Best Cheap Cities to Visit
Catering to a hip (and football-crazed) student population from the University of Texas, Austin is also a fantastic destination for cheap travelers. On the first Thursday of every month, South Congress Street hosts a block party, where restaurants give out free drinks and have special sales.
Eat: The thriving food truck scene is both budget-friendly and creative. The Southern-and-Asian fusion Peached Tortilla truck serves global tacos and delicious sliders like crab cakes with Sriracha mayo, from $3 to $3.50 apiece. At 24 Diner, chef Andrew Curren created one of F&W's favorite grilled cheese sandwiches on sourdough with cheddar, Fontina and roasted tomato for $8.95. A $10 brisket plate with two sides (potato salad, slaw and pinto beans) is worth waiting in line for at buzzy Franklin Barbecue. For the city's cult-worthy Mexican food, Curra's Grill makes a variety of tacos, like al pastor made with rotisserie-cooked pork, for $7.99.
Stay: The urban bungalow-style Hotel San Jose has rates as low as $145 per night, a charming courtyard, and can organize bike rentals.
While it's not the first place that comes to mind as an American tourist destination, the Motor City is earning a reputation for its creative postindustrial renaissance, with boutiques (don't miss City Bird), bars and restaurants popping up in the Corktown and Midtown neighborhoods. Wednesday and Saturday tours of the edgy Museum of Contemporary Art are free, and Eastern Market is the spot to shop for budget produce. At night, catch live jazz at Bert's, a legendary Eastern Market barbecue joint known for its ribs and jam sessions since the 1980s.
Eat: Supino's rivals NYC pizzerias, and 12-inch pies like the Red, White, & Green with spinach, capers, roasted red peppers, mozzarella and ricotta are only $10. Michael Symon's Roast runs a happy hour from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. featuring $4 snacks like chicken livers with polenta.
Stay: The Inn on Ferry Street is a bed-and-breakfast in Corktown, with 40 rooms in four meticulously restored Victorian homes and two carriage houses for $159 a night. A one-bedroom at the tiny but superhip inn Honor & Folly is decorated with Detroit-made goods and costs $165 per night.
Minneapolis has a hip soul and a Midwestern sensibility, with a thriving music and art scene. On the outskirts of the city, the Walker Arts Center offers free admission on Thursdays and hosts Summer Music & Movies, a free outdoor series at Loring Park that pairs movie screenings with live music from local bands. The 2012 theme, "In Dreams," features Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound on July 30 and The City of Lost Children, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, on August 13.
Eat: One of resident celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern's favorite local restaurants is Tilia, where small plates like roasted jerk chicken thighs are under $10 and larger plates are less than $20. The Tin Fish seafood shack sits right on Lake Calhoun and serves tacos starting at $3.
Stay: The charming Nicollet Island Inn sits in the middle of the river, right next to the trendy warehouse district, and has rooms starting at $169.
In the up-and-coming Gulch neighborhood, the Station Inn hosts respected local singer/songwriters and bluegrass musicians, and Robert's Western World is the spot for honky-tonk dancing, live music and a great selection of cowboy boots. The Loveless Café, around since the 1950s, attracts big bluegrass names on Wednesday nights and serves rich Southern food.
Eat: The Family Wash offers big plates of meatloaf or roast chicken for $12. Famous Prince's Hot Chicken Shack merits waits for extra-spicy fried chicken, which is just $8 for half a bird.
Stay: Close to the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Renaissance Nashville Hotel by Marriott has specials for under $200 per night.
One of the country's best hubs for live music, New Orleans has plenty of cheap shows and even street performers worthy of ticketed events in other cities. Frenchman Street in Marigny is lined with bars offering free live music, like jazz at the Spotted Cat and Latin tunes at Café Brasil. During the day, Royal Street, in the French Quarter, and Magazine Street, which stretches between Uptown and the Garden District, are both great for browsing antique shops and lingering at outdoor cafés.
