independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

The 10 best bargain cities

Kiev boasts leafy boulevards, gilded-domes cathedrals, and lazy afternoons on magnificent plazas.

We share the most pocket-friendly places to spend a weekend away

1 Warsaw

With Poznan and Gdansk piquing interest in Poland last year, perhaps a Warsaw venture could be your next trip east. The country's cultural and political centre pulsates with Slavic swagger. Tips include the Palace of Culture and Science, grabbing a rustic lunch at Pierogarnia na Bednarskiej or sunbathing amid the junipers at University Library's dreamy roof garden.

Free activities include the National Museum (Saturdays) or open-air Chopin concerts at Lazienki Royal Park (Sundays). Fancy something more contemporary? Lana Del Rey and Beyonce are also in town this summer.

Price index: €26.58.

Where to stay: The cutesie, cloud-clotted dorms of Hostel Oki Doki. See okidoki.pl.

2 Sarajevo

 While hundreds of Irish travellers visit Medjugorje each year, the much-overlooked Bosnian capital merits a pilgrimage detour. Sarajevo, with its unique mash of Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman architecture sets the backdrop for an enchanting West-meets-East getaway.

Join the local cappuccino ritual at café Cajdzinica Dzirlo, pick up a pita and wander the bustling bazaars of Bascarsija, or visit the Latin Bridge, where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was so fatefully shot.

Summer activities in Sarajevo include hiking up the Turkish Fort for postcard views of the city and the buzz of August's Sarajevo Film Festival. Action!

Price index: €19.56.

Where to stay: For panoramic vistas, and apparently a singing dog, try Haris Hostel. See hyh.ba.

3 Zagreb

Zagreb's calling. Unlike sun-kissed Dubrovnik down the road, Croatia's capital has kept very much an undiscovered bijoux box. The city's two-tiered old towns offer visitors a blend between big-square buzz and labyrinthine, hidden streets of record shops, book stores and antique haunts.

Quaff some Croatian Karlovacko beer on the vibey Tkalciceva Street, or take in some-window shopping (or even a bargain) on Ilica. Come evening, rattle up the city's funicular to take in the romantic terracotta-topped cityscape from the Montmartre-esque Strossmayer district.

Feeling a little less lovey-dovey? Head for the quirky exhibits of Zagreb's latest artsy hotspot: the Museum of Broken Relationships (€3).

Price index: €29.25.

Where to stay: Old Town's Hobo Bear, with retro Ikea decor and original stone brick walls. See hobobearhostel.com.

4 Bucharest

As the poll-topper in the price index, Bucharest offers travellers the best value of Europe's capitals, so why not avail of some Romanian romance with a trip to Paris of the East?

Escape the Bucharest bustle by renting a rowing boat (€2) in the city's Cismigiu park or embrace local coffee culture with a visit to Atelier café-cum-gallery. Romania has also become the surprise dance-music capital of late, with clubs such as BOA, Fratelli and Bamboo the DJ deck hotspots.

If that sounds a little too high-octane, enjoy a soiree at the National Opera. The cheap seats start from just €1.50.

Price index: €18.20.

Where to stay: For a friendly base in the big city, try The Cozyness Downtown Hostel. See hostelworld.com.

5 Kiev

So, you think Kiev's post-Soviet zest and frenetic energy may not be your bowl of borscht? Well, try imagining leafy boulevards, gilded-domes cathedrals, and lazy afternoons on magnificent plazas. Main street Khreshchatyk is the unwind go-to for free concerts and expos on Sundays.

Food wise, Sushiya is the city's latest dining craze, where you can eat your heart out with tempura rolls and drinks for €6 before a chaser at Banka Bar, where you'll find bargain cocktails. Nostrovia!

Feeling sporty? Try volleyball or people-watching on the River Dnipro's city beaches or check out Olimpiyskiy Stadium to watch Dinamo netting a few goals.

Price index: €19.70.

Where to stay: Trendy, downtown and tiny, book early at TIU Kreschatik. See tiu-kreschatik.com.ua.

