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Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington
See all of New Zealand for nothing at Te Papa. Well, sort of – this beefy building on Wellington’s waterfront is the country’s national museum, where you will find its finest art, its history brought to life, and its Maori culture explained and celebrated. Given the wide remit, the gems inside are unsurprisingly eclectic – from pounamu (greenstone) clubs to stuffed kiwis, from a pair of prosthetic cycling legs to a 1.4 billion-year-old stone. To learn about the Maori, start with the Treaty of Waitangi display, then visit the marae, a modern take on the traditional meeting house, designed to be used by all cultures.

Te Papa is open daily, including public holidays, from 10 am to 6 pm (to 9 pm Thurs).

Reichstag, Berlin
If only these walls could talk… they would probably talk of walls. Not to mention suspected arson, air raids, Nazi zeal and ignominious decay – the German Parliament building has seen it all since its completion in 1894. But since the fall of Berlin’s infamous city-slicing concrete barrier, the Reichstag has risen as dramatically as the eagle on the German flag. Architect Norman Foster masterminded a glorious resurrection, icing the “new” edifice with a gleaming glass-and-steel cupola, commanding brilliant Berlin views. Best of all? A tour of all this history – including access to the all-seeing dome itself – is absolutely free.

Reichstag tours must be booked in advance.

Metropolitan Government Building, Tokyo
It can be tough to get your head around Tokyo.  It is the most populous city in the world; a seething megalopolis of more than 30 million people rushing between canyons of skyscrapers. So get some perspective by looking down on it from 202m up. The free observatory of the Metropolitan Government Building looms amid high-rise Shinjuku, the district for gadget-shopping and bar-hopping (Shinjuku’s “Golden Gai” is a tumble-down shantytown of more than 200 bars). Ascend the elevator to the 45th floor of the North Observatory to see the urban chaos below and, on a clear day, distant Mount Fuji making a stand for Mother Nature.

The North Observatory has a cafe and bar, and is open 9:30 am to 11 pm daily.

Royal Opera House, London
A Tube ticket might cost a small fortune in the British capital, but it is amazing how much there is to do for free. Some of the world’s best museums – such as the Natural History, the Victoria and Albert and the British – show-off their incredible collections for nothing. But for an even grander spectacle (and a glimpse of a world traditionally reserved for those with bigger budgets) head to Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House on a Monday at lunchtime. This classical portico-fronted theatre, completed in 1858, runs special recitals, allowing cheapskates to hear top pianists tinkle and baritones bellow without paying a penny.

Some tickets can be reserved online nine days prior to a concert; some are released from 10 am on the day.

Louvre, Paris
Simply, the Musée du Louvre holds the greatest collection of art ever assembled, displayed in a building that is both a typical Parisian palace and a strikingly modern pyramid of glass. There are more than 35,000 items in this matchless repository: from ancient Egyptian antiquities to Greek treasures, Persian trinkets and paintings spanning countries and centuries. Its depth and breadth is overwhelming; you really need more than a day. But if that is all you have, make it a certain day: on the first Sunday of the month, the Louvre is free – something, surely, to make even the resident Mona Lisa crack a proper smile.

The Louvre is open daily except Tuesday from 9 am to 6 pm (to 10 pm Wednesday and Friday); regular admission costs 10 euros.

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© 2012 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘The world's finest freebies’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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