If you’re visiting a beach destination, it can be easy to find free things to do, like swimming, sunbathing, and strolling. When you’re visiting a city, it’s not as easy, and your budget can quickly spiral.
There’s so much to spend your money on in cities. There are lots to buy, places with entrance fees, places to eat, and attractions. There are tickets to buy, like AT&T Stadium, Dallas Cowboys. However, there are plenty to free things that you can do too in cities.
Go On A Free Walking Tour
Most cities offer free walking tours. Just Google to find one. Free walking tours give you the chance to explore some of the most interesting sites with a knowledgeable local guide. Lots of these depart from hotels and hostels or from central locations in the city, so it’s easy to join the tour.
The guides are usually passionate locals who want to share their city but remember they work on tips. Free tours are usually better than paid tours because they rely on impressing the customers. Remember to tip your guide.
If you’re in a city that doesn’t offer a free walking tour, check for a walking tour app.
Explore The Markets
There are few better ways to soak up the atmosphere of a city you’re visiting than at the local market. There are the aromas and flavors of fresh local food, local fabrics, arts and crafts stands, and much more. Markets are a good source of entertainment and an insight into local life.
Remember to look out for free food samples that might be on offer. You might be able to try regional ham in Barcelona’s La Boqueria Market, or cheese from a stall in London’s Borough Market, and you can get a great flavor of the city that you’re visiting.
Visiting Free Museums And Galleries
In many cities in Europe, many of the top museums and galleries are free to visit. In London, all the top attractions like the Natural History Museum and the Tate Modern are completely free. Unfortunately, this isn’t the same for all the major cities. However, there are free museums and galleries in most places, even if they’re smaller ones. Check your guidebook, google, or ask at your hotel for a list. If you’re in Paris, you might not be able to get free entry to the Louvre museums, but you can go to the Carnavalet Museum for free, which is dedicated to the history of Paris.
If you know you want to visit a lot of museums and galleries and you’re in a city where they aren’t free to visit, look for a city pass card. Lots of cities have them, but they usually have a different name. These passes usually cost around £30 for a two-day pass and will give you access to lots of major museums and galleries, a few attractions, boat or bus tours, and often include public transport too. The passes also often come with a booklet which is full of discount coupons for bars and restaurants.
If you have a travel blog, you might be able to get free access to museums with a press pass. Don’t be pushy or rude about getting access, but if you’re going to be promoting the attraction on your blog then you might as well ask. You never know.
Hang Out With The Locals
Sometimes there’s no need to head to that informative museum or interesting gallery, as just chatting to few friendly and knowledgeable locals can be all you need to get a full picture of the city that you’re visiting. Locals are often keen to give tourists some tips about some of the best-kept secrets in their hometown. Don’t feel shy about chatting to a stranger next time you’re on a city break. They can be far better than the guidebooks for giving you the best tips on where to go. Chatty old men in bars and hotel receptionists are often the best local guides.
Carnivals, Festivals, and Free Performances
Try to coordinate your trip so you’re in the city at the same time as a carnival or festival is happening and the city will be packed with free performances. Sometimes larger festivals can drive up the prices for flights to the city and hotels in the area, so you need to find the right size of the festival to be able to financially benefit from the free activities.
Whether it’s the color and chaos of Chinese New Year in Beijing, Day of the Dead in Mexico City, Holi in Delhi, or Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai, get involved with the vibrancy and culture of a local festival or carnival.
Just wandering along a tourist street or through a park could bring you to a free theatre performance, outdoor orchestra, or a poetry reading.
Stroll Around A Park
If you’re trying to find a quiet patch of grass in a city, then remember that most cities have gorgeous parks that you can relax in. Parks can sometimes be a major city attraction, such as the famous Central Park in New York, Hampstead Heath in London, or the English Garden in Munich.
Pack yourself a picnic with a bottle of something fizzy to enjoy in the park. You can save yourself a fortune by avoiding the restaurant that has beautiful views of the park. You’ll be in the park instead, and it doesn’t get much better than that.
If you’re a bookworm, you’ll love visiting the local library in the city you’re staying in. Not all libraries were created equal of course. Some libraries are in boring buildings that are ugly inside and out. Some libraries are beautiful, fascinating, and filled with history, charm, and local information.
Visit the Amsterdam City Archives, the Glasgow School of Art Library or the New York Library, and soak up some history.
Churches And Cathedrals
Marveling at some of the world’s most impressive and iconic churches and cathedrals is a wonderful thing to do in a new city. If you like architecture, you can spend time photographing the spires of the Tyn Church in Prague, or the gargoyles of the Notre Dame de Paris. A lot of churches are free for you to enter, so you can go inside to look at the equally impressive interior.
It can be tempting to blow the budget in beautiful local boutiques and interesting-looking shopping malls but splurging abroad can be one of the most expensive parts of a vacation. Instead of spending, opt for window shopping instead if you think you can resist the temptation to buy. Often the shopping centers and malls themselves can be an attraction, such as the amazing KLCC in Kuala Lumpur, which is in the shadow of the Petronas Towers.
If you love to shop, then check out the vintage shopping scene of the city for a more affordable shopping spree. It’s nice to pick up vintage pieces when you travel, as it makes them even more unique and special, as well as more interesting than tacky souvenirs.
One of the best ways to explore a new city is to combine your sightseeing with some exercise. Use an app like MapMy Run and you should be able to find some great jogging routes around your vacation destination, passing famous landmarks, and trotting through pretty parks. You’ll be able to cover ground quickly, which is perfect if you’re on a short break, and have lots of things that you want to see.
*Post contributed by Ian Frasier, a peer travel writer based in the U.K.*