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7 destinations for a budget-friendly winter break

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With the cost of living crisis in full swing, travelling may feel like an unnecessary luxury — but it needn’t be. Here’s where to escape to this winter without breaking the bank.

Dying to get away for a few days but don’t think you have the budget for a full-blown adventure? Think again, as there are several gorgeous places you can visit without spending a fortune.

Whether you’re looking for a cultural escape, a festive experience, or a sun-filled getaway somewhere exotic, we’ve got you covered. Picture sunbathing on soft sands in the Canary Islands, marvelling at peculiar installations in Vilnius and skiing along the mountains of Bulgaria. These affordable destinations will inspire you to plan your next winter break, worry-free.

Lanzarote for winter sun

Flights to the Canary Islands, off the south coast of Morocco, can be quite expensive, with the Spanish archipelago known for its high cost of living. Still, you can swap popular Tenerife or Gran Canaria for the equally pretty, and cheap, Lanzarote. This Canary offers the awe-inspiring, volcanic Timanfaya National Park, white and black-sand beaches, a proper cactus garden and lively markets. It costs nothing to swim in the sea or your hotel pool, and the delicious tapas won’t cost you the earth either. Stay in Puerto del Carmen to be close to the action, as transportation is cheap but not always reliable.

Budapest for self-pampering

Looking to treat yourselves to the ultimate spa experience? With more thermal springs than any other capital in the world, Budapest will not disappoint. Choose from the Széchenyi or the Gellert Baths’ many different saunas and pools, with water temperatures ranging from 20°C to 40°C, and day tickets at around €‎25 (£22). Once your body aches have been soaked away, stroll around the brightly coloured Jewish Quarter or take a tour of Fisherman’s Bastion before tucking into a velvety Goulash soup or meat platter at a restaurant nearby; each dish could set you back as little as £6.

Read more: Meet Barga, the Tuscan gem you need to know about
Photo of Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest
Fisherman’s Bastion, Budapest. Photo by Kate Krasautsava
Vilnius for alternative small-town charm

Lithuania is often overlooked in favour of its neighbours, Poland and Latvia. Yet its capital, Vilnius, is not only budget-friendly (four-star double rooms cost as little as £70 a night), but also perfect for those seeking a different kind of small-town charm: one that marries Soviet architecture with quirky art installations (look out for the colourful bench hanging from a bridge above water in the boho Užupis district) and neoclassical facades with run-down alleys and rock aesthetics — regular night clubs play The Offspring instead of Drake, and cool grannies sport leather jackets and grunge boots.

Athens for history and art

When it comes to Greece, the islands get all the attention, yet Athens deserves its own spot on your travel list. With the over-two-millennia-old Parthenon, the impressive Basil & Elise Goulandris Foundation (hosting works by the likes of Picasso, Degas and Monet), and many more archaeological sites and museums, this capital is an obvious choice for history and art enthusiasts. It’s surprisingly affordable, too, with cheap food and transportation, and most must-sees accessible by foot. Expect a relaxed atmosphere, amazing cuisine and Instagrammable corners springing from the concrete.

Vietnam for street food and nature

Depending on the time you choose to visit this beautiful country, a ticket to its capital, Hanoi, may cost you anywhere from £200 to £900. Book your trip in advance to enjoy lower flight prices; once there, abundant natural beauty and insanely low prices await. Picture exotic beaches in Nha Trang, tranquil rivers and bright-green paddy fileds in Mekong Delta, and irresistible street delicacies at the various pho stalls — think piping hot rice noodle soup, grilled sea snails and meat spring rolls, with each of the dishes costing as little as £1.50. Hop on a bus or train to get around on a budget.

Read more: Five lesser-known Greek islands you need to visit this autumn
Pagoda surrounded by a river, rocks and greenery
Tràng An, Vietnam. Photo by Rowan Heuvel
Prague for Christmas spirit

You don’t have to visit overpriced Berlin or dreamy yet expensive Bruges for a festive winter break. Prague, in all its medieval glory, can be your go-to, cheaper alternative, with decent accommodation at around £45 a night. Tread lightly in the dark catacombs and see swans on the Vltava River before making your way to the Old Town Square Christmas Market that lights up the city this time of year. Among the sugary offerings are the spicy gingerbread (perníčky) and hot sweet pastry (trdelník). The tree, adorned with red and gold baubles, is bathed in light, as are the buildings all around it.

Bulgaria for skiing

Forget the glitzy ski resorts in Switzerland and France and slide down fresh snow for much less this winter, in Bulgaria. The oldest ski resort in the country, Borovets, is nestled in the Rila Mountains and is one of the largest terrains for cross-country skiing in Bulgaria. It was also voted the best value resort for skiers in the Post Office Travel Money Ski Report 2022, with a considerably cheaper peak ski season than other European resorts. Also in Bulgaria, Pamporovo and Bansko are two more ski hubs to consider, offering some of the cheapest accommodation and ski rentals in Europe.

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