Ukraine is extremely budget friendly, and not yet full mainstream. The benefit is that it is easy to still experience local daily life, there are few people trying to constantly sell you things, and it feels like an authentic experience in which to be a traveler, not a tourist. This is a country at war, and you will see a healthy number of soldiers home on leave and displays of patriotism in homes/stores, but do not let this discourage you or doubt the safety of traveling to Ukraine.
Dream Hostel is under 6 USD a night, with great atmosphere, big kitchen, and centrally located in Rynok Square
Skip the taxis and use Uber, from the center of town is less than 3 USD to/from the airport
Hike up to the High Castle Park for a city view and a chance to hike through some trails
The Bernardine Monastery is beautiful, especially lit up at night
Old trolleys operate around the majority of the city for less than a few cents, just slide the small hatch open to pay the operator and receive your change
Check out the former Austrian Citadel within the city for some urban exploring and a glance at former Nazi fortifications
Local markets are cheap, vibrant, and a great glimpse into daily life/consumables
Beer is great in Lviv, with some of the best dark beers in all of Europe (in my opinion)
go to the liquor store for 2 liter beers under a dollar
The Masoch Cafe is an experience you have to see to believe, where the patrons are whipped and sometimes chained to the wall
Buses from/to Kraków are cheap, roughly 23 USD/20 euro, and take about 7 hours non-stop
Cash never card is the best way to go
Ukraine celebrates Christmas on January 7th, with grand markets, concerts, and decor
Lychakiv Cemetery is a popular stop among travelers and locals alike, with well adorned shrines and centuries of tombstones
Lviv is a great jumping off point for Kiev and Odessa
Wonder outside of the city center to see a more complete picture of modern Ukraine and how people live
Kraków (Crakow) is backpackers urban paradise. The cost of living is cheap, the beer is great, the nightlife is wild, and the whole city is full of life. Keep in mind the trains never run on time and the main areas can be quite touristy, but as a whole there something about the general vibe that encourages a person to keep adding days to their stay and never quite being ready to leave.
Art is everywhere in Old Town, with paintings, graffiti, tattoos, and live music down alleys and in the main square
Rock’n’Ink does great work for a good price and are only a short walk from the central square (my own tattoo right after completion)
Try some of the local vodka and tea while visiting
Stay at Greg & Tom Beer Hostel for about 10 USD, it includes free dinner, a beer hour, and all you can eat breakfast. The staff is killer, the pub crawl is great, and it is an easy location to meet other people
Auschwitz is less than two hours away by bus, it is a heavy day trip but important to see. Tours are around 90 to 120 zloty, including round trip fare, but if on a budget or you want to be able to go at your own pace, round trip is 22 zloty and admission is free. Plan on spending 3 to 5 hours at the camp, there is more information than you can process throughout the camp and it is not easy to read
April through October tours are the only way to access the camp after 10 am
This is a whole day event, even if you finish in the early afternoon the mental toll is dramatic and every person I have encountered who visited need hours to process (myself included)
From town, go to the main bus station and ask for a ticket, when leaving the camp walk out the exit and to the right, when you get to the road you will see a bus stop
Schindler’s factory is a 20 minute walk from Old Town, on the edge of the former ghetto. There is a line in the afternoon but get there early for a tour
Ghetto Heroes Square is a monument in the center of the former ghetto and is 33 empty chairs symbolizing the lives of those who are no longer with the community as a result of the Holocaust
The Jewish Quarter is full of beautiful buildings, a thriving market (some vendors sell old Soviet and Nazi items from the occupation), and good food. Also contained are several beautiful synagogues and churches
Cash not card is the best form of payment
Wawel Castle sits looking over Old Town and the surrounding districts, it is a wonderful space to catch a sunrise or sunset
Ice skating can be found near the train station in the winter, along with a great Christmas Market in the main square
Father Bernateks Bridge (Lovers Bridge) currently features 9 acrobatic sculptures suspended in amazing positions of balance along the bridge by cables
Polish people were very friendly and helpful in my experience, the majority of the younger crowd spoke impeccable English and had no trouble being asked directions/recommendations
