Now in its third full year, the European Backpacker Index has been totally updated for 2013, and with the entire region in or near recession, many hostels and budget hotels have actually gotten a bit cheaper since the 2012 list.
The cheapest group of cities are bunched together in price, and almost all of them are bunched together geographically in southeastern Europe as well.
How The Backpacker Index Works
Prices for most things (hostels, transportation, attractions) are fixed and certain, but prices for a “budget lunch” or a pint of beer can vary depending on where you go. Still, our estimates are based on a lot of research, and should be very close if not right on.
Costs for each city
One night in the cheapest bunk at the least expensive hostel with a good location and good reviews
Two public transportation rides per day
One paid/famous attraction per day (Every city is loaded with free things to do for budget-conscious travelers, but here we take the average cost of a major attraction in each city for each day.)
Three “budget” meals per day (We took our minimum meal price and added 20% to make it more realistic for a longer trip).
Three cheap, local beers (or wine) each day as an “entertainment fund.” Non-drinkers might have dessert and coffee or attend a local music performance instead, so this is a general benchmark that should be proportional for each city.
1- Bucharest, Romania (cheapest)
Definitely not Romania’s most charming town, Bucharest seems in little rush to attract visitors from the West. Fortunately, those that make the effort to come will at least be rewarded with low prices all around, which certainly help make up for the other frustrations of visiting. And that huge parliament building is worth a look. Hostels seem to be getting cheaper lately, so it’s even more appealing for the backpacker set.
Currency: Romanian leu
Cheap/good hostel: Funky Chicken Hostel = 15.47/night
Daily Backpacker Index: RON 78.57 – US$23.38/day
2 – Sofia, Bulgaria
Sofia remains a fantastic bargain among European capitals, with a very pleasant city center that is very welcoming of foreign tourists. Prices of nearly everything are very cheap, except for inbound flights from other major cities. For this reason, Sofia is out of the way for anyone who isn’t doing an extensive tour of the region.
Currency: Bulgaria Leva
Cheap/good hostel: Hostel Mostel – 13.70 (includes breakfast)
Daily Backpacker Index: BGN36.40 = US$24.43/day
3 – Krakow, Poland
Krakow continues as Europe’s best travel bargain. The low prices have drawn in larger numbers of Europeans for weekend breaks, and there’s many great and cheap hostels, bars, and restaurants to keep prices low while you are enjoying the beautiful old city and the local culture. Put this one on your list before demand forces prices up like in Prague and Budapest.
Currency: Polish Zlotych
Cheap/good hostel: Benedict Hostel – 20.00/night
Daily Backpacker Index: PLN77.20 = US$25.06/day
4 – Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Another Balkan-area city whose name conjures up images of its past troubles, Sarajevo is another that is struggling to attract tourists. The location deep into the mountains is remote, but it’s also gorgeous once you arrive. The Muslim Old Town next to the modern center is very interesting and incredibly welcoming.
Currency: Converted Mark (fixed, so prices below are in euros)
Cheap/good hostel: Tower Hostel – 5.56/night
Daily Backpacker Index: €19.56 = US$25.74/day
5 – Kiev, Ukraine
Speaking about out of the way destinations, Kiev is a long way from the normal backpacking trail so it doesn’t get any accidental visitors. It’s also still somewhat challenging for those who don’t know Russian or Ukrainian, though that part is likely to change in the coming years. Fortunately Kiev is quite cheap for budget travelers.
Currency: Ukraine Hryvnia
Cheap/good hostel: Magic Bus Kiev – 63.68/night
Daily Backpacker Index: UHR209.68 = US$26.05/day
6 – Riga, Latvia
It’s surprising to see a city so far north also so high on the cheap-cities list, but it turns out that Riga is quite a bargain for the backpacking set. Hostel beds in particular are very affordable, and so is pretty much everything else. Riga’s main problem is that it’s a bit out of the way for those not on an extensive tour.
