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
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,
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
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.
Te Papa Tongarewa,
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).
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
Reichstag tours must
be booked in advance.
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,
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
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.
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.
The article 'The world's finest freebies' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.