Berlin is rife with hostels and Airbnb options. I managed to snag a decent pad with a mate this past New Years not too far from Alexanderplatz by metro, and as a result we were able to hit the tourist sites, clubs, and Bradenburg Gate for New Years Eve (the biggest outdoor bloc party in Europe). This city is a must for a long weekend of fun and reflection, just be sure to watch out for fireworks around the holidays.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is a somber and heavy experience, the pictures do it no justice and it needs to be seen in person to understand
The Reichstag Building is close to the Memorial and was the site of the famous Red Flag raising that symbolized the USSR defeat of Nazi Germany
Checkpoint Charlie is heavily overrated but a necessity for anyone who enjoys hitting the highlights and pieces of history
Sections of the Berlin Wall still stand in various spots around the city, most of which are now covered in tasteful graffiti (graffiti can actually be found in most parts of the city, much of it impressive and well done)
Hitler’s bunker is only a few minute walk from Checkpoint Charlie and the Wall
The Original Backpacker Pubcrawl is fun and worth the 10 euro, it goes into a few half-decent clubs and is an easy way to meet other people other the trail
Cassiopeia is a great club with 3 different rooms across 2 levels playing different music, and a great outdoor area. Covers can very but beer is cheap (2.5 euro) and they tend to stray from the typical techno scene
Berghain is where everyone wants to go but I have yet to meet anyone who can get in. Clubs in Berlin are tough at the door, often denying entrance to anyone in a group, dressed nicely, on their phone, having fun, or cannot speak German.
Hit up the grocery store and cook. You can have a meal, get a six pack, or a bottle of vodka under 3 euro
Many Germans do not speak English, do not expect them to or get frustrated when they ignore you
The metro is extremely cheap, but is also possible to ride for free as no one checks tickets if you really need to get someplace
Trondheim is a home to the most impressive church I have seen, the Nidaros Cathedral, nearly a 1000 years old and the northernmost medieval church in the world. Easily worth a weekend getaway and a great launching point into northern Norway.
Airbnb has the best options for accommodations, the whole town is quite walkable and therefore location is less important
Norway as a whole ranks as the second most expensive country in the world
Kristiansten Castle has great view of the whole of the city, with a rich history of preventing Swedes from taking over Norway in the 1700’s and then being used by the Nazi’s as a base and execution site in the second World War.
Eat at Superhero Burger for a fun local spot, but it is Norway so even the basic meal will run you about 20 USD
Klatresenter is a local bouldering gym with some fun problems and a decent space for rec, and the prices are comparable to a gym in the states (roughly 15 USD for a day pass)
Skip buses and walk, a short ride can cost 5 USD
Get out of town and hike, there are countless trails and areas to explore
Hop a ferry towards Rissa and explore the countryside
My stay in Rissa was courtesy of the wonderful hospitality of a local family, and I have no experience in where to find accommodations otherwise, but what I can tell you is the hiking is absolutely gorgeous and the town is picturesque.
Hike #blåheia for a great view of the surrounding area and a chance to see out to sea
Roam the streets at night for a gorgeous streets all to yourself (the entire city is very safe)
Everywhere takes visa (other than the bus)
Shop at the grocery and cook to save money, there are sections in the shop with discount items that easily can make up a meal for under 5 USD
Stockholm is the most expensive city I have traveled to, even above London. Transportation from the airport is the first punch, followed by many more gut wrenching decisions of to eat or not to eat. I have been to Stockholm on two separate occasions, both in the winter of 2017, and loved the city but could not afford to enjoy it. My hostel was full of others who felt the same, and after two or three days I noticed that many of us were spending more time socializing inside then out in the city, which is quite rare in a hostel with dozens of occupants.
Stay at Citybackers for the best location, cheapest digs, and unlimited free pasta (this is huge in a city where the grocery store can run you $5 a meal). Ask the hostel staff if you can take their recyclable glass and cans to the store for credit to stretch the dime furthest. I was able to pay for lunch and snacks my last day with just a small grocery bag worth. Free ice skate rentals and sauna in the winter.
If you love beer, never go to a bar. The cheapest drinks are at the Systembolaget, state run liqueur stores that cannot even sell cold beer because it is unfair marketing and do not open until about noon while closing at 1900.