Currency: Latvian Lats
Cheap/good hostel: Central Hostel – 3.70/night
Daily Backpacker Index: LVL14.60 = US$25.74/day
7 – Belgrade, Serbia
Belgrade is one of the Balkan cities that had years of trouble in the 1990s and still struggles a bit to attract tourism. You won’t find an abundance of checklist attractions here, but you will find a lively and interesting urban center with good nightlife and appealing prices.
Currency: Serbian Dinar (fixed, so prices below are in euros)
Cheap/good hostel: Avnoy Hostel – 5.29/night
Daily Backpacker Index: €20.97 = US$27.59/day
8 – Budapest, Hungary
Another excellent travel bargain, Budapest is all-around cheap and it gets high marks from visitors. The castles and cathedrals are enough, but here you also get thermal spas that are cheap enough even for the backpacking set. Hostels, in particular, are great value, but you have to get a bit out of the center to find inexpensive hotels. Touristy hotels and restaurants near the river are not budget friendly.
Currency: Hungary Forint
Cheap/good hostel: Rastel Hostel – 1890/night
Daily Backpacker Index: HUF6930 = US$31.49/day
9 – Warsaw, Poland
Poland’s largest city is still rather cheap overall, but most visitors vastly prefer Krakow of the two. Still, Warsaw is building a tourist infrastructure quickly these days, and this is an interesting piece of the post-Soviet puzzle in the region. The infrastructure for foreign tourists is improving rapidly, so visiting should be easier as time goes on.
Currency: Polish Zlotych
Cheap/good hostel: Chillout Hostel – 35.00/night
Daily Backpacker Index: PLN 110.20 = US$35.78/day
10 – Zagreb, Croatia
The beach resort towns of Croatia are the main attraction, so Zagreb, which is well inland, tends to be only a short stop for most. Still fairly cheap by European standards, and especially compared to Italy next door, Zagreb is a bargain and a worthwhile pause on the way to one of the beach towns.
Currency: Croatian kuna
Cheap/good hostel: Ravnice Youth Hostel – 60/night
Daily Backpacker Index: HRK 222 = US$38.95/day
11 – Bratislava, Slovakia
You’d think that practically being walking distance from Vienna would make Bratislava a very popular stop for those on a Europe tour, but so far it’s still mostly forgotten. It’s cheaper than Prague and much cheaper than Vienna, so perhaps it will start catching on more in the coming years. A lack of famous attractions doesn’t help, though the pleasant and historic town center is worth a day or two.
Cheap/good hostel: Hostel Possonium – 10/night
Daily Backpacker Index: €31 = US$40.79/day
12 – Prague, Czech Republic
Ten or fifteen years ago Prague was always used as an example of a city that is incredibly cheap yet still beautiful and historic, but that sort of chit-chat triggered the masses to follow. Still, in spite of high-ish hotel prices and a currency that keeps creeping up, Prague is still quite cheap for those willing to stay in hostels and scout for bargain food and drinks. Plus, it’s still gorgeous, if crowded. Choose from our recommended hotels in Prague list for excellent values at top-rated hotels.
Currency: Czech krona
Cheap/good hostel: Sir Toby’s – 95/night
Daily Backpacker Index: CZK 786 = US$41.37/day
13 – Istanbul, Turkey
The classic east-meets-west city is one that’s creeping up in price, but it’s still a great bargain by European standards, and there’s no shortage of markets, temples, and attractions for even a longer stay. Accommodation is more expensive than you might expect. Check our list of recommended cheap Istanbul hotels for bargains in all price ranges.
Currency: Turkish lira
Cheap/good hostel: Mavi Guesthouse – 19.87/night
Daily Backpacker Index: TRY 76.67 = US$42.83/day
14 – Saint Petersburg, Russia
While struggling to develop enough hostels and tourist-friendly businesses, Saint Petersburg is still definitely in the bargain category for those who can pull it off. Most things are very affordable, and the city would seem even cheaper if its incredible Hermitage Museum/Winter Palace didn’t (justifiably) cost so much. Hotels and tourist restaurants aren’t so cheap, however.
