Personal finance

Traveling on a budget? Here are the world’s cheapest, and costliest, cities to visit

Virojt Changyencham | Moment | Getty Images

Dreaming of a big city escape somewhere around the world, yet dreading a big credit-card bill when you get home?

Booking an urban adventure packed with excitement, entertainment and cultural engagement doesn’t have to bust your budget, according to U.K.-based Starling Bank.

The firm analyzed 35 cities worldwide, comparing metrics such as hotel, food, public transit and attractions prices, to determine an average daily cost to visitors. It also developed a calculator to help visitors to see how far 100 British pounds (about $129) a day will get them around the world. The tool can be sampled here.

Three of the top five spots for affordability turned out to be in Asia. The least affordable destinations were in North America (four of them) or Europe (one).

Head to Asia for deals

The Jama Masjid in New Delhi dates to the mid-17th century.

Todd Brown | The Image Bank | Getty Images

1. Delhi, India

A day spent touring the capital territory of India will only cost you $35.56. Top sights? The India Gate military memorial and 17th century Jama Masjid mosque in New Delhi are both free to the public. The tab for a three-course Indian meal? Figure about $8.61. A round-trip ride on public transit costs 89 cents, and the average attraction entry ticket runs about $4, Starling found.

2. Cairo, Egypt

With daily costs of just $36.82, Cairo will leave you “feeling like a pharaoh,” according to Starling. Hotel rooms in Egypt’s capital can be had for $18.17 a night, on average, while the check for a “luxury” meal might only add up to $8.59. Entrance to the pyramid complex at Giza costs about $9, with added fees for actual pyramid access. A bus ride there and back from the city center? About 60 cents total.

3. Istanbul, Turkey

Bridging Europe and Asia, history-steeped Istanbul can be yours for just $44.74 a day. Views of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are free, as is strolling the Grand Bazaar, where you can pick up treasures and treats for a song. (Turkish delight, anyone?) Wind down by watching whirling dervishes, simmering in a Turkish bath or ferrying across the Bosphorus Strait. Fill up on kebabs and baklava at about $16 a meal.

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4. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Malaysia’s capital is popular with backpackers for a reason. Stays can total just $50.80 day if you pinch your pennies. Free attractions include the Batu Caves, one of the most popular Hindu shrines to be found outside India, and the Bukit Bintang shopping and entertainment district. Dinner or lunch will run you about $11 a pop.

5. Beijing, China

It’ll set you back just $52.64 a day to explore the capital of the People’s Republic of China. Top attractions in Beijing cost just about $8 on average and there’s plenty to see and do. Scale the Great Wall of China, wander Tiananmen Square or inspect the recesses of the Forbidden City without breaking the bank. Metro fares are about 50 cents for travel within an 8-mile radius. And then there’s all that Chinese food …

Eat, see on the cheap

El Camino Street in the La Boca district of Buenos Aires.

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The three world cities where the generally agreed-upon top attractions are free or the least expensive are, according to Starling, Sydney, Australia; Santiago, Chile; and Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Down Under, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Bondi Beach can both be accessed free of charge. Santiago’s views of the surrounding Andes Mountains are free, as are strolls through Plaza de Armas square and climbs up San Cristobal and Santa Lucia hills. In Buenos Aires, tango your way through the streets of the colorful La Boca district or explore the alternately creepy and stunning confines of La Recoleta Cemetery — all for nothing.

The cheapest dinners and drinks, on average, to be found in the cities surveyed can be found in Bangkok. A local dish — be it tom yum goong (shrimp soup) or khao pad (fried rice) — plus a bottle of water will set you back only $2.25 in the capital of Thailand, Starling found.

Budget busters

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And now for the bad news.

A lot of appealing cities are not only bucket-list toppers but, unfortunately, budget busters, too. The Big Apple is the worst offender, according to Starling. Despite the availability of free attractions such as Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge, New York plucks nearly $226 a day out of visitor wallets. The bank estimates “three main meals” costing up to $60.48 a day. On the bargain side of things? Unlimited subway and bus rides can be had for $33 a week. Plus, the Staten Island Ferry ride through New York Harbor is always free.

We’re still in the States for the next-biggest cash drain: Los Angeles. A day in La La Land will set you back about $217. Starling’s data revealed an average per night rate of $112.64 for a hotel bed in the City of Angels. Peering up at the Hollywood Sign or inspecting stars of the Hollywood Walk of Fame remain free, however.

It’s across the pond for the third-most-expensive destination. It’s no secret that London is pricey, with average daily costs of $206 per person. A typical meal will set you back nearly $57, while hotel nights cost almost $115 on average. Exchange rates are also rarely favorable for Americans, and is about £1=$1.28.

Rounding out the bottom five for affordability on Starling’s list were Miami and the resort town of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.

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