While travel can, of course, be very expensive, it can also be far cheaper than you might think. There are many beautiful and fascinating countries to explore if you want to keep costs low, lots of which are right on our doorstep.

Europe is home to some of the most gorgeous, diverse, compelling, and cost-effective countries to visit in the world – so if you’re dreaming of a proper holiday in 2023, it may yet become a reality.

To inspire you, here are 12 of the cheapest countries in Europe – many of which you can find some top travel deals for.

1. Bulgaria

Bulgaria

Bulgaria is often at the very top of the list when it comes to the best cost-effective countries to visit in Europe, and it’s not difficult to see why.

It may not yet be as popular as its neighbour Greece, but this country also boasts gorgeous beaches, historic towns, ancient ruins, and lively cities – all with a far cheaper price tag. Tipped to become the ‘Next Croatia’, now’s the time to visit Bulgaria while the prices are still low.

One of the great things about Bulgaria is that it remains mostly undiscovered by travellers – except for the tourists that fly over for a cheap summer holiday by the Black Sea. Even so, this beach break will still cost a fraction of what it would in countries like Italy, Spain, or Greece. And the diverse coastline of the Varna region, which backs onto the Black Sea, is home to dozens of laid-back beach resorts and pretty towns.

Things in Bulgaria are naturally much cheaper out of season – and while you may not be able to kick back on the beach outside of summertime, there’s still plenty to do here.

The Central Balkan National Park is ideal for hiking and panoramic views, and the mountains are excellent for skiing in the winter.

There are many rural towns packed with culture, castles, and history too. Though the capital, Sofia, is also an ideal destination for a city break!

2. Albania

Albania

Shut off from the rest of the continent for much of the 20th century, Albania has long been one of Europe’s best-kept secrets.

But today, its gates are open, and while the tourists are still trickling in, it won’t be long before they come in floods – because once Albania’s charms become common knowledge, it’s likely to become almost as popular as its neighbour Greece. So now’s the time to discover this incredibly diverse country, which has remained one of the continent’s greatest enigmas.

Its winding coastline – dubbed the Albanian Riviera – is lined with dreamy beaches, lapped by deep blue waters. And even the most popular beach resorts here, like Dhërmi and Ksamil, don’t see much international tourism. As a result, accommodation, food, and travel are very cheap.

Inland, you’ll find looming mountains, fortress towns, crumbling castles, and countless ancient Greek and Roman ruins, so whether you’re a history buff, an adventure lover, or a beach enthusiast, there’s something for everyone.

The exuberant capital, Tirana, is a great base for exploring the rest of Albania, and eating out here is one of the most affordable options in Europe.

3. Montenegro

Montenegro

As the third newest country in the world, many of us might not be aware of Montenegro’s exact destination on a map – though that doesn’t mean it’s not one of the best spots on the continent for a cheap break.

Bordering Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Albania, this Balkan country might be small (it’s only two-thirds of the size of Wales!), but it has an astonishingly varied landscape.

With almost 200 miles of pristine coastline, it’s an excellent choice for a beach holiday. Boasting the same dazzling azure waters that its neighbour Croatia is so famous for, Montenegro has many bustling coastal towns where it’s easy to find comfy yet cheap accommodation.

Food is very affordable, too, so if you’re looking for a lazy beach break where you can swim, sunbathe, and eat until your heart’s content, you’re in the right place!

If you’d prefer to explore inland Montenegro, you’ll be spoilt for choice. You can hike through ancient forests, trek up craggy mountains, swim in glacial lakes, and stroll through old, walled towns packed with character.

Nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts will love visiting Durmitor and Prokletije National Parks, where not only is the hiking second to none, but you have a good chance of spotting brown bears, wolves, and even lynxes!

4. Hungary

Hungary

Compared to other Eastern European countries, Hungary isn’t the cheapest. But a Hungarian holiday will still cost you a fraction of a Western European holiday, so it’s a hot contender on this list.

The most expensive place in Hungary is, unsurprisingly, the capital of Budapest – though skipping this city would be a cardinal sin. With a fascinating past, stunning sights, and an abundance of culture, there are still plenty of free attractions to enjoy here.

The iconic Danube (the second longest river in Europe) bisects the city, and strolling along the banks or across the Chain Bridge are fun, free activities that allow you to admire the elegant city skyline.

Budapest is also an architectural treasure trove, and the city has more baroque, neoclassical, eclectic, and art nouveau buildings than you can shake a stick at – and admiring them doesn’t cost a penny either.

While most of the attractions in the Castle Hill area – like the Buda Castle and underground Castle Labyrinth – aren’t free to visit, entry is cheap, and the food and wine here are delicious and affordable.

Outside of Budapest, things are much cheaper, and you can enjoy plenty of natural delights here – from the lake resort town of Tihany to the Bükk Mountains, where there are many chances to try all kinds of outdoor adventures.

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5. Slovenia

Slovenia

Due to their famous beauty, compelling culture, and engrossing history, many of us are drawn to countries like Italy, Austria, and Croatia.

