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Best European Cities to Visit on a Student Budget

By Felix von Wendorff

Updated November 9, 2016 Updated November 9, 2016

As the perceptive ones of you may have surmised, I have just come back from a long bus tour around Europe, living on the cheap. Now I want to tell you all about the coolest, and best-value, European cities to visit. In the US, when I mention travel around Europe, people automatically think of only a very few cities, namely: London, Paris, Rome and Barcelona. And while these tourist Meccas are all amazing cities that are mandatory for any well-traveled person, their popularity means they are also easily some of the most expensive European cities to visit. The words “French cuisine” and “student budget” really do not belong in the same sentence.

And with that I advise you to do the unthinkable: namely to postpone visiting these iconic places until you have a little more money in order to appreciate them better; maybe when you have a job or want to treat yourself to a more expensive vacation. Until then, there are lots of places to visit all over Europe that are just as beautiful as these big-name cities, but more suited to travel on a student budget.

Discovering Eastern Europe

The undiscovered pearl of Europe can be summarized in two words: Eastern Europe. Now I admit that this is a really, really big pearl. But trust me when I say you will be pleasantly surprised at the prosperous nature of the post-communist countries (that are also very compatible with a tight student budget).

When I told my friends I was going to Slovakia, they all warned me to be careful not to be killed by Russian mafia or other KGB-type thugs. That is, unfortunately, the way Western media often portrays Eastern Europe, as quasi-Russia. The reality is that most Eastern Europeans identify with the European Union (hence why we have a crisis in Ukraine right now).

Bratislava: Like Munich, but cheaper

In Slovakia I only had time to visit Bratislava, a city I had heard of before but never thought I would end up visiting. When I got there, I thought I had landed in a German town like Munich: everything was clean and safe. It was well connected with the rest of the country and public transportation is ubiquitous. Now, it was very apparent that the government had invested a lot of money to make Bratislava a tourist destination, and I almost felt bad that hardly anyone was visiting. Unfortunately, much like in Munich, there really is not all that much to do here except drink some quality beers with locals or other people staying at your (student budget-friendly) youth hostel. But unlike Munich, where half a liter of beer can cost in excess of €4 euros, it cost only €1 for a beer in Slovakia.

Prague: The “Rome of Eastern Europe”

The topic of €1 beers brings us neatly to the center of Eastern Europe: Prague! Simply put: an amazing city, probably most simply summarized by its nickname (which I just gave it), “the Rome of Eastern Europe”. Prague is already quickly becoming a tourist destination because of its beautiful medieval center and also for being a cheap place to party and drink (please do both responsibly). Prague has a rich history and many museums that are definitely worth going to. It also has Eastern Europe’s largest club, with five floors and a bar made entirely of ice, aptly named “The Ice Bar”. Train travel is very cheap in the Czech Republic and it is easy to see a little more of the country.

Olomouc: A pretty and historic student city

If the bustle of Prague is getting to you, try heading to Brno or Olomouc. The latter is a historic and pretty town on the Moravia River, two hours by train from Prague with a ticket costing somewhere in the range of €8. It’s definitely worth a day trip and is a much more relaxed city to spend time in. It’s also, incidentally, one of the Czech Republic’s major student cities, as the home of the large Palacky University, and has a lively nightlife especially during term time.

Those were the three Eastern European cities I had time to visit during my trip. But after the amazing people I met in all these beautiful places, I can’t wait to explore Eastern Europe more fully. Other Eastern European cities that are of note are Warsaw and of course Budapest. All of the aforementioned cities are not only great places for history and culture, they are amazing places for students to stay due to a mixture of awesome/cheap hostels, low transport costs and cheap places to drink (responsibly), all while getting to know more about European history and life. Simply put, Eastern Europe is EPIC!

This article was originally published in April 2014 . It was last updated in November 2016

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Written by

Felix von Wendorff studies econometrics as an international student at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. He grew up in California and moved to Germany to take advantage of the great (and free) education system. In his increasingly shrinking free time, he enjoys running, budget traveling and reading. 

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