While some digital nomads like to roam free around the world, I prefer slower travel and to at least have a home base: a place to call home, a place to go to if things go South (as they happened in 2020), a place that you can retreat to and make plans or just charge your batteries.
If you happen to wish to explore Europe, then the best bet for you is having a home base in an European city.
And this is exactly what we’re going to talk about in today’s article: the best European city to set up your home base in as a digital nomad or full time traveler or whatever you prefer to call yourself.
Why set up home base in Europe?
Europe has the advantage of having a bunch of really interesting countries crammed together, all worth checking out and usually just a couple of hours away by train, bus or plane.
With some of the nicest countries in Europe also being the most expensive to live in or travel to, this is when playing it smart becomes useful.
You can set up home base in a cheap city with an international airport or good train connections, and visit the more expensive ones from there. Price problem solved!
After all, we can still find, even in Europe, a country where a single person can live on as low as $500 per month. Difficult, but still doable.
Considerations before deciding where to set up home base in Europe
Before getting to the actual list, there are some things you need to know that were taken into account when creating this list of cities.
There were several elements that I considered extremely important, and these were:
- cost of rent comes first (you need to pay lower rent because you won’t even be living in the place for probably half of the time anyway)
- lower cost of living (compared to most expensive countries)
- easy connections to other European countries & cities
- decent weather and an existing digital nomad community
- Schengen / non-Schengen countries (so you can maximize the time spent in Europe)
As you can see, this list is aimed at digital nomads who don’t have a limitless or huge monthly budget (think thousands of $$$ per month), but one that will offer the best experience for the money.
Also, make sure to check out my previous article detailing the internet speed in Europe. Since this is an extremely important thing for DNs, it’s essential to make sure that you have a great internet connection.
Another important thing to have in mind when deciding where to set up home base in Europe is the Visa situation. If you’re already an EU national, then you will have no problem living anywhere in the European Union and in most of the countries in Europe.
But if you are not, you will have to find the right balance and hop countries from the Schengen area to non-Schengen since you are only allowed to spend 90 days in a 180-day period in each of these areas.
Or you can choose an alternative that allows you to stay long term in Europe without even needing a Visa – we’ve got all the options covered below!
With all these in mind, let’s find out the best city in Europe to set up home base in (the first six are in the Schengen area, the last four – not).
If you have nothing against slightly cooler weather and a language that seems absolutely impossible to learn, then Budapest should definitely be your top choice when choosing a city for your home base in Europe.
Extremely expat-friendly and insanely beautiful, the Hungarian capital is one of the cheapest destinations for digital nomads in Europe, while still offering great living quality and a lot to do when in the city.
The food is delicious, the people are amazing, there are a lot of options for fun and tons of attractions to visit, while the rent prices are really low: you can easily find a one bedroom apartment in a central area for around 450 Euros per month (long term)!
This is one of my favorite cheaper cities in Europe, one that I love to come back to whenever I have the chance – and one that always has new things to amaze me with.
(You can read more about this wonderful city and my experiences there in an article where I share how I spend one month in Budapest – the first of many.)
Few people recommend Slovenia as a DN destination, but you shouldn’t follow the crowd!
The truth is the Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, despite it’s tongue twisting name, is an amazing city to set up home base in Europe.
It’s just a few hours away (by very cheap bus) to the beaches in Croatia or Italy, it has an airport that connects you with most of Europe and a pretty low cost of living.
Slovenia is also extremely cheap as a whole and even though the expat/digital nomad community is not as huge as it is in other cities on this list, you will still find a lot of like-minded people and extremely friendly locals.
Bonus? The food is absolutely amazing and cheap and the city itself is smaller, so very walkable.
I initially wanted to place Munich here because it’s an amazing city, but it’s also an extremely expensive one! So I moved a bit east to the similarly beautiful Salzburg in Austria.
Even though the cost of living here is a bit higher than in all the other cities on this list, Salzburg has that Austrian charm that you need to experience, has great food and amazing connections to Europe – including a short train ride to Munich, since we were talking about it.
The views you will get here are also breathtaking and you’ll love waking up watching the mountains and breathing the fresh air every morning. It’s a bit colder than I like it, but it’s worth it!
If you want amazing weather all year long in Europe, forget about the more popular (and way more expensive) Barcelona and choose Malaga instead.
This is a great hub for nomads and especially expats who run away from the harsh weather Europe throws at them, so you will have no problem finding likeminded people and making friends.
The local people are extremely friendly and you’ll have a lot to do in the city, especially if soaking the sun is what you love.
