Perhaps wandering the Champs-Élysées dominates your city break fantasies? Or do Copenhagen’s cobbled streets and angular architecture appeal? Maybe an autumnal wander through New York’s Central Park is high on your 2022 wishlist? Before you settle on one of these classic destinations, why not scan the World Cost of Living survey for a more original – and affordable – choice?
The latest iteration of the twice-yearly report by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that all three of these cities were among the most expensive on earth (although Tel Aviv took top billing).
Yet lingering at the cheaper end of this metropolis roll call is a mix of ever-enticing destinations (such as Buenos Aires) and less obvious holiday spots (like Tashkent and Manaus).
Focus on the lower half of the table, and you'll discover fascinating fragments of Roman history, wildlife-rich urban rainforest and maze-like bazaars. Here are alternative city suggestions with which to begin your new year travel map (subject to the latest border restrictions, of course).
A Central Asian hub with a history that dates back two millennia, Tashkent could make a fascinating escape come spring or autumn (this is when Uzbekistan’s weather is most hospitable). It is also the world’s third cheapest city, according to the EIU report; only Damascus and Tripoli have lower living costs.
It is possible to travel to this under-appreciated 'stan' independently: Uzbekistan Airlines offers (sporadic) direct flights between London and Tashkent. Plus, Britons can visit the country for up to 30 days without a visa, so you may be tempted by a longer break, taking in more Uzbek treasures. Explore, for example, offers a 13-day ‘Wonders of the Silk Road’ trip that begins in Turkmenistan, takes you across the border and rounds off with a tour around a bazaar, the city's more modern monuments and its ‘Courage Monument’, which was opened in 1976 to mark the 10th anniversary of the earthquake that destroyed the city.
After the disaster left some 300,000 people homeless, Soviet industriousness ensured the city was rebuilt at an incredible pace. This effort left behind a mix of Brutalist and classical Russian architecture, with a smattering of 12th-century mosques. Hazel Plush, who visited in 2018, suggests staying at Hotel Uzbekistan to appreciate the Soviet aesthetic up close. Single rooms start from around UZS 431,600 (£30).
The fourth cheapest city in this year’s rankings will delight history lovers – and is best visited in autumn.
Its eight-line metro system allows you to zip between key attractions such as its labyrinthine medina, its oldest mosque (Ez-Zitouna) and Cathédrale Saint-Vincent-de-Paul for tiny sums (as little as 8p per ride).
Between sightseeing, break for some delicious North African fare, which is available at very reasonable prices. Think dishes of couscous and lamb for under £15 in the gilded family mansion of Dar El Jeld, or treats such as cuttlefish and grilled squid at Chez Slah, which is housed in a 19th-century villa.
While low in cost, Tunis is rich in heritage with the Bardo National Museum (which retraces Tunisia’s past through collections of mosaics, jewels, sculptures and more) and the Archaeological Site of Carthage (in a suburb of the city) among its most rewarding ports of call.
Direct routes are available from London and Manchester to Tunis with TunisAir, with the average flight time just skirting the three-hour mark. Check into Dar El Médina, the former home of an Ottoman official, and now a 12-bedroom boutique hotel. Its roof terrace offers views across the old city and a little calm after a day battering in the souks.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Coming in at 10th place, Buenos Aires is among the most alluring entries in the bottom portion of the EIU report. Latin America has remained in the greyed out section of the holiday map for much of the pandemic, making a trip to this mish-mash sprawl of nightlife, gastronomy and arts that bit more tempting. It was once capital of one of the world’s wealthiest nations and, as such, is chock-full of grand buildings and elegant plazas. And it's become cheaper in recent times, having fallen by 37 spots this year alone.
Steak dinners, tango shows and (if you plan a visit next November or December) blossoming cherry trees await. Frugal travellers will particularly notice savings on public transport, with the equivalent of an Oyster Card available for £1 – once this is loaded with around £4 you’ll find you can notch up about 20 trips via bus, the Subte (the rapid transit system) or local trains.
To keep to the theme, remain relatively abstemious in your hotel choice and try the Hotel Gran Brizo. Sitting in the thick of the city, it has nightly rates as low as $83 (£63). Here, you can expect high-quality dining and enviable views of the city from its 13th-floor rooftop spa and pool – head for the accompanying cocktail bar. As it stands, there are no direct flights scheduled between the UK and Buenos Aires for next November or December, but that is likely to change as travel rebounds.
