For MONEY’s first Best in Travel Awards, we identified the three international destinations that offer the best travel experiences at the best prices in 2016. Here are the winners:
No. 3: Taipei, Taiwan
Why it Won
Looking for a clean and affordable Asian experience? You’ll breathe easy—and eat for less—in the Taiwanese capital.
Decline in hotel room rate vs. last year
Next: About Taipei
If you’re looking for a value-minded overseas vacation, check out Asia, which placed five of the top 10 destinations on our list. In Taipei the average hotel-room price dropped almost 11%, and the new Taiwan dollar decreased 5% vs. the American dollar.
But what really put Taipei ahead of its neighbors are its more intangible qualities.
The air in Taiwan’s capital is, on an average day, four times cleaner than it is in Beijing—and cleaner than the air in Chicago too.
Taipei also ranks No. 9 in our list of 100 cities for the lowest crime rates.
So what’s to do in one of the cleanest and safest cities in the East? Eat local food, for one thing. There are more than 3,000 restaurants rated four stars or better on TripAdvisor. At the Ningxia Road Night Market, a seafood feast will barely cost you $20, says travel writer Adam H. Graham. For a feast of another kind, the National Palace Museum houses one of the largest collections of Chinese art in the world. Enter after 4:30 p.m. and admission is only $4.50.
You can take in the whole city from the 89th floor of the Taipei 101 building. The ride up costs $15, and thanks to that crystal-clean air, you can see practically forever.
No. 2: Marrakesh, Morocco
Why it Won
One of the safest cities in Africa is also one of the most affordable. Hotel, dining, and other tourism costs are 30% less this year.
Average hotel cost year over year
Next: About Marrakesh
This Moroccan city is a shoppers’ paradise that’s gotten even better as the dollar has appreciated almost 7% in the past year vs. the dirham. The bargain-hunting center is in the walled Medina quarter, with souks selling spices, jewelry, leather goods, colored-glass lanterns, and more. For an unusual shopping and culinary experience, sign up for a half-day cooking class at the Sanssouci Cooking School, which starts with a trip to the marketplace for ingredients before preparing a meal with a dada, a Moroccan cook ($165 per couple).
You’ll find excellent lodging values all over the city—the average price of a room has dropped 14%.
If you can, stay in a riad, a traditional house surrounding a garden courtyard. At the Riad Berbere, all the rooms have patios or balconies and include breakfast and afternoon tea. Rooms start at $91.
Marrakesh is also remarkably crime-free. It’s the safest African destination on our list, with a lower crime rate than Vienna and Edinburgh.
Next: The No. 1 winner
No. 1: Prague, Czech Republic
Why it Won
This beautiful capital has long been one of Europe’s secret values. With the strong U.S. dollar, it looks even better.
Value of dollar vs. koruna in past year
Next: About Prague
Some people call spire-filled Prague the Rome of the North. In recent years it has taken on the look of Hollywood, too, as a location in The Bourne Identity and Casino Royale. It’s obviously a beautiful city, with castles and cathedrals dotting the city, and its lovely Vltava River. It’s also a bargain.
Your dollar goes about 7% further this year vs. the Czech koruna.
And because Prague isn’t Paris or London, the lower profile means lower prices overall. The average five-star hotel room costs $135 a night. One grand choice: the Lokal Inn, which is housed in a restored 18th-century building near the landmark Charles Bridge. Rooms start at $98 a night.
Prague ranked No. 9 for museums on our international list, and you’ll want to check out the original manuscripts of Beethoven’s Fourth and Fifth symphonies at the Lobkowicz Palace (tickets, $11), suggests Nathalie Nagy, a travel adviser with Protravel International. Close by, stroll through the Mala Strana district, known for its cobblestoned alleys lined with small shops and cafés.
And wherever you go, try the trdelnik (about $2 at sidewalk stands), a rolled pastry baked around a metal rod and doused with sugar and butter. But you can afford to eat well just about anywhere. The cost of a day on the town has fallen almost 10% in the past year.