As the temperatures drop – and so does your bank account balance after the festive season – a winter getaway could be a good option for those wanting a holiday on a shoestring to start the year. And if you are in Europe, options are aplenty.
In fact, many people are getting used to make the most of the winter. In the first half of 2023, according to data released by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), an impressive 1.2 billion nights were spent in tourist accommodation in the EU. The number marked an increase of 10.8 million nights compared with the same period in 2019 (+0.9 %) and of 135.9 million nights compared with the first half of 2022 (+12.9 %).
Winter holidays can save you time (goodbye long queues to visit overcrowded tourist attractions), and money. Take Venice, for example. The Italian spot is definitely more affordable this time of the year as, between April and July 2024, the city will impose a £4.30 daily tax on all tourists for 30 days.
So, I went around asking seasoned travel bloggers, photographers, authors, and those planning a winter trip soon, about what are the top winter escapes in Europe for budget explorers.
The results are in: from music festivals to spa experiences and affordable skiing with locals, these destinations are not only easy on the eyes but also on the wallet. So, grab your scarf and let’s dive into the best budget-friendly winter destinations Europe has to offer in 2024.
Ria Formosa, Portugal, for biodiversity
“Ria Formosa Natural Park is a hidden gem that isn’t always in the spotlight: the. This extraordinary coastal lagoon system spans over 60 kilometres and consists of a series of barrier islands, marshes, and channels. What makes Ria Formosa a must-visit is its stunning biodiversity. It’s a haven for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts due to its importance as a migratory route for numerous bird species. Exploring the park by boat allows you to witness the diverse ecosystem, including salt marshes, dunes, and unique flora and fauna.
The park also provides opportunities for activities like kayaking, boat tours, or simply walking along the trails to immerse yourself in its natural beauty. Plus, there are charming, less crowded towns nearby, such as Olhão and Tavira, where you can experience authentic Portuguese culture and cuisine.”
Duncan Greenfield-Turk – Managing Director at Global Travel Moments
Cluj-Napoca, Romania, for affordable music
“This year my winter travel plans is taking a different turn and centre around Cluj-Napoca, Romania. The city is the perfect wintertime getaway on a tight budget in Europe and it hosts several lively winter music events. These gatherings of locals and visitors provide a reasonably priced opportunity to fully immerse oneself in the cultural pulse of the city. It’s an affordable one-of-a-kind winter experience.”
Sira Mas – Travel expert at www.serentravelty.com
Krakow, Poland, for cheaper quality accommodation
“I travel Europe quite a bit. One of my favourite places to head to in winter is Krakow, Poland. Not many people visit Poland in the winter because, well… it’s cold!.
However, Poland is extremely affordable. There are plenty of things to do, such as visiting the Tatra Mountains for some skiing, enjoying the center of town- the Stare Miasto- or relaxing at the Zakopane thermal baths.
You can find great hotel deals under €40 a night in Krakow, and they are beautiful places to stay. Plus, full meals with entree and a drink can cost less than €10 even if you are in a well-travelled part of town.”
Taylor Beal – Travel blogger
Athens, Greece, for discounted touristic attractions
“Most people tend to visit Athens in the summer, which is indeed a great
time to enjoy the city. However, winter offers the advantage of fewer crowds and significantly lower prices. Winter visitors can benefit from reduced prices at many of the city’s famous attractions, along with shorter queues. Plus: from November 1st to March 30th, a 50% reduced rate is typically offered for single-use tickets at all state-owned archaeological sites and museums.”
Andreas Giannopoulos – Entrepreneur at www.sunnyathens.com
Cartagena, Spain, for budget flights
Cartegena is the gem of Costa Calida, and despite being the second largest city in Murcia, prices remain affordable. It is said that to explore Cartegena is to explore over 2,000 years of history in three dimensions.
The city is compact enough that you can visit all of the main attractions on foot. Be sure not to miss the narrow old town streets, and some of the most affordable tapas in Spain. A small beer and a plate of tapas can be had for under €3. The new Región de Murcia International Airport is around 30 minutes away by bus (€8) and enjoys budget flights to a number of UK and EU destinations, with pricing starting from €17 form the UK, and €30 from Ireland.”
