A world of wonders… FOR FREE: City breaks can be pricey, but they don’t have to be. As we reveal, there are amazing experiences to discover that won’t cost you a penny
- We’ve consulted travel experts and locals to find the best free travel experiences
- In New York, stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge enjoying Statue of Liberty views
- In Paris, watch the Eiffel Tower’s nightly light show at the Champ de Mars
Visiting major cities is expensive. There are all those entry fees to museums and galleries. And that’s before you’ve shelled out for a decent restaurant.
It all adds up, but every city has more than enough attractions that cost nothing. You just have to know where to look.
So we’ve been consulting travel experts and locals to find the best free travel experiences in the world’s top cities.
VALUE IN VENICE
City breaks can be pricey, but they don’t have to be. One of the best free things to do in Venice is stroll across the sparkling white marble Rialto bridge (pictured)
- Stroll across one of Europe’s most famous bridges: the sparkling white marble Rialto.
- Gasp at the amount of gold in St Mark’s Basilica’s opulent interior.
- Take quiet waterside paths to photogenic Punta della Dogana, where two major canals meet.
- Fins Ponte dei Greci, the best viewpoint for Venice’s own leaning tower: St Giorgio’s belfry.
- Luxury department store Fondaco dei Tedeschi is housed in a Palladian mansion. Head upstairs for panoramic rooftop views.
- Gaze at the world’s biggest painted canvas on San Pantalon church’s ceiling.
- Rise early to join circling gulls and chefs examining lagoon fishermen’s catches at the old fish market.
- Dress for traditional evening passeggiate — people-watching walks around St Mark’s Square.
- Visit San Giorgio Maggiore Island to see Tintoretto’s Last Supper and a free Venetian glass gallery.
- Pop into one of four atmospheric masses a week at San Zaccaria Renaissance church, amid Bellini, Van Dyck and Tintoretto masterpieces.
NOT SO PRICEY PARIS
Visitors to Paris should watch the Eiffel Tower’s nightly light show at the Champ de Mars
Discover the grave of Oscar Wilde (above) at Paris’s Pere-Lachaise Cemetery
- Grab a free cruise on courtesy boats on St Denis Canal taking shoppers from Corentin Cariou Metro to Le Millenaire Mall more than a mile away.
- The Museum of Modern Art is the best of 22 free museums in the city. Browse 15,000 works by the likes of Picasso, Chagall and Matisse.
- Pop into Montmartre’s landmark Sacre Coeur basilica for choir rehearsals and beautiful sunset views outside.
- Escape the Louvre crowds among the statues and duck ponds in the Tuileries. These formal historic gardens nearby have regular free guided tours.
- Meet a Paris ‘Greeter’ — local volunteers giving free personal tours in English (greeters.paris).
- Explore the Seine’s winding banks, a World Heritage Site with ancient bridges, embankments and views.
- Browse the Harrods of Paris: the elegant Galeries Lafayette department store on Boulevard Haussmann, offering spectacular roof terrace views and free Friday fashion shows.
- Among 40,000 graves at Pere-Lachaise Cemetery discover those of stars such as Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde and Edith Piaf.
- Watch the Eiffel Tower’s nightly light show at the Champ de Mars.
- Enjoy one of the world’s best outdoor art galleries: the fine street art of Vitry district (trompe-l-oeil.info).
LISBON FOR LESS
Masterpiece: Don’t miss a visit to Lisbon’s Gare do Oriente station, above, with its huge glass and steel lattice
Hunt bargains at Lisbon’s twice-weekly Feira da Ladra ‘Thieves Market’ (pictured)
- Hunt bargains among exotic pavement junk stalls at the sprawling twice-weekly Feira da Ladra ‘Thieves Market’.
- See Roman sardine factories in recently discovered tunnels under a modern bank at Archaeological Nucleus.
- Use information boards to explore spectacular modern architecture including the 476 ft Vasco da Gama Tower at the riverside Park of the Nations.
- Visit Victorian Rossio Station, one of Europe’s prettiest, with statues, wrought ironwork and romantic horseshoe doors.
- And don’t miss another station too, Gare do Oriente, Santiago Calatrava’s modern architectural masterpiece. Its huge glass and steel lattice is breathtaking after dark.
- Take a DIY tour of the many spectacular ceramic facades (whatifwewalked.com/lisbon-tile-walk).
- Paddle in the Tagus. Riverfront steps at Ribeira das Naus are the best spot.
- Potter round the cobbles, stairways and alleys of Lisbon’s hilly Arabic fishermen’s Alfama district.
- Se Cathedral is a mix of church and fort. Visit for Royal tombs and 700-year-old sculptures along the battlements.
- Avoid hefty charges by freely visiting the fabulously carved Santa Maria church in Jeronimos Monastery complex. Highlights include Vasco da Gama’s tomb.
On the hour, watch clockwork mechanical performances of the Astronomical Clock in Prague’s Old Town Square (pictured)
Enjoy live music from Prague’s street musicians
- Join pilgrims gazing at 400-year-old Infant Jesus of Prague, a wax doll regularly dressed in costumes by nuns.
- Enjoy live music from some of Europe’s top buskers on Charles Bridge.
- Relax with river views alongside the ancient royal church at Vysehrad Citadel.
- Walk in the coronation day steps of Bohemian Kings, covering a mile from the Royal Palace to the cathedral.
