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Top 20 Cities for Budget-Minded Travelers

With the rise of inflation and increased airfare, if you’re on a tight budget, you might think traveling is something you’ll have to put on the back burner. But that’s not necessarily the case. In my over 20 years of traveling the globe, I’ve been surprised to find just how far the dollar can go when choosing the right destination. The price of a single meal in New York City can easily equal an entire day or more of vacation in Mexico or Vietnam, for example.

If the skyrocketing cost of flights prevents you from jetting off thousands of miles away, there are places closer to home with lots of cheap and even free things to do that can still fulfill that travel urge. This list comes thanks to personal experience coupled with extensive research comparing the cost of accommodation, dining out, and attractions in fabulous cities both near and far. If you’re a budget-minded traveler, consider one of these great destinations.

Bangkok, Thailand Bangkok, Thailand
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Bangkok, Thailand

Much more affordable than other capital cities, Bangkok is a budget-friendly destination with iconic cultural attractions, such as golden temples, floating markets and street food. Visit the Grand Palace, a compound of palaces and temples home to Thailand’s most important relic, the Emerald Buddha, a 15th-century sculpture made from jade. Unwind in the European-style gardens of Dusit, visit Phra Nakhon, which hosts the Wat Pho temple of the Reclining Buddha, and then fuel up with all sorts of foodie delights with just about every dish bursting with flavors.

Krakow, Poland Krakow, Poland
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Krakow, Poland

One of the best places to visit in Poland, Krakow is becoming an increasingly popular place for those who travel to Eastern Europe, but it can still be enjoyed at a relatively low cost. Highlights include grand architecture in Gothic to Renaissance styles, the regal Wawel Castle and the atmospheric Jewish quarter of Kazimieriz. The Old Town is famous for its nightlife, with more bars per square meter than anywhere else on the planet.

Goa, India Cola Beach, South Goa, India
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Goa, India

For a super affordable getaway you can visit Goa, an especially picturesque coastal spot that’s considered to be India’s top beach destination with unspoiled white sands that frame the glistening blue expanse of the Arabian Sea. While the central regions tend to be crowded, venture further north or south for more remote and tranquil treasures that provide an eclectic blend of history, culture, nature, and all sorts of adventures.

Riga, Latvia Riga, Latvia
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Riga, Latvia

Often called the “Paris of the North,” Riga offers a bargain for travelers. A great European destination if you want to avoid the crowds, you can enjoy some of the largest and most impressive Art Nouveau architecture on the continent, with gargoyles and goddesses adorning over 750 buildings along stately boulevards. The winding cobblestone lanes in the Old Town are especially picturesque, and at the Dome Cathedral, you can ascend the spire of St. Peter’s church to take in an awe-inspiring view of the city.

Budapest, Hungary Budapest, Hungary
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Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is one of Europe’s most budget-friendly countries. It’s famous for its thermal spas, which are fabulous to enjoy after taking a walking tour of historic Castle Hill. Enjoy sailing on the Danube River as you capture the breathtaking panoramic vistas and dine on tasty traditional Hungarian fare paired with Hungarian wine, of course. If you like to shop, this city offers everything from flea markets and antique shops to higher-end boutiques.

Marrakech, Morocco Marrakesh, Morocco
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Marrakech, Morocco

Located at the foot of the Atlas mountains, Marrakech is beautiful, large, chaotic, filled with history. It boasts an exciting mix of old and new, a place where the sounds of music and the sights of snake charmers, fortune tellers, busy bazaars, and vendors are found around nearly every corner. The centuries-old markets are renowned as one of the world’s most colorful places, with bowls overflowing with olives, while barrels of spices like turmeric, saffron, ginger, and cinnamon are tucked in among the tapestries and hookahs. The city square, Djemaa el Fna, hosts food stalls and wooden tables that are set up with a variety of dishes to sample, including roast lamb and couscous, aubergine fritters, spicy sardines, and steamed sheep head.

