London ranks first for budget-friendly city breaks

Top 38 European destinations for travellers on a budget revealed

  • London is the best European destination for a budget holiday. The English capital has more free attractions, tours and events than either Paris or Berlin.
  • Edinburgh ranks 19th, while Dublin ranks 12th and Cardiff did not feature.
  • Paris ranks second overall, and first for free accommodation, with more than 200,000 options. 

A leading booking platform for travel by train, bus and plane, has released a ranking of Europe’s most budget-friendly cities to visit. The findings highlight the destinations with the most free activities and amenities on offer, helping savvy travellers budget their itineraries ahead of schedule.

The 38 European cities selected for the study by Omio have the highest number of arrivals every year. The cities were ranked according to the number of free attractions, tours, events, Wi-Fi hotspots, accommodation, and drinkable tap water.

The National Gallery fronting onto Trafalgar Square is one of London’s many free attractions as is the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace (main picture) just a 10 minute walk up The Mall away. Guard picture: Commons Wikimenia; gallery picture: London Inspire

The findings reveal that even some of the world’s most expensive cities to live in have a surprising number of things to do that don’t cost a penny.

Accommodation tends to be the biggest expense when booking a holiday.

While hostels offer an affordable alternative, couch surfing provides holidaymakers with free accommodation and the chance to learn about city life from a local. Across the 38 cities included in the ranking, almost two million hosts are offering their hospitality for free on the CouchSurfing platform. 

Naturally, Europe’s major capitals and cultural hubs have the most to do. Amsterdam has more than 1,000 free attractions, tours and events, and Berlin has in excess of 540 free attractions alone.

For those committed to exploring Europe on a shoestring, this list of budget-friendly destinations gives savvy travellers an idea of where best to start.

The Top 10 Budget-Friendly City Break Destinations

Rank Destination Free Attractions Free Tours Free Events Free Accommodation Total Score
1 London United Kingdom 275 14 980 175,990 100,00
2 Paris France 283 27 686 205,926 92,11
3 Berlin Germany 543 22 277 112,094 72,47
4 Madrid Spain 85 55 272 86,413 66,75
5 Amsterdam Netherlands 407 12 649 39,727 64,97
6 Milan Italy 324 10 646 46,070 63,93
7 Barcelona Spain 117 16 771 74,234 62,71
8 Lisbon Portugal 188 52 95 21,014 55,43
9 Rome Italy 224 9 267 58,306 53,17
10 Krakow Poland 409 22 2 37,786 51,32

Complete results for the ranking are available here.

Further findings

  • Free Wifi – London ranks first,with twice as many hotspots as Paris.
  • Free events – London ranks first with 980, while Berlin has just 277.
  • Free tours – Madrid ranks first with 55 and Lisbon second with 52.
  • Free attractions – Edinburgh has 49, almost twice as many as Hamburg.
  • Free accommodation – Rome ranks 10th for this factor, with more than 58,000 options; Barcelona ranks ninth, with more than 74,000.
  • For free drinking water – among the cities that don’t have drinkable tap water are: Istanbul, Rhodes, Athens, Moscow and St Petersburg.
Greenwich is one of the many great parks in London that are free to enjoy. Picture: London Inspire.


The cities with the highest number of arrivals according to an average of arrival numbers from the 2017 Euromonitor report and 2016 MasterCard report. Sources: Euromonitor 2017 and MasterCard 2016

Ranking Criteria

Free attractions

The number of free attractions available in each city all year round, including museums, galleries, street art events, religious buildings, and castles. Source: TripAdvisor

Free events: Omio researched the number of free events available in each city using Eventbrite and selecting ‘free’ on the ‘price’ filter for its search and calculating the sum of the results. The free events included all types. Source: Eventbrite

Free water: The cities with drinkable tap water, represented in the data with 0 indicating ‘no’ and 1 indicating ‘yes’. 

Free tours:The number of free tours available in each city. Source: Freetour.com

Free Wi-Fi: The number of free Wi-Fi hotspots available in each city. Source: Wiman

Free accommodation: The number of people advertising their hospitality for free in each city. Source: Couchsurfing


All the factors in the ranking were weighted equally. Each factor was standardised using a scale of 0-1 and an average applied. The final result was standardised from 0- 100, with 0 the lowest score, and 100 the highest. The research was conducted in June 2019.

Omio partners with more than 800 European transport operators, providing customers with more choice, transparent pricing and easier booking, it claims. Omio allows travellers to search for any location, including cities, towns and villages, showing the best possible transport combinations while eliminating the need to visit multiple websites to plan an entire trip. The travel startup, founded in 2013, changed its name from GoEuro to Omio early this year (2019).

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David Buckley

Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past publications worked for include the South-East London Mercury*, Kent Messenger, Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor for an East Midlands-based publishing group.

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