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The World's 10 Cheapest Cities to Explore in a Day

Insider Guides Budget Travel
by Matthew Meltzer Jan 2, 2020

Perhaps you’ve been reading all these year-end “Where to go in 2020” stories and thinking to yourself, “Well, that sure must be nice for people who have money to do stuff like travel.” But it doesn’t always have to be that way. Keeping your eyes on cheap flights can get you out of the country for less than the cost of a trip home for Thanksgiving. And a lot of cities around the world won’t cost more than $75 a day once you get there. Starling Bank took a look at the average costs of food, entertainment, and hotels in 35 of the world’s biggest cities and found 10 where even a tiny budget can take you a long way.

10. Warsaw, Poland

Average daily cost: $70.60

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The lone European city to crack the top 10, the Polish capital won’t cost you more than $20 a day for food, with $2 beers in the city’s most popular pubs. Entertaining yourself won’t break the bank either, as you can score free admission to the Warsaw Rising Museum on Sundays and the National Museum on Tuesdays. Though you might not usually think of landlocked Warsaw as a “beach town,” head here in summer and you can bask in the sunshine at the beaches along the Vistula River, or get your Polish tan on at Lazienki Park. The end of the night will be painless too, with average hotel costs just over $50*.

9. Buenos Aires, Argentina

Average daily cost: $60.10

Colorful area in La Boca neighborhood in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Photo: Milosz Maslanka/Shutterstock

Perhaps you have a friend who spent a few weeks in Argentina many years ago and to this day will bring up how they got the best steak dinner of their lives with flowing wine and a free tango lesson for less than the cost of dinner at TGI Friday’s. Turns out, that wouldn’t really be hyperbole. If you’re into steak and wine, you can dine fantastically cheap in Buenos Aires, where meals will rarely top $20. Beyond gorging yourself on red meat, you can also cruise the cafes of Palermo where coffees are less than $2. The National Museum of Fine Arts doesn’t charge admission, nor does Feria de Mataderos — a traditional craft and food market marked by gauchos on horseback and live tango demonstrations. Rooms won’t wreck your wallet in BA either, as an average night only costs about $36.

8. Lima, Peru

Average daily cost: $59.48

Photo: Skreidzeleu/Shutterstock

Granted, if you’re trying to hit some of the spots from the vaunted World’s Best Restaurants list, you’re gonna end up dropping a lot more than $59 a day in Lima. But satisfied to eat fresh ceviche in beachside bodegas, you’ll find the city a fantastic culinary value, where some of the best meals you’ll ever have average about $16 a day. Hotels aren’t much worse, where sharing a room with your friend or SO will run about $45 a night, and drinks are only a couple bucks if you stick to local wine and pisco drinks.

The historic churches like the Cathedral of Lima and the Church of San Francisco are free to visit, and the nightly changing of the guard at the Palacio del Gobierno is free as well. The zoo is about $3 to tour, and while the Museo del Arte de Lima charges 30 cents on Sunday, its regular admission is only about $9.

7. Marrakech, Morocco

Average daily cost: $57.67

Photo: Balate Dorin/Shutterstock

Marrakech is the odd destination where the things people come to see most are, for the most part, free. So wandering the medina and taking in the mosques, minarets, and souks that make it famous won’t cost you anything. And even if you do decide to buy a souvenir, there’s always room to haggle.

Food is cheap here too, as grabbing a kebab from any of the smoky stalls in the old city is a less-than-three-dollar proposition, and tagines and lamb roasts in larger restaurants are typically under $10. Alcohol isn’t flowing here, necessarily, but going out should run about $20 a night, plus your dry cleaning when you come home saturated in cigarette smoke. That aside, your home base is pretty cheap too, with rooms here averaging $39 per person.

