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Travel

5 Great Cities for a Cheap Vacation

These destinations offer affordable accommodations and an abundance of low- and no-cost things to do.

If you’re looking for an inexpensive getaway before the kids head back to school or simply want to explore locations other than high-priced major metropolitan areas, we’ve rounded up five destinations that are affordable and fun.

 

We based our list on discount travel site Hotwire’s annual list of the top ten cities that offer the best combination of value and attractions. Hotwire evaluated prices for airfare, hotels and car rentals as well as affordable entertainment options in 75 U.S. leisure markets to generate its top-ten ranking. We narrowed the list down to five cities we’ve visited to offer first-hand knowledge of low- and no-cost activities that are fun for a variety of travelers.

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Atlanta. Although it’s among the top ten largest metropolitan areas in the country, Atlanta doesn’t have big city prices. In fact, its low prices put it in the number-one spot on the Hotwire value index. A search on travel site Kayak.com turned up several hotels -- including Hilton, Sheraton and Wyndham – with rooms for less than $100 a night. And you don’t have to spend a lot on a good meal if you visit one of the city’s many food trucks.

While you’re there, you can take a free guided art tour of downtown to see historical sites and monuments in addition to 15 public artworks. Centennial Olympic Park, created for the 1996 Olympic Games, hosts frequent concerts and festivals, many of them free. You can visit the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site for free and learn about the civil rights movement. Hike to the top of Stone Mountain, ride the roller coasters at Six Flags Over Georgia or see the largest collection of aquatic animals at the Georgia Aquariaum.

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Albuquerque. New Mexico’s largest city has been on Kiplinger’s Best Cities list a couple of times because it’s a great value. We found several major chain hotels with rooms for about $100 or less a night, and boutique and independent hotels for about $150 a night. For affordable dining, head to an authentic New Mexican restaurant to sample the area’s red or green chiles.

For free, you can hike the trails along the Rio Grande or up the Sandia Mountains, stroll through historic Old Town and drive along the Turqoise Trail through old mining towns that are now home to art galleries and museums. Tour one of the area’s many wineries and breweries. And visit the ABQ BioPark, which has a zoo, aquarium, botanical garden and fishing lakes, for just $20 per adult, $6 per child for all four facilities.

Nashville. Hotel rates are higher in Music City than in other cities on this list ($200 and up for downtown accommodations), but there’s an abundance of free, fun entertainment. You can listen to up-and-coming bands (and occasionally big-name musicians) play seven days a week at the honky-tonks downtown without paying a cover charge. There are several free music festivals throughout the year. The 132-acre Centennial Park has free concerts and a Shakespeare in the Park series in the summer. Galleries stay open late on the first Saturday of every month for art crawls. And children are admitted free to many of the city’s museums. Watch out for taxes, though, which can quickly add up if you stay in a hotel, rent a car and dine out (see Tax Heavens and Hells for Travelers). For lower-priced accommodations, check hotels near the airport.

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Orlando. Although the main attraction in this Florida city -- Walt Disney World -- can be pricey, there are plenty of low- and no-cost entertainment options. The 43-acre Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando is a favorite of residents for its free concerts, farmer’s market and abundance of swans that you can feed. Many of the city’s museums and galleries offer free admission on select days of the week. Or you can visit the Central Florida Zoo for a fraction of the cost of admission to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. If you do want to visit Walt Disney World, here are tips to help you save money.

We found resort properties listed on Kayak.com for $100 to $150 and standard hotel rooms for less than $100 a night. Plus, Orlando has one of the lowest tax bills for travelers.

St. Louis. The Gateway City has an abundance of free attractions, including the Saint Louis Zoo, the Saint Louis Science Center, the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Anheuser-Busch Brewery tour. And for just $10, you can take a ride to the top of the Gateway Arch. Prices for downtown hotels range from $150 to $200.

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