6 SOFIA

As the millions flock to the nation's Black Sea resorts, Sofia seems to remain ever the enigma. Gather your Bulgarian bearings with a guided city tour (freesofiatour.com) which takes in all the capital's main sights, from Sveta Nedelya church to the minaretted marvel of Banya Bashi mosque.

Sofian street-life, meanwhile, can best be savoured in the cafés and bistros surrounding Vitosha Boulevard and the National Theatre.

For some sightseeing downtime, the city's green and clean spaces, such as Borisova Gradina, are popular spots in summer, so grab a traditional katmi (crepe) and bask in the swelter.

Price index: €18.60.

Where to stay: Hostel Mostel, voted Sofia's top hostel at the international Hoscar Awards. See hostelmostel.com.

7 Riga

A stag party clampdown means there's more to Riga than go-karting and clay pigeon shooting nowadays. Latvia's largest city centres round a pastel-postcard walled old town where German Art Nouveau architecture only adds to the air of a northern fairytale.

Take in the vistas from St Peter's church tower or try Skyline bar for a similar panorama just with a glass of Riga Black Balsam – think Latvian Jagermeister – in hand.

Fancy a break? A €2 fare takes you to the coastal resort of Jurmala – the locals' summertime go-to and a great spot to take in Baltic beach life.

Price index: €20.86.

Where to stay: The Naughty Squirrel is a stag-party free zone with free walking tours. See thenaughtysquirrel.com.

8 Budapest

It's the perfect Magyar mix. The postcard hillsides of Buda with the cosmo-bustle of Pest make Hungary's capital one of Europe's most attractive getaways.

Start your day with a soak at Szechenyi thermal baths (€10) before browsing the stalls of Great Market Hall. Once you've sampled your fill of goulash, while you're afternoon away in the tucked-away tea houses of the Jewish quarter. For some free spectacles, fireworks along the Danube for St Stephen's festival in August are a must, while Night of the Museums on June 22 allows entry into all the city's museums with just one ticket (€5).

Price index: €23.08.

Where to stay: Flashpackers will love the themed rooms of Aventura, in downtown Buda. See aventurahostelbudapest.com.

9 Belgrade

Serbia's been on the PR charm offensive of late, keen to relay that there's more to their country than over-zealous football fans and Eurovision block-voting. Capital Belgrade might need a facelift, but with throbbing nightlife and kicked-back street life, it may just offer visitors the perfect blend of ex-Yugo ying and yang.

Highlights include the Kalemegdan Fortress, the boho-Balkan bliss of the Skadarlija district or all-night parties on a Danube riverboat.

For a little more splash (at least with your cash), check out Novak Djokovic's very own restaurant near Kalemegdan. The gluten-free cuisine is inspired by the tennis star himself, Serbian donkey cheese being the apparent ace in the menu.

Price index: €20.97.

Where to stay: Hostel Fair has all the bean-bagged chill vibe of a funky Google office. See hostelfair.com.

10 Krakow

Direct flights from Ireland have established Krakow as a true favourite for Irish travellers. The city's undisputed trump is the Renaissance Rynek Glowny, Poland's largest square, where you can lose an afternoon wandering its medieval marketplace.

Escape the throngs by venturing into the Old Town's cobbled side streets where communist-era Milky Bars still tempt with top value lunches. Try Bar Mleczny on Grodzka St for delicious nalesiki (pancakes).

Freebies include The Gallery of 19th Century of Polish Art (Sundays) and Krakow's free walking tour – guides won't say no to a few zlotys tip; see freewalkingtour.com.

Price index: €18.63.

Where to stay: Mama's Hostel for their vodka tastings and pierogi parties. See mamashostel.com.pl.

NEED TO KNOW

These cities are rated by Priceoftravel.com’s new European Backpacker Index 2013. The price index is based on the cost of a hostel stay, budget meals and drinks, public transport and one attraction admission for one day. Dublin ranked 29th on the list with a price index of ¤51.80.

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