Currency: Russian ruble
Cheap/good hostel: Base Camp Hostel – 370/night
Daily Backpacker Index: RUB 1,346 = US$44.32/day
15 – Moscow, Russia
Certainly one of the world’s most important cities, Moscow continues also to be frustrating for many travelers, with relatively few hostels and traveler-friendly budget restaurants. Still, if you can get through the paperwork and find a cheap flight, it’s a fairly cheap place for backpacker-types. Tourist hotels and restaurants can be quite expensive, so even though it’s relatively cheap for backpacker types, Moscow can be a drain for 3-star and above travelers.
Currency: Russian ruble
Cheap/good hostel: TNT Hostel 500/night
Daily Backpacker Index: RUB 1488 = US$49.00/day
16 – Tenerife, Spain
The Canary Islands (off the northwest coast of Africa) are a popular warm-weather retreat for many Europeans all year, and Tenerife is the most popular island with English speakers. Prices tend to be similar to mainland Spain, which makes it a relative bargain for most Europeans who are just a cheap flight away. Not many cultural attractions so it’s mainly a place to relax.
Cheap/good hostel: Hostel Tenerife – 13/night
Daily Backpacker Index: 37.90 = US$49.87/day
17 – Tallinn, Estonia
Interestingly, the first Euro-zone member on the list is the one that just officially joined as of January 2011. Tallinn is still quite cheap compared to all of its northern and Scandinavian neighbors, and it’s definitely an interesting and worthwhile stop if you are in the region.
Cheap/good hostel: Bunstel – Powered by X Hostel – 8.30/night
Daily Backpacker Index: €40.14 = US$52.82/day
18 – Ibiza, Spain
While it’s not really considered a backpacking destination, Ibiza is popular enough with budget travelers to include here. Hotels can be quite cheap, which makes up for a lack of hostels. Entrance to the main nightclubs in Ibiza will cost a fortune, as will drinks once inside, but if you are content to hang out on the beach then this island can be affordable. Note that the hotel price here is for April, and in summer it will be considerably more. If these rankings were for July, Ibiza would be way down this list, so it’s only really a bargain in the off season.
Cheap/good hostel: Hostal Balearic – 12.33/night
Daily Backpacker Index: €43.53 = US$57.28/day
19 – Lisbon, Portugal
Its out-of-the-way location seems to keep tourism well below the levels that the city otherwise deserves, but those who go to the trouble to reach Lisbon will find an extremely handsome and charming city that is a great bargain as well. The city is particularly known for excellent and cheap hostels that are always in a race to outdo each other, with visitors being the ultimate winners.
Cheap/good hostel: People Hostel – 8.50/night
Daily Backpacker Index: €43.70 = US$57.50/day
20 – Berlin, Germany
Those of us who love Berlin still find it hard to convince most people to check it out, which is a shame. This city has endless things to see and do, along with an arts and entertainment scene that rivals anywhere in Europe. All that, plus the competition among its many hostels keeps things weirdly cheap. Put it on your list and schedule a trip before things change much. See our recommended hotels in Berlin list for some very good rates at highly rated and well located hotels.
Cheap/good hostel: Inn-Berlin – 9.90/night
Daily Backpacker Index: €47.00 = US$61.84/day
21 – Athens, Greece
The Greek capital was once one of Europe’s great bargain cities, and it likely will be again depending on the currency situation. The infrastructure created for the Olympics has actually turned Athens into a modern and easy-to-visit place, and the Acropolis and other attractions continue to amaze, so it still seems like a reasonable deal for the moment and may get even cheaper.
Cheap/good hostel: Pagration Hostel – 10/night
Daily Backpacker Index: €47.50 = US$62.50/day
22 – Bruges, Belgium
Bruges is a very good bargain for the backpacking set due to reasonably priced hostels and affordable attractions. In high season (summer) prices go up a bit, but still Bruges is a fine choice to chill out for a few days or more, even though you can see the main sights in less time.