- Find modern public works by favourite local artist David Cerny, including a huge portrait of Kafka.
- On the hour, watch clockwork mechanical performances of Old Town Square’s Astronomical Clock.
- Experience Catholic Mass next to St Wenceslas’ shrine and St Vitus Cathedral’s treasures.
- Celebrate free speech by writing slogans on the colourful John Lennon graffiti wall.
- Grab a selfie by architect Frank Gehry’s ‘Dancing House’ — a unique wobbly-looking office block.
CHEAP IN ROME
When in Rome, admire the views from the top of Europe’s most famous staircase, The Spanish Steps (pictured)
- See the Pope deliver his Sunday noon balcony speech in St Peter’s Square.
- But make sure you arrive at dawn to beat queues for the world’s most spectacular church: the Vatican’s St Peter’s.
- Stroll along bumpy Roman surfaces of Europe’s oldest road: The Appian Way.
- Stand under the Pantheon’s massive concrete dome — still the world’s biggest 2,000 years after Hadrian built it.
- Visit the spot where Caesar was murdered by Brutus et al. Experts recently found it amid ruins in Largo di Torre Argentina.
- Admire views from the top of Europe’s most famous staircase, The Spanish Steps.
- Campidoglio Square has magnificent architecture designed by Michelangelo.
- Catch blossom-scented sunsets at Giardino degli Aranci, ‘Garden of Oranges’.
- Enjoy art-mad Victorian aristocrat Giovanni Barracco’s private collection. It’s now free for everyone to see (museobarracco.it).
Blooming lovely: Discover Amsterdam’s unique floating flower market (pictured)
- Experience sights and scents of the bustling flower market — the world’s only one on floating canal boats.
- Free ferries from behind Central Station offer a great way to see the city.
- Push open an old wooden door on Spui Square to find Begijnhof, a hidden hamlet of picturesque cottages.
- Visit ‘The Bridge of 15 Bridges’, to see 15 bridges at once.
- In the world’s diamond capital learn about stones, carats and cuts on daily factory tours (gassan.com).
- Sunbathe on man-made sandy urban beaches (simplyamsterdam.nl).
- Play on a giant outdoor board at the free Chess Museum.
- Visit Westerkerk, Amsterdam’s biggest church, Rembrandt’s burial place and venue of free noon carillon bell concerts every Tuesday.
- NEMO Science Museum has Amsterdam’s ‘highest public square’ with views, interactive exhibitions and paddling pools.
MAD FOR MADRID
Learn about Spain’s controversial traditional sport at Madrid’s Plaza de Toros bull-fighting museum (pictured)
- Stand in Spain’s exact centre: a special stone marker under Puerta del Sol clocktower.
- Among lots of free museums (esmadrid.com/en/madrid-free-attractions) don’t miss Prado art gallery, which has no evening entry charge.
- Explore graffiti tunnels in La Tabacalera tobacco factory — now an enormous alternative art centre.
- Visit the 2,200-year-old Templo de Debod Egyptian Temple in Montana Park.
- Spend Sunday scouring the vast El Rastro flea market for bargains.
- Learn about Spain’s controversial traditional sport at Plaza de Toros bull-fighting museum in the world’s top bullring.
- Find Europe’s great monuments at Parque Europa where Tower Bridge stands next to the Trevi Fountain, Eiffel Tower and 14 other replicas.
- Climb to the ninth floor of El Corte Ingles department store for panoramic views of the city.
- You may be 200 miles from the sea but enjoy paddling at the new man-made Rio Beach on Manzanares River.
BUDGET BIG APPLE
Things to do in New York that won’t cost you a penny include catching a free outdoor film
- Join free tours of the Federal Reserve Bank including the underground gold vault (newyorkfed.org).
- Stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge enjoying Statue of Liberty views.
- Flop onto 14 miles of NYC beaches, from Coney Island to Rockaway.
- Catch free outdoor films with spectacular city backdrops (nycgo.com).
- Ride the Staten Island Ferry — for a free harbour cruise lasting 50 minutes.
- Find film scenes from Ghostbusters to Independence Day with DIY location walks (ontheluce.com/new-york-film-locations).
- Enjoy kayaking on the Hudson River courtesy of Downtown Boathouse (downtownboathouse.org/free-kayaking).
- Test Grand Central Station’s Whispering Gallery amid cathedral-like architecture.
Take a self-guided tour of Gaudi’s quirky architecture in Barcelona’s famous Park Guell (pictured)
- Watch or take part in Catalan traditional ‘human towers’ (cccc.cat).
- Enjoy Magic Fountain’s evening performances of multi-coloured jets ‘dancing’ to pop tunes.
- With miles of palms, soft sand and turquoise Med, don’t forget Barca’s beaches.
- Take a self-guided tour of Gaudi’s quirky architecture (seeker.io/gaudi-barcelona-walking-tour/).
- Climb to Civil War ruins of Bunkers del Carmel, with great 360-degree city views.
- Take a jog in 1992’s Olympic Stadium where Linford Christie won 100m Gold.
- Visit the colossal neo-Gothic Cathedral. Then join traditional Sardanes Catalan dancing groups outside.
- Admire sea views, art-deco sculptures and tombs of Barca’s wealthiest families in Montjuic Cemetery.
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