Best free attractions: The amazing sites that won’t cost you

How is your travel budget looking these days? If you are anything like the rest of us, it is shrinking rapidly. In between stagnating wages, rising costs and a heavy helping of inflation, we are all looking at ways to cut costs.

Where you make those cuts depends on your travel style. Some people are happy sleeping in budget accommodation and putting the savings towards experiences instead. Others only travel off-season to take advantage of cheaper prices. And some of us will cut corners everywhere else in order to blow the budget on a couple of really good meals.

Whatever type of traveller you are, it is hard to pass up a freebie. And when you take a good look, there are all sorts of amazing experiences you can enjoy without shelling out a cent.

READ MORE:
* Budget travel: The world’s 50 greatest cheap experiences
* Cheap travel: 10 awesome places in the world you can see for free
* Oslo travel tips: How to do one of the world’s most expensive cities cheaply

MONUMENTS

REAL ALCAZAR, SEVILLE, SPAIN

Real Alcazar was built in 1360.

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Real Alcazar was built in 1360.

This magnificent palace blends Moorish, Gothic and Renaissance elements to dazzling effect – and it is free to enter on Mondays after 4pm. Book your tickets online in advance. See alcazarsevilla.org

SHEIKH ZAYED GRAND MOSQUE, ABU DHABI, UAE

The largest mosque in the world boasts 82 domes, 165,000 square metres of Macedonian marble and seven mammoth chandeliers containing 40 million pieces of crystal. But it is the building’s beauty, not the numbers, that makes it a must-visit. See visitabudhabi.ae

FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE, KYOTO, JAPAN

Dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice, this shrine draws visitors mainly to see the thousands of torii gates that lead to a network of hiking trails. See kyototourism.org

CHHATRAPATI SHIVAJI TERMINUS, MUMBAI, INDIA

Still better known as Victoria Terminus, this showstopper of a building – an unlikely mash-up between Gothic Revival and Indian palace architecture – is also one of the busiest railway stations in the world. See incredibleindia.org

LITTLE PETRA, JORDAN

Its official name is Siq al-Barid but the popular moniker “Little Petra” tells you exactly what awaits: Nabatean buildings carved into the walls of a sandstone canyon. It is part of the Petra Archaeological Park but accessed separately, and entry is free. See visitjordan.com

BRASILIA CATHEDRAL, BRASILIA, BRAZIL

From the outside, Oscar Niemeyer’s concrete and glass church resembles a crown of thorns. Stand inside, however, and the light pouring in through the blue-and-white stained glass walls lets you imagine you are floating through the sky. An extraordinary building. See visitbrasil.com

A view of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

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A view of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

MOUNT RUSHMORE NATIONAL MEMORIAL, SOUTH DAKOTA, US

Carved out of a granite mountain at a cost of almost a million dollars, the giant likenesses of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt constitute one of the most recognisable monuments in the US. Entry is free but you will have to pay to park your car (there is no public transport to the site.) See nps.gov/moru

AYA SOFIYA, ISTANBUL, TURKEY

If you have visited the Aya Sofiya before, you may be surprised to learn that the entrance fee has been lifted – a result of the building’s change in status from a museum back to a mosque. Time your visit to avoid the five daily prayers. See goistanbulturkiye.com

Pantheon Fountain in Rome.

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Pantheon Fountain in Rome.

THE PANTHEON, ROME, ITALY

A pagan temple converted into a Christian church, crowned by a spectacular dome, the Pantheon remains one of Rome’s most memorable sights. Unlike the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, it is also free to visit. See turismoroma.it

PURA TAMAN SARASWATI TEMPLE, BALI, INDONESIA

Unlike many of Bali’s other most memorable temples, entry to this picturesque water temple in Ubud is free. The lotus-filled pond and the delicate bas reliefs are highlights. See indonesia.travel

TOURS

WALKING TOUR, LISBON, PORTUGAL

Lisbon’s old city is known for its pastel buildings.

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Lisbon’s old city is known for its pastel buildings.

Most of Lisbon was rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1755 but in the Alfama and Mouraria districts, you can discover what the city used to look like. Stroll it on a free tour, departing twice daily. See lisbonwalkingtours.com

GRAVEYARD TOUR, BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA

The outrageously ornate crypts and tombs of Buenos Aires’ elite have made Recoleta Cemetery one of the city’s most popular sights. Free tours take place on Monday, Wednesday or Friday at 10.30am. See buenosairesfreewalks.com

The colourful Bourbon Street, New Orleans.

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The colourful Bourbon Street, New Orleans.

HISTORIC WALK, NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA, US

New Orleans’ French Quarter is drenched in history. Departing at 10am from Thursday to Sunday, this tour takes in the most historic spots, including Bourbon Street, Pirates Alley and the houses of William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams. See freetoursbyfoot.com

FREEDOM TOUR, CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA

The Apartheid to Freedom Tour explains the history of the apartheid laws, how they affected people’s lives and the struggle for freedom, with stops to see “apartheid benches” and the spot where Nelson Mandela made his first speech as a free man. See freewalkingtourscapetown.co.za

CARTAGENA BY FOOT, CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA

A walking tour through Colombia’s prettiest city is a chance to learn about Cartagena’s colourful past as well as discovering some of its loveliest streets and squares. Every day at 10am. See beyondcolombia.com

HARRY POTTER’S EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND

Edinburgh Castle stands on Castle Rock.