Add a little eccentricity to your file of holiday anecdotes with a trip to Almaty. Among its haul of left-field attractions is the Kazakh Museum of Folk Musical Instruments. This wooden building is filled with Kazakh offerings (such as the viola-like kobyz and double-stringed dombra), as well as traditional instruments from Turkey, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. You might even catch a live performance.
The Green Bazaar, meanwhile, “features lanes of horsemeat and entrails weighed on huge peeling Soviet-era scales”, according to travel writer Caroline Eden – such sites should briefly satiate even the most curious travellers.
Speaking of the Soviet era, Russian influence is in strong evidence throughout the city (Kazakhstan was part of both the Russian Empire, then the USSR), and the architecture certainly puts Almaty on the must-visit list of Brutalism fans.
For a skyscraper-high perspective across to Zailyisky Alatau (the mountains that surround the city), plan a night at Seven. Tuck into dishes such as stuffed bulgur balls with ribeye steak and sample some Kazakh wine.
Kazakhstan can oscillate between extremes, so plan a trip for April or May when temperatures are mild. A double room at The Dostyk Hotel (which bills itself as “the first national hotel brand of the five-star category”) starts at £84 per night in early April. Here, you’ll be within walking distance of the opera and ballet theatre and the cable car leading to Koke-Tobe Mountain. Turkish Airlines has flights to Almaty, via Istanbul, from London Gatwick.
Colombo, Sri Lanka
The prospect of a tropical adventure could coax you through the final gloomy weeks of 2021. And, in the interest of thriftiness, Colombo takes the number 19 spot in the world’s cheapest cities. Opt for a trip before March for the best weather, and to avoid the monsoon period between July and September.
Sri Lanka’s most populous area sits on the island's west coast, and conveniently enough for visitors, boasts its main airport. But the city is often passed over by foreign tourists, despite its intoxicating mix of cultures. Take a rickshaw ride through its streets and you’ll pass colonial churches, Buddhist shrines and Hindu temples.
Be sure to venture to bustling Galle Road, before meandering off into the suburbs of Kollupitiya and Bambalapitiya to shop and snack. Elsewhere, Pettah Market is a must-try: the neighbourhood's bazaars offer up electronics, clothing and fresh produce.
The principal diet in Sri Lanka is rice with a mix of delicious curries, and vegetarians in particular will find themselves spoilt. Head to the Old Dutch Hospital, a colonial remnant since converted into a retail precint, to enjoy restaurants such as Ministry of Crab, which is overseen by two elite-level cricketers (Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene).
Take rest at Colombo Court Hotel, which combines a central location, friendly service and affordable prices (double rooms are available from £68 per night in February). Other well-rated, and good-value, options include the OZO Colombo, Mövenpick Hotel Colombo and Fairway Colombo.
While Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo are well within the 50 cheapest cities, offbeat Manaus sits a full nine spots below the latter. Begin your visit at a monument to the city’s industrial (and wealthy) past – the Teatro Amazonas. This opera house dates back to the rubber boom of the late 19th century and is filled with marble busts and sumptuous furnishings. The ballroom ceiling is a highlight, painted with a work titled The Glorification of the Arts, which features gods and goddesses delivering gifts from above. Its exterior adds a striking decoration to the city’s skyline: a pink block topped with some 36,000 colourful tiles, imported from Alsace and adorned with the Brazilian flag. Jazz bands and guitar orchestras are among the performances held here, although it has hosted stars as diverse as Margot Fonteyn (with the Royal Ballet) and Jack White.
Meanwhile, it sits within the Amazon rainforest. At the city’s edge, you'll find the Reserva Florestal Adolpho Ducke which, at 39 square miles, is the world’s largest urban forest. If time allows, you could take a guided trip deeper into the wilderness to spot river dolphins, tarantulas and sloths. The bounty of the Amazon basin includes more than 3,000 species of fish. Among them is tambaqui, which can stretch to a metre and is easy to sample in the city’s restaurants.
To reach Manaus, you’ll need to fly into Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, and pick up a connecting route. With the rainy season running from November to June, and September and June being the driest months, those hoping to enjoy Manaus’ wildlife should aim to arrive in spring. The reasonably priced Intercity Manaus hotel (from £31 per night in May) is less than a mile from the city centre.