6. Bangkok, Thailand

Average daily cost: $56.88

Photo: Luciano Mortula – LGM/Shutterstock

One night in Bangkok might make a hard man humble, bit it still won’t demolish your travel budget with hotels averaging about $41 per night. And dropping baht in the colorful bars of the Patpong district can be done for under $15 if you know where to go. If The Hangover 2 got you thinking Bangkok is probably best experienced during the day, you’ll find a wealth of free museums like the Bangkokian Museum, the Royal Elephant Museum, the Silpa Bhirasri Memorial and Museum for modern art, and the Corrections Museum situated in a former prison. The temples and shrines are free to step inside or photograph, and a day of food should only cost around $17.

5. Beijing, China

Average daily cost: $52.64

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You don’t get to be a global economic powerhouse in less than half a century by overcharging people, or at least that would seem to be the case judging by the prices in the Chinese capital. Lodging averages a stunning $29 a night, and an entire day of food should only cost about $12. If you’re into adventurous eating, head to Wangfujing Snack Street where the boiled tripe is exquisite and only a couple dollars. Tiananmen Square is free to visit, as is the National Museum on its border, full of ancient Chinese art, weapons, and bronze work. Strolling through the narrow hutongs is free, as is taking in the public art in the 798 district. Or you can tour the crumbling relics of the 2008 Olympics after an afternoon in the Olympic Park around the Bird’s Nest.

4. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Average daily cost: $50.80

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Though Kuala Lumpur has quickly climbed the ranks of world financial centers, the city has still kept its prices low. Think of it like Singapore on a budget, with a heavy dose of grit, where an average night in a hotel runs $32, and a day’s worth of food from the fragrant street stalls is only about $11. You can learn the culture here pretty cheaply, as well, with free admission to both the National Art Gallery and Petronas Gallery in the City Center, the latter offering free art classes. Delving into nature is also affordable, as the of the best urban forest reserves in the world at the KL Forest Eco Park is completely free, as are the limestone Batu Caves about 10 minutes outside the city.

3. Istanbul, Turkey

Average daily cost: $44.74

Istanbul cityscape

Photo: Seqoya/Shutterstock

Istanbul stands as one of the most culturally rich cities in the world, a joining of East and West where visitors spend the morning haggling with vendors at the 600-year-old Grand Bazaar, then stroll past old Ottoman houses and duck ponds in Yildiz Park in the afternoon. Hotels cost only $22 a night, and you can fill yourself with sweet simit and fresh balik ekmek sandwiches for less than $6 a day. All that money saved on food and lodging can be spent on an economical splurge at one of the city’s famous Turkish baths, which cost about $15 to enter and $23 for massages. And if you want to tour a museum, both the Museum of Contemporary Art and Jewish Museum of Turkey are free.

2. Cairo, Egypt

Average daily cost: $36.82

Photo: Orhan Cam/Shutterstock

The biggest attraction in Cairo is far and away the Giza Pyramids, and if that’s on your itinerary, it’ll about double your daily cost. If that’s still too much, you can easily take a bus to the pyramids for less than a dollar and appreciate them from the outside. But if you do opt to drop $40 on a tour, it won’t feel quite as painful when you’re only spending $18 on a hotel and $9 on a full dinner. The city itself has some fascinating neighborhoods like Coptic Cairo, an old Christian enclave where the winding streets are filled with frescoes and mosaics. Or Fatimid Cairo where you’ll learn about Cairo’s Islamic history. Indoor art is also easily accessible here with numerous free or almost-free galleries across the city, like Al-Mashrabeya, Safar Khan, Art Lounge, and the Gypsum Gallery.

1. Delhi, India

Average daily cost: $35.56

Photo: Kriangkrai Thitimakorn/Shutterstock

The lowest-cost city in the survey, Delhi has hotel rooms for only about $20 a night, and a drink is just over $2. The city is also full of free activities to keep you entertained, from free movie screenings at the India Habitat Centre and other locations to free admission at the Vadehra art Gallery. Delhi can skew crowded at times, but escaping it is also easy with refuge at the tranquil Lodhi Gardens and Garden of Five Senses, costing almost nothing. Delhi dining is also incredibly cheap — and delicious — with an average meal running just under $9.

*Hotel price is per person based on double occupancy

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