Eat: Three Muses has jazz singers and cheap entrées: pork belly with scallion pancakes is $9. Many of the must-try foods in NOLA are cheap, like the famed beignets at Café Du Monde ($2.42 for three) and muffuletta sandwiches; Cochon Butchers' version is fantastic, stuffed with house-cured meats and olive salad for $12.
Stay: The Hotel Modern welcomes guests with complimentary drinks and rooms as low as $95.
One of America's hottest food cities, Portland also offers fantastic access to the outdoors. The Saturday Market, in the city's historic Old Town, features artisans selling everything from handcrafted bamboo flutes to bonsai trees, while food stalls sell Greek, Lebanese and Polish specialties. In warm weather, kayak or tube trips down the Clackamas River are only $10 for two hours.
Eat: At Sunshine Tavern, Jenn Louis created an up-market comfort food menu with $15-and-under entrées such as fried chicken and semolina waffles. Her happy hour runs late-night, from 10 to 11 p.m., when baked eggs with tomato and oil-cured olives are $5, as are slushy margaritas and a daily cocktail.
Stay: The quirky and cool Ace Hotel has rooms starting at $135 a night, with a free bicycle lending program, and the similarly artsy Jupiter Hotel is pet-friendly, with rooms starting at $114.
This old steel town has been revitalized, with an attractive riverfront downtown and trendy neighborhoods, including South Side. Built in the late 1800s, the Duquesne Incline takes intrepid visitors up Mount Washington in a century-old cable car with views of the Ohio River Valley for $2.50. Weekend mornings are bustling in the landmark Strip district, once primarily a gathering place for wholesale produce vendors and now also home to amazing ethnic food stores, fishmongers and renowned deli Primanti Bros, whose giant, French-fry-topped pastrami-and-cheese sandwiches are $7.
Eat: At the Meat and Potatoes gastropub, entrées like a farm-raised duck breast with heirloom sweet potatoes are all under $20.
Stay: The Priory Hotel in Pittsburgh's North Shore area is housed in a 42-room former Benedictine monastery. Rooms start at $150.
La Paz, Bolivia
The world's highest capital city, La Paz is enveloped by the dusty Andes Mountains, making hiking, mountain biking and ATV riding cheap and popular pastimes, with half-day tours for two costing under $100. Those who want to stay in the city center can stroll the Witches Market to find Alpaca scarves and brightly colored knit pillow covers for just a few dollars apiece.
Eat: Locals dine on cheap set lunches, like at the popular Bolivian spot Surucachi, which serves Lake Titicaca fish plus a soup, salad and dessert for just a few dollars.
Stay: El Consulado is a Panamanian consulate turned bed-and-breakfast, artisan shop and art gallery, with a restaurant featuring New Andean cuisine, mixing traditional ingredients with modern techniques. Rooms start at $60 a night.
This port city has the feel of a South American San Francisco. With a vibrant street art scene, walking around Valparaiso is like strolling through an open-air gallery. After a morning of checking out works by the likes of local graffiti celebs Charquipunk and Inti, visitors can then hop a public bus to adjacent Vina Del Mar to enjoy one of the most popular beaches in Chile.
Eat: Le Fillou de Montpellier, in the charming Cerro Concepcion neighborhood, serves three-course French-inspired lunches, like rabbit stew and chocolate mousse, for $8 on weekdays.
Stay: The Brighton Bed and Breakfast is a marigold-colored old house with petite, slant-ceilinged rooms and a stunning view of the city from an expansive checkered patio, for $80 and up a night.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Thailand's northern cultural center offers cheap courses in massage, language and cooking. At Asia Scenic cooking school, participants tour the food market and prepare from-scratch curries in an all-day course costing $30. Two-day treks through surrounding mountains and elephant preserves with an outfit like Travel Hub Chiang Mai cost under $50, with meals and lodging included.
Eat: Visitors head to the vibrant Sunday market for local sausages, cracklings and kaw soi noodles for negligible prices.
Stay: The Gaps House, with a charming garden and basic but comfortable rooms, maxes out at $30. For something more luxurious, the 30-room colonial Puripunn boutique hotel offers a spa, pool, daily high tea and free tuk-tuk rides (via auto-rickshaws) around town to guests, with rooms rates starting at $180 per night.