Albuquerque, New Mexico Albuquerque, New Mexico
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Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque has remained surprisingly cheap despite it’s easy access to a wealth of outdoor adventures, a thriving arts scene, and a wide range of other attractions. Explore Old Town Albuquerque, which has been inhabited for centuries and reveals influences by Native Americans, the Spanish, and other Latin and European cultures. Hiking the Sandia Mountains is always popular, or you can ride the Sandia Peak Tramway for a spectacular view of the rugged landscapes. Petroglyph National Monument, just northwest of downtown, boasts ancient rock carvings that tell the stories of the area’s early inhabitants. It’s always fun to be here during the annual Hot Air Balloon Festival in October, but be aware that accommodation rates are usually higher.

Sofia, Bulgaria Orthodox Cathedral Alexander Nevsky, in Sofia, Bulgaria
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Sofia, Bulgaria

Sofia is one of Europe’s least expensive cities and a top destination in Bulgaria, with many outstanding hotels available for less than $100 a night. While the airfare may not be cheap, once you get there you’ll find plenty of bargains, including food and drink at the many outdoor cafes, pubs, restaurants, bars, and hopping techno clubs. There are many intriguing museums, parks, and an iconic cathedral. The largest in the Balkans, St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a richly decorated Russian Orthodox church designed in a mixed historicist style that provides fabulous photo-ops. Take a walking tour to learn more about the city’s fascinating history, then head to one of the drinking establishments to mingle with the locals.

Tobermory - Ontario, Canada Lake Huron in Bruce Peninsula National Park
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Tobermory - Ontario, Canada

Located about a four-hour drive north of Toronto, Tobermory is nestled between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, offering a nature lover’s paradise that’s especially popular among divers and snorkelers. Snorkelers can explore the scenic grotto in Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park for free, while divers pay a low daily fee and enjoy the chance to visit multiple shipwreck sites. There are miles and miles of picturesque trails to hike, beautiful sea stacks to explore, 19th-century lighthouses, and interesting shops in the harbor village of Tobermory itself. Camping is available, and there are also many affordable Airbnbs and small hotels.

Indianapolis, Indiana Indianapolis, Indiana
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Indianapolis, Indiana

Indianapolis is famous for hosting the Indy 500 and Formula One races, but most people don’t realize it offers many other things to do while being a very inexpensive city to visit. There are more than 200 parks, lush gardens, trails to walk or pedal, colorful street art, and free walking tours through the Lockerbie Square Historic District, which includes over two dozen residences built between 1855 and 1939. The Mass Ave Arts District is worth checking out too, with art galleries, eclectic boutiques, theaters, and restaurants. Families shouldn’t miss the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis or a visit to the Indianapolis Zoo.

Ljubljana, Slovenia Ljubljana, Slovenia
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Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana is a fairytale-like town and a top destination in Eastern Europe. It’s a joy just to wander through with lots of romantic charms, including cobblestone streets lined with Baroque-style architecture and a 12th-century castle that looms above it all. You’ll find many enticing day trips as well, with the most popular Lake Bled, less than an hour’s drive away. It’s backed by the dramatic Julian Alps and includes a church-topped islet. The 17th-century Bled Castle overlooks it, providing postcard-perfect photographs.

Merida, Mexico Merida, Mexico
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Merida, Mexico

Merida serves as the cultural heart of the Yucatan Peninsula and is a family-friendly destination that offers the chance to experience a more authentic side of Mexico at budget-friendly prices. The historical core is home to Mayan brick built 17th-century cathedrals and is closed to vehicle traffic. Easily walkable, you’ll find open-air stages that host live music and dancing, taco stands, and all sorts of happenings. Just 60 miles away are idyllic sandy beaches and flamingo-filled mangroves in the village of Celestun.

