Most of us try to set a budget for our adventures but somewhere along the way, the money inevitably seems to run out. If this happens when you’re near the beach or some other natural attraction, it’s not too hard to keep yourself amused. In the city, however, just about everything in your trusty guide book seems way out of your price range and people-watching only goes so far. What can you do for free?
As it turns out, lots! All of these suggestions work equally well whether you’re broke in Sydney, Washington or London. And if you try out a few of them the next time you’re exploring a new city, you might even have a few bucks left over for a night on the town.
1. Museums and Galleries
They don’t all charge admission, and the free ones are often the most interesting. Ironically, they’re also a lot less crowded than the marquee museums people pay a bundle to see over the heads of a thousand other tourists. Free museums often explore local culture, history and art, and a visit to the exhibits is also a terrific way to immerse yourself when you first arrive in a new city. Many of the pricier places have free admission on at least one day or evening in the week, but be prepared for massive crowds and long waits to get in.
2. Buskers and Street Performers
Just about every city has its share of singers, dancers and performance artists who ply their trade on the street corner for a few well-deserved coins. Many cities even hold an annual festival for buskers, and if you’re lucky enough to catch one you’ll have hours of free entertainment. Start by talking to any hotel receptionist because they usually hold a bottomless wealth of information about their hometown. They’ll help you map out a circuit of locations where you can see the best talent, whether it’s a lunchtime concert or an improvised performance of Shakespeare in the park.
3. Churches and Temples
Regardless of your faith, culture or beliefs, churches and temples are living works of art. You’re not going to get into Notre Dame or St. Paul’s Basilica for free, but every city has at least one amazing holy building that welcomes visitors without extracting a fee. While you’re busy looking up at the ornate ceilings and iconography, don’t forget to also look down and check out the crypts. Many churches give free tours of their underbellies as well as providing descriptive brochures to help you with a self-guided visit.
4. Build Your Own Tour
You can design your own walking circuit of a city almost as easily as you can sign up for an expensive guided tour. There are a ton of apps that will help you map out the perfect route, including those that are designed for joggers or public transit. Pick a theme for the day and link destinations that will form a loop back to your departure point. For example, mapping out the best gelato places in Rome will take you past just about every picture-worthy attraction in the city. Try looking for beer gardens in Berlin or poutine in Quebec City and you’ll see what we mean!
5. Head for the Market
You may not have deep pockets but strolling though the local markets doesn’t cost a dime. This is where you’ll find the authentic colors, flavors (and smells) of the city, like the eye-dazzling array of candied fruit in Barcelona or the tantalizing spices of Marrakesh. Even less exotic cities all have their own local markets, selling everything from produce and crafts to used clothing and books. Best of all, the food sections often provide samples, so you may even be able to cobble together a free meal.
Being low in cash in a new city doesn’t mean having to make a cup of coffee stretch for three hours in a cafe with a grumpy waiter. Get out there and explore all the free things on offer. You might even find the experience more rewarding than the pricey tourist-driven alternatives.