This city has art galleries, museums and restaurants popping up throughout its Gothic streets, and the Old City is still intact and easy to explore. New bars and restaurants are opening in Kazimierz, the city's labyrinthine Jewish quarter, like the candlelit Mleczarnia bar or Cuban Habana Pub.
Eat: Even the posher restaurants in town—like the white tablecloth Wentzl in Main Market Square—have entrées like pork chops with pan fried cabbage for as little as $12.
Stay: Hotel Unicus has a red-carpeted winding staircase, a grotto-like restaurant and rooms starting at around $100.
Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Local coffee plantations, scenic volcanoes and inland lakes can be reached by hired drivers ($40 for the day), but there is plenty to see in the heart of Bali's cultural center. Monkey Forest Road (named for the monkey-filled preserve) and adjacent streets have craft shops, and lucky visitors might catch a fire dance performance.
Eat: People travel here from hours away just to lunch on the spit-roasted, coconut-milk-basted suckling pig with wilted greens and rice at the open-air Warung Ibu Oka, where the featured dish ($3) runs out by early afternoon.
Stay: Monkey Forest Road has many hospitable guesthouses, like the Ibunda Bungalows, for $40 a night with breakfast included. The more upscale Cendana Resort & Spa, with a shaded pool and traditional spa, runs $70 nightly.
In the last several years, creative types have flocked to Berlin, attracted by cheap rents, like-minded artists and an edgy music and culture scene. Nightclubs like Berghain and Watergate host world-class DJs for 48-hour parties at reasonable entrance fees, if you can get past the doorman. Beyond nightlife, visitors explore Berlin's many parks and lakes by bike for a $10 rental fee.
Eat: For traditional salads and sausages, Rogacki is an overflowing deli that's been a go-to for German food since 1928. Ethnic restaurants thrive in the Kreuzberg area, which is also called Little Istanbul because of its high number of Turkish immigrants.
Stay: The Michelberger's courtyard doubles as a concert venue, and the lobby bar has a grand piano. Rooms, with movie projectors and mini libraries, start at $100.
A budget destination for wine lovers, Portugal's second largest city is the home of the fortified port wine. At the House of Sandeman, guests can tour the lodge and wine caves of the 200-plus-year-old business for $6, then taste port from vintages up to 40 years old. In the Mercado Do Bolhao, vendors sell cured meats, fresh fish, ripe produce and baskets of flowers under colorful flags.
Eat: The hard-to-find Ze Bota restaurant serves a pitcher of house wine for $9, alongside reasonably priced entrées big enough to split, like bacalao, or veal Madeira. For a signature local dish, the Francesinha, or "Frenchie" sandwich—piled with meat and a tomato beer sauce—is said to be the most popular order at tiny restaurant Bufete Fase.
Stay: The Yeatman is a wine-themed hotel and a good place to stay or visit for a drink—its bar is open 24 hours a day. Hotel rooms start at $160. Those on a shoestring can check out the Gallery Hostel, which has a movie lounge, library and garden, with private rooms for $50.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its stunning Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture and a gorgeous perch on the Adriatic Sea, Dubrovnik also boasts vibrant nightlife and a reputation as a place for in-the-know European tourists to eat well and party till dawn. Placa, the main strip, is full of cafés and shops, and locals gather a the Gunduliceva Poljana market to shop.
Eat: A local favorite and perhaps the most beguiling spot is Lokando Peskarija, a little fish house right on the port serving just-caught seafood dishes, like black cuttlefish risotto with prawns for $11.
Stay: The Hotel Adria sits outside the historic district and features sleek architecture and minimalist rooms with sweeping views of the harbor; prices start at $88 per night.
Visitors come here to explore the city's otherworldly beauty, with the Li River winding through it, and karst rock formations peaking jaggedly among buildings. Outdoor activities are popular, with bamboo boat tours of the river, ubiquitous bike rentals and hikes up Moon Hill, an oddly shaped peak with a natural arch inside that offers panoramic views of the area. Visitors can take cooking classes that tour the local markets through outfitters like the Yangshuo Aiyuan Hotel Cookery Class.
