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Europe on a Budget: A Penny-Wise Guide to 4 Cities

A vacation in Europe can set you back a small fortune—or not. Here's how to visit 4 European cities on a budget.
Lausanne River View
Historic buildings in Lausanne, Switzerland, crowd the water's edge. 

Lausanne, Switzerland

You'll find this lively town on the shore of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) in Switzerland offers history, excellent dining, and hotels ranging from elegant to budget boutique.

Stay

On the edge of the hip nightlife strip of the Flon District, LHotel (011-41-21-331-39-39; lhotel.ch) offers minimalist decor, good value, and an excellent location. Rates start at $140.

Eat

Get great picnic goodies Wednesdays and Saturdays at the Farmer’s Market at Place de la Riponne: fresh local produce, cheeses, sausages, olives, forest mushrooms, and roast chicken right off the spit. The market spills over into Old Town, where you’ll find craft beers, regional honeys, nuts, and a variety of spices.

Do

Shoppers have strolled Old Town’s winding cobblestone lanes for centuries. Today, an array of boutiques and cafés line the roads. Climb the 18th-century covered stairs to chocolatier shop Le Barbare (011-41-21-312-21-32) for a cup of yummy, thick hot chocolate. 

—Bill Harby    

London Borough Market
At London's Borough Market, you can nibble on all sorts of cuisines, pastries, cheeses, and more. 

London, England

Take advantage of the cheaper sterling and pop over for a spot of tea and more.

Stay

The cheap and cheerful Tune Hotels (tunehotels.com) are conveniently located near many of the tourist hot spots. They keep prices down by forgoing amenities such as gyms and cocktail bars, but they offer free Internet access and pay attention to comfy beds and good showers. Even in high season, double rooms can be found for less than $122. Various locations, including Westminster, Paddington, and Kings Cross, among others.

Eat

The best of British food is on offer at the 1,000-year-old Borough Market (011-44-20-7407-1002; boroughmarket.org.uk). Dozens of stalls sling fish-and-chips, local sausages, gooey raclette sandwiches, heaping platters of Indian food, and everything in between. Grab yourself a $4 pint of Pimms and nosh as you wander. Closed Sundays.

Do

Want to follow in the steps of Jack the Ripper—at night, no less? Or get a guided tour of Notting Hill? London Walks tour company (011-44-20-7624-3978; walks.com) has dozens of options: Each walk takes about two hours, costs about $12 per person, and requires no reservations. Show up at the preordained tube stop at the preordained time, meet your guide, and you’re off.

—Erin Lyall 

Palma mercat
Eat like the locals do at the Mercat de Santa Catalina.

Palma, Mallorca

Mallorca’s capital city hums with activity both in Spanish and Catalan, while heavenly beaches rim the island.

Stay

Brondo Architect Hotel (011-34-971-925-643; brondoarchitect.com), which has an eclectic artsy style and central Palma location, is ideal for getting into the area’s creative spirit. Enjoy breakfast in the light-flooded dining room and patio. Rates start at $200.

Eat

Head to the food stalls of the bustling Mercat de Santa Catalina (011-34-971-730-710; mercatdesantacatalina.com), where locals flock to shop and savor the day’s freshest fare. Experience a taste of historic Palma café culture and the signature ensaïmada pastry at Ca’n Joan de S’aigo (011-34-971-710-759; canjoandesaigo.cat).

Do

Explore the island’s Roman origins in Palma. Tour the Gothic cathedral (catedraldemallorca.org), a.k.a. La Seu, which was built over several centuries and features altar components designed by visionary Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí. Don’t miss abstract artist Joan Miró’s home and studio (011-34-971-70-14-20; miromallorca.com) on the cliffs outside the center (about $9 for entry).

For a little adventure, hop a wooden trolley for the one-hour journey to café-studded Sóller (about $24 round trip).

—Jessica Ritz

Paraskovila Piatnickaya Church in Vilnius, Lithuania
Shopkeepers set up outside the Paraskovila Piatnickaya Church in Vilnius, Lithuania. 

Vilnius, Lithuania

Euros go further in Vilnius than most other European Union capitals.

Stay

You might fear that the Vilnius Comfort Rock ’n’ Roll Hotel (011-370-5-25-05-111; comforthotel.lt) would be hopelessly overdone. Not so. Its brash lobby art featuring walls painted with rock icons and unpretentious service make for a fun lodging. The breakfast buffet would get thumbs up from any out-all-night rock ’n’ roller. Rates start at about $65.

Eat

Aline Leiciai (011-370-5-260-9087) serves traditional Lithuanian fare, including meat-filled dumplings and potatoes in countless forms, even “sausages” of mashed potato wrapped in a casing you probably don’t want to know too much about. The tasty selection of house beers complements the friendly service. A hearty multicourse lunch costs about $20.

Do

Along the narrow cobblestone streets of Old Town, you’ll find local sweet and savory pastries and tiny shops and galleries with everything from traditional crafts to modern art. You’ll see amber jewelry in many forms, thanks to the country’s ancient pine forests. There’s even the Amber Museum-Gallery (011-370-5-262-3092; ambergallery.lt), which displays very old, very dead insects frozen in amber. 

—Bill Harby

From top to bottom, photos by: imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo;  Stefano Cavoretto / Alamy Stock Photo; Eye35.pix / Alamy Stock Photo; Chris Howes / Wild Places Photography / Alamy Stock Photo; and imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo