THE WORLD CAN BE AN EXPENSIVE PLACE. And between paying for flights, hotels, and just feeding yourself on a daily basis, traveling the world can get incredibly expensive. The internet has certainly done its best to help you save money while traveling, but frequently this means making some less exciting sacrifices — like sharing a dorm-style hostel room with 24 drunk Australian teenagers on gap year rather than getting your own hotel suite, or taking a rickety, dangerous bus through the mountains instead of a luxurious sleeper car on a high-speed train.
But not all affordable experiences are cut-rate. Here are some of the coolest totally free experiences you can have from around the globe.
Go to the British Museum.
Situated in Central London, the British Museum is, like so many of London’s best museums, totally free. But the British Museum is probably the best: here you can see the famous Rosetta Stone, the infamous Elgin Marbles, an Easter Island statue, and thousands of other priceless historical artifacts. You could spend your entire trip to London in the British Museum, and you would not come close to seeing everything.
Take the Staten Island Ferry.
Some of the best views of New York’s skyline and the Statue of Liberty can be seen from the lowly Staten Island Ferry, which travels five miles from NYC’s most forgotten Borough, Staten Island, to Manhattan. The ferry runs around the clock and is totally free, and the view of the Statue of Liberty is literally the best view you’re going to get.
Visit St. Peter’s Basilica.
It’ll cost you a bit to get into the famous Sistine Chapel, but St. Peter’s Basilica itself is one of the world’s most beautiful churches in the world. It’s also literally the biggest church, and it features work by some of the world’s great artists, including Michelangelo. One of his most famous works, the Pieta, is right by the entrance.
Visit Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.
It’s only free if you can keep yourself from buying something, but it costs nothing to walk through one of the world’s most famous markets. It is literally the world’s most visited tourist destination, with nearly 92 million visitors per year, and it is a thrill to walk through: it has over 3000 shops around the 61 covered streets, and it has been operating for nearly 600 years.
Watch the Hong Kong skyline light show.
Every night like clockwork at 8 p.m., on both sides of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor, 47 buildings take part in a 14-minutes light and sound show called the “Symphony of Lights.” The view is truly spectacular, and one of the world’s most dazzling skylines becomes even crazier. You can watch it from wherever you like.
Go to the Full Moon Rave.
The legendary Full Moon Party in Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand, has free entry. Mostly intended for partying tourists, the monthly party, held on the night of the full moon, is infamous for it’s drugs, dancing, booze, and general debauchery.
Do a Table Mountain hike.
Cape Town, South Africa, is without a doubt, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The view of the city from Table Mountain is second to none. And while you can pay to take a gondola to the top, you might as well get the exercise by walking up all by yourself. Once you’re at the top, you’ll be able to see the city and the ocean spread out beneath you.
Surf in Sydney.
It’s one of the world’s best-known surfing cities, and the beaches are free. Sure, you may not own a surfboard, but borrow one from a friend or just body surf and you’ll be able to enjoy one of the best beaches in the world without spending a dime. Honorable mention to the Copacabana in Rio, which is also free.
See the Vienna State Opera on a jumbotron.
Go at the right time of year (April to June and again in September), and the world-famous, very expensive Vienna State Opera projects performances for free to the public on a 50-foot jumbotron.
See the Northern Lights.
In the wintertime, resist the snowbird impulse and head north. Find a place that’s dark, away from the city lights, and wait through the long nights with a cup of hot chocolate. Then see the world’s greatest light show, totally for free. Probably the coolest (not free) place to see it is in a glass igloo at Finland’s Kakslauttanen Resort, but you can also catch beautiful, no-pay shows in Iceland, Canada, Alaska, Russia, Scotland, and pretty much any other country close to the Arctic Circle.