If you have time to kill in a major city, finding things to do can soon eat up your budget unless you are aware of the free things every city has to offer. Here are a few things to do in almost every city around the world. Some of these recommendations are quite obvious to the seasoned traveler but worth a reminder to some.
There’s no better way to soak up the atmosphere of a city than at the local market. From the aromas and flavors of fresh food to the fabrics and questionable souvenirs of arts and crafts stands, markets are a great source of entertainment and an insight into local lives. Remember to look out for the free food samples on offer. Whether it is regional ham at a stand in Barcelona’s La Boqueria Market or tasty cheese at a dairy stand in London’s Borough Market, you’ll get a great flavor for the city you’re visiting.
Most major cities will offer a free walking tour. They’re all run by different companies so just Google it to find one. Free walking tours give you the chance to explore some of the city’s best sites with the informative guidance of a local tour guide. Many of these tours will depart from hostels and hotels or meet at central locations in the city, meaning it’s pretty straightforward to join the tour. The guides are usually passionate locals who want to share their beloved city but remember that they do work on tips. This means the free tours are often better than the paid tours because they rely on people being impressed by their service.
Most of the top museums and galleries in London such as the Natural History Museum and the Tate Modern, are completely free to visit. Unfortunately, it isn’t the same for museums all over the world’s major cities. However, every city will have a list of free museums and galleries to visit, even if it isn’t the one on the front of your guidebook. So, while Paris may not offer free entry to the world-famous Louvre museums, you can enjoy free entry to the city’s Carnavalet Museum, dedicated to the fascinating history of Paris. If you plan to visit a lot of museums and galleries and you’re in a city where they’re not free, look into getting a city pass card. Most cities have them, although they all have a different name.
Try to co-ordinate your trip with a carnival or festival and the city will be packed with free performances. Sometimes larger festivals can push up the prices for hotels and flights, so you need to find the right sized festival to financially gain! 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 festival or carnival. Simply meandering along a tourist street or through a pretty park will see you land at the feet of a free theater performance, lunchtime orchestra concert or spontaneous poetry reading.
Sometimes you just want to find a quiet patch of grass in a city and most cities have gorgeous parks to chill out in. Parks can often be a major city attraction such as the iconic Central Park of New York, the remarkable Keukenhof in Lisse, Netherlands, or the English Garden in Munich. Why not pack yourself a picnic with a bottle of wine to enjoy in the park. You’ll save yourself a fortune by avoiding the restaurant with ‘beautiful park views’ You’re already in the park, it doesn’t get much better than that!
Sometimes there’s no need to head to that informative museum or engaging gallery, simply chatting to a friendly and knowledgeable local is all you’ll need to get a full picture of the city you’re visiting. Locals are keen to tip-off visitors as to some of the best kept secrets in their hometown. Don’t feel shy about chatting up a stranger next time you’re away – they can be far better than the guidebooks. Sore owners and hotel receptionists to be the best local guides if they can spare you the time.
Make a point of visiting the library in whatever new city you’re in and get a feel for that library’s role in the city’s life. There is a practical side to it, too. Libraries are free, quiet, relaxing, air-conditioned in summer and heated in winter. They offer a pleasant respite from the streets and sometimes a great view. Many North American libraries have good play centers for young children, when they need a break from walking and they’re full of locals who can dispense valuable recommendations. Admittedly, not all libraries were created equal. Some libraries are boring buildings that are ugly on the inside and out. But some libraries are beautiful, fascinating and filed with charm, history and local information.
Marveling at some of the world’s most impressive and iconic churches and cathedrals is a great thing to do in any city. Virtually all religious sites welcome people of different faiths and most allow visitors to enjoy the sanctuary space between prayer, worship, and music programs. Houses of worship offer a special insight into the beliefs and culture of a region. They are also of interest for those who love history, philosophy, art, architecture, genealogy, anthropology, music, and literature. Always remember that you are in a sacred site. Dress modestly and respect signs indicating photography rules. Keep your voice down as not to interrupt those visiting for religious purposes.
One of the best ways to discover a new city is to combine your sightseeing with some exercise. Use an app like MapMyRun and you’ll find some great jogging routes around your destination, passing famous landmarks and trotting through pretty parks. You’ll cover ground quickly as well, perfect if you’re on a whirlwind break and have been a little too optimistic with scale of your trip itinerary.
If you love food and drink tours and they’re usually great value for money, but you’re on a strict budget, create your own tour with a group of friends. Use a local app to select the best restaurants and bars, plot them on a map and then set out to eat and drink as much as you can. Share one meal or one bottle of wine between the group before moving on to the next place for round two. It will take longer than a traditional food tour as you’ll have to wait for each meal but that’s part of the fun. This often works best at food markets where street food is available without waiting around.