When deciding which city to travel to in the United States the possibilities really are endless. You can choose from trendy hotspots such as New Orleans and Nashville, or for the cliché American city experience there’s New York, Miami and LA. Sadly, these world famous cities are also notoriously expensive.
If you’re after a bigger bang for your vacation buck, America is home to many more incredible and affordable cities to visit. From the West Coast to the East Coast, we have composed a list of six of the cheapest cities to visit in the USA, along with a handy travel and price guide so you’ll know exactly what you’ll get for your US Dollar.
Top Tip: Flying between states? Check out our guide for all you need to know: Domestic Flights Within the USA
Credit: Michael & Sherry Martin
Seattle is the big city name in Washington State, so why choose Tacoma? Well, Tacoma, which is Washington’s second-largest city, has undergone incredible regeneration in recent years and offers stunning new waterfronts, award-winning restaurants and contemporary arts scene, all with a surprising lack of crowds and premiums.
With the snow-capped peak Mount Rainier standing tall in the distance, Tacoma is a cornucopia of design: contemporary visions of glass and concrete mingle with older, equally striking architectural landmarks, including America’s Car Museum, Union Station and Tacoma Courthouse.
The most dramatic change the city has undergone in the last few years has got to be creation of the Museum District, where, within a few blocks, you’ll find a host of first-class museums and galleries. The Museum of Glass honours the city’s famed glass artist Dale Chihuly and is home to dynamic exhibitions, live demonstrations and the chance to try your hand at glass blowing. The Chihuly Bridge of Glass, a 500-foot (150 m) footbridge decorated by Chihuly himself, has to be Tacoma’s coolest landmark. Two massive blue crystalline glass towers stand tall, glistening in the sun during the day and a light display by night.
Top tip: If you’re a fan of art, check out our blog for more travel inspiration: 10 of the Best Art Museums and Galleries in the World.
In the evening, Tacoma offers a buzzing and growing performance arts scene. The Broadway Center for the Performing Arts encompasses three award winning theatres, offering year-round entertainment: the Pantages, Rialto and the Theatre on the Square. Running adjacent to the Theatre District you’ll also find Antique Row, two streets of quirky boutiques.
Travel: Getting around Tacoma is easy. The Tacoma Link Light Rail is a completely free light rail service, which runs a circuit of 1.6 miles (2.5 km) and connects the museum and theatre districts. Expect to pay $55 (return) for the shuttle from Seattle–Tacoma International Airport, 29 miles from the centre of Tacoma.
Accomodation: You’ll easily find accommodation in Tacoma, whatever your budget might be. Right near the waterfront, charming apartment rentals can be grabbed up from upwards of just $80 per night, although you should expect to pay upwards of $120 for a hotel room.
A thriving tourist destination, Kansas City sits on the western edge of Missouri. Perhaps the most impressive thing is that most of the city’s fantastic attractions are free, making Kansas City by far one of the most affordable locations in America. You can easily fill a long weekend while only spending a small amount on sightseeing—although perhaps a small fortune on the city’s famous barbeque cuisine.
Despite being in the heart of the great Midwest, Kansas City escapes the notoriously unpredictable Midwest weather and locals often boast about the city’s reliable four seasons. To cut the cost, avoid mid-summer, when the city is at its hottest and accomodation at a premium; even off-peak the city offers loads to do and see, no matter what the weather brings. In the warm autumn sun, enjoy the colourful and crisp Fall and take a stroll through Loose Park, for unforgettable views of the city skyline peeking above a blanket of glorious red and gold. Then, head to the Crossroads Art District, home to more than 70 free art galleries. Other top attractions include the Kaleidoscope Museum, an interactive exhibition and a favourite of kids (free entry), or a tour of the Harley-Davidson plant (also free entry). On a rainy day, take refuge inside and try your hand at rock climbing at The Cave Bouldering Gym and RoKC facility ($18 for a day pass)-an awesome day for novices, enthusiasts and children alike. If you have time, perhaps take a day-trip out to Weston for an apple picking and cider drinking experience?
