City breaks

8 of the best cheap European city breaks this year

Photo of Tamara HinsonPhoto of Tamara Hinson
By Tamara Hinson

8 June 20237 min read

Aerial view of the old town in Vilnius

Don’t get us wrong – a city break to the Big Apple is hard to beat. But some of the best cities in the world are much closer to home and much kinder to your wallet.

With a flurry of new flights from budget airlines, tons of free things to do and affordable eating out options, these excellent European cities are perfect for a short break on the cheap.

1. Athens, Greece

Travellers on a budget are extremely well catered for in Athens, a city that beat traditional cheap break favourites such as Krakow and Budapest in the Post Office’s Travel Money Report for best-value city breaks last year.

And whether you’re hopping through history with the multi-admission pass that gets you into the Acropolis and six other sites or getting to grips with modern culture on a free walking tour, exploring Athens doesn’t need to break the bank. In fact, part of the joy of an Athens city break is simply wandering the streets of Plaka (the old town) or by climbing Mount Lycabettus. Clamber to the top of this hill, on the outskirts of Athens, and you’ll enjoy Insta-worthy views over the city.

Where to stay: Choose the four-star Best Western Plus Embassy Hotel and you’ll be close to numerous landmarks, including the Mavili Square, Syntagma Square and Hellenic Parliament. From £87 per night.

2. Cologne, Germany

This fantastic city has everything a German city should have – gorgeous breweries (try a glass of Kölsch, the local beer), plenty of history and more German cuisine than you can shake a lederhosen at.

There’s plenty of wallet-friendly fun on a Cologne city break, too. Start by climbing to the top of the UNESCO-listed Kölner Dom (admission is just €6, or £5), one of the world’s tallest cathedrals.

Afterwards, head to the hip Agnesviertel neighbourhood to check the city’s best independent stores and the sculpture-filled Skulpturen Park Köln, before toasting Cologne at one of the beer gardens in Äußere Grüngürtel – a beautiful city centre park.

Where to stay: The four-star Hotel NH Köln Altstadt is a great, wallet-friendly hotel located a few metres from the cathedral. From £71 per night.

3. Lyon, France

The Rhône Valley city of Lyon is one of several cities that will become more accessible courtesy of easyJet this summer – in this case, a new Birmingham to Lyon route.

It’s a great place for a culture fix, and if you fancy a lot of sightseeing, the good-value Lyon City Card grants you access to 23 museums, covers all forms of public transport and includes several complimentary guided tours. Prices vary depending on the length of time covered, but for 48 hours you’ll pay €36 (£31).

The most spectacular spots in the city include Place Bellecour, with its statue of a horseback Louis XIV, and Lyon’s hillside Roman amphitheatres. When hunger strikes, grab a saucisson brioche – this (incredibly cheap) Lyon specialty comprises a pistachio-sprinkled sausage inside a brioche roll.

Where to stay: Consider the four-star Novotel Lyon Confluence to be close to the city centre and just a 20-minute walk from the Gare de Lyon-Perrache Railway Station. From £88 per night.

4. Glasgow, Scotland

If you’re looking for a staycation with cool credentials that won’t blow the budget, Glasgow ticks all the boxes – and a new easyJet route from Southampton is making it even quicker to get to from the UK’s south.

The UNESCO City of Music is a music-lover’s dream, where venues range from the famous Barrowlands to cosy pubs with live music every night of the week. Free attractions include the Gallery of Modern Art, Scotland’s most visited gallery; the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum; and the film-famous Cloisters at the University of Glasgow.

If you’re visiting during the weekend, stop by the Barras, a weekend market that dates back to the 1920s. There’s little you won’t find here, and it’s a great place to grab a bargain.

Where to stay: The no-frills, three-star easyHotel Glasgow is a compact, cosy hotel smack bang in the city centre. From £80 per night.

5. Prague, Czech Republic

Gone are the days when many visitors to Prague arrived as part of a hen or stag do. In recent years, the city’s undergone somewhat of a transformation, thanks in part to an influx of entrepreneurs, brewers, chefs, distillers and winemakers all keen to put their stamp on its fantastic culinary scene.

That said, the Insta-friendly explosion of gothic, baroque and neoclassical architecture remains spectacular as ever, and you’ll find some of its most beautiful buildings in the Stare Mesto (old town).

For a fantastic night out, some of Prague’s best cheap bars can be found on Platnerska Street and near the Obecni Dum, one of the city’s finest Art Nouveau buildings.

Where to stay: Mama Shelter Prague is a funky four-star hotel with a gorgeous rooftop – head here to soak up stunning views over the city’s red roofs. From £106 per night.

6. Vilnius, Lithuania

This underrated gem turns 700 in 2023 and there’s a packed calendar of events to mark the occasion. At times, Vilnius feels more like a village – in a good way. Wander its leafy streets to admire weathered chunks of city wall and some of Europe’s oldest buildings, while the occasional example of Soviet-era architecture provides a reminder of its darker periods.

For wallet-friendly food, head to one of the food halls that has recently popped up. At the Downtown Food Hall, for example, you can enjoy ridiculously cheap cuisine from all corners of the world. Alternatively, grab something to go and enjoy a picnic in one of the city’s green spaces. Try the Botanical Garden of Vilnius University, which dates back to the 1700s.

Where to stay: Pitch up next to Vilnius’ beautiful old town and have its best sights in touching distance when you stay at the four-star Holiday Inn Vilnius. From £76 per night.

7. Istanbul, Turkey

A new British Airways route, which launched in early June, will make Istanbul even more accessible in 2023, connecting Heathrow to Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen airport on the Asian side of the city.

This is a city that deserves more than a couple of days of your time, so budget for a longer stay here. That said, not only will a longer city break mean you can hit all the biggest sights, but you can make the most of the museums’ free admission days too. Try the Sakip Sabanci Fine Arts Museum (free on Wednesdays) or the Pera Museum (free on Friday evenings).

Another money-saving tip? Skip the pricey Bosphorus scenic cruises and make use of the much cheaper public ferries (Sehir Hatlari) instead.

Where to stay: If you’re an Istanbul first timer looking to stay central, the four-star Hotel Sapphire is near the city’s biggest attractions such as the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace. Plus, you’ll be just a two-minute walk from Gülhane Station. From £68 per night.

8. Bamberg, Germany

This year marks three decades since the Bavarian city of Bamberg was given UNESCO status, and it’s still as spectacular as ever. The city, which is just a one-hour train journey from Nuremberg (which, we should add, is considerably more expensive), is famous for its cobbled streets, baroque architecture and hilltop castle.

It’s also got the highest density of breweries in Germany, so make sure you try its famous Rauchbier (smoked beer) – ideally at the Brauerei Schlenkerla, which dates back to the 1600s and where you can sip your beer in a former Dominican monastery.

Get there on a low-cost flight to Nuremberg (Ryanair flies daily from London Stansted) and connect to Bamberg by train. Tickets cost from £15 each way.

Where to stay: You’ll enjoy great views over the city and will be close to both the train station and the cathedral at the three-star City Hotel Bamberg. From £81 per night.

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