It's true, a European vacation isn't a budget-conscious traveler's dream. From higher exchange rates to often expensive hotels, costs can add up quickly. However, there are insider tips, secret destinations and strategies that you can employ to put your dream trip to Europe closer at hand. We've covered almost every corner of Europe over the last decade and have learned a thing or two in the process. With that in mind, we're sharing our favorite bang-for-your-buck itineraries across the continent, from beaches and historic cities to mountains and more. With just $1,500, you'll be sitting pretty in Europe in no time.
Author's note: To find hotel prices in the ranges indicated below, follow date recommendations in each destination (generally between late October and early March). Flight prices were found at the time of publishing.
1. FIVE DAYS IN PORTO AND LISBON
When it comes to less-expensive European vacations, the Iberian Peninsula - home to Spain and Portugal - is the place to go. Like Barcelona, Lisbon and Porto - Portugal's most famous cities - enjoy famously sunny, mild weather and are packed with charming corners, tons of culture and beautiful historic scenery. They also happen to be a reasonably short train ride apart, making them easy to combine into one great European itinerary.
You'll do best, from a budget perspective, by flying into Lisbon, which is generally reasonable on airlines like American, Iberia, Aer Lingus and TAP. If you search far enough in advance and are willing to travel in the shoulder season, round-trip flights from LAX, Chicago and NYC can be found for as little as $550. You'll need around $80 to complete the round-trip journey between the cities by train, though it's even cheaper by bus (around $45 or less, depending on which company you use). You won't need to spend much on getting around, as both cities have limited metro and tram networks, with most sights located in the central neighborhoods (Lisbon's Belem district is an exception, but only requires a couple of dollars for a round-trip ticket on the tram or train).
Hotels under $75 a night are numerous in both cities, and tend to be in better shape than budget and mid-range properties in other major European cities. You're likely to find cute, boutique guesthouses in Lisbon and Porto for similar prices of scrubby hostels in London and Paris. That gives you around $450 for food, drink, and activity expenses. Luckily, the most enjoyable sights in these cities come with relatively low or free admission fees, including MAAT and the landmarks of Belem in Lisbon, as well as the quaint lanes of the Ribeira in Porto. Both cities have their fair share of outdoor markets, like LX Factory in Lisbon and Vandoma Flea Market in Porto.
Our pick for a cheap hotel in Lisbon: Travellers House
2. SIX DAYS IN AMSTERDAM
If you're willing to stay just outside of Amsterdam's storied Canal Ring, and tour this charming city during the off-season, you can easily experience everything Amsterdam has to offer for $1,500 or less. Traveling in the off-season from most parts of the United States can be done on the cheap, often without a layover, on airlines including KLM, Norwegian and even Delta. Budget up to $550 round-trip, if you're coming from the major airports on the West Coast, though East Coasters can find deals for under $400 from late October through early March.
The trick to saving on hotel rates in Amsterdam comes with a catch - you likely won't be bedding down inside the Canal Ring unless you're strictly looking for dorm-style hostel rooms. If that's you're flavor of choice, you can certainly find options (the Budget Hotel Tourist Inn is one choice). However, if you want something with a little more style and substance, situate yourself just outside the Canal Ring, in neighborhoods like Westerpark, Oud-West and De Pijp. You can find several hotels with a variable list of amenities for under $80 a night this time of year. Just keep in mind that you'll be using the trams and your own two feet to explore.