26 Awesome (and Affordable!) Alternatives to Pricey Vacation Hot Spots
Sure, we love Paris, London, Cancun—who doesn't?—but before you click the "book" button on a trip to one of the pricey "usual suspects," you MUST consider one of these budget alternatives, where you'll get more space, better perks, fewer crowds, and luxuries you never dreamed you could afford!
1. Go to Montreal, Not Paris
Mon dieu! Overseas flights and City of Light prices can blow a budget pretty quickly; immerse yourself in French language and culture in Montreal instead. The city's brand-new, streamlined Alt Hotel is très chic and doesn't do low-season or high-season rates: Rooms are $131 per night, every night (montreal.althotels.ca). Je voudrais un croque monsieur, you say? Grab one to stay or to go at Café Grévin by Europea downtown ($7, cafegrevinpareuropea.ca). Psst—they have wine, too. Afterward, learn all about "New France" at the historic site and museum Château Ramezay and take a stroll through its replica French colonial garden (about $9, chateauramezay.qc.ca). For dinner, hit the bar at Laloux for modern French bistro fare. The special "intermission menu" offers two entrees and a dessert for each person—we're talking roasted quail with chanterelles, and maple profiteroles with vanilla ice cream and hazelnuts—for about $17.50 (laloux.com).
2. Go to Warsaw, Not London
Rich European history, mesmerizing museums, and quality time at the pub can all be had in Warsaw for less than you'd pay in London. The capital of Poland is an eminently walkable city, with cheap public transportation (about $5 for an all-day pass) and museum admission prices that top out at about $6.50 on days they're not completely free. Boutique Bed & Breakfast, near the Chopin Museum, has a charming, old-world feel and hosts piano concerts on the second floor ($70 per night, bbwarsaw.com). Fish around in your pockets for $1.20, and you've got entrée into the Warsaw Fotoplastikon, one of the few turn-of-the-century 3-D photo theaters left in the world. View original historical photographs of subjects ranging from WWII-era Warsaw to the Radio City Rockettes high-kicking in the late 1960s (fotoplastikonwarszawski.pl). When your inevitable pierogi craving hits, stop into one of the city's "milk bars," known for serving dairy-based items and traditional Polish food. An order of dumplings will run you less than $3 at Mleczarnia, a popular milk bar chain with locations in the city center (mleczarniajerozolimska.pl). Kicking back at a Warsaw bar for happy hour comes cheap: A pint of beer is usually less than two bucks.
3. Go to Playa del Carmen, Not Cancun
Get more breathing room for your money—and rub elbows with fewer sunburned tourists—in sustainability- and preservation-focused Playa del Carmen. Hotels in the Riviera Maya are designed around the existing mangroves, limited to four stories, and more spaced out than Cancun. Go all-inclusive for less: The recently renovated Barceló Maya Beach, for example, starts at $95 per person (barcelo.com). Cheap eats are basically synonymous with "tacos" in Playa Del Carmen. Get your fix in town at Los Aguachiles, a hip joint where the seafood tacos are fresh and the Dos Equis is cold (tacos from $1.89, losaguachiles.mx), then take a seven-minute stroll to Ah Cacao Chocolate Café on 5th Avenue for a hot cup of Mexican cacao direct from the plantation, with a luscious, pillowy brownie on the side (from $1.50, ahcacao.com). But back to why you're really here: Scenesters, gorgeous Mamitas Beach is calling your name. It's a popular spot for both locals and out-of-towners, and the site of the free Riviera Maya Jazz Festival in late November (rivieramayajazzfestival.com).
4. Go to Eleuthera, Not Nassau
Most tourists' Bahamas journeys stop at Nassau, but consider going one step farther and hopping a small plane to the nearby Out Islands for privacy and unspoiled beauty. The draw of the long, crescent-shaped island of Eleuthera is its pink-sand beaches and still-rugged charm. The Bahamas tourism board is keen on drawing travelers to the islands, so check its website for deals like buy-one-get-one-free airfare and scuba-diving resort credits (myoutislands.com). Tippy's restaurant is where the social action is: Located in the Pineapple Fields beach hotel right on the Atlantic Ocean, Tippy's has ever-changing lunch and dinner menus heavy on local produce and seafood, like cracked conch and grouper tacos (lunch entrees from $12, pineapplefields.com). Staying overnight at Pineapple Fields is on the pricier side, but every unit is a condo with full kitchen, veranda, and easy pool and beach access (from $170, pineapplefields.com). For fewer frills, but a rustic feel and your very own cottage on the beach, Northside Inn & Restaurant, in south Eleuthera, touts its ocean views and its food—jerk chicken, grouper fingers, homemade mac and cheese, and conch dishes, all cooked by proprietor and native Bahamian Rose Gibson (from $100 per night, northsideinneleuthera.com). Wherever you go for dinner, if you see a dessert menu, pick the pineapple tart. Pineapple plantations are plentiful on Eleuthera; the annual Pineapple Festival in June celebrates pineapple farmers with events including a pineapple-eating contest, a swim/bike/run "pineathlon," and a Little Miss Pineapple Pageant. If you can't make the festival, for another type of party, hit the local Anchor Bay fish fry in Governor's Harbour, held every Friday night at 6, for a meal of fried fish, barbecued chicken, sides like peas and rice, and the "rum bubbas"—especially potent fruit-juice cocktails that have been known to inspire earnest killer dance moves ($10, bahamas.com).