Don’t bother with cash, everywhere takes visa
Ice skating in the city center is a must in the winter months, and as its a free activity it makes it even more spectacular
Walk everywhere, the public transport is great but expensive and the city can be traversed in an hour in any direction
Eat at Max for local fast food at a decent price, located just one street away from Central Station
Check out old town and the palace for a look at a less modern Stockholm. If during the holiday season you will find several decent Christmas markets with free samples
Do not, I repeat, do not try surströmming. It a local food staple that consist of canned fermented fish, and is the foulest thing I have smelt or tasted on four continents.
Check out the multitude of museums around the city, many of which are free and all of which are a chance to get out of the cold
Fly into Skavsta airport for the cheapest flights but expect an hour bus ride (WiFi for free) to the city and an additional 15 euro round trip over the journey to a different airport (my flight from London to Stockholm was 11 USD and later round trip to Nis was 35 USD)
Lunch buffets are popular in the city and for about 15 euro you can get all you can eat at various locations
Getting out of Rome can be not only refreshing, but imperative to leaving Italy with a positive outlook. Just a short tube and one hour bus away (3.5 euro), this town offers historic villas, expansive views of the Roman Campagna, and great food on a backpackers dime. Depending on what you want to see, this town can eat up half a day or take sun up to sun down, it is all about your speed and pocket.
Villa Adriana and Villa d’Este are UNESCO World Heritage sites from Roman times. Each cost about 8 euro respectively and though we had seen enough Roman history by this point, I have heard good things from those who did make it through the ruins
Rocca Pia is a 16th century castle, perfectly preserved and set in the center of the city. Open hours fluctuate based on time of year and from the top are said to be incredible panoramic views
The winding streets and street art provide a wonderful atmosphere for a walk, with winding path full of window plants, Italian hellos, and various photo opportunities
Few of the locals speak English, but they are friendly and even attempts at Latin are met with smiles
Beer is incredibly cheap, around 1.3 euro at a restaurant
Buses pass through the city constantly, and can be caught at several points throughout the day
Great food can be had at the Pizzeria near the overlook, the staff is friendly and I spent 12 euro to feed two people, with two beers and leftovers for dinner/breakfast
Despite being home to one of the existing 7 Wonders of the World, Rome is by far one of the most unpleasant experiences I have ever had as a backpacker. Around every corner is someone trying to swindle the weary traveler, using cheap tricks such as baby pictures and sob stories or flat out grabbing the passerby and refusing to let go until they pay up. Combine this with the bursting flow of tourists and the Italians in Rome that refuse to answer questions in English, the end result is a city I will never return to. But if you insist on seeing the gorgeous ruins of the Colosseum and the multitude of art, there are a few details to keep in mind:
If grabbed by someone on the street make a scene and pull away as viciously as needed, the police will stand idly by just a few meters away no matter what. NEVER open your wallet or stop walking when approached. Additionally, beware of friendly African gentlemen handing out “free” trinkets or tossing items towards you, the second it is in your possession they begin to demand money and will follow you (three men from my hostel had their wallets physically emptied in this manner)
Go to the southern gate of Palatine early for the shortest line for Colosseum tickets (which include Palatine and Forum)
Everywhere in the city can be reached in a short walk, just avoid the major tourist crowds and empty streets for anti-theft
Head across the River Tiber for cheaper beer, friendlier locals, and better food. San Calisto was my personal favorite in Trastevere, full of locals of all ages and a great beer selection
The Vatican is the smallest country on earth and only takes a few hours to stroll through, it’s roughly a 30 minute walk from the Colosseum
If you know Spanish or another Latin language, use it over English when speaking to locals, they tend to be more receptive in my experience
Stay at Yellow Hostel and use the code Yellowforever to get additional discounts. If you are a performer or artist, you can trade skills for accommodation by contacting the hostel directly. The hostel comes with free pasta every night from 1800-1900. Hostel is a 5 minute walk from the central station
Book a round trip bus from the airport to save money and get there early, having a ticket does not guarantee a spot as much as being in the front of the line
Pizza is sold by weight in many local shops, tell them you only want to spend so many euro and that is how much they will serve you
Tap water is safe here, carry a water bottle and fountains are everywhere
Tired of the city? Tivoli is only 3.5 euros away, with villas, castle, cheap eats, and great streets in the countryside
Very few places take Visa so be sure to carry euro, but carry small amounts and in multiple locations