Cheap/good hostel: Snuffel Backpacker Hostel – 16/night (including breakfast)
Meals: 15.60 (not including breakfast)
Daily Backpacker Index: €48.00 = US$63.16/day
23 – Madrid, Spain
This classic European city definitely feels like a bargain compared to capitals to the north. There is great competition among its many hostels, and even private rooms in the city center are often cheap. Check out our cheap Madrid hotels list for well located and dependable bargains. Another money-saver is the tapas culture, with cheap eats and cheap glasses of beer part of the nightly ritual.
Cheap/good hostel: TurisMadrid Hostel – 10.00/night
Daily Backpacker Index: €48.20 = US$63.42/day
24 – Reykjavik, Iceland
After its currency collapsed a few years ago Iceland cost about half what it did previously for foreigners, and it appears to have stabilized around that level, leaving Reykjavik as a relative bargain. Most visitors to Iceland either head to the countryside or fly onward after only a couple days in the capital, so this city isn’t necessarily the best indicator for a proper island-loop trip, but fortunately most of the rest of the country is cheaper, as long as you get the transportation part figured out.
Currency: Iceland kronur
Cheap/good hostel: KEX Hostel – 2305/night
Daily Backpacker Index: ISK 8,205 = US$63.68/day
25 – Naples, Italy
Italy’s cheapest major city is a very good bargain for those willing to venture south of Rome. Affordable hostels and casual dining choices keep it cheaper than cities to the north, and it has a different atmosphere as well. Naples, as you may know, has kind of a mixed reputation, but still plenty of reasons to schedule a visit.
Cheap/good hostel: La Controra Hostel – 15/night
Daily Backpacker Index: €49.50 = US$65.13/day
26 – Florence, Italy
A highlight of so many Italy tours, Florence is relatively cheap, at least compared to Rome, Milan, and Venice. Hostel competition is fierce and quality is mostly quite good, so this is a good hang-out for weary backpackers. And the food is excellent, if not particularly cheap.
Cheap/good hostel: Locanda Daniel – 15/night
Daily Backpacker Index: €49.90 = US$65.66/day
27 – Barcelona, Spain
Due to fewer well-located hostels in its tourist district, Barcelona is a bit more expensive than Madrid, but you probably won’t notice when you are there. And this is another city where hostels tend to get expensive and crowded during summer, but are quite cheap for most of the rest of the year. See our cheap and recommended Barcelona hotels list for some options that are well located and highly rated.
Cheap/good hostel: Gracia City Hostel – 12/night
Daily Backpacker Index: €51.50 = US$67.76/day
28 – Hamburg, Germany
This somewhat remote city is largely forgotten by most North American visitors, known best as where the Beatles honed their chops, but Hamburg is a lovely and classy city that is worth a stop if you are in the area. Germans, in general, like good value, so there are plenty of good budget sleeping and eating options for the backpacker types.
Cheap/good hostel: Generator Hostel Hamburg – 17/night (including breakfast)
Daily Backpacker Index: €51.70 = US$68.03/day
29 – Dublin, Ireland
For a city that was once considered cheap, Dublin still feels weirdly expensive these days, especially in light of the larger financial struggles. Fortunately there are some good deals on hostels lately, so hopefully other things (like €5+ for a pint of Guinness in even a dumpy bar!) will loosen up and make the city friendlier for backpackers and budget travelers.
Cheap/good hostel: Ashfield House City Center – 10/night (including breakfast)
Daily Backpacker Index: €51.80 = US$68.16/day
30 – Dubrovnik, Croatia
Compared to the rest of Eastern Europe the beach resort of Dubrovnik is pricey, but compared to similar beach resorts in Italy, it’s still a bargain. Unfortunately it’s not easy to reach for those who are passing through the region, but it’s worth going out of the way for, especially in season.
Currency: Croatian kuna
Cheap/good hostel: Begovic Boarding House – 165/night
Daily Backpacker Index: HRK 398.40 = US$69.89/day
31 – Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
This underrated and mostly forgotten city is definitely worth a stop if you are passing between Belgium and France. The location is stunning and the city’s history is interesting, plus the food and drink culture is what you would expect for this part of Europe, meaning there are a lot of great choices.
