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Affordable hotel rates, free museums, and plentiful barbecue and beer make these cities a bargain for travelers.

No. 5 Memphis, TN

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Memphis ranked in the top five for the free, omnipresent tunes of street performers. You can also sit down and hear free music at the city’s WPA-built Levitt Shell, which has its own historical relevance: Elvis was the opening act here one night in 1954, which many consider the Big Bang of the rock ’n’ roll era. Finger-friendly gourmet food is also easy to come by: at Hog & Hominy—named by GQ as one of this year’s best U.S. restaurants—you can try the duck sausage with brussels sprouts slaw, or a mortadella corn dog, for under $10 each.

Best U.S. Cities for Affordable Getaways

No. 5 Memphis, TN

Memphis ranked in the top five for the free, omnipresent tunes of street performers. You can also sit down and hear free music at the city’s WPA-built Levitt Shell, which has its own historical relevance: Elvis was the opening act here one night in 1954, which many consider the Big Bang of the rock ’n’ roll era. Finger-friendly gourmet food is also easy to come by: at Hog & Hominy—named by GQ as one of this year’s best U.S. restaurants—you can try the duck sausage with brussels sprouts slaw, or a mortadella corn dog, for under $10 each.

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Best U.S. Cities for Affordable Getaways

When David Bakke visits Savannah, he loves dining at the upscale Olde Pink House. But Bakke, a writer for personal finance site MoneyCrashers, has figured out how to avoid the high price tag—he sits in the restaurant’s basement section, the Planters Tavern. “By taking the trip downstairs,” he says, “you get extraordinary ambiance and affordable food.”

It’s a good example of why the quaint, accessible Georgian city made the top 10 for affordable getaways, according to Travel + Leisure readers. In this year’s America’s Favorite Cities survey, readers ranked 35 metropolitan areas in qualities such as fine dining and cultural offerings, which become especially enticing when offered in a lower price range.

Even as the economy shows some signs of improvement, plenty of travelers still want to maximize value. According to the Traveler Sentiment Index, from marketing firm MMGY Global, 57 percent of Americans are planning a vacation sometime within the next six months—but high gas prices worry 51 percent of them. Hotel rates have also ticked up about 7 percent since summer 2012, according to Kayak.com.

Daunting gas prices may be another reason that pedestrian-friendly cities such as Savannah and Portland, OR, won over T+L readers for their affordability. Another influential factor: free-admission museums and historical attractions, such as the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park in Atlanta, or Baltimore’s Museum of Art, which has the largest Matisse collection in the world. 

But freebies aren’t enough: Washington, D.C., won the survey’s free attractions category, yet ranked as one of the least affordable cities overall, perhaps due to high hotel and restaurant prices. For cheap eats, look to Kansas City (rated No. 1 most affordable getaway), as well as Nashville and Providence, which delivered some of voters’ favorite barbecue, burgers, and pizza.

Low-impact bar prices don’t hurt, either. “Maybe it’s our Yankee frugality, but well drinks start at $3.50 in some places,” says Portland, ME, local Kelsey Goldsmith. “My friends who come in from out of town laugh when they get their bar tabs.”

They’re laughing all the way to the bank, that is. Bakke says his Savannah foodie trick is just another valuable lesson from the recession: “I’ve learned how to fly for cheaper, and I’ve found ways to enjoy entertainment activities while on vacation at a cheaper price.”

Read on for the most affordable U.S. city getaways.

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