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
Swiss Air Lines to offer direct services from Seoul to Zurich
Swiss International Air Lines will be further expanding its services in the 2024 summer schedule with the addition of Seoul to its long-haul network in Asia. Alongside the already announced new intercontinental destinations of Washington, DC and Toronto, Canada in the West, SWISS will also be enlarging its long-haul network in the East by connecting the South Korean capital of Seoul with Zurich, Switzerland.
Seoul, the capital of South Korea, will receive its first-ever SWISS services in summer 2024. This metropolis offers a perfect blend of traditional charm and contemporary flair and delights visitors with sights like the Gyeongbokgung Palace and futuristic landmarks such as the N Seoul Tower. Similarly, Switzerland offers a mix of natural beauty and modernity with its majestic Alpine landscapes, including the Matterhorn and Jungfrau peaks, as well as the vibrant economic and cultural centre of Zurich.
“We are delighted to be further growing our network,” says SWISS Chief Commercial Officer Heike Birlenbach. “As well as our new long-haul destinations of Washington, DC and Toronto, which we’ve already announced, we’ll be adding the extremely attractive destination of Seoul to our Asian network in summer 2024. The capital of South Korea has a lot to offer leisure and business travellers alike. And our new Seoul service will help us even better meet our customers’ needs for non-stop services to and from the world’s key cities.”
According to Leo Tonidandel, General Manager Korea, Lufthansa Group Airlines: “We are excited to launch Seoul as the first new destination in Asia for SWISS in 2024. As a premium carrier, SWISS will offer four cabins including First Class and Premium Economy Class and provide Korean passengers with more choices when traveling to Europe with direct flights from Seoul/Incheon to Zurich and beyond with connections in Zurich. In addition, SWISS, as a member of Lufthansa Group Airlines, gives Korean customers the opportunity to enjoy combined services with Lufthansa, including the same mileage program and various benefits.”
SWISS will commence its thrice-weekly non-stop service between Zurich and Seoul on 8 May 2024. The flights will be operated with an Airbus A340 equipped with First, Business, Premium Economy and Economy Class.
Great places to stay in the Algarve that won’t break the bank
Known for its golden sandy beaches, good tourism infrastructure, and friendly weather all year round, it is not a surprise that the Algarve, in Portugal, is a sought-after destination for locals and tourists from around the world. And popularity comes at a price: according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), over the first semester of 2023 alone, the average property prices in the Algarve increased by 16.6% compared to the first quarter of 2022. In fact, in the past four years, the price per square meter of properties still available in the region has increased by an astounding 57% – a 10 percentage point increase above the national market average in Portugal.
Thankfully, you don’t have to buy a property in the Algarve to enjoy its 100+ beaches and 155 km coastline. Although the cost of living in Europe have pushed princes up, including temporary accommodation, it is still possible to visit Portugal and stay in decent places charging reasonably affordable daily fees in the Algarve.
Here our readers share the places and areas they have chosen to stay while in the Algarve to make the most of this popular destination without emptying their wallets.
Olhos de Água for affordable boutique hotels
“I spent 12 days in Algarve while backpacking throughout Latin American and European cities. While searching through different hotel booking sites, I came across Velamar Boutique Hotel, in Olhos de Água, which cost me € 85 per day, which is reasonable given the number of amenities the hotel provides including an outdoor swimming pool, a spa, as well as game and meeting rooms.”
Shreya Patel – Marketing Manager at Lowest Flight Fares
Portimão for riverside tranquillity
“I typically head to Spain’s Costa Brava for a quick beach getaway. Last summer, I wanted to treat myself to a little luxury in a new location, so I decided upon the Jupiter Marina Hotel – Couples & Spa – in Portimão, Algarve. It is a luxurious 4-star hotel ideally positioned in Portimão, just a stone’s throw from the riverside and close to the marina and beach. I particularly enjoyed the comfort of the rooms and the ambiance of the rooftop bar. Reasonably priced from €56, I found it almost half the price of other luxury accommodation in the area.”