Travel: In May 2019, the city introduced a new tramline, the Kansas City Streetcar, which connects connects 2.3 miles of downtown Kansas City, and all major connections. And, unsurprisingly considering the rest of the city, the Streetcar is completely free to use! If you’re staying further out of town, a $3 day pass is available on board local bus routes. The bus is also an easy way to get from the airport, just 15 miles away, into the city centre.
Accomodation: There aren't many hostels in Kansas City, but there are an abundance of budget hotels; expect to pay upwards from $100 for a hotel room per night.
There are two interesting points that make Kansas City such an affordable destination to travel to. Firstly, Kansas City is (pretty much) smack bang in the centre of America, so if you’re traveling in from another state, it won’t take long at all! Secondly, the airport is not a hub for any major airline and there isn't one airline in particular that dominates flight services, which results in competitive airfare. Expect to pay from $80-190 for a return flight.
If Albuquerque isn't on your ‘to visit’ list then you’re not alone. The largest city in New Mexico is often overlooked, but it’s at your own loss. Albuquerque is a bold, vibrant and bustling city. With more than 310 days of sunshine a year, it’s possible to ski the slopes of the nearby Sandia Mountains and play a round on an award-winning golf course, all in the same day.
Albuquerque's history reads like the rings on an ancient tree: start at the heart and discover the Old Town, where the cobbled streets and fusion of Spanish and Native American facades mark the neighbourhood as the site of the original city, founded in back in 1706. Then, venture outward along Central Avenue and one of the best preserved stretches of Route 66, under the warm glow of neon-lit hotels and kitsch diners, echoing the route’s heyday. If you head further out still, into the wider sprawl of the city to discover a new Albuquerque, which boasts a thrilling nightlife, trendy boutiques and contemporary arts scene.
Wherever you turn, you’ll find a city that is proud to honour its rich and diverse roots: Latin American flavours take pride of place in most restaurants and Native American arts and crafts adorn many gallery windows. But perhaps what Albuquerque is best known for is its balloons. During the first week of October, the city celebrates the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the world's largest annual ballooning event. The thousands of colourful balloons rising in the morning and evening sun is a beautiful spectacle to witness and photograph, whether from air, ground or rooftop bar.
If affordability is a priority, the best time to visit is from September to November. Skiers flock in the winter months to hit the slopes of the Sandia Mountains, raising hotel costs. But early Fall offers warmer days, a plentiful choice of hotels and many parties as the Balloon Fiesta season hits.
Travel: Getting around the city is easy and the standard fare for a bus journey is $1. The New Mexico Rail Runner provides a regular North-South rail service, starting from $2.
Accomodation: Hotels start from just $50 USD, with hostels even cheaper than that. Even during the Balloon festivals, competitive pricing means deals you can grab a bargain, especially if splitting the cost with friends.
All major American airlines fly into Albuquerque International Sunport Airport. Routes are less competitive and the decision regarding who to fly with will depend on your departure airport. Airlines include JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Allegiant Air, United Express, Volaris Airlines, American Eagle, and Boutique Air.
At 5,280 feet above sea level, Dever is also known as the ‘Mile High City’ and is the perfect US getaway for a big city experience combined with breathtaking adventure. The city boasts one of the world’s most incredible backyards and an easy day trip includes heading out to the Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the top outdoor adventure destinations in the world and just an hour and a half from Denver.
Within the city’s limits, Denver also offers more than 200 free beautiful and historic parks. Some guarantee mesmerising views of Denver’s imposing skyline, while others guarantee absolute isolation in a wild natural landscape. Many can also guarantee a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Red Rocks Park, as one example, is home to the only completely natural 9,000-seat amphitheatre in the world. Carved out of massive 300-foot-high red sandstone, Red Rocks is one of the most monumental and spectacular concert venues on the planet and holds regular concerts throughout the year. If it’s nature you're after, don’t forget to also visit the city’s famed Botanic Gardens, showcasing the impressive native flora and fauna of the region.
