Fancy a trip to Barcelona, Budapest or Helsinki but not sure you have the budget to enjoy it when you get there? Well, stop worrying and start planning, because we have dug around and found the best way to visit these unique cities on a shoestring. So now you can enjoy Gaudi’s finest buildings, a jaunt by the Danube in Hungary’s capital city or some sheer Nordic charm without over-stressing your credit card.
Barcelona really is one of the world’s most exciting cities. Ever since the 1992 Summer Olympics it’s been on an upward popularity curve, not least because this was the event which inspired the city to clean up its beautiful beaches. It’s on the Mediterranean, it has a vibrant food scene, more historic architecture than you could ever imagine and some of the best shopping and nightlife to be found in the world.
One Barcelona resident who fell in love with the city gave us some insider knowledge on where to go, eat and drink: “Take a walk up to the top of Montjuïc Hill, then stroll around the fortress and have a barbecue or just a drink at La Caseta del Migdia, but it only opens at the weekends. The food markets at the famous Mercat de la Boqueria on Las Ramblas, the newly renovated Sant Antoni Market and Santa Caterina Market are all worth visiting. And the Ciutadella Park is a beautiful place for a picnic, having the Arco de Triunfo nearby.”
Good areas to walk around are Passeig de Gràcia for mainstream shopping, Passeig de Sant Joan for bars and restaurants, and old town areas such as, Born or Barrio Gotico for alternative shopping or . In the Raval area all the bars are cheap, student-type places and Carrer de Joaquín is a good place to start.
And then there’s Gaudi, one of the most famous names in the history of architecture. La Sagrada Família is his iconic Catholic church which has been under construction since 1882. Tickets are €29 but can you afford not to view this masterpiece? La Pedrera (sometimes called Casa Milà) and Casa Batlló are two of Gaudi’s other most popular buildings.
Don’t miss: For relaxation the locals head to La Barceloneta down by the Med to sunbathe, people watch and to dine at seafood restaurants and traditional tapas bars.
Budapest is one of Europe’s great cities, with the mighty Danube flowing through it on its 1,777-mile journey from north-western Europe to the Black Sea. The river splits the two old cities of hilly Buda and flat Pest, making this one of the most romantic cities you are likely to visit.
A good way to get your bearings is to take the funicular which runs up Castle Hill to Buda’s Old Town, where the Budapest History Museum will tell you the whole story, from Roman times onwards. There is also an unavoidable sense of modern history here, with communist memories too recent to ignore and the city’s pivotal role in the Austro-Hungarian empire, as evidenced by stunning architecture throughout. But make no mistake this is a thoroughly 21st-century city and there is plenty to do and see. The free walking tours are very popular and would be a good way to get a feel for the city.
If you don’t fancy an organised guided tour, then a stroll along the Danube Promenade will suffice. Walk from the Margaret Bridge to the Chain Bridge on the Buda side. For nature lovers Margaret Island is a good option with its child friendly - entry free zoo!
The Hungarian Parliament Building is a fascinating place to visit but make sure you book in advance. Some other sites which should be on your agenda are: St. Stephen’s Basilica, the Fisherman’s Bastion and Heroes' Square. And of course you can hardly visit Hungary without eating some goulash and sampling some Tokaji, the most famous dessert wine in the world.
Don’t miss: The simply stunning Széchenyi Thermal Bath. Built in 1913 this place will transport you into another world of eastern relaxation. There are 18 pools of natural hot spring water, 10 saunas/steam cabins and a whole host of therapies to keep you occupied during the day or the night. It will cost you €22 but we reckon it’s worth it.
Visiting Finland’s capital is full of surprises. From the dramatic impact of the stonewashed white cathedral to the tree-lined avenue of Esplanadin Puisto in its beating heart, the city combines cleanliness and warmth with an overwhelmingly positive result. A simple stroll around the centre, starting from the main railway station, will be entertaining for an hour or two, but there’s a lot more if you dig a little deeper.
If you are looking for local delicacies, then you really must visit the Old Market Hall on Eteläranta by the harbour below the cathedral. Even if you don’t like rollmop herrings you will love a stroll around this beautiful old building with its myriad small stores all bustling with activity. It’s best to visit when the place isn’t flooded with cruise ship passengers from the nearby port.
For something a little different Linnanmäki is a cool 50s-style not-for-profit amusement park just to the north of the city centre where entry and some of the rides are free.
There are lots of museums with free entry on the first Friday of every month and there is a bike-hire system which makes it very easy to get around. Other good places to visit are; the beach at Hietaniemi, the Winter Gardens next to the Olympic Stadium, Uspenski Cathedral and Temppeliaukion Church (also known as the Church of the Rock). If you like chocolate then you can’t miss the opulent Karl Fazer café, the retail front for Fazer’s sumptuous confectionery empire.
Don’t miss: Take the five-minute ferry from the main harbour to Suomenlinna, the old island fort in the bay. Here you can stroll around, enjoy an ice cream or a cold beer and learn some of the history of Britain and Finland. The two nations are technically still at war and Finland has a long history of changing hands, but you won’t sense any hostility at this tranquil spot today.
A little travel savvy and insight can take you a long way. There are so many amazing things to see and do in the world's best cities that are either free of charge, or can be done without breaking the bank! Cities such as Barcelona, Budapest and Helsinki are so rich in history, culture and wonderful architecture that so often tells the story of hundreds of years gone by, that you don't really need to spend much at all to be wowed by these ancient streets, monuments and squares. You just need a comfy pair of shoes and all the time in the world to turn every corner and be amazed.
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