Traveling on a budget: Free attractions in 10 cities around the world

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The British Museum is one of London's top tourist attractions - and it's free! (Photo: Guillermo Viciano)

The British Museum is one of London’s top tourist attractions – and it’s free! (Photo: Guillermo Viciano)

Keeping the family busy on your summer holiday, visiting attraction after attraction often comes with a high price tag, but if you know what to do and see for free, you can really stretch your travel budget this summer. If you’re having a summer holiday in any of these cities and want to save money, here are a selection of great free attractions to visit:

London

Visit the Kensington Rooftop Gardens if you're spending the summer in London (Photo: Tanya Hart)

Visit the Kensington Rooftop Gardens if you’re spending the summer in London (Photo: Tanya Hart)

If you’ve forked out a lot for London accommodation the good news is that London is absolutely packed with fabulous free attractions.

Top of the list is the British Museum, which has a vast collection of art and artefacts relating to human history and culture. If you’re visiting London with kids, the museum also has some exciting activities and family events. The museum is open every day from 10:00 to 17:30, with extended opening hours on Fridays.

Kensington High Street Roof Gardens  is another place that is well worth a visit. These spectacular gardens stretched over 1.5 acres. There is a Spanish Garden, a Tudor Garden and an English Woodland, all open to the public free of charge. It’s best to phone ahead to make sure there is no wedding scheduled for the day you plan to visit.

If you enjoy beautiful art you can’t miss The Tate Modern, which is home to a wonderful collection of modern and contemporary art from 1900 to the present day. If you have a smartphone you can download some Tate Modern apps, from art games to a mobile guide to the Poetry and Dream Wing. The museum is open from 10:00 to 18:00 from Sunday to Thursday, and on Fridays and Saturdays it’s open until 22:00. The museum is free to the public, except for special exhibitions.

There are also several fantastic parks and green spaces where you can relax and enjoy nature or have a picnic. These include Regent’s Park, Crystal Palace Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

New York

Belvedere Castle in Central Park (Photo: hjjanisch)

Belvedere Castle in Central Park (Photo: hjjanisch)

Probably the most popular free attraction in New York during the summer is Central Park. The park’s meadows, lakes, bridges and gardens are sprawled over 843 acres. During the summer you can watch performances for free during Shakespeare in the Park at the outdoor Delacorte Theatre.

The Staten Island Ferry is another popular free attraction in New York. The New York City Department of Transportation provides this free ferry service which transports 21 million passengers every year between Manhattan and Staten Island.

If you enjoy a good beer you can take a free tour of the Brooklyn Brewery. Tours are on the hour from 13:00 to 16:00 on Saturdays and Sundays. If you’re more interested in wine and art than a pint, there is a wonderful selection of free galleries in Chelsea, mostly in the 20’s Streets between 10th and 11th Avenues. If you visit the Chelsea galleries on a Thursday night you can experience wine-and-cheese openings.

Other free attractions include bustling Times Square, the Federal Reserve Bank as well as the New York Public Library. With so many free attractions on offer in New York, you may have trouble fitting it all into your schedule.

Paris

The Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris is one of the city's most popular tourist attractions (Photo: Panoramas)

The Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions (Photo: Panoramas)

Paris is generally not a cheap city to visit, but there are some great free things to do and see, one of the most popular of which is the Notre Dame Cathedral. Although there is an entry fee for the Tower and the Treasury, entry to the cathedral itself is free, and it is open throughout the year. During the summer volunteers conduct free tours of Notre-Dame.

Although going up the Eiffel Tower may be very expensive, you can enjoy magnificent views of this Parisian landmark from the Champ de Mars. The manicured lawns and flower beds with the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop are the perfect place for a picnic. It’s also a great place to be after the sun sets, when the Eiffel Tower twinkles under the night sky.

The Musée Carnavalet has a fabulous free permanent collection that will give you a glimpse of Parisian history as you stroll through the beautiful baroque interiors of the two mansions that house the Carnavalet museum. When you’ve had your fill of cathedrals and museums you can always relax in the beautiful Jardin de Luxembourg.

If you want to see as much of the city as possible in a short space of time you can do Sandeman’s New Europe free walking tour of the city, which will take you along the River Seine, through the Latin Quarter and past many of the city’s top attractions. Tours meet at 11:00 and 13:00 daily at the fountain on Place St. Michel.

Chicago

There is always something to see or do for free in Chicago (Photo: Nimesh Madhaven)

There is always something to see or do for free in Chicago (Photo: Nimesh Madhaven)

From parades to free concerts and local sights, there is always something to do for free in Chicago during the summer. If you’re traveling with kids the Lincoln Park Zoo should be top of your list. There is a fantastic variety of animals, and you can even register online for a free Safari Tour of the zoo during the summer. After a trip to the zoo pop over to the Lincoln Park Conservatory. The Palm House, Fern Room, Orchid House and Show House are home to a fantastic variety of plant species.

When you’re not looking at animals or smelling the roses, why not enjoy a cultural experience? Throughout the summer the Chicago Cultural Centre has free events from music concerts to theatre shows, dance performances and film screenings.  For another great cultural experience you can visit the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. The museum has excellent permanent exhibits devoted to the ancient Near East and is well worth a visit.

