If you're aware of the euro weakening considerably against the dollar in recent months, you've likely contemplated a trip to Europe. But one question remains: In which destinations will your dollar go the absolute furthest?
The short (and quite welcome) answer is that all of the 19 Eurozone countries are virtually on sale, and no matter where you go, you're essentially getting a sizable discount on ground costs like hotel, food, and activities. According to Tom Meyers of EuroCheapo, a website devoted to visiting Europe on a budget, "That 65 euro dinner is probably still going to be about 65 euros. However, it's going to cost only about $70, rather than $104 (in 2008 dollars)."
Nevertheless, some places offer more value than others, whether because they've struggled economically or remain virtually undiscovered by tourists. From the Iberian Peninsula to the Baltic Sea, here are the best Eurozone countries for stretching your dollar.
Ancient ruins, azure waters, and whitewashed villages are all within reach this year. Greece made our list of Destinations to Watch in 2015, and for good reason: The country, plagued by political uncertainty and a deep recession for the past few years, is expecting a boost in tourism, and the deals for travelers remain irresistible.
Whether you want to explore Greece's busy capital or seek respite on its quieter isles, you'll likely fly into Athens. So far this spring, airfares have been reasonable. For example, we found May fares to Athens for $591 round-trip from New York and $730 round-trip from Washington, D.C., on Aeroflot; and October fares for $782 from Chicago on Turkish Airlines. Ground costs are affordable, too. According to Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir, "The Best Western Pythagorion, which has been recently renovated and is right in the center of this bustling city, will please the budget-conscious vacationer at just $41 per night."
Included in Food & Wine's list of the most affordable (and warm) places to visit this summer, Portugal is an ideal destination for culture seekers on a budget. Although tourism grew 14 percent last year, hotels and other ground costs remain very affordable. At Solares de Portugal, a group of properties curated for their architectural and cultural heritage, prices start at €75 (about $82) per night. For those on a super-tight budget, trendy hostels—with enticing prices—have popped up throughout the country. For example, beds at the highly-rated Good Night Hostel in Lisbon start at €13 (about $14) per night, and rooms are available from €16 (about $17) at Nice Way Sintra Palace in Sintra.
The country is also an affordable paradise for food lovers. Lunches at local tascas go for $7 to $10, and you can have a three-course dinner (including wine) for around $25. Portugal's Old World wines are getting noticed (Cortes de Cima's 2013 dry white wine, for example, was voted among the best in the world but continue to be dirt-cheap: You can buy quality bottles for less than $5.
Although Latvia's capital city Riga took the spotlight as Europe's Capital of Culture in 2014, this former Eastern Bloc country is still considered an off-the-beaten-path destination for most tourists. And despite the nation making the euro its official currency that same year, prices for things like hotels, restaurants, and activities continue to be lower than in other European countries.
For example, in Riga, you can buy pastries for around €0.40 (about $0.42) at bakeries like Martina Bekereja, and a three-course meal for €27 (about $28) at a locally-sourced, contemporary restaurant like Valtera Restorans. Constructed out of old Zeppelin hangars, Central Market is one of the largest markets in Europe and is one of the best places in Riga to find all sorts of Latvian foods and crafts at reasonable prices. For affordable things to do, visit the Latvia National Opera, which sells tickets for just €10 (about $10.67). You can save on multiple attractions with the Riga card, which includes offers from 50 percent off tours and admissions to free public transportation.
Additionally, airfare this spring has been surprisingly low. At press time, we found late-summer fares to Riga on Turkish Airlines for $689 round-trip from Boston and $758 round-trip from Chicago. Once you're already in Europe, low-cost carrier airBaltic offers cheap one-way fares to Riga; for example, you can fly from Stockholm for €35 (about $37) or from London for €65 (about $69).
On January 1, Lithuania switched its currency from the litas to the euro, becoming the latest country to join the Eurozone. Known for its dense forests, rivers, seaside resorts, and medieval history, this relatively undiscovered Baltic nation is on the rise. However, prices have yet to catch up, especially at hotels, restaurants, and bars.
Capital city Vilnius was listed on Price of Travel's Backpacker Index for 2015 (where the price for a hostel stay, transportation, meals, drinks, and attractions came to just $37.14 per day) and its 3-Star Traveler Index for 2015 (where $65.88 per day covered the same things, plus a three-star hotel instead of a budget hostel). At Bistro 1 Dublis, the city's top-rated restaurant on TripAdvisor, multi-course meals range from €17 to €28 (about $18 to $30), but it's easy to find quality meals at other dining spots for even less. Airfare has also been budget-friendly. In a recent search, we found spring trans-Atlantic round-trip fares to Vilnius for $549 from New York on Ukraine International Airlines, and $681 from Washington, D.C., on Turkish Airlines. European budget airlines like WizzAir and Ryanair offer affordable flights to the capital city from within Europe.
Faced with supreme economic woes for the past several years, Spain has joined the ranks of top European budget destinations. According to U.K.-based Post Office Holiday's Worldwide Holiday Costs Barometer for 2015, Spain was the second-most affordable Eurozone country (Portugal was the first) when it came to expenses like coffee, soda, wine, sunscreen, and a three-course dinner for two. And, the Daily Mail reported last summer that the Iberian country tops the list for the most affordable places in Europe for driving vacations when factoring in costs for gas and car rentals. We checked rental rates to see if this theory still holds true today, and so far, so good: A weeklong April car rental in Madrid cost $94 (compared to Rome at $142 and Oslo at $353).
Airfare has been especially cheap lately as well. In a report by Priceline, ticket costs to top Southern European destinations like Italy and Spain have declined through the first two months of the year. Flights to Madrid, for example, have decreased by 11 percent. In a recent search, we found shockingly low round-trip fares for late summer and fall to Barcelona for just $574 from Los Angeles and $706 from Ft. Lauderdale on Norwegian Air.
Once part of the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia still flies under the radar as a tourist destination and remains a budget-friendly place for travelers. With fairy-tale castles, snow-capped mountains, an Adriatic coastline, and a thriving food and wine scene, the country has similar offerings to its neighbors Italy and Austria, but the prices are typically 20 to 30 percent cheaper. For example, according to Numbeo, a website that measures the cost of living around the world, a three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant averages €37.50 (about $40) in Vienna but only €28 (about $30) in Ljubljana, Slovenia's capital city.
To save on attractions, the Ljubljana Card offers free admissions, guided tours, and Wi-Fi in town. Quality accommodations can be quite reasonable if you know where to look. Art hostel Celica offers beds from €18 (about $19) per night. And Klee recommends the four-star Best Western Premiere Hotel Slon for its location right in Ljubljana's historic center and reasonable rates from $100 per night. Flights, however, are a bit on the high side, so consider flying on a low-cost carrier such as WizzAir or easyJet from within Europe.
The biggest surprise destination to make this list, Italy has been wooing travelers lately with ultra-low airfares. Despite taking center stage this spring through fall for Expo Milano 2015, a world's fair focused on food and sustainability, Milan has been quite affordable to get to. According to Kayak's Travel Hacker 2015 Guide, Milan was the top deal destination, showing a 13 percent decrease in airfare from last year. Priceline reports that, in the first two months of the year, airfare has decreased by 32 percent to Milan and 11 percent to Rome. At press time, Lufthansa had a promotional fare from New York to Milan for just $679 round-trip.
Read the original story: 7 European Countries Where Your Dollar Will Go Further by Anne Banas, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.