There are plenty of reasons people dream about vacationing in the Mediterranean: sunshine and balmy breezes, pristine beaches, inviting sidewalk cafes, and stunning architecture that dates back hundreds — sometimes thousands — of years. But the coasts of France, Italy, and Spain — and beautiful Mediterranean islands such as Malta, Corsica, Sicily, and Mallorca — are so desirable in high season that hotel rates are often beyond many travelers’ budgets. For an equally appealing vibe with cheaper prices, here are seven alternative destinations if you can’t afford the Mediterranean.
The coasts of Croatia and Montenegro on the Adriatic Sea are lined with historic cities, beach-front resort towns, and picturesque offshore islands. Depending on your interests, head to Croatia to walk the medieval walls of postcard-perfect Dubrovnik, visit Diocletian’s Palace in Split, or ride bikes and sip wines in Hvar. In Montenegro, hike up to a fortress that affords scenic views over UNESCO World Heritage-protected Kotor, or swim at one of 17 golden-sand beaches in Budva. And in these neighboring non-euro countries, prices are decidedly less than in the Med.
This Portuguese island, located in the Atlantic off the northwest coast of Africa, is blessed with a year-round spring-like climate, lush mountains and valleys, and a wine-making tradition with ties to the Declaration of Independence (it was used to toast the signing). Madeira — one of two inhabited islands in the small archipelago (the other being Porto Santo) — is also a budget-traveler’s Eden. In the capital, Funchal, you can enjoy tastings of fortified Madeira wine, walk the island’s scenic levadas (irrigation canals), and book a hotel room for less than $100 per night.
Cuba may be in the Caribbean, but strolling amid Havana’s Baroque architecture and Moorish-Spanish colonial design you can feel its Mediterranean lineage. And now with almost every cruise line — from budget-friendly Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian to splurge-worthy Azamara, Oceania, and Viking — offering Cuba itineraries from Miami, traveling here is within reach (and the easiest way for Americans to visit, given current land-visit restrictions). Beyond the capital, colorful Santiago de Cuba and lovely Cienfuegos (other Cuban ports of call) offer more historic buildings and squares that wouldn’t feel out of place in Spain or France.
It’s hard to beat Tallinn for centuries-old historic charm. The capital of Estonia (the northernmost of the three Baltic states in Northeastern Europe) looks like it's been lifted from a fairytale, with a UNESCO-designated medieval Old Town surrounded by a 13th-century wall with photogenic red-roofed turrets. This is the best-preserved Hanseatic city in Europe, a place you can wander cobblestone streets, visit one of the continent’s oldest pharmacies (it dates to 1422), nibble on freshly made marzipan, and sip craft beer at a hipster micro-brewery or honey beer in a pub with medieval decor.
This French-speaking Canadian city actually sizzles — reaching temperatures in the 90s — in July and August, when festival season puts music, movies, and comedy center stage. And while you won’t find palm trees or beaches, there’s plenty of old-world French charm in Vieux-Montréal, the cobblestoned old town located along the picturesque banks of the St. Lawrence River. Add in a terrific dining and nightlife scene and extensive shopping — all at a 25-percent discount at current exchange rates — and Montréal is a short-distance escape with a long-distance feel.
Your U.S. dollars will go a long way in Poland, where from Gdańsk on the Baltic coast’s Polish Riviera to the magnificent boulevards and squares of Kraków, centuries of history and eye-catching architecture are on vivid display. If you love the water, check out the beautifully restored old town of Gdańsk, where every building is a mosaic of color and detail. The harbor area and pedestrian boulevard invite you to spend a bit of zloty on local beer and affordable Polish treats like pierogi, kielbasa, and beet soup (you’ll find great bargain prices on glass and ceramics as well). Kraków, in the south, is home to numerous museums and churches as well as Wawel Castle and Rynek Glówny, Europe’s largest market square.
Another beauty, Hungary’s capital isn’t on the coast but rather on the legendary Danube River, which divides it into Buda and Pest. The photo-ops are endless as you cross the Chain Bridge to the Buda side and stroll the white marble walkways of the Fisherman’s Bastion, which offers wonderful views of Pest’s most famous landmark: the neo-Gothic Hungarian Parliament Building. Also worth a visit: The Széchenyi Baths, a traditional thermal spa set in a neo-Baroque palace, and the city’s growing number of wine bars. Added bonus: The Hungarian forint has a far better U.S.-dollar exchange rate than the euro.