Ferragudo for timeless beauty
“Nestled between the vibrant cities of Lagos and Albufeira, Ferragudo unveils the essence of a quintessential Portuguese fishing village. During my visit last year, I found myself enchanted by the town’s authenticity, momentarily setting aside my camera to soak in the natural beauty that surrounded me. Positioned at the mouth of the Arada River, Ferragudo retains its timeless beauty, offering a tranquil riverside route. While there, also take time to visit Praia do Pintadinho Praia dos Caneiros and the Ferragudo Lighthouse for breathtaking panoramic views.”
Olly Gaspar – Adventure Travel Publisher & Photographer
Daily rates for accommodation in Ferragudo start from €50.
Roja-Pé for family Airbnb near the beach
“I like to stay at nice places, but I try to avoid busy hotels whenever possible. And as someone who often travels with a family of six members, that is why I first look at Airbnb to see if large properties are available. This works out more economically than booking several rooms separately. For two years in a row, I have stayed at Casa D’ Cor, a spacious townhouse in Albufeira with a rooftop terrace, within walking distance from Falesia Beach and Olhos D’agua Beach. It is a very residential area so, besides feeling safe, I find it close enough to bustling places during the day – yet still very tranquil for those looking to rest at night.”
Celine Allard – Retired teacher
Booking the entire Casa D’Cor, costs from £69 per day during the low season (November – March).
Porches for luxury within budget
“During my recent trip to the Algarve, I stumbled upon this fantastic spot called Vila Vita Parc by Azure Retreats. It’s a luxury resort offering 7 nights from £1,105pp, including flights, transfers and breakfast. It is Tucked away in the countryside with great views. If you are up for a bit of luxury that won’t wreck your budget, give Azure Retreats a shot – totally worth it!”
Maarten Cox – Director at Gecko Routes
Luz for luxury within budget
“As a travel and lifestyle writer with over 12 years of extensive travel experience, one of my most recent adventures took me to Luz, in the Algarve, where I stayed at the Luz Beach Apartments. These self-catering apartments appeal with their balance of comfort, luxury, and affordability. With fully equipped kitchens, spacious rooms, and stunning sea views, it was far superior to my average Airbnb stays. Being able to enjoy the golden sands within just a short stroll from my temporary home added a unique convenience and luxury that is rare to come by, especially without burning a hole in your pocket. Plus, with eateries and local marketplaces in the vicinity, I could truly immerse in the local culture and lifestyle.”
Amelia Thompson – Travel writer
Sea view studios at Luz Beach Apartments cost from €70 during the low season (November – March)
Platform for Venice entry fee for day trippers is now live
Following the announcement of new tourist rules for Venice launching this year, the platform for visitors to purchase the €5 fee to enter the city for day-trippers is now live, allowing visitors to make their payment before visiting the city. The fee does not apply for visitors that stay overnight in the city.
The authorities in Venice have officially enforced the entry fee, also known as the Venice Access Fee, for day visitors sightseeing in the ancient City of Canals during 29 designated dates in the year. The initiative aims to preserve the daily life of Venice residents.
This Access Fee initiative, seeks to discourage daily tourism during peak periods. The 5-euro per day fee is applicable only to the historical parts of the city.
The platform issues a QR code upon payment, simplifying the entry process and making it more efficient for travelers to explore the iconic city. The fee is applicable on specific days from 25th April to 5th May and on weekends in May, June, and July, from 8:30 am to 4 pm, excluding access to the islands.
What if I don’t pay?
Day-trippers not purchasing a €5 ticket to enter Venice on selected days in 2024 will face a fine. The penalty ranges from €50 (£43) to €300 (£258), plus an additional €10 (£8.60) for the entry fee. In exceptional circumstances (for example, if you do not have access to the internet) visitors will be able to pay the entry fee at a kiosk on arrival in Venice, Italy.
How to pay in advance the €5 fee to enter Venice
The Venice council has launched an online platform allowing you to prepay if you’re visiting for the day, here.
Click on pay the fee – you’ll then be taken to a landing page run by Venezia Unica, the city’s official tourism site.
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