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13 Budget Alternatives to Top Vacation Destinations

If you’re looking to book an unforgettable vacation, you might be faced with sticker shock when finding out the price tag for popular destinations like Paris, London, Rome or even Dublin, Ireland. The good news is that there are more affordable alternatives – and oftentimes, you’ll enjoy a less crowded, more hassle-free experience too.

Milos, Greece Instead of Santorini, Greece Kleftiko, Milos Island, Cyclades, Greece
Credit: Kleftiko, Milos Island, Cyclades, Greece by © Lefteris Papaulakis | Dreamstime.com

Milos, Greece Instead of Santorini, Greece

Santorini always seems to get the spotlight but there are other islands in the Cyclades that are just as alluring without the high price tag or the big crowds. Milos is a treasure, home to some of the country’s most spectacular beaches with over 75 streches to choose from like Klaftiko, with its magnificent sea caves and rock formations rising from brilliant aquamarine waters. Enjoy swimming, snorkeling, sailing, kayaking, soaking in hot springs, and 4X4 tours, while charming towns like Plaka feature traditional whitewashed architecture, breathtaking gulf views, and glorious sunsets.

Kilkenny, Ireland Instead of Dublin, Ireland Pumphouse, Kilkenny, Ireland
Credit: Pumphouse, Kilkenny, Ireland by bigstock.com

Kilkenny, Ireland Instead of Dublin, Ireland

Kilkenny, located just a 1.5-hour drive southwest of Dublin, is an excellent alternative to the pricier, jam-packed capital city. Ireland’s medieval capital is steeped in heritage, and culture, and, of course, it’s home to the magnificent 12th-century Kilkenny Castle. Stroll the cobbled lanes lined with all sorts of interesting shops, pubs and eateries, before touring the castle that overlooks the River Nore. Inhabited by the Butler dynasty from 1391 through 1935, you’ll see family portraits that date back to the castle’s earliest years displayed in the Long Gallery and much more. The “Creative Heart of Ireland,” as Kilkenny is sometimes called, has a large percentage of its population that’s engaged in arts and crafts, which means it’s an ideal place to discover a more unique, handmade souvenir. It’s also become somewhat of a “foodie” city, with numerous restaurants serving up fantastic eats with dishes featuring lots of local ingredients, though it may best be known for producing some of the country’s finest beers, including Smithwicks. Sample a few at one of the many pubs, like Matt the Millers, spread across five floors, each with its own unique bar and distinct atmosphere.

Warsaw, Poland Instead of London, England Warsaw, Poland
Credit: Warsaw, Poland by www.bigstock.com

Warsaw, Poland Instead of London, England

Warsaw offers many things that London has without the high price. You’ll discover an intriguing history, an abundance of fascinating museums, magnificent castles, lush green spaces, diverse architecture, and plenty of pubs to pop in and enjoy the local lager for less than a few dollars a pint. The city’s dining and entertainment scene is the best in the country, plus you can eat well and affordably here on cuisines from across the globe. For less than two dollars, you can visit the Warsaw Fotoplastikon, one of the few turn-of-the-century 3D photo theatres left in the world. Here you can check out historical photos of everything from World War II-era Warsaw to the Radio City Rockettes of the late 1960s.

Montreal, Quebec Instead of Paris, France The Saint Joseph Oratory in Montreal
Credit: The Saint Joseph Oratory in Montreal by © Bigjohn3650 | Dreamstime.com

Montreal, Quebec Instead of Paris, France

You probably know that the cost of airfare alone to fly overseas doesn’t come cheap, so if that’s holding you back from visiting Paris, you should know that you can immerse yourself in French culture in Montreal, Quebec, Canada instead. This gorgeous French-speaking city is the second-largest in Canada after Toronto and is considered the country’s cultural capital. Take a stroll down Saint-Paul Street in Old Montreal and you might feel as if you really are in Paris, with its famously European atmosphere. Though it’s barely a mile long, its cobblestones are lined with endless eateries, bars, boutiques and art galleries, nestled within magnificent historic buildings.