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Edinburgh Castle stands on Castle Rock.

JK Rowling famously created the universe of Harry Potter while living in Edinburgh. This free tour takes in the locations that inspired characters and scenes in the series. See pottertrail.com

HANOI HOODS, HANOI, VIETNAM

Join a half-day walking tour of two of Hanoi’s most interesting neighbourhoods, the Old Quarter and The French Quarter, led by local students keen to practice their English. Available at 9am and 2pm. See hanoifreewalkingtours.com

MARRAKECH’S MEDINA, MOROCCO

Discover the winding streets of Marrakech’s medina without getting lost on a free tour. The itinerary includes highlights such as the Bab Agnaou gate and Jemaa El Fna Square. See marrakechwithlocals.com

TEL AVIV ARCHITECTURE, TEL AVIV, ISRAEL

Every Saturday at 10am, you can join a walk down the city’s oldest avenue, Rothschild Boulevard, and learn about Tel Aviv’s celebrated Bauhaus architecture and the efforts to preserve it as the city developed. See tel-aviv.gov.il

INCA TOUR, CUSCO, PERU

Be beguiled by the tales of the Incas as you explore the streets of this ancient Peruvian capital with the Inkan Milky Way, which operates multiple free tours each week. See inkanmilkyway.com

TRANSPORT

STATEN ISLAND FERRY, NEW YORK

Staten Island Ferry runs seven days.

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Staten Island Ferry runs seven days.

Want great shots of the Statue of Liberty? The 25-minute trip between Manhattan and Staten Island on the Staten Island Ferry gives you the best views of the icon, and costs not a cent. It runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. See siferry.com

ALL PUBLIC TRANSPORT, GENEVA, SWITZERLAND

Check into any hotel, youth hostel or campsite to receive your free Geneva Transport Card, which covers buses, trams, trains, and yellow taxi-boats. Free transport from the airport is also available. See geneve.com

HOP-ON, HOP-OFF BUS, MANCHESTER, ENGLAND

Getting around town is easy thanks to the hop-on, hop-off free bus which lets you explore Manchester’s key attractions, including its magnificent Victorian architecture and its major shopping areas. See visitmanchester.com

BUS TRIPS, DUNKIRK, FRANCE

Why visit France’s northernmost town? We have two good reasons. One is its distinctive cuisine – try the coq a la biere, chicken in a creamy beer sauce. The other is the free travel on the city’s buses. See dunkirk-tourism.com

FERRY RIDES, AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS

You will pay for trams and buses in Amsterdam but the ferries travelling across the IJ harbour from Amsterdam-Central to Amsterdam-Noord are free. (You can even take your bike.) See iamsterdam.com

BUS TRANSFER TO AERO ISLAND, DENMARK

Aero Denmark’s prettiest and sunniest island, known for its thatched-roof, brightly-painted houses and its beaches lined with traditional bathing huts. Getting around is easy, thanks to the free bus. See visitaeroe.com

CENTRAL-MID-LEVELS ESCALATOR, HONG KONG, CHINA

One of the most entertaining rides in Hong Kong costs absolutely nothing: the trip on the 800-metre covered outdoor escalator that connects the CBD to the Mid-Levels residential neighbourhood. See discoverhongkong.com

ALL PUBLIC TRANSPORT, LUXEMBOURG

Luxembourg has free transport on trains, trams and buses.

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Luxembourg has free transport on trains, trams and buses.

This European country is one of the smallest in the world – smaller than the smallest state in the US, Rhode Island – and you can explore all of it without paying a cent, with free transport on trains, trams and buses. See visitluxembourg.com

BUS TO THE ALPS, LIVIGNO, ITALY

With a picturesque setting high in the Italian Alps, a ski season that lasts from October to May, and tax-free shopping, Livigno is a gorgeous destination – and four free bus lines connect all parts of town, including the ski lifts.

ALL PUBLIC TRANSPORT, MARIEHAMN, FINLAND

It is not just its status as Finland’s only Swedish-speaking region that sets the autonomous island of Åland apart from the rest of Finland. Its capital city, Mariehamn, is also the only place that offers free public transport. See visitfinland.com

MUSEUMS

SMITHSONIAN MUSEUMS, WASHINGTON DC, US

The Air and Space Museum exhibits a significant collection of aviation and space artefacts.

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The Air and Space Museum exhibits a significant collection of aviation and space artefacts.