Unfortunately, a visit to these countries doesn’t tend to come cheap, but luckily, bordering each of these magnificent destinations is Slovenia. This country may be smaller than its neighbours, but it’s definitely no less spectacular – and significantly cheaper too!

Slovenia wasn’t ranked in Lonely Planet’s top 10 countries to visit in 2022 for nothing, and it’s no exaggeration to say this country has something for everyone.

The most famous destination is Lake Bled, a place that’s so dramatically beautiful it’ll take your breath away. The turquoise waters are surrounded by the Julian Alps and dense pine forests — it’s just as easy to explore as it is to relax by the lake, depending on your preference.

If you like active holidays, there’s almost too much on offer. You can go canyoning, rafting, caving, cycling, climbing, and skiing, and most of these activities are far cheaper than in neighbouring countries. Hike to the top of Mount Triglav, paddle along gleaming blue rivers, or trek through the miles of mysterious forests.

Plus, with the Adriatic coast scattered with pristine beaches and lively resort towns, Slovenia is the perfect spot for a beach break too.

6. Portugal

Portugal

One of the most appealing things about a holiday in Portugal is that many of its best attractions are absolutely free.

With sandy, golden beaches and soaring cliffs in the south of the country; breathtaking hiking trails and dazzling blue waters in Madeira; and lively, historic streets in Lisbon, this is a country where you’ll just want to be outdoors — meaning it’s easy to keep prices down!

There’s so much to see and do in Portugal, and many of the best cultural activities are free to visit – like Évora, one of the most historic places in the country. This UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts Roman temples, Moorish alleys, and a medieval cathedral.

Évora is a stunning city that costs nothing to explore, and there are dozens more equally fascinating places across the country. Just check out our article on the best Portuguese towns to find out more. Of course, you’ll have to pay for accommodation, but visiting outside of summer means you’ll be able to find some great travel deals.

In winter, things are especially cheap. Yet, because temperatures rarely fall below 15 degrees Celsius, it’s still warm enough to do plenty of exploring – even if it’s not quite hot enough to sunbathe!

Food will be the other main expense, although eating at local places rather than tourist hotspots makes a huge difference.

7. The Czech Republic

The Czech Republic

While travelling to the Czech Republic certainly isn’t as cheap as it used to be, it’s still far more affordable than visiting many other European countries.

Prague is considerably more expensive than the rest of the country, yet, prices are significantly lower compared to other capital cities like Paris or Rome – which it rivals in romance, charm, culture, and history.

Prague is a city that you won’t want to miss, and there are many free activities you can enjoy here. Rather than joining paid tours, just download a map and explore at your own pace.

The medieval Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and you can lose yourself in the maze of cobbled streets as you discover the city’s secrets. Walking along Charles Bridge, stopping at the Astronomical Clock, and admiring the glowing Gothic churches, for example, costs absolutely nothing.

The rest of the country is much cheaper – from the town of Cesky Krumlov, which looks straight out of a book of fairytales, to the historic town of Sedlec and its eerie bone chapel and the hulking, craggy mountains of the Bohemian Switzerland National Park, which are ideal for hiking.

Booking accommodation as early as possible in any of these destinations makes things much more affordable, even in peak season.

8. Estonia

Estonia

Just like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia is one of the most unique countries in Europe. While it’s similar to Latvia and Lithuania in terms of landscape and history, the culture is entirely distinct.

Finland is actually its closest neighbour when it comes to language and ethnicity, but Estonia’s half-century of Soviet rule divided the two. Though, ever since Estonia emerged from behind the Iron Curtain, tourists have been flocking in.

The capital, Tallinn, is one of the most bewitching and photogenic cities in Europe. It’s the perfect blend of laid-back and lively, and with ancient churches, medieval streets, and vibrant modern culture, it won’t take long to fall for its charms. It’s easily the most expensive place in the country – although still much cheaper than Western Europe – but you can spend just a few days here before heading out to explore the wilderness.

And Estonia boasts wilderness in droves. Half the sparsely populated countryside is blanketed with vast swathes of forests, so if you’re looking to enjoy peace and solitude in beautiful natural surroundings, you’ll find that here.

Accommodation and activities are cheap outside the capital, and national parks – like Otepää Nature Park, which boasts gleaming lakes and miles of hiking trails – are all free to enter and explore.

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9. Romania

Romania

Romania is easily one of the cheapest countries in Europe – and it’s rapidly rising in popularity. This big, beautiful country is astonishingly diverse.

It’s got everything from sandy beaches, rugged mountains, rolling meadows, captivating culture, and, of course, iconic Transylvanian castles that perch precariously on craggy hilltops. Whether you want a lively city break, a rural escape, or an active adventure, Romania has it all.

The capital city Bucharest buzzes with energy and is home to many impressive buildings that are free to visit – from the 15th-century Old Town to Revolution Square and the Arch of Triumph.

There are also free walking tours that allow you to discover this fascinating city – but it’s what lies outside the capital that’s most appealing. Trains are cheap in Romania, so heading out to explore the countryside or coast is very affordable.

