Inspired by Just Another Points Traveler’s list of 80+ free walking tours, I thought I’d share a few more ways to enjoy vacation for free – without needing miles and points. Someone using miles for free airfare, points for free hotels, these tips for free activities, and credit card cash back rewards for meals could theoretically travel entirely for free.
I’ve met people who literally have traveled halfway around the world just to see a certain piece of art. To me, that’s preposterous but to others the reasons I travel may be crazy. Regardless, it’s amazing to me that world-class attractions can be seen by anyone without paying a dime. Some great museums like the British Museum and Smithsonian are free all the time. Others may look pricey, but don’t give up hope. The Louvre is normally 10 euro, but on Sundays it’s free for all, and young adults (depending on residency) can get in for free Friday evenings as well. Many museums have adopted this policy of free admission during designated hours. Lastly, check out Bank of America’s “Museum on Us” program for free admission to certain museums in the USA when you show your BofA credit card.
A Free Dose of Culture
This probably where the bulk of my free activities come into play. A lot of churches and temples, a true piece of history in much of the world, are free all the time, and even others that normally charge an admission price are free during religious services (be mindful you’ll need to attend service rather than walk around taking photographs). If you are a spiritual person, these can be great experiences, but even if you’re not, attending things like vespers services can be a great free concert in a beautiful setting. Neighborhoods, like Chinatown in NYC or the Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, can literally transport you to a different world. Take the time to explore, window shop, people-watch, or maybe sample a few foods. Strolling through architectural hotspots can also be a great way to transport yourself to a different time: even Colonial Williamsburg is free to walk around.
Free Natural Sites
Some national parks are always free (and others are free on select dates), making them a great place to spend the day without paying a penny. State parks and city parks can also be worthwhile to visit for a stroll, with my favorites being El Parque Retiro in Madrid (amazing people-watching!) and the Englischergarten in Munich (if you’re willing to spend a few euro on a beer). Seashores are also often free, if you’re into sunbathing, wave jumping, or just a beautiful sunset stroll. For a park with a more structured activity, try outdoor sculpture parks, such as the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, or botanical gardens like the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney – both free every day of the year. And while the night skies are always free, you can take stargazing up a notch by using free telescopes at Coit Observatory in Boston.
Just Another Points Traveler already pointed out that walking tours can often be free, but bike tours can at times be free as well if you have your own set of wheels, such as the monumental tour through Washington DC. When guided tours don’t work out, you’ll find free directions and maps for self-guided walking tours in lots of cities on Frommers.com and free mp3 walking tours for cities, museums, and other European attractions from Rick Steve. You’ll find free tai chi classes along the Tsim Sha Tsui harborfront in Hong Kong, a great way to wake up in the morning and try something new. Group runs are also almost always free, such as the run in London from the Nike store to Regent’s park held a few times weekly. Prefer something more sedentary? Sometimes you’ll find television tapings that need more people in the live audience. It can often take advance notice to secure a seat, but tickets will be free, so give the studio a call! Another one of my favorites is checking out free tastings at wineries and breweries. Not all are free, but plenty of them are, so give your hotspot a call to find out.
Especially in the summertime, you’ll find free entertainment in a ton of cities. Check out free outdoor movies at the Civic Center Park in Denver or free jazz music at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. You’ll also find free cover charges at dance clubs, often with live music, if you head in early enough and sometimes they’ll even give beginners a free lesson. Throw in local parades and festivals for some daytime fun and you’ll be busy during all your waking hours.
Vacations can be pricey, but there’s no need to spend a bundle. Balance out some free activities with other for-fee attractions and you’ll end up with a great trip…without breaking the bank.