So, travelling. The great joy of seeing this wide world of ours is that it’s such a personal thing. Take a moment now to think about your ideal trip. Are you stretching out on a sandy beach with a pina colada or seven? Are you skiing in the beautiful, snow-capped mountains of Switzerland? Are you trekking, Indiana Jones-style, through a forest? Are you surrounded by the noise and super-stressful rush of the big city, or in a peaceful, serene rural setting?
Naturally, these are all perfect options. It just depends on you and your preferences. Not forgetting one other factor, of course: your budget.
That’s another big thing you’ve got to consider. How much are you able to spend, and how much of that do you want to spend? Personally, I’m one of those I work hard all darn year to afford my vacation, so I’m going all out for it people, but you’ve still got to be realistic with your traveling.
Most of us, after all, are mere mortals who don’t have bank balances like Kanye West’s. We want to see some of the finest sights and cities the world has to offer without spending our children's’ college fund in the process.
Here’s something to help, then. I’ve cherry-picked some of the world’s greatest tourist attractions, all of which can be visited for free. Once flights, accommodation and the like are already dealt with, of course. From Paris’s magnificent Notre Dame cathedral to the outdoor art of Buenos Aires and Hong Kong’s A Symphony of Lights, here are 25 of the world’s greatest tourist attractions that won’t cost us a dime.
25 The Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris, Paris- Gothic Greatness
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting Paris, you’ll know that it’s a city full of vibrant culture and steeped in history. Millions of visitors every year flock to see the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and other iconic landmarks. One of the most popular is the Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris, better known around the world as Notre-Dame.
This cathedral has been frequently restored since it was completed around the year 1260; it remains one of the city’s most stunning buildings. Free tours (in English) are available three days a week, and no trip to the city is complete without a visit.
24 Central Park, New York City: So Much More Than Just A Park
Here in Britain where I live, a park is essentially just a slightly oversized lawn with a swing set on it. That’s different if you head on into London, of course, but parks tend to mean something different to those who don’t live in big cities.
As we know, there are few cities bigger than New York. In turn, there are few parks bigger than Central Park, a vast green haven of almost 850 acres. All kinds of free entertainment are hosted here (and lots that aren’t free, too), including the annual Shakespeare in the Park event, ice skating and all sorts besides.
23 The Lotus Temple, Delhi- Blooming Beautiful
For our next stop, we’re crossing over to Delhi, India. This is the Bahá'í House of Worship, commonly known as the lotus temple. It’s one of the most distinctive and beautiful buildings in the world, sporting stunning petal-like architecture (in a nine-sided circular shape, as is always the case with a Bahá'í House of Worship).
The Lotus Temple was completed late in 1986, and soon rose to become one of the city’s biggest tourist draws. Following Bahá'í tradition, it is always open to all visitors, regardless of faith, creed or anything else. A true highlight of any visit to India.
22 The Louvre, Paris- Just Make Sure You Come On The Right Day
Speaking of huge, country-defining tourist draws, let’s head back to Paris for a moment. Art lovers the world over hold the Louvre in incredibly high regard (it was the most-visited art museum in the world last year, as the official site boasts), and rightly so: it’s home to priceless art, wonders from Ancient Egypt and the iconic Venus de Milo, among many other things.
Typically, there’s an entrance charge, but free entry is still available. Visitors under 26 years old and teachers (with proof, of course) can enter for free at any time. As for everybody else, you can visit the Louvre for free on the first Sunday of every month, as Hostel World reports.
21 Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria- The Best Australia Has To Offer
For my money, Australia is one of the most naturally beautiful countries on Earth. Those magnificent beaches, the road trips you can take along the coastline, the views, the wildlife… it’s like nothing else you’ll see on the planet.
Much of the country, granted, is sparsely populated and arid. The Outback is a super-inhospitable environment. That’s just one side of the story, though, as the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria show. This lush green spectacle is spread across two sites, Cranbourne and Melbourne. Not only are they truly beautiful, but they’re also a beacon for the conservation of wildlife and are free to visit.