Travel: The best way to get around Denver is on foot—many of the top attractions are within walking distance—or by light rail, which costs upwards from $2.60 per journey, depending on the zone. From the Denver International Airport, the light rail will take you into the centre of town and back. The most convenient option for day tripping is to rent a car, with costs varying, although the Regional Transport District (RTD) does offer bus shuttles to the mountains.
Accomodation: You’ll find all the big-city accommodation options, from hostels, hotels or apartment rentals. If you visit during the shoulder seasons, April and May or September through to October, it’s possible to steal a room at a luxuruous hotel from just $100 per night.
Fly into Denver International Airport. For the best airfares, you can use the Alternative Airlines Search Bar to search for flights by Frontier Airlines and United Airlines, which both use the airport as a hub.
Fort Lauderdale is notably cheaper than its glitzy neighbour Miami. Famous for its landscaped beachfront promenade and white sand beaches, Fort Lauderdale is no less glamorous than its world-class sister. The perfect city for an awesome break with your mates.
Fort Lauderdale Beach is free to visit, upon which hours can be lost sunbathing on the soft sand. Whereas Miami’s beaches are always a racket, Fort Lauderdale is home to four miles of tranquil and much quieter sands. Other beaches include Dania Beach, Hollywood Beach, North Ocean Park. Swim, Jet Ski, snorkel or dive in the exceptionally clear waters, stroll the palm tree lined waterfronts, window shop at designer boutiques, or chill at one of the numerous cocktail bars and foodiey haunts.
Pick up a walking tour and gawp at manicured streets, mega mansions and the luxurious yachts dotting Millionaires Row. Revitalise your Instagram feed and then head to the outskirts of Fort Lauderdale to explore Hollywood—not to be confused with the Hollywood, California—and the neighbourhood’s amazing art murals, many by some of the best international artists. As the evening sets in, visit the Buehler Planetarium & Observatory, which happens to be free on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings, to gaze at the stars through high-tech telescopes.
Travel: Fort Lauderdale is much smaller than Miami, making it much cheaper and easier to travel between attractions. One of the best options is the city’s bike share system ($5 for half and hour or $25 for a seven-day pass).
Accomodation: Known for being a popular Spring break party destination for college students, the city caters well for tighter budgets. Hostel rooms offer beds from $40 a night, or choose from one of the many hotel and spas, from $150—although many offer off-peak discounts throughout the year.
Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport is a primary hub for JetBlue, which operates routes from destinations across America. The airport is also a hub for Silver Airways, Spirit Airlines and Tropic Ocean Airways.
Despite being the largest city in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, affectionately known as 'Philly', oozes small-town charm. Pennsylvania makes a much cheaper alternative for exploring the best of the USA’s northeast compared to its neighbour New York.
Pennsylvania has a rich history and its compact historic centre offers loads to see and do, all easily accessible by foot. Snap a photo in front of Liberty Bell, the historic symbol of American freedom (and free to visit), then take a tour of Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed and where the U.S. Constitution was created. Independence Hall, also free to visit, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the centerpiece of the beautiful Independence National Historical Park.
From Pennsylvania, it is easy to hop a train to New York City or the nation's capital, Washington, D.C, which are both approximately 90 minutes away by train. Spend a day in each city, photographing Manhattan's skyscrapers or marveling at the grandeur of the US Capital and the monuments on the National Mall.
Eating in Pennsylvania is particularly affordable and many restaurants run a BYOB policy (Bring Your Own Booze/Bottle/Beer/Beverage). Be sure to grab yourself a famous Philly cheesesteak sandwich while you’re there!
Travel: Aside from walking, Philadelphia has an excellent public transportation system. The Philadelphia PHLASH Downtown Loop offers a hop-on bus service connecting all major tourist locations (single rides are $2 USD per person or $5 for an all-day pass).
Accommodation: Hotel prices start from $120 USD per night, although bargains can be snapped up during off-peak periods.
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