If you’ve been following along on our journey for a while, it probably comes as no surprise to hear me say that I love Europe. Ever since I was young, I was enamored with the idea of living abroad and traveling to a different European country every month. Cities in Europe just seemed more romantic than anywhere else I’d been — from the cobblestone streets of Amsterdam, to parks in London, to the city lights in Paris. The list goes on and on.
Famous cities aside, there are plenty of lesser-known destinations that are just as romantic (if not more so!) and more budget-friendly than a weekend in Rome. These are some of my favorite romantic European destinations, ones that can be done on any budget and that I could return to again and again…
Kotor & Budva, Montenegro
Left to right from top of page: views of Kotor Bay from Perast, the beach in front of Sveti Stefan, a seafood dinner at Cafe Armonia in Kotor, the beach at Sveti Nicola island (accessible by boat from Budva), a restaurant on Sveti Stefan.
Still relatively undiscovered to the average traveler, Montenegro has a lot to offer when it comes to romance. The medieval town of Kotor is small, with winding alleyways, cobblestone streets, and brick houses. Kotor Bay has sweeping views of the mountains and is dotted with quaint waterfront restaurants serving fresh seafood. It’s also cheap — we paid less than $30 for a three-course dinner and drinks here! Plus, the seaside town of Budva and Sveti Stefan island and beach are just a half hour drive away. Go in the offseason — we visited in April– and spend a couple of nights in Kotor Bay, hiking and exploring the old towns, then move on to Budva. You’ll have the beaches there all to yourself.
Between the endless food options, museums, and bathhouses, you could spend a week in Budapest and still have only scratched the surface. Though Budapest is a large city, it’s budget-friendly, with 3-star hotels starting at $30/night. Take advantage of the pricing and book a spa day for you and your significant other. Don’t miss enjoying the city’s beautiful architecture and Hungarian food scene. If your schedule allows, spend a couple of nights on the ‘Buda’ side of the river and then switch to ‘Pest’ for a totally different neighborhood feel.
Lake Bled, Slovenia
Nestled in the Julian Alps, Lake Bled in Slovenia is a welcome retreat from your standard European town. There are a variety of restaurant options and things to do, but the real draw are the views. Your trip should start with a leisurely walk around Lake Bled in the morning to soak in the atmosphere and spend some quality time with your significant other. On a sunny day you’ll be joined by families, people with their dogs, joggers, rowers — this lake town is bustling. Dinner at Bled Castle is essential (take the forest path!) since it offers sweeping views of the area. Don’t miss Vintgar Gorge, a 10-minute drive from town, for one of the most beautiful walking paths I’ve seen.
Strasbourg & Colmar, France
If I had to choose one country with the most romantic towns, I think it would have to be France. Some favorites include Annecy, Grenoble, and Semur-en-Auxois — but Strasbourg and Colmar take the cake for postcard-perfect French villages. They also have some of the best Christmas Markets in Europe during the winter! You’ll love the French half-timbered houses, freshly baked pastries, and picturesque rivers that can be found in both of these historic towns. Whether you choose to stay in one town or in between the two, you’re sure to appreciate the romantic feel of the Alsace region.
Lake Ohrid, Macedonia
Left to right: the Church of St. John at Kaneo, a boat on Lake Ohrid, pier love on the lake, a wood walking path on Lake Ohrid.
Though it borders Greece, Macedonia is often overlooked by the average traveler — which makes it the perfect budget-friendly getaway. Lake Ohrid is one of Europe’s deepest and oldest lakes, and the local town is sleepy and romantic, with old city walls steps away from walking paths on the water. We ate like kings here and spent less than $10 on most meals, in between exploring the town, taking day trips (look up Sveti Naum and Galicica National Park) and enjoying the spring rain from our balcony.
Southern Tuscany, Italy
Nothing quite compares to the vineyards and small towns of Southern Tuscany in Italy. While most who travel to Tuscany focus on the central region, after three visits here I’ve found that I far prefer the southern wine country. First off, if you visit in Spring or early Summer, you’ll find that most towns are completely quiet (a harsh contrast to the crowded streets of Siena and Florence in the warmer months). Southern Tuscany is also in close proximity to some amazing beaches, as well as the Cascate del Mulino mineral baths. There’s plenty of pizza and pasta to go around here — and it’s half the price if you’re hitting the local spots.
Utrecht & Amersfoort, The Netherlands
Though many visit The Netherlands just to spend a few nights in Amsterdam, there are numerous Dutch towns that are perfect for couples who appreciate a local city experience. The charming town of Utrecht is just a half hour train ride from Amsterdam’s Central Station and features canal-front restaurants, local shopping, and outdoor markets in the summer. Hotels start at $70/night and provide a perfect jumping off point to explore other Dutch towns, like Amersfoort — one of my favorites for its medieval walls and moats. Don’t miss a day trip to Kasteel De Haar, the largest castle in The Netherlands.
Left to right: a bench overlooking Brașov town, the Black Church, views of Brașov from the bar at the Aro Palace Hotel, stables in Poiana Brașov.
If you’ve read some of my recent posts, you might know that our visit to the Transylvania region of Romania was one of my favorites since moving abroad. The pastel town of Brașov was the highlight of our trip — it features some of the trendiest coffee shops and local spots tucked between old streets and buildings. Because of its close proximity to the mountains, the nearby Poiana Brașov becomes a ski town in winter (a far more reasonable option over your typical Swiss town) and has horseback-riding and ATV-ing in summer. Plus, Dracula’s castle and plenty of other Transylvanian towns are all within driving distance.
Hvar Island, Croatia
Croatia has become a hotspot over the years after its rise to fame from the Game of Thrones series. However, many visitors still don’t make it over to the islands from their standard stop in Dubrovnik or Split — which leaves plenty of opportunities for you to enjoy them without the jam-packed squares. Hvar felt like a private island getaway when we visited in late Spring, but it does get busier in the summertime once everyone starts to bring their boat in. My tip: if you don’t mind the busier months, visit in June or July to see the blooming lavender fields. The shoulder season in September will give you more peace and quiet — and the water will still be warm.
Though not initially as budget-friendly as the rest, there are plenty of ways to stay in Santorini without splurging. Hotels and Airbnbs are a fourth of their typical price in the off season. The months of March and April and October and November are the best time to find deals, and booking 4 to 8 months in advance will give you the best options. Some of my favorite activities on Santorini are completely free — cliff jumping in Ammoudi Bay, visiting the black sand beaches, and hiking from Fira to Oia. Take the bus and enjoy the street gyros and greek yogurt to keep on a budget. Or if you’re going to splurge in one of these European destinations — make it Santorini. 😉