These Are The Best US Cities For Budget travellers

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Photo: Gaylord Opryland

One of Laura Martone’s favourite New Orleans jazz clubs is the Spotted Cat, which offers cachet—it’s been featured on the HBO show Treme—without high prices.”Despite the awesome music, patrons are almost never charged a cover,” says the author of the American Nomad travel blog. “And the one-drink minimum is totally reasonable.”

See The Best U.S. Cities for Affordable Getaways >
That kind of easy-on-the-wallet atmosphere helped New Orleans place in the top 10 of America’s Most Affordable City Getaways, according to Travel + Leisure readers. In the annual America’s favourite Cities survey, travellers ranked 35 cities for qualities that span the price spectrum: from fine dining to street food, from luxury shopping to flea markets.

Finding deals is a priority for plenty of travellers who wish to trade in staycations for a real vacation again. “I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand from people who have been working more hours and taking less time off,” says Tim Leffel, author of The World’s Cheapest Destinations.

So what makes a city a great value? Reasonably priced hotels and restaurants, certainly, as well as enticements such as budget-friendly theatre tickets, free museums, or low gas prices. The survey’s winner, Kansas City, has an average nightly hotel rate of about $100 and also won the T+L survey for cheap, mouthwatering barbecue.

Kansas City’s airport offers relatively low airfares, too, as does another top-five city: Puerto Rico’s San Juan. To offset the high prices of poolside cocktails, the island city offers the nation’s top-ranked street food and walkable streets in Old San Juan.

The ability to explore a city by foot also boosts its affordability. That may explain why sprawling Dallas/Fort Worth—which has reasonably priced hotels, but ranked as the least pedestrian-friendly city in the survey—scored poorly for overall affordability.

Small costs—a taxi ride here, a club cover charge there—add up over the course of a trip and can turn off a traveller to a particular city or venue. Leffel agrees with a recent survey that revealed how much travellers dislike one particular fee: paying for Wi-Fi at a hotel. “Charging for Wi-Fi is as silly as charging for hot water,” says Leffel. “Even millionaire entrepreneurs will skip a hotel that charges for Wi-Fi, just on principle.”

This post originally appeared at Travel + Leisure.

No. 1 Kansas City, MO

Dinner for two in this midwestern city can cost as little as $25, especially if you choose a spot such as Arthur Bryant's, one of the restaurants that helped Kansas City win the barbecuecategory. The survey's most affordable city also entices travellers with its low airfares--no one airline dominates Kansas City International Airport--and freebies, such as tours of the Harley-Davidson Plant and Boulevard Brewing Company.

See all the America's favourite Cities survey results.

No. 2 Salt Lake City

Voters like this Utah city for being mellow and tidy--and it's easy for skiers to streamline expenses here. The city's Super Pass, a lift ticket starting at about $65 a day, gets you into Alta, Brighton, Snowbird, and Solitude and includes a free bus or light rail ride from downtown. Still others come here to explore the 10-acre Mormon complex of Temple Square, the state's most popular attraction.

No. 3 Nashville

In the No. 2 city for live music, you can access the Nashville Sound for free, and without even trying very hard. Check out the legendary Tootsie's or Robert's Western Wear downtown, where you'll pay no cover early in the day, or see who's playing onstage in stores such as boot shop Peter Nappi or Grimey's New & Preloved Music. Voters gave Nashville a thumbs-up for its wallet-friendly burgers, but you can also get a James Beard Award--winning meal of southern comfort food at Arnold's Country Kitchen for about $10.

No. 4 San Juan, P.R. No. 4 San Juan, P.R.

The big Caribbean hub offers low airfares ($300 from NYC in a recent search) and a multitude of hotel options: if you don't want a splashy resort, try a boutique-style parador, such as the acclaimed El Convento, where rates start at $180 a night during high season. The expanding and accessible dining scene impressed voters, too: the city ranked first for bothstreet food and ethnic cuisine.

No. 5 San Antonio, TX

There are plenty of reasonably priced hotels in the picturesque Riverwalk area, which also has easy access to flea markets and great Tex-Mex. For a different kind of outing in this family-friendly city, check out the free mariachi mass on Saturdays at the historic San Fernando Cathedral. And speaking of history, admission to the famed Alamo is always free.

No. 6 Houston

For a city that ranks so highly for its luxury shopping, the Texas oil town still offers a lot of cowtown-style value: the average hotel room here costs only about $113 per night. You can see a lot of the city'srenowned art for free, including the Menil Collection, the Art Car Museum, and the Rothko Chapel. Voters also loved the city's old-school simple pleasures ofburgers and barbecue.

No. 7 Portland, ME

Voters crowned this city No. 1 for summer, when a lobster roll makes the ultimate affordable luxury. Year round, however, Portland International Airport has been rated as one of the cheapest airports in the country. Voters also applauded the New England city for being highly walkable, and for having an array of indie boutiques, good pizza, and microbrews.

No. 8 New Orleans

The Crescent City's hotel rates may not be the least expensive in the country--the average inched toward $150 a night in 2011--but the city's atmosphere runs charmingly cheap. Hearinglive music may cost only a few bucks, tucked into a tip jar, and voters loved the reasonably priced cafésand cocktails. For $1.25, you can also ride the St. Charles Avenue streetcar past historic mansions. And one of the best local sports--people-watching--is always free.

No. 9 Memphis, TN

Big portions are a recurring theme in Memphis, especially when it comes to localbarbecue, which voters ranked at No. 2. It's free, meanwhile, to pay your respects to Elvis first thing in the morning at Graceland's meditation garden, or to watch the famous ducks parade through the Peabody Hotel's lobby.

No. 10 Philadelphia

Hotels here average $130 a night--30 per cent less than their peers in NYC--and the widely available Philly Overnight Hotel Package ups the ante by giving you free parking along with your hotel rate. This foodie city, meanwhile, has cheap but fabulous street food, as well as a slew of BYOB restaurants, which further cut your costs.

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