10 TO WATCH
Top Budget Travel Destinations for 2011
We analyzed a year's worth of news, trends, and statistics to identify the world's best value destinations for 2011. From China to our own backyard, here are ten places that you can't afford to miss.
Months in the making, Budget Travel's annual list of the hottest budget destinations focuses on destinations that are as fun as they are affordable. Some of our picks (like Estonia's capital, Tallinn) are up-and-coming, while others (like Dublin) are classics that have recently dropped in price. Best of all, we don't just tell you where to go, we also share the ideal season to visit, where to stay, and what airlines to fly to maximize your savings. Wherever we send you, the key is in the timing: right now.
Why in 2011: Ireland's banks are struggling—the country recently accepted a $112 billion bailout from the European Union—but the economic turmoil has an upshot for tourists: kind prices. Exchange rates have improved by 7 percent over last year and lodging prices are the lowest of any major city in Western Europe. In fact, scoring a bed in Dublin costs 7 percent less than it did in 2009. Restaurants are similarly well-priced; even the Michelin-starred Chapter One is offering a four-course, pre-theatre menu for $65—a bargain when you consider that a full meal is $105. And transportation is equally cheap: Dublinbikes, the city's cycle-share program, rents out bikes for $2.50 for three days, and rides clocking in at 30 minutes or less are free. Even the $13 tax levied on Dublin International Airport travelers will soon be slashed to $4 in an effort to boost tourism.
Best time to visit Dublin: Travelers swarm the capital during July and August, but a June trip offers nearly the same weather without peak-season prices (temperatures average 64 degrees). Plus, the month is packed with events like Bloom in the Park, a massive garden show; Taste of Dublin, and Bloomsday; a celebration of Ireland's literary patron saint—James Joyce.
Price check: If you're set on a warm weather trip, a recent search for June found round-trip, nonstop tickets for $746 from New York (Aer Lingus); one-stops from $727 from Chicago (Scandinavian Airlines) and $1,163 from San Francisco (Continental).
Where to stay: The three-star Harcourt Hotel, located in the former Georgian home of George Bernard Shaw, is centrally located and has 104 rooms. Harcourthotel.com, doubles from $91
Why in 2011: As Portugal liberalizes—it became the sixth European nation to OK gay marriage in May 2010—its capital is transforming into a hotbed of dining, shopping, and art. According to Hotel.com's 2010 Hotel Price Index, Lisbon is the third city in the world (after Warsaw and Marrakech) where luxury comes cheapest: on average, a five-star hotel room rings up at a mere $153 a night. Plus, four-star hotel rates have fallen 5 percent since 2009. In spite of its much publicized money woes, the country has beefed up infrastructure in recent years, spending millions of dollars to improve highways and Lisbon's public-transportation system ($5 buys you a one-day metro pass). Best of all, because Lisbon is a major European hub, flights are abundant. U.K. budget airline easyJet will open a base in Lisbon this winter, so even if you can't fly direct from the U.S., you can score a cheap connecting flight from lots of European cities, like London and Barcelona (even now, one-way flights to Lisbon from London start at $44).
Best time to visit Lisbon: Spring. The country's climate is similar to southern California's, which means going in May lets you skip summer's crowds without compromising on warm, sunny weather (temps average 70 degrees). It's also the month that outdoor festivals kick into gear, including IndieLisboa, a popular 11-day event devoted to independent Portuguese films.
Price check: A recent search for flights in May found direct round-trip fares from New York starting at $838 on Continental and one-stop, round-trip flights from Chicago from $758 on Iberia; $844 from Miami (Air Europa); and $904 from Los Angeles (British Airways).
Where to stay: Restored in 2010, the four-star LX Boutique Hotel has five floors, each devoted to a different local theme. Our favorite is the second, which honors Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa with book-stocked berths. Lxboutiquehotel.com, doubles from $106