You could easily fill an entire week exploring the 17 free museums and galleries that make up the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, from the Air and Space Museum and the American Indian Museum to the new(ish) National Museum of African American History and Culture. See si.edu

MUSEU PICASSO, BARCELONA, SPAIN

Most of the 4000-plus works in the permanent collection come from Picasso’s early years, although the complete Las Meninas series is also on display here. Entry is free Thursdays after 5pm and the first Sunday of each month. See www.museupicasso.bcn.cat

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF KOREA, SEOUL, KOREA

Take a deep dive into Korean culture and history at this impressive free museum. Highlights range from exquisitely-glazed celadon ceramics to masterworks in bronze, including the statue of the pensive bodhisattva. See museum.go.kr

MUSEO SOUMAYA, MEXICO CITY, MEXICO

Plated with 16,000 glittering aluminium tiles, the building itself is one of the attractions at Museo Soumaya, where the collection includes works by Picasso, Van Gogh and Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker. Always free. See museosoumaya.org

Admission is free to Te Papa.

Monique Ford/Stuff

Admission is free to Te Papa.

TE PAPA TONGAREWA, WELLINGTON, NZ

Its name translates to “container of treasures”, and it is a fair description of the diverse collection at New Zealand’s National Museum. Admission is free, and exhibits include everything from a complete marae, or Māori meeting house, to a colossal squid. See tepapa.govt.nz

MUSEE D’ORSAY, PARIS, FRANCE

It is not just the exhibits at the Musee D’Orsay – the world’s largest impressionist collection, featuring Manet, Monet, Degas and Cezanne – that dazzle. The belle epoque building, formerly a railway station, is just as memorable. Entry is free on the first Sunday of every month. See musee-orsay.fr

SWEDISH HISTORY MUSEUM, STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN

Crowd favourites at this free museum include the Gold Room, which displays 52 kilograms of gold objects as well as 200 kilograms of silver, and The Viking World, featuring 2500 original objects. See historiska.se

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE

This free museum lets you stroll through the city-state’s past – including the mesmerising digital Story of the Forest exhibition – and its present, thanks to the Singapore Living Galleries, focused on contemporary fashion, food and photography. See nhb.gov.sg

The Victoria and Albert Museum includes a five-metre-high cast of Michelangelo's David.

Carl Court/Getty Images

The Victoria and Albert Museum includes a five-metre-high cast of Michelangelo’s David.

VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM, LONDON, ENGLAND

Home to the world’s largest collection of decorative arts, from Chinese ceramics to Middle Eastern rugs, domestic appliances to cutting-edge fashion, the Victoria and Albert Museum, like the British Museum and other London favourites, offers free entry. See vam.ac.uk

GETTY CENTRE, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, US

Housed in an eye-catching Richard Meier building, the Getty Centre’s collection ranges from medieval art to modern works, including an outstanding photographic collection and masterworks by Van Gogh and Monet. Always free. See getty.edu

MISCELLANEOUS

SUMO TRAINING, TOKYO, JAPAN

The professional sumo wrestlers exercise in Arashio-Beya.

Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images

The professional sumo wrestlers exercise in Arashio-Beya.

If you don’t want to fork out the money to watch a sumo tournament, you can head for sumo stables such as Arashio Stable, where windows on the street let visitors watch the morning practice session. See gotokyo.org

SAILING TRIP, SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA, US

The volunteer-run Cal Sailing Club offers free sailing trips on beautiful San Francisco Bay 10 times a year (dates are on their website). It is first-come, first-served, so don’t be late. See cal-sailing.org

SAMBA SCHOOL REHEARSALS, RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL

Can’t make it to Carneval? By December, the samba schools’ rehearsals are well under way and the public is welcome to attend. Dates and times are advertised; most will not charge an entrance fee. See www.visit.rio

PHILHARMONIC CONCERTS, BERLIN, GERMANY

Held every Tuesday at 1pm, these free lunchtime concerts are a great way to enjoy the talent of world-class musicians for absolutely nothing. See berliner-philharmoniker.de

GEYSIR HOT SPRINGS, ICELAND

Geyser watching in Iceland.

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Geyser watching in Iceland.

How much does it cost to watch a world-famous geyser shoot 20 metres into the air? Not a cent. The geysers at Geysir Hot Springs are completely free to visit – as are most of Iceland’s waterfalls and hot springs. See visiticeland.com

HULA SHOW, HONOLULU, HAWAII, US

Start your evening with a sunset hula show by some of Hawaii’s finest dancers and musicians at the eastern end of the Waikiki Beach strip. The Kuhio Beach Hula Show, which starts with a torch lighting ceremony, happens Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. See hawaii.com

DIAMOND FACTORY TOUR, AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS

Watch diamond polishers at work and learn about how rough diamonds are transformed into cut gemstones on the one-hour the Gassan Diamond Factory Tour, taking place seven days a week. See gassan.com

WAT MAHADHATU MEDITATION CLASSES, BANGKOK, THAILAND

Take time out from the bustle of Bangkok with free three-hour classes at the meditation centre inside this temple in the Rattanakosin district. Classes start at 7am, 1pm and 6pm. See tourismthailand.org

MONTREAL INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL, MONTREAL, CANADA

You don’t need to buy a ticket to enjoy the world’s largest jazz festival. Held every July, this festival takes over the city, and features more than 400 free outdoor performances. See montrealjazzfest.com

Staying safe: Check safetravel.govt.nz prior to travelling to stay updated on the latest travel advisories.

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