Cheap/good hostel: Luxembourg City Hostel – 23.90/night (including breakfast)
Daily Backpacker Index: €54.50 = US$71.71/day
32 – Nice, France
As the largest city on the Côte d’Azur, Nice actually has a decent infrastructure for budget tourists, though things can get pretty crowded in summer and prices do shoot up. This is a great base for exploring Monaco and Cannes with a short train journey, but even in the city itself there is plenty to do, and a pleasant beach if you don’t mind rocks where the sand should be.
Note: Drink prices here are for wine rather than beer, as it’s much cheaper and better as well.
Cheap/good hostel: Villa Saint Exupery Beach – 18/night
Daily Backpacker Index: €55.20 = US$72.63
33 – Munich, Germany
Germany’s most popular city for overseas travelers is only a bit more expensive than the others, so budget travelers can get by with few complications as long as they aren’t going during Oktoberfest. Prices of hostels do shoot up a bit during summer, but overall it’s fairly easy to find bargains, and the city is so pleasant that it feels like good value.
Cheap/good hostel: Euro Youth Hostel – 14/night
Daily Backpacker Index: €55.40 = US$72.89/day
34 – Rome, Italy
Regardless of costs, Rome is one of those cities that you’ve just got to visit anyway, so fortunately it’s not as outrageously expensive as some lesser destinations a bit down the list. There are good budget options for most things, but hotels and hostels are more expensive than one might expect, and the main Rome attractions are justifiably expensive as well.
Cheap/good hostel: The Yellow – 16.90/night
Daily Backpacker Index: €58.60 = US$77.11/day
35- Milan, Italy
Milan’s success in finance and fashion have helped make it one of Europe’s most expensive cities to sleep in, although the hostels aren’t as outrageous, so overall expenses are similar to most other Italian cities. Since it’s on-the-way between so many other nearby cities, Milan is definitely worth a stop for a few days if you can manage it.
Cheap/good hostel: The Monastery Hostel – 21/night
Daily Backpacker Index: €59.80 = US$78.68/day
36 – Paris, France
Similarly to Rome, it’s just a good thing that Paris isn’t any more expensive than it is, because people are going to visit anyway. As long as you are willing to stay a bit outside the main tourist districts then Paris can be quite reasonable on the wallet, and the quality of food is exceptional nearly anywhere you go. The main attractions are actually fairly cheap compared to major sights in some other big cities. To get the best value have a look at our recommended Paris hostels and cheap hotels section.
Note: Drink prices here are for wine rather than beer, as it’s much cheaper and better as well.
Cheap/good hostel: Village Hostel – 22.95/night (including breakfast)
Daily Backpacker Index: €61.15 = US$80.46/day
37 – Vienna, Austria
Being one of Europe’s grandest capitals, it’s only slightly surprising that Vienna comes out as a relatively expensive city. Its location between so many other tourist cities makes it an easy one to stop off in for a few days, and while food is a bit expensive, there are some good-value hostels in the city to help make up for it.
Cheap/good hostel: Westend City Hostel – 16.90/night
Daily Backpacker Index: €62.50 = US$82.24/day
38 – Edinburgh, Scotland
While it’s certainly true that most things in Edinburgh are a bit cheaper than things in London, it’s still far from cheap for most budget travelers. Those who are satisfied with skipping the Edinburgh Castle and the Camera Obscura will find this city very reasonable, except during the Festival season.
Currency: British pound
Cheap/good hostel: High Street Hostel – 12.19/night
Daily Backpacker Index: £50.99 = US$82.24/day
39 – Copenhagen, Denmark
Finally reaching famously-expensive Scandinavia, it’s just plain tough to find cheap alternatives in this region. Quality does tend to be quite high, so it may not feel like a rip-off, but except for a few dodgy places by the train station, there are just no cheap hotels or hostels in Copenhagen. This is also a good place to give up drinking, or smuggle in some duty-free stuff on your way in.
