Thanks to the UKs political tiff on June 23rd the British Pound to Euro rate crashed to its lowest point ever. The market rate of £0.8325 to €1 in July meant that a number of the more unscrupulous high street retailers were offering a near £1 to €1 rate.
For travellers and holidaymakers, this exchange rate made travelling to the Eurozone nearly 25% higher than the same time last year (With a rate of 1GBP to 1.30 Euro), which had already fallen from €1.45 in the halcyon days in 2015.
As for this year, the exchange rate is anyone’s guess… we’ve already seen a drop whenever Theresa May mentions Brexit… So how can you get around this instability?
Well, the answer lies outside the EuroZone- 10 EU countries and a further 18, non-EU, European countries still hold their own currency. Each with very different and often stable exchange rate to the GBP.
Let’s take look at some countries where you Sterling may get a little more punch for its pound.
Poland the home of the budget city break. A varied country with enough major cities to keep even the canniest traveller in activities for months. UK airports have sweetened up to flights to Poland over the last five years with almost every city accounted for from the UK.
Flights are very rarely over £100 and in many cases routes flown by low-cost carriers WizzAir, Jet2 or Ryanair from their hubs in Luton, Stansted or Manchester respectively, will come in well under £60 return.
Poland uses the Zloty currency, rates are currently around 5.3zł to the pound, which has dropped slightly since Brexit (around 7%) but hasn’t made a huge difference to prices.
Krakow is renowned as the jewel of Poland. The city has enough to do for any type of traveller; the culture seeker can take a look round the impressive Wieliczka salt mines or the more sombre Auschwitz-Birkenau. City-Dwellers get a maze or old town buildings and attractions and of course, for the party-goer Krakow’s nightlife is fuelled by a mix of students, tourists and locals sipping a cracking array of strong Pivo.
Further north from Krakow is the capital of Poland, Warsaw. The city has suffered from a bad reputation in the past as the ugly sister of the country, but its harsh treatment is really unfounded. Although a large metropolitan city in its rights, the centre is traditionally Polish ‘old town’. A warren of castle fortifications, old shops and interesting pubs and restaurants.
Outside the old town, the city bleeds into large green areas with a zoo, striking national stadium and a more modern district with the imposing ex-soviet Palace of Culture, towering above its skyline. There’s plenty to do for a long weekend in the city and is arguably a little cheaper than Krakow in terms of living costs.
Head even further north to the Baltic and you’ll find yourself in Gdansk. A ‘free city’ that has changed hands enough times to carve out its own look and feel. Formally, Danzig, Gdansk is a mixture of Hanseatic, old town and working city. A comparison to its Baltic neighbour Hamburg would not be unfair, but its look and feel are certainly older and more compact. In summer, affordable trains run north out of Gdansk to the Baltic seaside resort of Sopot or to Gdynia.
Other great options are 2020 the previous European capital of culture Wroclaw, mountain retreat Zakopane and compact Poznan.
By far the best value destination on this list and in many cases, the cheapest is Ukraine. After a pretty hairy couple of years with political turmoil and the Russian annexation of Crimea, Ukraine is by no means out of the heat, but stick to the west of the country and you’ll be rewarded with a number of interesting cities.
The lively capital Kiev is likely the best starting place. The 5th largest city in Europe is a surprisingly beautiful mixture of Russian, Austrian and Soviet architecture over a winning sprawling city. Orthodox churches dot the city and as most Kiev’s natives will tell you, “they love a statue”.
An hour outside the city you have the fascinating Chernobyl nuclear site and surrounding village of Pripyat- tours can be easily booked from the city.
If you want something a little different in Ukraine, most natives head to Odessa for the summer. A large city on the banks of the Black sea, a former hotspot for soviet big-wigs, the town is a party mecca but also has the size to sustain year-round activities.
And for something a little more ‘traditionally European’, the city of Lviv is like a Ukrainian Krakow, except a little less busy and far cheaper.
Note, Ukraine is a huge country with relatively poor transit, travel on land between Kiev and Lviv could take 6 hours plus and the same to the coast. Flying is often a necessity.
