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The 7 Best Budget-Friendly Vacation Spots for Students

Reasonable hotel rates, free sights and plenty of culture make these spots ideal for bargain hunters.

U.S. News & World Report

The 7 Best Budget-Friendly Vacation Spots for Students

Smiling friends pose together on the beach.
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Visit world-class destinations on a shoestring budget.

Summer is fast approaching, and after spending mind-numbing hours cramming for final exams, you're likely yearning to use your time off to embark on a trip somewhere new and exciting. But if you haven't locked in your vacation plans and you don't want to splurge on a bucket list trip, taking a spur-of-the-moment jaunt can be costly, especially on a student budget. Fortunately, beyond notoriously pricey destinations such as London and Stockholm, there are plenty of vibrant locales filled with flourishing art, culture and nightlife scenes that are easily accessible, inexpensive and full of free (and bargain-friendly) attractions. So, if you're ready to plan an epic trip far, far away from campus, read on for seven standout spots for student travelers.
Tourists sitting on rock overlooking Athens, Greece and Mount Lycabettus.
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(Getty Images)

Athens, Greece

With iconic ruins and must-see sights, from the Parthenon to the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, the city caters to history and archaeology buffs. After visiting its most famous attractions (hat tip: the Acropolis), you can enjoy strolling through vibrant streets, perusing the Monastiraki Flea Market and savoring cheap eats like moussaka (grilled lamb and eggplant) at authentic tavernas. And while there are great deals to be snapped up in spring, "prices don't go down again until the late fall," says David Solomito, director of brand marketing at KAYAK. In fact, according to KAYAK's annual Travel Hacker Guide, median hotel rates in Athens in July and August are $141 and $137, respectively. Plus, Google Flights currently shows round-trip flights from Washington, D.C., area airports to Athens International Airport for $843 in June and round-trip flights from Los Angeles International Airport to Athens starting at $893 for the same period, making summer a smart time to plan a cost-effective trip.
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Visit world-class destinations on a shoestring budget.

Summer is fast approaching, and after spending mind-numbing hours cramming for final exams, you're likely yearning to use your time off to embark on a trip somewhere new and exciting. But if you haven't locked in your vacation plans and you don't want to splurge on a bucket list trip, taking a spur-of-the-moment jaunt can be costly, especially on a student budget. Fortunately, beyond notoriously pricey destinations such as London and Stockholm, there are plenty of vibrant locales filled with flourishing art, culture and nightlife scenes that are easily accessible, inexpensive and full of free (and bargain-friendly) attractions. So, if you're ready to plan an epic trip far, far away from campus, read on for seven standout spots for student travelers.

Athens, Greece

With iconic ruins and must-see sights, from the Parthenon to the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, the city caters to history and archaeology buffs. After visiting its most famous attractions (hat tip: the Acropolis), you can enjoy strolling through vibrant streets, perusing the Monastiraki Flea Market and savoring cheap eats like moussaka (grilled lamb and eggplant) at authentic tavernas. And while there are great deals to be snapped up in spring, "prices don't go down again until the late fall," says David Solomito, director of brand marketing at KAYAK. In fact, according to KAYAK's annual Travel Hacker Guide, median hotel rates in Athens in July and August are $141 and $137, respectively. Plus, Google Flights currently shows round-trip flights from Washington, D.C., area airports to Athens International Airport for $843 in June and round-trip flights from Los Angeles International Airport to Athens starting at $893 for the same period, making summer a smart time to plan a cost-effective trip.

Lisbon, Portugal

An affordable seaside locale with moderate year-round conditions, a distinctive cafe culture and a rich history, Lisbon appeals to those craving an off-the-beaten-path European adventure with a dose of Old World charm. Besides leisurely savoring a pastéis de nata (cinnamon tart) in a trendy cafe, you can carve out time to admire the city's Manueline architecture and azulejos (ornate ceramic tiles) and take in sublime views from the rolling hills of nearby Sintra. Or, if it's culture that you seek, you can check out storied sights such as St. George's Castle and Torre de Belém, a UNESCO World Heritage site, or you can visit the Lisbon Oceanarium, Europe's largest indoor aquarium. And when the evening rolls around, you can enjoy the city's world-renowned Fado music at lively nightclubs and bars along the Tagus River in lively districts like Alfama. Best of all, by picking up a Lisboa Card, you can enjoy discounted fare on transportation and reduced prices at attractions across the city. According to CheapTickets.com, current average nightly hotel rates are as low as $142, and goSeek currently lists nightly rates for less than $100 in June, July and August.