Currency: Danish kroner
Cheap/good hostel: Sleep in Heaven – 140/night
Daily Backpacker Index: DKK 477 = US$84.57/day
40 – Brussels, Belgium
For the budget traveler, Brussels can be a bit difficult since the infrastructure is built mostly for business travelers and government employees. There aren’t many hostel options, and cheap meals are a challenge in the city center area. Still, it’s worth a look for the main square alone if you are heading to or from Bruges, which is much cheaper and listed above.
Cheap/good hostel: 2Go4 Quality Hostel – 26/night (including breakfast)
Daily Backpacker Index: €66.80 = US$87.89/day
41 – London, England
London is famously pricey, but it’s also a weird one for budget travelers since it actually has somewhat affordable hostels (at least outside of high season), and all the major museums are acually free. However, pretty much everything else feels outrageously expensive, particularly the other attractions like the Tower of London and the London Eye. For cheap hotel and hostel options see our recommended London hostel and hotels page.
Currency: British pound
Cheap/good hostel: Phoenix Hostel – 12/night (including breakfast)
Daily Backpacker Index: £54.60 = US$88.06/day
42 – Amsterdam, Netherlands
From a price standpoint, Amsterdam may be a victim of its own popularity. Even with scores of hostels throughout the city center, they are still able to get fairly high rates even during shoulder season. Pick from our recommended Amsterdam hostels and cheap hotels for great value and locations. The famous attractions are on the expensive side, though good deals are always available on food and drinks if you know where to look. If you are willing to skip the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum, the city is more in the midrange for Europe.
Cheap/good hostel: Flying Pig Downtown – 26.90/night
Daily Backpacker Index: €67.60 = US$89.34/day
43 – Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki, like Stockholm and Oslo below, has a sizzling economy, but along with it they have very high wages and taxes, and that makes things expensive for outsiders. Even hostels are quite expensive, and hotels are worse. As nice as it may be, if cities had prices reflecting their desirability, Helsinki would be much cheaper than it is.
Cheap/good hostel: Hostel Suomenlinna – 28/night
Daily Backpacker Index: €69.60 = US$91.58/day
44 – Stockholm, Sweden
Backpackers who want to visit the homeland of most of their furniture have to go a long distance out of the way to reach Stockholm, and then face shocking prices once they arrive. This is another city where almost nothing is cheap no matter where you look. If they ever built that ABBA Museum then it might be easier to swallow, but for now it’s hard to justify a visit at these prices.
Currency: Swedish kronor
Cheap/good hostel: Acco Hostel – 160/night
Daily Backpacker Index: SEK 634 = US$97.39/day
45 – Venice, Italy
No surprises to find Venice so far down the affordability list, but once again this is a city where it’s all easily justifiable, and fortunately you can see all the main sights in just two days and one night if you are tight on funds. Of course, the hostel listed here, along with most cheaper hotels, is not even on the main island, but getting back and forth is cheap and easy.
Cheap/good hostel: A Venice Fish – 25.99/night
Daily Backpacker Index: €74.39 = US$97.88/day
46 – Oslo, Norway
The good news about Oslo is that most travelers only spend a day or two in the city at most, on their way to the fjords or the countryside. The bad news is that during that short time in Oslo things are insanely expensive, almost without exception. The non-urban parts of Norway are more reasonable, so this is one where you just have to bear it and move on.
Currency: Norwegian kroner
Cheap/good hostel: Oslo Youth Hostel Haraldsheim – 265/night (including breakfast)
Daily Backpacker Index: NOK 620 = US$110.91/day
47 – Zurich, Switzerland
Certainly no surprise here, especially considering that Zurich also came out on top on our recent survey of world taxi prices. Still, the cost of everything at the current exchange rate (the Swiss franc is very overvalued now) is astonishing. Also, like Brussels, this is a serious business city, so most things are geared to those with lavish expense accounts, and backpackers are barely an afterthought. Fortunately, the main tourist towns of Switzerland are at least a little less expensive.
Currency: Swiss franc
Cheap/good hostel: Youth Hostel Zurich – 40/night
Daily Backpacker Index: CHF 109.00 = US$119.78/day