Europe on a budget: 6 affordable destinations

30 April 2024

For travellers on a budget, Europe (and the pricey airfare it demands) can be a tricky destination to hack. You can still have an affordable holiday, however, if you know where to look. Here are some of the continent’s best travel locations where your dollars will stretch a little further. 

Crete, Greece

In high summer, it’s near impossible to escape crowds or stay on budget on some of Greece’s popular Cyclades Islands (we’re looking at you, Santorini and Mykonos). But on Crete, the country’s largest island, there’s more room to spread out. Affordable holiday homes are plentiful, both in the ancient cities of Chania and Heraklion, as well as near the island’s countless beaches, where the water is warm (around 25°C in high summer) and light on swell – perfect for families and anyone content to bob along in the sea.

Melides, Portugal

When the hordes head south to the beaches of Portugal’s Faro District, in-the-know locals land in Melides, a small coastal town 10 minutes east of the Atlantic by car, where an eclectic mix of design creatives and long-haired surfers come to see out the summer. Eco and wellness resorts rule in this region: at Reserva Alecrim (from $205 per night), it’s all about slow living and local food, while days at Sobreiras (from $160 per night) should be spent soaking up the beauty of nearby peaceful oak and cork trees from a pool lounger.


Kraków, Poland

Frothy craft beer. Hearty dumplings. Heavily laden, open-faced sandwiches. The food scene of Poland, especially in the historic city of Kraków, is one of Europe’s most surprising –in variety, flavour and, importantly, cost. From the Plac Nowy, in the city’s heart, stalls spruik enormous zapiekanki – long, toasted subs piled high with toppings – for 15 złoty (about $5.80). Pours from craft breweries around the city can also be enjoyed for less than 15 złoty and the ubiquitous pierogi, or dumpling, comes in all shapes, sizes and fillings for a few dollars a serve. The city’s accommodation scene offers impressive bang for buck, too. Santi Hotel, situated in a building that dates back to the 13th century, has atmospheric rooms starting from $103 per night.

Istanbul, Türkiye

Few cities are as immersive as Istanbul – the vibrant Turkish capital that straddles the Bosphorus strait. It’s a place best explored by foot: wander across the Galata Bridge to see local fishermen tugging sardines from the water, stroll down busy streets and admire the endless delicately arranged fresh-food markets – a daily occurrence in Kadıköy in the city’s south – or chomp on a 20-lira (about $1) simit (like a bagel) while waiting for a ferry. Many of the capital’s main attractions are free of charge, too – the Blue Mosque is gratis to enter (though make sure you’re dressed respectfully), as is a turn through the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market. To be part of the action, consider renting an apartment or loft, of which there’s abundant supply.


Galicia, Spain

In Spain’s west, dramatic cliffs and winding hiking trails prove that coastlines aren’t just for swimmers and sunbathers to enjoy. Lesser-known walking routes like those that trace Finisterre or Cabo de Home are spectacular substitutes for the busy pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela, while cities such as Vigo and A Coruña offer immersion into the region’s grand architecture and history, with an ocean backdrop.

The area’s forests lend themselves to atmospheric accommodation, from luxury treehouses to cosy cabins, with a range of prices, bed configurations and amenities to suit those staying. While some boast hot tubs, others have hammocks; it’s really a case of choosing your own adventure.

Cornwall, England

With verdant hills that edge glittering stretches of sea, the landscape of coastal Cornwall is postcard perfect. Although this region in the country’s south-west is no secret to the English, its popularity means there are plenty of places to pitch a tent or pull up a caravan, depending on your troupe’s preferences. One such spot is Treloan Campsite in Portscatho, a 90-minute drive south-west of Plymouth, where a flat field overlooking the ocean is dedicated to campers and their set-ups. Remind kids to listen for a bell in the morning: that’s the signal that egg-gathering and guinea-pig-feeding trips, led by the ground staff, are about to begin. If you’re there in summer, try and stay on a Wednesday – that’s when local shanty band Du Hag Owr gathers around the campfire with guests for a little singsong.                                    


Quick tip: lock in your exchange rate

The exchange rate you get for your Aussie dollars will determine your buying power on vacay. If the Aussie dollar falls, your hard-earned travel budget may take a hit. To avoid surprises, lock in your exchange rate for up to 13 currencies before you head off with a CommBank Travel Money Card.

Consider the PDS & TMD before making any decision about whether this product is right for you. Fees & charges may apply. Learn more about the CommBank Travel Money Card

How to save money while travelling

Four ways to ensure you’re making your budget go further.

1. Eat like a local

Dining the way a local does isn’t just an easy way to go deeper in your experience of a destination, it’s also a great option to save money. Have you ever noticed how cheap baguettes are in France or how reasonable ramen is in Japan? These staple foodstuffs are eaten so regularly by locals, they often have a price that matches this frequency. Seek out the bites that residents are buying, and you’ll be doing your budget a favour.

2. Take public transport

Don’t skip the local bus, train or, in some parts of Europe, shared taxi situation. Not only are these modes of transport cheaper than a solo taxi or Uber, they are a great way to immerse yourself in your holiday destination and meet a few locals along the way.

3. Be flexible

Life is about compromise and travel is no different. Consider ways you might be able to make a different choice to help open up other possibilities: perhaps you choose a hotel that’s not in your ideal location in that buzzy neighbourhood but just down the road. What if you save the taxi trips for when you have to carry heavy luggage? Maybe you take the scenic train route that takes a little longer but costs a little less. Keeping your options open means expanding (or shrinking) where costs allow.                                                                                  

4. Choose ‘the one’

There’s a tricky balance to strike between sticking to a budget and maximising enjoyment on your trip. One idea is to settle on ‘the one’: it’s the thing you’re happy to splurge on each day, whether it be a long, lovely breakfast, an outing or activity or a bottle of local wine at dinner. That way, you’ll know you’re saving your money (and excitement) for one particular thing or experience so you can scrimp on other things that matter a little less to you and your travel companions.

Things you should know

An earlier version of this article was published in Brighter magazine

This article provides general information of an educational nature only. It does not have regard to the financial situation or needs of any reader and must not be relied upon as personal financial product advice. The views expressed by contributors are their own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of CBA. As the information has been provided without considering your objectives, financial situation or needs, you should, before acting on this information, consider the relevant Product Disclosure Statement and Terms and Conditions, and whether the product is appropriate to your circumstances. You should also consider whether seeking independent professional legal, tax and financial advice is necessary. Every effort has been taken to ensure the information was correct as at the time of printing but it may be subject to change. No part of the editorial contents may be reproduced or copied in any form without the prior permission and acknowledgement of CBA.