Rocky summits, pine tree forests, and ribbons of green meadows dot the Carpathian Mountains, and wildlife enthusiasts will enjoy looking out for bears, elk, and deer.

Transylvania is also a must-visit, whether you’re interested in vampire legends or not. Aside from Brasov (home to Bran Castle, Dracula’s home!), there are many gothic towns that are a joy to explore and wonderfully cheap – like Braşov, Sighişoara, and Sibiu.

10. Slovakia

Slovakia

A centrepiece of Europe, Slovakia might be relatively small, but it’s also diverse, complex, and very affordable.

After breaking away from Czechoslovakia in 1992, today’s Slovakia is an independent and unique nation. Though it shares similarities with its neighbour, the Czech Republic, it’s very much a country in its own right. Home to UNESCO World Heritage Sites, castles, mountains, and monuments, there’s lots to do here.

As with nearly all countries, the capital, Bratislava, is the most expensive place, but because the city is small, you can spend just a few days here and still see plenty.

Its size means it can be explored on foot, as most of the attractions are clustered around the picturesque old town. The city is famous for its statues and sculptures (as well as its tankard-clanging drinking culture!), and there are many free galleries.

But it’s outside the capital where Slovakia really shines, and prices are lowest. So, if you’re looking for an outdoor adventure on a budget, this could be the destination for you.

The High Tatras mountains offer miles of gorgeous hiking trails. Here, you can admire views of mirror-like lakes and precipitous peaks, and in winter, you can go skiing and snowshoeing.

In the east, the charming city of Košice and the serene Tokaj wine region are also must-visits.

11. Poland

Poland

While some of the most popular destinations in Poland – like Kraków and Warsaw – aren’t especially cheap in the high season, things get much more affordable outside of summer.

Although spring and autumn are lovely times to visit, there’s a certain magic about a Polish winter, when the prices are at their lowest and thick snow makes the historic cities look even more captivating. If you do go in winter, just be ready to brace yourself for the cold!

Visiting the former capital of Kraków is like stepping back through the ages; its Gothic core is packed with art nouveau, Renaissance, and baroque buildings – and museums are free to enter at least one day a week.

Poland’s heartbreaking history during WW2 can be explored at some of the country’s most famous yet haunting sites, like Auschwitz-Birkenau and Schindler’s Factory, which are all cheaper and less crowded during the off-season.

But, of course, there’s far more to Poland than its history. Most of the country is flat, but the southern border is embellished with rolling mountains, mysterious forests, and mighty rivers.

Hiking, kayaking, and canoeing are all cheap here, and grand medieval castles and red-brick fortresses dot the countryside. The pretty city of Gdańsk – like Warsaw and Kraków – hums with culture and energy, and dining out on hearty local fare is tasty and affordable.

12. Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the most unique countries in Europe. An intriguing blend of East meets West with a Slavic twist, this country may still be associated with the painful civil war of the 90s, but modern Bosnia and Herzegovina is a very different place.

While the scars of that era can still be seen, visitors today will be struck by the country’s rocky mountains, medieval castles, thundering waters – and low prices.

It isn’t the cheapest country on this list, but one of the main perks of visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina is that prices don’t vary much throughout the year. So, whether you’re looking for a sun-drenched holiday to try rafting on the many churning rivers or a bargain-value winter ski break, you can do both on a budget. If you’re into winter sports, Jahorina and Babin Do are two of the best and cheapest ski resorts.

The capital city, Sarajevo, is affordable, too, with lots of Moorish architecture, pretty terraced cafes, buzzing bars, and a thriving arts scene.

Mostar, in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a smaller but no less appealing choice for a city break.

Restaurants are also cheap here, particularly local haunts, but Bosnia and Herzegovina is also famous for its farmers’ markets (and Christmas markets!), where you can pick up lots of tasty food on the cheap.

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Final thoughts…

We’re extraordinarily lucky to have mainland Europe on our doorstep. As one of the most diverse continents in the world – from language to geography to culture – Europe’s delights and charms are famous all across the world.

No wonder Europe takes the top spot in terms of international tourism, accounting for more than half of all international tourism!

While countries like France, Spain, and Italy (and the UK!) are some of the most popular destinations, they’re by no means the cheapest – yet you can enjoy equally magical holidays in dozens of other countries.

From the pristine, sandy beaches of Montenegro to the rugged mountains and gleaming lakes of Slovenia – not to mention the many charming cities and towns scattered throughout Eastern Europe – this continent is packed with beautiful countries just waiting to be explored.

And, luckily, holidays to these unique destinations usually come at a fraction of the price of other European breaks – meaning you’ll be able to make your money go further when booking your next holiday.

For more cheap travel ideas, you might want to check out our articles; 8 of the cheapest countries in 2022 and How to travel on a shoestring.

Looking to book your next getaway?

Are you hoping to go on a European holiday next year? Or do you have any favourite cheap European destinations to share with our readers? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.