The food is great – who doesn’t love the Mediterranean diet? – and prices are still very low compared to the rest of Europe, even though all the tourists and expats are driving them up a bit – and also inflation.
As an alternative, you can go a bit up North in the equally charming Valencia. We spent a month there and absolutely loved it!
I consider Portugal’s Setubal as one of the hidden gems in the country. An amazing city to be in, where prices are still really low compared to the ones in the more popular destinations in Portugal.
Although there isn’t an airport in Setubal, Lisbon and its airport are under an hour’s drive away, so still extremely close.
Offering that amazing Portuguese charm, it’s a great place to experience the country’s culture, amazing food and year-long pleasant weather, at a really low cost.
The expat community is growing too and I think that in a few years, Setubal will no longer be the hidden gem that it is today, so make sure to take advantage of it ASAP and do consider it as your next European home base.
While others will recommend various Greek islands and well known cities, I recommend Alexandroupoli as an alternative – one that you will find just as charming, but less touristy and crowded (and a lot cheaper).
Situated very close to Greece’s border with Turkey, Alexandroupoli is also close to one of the country’s most popular islands (Thasos), as well as the Khalkidhiki peninsula in case the city itself is not enough.
I am sure it will be, though, as it has plenty of that Greek charm that you love, as well as year-long pleasant weather, a beautiful sea and a growing community of expats and digital nomads.
In other words, a great place to be in – one that isn’t, at the moment, on everybody’s list.
We’re now moving outside of the Schengen area to a city that’s becoming more and more popular among expats and digital nomads thanks to its extremely low prices (both rent and cost of living), but also the year-long visa that they offer to people all over the world.
In other words, you don’t have to worry much if you want to make Georgia your home for the next year – and Tbilisi, its capital, is the best option so far.
The Russian influence is still felt here, which adds a bit of extra charm if you compare it to the other Western countries. You have a lot to see and do in this city that grows at an incredible pace.
You will meet amazing locals that are insanely friendly and ready to go beyond and above to make you feel welcome and you will definitely fall in love with the cuisine, especially if you are a meat lover.
It’s a bit farther away from the rest of Europe, but there are still many connections by plane to the important attractions in the West.
On the other side of the Black Sea (when looking at Georgia above), we have an usually overlooked country by digital nomads: Romania.
And there, to the West, lays Timisoara – a city with great connections by bus, train or plane to the rest of Europe.
Also an amazing city that you will fall in love with easily, with great people and more to offer, in my opinion, than the country’s overcrowded and polluted capital, Bucharest.
The cost of living in Romania – and Timisoara itself – is extremely low and there are tons of attractions to visit, while enjoying the local cuisine and the friendly nature of the locals.
If you love nature and enjoy going on hikes, then you will have a ton of options in Romania.
You can read my in-depth analysis of Timisoara on my other blog, Romania Experience, dedicated exclusively to travel and living in Romania.
Whenever I visit a city in Serbia – no matter if it’s small or big, I always feel instantly at home.
There is something about the people there, the way their cities look, the air there – I don’t know exactly what – that makes you instantly happy.
Yes, I love Serbia and Belgrade especially, a city that has so much to offer – and at great prices too, despite the impossible language and alphabet (at least impossible to me).
But that’s not really a problem, as you get everything you can wish for from a digital nomad friendly city here, one of the best choices in my opinion when it comes to setting up home base in Europe.
This is a bit of a long shot, mainly because it doesn’t offer easy connections to the rest of Europe, but it’s still worth the trouble.
Sarande, Albania, is a stone’s throw away from the Greek island of Corfu and you’re basically getting everything you could expect from a Greek holiday, but at half the price.
It’s really still one of the hidden gems in Europe, even though growing in popularity each year.
As I said, the biggest problem here is the lack of an airport, but there are plans for building one in the future.
Until then, there’s one a few hours of driving away – or you can hop on a boat and visit Greece or other cities if you prefer to.
Albania is one of those countries that you won’t see on many world travelers’ lists, making it perfect for those who want to explore somewhat uncharted territories.
It’s still an European country – very safe and beautiful and still with more expats and nomads than you might initially anticipate!
So these are my recommended places to set up home base in Europe – I always think that you should stay a bit away from the beaten track (Berlin, Barcelona, Paris and so on) and opt for slightly less known places that are still amazing, but offer that local charm and a nice expat/digital nomad community.
The cities listed above certainly tick all boxes and offer at least decent cost of living (although I’d go for “cheap”) and I am sure you will love them all.
But, of course, if you haveother suggestions, I’d be happy to read them so post a comment below with your thoughts about the best cities in Europe to set home base in as a Digital Nomad.