Puglia, Italy Instead of Tuscany, Italy Polignano a Mare, Puglia, Italy
Credit: Polignano a Mare, Puglia, Italy by K.C. Dermody

Puglia, Italy Instead of Tuscany, Italy

Located in the “heel of Italy’s boot” in the sunny southern region of the country, surprisingly, Puglia has yet to be spoiled by tourism. Tourism may be on the increase, but you’ll still find far fewer visitors here than in other parts of the country, so you can navigate the streets without fighting through tour groups and you’ll benefit from lower prices too. Puglia has a unique character and charm along with breathtaking scenery that includes glistening turquoise seas, soft golden sands and olive groves. Here things are more relaxed, people are friendlier, and there is little commercialism. Explore hilltop towns like Ostuni, known as “The White City,” and fascinating places like Alberobello with its unique trulli, and conical roofed stone dwellings that are unique to Puglia. All of this and you can dine on a whole pizza for about $5, purchase a bottle of wine for less than $3, and discover all sorts of bargains in the local shops.

Portland, Oregon Instead of Seattle, Washington Portland, OR
Credit: Portland, OR by Sean Pavone via Dreamstime

Portland, Oregon Instead of Seattle, Washington

Lots of Washington state residents head to Oregon, particularly Portland, to enjoy sales tax-free shopping, and you might want to consider doing the same. While Seattle does have the Space Needle and lots of other iconic attractions, quirky Portland offers lots of delights at a lower cost. This is the city that gave birth to the world-famous Voodoo Doughnut, where you can sample sinfully indulgent doughnuts like the Voodoo Doll, filled with raspberry jelly and topped with chocolate frosting and a pretzel stake, or even get married. For Portlandia fans, a visit to Portland is a no-brainer; in fact, it’s difficult not to bump into a location where the TV show has been shot. Other highlights include discovering bargains at the 50+ vintage shops in the city, taking a stroll through the Japanese garden, one of the best in the world outside of Japan, and checking out the incredible live music scene.

Hanoi, Vietnam Instead of Bangkok, Thailand Hanoi Opera House
Credit: Hanoi Opera House by bigstock.com

Hanoi, Vietnam Instead of Bangkok, Thailand

This charming Vietnamese capital is different than other Asian capitals – and decidedly less expensive than most. Hanoi offers an elegant collage of cultural influences from the French and Chinese, yet it still manages to retain local Vietnamese ways. The bustling city does have its share of skyscrapers and mopeds, but you’ll also discover French-inspired architecture and food in its large Old Quarter, along with picturesque parks, lakes, shady boulevards and over 600 temples and pagodas. Both accommodation and food throughout Vietnam tend to be cheap and very high quality. Dine on a tasty bowl of Pho noodles for under a dollar.

Lisbon, Portugal Instead of Barcelona, Spain Sao Jorge Castle
Credit: Sao Jorge Castle by bigstock.com

Lisbon, Portugal Instead of Barcelona, Spain

Portugal is one of the most affordable Western European destinations, much less expensive than its neighbor Spain. It’s retained much of its old-world charms, with lots of ancient castles, endless olive groves and lovely fishing villages, and yet a full week’s stay at a five-star hotel in the capital city of Lisbon runs the same as just a night or two at a luxury hotel in Madrid or Barcelona. Visit one of Europe’s finest palaces, the National Palace of Pena, sample fabulous port wines, cruise the Douro River and watch the sun go down from Cape St. Vincent, located along the most stunning coastline on the continent, famous for some of the most glorious sunsets in all of Europe. There are picture-postcard beaches too, with some 50 stretches of sand found throughout the country, and in Lisbon, you can enjoy listening to the sounds of traditional Fado music and wandering through historic districts like Alfama, with its alluring maze of narrow cobblestone streets.

