? If that sounds good, than Sri Lanka is the place for you.
While inflation has seen prices climb significantly in recent years, it still represents great value for money and expatistan.com puts the price of dinner for two in a local restaurant at €17, while a cocktail in a club will set you back less than €4. A local beer can be bought for less than €1 .On booking.com, seven nights in four-star beachside hotels in September were coming in at less than €500, while dropping down a star or two saw prices fall to less than €200 in some instances.
Return flights via Dubai with Emirates were available last week for €750 – so two people could travel somewhere wonderfully exotic and live like royalty for a week and still have change out of €2,000.
The Greek capital is not high on the list of destinations beloved of Irish people, but given that it was the eighth cheapest city in Europe, according to the 10th annual British Post Office’s City Costs Barometer, published recently, it is worth considering. And bear in mind that it is within spitting distance of some even cheaper islands. A meal for two, with a whole lot of wine, will cost little more than €40, while an apartment within walking distance of the main tourist sights can be found on Airbnb for about €30 a night.
A combination museum ticket giving you access to a dozen archaeological sites, including the Parthenon, costs €30. We were able to find apartments on the nearby island of Poros in May for about €250 for a week, while return flights to Athens in May were coming in at €183.58 at the time of writing.
So a 10-day trip to the cradle of Western culture in early summer come could in at about €1,000 for two people, a price which includes flights, accommodation and all food and drink.
Gothic castles, valleys carpeted in green trees, thermal springs, wild bears and vampires, obviously. We have heard great things about this part of central Romania in recent times, and not only does it have great weather in the summer, it just happens to be among the cheapest interesting places you can holiday in Europe.
The infrastructure might not be amazing but once you can deal with the odd pothole, you’ll be grand. A three-course meal in a decent restaurant will cost you no more than €20 – including wine – while if you are happy to go downmarket, you could eat for less than a fiver.
A half litre of local beer will cost €1.20 and a coffee is €1. Expect to pay between €200 and €300 for a week for two in a three-star hotel or apartments in September. Return flights from Dublin to Bucharest in September were coming in at less than €140 with Ryanair.
That still leaves you almost 300km away Transylvania so you may need to drive or take a train, with tickets costing about €20 return.
Naples is Italy’s third city and the poor cousin of Rome and Milan. It is also its cheapest city. Many people are put off a visit because of its reputation for petty crime and its decidedly run-down feel.
But while it may not be the kind of place you would be happy to stay in for a couple of weeks, it a cheap base for easy access to the Amalfi coast, the islands of Capri and Ischia and, of course, Pompeii. Three-star hotels in the city cost as little as €50, while decent-looking studio apartments on Airbnb are less than €30.
But the best thing about the city is the food. It is – by any measure – amazing. And amazingly cheap. The best pizza in the world – and we are not exaggerating here – plus a couple of local beers costs less than €15 and virtually every restaurant you will pass will be good. Some you will remember forever.
The Imperial capital of the Tsars, the Venice of the north, Petrograd, Leningrad – call it what you will – this Russian city is dripping with history and beauty and surely deserves a place on most bucket lists. Travelling to Russia can be hideously complicated and very expensive – and it will rarely be more expensive than if you decide to go during this summer’s World Cup.
But St Petersburg is also one of the cheapest cities in Europe. According to the numbers people at cost-of-living website numbeo.com, half a litre of strong beer will cost €1.50 while a bottle of coke will set you back 70 cent. If you feel brave enough to navigate the city’s public transport system, you will be able to get from A to B for about 50 cent. The expatisan.com website puts the cost of dinner for two including wine at about €30.
We were able to find five nights in a three-star hotel somewhere central for €167, a price which included breakfast. So that left getting there. We were able to fly with Lufthansa via Munich for an impressive €202 return. You will have to add €86 on to the total cost for a visa.
If you want to travel in Cambodia for less than €30 a day, it is very possible. Street food can be bought for less than €2 and if you choose wisely it will be brilliant. If you don’t choose wisely you will be sick – very, very sick.
Hostels costing between €5 and €10 a night are easily found and travelling the equivalent of Dublin to Galway on public transport will cost about €3.
If you want a decent hotel room with air-conditioning, you can expect to pay between €12 and €40 a night, while rooms in high-end resorts can be found for €60 or so. Eating in very good restaurants should cost no more than a tenner, while the local beers are also very cheap.
Living carefully – but not scrimping too much – someone could easily spend less than €700 on two weeks in the southeast Asian country, while the cheapest flight – in November – that skyscanner.net was able to find was €694 return.