For some relaxation you can head to the miles of sandy public beaches along the shore of Lake Michigan.

Rome

Toss a coin over your shoulder at the Trevi Fountain in Rome (Photo: Sebastian Bergmann)

Toss a coin over your shoulder at the Trevi Fountain in Rome (Photo: Sebastian Bergmann)

If you want to save some money when you’re in Rome, there are some great attractions that won’t cost you a thing. You can visit Michelangelo’s famous statue of Moses at the San Pietro in Vincoli church, visit the historic Pantheon, or visit St Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican City. The Vatican Museums are also free of charge on the last Sunday of every month.

One of the best ways to get to know the city is to join a free walking tour. The two-hour tour will take you past famous sights like the Spanish Steps, Raphael’s Tomb, and the Trevi Fountain. If you want to visit Rome again, save some change to toss over your shoulder at the Trevi Fountain.

Beijing

Tiananmen Square is named after Tiananmen Gate, which separates the Square and the Forbidden City (Photo: Francisco Diez)

Tiananmen Square is named after Tiananmen Gate, which separates the Square and the Forbidden City (Photo: Francisco Diez)

Beijing is becoming an increasingly popular holiday destinations, and the low public transport costs and minimal entrance fees to main attractions make it an ideal Chinese destination for those on a budget. A popular free attraction is Tiananmen Square which is in the centre of the city and has become a symbol of the new China. It’s the world’s largest public square. Here you’ll also find Chairman Mao Memorial Hall. To learn more about the history of China visit the National Museum of China, which has fantastic exhibits.

For a good dose of art and culture you should head to Factory 798. Factory 798 (also called 798 Space) is Beijing’s version of Soho. It’s the hub of the artistic community with performance artists, painters, and sculptors, and has a distinct bohemian feel about it. Wandering through Factory 798 makes for a wonderful afternoon out. If you’re looking for some peace and quiet you can go to Xuanwu Garden or Ritan Park.

Istanbul

Experience the hustle and bustle of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul (Photo: Frank Kovalchek)

Experience the hustle and bustle of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul (Photo: Frank Kovalchek)

If Istanbul is your summer holiday destination of choice you should visit the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque). You can admire the beautiful hand painted Iznik tiles, or watch the sunlight filter through 260 stained glass windows in the Mosque. Entrance is free but visiting times are limited as it is still a working Mosque.

No visit to Istanbul is complete without haggling at the Grand Bazaar. The atmosphere is magical and you can find everything from Turkish carpets, gold jewellery and leather goods to belly dancing costumes and fez caps. Be sure to check out the competition so you don’t get fleeced.

Take some time out to visit Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art, which has a unique collection of Turkish and international contemporary art.

Other free attractions include Gülhane Park, formerly the gardens of Topkapi Palace, the Florence Nightingale Museum, and Caddebostan Beach.

Washington DC

Washington DC's most famous attractions are free - like the Lincoln Memorial (Photo: Scott Robinson)

Washington DC’s most famous attractions are free – like the Lincoln Memorial (Photo: Scott Robinson)

If you have any interest in American history and plan on spending your summer in Washington DC, you should visit the National Archives. You’ll find the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights on display here. You may also want to visit the Capitol Building which is open for guided tours, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial.

You can’t visit Washington DC and miss visiting the famous Smithsonian Institute. It’s the largest museum and research complex in the world. The complex includes 19 museums and galleries and the National Zoological Park, and all of them are free! It’s the perfect place to take the kids.

Barcelona

Park Güell in Barcelona - one of the world's most impressive parks (Photo: Wolfgang Staudt)

Park Güell in Barcelona – one of the world’s most impressive parks (Photo: Wolfgang Staudt)

If you’re staying a Barcelona holiday apartment this summer, take a stroll through La Rambla. This iconic pedestrian street may be filled with tourist-traps but it’s the perfect place to people-watch and window shop.

Park Güell is another fabulous attraction that won’t cost you anything. Designed by famous architect Antonio Gaudi, it’s one of the most impressive public parks in the world. The park has become a colourful work of art and a must-see on any trip to Barcelona.

Other free attractions in Barcelona include the vibrant La Boquería market, Barcelona Cathedral, the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc, and of course Barcelona’s beaches.

Athens

Ancient monuments like the Acropolis are free the second Sunday of every month in summer (Photo: Dennis Jarvis)

Ancient monuments like the Acropolis are free the second Sunday of every month in summer (Photo: Dennis Jarvis)

If you’re visiting Athens on a budget you can get great views of the city from Lycabettus Hill. Although there is a funicular, you can save yourself some money by taking a 20 minute hike to the whitewashed chapel that sits on the top of the hill.

In front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Syntagma Square you can watch the changing of the guards. The Evzone guards wear long pleated coats, long white socks and bobbles on their shoes.

Other free attractions include the National Gardens, the Panathenaic Stadium, and the War Museum.  During the summer, many of the major archaeological sites like the Agora and the Acropolis, have free admission on the second Sunday of every month.

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KerrynTraveling on a budget: Free attractions in 10 cities around the world

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