20 The Statue of Liberty, Liberty Island- There She Is!
Crossing over to the United States next, this vast and proud country boasts a whole array of must-see sights for visitors. It’s almost impossible to see everything in one trip, though, with the likes of the Grand Canyon, the Empire State Building, Las Vegas itself and others all clamouring for attention, so you’ve got to prioritise.
If it’s your first time in New York, for instance, you’ll probably want to make a beeline for the Statue of Liberty. The good news is, the Staten Island Ferry is free to ride, and will give you a great view. The downside: well, it’s as busy as you’d probably imagine. With an extra dollop of busy and busy-flavoured sauce drizzled on the top.
19 Westminster Abbey, London- Don’t Be Westminster *CRABBY*
Yes, that line is one of my favourites in Friends history, as bad as it is. Let’s not dwell on it.
If you’re new to London and keen to see the biggest sights, you’ve probably done your research. Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace and the likes are surely on your checklist, as is the site of the much-ballyhooed Royal Wedding, Windsor Castle.
Let’s not forget Westminster Abbey, either. Visitors must pay to enter this beautiful and historical building during the day, but entry during Evensong (5:30pm every day) is free of charge, Hostel World reports.
18 St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City: Now *THAT’S* Arty
When in Rome, as they say, do what the Romans do. Alternatively, you can do what the hordes and hordes of tourists do every year: take a trip over to the nearby Vatican City.
This proud and historic region is a must-see for any visitor, boasting cultural highlights like the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica. Which is where things get tricky. The museum sports a large entry fee, while the main Basilica is completely free (though there’s an additional charge to enter certain areas).
If you have the time and cash to spare, you won’t want to miss out on either experience. You’ll need a lot of time, too, because queues for these attractions will be very long.
17 The Church Of Our Lady, Bruges: Brickwork Brilliance
For our next entry, we’re going to stay in Europe for another fine Roman Catholic church. The Church Of Our Lady (or Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk as it’s known in Dutch) is found in Bruges, Belgium, and has a number of claims to fame.
Not only is it beautiful, but it’s also imposing for its sheer size. It sports the world’s second-tallest brickwork tower, at 379ft; behind only that of St Martin’s Church in Landshut, Germany. It’s also the proud home of the Madonna of Bruges, Michelangelo’s only sculpture to leave his native Italy while he was alive. It’s well worth the trip, especially as entry is completely free.
16 Outdoor Artwork, Buenos Aires: An Open-Air Gallery
In just about any neighbourhood you care to mention, you’re going to find a whole heckola of a lot of graffiti. That’s just the way people tend to be. If the best way to express yourself is by spray-painting a big, angry you-know-which-appendage on the side of a wall, then… yep.
Sometimes, though, these people create truly impressive works of art. Never is this more evident than in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The capital, Lonely Planet reports, has a number of streets (Caminito and La Boca among them) famous for being ‘decorated’ by enterprising local artists. It’s an impressive sight for sure.
15 Museum Of Modern And Contemporary Art, Nice: When You Decide You Want To Be Free After All
Crossing back over to France, now, Nice’s popular museum of modern and contemporary art (or Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain, to use its official name) is a bit of a special case. Previously, an entry charge was applied. It was tough to begrudge this, with the great variety of displayed within. Across its three floors, the museum displays everything from US pop art to the New Realists of Europe and The School of Nice.
Art enthusiasts will be in their element here, that’s for certain. They’ll also be happy to discover that, since 2008, entry has been completely free for everyone.
14 The Temple Of Heaven, Beijing: A Little Bit Of Everything
Beijing’s magnificent Temple of Heaven is one of China’s greatest wonders. It’s found in the centre of the capital and is actually a complex of several buildings. They include The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, The Imperial Vault of Heaven and the Circular Mound Altar.
The complex was visited by emperors of the Qing and Ming dynasties, who would pray there for bountiful crops, suitable weather and so on. The Temple of Heaven was constructed in the early 1400s, and makes for a humbling and awe-inspiring part of any trip to the Chinese capital. Dances and other types of shows are held all around the grounds on a daily basis.