Quito, Ecuador Quito, Ecuador
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Quito, Ecuador

Quito is a spectacular city located more than 9,000 feet above sea level in a valley framed by volcanic peaks. Ecuador’s capital is not only easy on the eyes, but it’s easy on the wallet. Enjoy gazing up at magnificent Gothic architecture and visiting spectacular cathedrals and fascinating museums while sampling tasty cuisine along the way. Just a short drive from the historic center are all sorts of attractions, from zip line rides to waterfalls, along with the opportunity to walk the “line.” The equator line is marked in red paint and is also the only place in the world where you can put one foot in the Northern Hemisphere and the other one in the Southern Hemisphere.

Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam
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Hoi An, Vietnam

A top destination in Vietnam, Hoi An is a World Heritage Site with hundreds of buildings designated historic landmarks. Explore the Ancient Town on foot to check out the centuries-old temples and magnificent architecture adorned with colorful lanterns, or join a tour to learn about the local fishermen and even test your own skills (and luck). If you’re into shopping, there are countless bargains here and hundreds of tailor shops that sell clothing, bags, and custom-made items for inexpensive prices.

Bucharest, Romania Bucharest, Romania
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Bucharest, Romania

For an affordable getaway, visit Bucharest in southern Romania. The top attraction is the Palace of Parliament, an iconic landmark from the communist period in Romania and one of the world’s most controversial and impressive constructions. It features over 1,000 rooms with stunning handcrafted decor, more than 700 crystal chandeliers, an anti-nuclear shelter, and escape tunnels, providing the opportunity to learn about the regime that shaped the history of the country.

Porto, Portugal Porto, Portugal
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Porto, Portugal

While it’s not the cheapest on this list, Porto is a captivating destination and one of Western Europe’s most wallet-friendly destinations when it comes to food, drink, attractions, and day trips to nearby cities. A UNESCO World Heritage city, there are tons of things to do in this picture-perfect city, as it boasts ornate cathedrals, enticing courtyard squares, fascinating museums, and gorgeous riverside restaurants where you can enjoy sipping wine from the Douro Valley while people-watching.

Mexico City, Mexico Mexico City, Mexico
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Mexico City, Mexico

Mexico City is a top destination in the world when it comes to museums, behind only London, with nearly 200, from the National Museum of Anthropology to more unique institutions like the Chocolate Museum. It also offers beautiful architecture, countless lively markets and culinary delights, with mouthwatering cuisine around nearly every corner: tamales, tacos, sopes, esquites, you’ll find it all and more. When you need a change of scenery, there are plenty of cheap spots in Mexico to explore nearby.

Santiago, Chile Santiago, Chile
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Santiago, Chile

Encircled by the snow-capped Andes and the Chilean coastal range, Santiago enjoys a dramatic setting and low prices. You can look forward to wandering the cobbled streets of older barrios and taking advantage of the cosmopolitan epicenter that’s jam-packed with fine dining eateries, museums, suburban parks, and lively nightlife spots. It also makes a great base for taking part in the area’s recreational activities like hiking or skiing.

San Antonio, Texas San Antonio, Texas
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San Antonio, Texas

For those who want to stick closer to home, San Antonio is one of the most budget-friendly cities in the U.S. with a wide range of things to see and do on offer. It’s the second-largest city in Texas and home to the famous River Walk which offers scenic strolls at no cost. The iconic Alamo is free to visit, as is the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park. Free brewery tours with samples are available too, and you can save on paid attractions like Six Flags and the Schlitterbahn New Braunfels Waterpark by picking up the San Antonio Explorer pass.

Quebec City, Canada Quebec City, Canada
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Quebec City, Canada

Compared to a trip to Paris or another European City, Quebec City is much cheaper. You’ll save big on airfare while still enjoying a European-like city, complete with cobbled streets, fortified walls, and ramparts. Old Quebec is especially delightful and home to the top attractions, which include the Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral and the Citadel. Be sure to try the poutine while you’re here, as it was invented in rural Quebec, and there are dozens of creative spins on the popular dish.

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