No matter the budget, it's easy to spend more than planned on vacation, especially in big cities.No matter the budget, it's easy to spend more than planned on vacation, especially in big cities.
But many of the world's most popular – and expensive – cities offer a wealth of things to see and do entirely for free.
From New York City's Central Park to Hong Kong's Symphony of Lights to D.C.'s Smithsonian and National Zoo, our friends at ShermansTravel.com have highlighted the fabulously free attractions in 10 cities.
Cities With The Best Free Attractions (PHOTOS)
Many of Berlin’s cutting-edge and most well-known historic attractions are frei. The Reichstag, the official seat of the German Parliament, offers 360-degree views from the top of its striking glass dome (entry is free; advance registration required). Back on the ground, hit the pavement to experience Berlin’s divided past on a free, 3.5-hour walking tour of the Mitte district, kicking off at city’s majestic “trademark,” the Brandenburg Gate.
Pioneering architecture, world-class museums, a vibrant arts scene, and an expansive lakefront are a few of Chicago’s major draws. Lucky for travelers, many of them are free. Catch a water and light show summer evenings at Buckingham Fountain, one of the largest fountains in the world, in Grant Park. Nearby Navy Pier is ideal for a stroll, plus a few of its attractions, like the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows and live music on the Beer Garden stage (May.-Oct.) are free. View hundreds of animal species at the Shedd Aquarium (free select days) and Lincoln Park Zoo (always free); and check out the latest in modern design at the notable Archicenter, which offers free gallery talks (Mon., Fri., Sat. 12:30pm).
One of the world’s most imposing skylines – a mix of gleaming skyscrapers and lush mountains – and a kaleidoscope of cultures characterize always-buzzing Hong Kong. The city’s seven major museums all offer free admission on Wednesdays, and its many parks (Hong Kong Park, Victoria Park, Kowloon Park) boast a constant variety of free activities, from kung-fu demos to art fairs. The Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens are home to apes, pythons, and over 1,000 plant species, and admission is always free. Victoria Harbor’s dramatic “Symphony of Lights” show (nightly, 8pm) is also free.
The British capital is one of the priciest in the world, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere with more sophisticated, pocket-friendly amusements. A startling number of London’s first-rate galleries and museums cost nary a thing, including the Tate Modern and the British Museum, home of the Rosetta Stone. The Victoria & Albert, with 4.5 million-object decorative arts collection, is a must-see, flanked by huge fountains and lion statues in scenic Trafalgar Square.
It’s easy to devour the New York City’s best sites without emptying your wallet. For panoramic views of Manhattan’s inimitable skyline, including the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building, hitch a ride on the free Staten Island Ferry or traverse the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, one of the oldest suspension bridges in the country. Meander up Broadway to Times Square (free tours are offered Fridays at noon); and enjoy unparalleled window-shopping and a peek into St. Patrick’s, one of the world’s largest cathedrals, on nearby Fifth Avenue.
With an endless maze of cobblestone streets leading to charming piazzas, ancient ruins, and Renaissance art and architecture at every turn, Rome isn’t just full of priceless attractions – it is the attraction. The beauty of Rome lies in the ability to walk freely amidst its world-famous, millennia-old monuments, from the Forum (once the nexus of the Roman Empire) and Arch of Constantine, to the remarkably preserved Pantheon (free 30-minute tours nightly at 7pm, except Sun.). Of course, no trip would be complete without a visit to the Vatican. Entry to St. Peter’s Basilica, where Michelangelo’s "Pietà” is on view, is free. The Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums are free the last Sunday of every month (between 8:45am and 12:20pm only).
Seattle serves up quality free attractions better than it does a fresh cup o' Joe! Check out the Seattle Art Museum’s notable modern and ethnic art collections, including a coffin shaped like a Mercedes Benz (free on the first Thursday of the month). Afterwards, enjoy SAM’s outdoor Olympic Sculpture Park backed by clear views of Puget Sound. Drop into City Hall during lunchtime for free local folk, jazz, and world music performances (most Thursdays) or embark on a gallery walk in Pioneer Square showcasing the city’s hippest new artists and exhibits (first Thursdays of the month, noon-8pm).
Perhaps Washington, D.C.’s greatest attribute (besides being the center of the Free World) is that so many of its major museums (the Smithsonian!), memorials, and government buildings are, indeed, free and open to the public. Read the Constitution at the National Archives, view the original Star-Spangled Banner at the National Museum of American History, watch money being made at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, snag a seat in a Supreme Court session (Oct.-Apr.), or just revel in the history on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
An ancient city with a dynamic modern spirit, Istanbul’s culture is constantly on display, from the tips of its minarets to the floors of its busy bazaars. It costs nothing to admire the Blue Mosque’s cascading tiled domes and wander the courtyards of the Suleymaniye Mosque. Relax in Gulhane Park (just outside Topkapi Palace), which hosts free public concerts during the summer and offers pleasing Bosphorus views. View the living quarters of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of Turkey, at the Ataturk Museum, and tour the barracks where Florence Nightingale improvised modern nursing standards (both museums offer free admission; advance requests required for Nightingale Museum).
South America’s so-called answer to Paris, Buenos Aires is a world-class city in its own right, with many gratis attractions to boot. View the tomb of national heroine Evita Perone at Recoleta Cemetery (seen here), watch real gauchos and take in a Sunday folklore show at the Feria de Mataderos, and witness a free performance of the city’s original dance at the Buenos Aires Tango Festival (Aug. 12-30).