13 Schönbrunn Palace Gardens, Vienna: Now *THAT’S* A BackYard
All around the world, some of the greatest tourist attractions are palaces, vast mansions and other such places. It’s clear to see why, after all: these are the sorts of homes that most of us can only dream of. There’s something fantastical about it, visiting a place where you’d have to save your whole life just to be able to afford the mailbox.
For the royal or noble owners of these palaces, the outside tended to be just as important as the inside. This is certainly true of the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria. This beautiful Baroque building is famed for its vast gardens, which all visitors are free to enjoy.
12 Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia: Well, I Do Declare
This rundown is full of cities, places and buildings that are of crucial historical significance. These are the things that museums are made of, after all. On the subject of history, as far as the United States are concerned, there’s nothing more important than the Declaration of Independence, which marked the birth of the country.
Where better to celebrate this than at the Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia? The park covers 55 acres and houses a whole range of landmarks. The famous Independence Hall, Liberty Bell Center and Carpenters’ Hall are all here (along with many others of significance), making for a trip steeped in history.
11 Glockenspiel Show, Munich: You’re Sure To Have A Great… Time
Nope. I will not apologise for that pun. I’ll just get straight on with the story of Rathaus-Glockenspiel, a tourist attraction in the heart of Munich, Germany. Twice a day (and a third time at noon in the summer), the great glockenspiel chimes and tells two stories of local historical importance. The first is a re-enactment of the marriage of Duke Wilhelm V and Renata of Lorraine. The second tells of the Coopers’ dance, a local tradition.
All of this is accompanied by life-sized figures jousting and dancing, for the enjoyment of great crowds of tourists and locals who gather in the street when the show is due.
10 Trafalgar Square, London: Beware Of The Pigeons
Earlier in this rundown, we visited Westminster Abbey (timing the trip well so as to not be charged an entry fee). While we’re in the UK capital, it’s always worth stopping off at another of the big-ticket tourist items in the city: Trafalgar Square. Home of the famous Nelson’s Column (built in the 1840s to commemorate British hero Admiral Horatio Nelson), Trafalgar Square is an excellent setting to take a break and have some lunch.
If you can find some space, that is, as it’s usually super-crowded. Not to mention the many pigeons, who have zero concept of personal space and want to eat your sandwich at least as much as you do.
9 Royal Hawaiian Center, Honolulu: You Call That A Shopping Mall? *THIS* Is A Shopping Mall
When it comes to must-visit destinations in a new city, shopping malls probably aren’t the first things that spring to mind. They’re cramped, crowded, designed to have about as much charm and character as a plate of plain pasta.
The Royal Hawaiian Center in Honolulu, on the other hand, is anything but. It’s a vibrant introduction to Hawaiian customs and traditions, with workshops to teach hula dancing, places to get a traditional Hawaiian massage, all of these sorts of things. It’s also free (depending on what you do and purchases in the shops themselves, naturally). What an introduction to Hawaii.
8 Grand Bazaar, Istanbul- That’s Definitely Grand
As we saw earlier with the Royal Hawaiian Center, shopping malls aren’t always the most glamorous of tourist destinations. The Eiffel Tower? A gondola ride through the canals of Venice? Who needs that when you can simply sit in a Starbucks?
Let’s not be snarky, though, because some shopping destinations can be attractions in their own right, too. Istanbul's Grand Bazaar is a perfect example of this. Between 3,000 and 4,000 stores operate here, spread across over 60 covered streets. It’s a cultural and social hub, a must-visit, and is completely free… providing you don’t buy anything. Which, of course, you will.
7 Smithsonian Museums, Washington: Getting A Little More Culture In
In the United States, the Smithsonian name is synonymous with a quality museum experience. On that note, Washington DC is an embarrassment of riches. CNN Travel emphasises the National Museum of Natural History, the National Zoo and the National Air and Space Museum (yep, the home of the Spirit of St. Louis) as the best and most popular in the area.
