Young Thais are drawn by the big city lifestyle
It may sound too good to be true – but these top-class experiences will not cost you a penny. From opera in London to tea time in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, getting to the heart of a destination was never so richly rewarding yet so downright free.
Staten Island Ferry, New York City
Cruises usually cost a packet. Sure, this one only lasts 25 minutes and the cocktail lounge is actually a bar selling beer, but it does not cost a cent.
Ferries have connected Staten Island and lower Manhattan since the 18th Century. The tangerine-bright boats that run today have become New York City icons; one, the Spirit of America, is partially made of steel salvaged from the Twin Towers. And though the city landmark is now missing, the view of the New York City skyline – which shrinks as you pitch across the bay and looms large as you return – is still world class.
Ferries run 24 hours a day, from South Ferry at Battery Park. See www.siferry.com.
City Bikes, Copenhagen
Copenhagen is the two-wheeled capital of the world. Every day 37% of locals cycle to work, and there are 390km of dedicated cycle lanes. So really, it would be rude not to join in – a gesture made all the easier by Bycyklen Kobenhavn, the city’s free bike scheme. Stacked at racks around central Copenhagen, these complimentary cycles are the perfect way to get around the blissfully flat capital. You can pedal from the cafes lining the brightly painted harbour front to hippie-hangout Christiania, the kitsch-but-cool Tivoli Gardens and around the grounds of 17th-century Rosenborg Castle – without it costing a single krona.
A 20 krona coin is needed to release a bike and is refunded when you return it. Bikes are available from March or April to November.
Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, Hong Kong
It is two for the price of none on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront. This promenade at the tip of Kowloon hugs Victoria Harbour; it is where modern shopping centres meet the old colonial Clock Tower, and where the iconic Star Ferry chugs in. It is also where, three mornings a week, t’ai chi gurus Mr Ng and Ms Wu lead free sessions of this meditative martial art against a backdrop of Hong Kong Island’s just-distant skyscrapers. Revisit at night for something less subtle -- as the Symphony of Lights laser-sound spectacular sets the high rises a-sparkle, Tsim Sha Tsui offers the best seat in the house.
T’ai chi lessons run from 8 am to 9 am on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The light show starts at 8 pm daily.
Walking tour, Reykjavík
Despite the economic meltdown, this almost-Arctic island is still going to test your bank balance, .so freebies here taste all the sweeter. Goecco’s Reykjavik Free Tours are as unique and feisty as a shot of brennivín (the local firewater – drink with caution). These two-hour easy ambles around the secret sites of the city are led by “performance historians”. You will see the city’s maritime architecture, historical foundations, coolest districts and best bathing spots, accompanied by lashings of Icelandic quirk – stories told with actorly verve, which lift the lid on this inscrutable capital.
Tours depart from Ingolfs Square at 1 pm Monday to Saturday, from 15 May to 1 October.
Grand Bazaar, Istanbul
Pyramids of spices waft their pungent scents, and cabinets of gold glitter and dazzle. Lanterns dangle, ceramics teeter and tourist tat triumphs – Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is a retail blitzkrieg, an undercover labyrinth of endless stuff. Browsing the stalls is wonderful but exhausting, as is fending off a harem of eager shopkeepers. So give in and let the carpet-seller with the best lines lead you into his showroom, then sip small glasses of apple tea while roll upon roll of woven flooring is unfurled before you with hopeful theatrics and persuasive spiel. It is Istanbul’s most atmospheric freebie – as long as the salesman is not too convincing…
The Grand Bazaar is open 9 am to 7 pm Monday to Saturday. Take a tram to Beyazit, Üniversite or Sirkeci.