Budapest, Hungary

Students on a stringent budget will appreciate Budapest's wealth of free attractions, from Heroes' Square to the Hungarian State Opera House to Castle Hill. Once you take in impressive art at the Hungarian National Gallery, enjoy a relaxing soak at the Széchenyi thermal baths and admire the area's neo-Baroque architecture or head to Fisherman's Bastion for a fairytale neo-Gothic setting and picturesque city views from its higher-level terrace (for a small fee). With its treasure trove of historic sites, plus opportunities for shopping, museum hopping and indulging in diverse cuisine, Budapest offers a wallet-friendly getaway that doesn't compromise on culture. And planning an affordable vacation is a breeze with the city's cheap and convenient public transit options and discounted attraction and transportation rates with a Budapest card, developed by Budapest's tourism office and available online at budapest-card.com and at many transportation ticket offices throughout the city. Landing inexpensive flights is a cinch, too, with Google Flights showing flights from New York airports to Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport in June for as low as $732.

Las Vegas

For a cost-effective but fun summer vacation, "get outdoors in the Southwest," says Clem Bason, CEO of goSeek. Sure, the temperatures might be sizzling, but if you don't mind the heat, look beyond the high-rollers and glitzy casinos along the Strip, and you'll find a myriad of outdoor pursuits that are within close driving distance of Sin City. "Drive or fly to Las Vegas, and then rent a car to the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park or Death Valley," Bason says, noting that it's easy to camp or book an affordable hotel in Las Vegas. Prices for budget accommodations in Las Vegas are as low as $19 on goSeek, Bason says. Google Flights lists round-trip flights from Chicago airports to Las Vegas starting at $157 in June, round-trip flights from Portland International Airport starting at $110 and round-trip flights from San Francisco National Airport starting at $81 for the same period.

Milan

Milan may not be the first travel destination on college students' minds, but with a winning mix of big-city splendor, old-school charm and fashion-forward streets, this Italian mecca offers a cosmopolitan getaway at a reasonable price tag. From the famous La Scala opera house to the graceful spires of the Duomo to the Castello Sforzesco, a 15th-century castle that contains remarkable Renaissance art pieces, Milan offers plenty of landmarks to pique your interest. KAYAK currently lists hotels for less than $100 a night in June, and thanks to the city's convenient public transportation system, it's easy to slash costs by taking the Metro. Google Flights currently lists round-trip flights from New York airports to Milan starting at $718 in June and flights from LAX starting at $879 for the same period.

Honduras

For an outside-the-box vacation, consider skipping the increasingly popular Belize in favor of a less-trodden getaway to Honduras, suggests Alex Matjanec, co-founder and CEO of MyBankTracker.com. Catering to nature seekers and those with a zest for adventure, Honduras offers opportunities for horseback riding, diving along the world's second-largest barrier reef along the Bay Islands and the chance to admire the famed Maya ruins of Copán. Bason also suggests planning a trip to Honduras (or nearby Central American neighbors such as Belize, Guatemala or Nicaragua), thanks to the affordable flights available from both the East and West Coasts. In June, Google Flights shows round-trip flights from New York airports to San Pedro Sula's Aeropuerto Internacional Ramón Villeda Morales starting at $347 and round-trip flights from LAX starting at $331. Best of all, there are plenty of accommodation options catering to a variety of price points and preferences, from sustainable ecolodges to brand-backed chains.

Montreal

Whether you want vibrant nightlife, world-class shopping, versatile dining scenes or simply a slice of France, Montreal, with its charming boulevards, mishmash of cultures and myriad sights, offers something for every type of visitor. And thanks to the advantageous exchange rate ($1 U.S. dollar equates to about $1.4 Canadian dollars), Montreal is an excellent place for the frugal traveler. After all, strolling along the cobbled streets of Vieux-Montréal, visiting the sprawling Parc du Mont-Royal and taking in the world-renowned open-air Jean-Talon Market won't cost you a dime. If you plan a summer trip, make sure to check out the annual Montreal Internal Jazz Festival (June 30 to July 9 this year), when music icons such as Diana Ross, Lauryn Hill and Ben Harper take to the stage. With Google flights showing round-trip flights from Washington, D.C., for as low as $233 in June and flights from Boston for $252, it's easy to snap up a bargain.
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