The underrated European city so much cheaper than Prague and Budapest

The cost of city breaks in Europe has become so expensive many Brits don’t even consider a weekend in Paris or three nights in Madrid possible anymore. 

Alternatives like Prague and Budapest might have been cheaper around the turn of the century, but these days even a visit to a former Communist bloc location will set you back a small fortune.

Those who do manage to snare a cheap Eurostar ticket or budget flight typically find they have to compromise on where they stay.

Spots in the heart of the city are off the table, so anyone seeking to combine a bit of relaxation in a hotel spa will have to compromise on an area that requires some travel.

However, for those seeking a hack that allows you to holiday in style in a European city a very simple solution is to visit Tirana.

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The capital of Albania may not roll off the tongue when discussing fashionable destinations like Athens or Rome.

But the climate in the southern European city is comparable to both destinations. There are balmy conditions most of the year and lovely guaranteed warm weather from April to October.

Unlike the aforementioned capitals of Greece and Italy, Tirana is not a suffocatingly busy city.

Around the same size as Manchester – albeit with a very different climate to the north of England – the Albanian capital has misty mountains which on clear days feel within touching distance of the city centre.

A lush green city with wide boulevards it compares to any popular European destination for its environment.

What makes Tirana a game-changer is the price of food and accommodation.

I was able to stay at one of the country’s best hotels, The Plaza, for less than £100 a night. Considering it was a last minute booking, for those reserving a room in advance costs will be even lower.

This was a five-star hotel literally on the edge of the main square and there are plenty of cheaper options that don’t sacrifice quality or location too much. Many like The Plaza tower over the city and therefore offer incredible views.

My room on the eighth floor had scenery to rival the penthouse at The Shard in London. At night it was a sea of twinkling lights whilst the morning view was a vast cityscape framed by mountains. 

As well as being slap bang in the centre of Tirana there was plenty on offer in the building itself. Depending on how you like to relax there was a casino in the basement or spa on the higher levels.

If relaxing in jacuzzis and steaming in hot tubs is your thing the Albanian capital has plenty of spa breaks which start from just £46-a-night on Kayak – a fraction of the cost of a relaxing weekend in Britain.

The historic connections to Turkey mean most places have beautiful hammams in addition to the traditional saunas and steam rooms.

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When the evening rolls around in Tirana, it’s not like Paris or Rome where painstaking research is required to find an affordable restaurant.

In Albania’s capital fine dining can be had for the same cost as a meal in a British pub (£10 – £15).

For that price, I visited a restaurant nestled in the hills above the city where stunning views are accompanied by fine wines and huge steaks are cooked at the table. 

A vibrant coffee culture in the country means you’re never far from a top-quality Italian expresso and Albnians love nothing better than to share a coffee with friends and talk late into the night.

And staying out until the early hours in Tirana is no problem because the city is incredibly safe. As the UK government advice about the country makes clear, security in the capital is especially good and “reports of crime targeting foreigners are rare”.

I wandered the city in the early hours of the morning and felt far safer than I have in most of British cities I’ve ventured out at that time.

There’s not even a comparison to crime hotspots like Paris or Barcelona where tourists are specifically targeted.

So if you are looking for a city break that’s cheap, safe and where you eat well and relax in style – give Tirana a try.

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