Even for the most experienced travelers, the purse strings can feel tight now and then. Whether you opt for five* glamor or 12-bed dorm rooms, knowing where to make the savings is the key to long-term travel success!
There are plenty of flight and accommodation deals out there, but knowing how to cut costs on activities requires a bit more travel expertise. Fortunately, after wandering the world for a while, I’ve compiled a good list of attractions, which are always around and always free!
I love a good botanical garden. These timeless attractions are a perfect way to get a taste of local nature without having to leave the city. Every time I visit somewhere, it’s highly likely I’m going to end up wandering around the resident gardens at some point.
Some have been epic in their own right; Singapore offers a 5km loop with many themed restaurants, ancient trees and a plethora of local wildlife. Some are merely an excellent way to pass the time when you’re stuck for something to do.
Every single one – as far as I know – is free. So, if you don’t have the money to spend on a real countryside excursion, simply popping down to the local botanical gardens for your dose of native nature is the ideal solution.
2. Walking Tour (A.K.A Getting Lost)
In many places, companies offer walking tours free of charge. Alternatively, there are now many fantastic online resources that allow you to download audio guidebooks for little-to-no cost. If you’re the sort of person who takes in information easily, then this is likely the best option for you to get a good overview of the city for cheap.
If you’re a traveler after my own heart – and learn about places by walking around in a daze and seeing what unfolds – then you can always embark on a ‘self-tour.’ For a while, I referred to this as ‘just walking around.’
However, after losing my way, stumbling across weird and wonderful attractions, looking to locals for help and tackling burrows of backstreets, I’ve renamed the practice for what it is – or at least ends up being.
Particularly in the UK, every city has a museum, which supplies a rich history of the place you’re visiting. And – you’ve guessed it – they’re all free. While I can’t say for sure that this is the case in every city in the world, I can make an educated guess that there are free museums of some kind everywhere.
If you’re not interested in civic museums, then there are other options on hand. The Natural History Museum in London is no charge. The Florence Nightingale Museum in Istanbul also fits in the category – as does the Berlin Wall Memorial in Germany.
On a similar note, Art Galleries are very often no-cost attractions. Some well-known examples include New York’s famed Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Tate Modern in London or the Museo del Prado in Madrid.
Even the magnificent Louvre in Paris is free for all under 18, EU visitors under 25, those on income support and the disabled. Plus, every Friday you can gain access for no charge if you’re under 26 and from October to March it’s free for all on Sundays.
Personally, I find the perfect place to experience the soul of a country is through its markets. Whether they’re floating on the Chao Phraya River or covered with snow and Christmas lights in central Europe, they always pulse with authenticity.
You can peruse local merchandise, watch natives go about their daily business, interact and haggle with merchants and taste the local cuisine. Often, vendors offer street food for cheaper than a restaurant meal, which adds additional savings to your budget for the day!
A word or warning: you can go to these markets with the best intentions of not buying anything. However, when beautiful and unique trinkets surround you, it can be hard to resist. Leave the cash at home if you can’t afford to splurge!
5. Meet The Locals
I will always believe that you don’t know a place until you know its people. So much of the heart of a country lies within its residents. They have a greater insight to its culture than any guidebook, and it’s them you’ll carry with you once you leave.
I travel so vehemently by this rule that my trips are always booked to ensure it happens – e.g. using AirBnB, staying with local friends, attending a specific event. However, it’s just as easy to find some friends by wandering around.
All you have to do is counter your tourism instincts. Don’t go to the big flashy bar with the English signs; choose the dingy dive next door instead. Investigate the back alleys, trust the friendly taxi driver and agree to the invite to family dinner.
Obviously, rule number one is your safety. However, I often find that if you truly weigh up the risks, you can afford to live a bit more than you let yourself!
So, there you have it: five free activities that will ensure you a brilliant time on a small budget! I’ve not yet found a place where this list is not relevant! If all aren’t available then at least some will be.
Fellow travelers – what other tricks do you use to keep your costs down when visiting the world’s many spectacular cities?