Cheapest cities in the USA. Notedbook, map, dollars

12 Cheapest Cities in the USA to Visit in 2021

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Looking for the cheapest cities in the USA for your next vacation? Budget travel in the US is definitely possible, but it requires some research ahead of your visit. Since the US is so massive, you’ll likely want to stick to a particular region to avoid having to fly between destinations. Road trips in the US are very popular, of course, but renting a car can definitely add up!

The cheapest places to visit in USA are often cities, simply due to the diversity of options available.

When you visit small towns, your common travel expenses might be slightly lower, but you’ll have fewer options for accommodation and activities, so you might end up spending more than necessary.

Also keep in mind the travel costs to get there. Flights to larger cities are often cheaper, as well as being more readily available and likely direct.

Here are some of the cheapest cities in the USA that you should definitely add to your bucket list. We’ve started with the most affordable and have included the price of high season accommodation and free/cheap things to do in each city. Let us know in the comments if we’ve missed anything!

Cheapest Cities in the USA

1. Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque is a destination for everyone. Art lovers, history buffs, outdoor adventurers…this quirky places has it all.

If you visit during the annual Hot Air Ballon Festival, obviously the prices will rise.

But visit most any other time of year to take advantage of very affordable prices.

Apartments in high season start at $104 for an entire place and hotel rooms go from around $60 per night making it one of the cheapest places in America to visit.

New Mexico, Albuquerque scenic mountain landscape shot at Sandia Peak National Park

Free or Cheap Things to do in Albuquerque

  • Go for the Balloon Fiesta in October
  • Take the Sandia Peak Tramway for lovely views
  • See the Petroglyph National Monument
  • Hop onto historic Route 66 to get your kicks
  • Wander the Old Town, buy crafts from local makers
  • Enjoy some wine tastings
  • Bar hop at the Brewery District

Albuquerque is also featured in our romantic US destinations guide.

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
A cozy backyard patio in Old Town Albuquerque

2. Indianapolis, Indiana

Indianapolis or Indy as it is affectionately called by locals is one of the cheapest places to live in the US.

While downtown is often the first stop, there are cool neighorhoods to explore depending on your style of travel.

Apartments in high season start at $100 for an entire place and hotel rooms go from around $100 per night.

Free or Cheap Things to do in Indianapolis

  • Enjoy the 3,900 acres of forest at Eagle Creek Park
  • Take a stroll through Historic Irvington to see the old houses
  • Visit during Hallowe’en for a week of celebrations
  • For the kids, there’s the world’s biggest children’s museum
  • Play sport at Riverside Park
  • Cycle along the Cultural Trail
  • Check out events at the American Indian Center of Indiana
  • Dine at Indianapolis City Market

Since Indy is known as the Crossroads of America, it makes an ideal base for a road trip to Chicago, Detroit, Columbus, Cincinnati, Louisville, Nashville or St. Louis.


3. Athens, Georgia

As another college town, Athens offers plenty of options as one of the cheap cities to visit in USA.

Tons of activities and places of interest are free or very affordable, so you can spend a weekend here without busting that wallet at all!

A great alternative to larger Atlanta, Athens is a southern city with history and charm.

But student life pushes forward with live music, art, and plenty of hipster culture.

There’s plenty to explore outdoors and plenty of happy hour specials to enjoy after a day out and about.

Apartments in high season start at $140 for an entire place and hotel rooms go from around $100 per night.

Free or Cheap Things to do in Athens

  • Wander the University of Georgia campus
  • Stroll the grounds of the Botanical Garden of Georgia
  • Visit the Georgia Museum of Art
  • Eat your way through the Athens Farmers Market
  • Cycle along the popular Firefly Trail
  • Cheers to cheap college-town happy hour deals
Athens-Georgia skyline at sunset

4. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Known as Steel City, Pittsburgh has traditionally been a working-class city with prices to match.

It goes easy on your wallet while filling your stomach and your soul with good people, interesting attractions, and good eats!

But that’s not all to love about Pittsburgh.

This city loves art as much as sports (okay, maybe almost as much) Check out the Andy Warhol Museum.

Pittsburgh also has more bridges than any other city in the world – even Venice!

Apartments in high season start at $104 for entire place and hotel rooms go from around $130 per night.

If you are a budget or social traveler, hostel dorms start as low as $35. Very few of the cheapest cities in US have hostel options.