As they explain, Tim Leffel, budget travel expert, once reported that the three museums he visited with his wife and child would probably have cost upwards of $100 in European capitals. These are the opportunities you’ve got to take advantage of.
6 The Pantheon, Rome: While You’re In Rome, Roam Over Here
Well, there's a caveat to this one: A entrance fee of €3 is being implemented. It's just... having some teething troubles.
The Roman capital is famous for its historical and cultural treasures. It’s the home of the Roman forum, the Circus Maximus, the Colosseum… the list goes on and on. Another of the most popular sights in the city is the Parthenon, built around the year 113 AD.
It’s one of the best-preserved Roman buildings in the city and is a very popular stop on walking tours. The building is characterised by its oculus, an opening in the central dome that looks out on to the sky, and is a fascinating entry for any history fanatic’s bucket list. Don’t miss it if you’re in the city.
5 The Museo Del Prado, Madrid- A Fascinating Glimpse Into Spanish Culture
As tourism becomes an increasingly important part of the economy around the world, so lives have changed to reflect it. Busy city centres have tried to cater to the many visitors, with more restaurants and souvenir stores (not to mention cafes charging $10 for a cup of coffee and a croissant) ready for the hordes.
Naturally, tourists are also firmly in mind when it comes to museums. If you’re on a budget, it’s always great to find a museum that doesn’t charge an entry fee, but rather a suggested donation if you’re able to give it. Madrid has some fine ones, but you’ve got to know their individual policies. The Museo del Prado, The Telegraph reports, offers works by icons like Picasso, Goya and El Greco. Entry is free from 6pm-8pm, Tuesday-Saturday, and from 5pm-7pm on Sunday.
4 New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park- Great Jazz, With Jazz Greats
Compared to many of the countries we’ve visited over the course of this rundown, the United States is very young. Nevertheless, it’s soon established itself as a vast and potent force, which it seems as though the world was never without.
Take the music scene, for instance. Jazz is deeply entrenched in recent US history, and so here comes another important cultural and historical landmark. The New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park is located in New Orleans, occupying some of Louis Armstrong Park. It’s dedicated to sharing the story and the culture of jazz music, and is a bit of a mecca for fans of the musical genre.
3 The Buiksloterweg Ferry, Amsterdam- A Great Way To See The City
If you’ve ever been to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, you’ll know that there are all kinds of ways for tourists to while away their time. Alongside popular sights like the Rijksmuseum and the Royal Concertgebouw, there is a range of more… unsavoury ways to while away your time. To stick to the straight and narrow, however, and for stunning views of the city, the Buiksloterweg ferry service is the way to go. It’s efficient, reliable, completely free, and runs around the clock.
Whatever you’re in Amsterdam for and wherever you’re going within the city, this service will get you there. It’s like a little tour in its own right.
2 Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca: Just A Little Bit Extra
Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city, is not a region typically known for its hey, mom, look what I can do extravagance. It’s certainly a prominent one worldwide, though, as one of the wealthiest and most influential cities on the African continent.
In 1986, construction began on a great Mosque, which, its namesake king Hassan II hoped, would be a fine landmark and architectural achievement for his country. On its completion in 1993, it was clear that he’d sure achieved that. As with similar places of worship, non-Muslims may visit the interior only on guided tours. Everyone, however, is free to enjoy the building’s stunning grounds.
1 A Symphony Of Lights, Hong Kong: A Spectacular Sight
Through the course of this world tour, we’ve seen a little of every kind of tourist attraction. Small, unprepossessing museums, vast and verdant palace gardens, centuries-old outdoor markets… there’s nothing else quite like our final entry, though. This is Hong Kong’s Symphony of Lights.
Every day (weather permitting), from 8:00pm to 8:14pm, a magical sound and light show takes place at Victoria Harbour. Fireworks, music, laser displays, you name it. It’s narrated too (in English on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, in Mandarin on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and in Cantonese on Sundays). It’s magical, and all you need to do is pick a place that gives you the best view.
References: Lonely Planet, Hostel World, The Telegraph, CNN Travel, TripSavvy, Sacred Destinations.