Eat: Anyway café is very welcoming to travelers and has cheap Taiwanese-style food. A meal for two with items like fried rice or marinated pork costs $6.
Stay: The Li Jiang Waterfall hotel is extravagant—there is an actual waterfall that cascades down the edifice—with pristine rooms and a prime location. Room rates hover around $100.
Self-guided or official walking tours through the ancient, mazelike medina reveal merchants hawking spices, ceramics, textiles and handmade leather slippers for $30. Shopkeepers will often quote prices far above what they will accept, so haggling is advised. Local vendors sell just-fried potato chips, grilled meats and roasted chickpeas.
Eat: At Fes et Gestes, in an old colonial house and garden, guests can eat a four-course meal of lamb tagine and Moroccan tapas for $25 per person.
Stay: Le Jardin des Biehn, in the old city, has nine guest rooms swathed in bright textiles and relics from the owner's travels. Rooms start at $140.
Trekking through the Himalayas is the major attraction here, as are trips to the Dalai Lama's home in Mcleod Ganj, with excursions arranged by guesthouses and hotels. A Tibetan-influenced cultural hub, Dharamsala offers cheap yoga classes (a five-day course at Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre costs $60), as well as courses in cooking, regional dance and arts and crafts.
Eat: Roadside stands sell Tibetan dumplings called momos, filled with goat meat or pork, for dollars. At the Peace Cafe in Mcleod Ganj, visitors dine among monks on momos, thukpa (noodle soup) and stir-fried noodles.
Stay: The 17-room Grace Hotel is a 200-year-old country manor perched in the mountains with a view of the Kangra Valley and nearby Pongdam Lake. Charming rooms start at around $100 a night.
The old city feels European, and the gentrifying St.-Roch neighborhood boasts galleries, well-priced vintage clothing shops and excellent restaurants. Rue St. Paul, in the Old Port neighborhood, has art shops and antiques, while Le Marche du Vieux-Port is the place to pick up cheeses, meats and pastries. In winter, the city is dotted with vendors making maple syrup lollipops in troughs of snow.
Eat: Bar La Cuisine offers a dinner for two of French-Canadian comfort food, like casseroles and croque-monsieur plus local beer, for $30. Stalls at the Marché du Vieux-Port hawk liver pâtés, fruit compotes, artisanal chocolates and floral honeys.
Stay: The modern Hotel Pur in St. Roch has floor-to-ceiling windows that gaze upon the neo-Gothic Saint Roh church, with wintertime rooms starting at $116.
With Dublin's banks struggling, hotel prices are cheaper than ever, and even the airport taxes were slashed to promote tourism. In June, visitors can take advantage of the Bloom in the Park garden show, the Bloomsday celebration of James Joyce, and Taste of Dublin, when the city's best restaurants and chefs offer small plates of their signature dishes over four days at the Iveagh Gardens.
Eat: Bang Restaurant serves hearty fare for reasonable prices, with a three-course $32 prix fixe. At the Michelin-recognized Pig's Ear, a three-course lunch menu of cured salmon, smoked haddock and rhubarb trifle costs $25.
Stay: The Harcourt Hotel was once the home of George Bernard Shaw and offers rooms from $75 a night.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Most visitors to Siem Reap are only interested in visiting the famous temples of Angkor Wat (tip: rent a bike to reach them), but there are plenty of worthwhile diversions in the city's charming Old Market area. The night market is the place to buy silk scarves and stone carvings.
Eat: Stylish restaurants draped in colorful tapestries and warm lanterns, like Picasso and Old House, line Pub Street and the adjacent alleys, serving local Khmer cuisine like amok (fish with coconut curry wrapped in banana leaves) for under $10.
Stay: Guests leave their shoes at the front door of the Shadow of Angkor II guesthouse, where the $20 rooms are decorated with carved wood and armoires displaying opulent traditional Khmer clothing.