Free or cheap things to do in Pittsburgh

  • Take a downtown walking tour to get an overview of the city
  • Wander the massive Emerald View Park
  • Enjoy the views from Mt. Washington
  • See the world’s largest Bic Mac statue (yes, seriously)
  • Take a Pittsburgh Art in Public Places tour downtown or in the Oakland neighbourhood
  • Visit the Andy Warhol Museum
  • Do a self-guided tour of the Old Allegheny County Jail Museum
  • Make a reservation for a free evening tour of the Allegheny Observatory
  • Enjoy plenty of live music all around the city!
Pittsburgh-Pennsylvania skyline with bridge and water

5. Salt Lake City, Utah

Salt Lake City is known as the home to the Mormon Church, but there’s so much more to this capital city!

If you’re keen to visit some national parks, this is a great launching-off point.

Head to Zion, Arches, Canyonlands, Capital Reef, or Bryce Canyon National Parks to get out and enjoy the wonders of nature.

Snow lovers also enjoy popping into Salt Lake City before hitting the slopes.

Apartments in high season start at $104 for an entire place and hotel rooms go from around $105 per night.

If you are a budget or social traveler, hostel dorms start as low as $27. 

Free or Cheap Things to do in Salt Lake City

  • Awe at the Great Salt Lake
  • Visit the Utah Museum of Fine Arts
  • Tour Temple Square
  • Visit Antelope Island State Park
  • Learn at the Family History Library
  • Visit the Utah State Capitol building
  • Go skiing in winter!
  • Enjoy the many outdoor concerts in Temple Square
Salt Lake City Utah

6. Kansas City, Missouri

I haven’t been to KC yet (I was supposed to visit in 2020, but alas), but Kansas City is definitely one of the cheapest cities to visit in US.

And just think of allllll that delicious BBQ!

Money Crashers quotes the average price of a hotel in Kansas City at $139 per night.

But you can definitely stay for less than that!

Apartments in high season start at $120 for an entire place and hotel rooms go from around $100 per night.

If you are a budget or social traveler, hostel dorms start as low as $44. 

Free or Cheap Things to do in KC

  • Enjoy a free tour at Boulevard Brewing Company
  • Check out the Harley-Davidson Plant
  • Bring the little ones to the art studio at Kaleidoscope
  • Take advantage of the totally free KC Streetcar
  • Eat your way through the historic River Market
  • Learn about the Federal Reserve at The Money Museum
  • Have fun at the Crossroads Art District on First Fridays, with music, food trucks, and plenty of vendors
  • Seek out the Secret Garden at Kauffman Legacy Park
Kansas City Missouri

7. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Oklahoma City is nicknamed “The Big Friendly,” and visitors will find it budget-friendly. Historic old Route 66 runs through the city and is dotted with landmarks and museums you can visit for free, including the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Apartments in high season start at $105 for an entire place and hotel rooms go from around $130 per night.

Free or Cheap Things to do in Oklahoma City

  • Check out the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
  • Visit the American Banjo Museum
  • Take the kids to Frontier City
  • Pay homage to the victims at the Oklahoma National Memorial and Museum
  • Relive the Wild West at Stockyards City
  • Have fun in the Paseo Arts District
  • Hire a car and visit the Keystone Ancient Forest

My good friend Steph, runs an Oklahoma travel site worth checking out too. Start with her guide to secret spots in Oklahoma.

8. St. Augustine, Florida

Known for its history and culture, St Augustine is ideal for a sunny, warm vacation without the price tags associated with the more popular destinations of Key West, Miami, or Orlando.

History lovers will especially appreciate this destination with some of the most extensive architectural history in the US.

Flagler College is here, too, so you’re sure to find some great deals that appeal to student budgets!

Apartments in high season start at $104 for an entire place and hotel rooms go from around $160 per night.

Free or cheap things to do in St Augustine

  • Visit the oldest fort in the Americas, Castillo de San Marcos
  • Explore the Old Jail
  • Wander the Old City
  • Stroll along St. Augustine Beach
  • Bask in beautiful nature at Anastasia State Park
  • Learn local history at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park

» You may also like | Add to your Florida bucket list


St.-Augustine-Florida with palm trees

9. San Antonio, Texas

The USA has only 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and one of them is San Antonio’s Spanish colonial missions.

If that’s not reason enough to visit this fun city, then check out the fantastic food scene, the many layers of history, and the awesome outdoor adventures you can enjoy.

The River Walk is an ever-popular favorite, as is the Alamo.

But there are plenty of other reasons why San Antonio is one of the cheapest US cities to visit especially in comparison to other Texas cities such as Dallas.

Apartments in high season start at $120 for an entire place and hotel rooms go from around $130 per night.