Carl Michael – Travel blogger
Svaneti, Georgia, for skiing with locals
“Though not typically on the European trail, Svaneti offers a blend of breathtaking landscapes and cultural authenticity that rivals any popular European destination, at a fraction of the cost.
During my recent visit, I was captivated by the region’s medieval defence towers and villages perched above 2,000 meters. The highlight was learning to ski on the towering peaks of the Caucasus, with lessons provided by local experts who embody the spirit of Georgian hospitality.
What makes Svaneti particularly appealing in the winter months is not just its natural beauty or cultural depth, but also its affordability. The cost of accommodations, activities, and dining are significantly lower compared to mainstream European destinations, making it an ideal spot for travelers on a budget. I am already planning to return there in February.”
Tiffany McGee – Relationship expert and founder at Nomadrs
Tallinn, Estonia, for affordable sauna experiences
“The Estonian capital, Tallinn, is located only a short ferry ride away from Helsinki, has a similar language and cultural traditions. However, it can be visited at a mere fraction of a cost. In general, plan to budget around €50-150 per person per day in Estonia. This makes Tallinn 40-50% cheaper than similar destinations in the Nordics.
If you’re interested in sauna culture and gorgeous snowy landscapes all with a distinctive Nordic vibe, Tallinn is the place to go. It also has a great mix of old and new, with a picture perfect old town for history buffs and the hip area of Teliskivi Creative City for those after youthful energy, arts and culture.”
Maggie Turansky – Editor at travel website The World Was Here First
Zakopane, Poland, for affordable ski resorts
“I visited Zakopane as a college student on a budget last February, and they made a perfect long weekend trip. Zakopane is an excellent choice for an affordable ski resort experience, offering skiing and snowboarding at much lower prices than neighbouring European ski destinations. The town has a welcoming atmosphere, and we even made a few friends at the bars on the main street that we still talk to today.”
Daniella Morgan – Writer and creator of Sampler Platter Travel.
Lisbon, Portugal, for cheap cuisine and transport
“An European winter getaway doesn’t need to be expensive. In Lisbon, where I am currently based, getting around is cheaper during winter. A day pass for metro and buses costing around €6. Also, restaurants offer “prato do dia” (dish of the day) specials on weekdays which cost from as little as €7 – quite a bargain for the quality of food you get.
Winter months can offer some of the best bargains, especially for travelers planning to visit Europe.”
Yulia Saf – Travel blogger at Miss Tourist
Budapest. Hungary, for historic thermal spas
“When it comes to budget-friendly winter trips, Budapest stands out as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities without breaking the bank. With the temperature dropping, you can soak in Széchenyi Baths (Europe’s largest thermal spa) for €24 Euros. This is the perfect warm haven after a few chilly hours exploring the city.
Exploring Buda Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion (both are free!) provides breathtaking views over the Danube. Yet, my absolute favourite is witnessing the illuminated Parliament building (also free) amidst snow and ice from across the Danube.”
Viola Sender – Author at Away to the City
Bonus winter getaways in Europe
Porto, Portugal, for picturesque locations
“Planning for an economical yet enriching experience, I found accommodation in Porto from €30 a night. And I will make use of public transport while visiting Porto, as a single bus ticket costs only €1.85.
I am thrilled about my upcoming weekend in Portugal, renowned as one of the most affordable countries. I can’t wait to immerse myself in its vibrant atmosphere and make the most of its picture-perfect colourful houses.”
Kevin Mercier – Photographer and travel blogger
Basko, Bulgaria, for long-term winter holidays
“Located about a 2-hour drive from Sofia, Bansko has become one of the most visited places in Europe by remote workers and winter sports enthusiasts due to its competitive cost of living and good infrastructure. That is why this place has become my home for the past four winter seasons. There is a feel of community and a very fresh international vibe among expats and seasonal skiers. Renting a one-bedroom apartment can be as cheap as €20 Euros per day. And ski lift passes are competitively priced too, starting from € 45 Euros per day.”
Andy Magri – Travel Videographer at ProjectGO