Forget New York City and Los Angeles, whose steep prices (for dining, parking, hotel-stays and everything in between) are notorious worldwide. Instead, head to The Second City. For starters, avoid the pricey hotels geared toward the business crowd that you'll find in The Loop and instead stay in an urban bed and breakfast in one of the cozy north side neighborhoods, only a train ride away from the epicenter of the city. Stay at the Ruby Room Inn or The Wicker Park Inn in Wicker Park, a trendy neighborhood with a vibrant art scene. Ruby Room offers a luxurious experience, complete with a spa and salon, while the Wicker Park Inn is tucked into a cute neighborhood with interesting old architecture and a relaxed vibe.
The most luxurious aspect of Chicago is its stellar food scene, with world-renowned chefs. Try any of chef Paul Kahan's restaurants: The Publican, Big Star, Blackbird, and most notably, Avec. Then there's Grant Achatz's restaurants Alinea and Next, Rick Bayless's Topolobampo, and Stephanie Izard's Girl and the Goat. Aside from luxury dining, head to The Signature Room of the John Hancock Center for drinks with a view 95 stories up!
Battery Park, Charleston
You'll find plenty of activities in this lovely Southern city to give your budget vacation an air of elegance. One of the nicest, most affordable and most centrally-located of Charleston's historic bed and breakfasts is The Elliott House Inn, which has a luxurious brick courtyard and pool and was built in 1861. For a more private, quiet getaway, stay at Water's Edge Inn in nearby Folly Beach - you'll be right on the Atlantic Ocean. You'll be resting your head at night in one of these luxury inns, so consider doing some of the free or low-cost activities that Charleston has to offer. Take a walking tour past Rainbow Row - 13 historic, brightly painted homes on East Bay Street one block from the harbor that were built in the late 1700s. Browse the Old City Market for everything from artists' wares to salt water taffy, take a walk through Battery Park, and do window shopping on King Street. If you're a fan of the movie "The Notebook," see if you can spot the areas on King Street where their post-carnival stroll was filmed!
Though it's less of a city and more of a small town, this wonderful spot in the Smoky Mountains is one of the most underrated luxury and romantic getaways around. When you come here for your upscale mountain retreat, stay in Eight Gables Inn or The Foxtrot Bed and Breakfast, two gorgeous, cabin-style inns tucked into the mountains for a romantic getaway. Gatlinburg's sense of luxury stems from the resplendent natural beauty that surrounds it and the best activities here are outdoors.
Head to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for hiking and wildlife-viewing. One of the most popular things to do is hike a 2.6-mile round trip loop to the pretty 80-foot high Laurel Falls. Also consider hiking to the Park's highest point - Clingmans Dome, which stands at 6,643 feet. We don't have to tell you that the views from up there are amazing. There's a half mile paved walk to the top that will take about 40 minutes. Many people also like taking scenic drives and walking on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail to breathtaking Grotto Falls. Just keep an eye out for bears!