Free or Cheap Things to do in San Antonio

  • Visit the Alamo
  • Stroll along the popular River Walk
  • Feel the thrills at Six Flags (not free, but worth the splurge!)
  • Time your visit for the Tamales Festival
  • Take a safari drive at Natural Wildlife Ranch
  • Have a picnic at Brackenridge Park
  • Enjoy the lush Japanese Tea Gardens
  • Visit historic San Jose Mission
  • Stroll around the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
  • Explore Natural Bridge Caverns
  • Get a Go San Antonio pass to save money

10. Washington, DC

While not one of the cheapest cities to visit in USA for accommodation or dinging out, DC offers tons of things to do for free! Travel is sometimes about balancing the budget, right?

All of the Smithsonian Museums are free to enter, as are the Capitol and the White House (with advance planning).

I used to live in DC and work downtown so I’d spend lunch breaks wandering the latest exhibits.

It’s incredible what you can do at little or no cost in the nation’s capital!

Apartments in high season start at $130 for an entire place and hotel rooms go from around $180 per night.

If you are a budget and/or social traveler, hostel dorms start as low as $35.

Washington DC. Cherry Blossom

Free or Cheap Things to do in DC

  • Marvel at the Air and Space Museum
  • (Un)learn what you know about First Nations at the National Museum of the American Indian.
  • Dig deep into the history of Black people in the US at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It’s not an easy visit but SO important.
  • Wander the Portrait Gallery
  • Explore the American Art Museum
  • Check out some fun pop-culture exhibits at the American History Museum
  • Pretend to be a dinosaur at the Museum of Natural History
  • Contact your local representative for tickets to tour the US Capitol or the White House (do this as soon as you know your travel dates)
  • Go to the Sculpture Garden to enjoy Jazz in the Garden on Friday evenings in the summer or ice skating in the winter

11. New Orleans, Louisiana

There will probably never be a list of US cities to visit that doesn’t include New Orleans.

It is of the more affordable popular major cities to visit, if you avoid Mardi Gras.

Apartments in high season start at $143 for an entire place and hotel rooms go from around $100 per night.

The most popular hotels in NOLA are really expensive, just a heads up if you have your sights set on an Instagram-worthy hotel room!

If you are a budget or social traveler, hostel dorms start as low as $62. 

I stayed for a week in the French Quarter and spent only $320. I probably spent the same amount in food and drink that week…

Worth it!

While NOLA is not one of the cheapest places to travel in the US there are affordable activities you can do. I stress again, avoid Mardis Gras if you are counting your cents.

Couple with Hand Grenades cocktails on Bourbon Street

Free or Cheap Things to do in New Orleans

  • Wander through some really old cemeteries
  • Hang out in the ever-popular French Quarter
  • Listen to fantastic live music on every street corner
  • Take a streetcar to see more of the city, including historic mansions
  • Eat everything! Beignets, po’ boys, gumbo…the food is amazing!
  • Visit the Lower 9th Ward Living Museum
  • Join a Second Line parade!

» You may also like | Things to do in New Orleans


New Orleans Beads

12. San Diego, California

California definitely is not a cheap state to visit in the US however you don’t have to skip it altogether, just avoid San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Accommodation, food and drink are pricey in both cities but you can still explore The Golden State by adding America’s Finest City into your west coast itinerary.

San Diego, can be one of the cheapest cities to visit in the US because of its outdoor lifestyle.

You can keep the costs down when you’re comfortable walking between destinations, enjoying outdoor activities, and even considering picnics in the parks over expensive meals out!

Apartments in high season start at $153 for an entire place and hotel rooms go from around $150 per night.

If you are a budget or social traveler, hostel dorms start as low as $32. 

Mission Bay & Beaches in San Diego, California

Free or Cheap Things to do in San Diego

  • Hit the beach!
  • Wander the fun Gaslamp District
  • Window shop along the popular shopping strip at the Embarcadero
  • Take a picnic to Mission Bay Park
  • Learn in the historic Old Town, many buildings are free to enter
  • Hire a car and enjoy the views along the 59-Mile Scenic Drive
  • Stroll through stunning Balboa Park

So there you have it. Stretch your budget with these cheapest US cities to visit.

Did I miss your favorite? Let me know in the comments!


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The cheapest cities to visit in the USA for weekend trips, family vacations and road trips. Affordable cities to visit that don't skimp on fun. Click to read!

Amanda Walkins is a travel writer and digital content strategist. She grew up in the US but now calls bonnie Scotland home, after several stops in between. She blogs about expat life and travel in all the countries she’s lived at www.amandawalkins.com.

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