The tiny landlocked country in the Balkans may not be the top of many travel lists, but an influx of flights by low-cost airline WizzAir from the UK has opened the country up to travellers. With two major destinations, FYRO Macedonia (Not to be confused with Macedonia region Greece) is a cracking week getaway.
Most flights arrive into the capital Skopje– An interesting city that has seen huge amounts of developments over the last 10 years. The old capital has seen huge amounts of regeneration to the centre with a mixture of spectacular and erratic city planning. Think massive horse statues and beautiful sweeping sculptures. If the city itself isn’t your bag, Skopje is surrounded by a number of interesting day trips like Matka Canyon, Vodno Mountain and Marko’s Monastery.
Macedonia’s other attraction is Lake Ohrid and its namesake town. The beautiful lake town is actually high up in the mountains creating some particularly stunning sites and enough water-based activities to keep you in fun for a few days. From May onwards Ohrid begins to liven up from a hilltop town to the Macedonian equivalent of the seaside. You can now fly into Ohrid airport from a few select UK destinations.
As the country is still relatively unknown to western tourism, prices are still very affordable and £1 will get you about 75 Macedonian Denar. As a rough guide, a beer will set you back around 80-100 Denar and a meal in an average restaurant is 500-750 Denar.
Check out the newest… named… a country in Europe; Czechia, or the Czech Republic to most of us.
Best known for its beautiful capital Prague, Czechia is easily reached from the UK and is still very affordable for the most western country on our list.
As a gateway to Eastern Europe, Prague is a brilliant first city for those who haven’t tried Eastern Europe before. It’s busy, it’s cosy and it’s beautiful. The city is traditionally central European, a mixture of gothic and baroque architecture with enough narrow winding streets to get permanently lost in. Central Prague (Praha 1) is renowned for its nightlife, beer and restaurants. Freezing and decked out like a fairy tale in winter with markets and hearty food. Summer changes the city into a sprawl of on-street bars, riverside cafés and restaurants.
Away from Prague is the hilltop town of Cesky Krumlov. Pretty much a polar opposite of the nation’s capital, this town is tucked away in the hills and has a much slower pace. Still housing lots of bars and café’s but without the bouncing long weekend scene of Prague.
A city often overlooked in Czechia is Olomouc. Although small the university town is certainly worth a visit. The relatively flat city means it’s easy to wander and the student population drives the prices of food and drink down.
Czechia currently uses the Czech Koruna with a rate that dances currently around 35CZK to the pound.
Fancy a seaside break to the med but don’t fancy stumping up for France or Italy? Take a look at Croatia.
Although technically on the Dalmatian coast, Croatia is the Nuevo-Italian Riviera for a fraction of the cost and now easy to get to with flights into Split, Dubrovnik, Rijeka and Pula uber cheap out of the school holidays.
We could talk for hours on all the destinations, so it’s been narrowed down a little.
Dubrovnik, probably the most recognisable destination in Croatia thanks to the success of Game of Thrones. Dubrovnik is a walled coasted city surrounded by mountains on one side and…well the sea on the other. There are loads to do in the old town with walking tours, beach bars and a flood of delicious seafood restaurants. Outside the city, you have hiking trails, mountains, nature reserves and tiny islands. For the more adventurous, Dubrovnik is split from ‘mainland’ Croatia by Bosnia, an excursion to Mostar is worth the trek if you have a couple of days to spare.
About halfway ‘up’ Croatia is the suitably named town called, Split. The city was originally built around the central Diocletian palace which has given the town a somewhat ‘regal’ feel. Highly polished white pedestrian walks cover the city meaning the central zone is rife in summer with bars, restaurants and street performers looking out to the Dalmatian Riviera. Split is renowned as somewhat a sporty city with football, basketball, Tennis and Sailing huge in the psyche.
Split is also the gateway to some of Croatia more distinct islands. The summer party island of Hvar is an hour or so away via catamaran and Bol, home of Zlatni Rat beach is even closer.
Prices in Croatia have steadily crept up over the last five years, but the country is still far cheaper than anywhere on the Riviera. A pound will probably get you about 9 Croatian Kuna which is about 10% less than last year, but it is recovering (fingers crossed).
If these countries weren’t enough to think about travelling why not check out top 5 underrated countries in Europe.