Ljubljana, Slovenia Instead of Prague, Czech Republic Ljubljana, Slovenia
Credit: Ljubljana, Slovenia by visitljubljana.com

Ljubljana, Slovenia Instead of Prague, Czech Republic

Ljubljana is a fairy-tale city that has been called “Prague without the tourists,” and it’s a whole lot easier on your wallet. Tucked in an alpine valley along the Ljubljana River, Ljubljana is often said to be Eastern Europe’s most beautiful city, yet here, you can find quality accommodations available for less than $100 a night and basic options significantly cheaper. Stroll the cobblestone streets lined with museums and art galleries, gaze up at architecture dating from the Middle Ages, as well as the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and for a fun and scenic road trip, visit Slovenia’s most famous sight, Lake Bled, less than an hour’s drive away.

Budapest, Hungary Instead of Vienna, Austria Budapest, Hungary
Credit: Budapest, Hungary by © Europhotos | Dreamstime.com

Budapest, Hungary Instead of Vienna, Austria

While Vienna offers plenty of delights, including grand architecture, enticing cafes, and a rich history, Budapest provides that and more, all at a much cheaper cost. It’s filled with magnificent classical buildings like its iconic parliament building as well as offering charming outdoor cafes, venues that host classic concerts, and river cruises on the Danube. It’s also renowned for its spas with facilities based on natural hot springs that can be enjoyed at budget-friendly prices. The key to affordable dining is to choose spots farther from the river, with riverside eateries higher priced and touristy. For nightlife, head to the Ruin Bars, a collection of bars in an abandoned building known as the best place for a drink in Budapest.

La Paz, Mexico instead of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico Baja Sur Tours by boat
Credit: Baja Sur Tours by boat by Baja Sur Tours

La Paz, Mexico instead of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Cabo San Lucas is one of the most popular beach destinations for Americans and Canadians, home to many luxury resorts and expensive restaurants. It’s the “Americanized” version of Baja, Mexico, and prices to go along with it. Just a two-hour drive away, you’ll find accommodations and a wide range of delicious eats at much more affordable prices. La Paz hosts a lovely, long waterfront dotted with sculptures and you’ll find some of the country’s most beautiful beaches a short drive away, with crystal-clear, calm turquoise water for swimming. There are some exciting tours that can be booked here too, including swimming with whale sharks and snorkeling with sea lions. Visitors can also enjoy a day trip to the lagoons further north via Baja Sur Tours to take part in one of the world’s most thrilling experiences, close encounters with friendly gray whales.

Kotor, Montenegro, instead of Dubrovnik, Croatia Kotor, Montenegro
Credit: Kotor, Montenegro by bigstock.com

Kotor, Montenegro, instead of Dubrovnik, Croatia

While Croatia is less expensive than many destinations, its popularity has led to rising prices, especially in Dubrovnik. If you want to experience a stunning walled city at a significantly lower cost with much thinner crowds, consider nearby Kotor. Nestled in a secluded area of the Bay of Kotor, it’s often described as the only fjord in the Mediterranean. While it may look like a fjord, it technically isn’t one, but it does offer extraordinary beauty with UNESCO-listed Old Town Kotor backed by dramatic mountains and encircled by medieval walls.

Finger Lakes Wine Country instead of Napa Valley Seneca Lake, in the heart of Finger Lakes Wine Country, New York
Credit: Seneca Lake, in the heart of Finger Lakes Wine Country, New York by © Beautynature | Dreamstime.com

Finger Lakes Wine Country instead of Napa Valley

Napa Valley is one of the country’s most famous wine regions, but it’s also one of the most expensive. The Finger Lakes region in Upstate New York produces wines that are becoming increasingly popular with the Pinot Noir, especially high-scoring. You’ll find more than 130 wineries, along with wine bars, wine tours, and wine festivals here like the annual mid-September German festival held at Lucas Vineyards, complete with grape stomping and German foods. With an abundance of striking natural beauty, including waterfalls and the over 10 lakes that make up the “fingers,” enjoy scenic drives and a wealth of outdoor activities too.

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