The most rewarding aspect of studying abroad is experiencing the culture and vibrant lifestyle of new places. This is perhaps the main reason why exchange students flock to Europe. With cheap student rail passes and budget airlines, students are enabled to work and play without break the bank. Avoid peak tourist season, stay in hostels, Couchsurf, use public transportation, and go beyond the typical attractions to get personal with a country.
With a bit of planning and outside-the-box thinking, it’s possible for you to venture on the cheap. These are the seven best countries to visit in Europe for exchange students on a budget. Happy travels!
Spain is filled with unique cities and towns that offer something for everyone. Although Madrid and Barcelona have their fancy parts, they’re havens for backpackers, offering plenty of affordable hostels and party bars. In addition to strolling the bustling city streets and taking advantage of free admission to museums on Sundays, Barcelona also boasts fun beaches and water activities. For a less-crowded, more funky vibe, head to Granada in the in the Andalusian region. Affectionately deemed “The Land of A Thousand Castles”, Granada presents amazing architecture and scenery and is a hotspot for young people and students. No matter where you end up in Spain, you’ll never be far from tasty tapas and delicious sangria.
Spain day trips: Ronda, Spain - Day Trip from Seville Montserrat, Spain - Day Trip from Barcelona Nerja & Malaga - Day Trip from Granada, Spain
While it certainly can’t be deemed ‘dirt cheap’, Portugal is a bargain compared to its Western European counterparts. Both Lisbon and Porto award just as many exciting elements as other big cities but at a fraction of the cost. A long-time hotspot for wine and dining lovers, you should head to the scenic coastal city of Porto, the namesake of the famously sweet port wine. In this charming city, you can get your fill of both culture and the outdoors. Don’t miss the UNESCO World Heritage district before hitting the killer view hiking trails. After, head down south to the National Parks or go for a swim in scenic Faro.
Ukraine is both symbolically and physically the lost frontier of Europe. It is a massive, diverse land that is largely undiscovered and misunderstood. The assorted cityscapes feature both stunning pre-Soviet architecture alongside visible memories of the difficult Communist-era. After breaking through the initial reticence of locals, you’ll be greeted by some of the most kind-hearted people on the planet who are proud of their rich and colourful traditions. Enjoy festive nights out and traditional cuisine for next-to-nothing before jumping on one of the overnight trains to the great outdoors. The Carpathian Mountains are home to ski resorts and villages and also offer you seriously epic views of untouched, natural Ukraine.
4. Czech Republic
After conquering a trouble-filled past, the forests, hills, and bustling towns of Czech Republic are no longer hidden gems in Europe. While cycle enthusiasts might venture elsewhere, urban-lovers flock to Brno or (most notably) Prague. The capital of Bohemia has awe-inspiring things to do around every corner and has somehow managed to maintain its affordability. This is a win-win and an absolute must-do during your time in Europe.
Many of you have probably never even considered Hungary as an essential spot to hit on your Euro-tour. Think again. Hungary is just as Bohemian as Czech Republic, and even has Ottoman-era thermal baths in the capital of Budapest. History buffs will never be bored in this Old Stone Age city, which is home castles, a citadel overlooking the city and the Danube, and loads more. Rich food, ruin bars, and eclectic art are all at your disposal. For those of you with a slightly bigger budget, sail the Danube with a Viking River Cruise to see the beauty that Hungary has to offer.
Poland is often overlooked as a travel option, but that can make your trip even more unique. Culture and dynamic history combine with European charm and traditional food to ensure a memorable experience in this diverse land. While the countryside is mainly limited to farming, Poland boasts numerous cities for young people to enjoy. Check out the stark contrast between traditional Polish and Communist-era elements of Warsaw, the artsy scene of Krakow, or the whimsy of Wroclaw…or all of them! With the affordability of Poland, you won’t have to choose.
A natural and historical haven, Croatia has it all. Stunning National Parks (like Plitvice Lakes National Park) accompany picturesque towns with unbeatable views of the Adriatic Sea. Boat trips up the Dalmatian coast allow you to hop from city to city for fun day trips to fresh markets, old palaces, and plenty of ancient ruin sites. When it gets too hot, take a dip in the pure blue sea or relax on one of the pebble beaches. With affordable accommodation options around the country, you’ll be holidaying like a king on a pauper’s budget.
For me, I did my exchange in Rouen, which is 1 hour away from Paris, at Neoma Business School. Feel free to read about my experience. If I were to be brutally honest, my overall 6-month exchange had been nothing short of fabulous. I managed to conquer 55 cities in Europe despite being on a tight budget, though my experience living in the dorm weren’t the most spectacular. More on that later!
Did you study in any of these countries? What was it like living/ studying there?