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Traveling to Europe is often the adventure of a lifetime. While the costs can be high, they don’t have to be. In fact, you can visit Europe on a budget without backpacks or hostels.

Luckily for those of us who’ve always dreamed of knights and castles, the Backpacker Index is a great way to help plan a European itinerary. It publishes two lists annually. The first rates the cheapest 56 cities for backpackers, and the second ranks the top 56 picks for 3-star travelers.

While we’ve never been the backpacker variety of travelers, we’ve learned that compromises on costs don’t have to lessen the experience. We recently spent nearly three weeks in Europe hitting four capital cities and one additional city. And I can guarantee the Backpacker Ratings were right on target with the costs: Amsterdam (52), Berlin (31), Warsaw (11), Krakow (2), and finally, Stockholm (53).

The great thing we found was that not only was Krakow the least expensive, it was also our favorite city!

Krakow Old Town

Krakow Old Town

What Makes Krakow Budget Friendly?

I booked all of our hotels using TripAdvisor, Expedia.ca (it had few in Europe) and Hotels.com, although I used Hotels.com for all of my research. Why? Well, their website has a feature that lets you search by Distance from all kinds of places, while Expedia’s is just distance from downtown. See the screen capture below.

Screen capture of Distance search on Hotels.com.

Screen capture of Distance search on Hotels.com.

We’ve always found the least expensive way to visit a destination is to stay where you want to be. Not only do you not have to pay for taxis (which can be outrageous in some countries — like Sweden) back to hotels, but you don’t waste any of that valuable vacation time waiting in traffic.

So, I did some initial research to determine the high points I wanted to hit. In Krakow, it was Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp Memorial and Museum (out of the city) and Old Town. Since I was arriving on the high-speed EIP train from Warsaw at the Krakow-Glowny Station that was also a consideration. Ideally, I wanted a reasonably priced hotel close to both.

By cross-referencing the info from Hotels.com and checking prices for ideal hotels I identified, I came up with Maly Krakow Aparthotel. We loved the small apartment style room with its tiny kitchen. The only drawback? No air conditioning. However, we were near lots of dining options, just minutes from a huge shopping mall, Galeria Krakowska, plus close to the train station and Old Town.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp outside Krakow, Poland, Photo

Auschwitz Concentration Camp outside Krakow, Poland.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp outside Krakow, Poland.

Exploring a European City on a Budget

The great thing about visiting Europe is that for the first few trips at least, everything is just so different that you don’t need to spend a lot on attractions! We spend most of our time on the ground, exploring, slipping into shops to see what’s inside, and finding quaint little bars to relax and sample the local brews.

Here are some of our experiences:

And if you’d like an idea of the amazing free sites, check out the interior of the Gothic 15th century St. Barbara’s Church below.

Photo of St. Barbara’s Church in Krakow

Inside St. Barbara’s Church in Krakow, Poland.

About the photo

The photo in the header was taken by Linda Aksomitis in Old Town in Krakow, Poland.

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Krakow is one of Europe's most budget-friendly destinations!

Krakow is one of Europe’s most budget-friendly destinations!

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