Forget what you’ve heard, these expensive cities don’t require a big budget – we’ve found 12 free activities in 12 of the world’s most expensive cities. Plus, we’ve found you a budget hotel and cheap flights too.
Singapore Botanic Gardens are older than Singapore itself, so it’s not surprising that it also took the title of the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in the country. The gardens are open everyday from 5am to midnight and volunteers run free tours every Saturday alternating between The Rain Forest, Healing Garden and Heritage Tours – there’s even a monthly Nature Sketching Tour if you’re feeling creative. Then don’t forget to pop back to the Gardens on a Sunday for free music events at the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage, weather permitting – it may rain but it certainly won’t be cold.
Your budget-friendly hotel: Kam Leng Hotel, rooms from £31
You’ve seen the Eiffel Tower and the River Seine for free – but have you heard of La Petite Ceinture? Translated as ‘The Little Belt’, La Petite Ceinture is a trail of abandoned railway lines that once circled Paris. The route is split into four sections (all open to the public) and we’d recommend the 1.3km stretch in the 15th arrondissement. Enter in front of 99 Rue Olivier de Serres for a walk along the overgrown railway tracks, where you’ll pass a deserted train station plus the occasional wall of colourful graffiti.
Your budget-friendly hotel: Villa Montmartre, rooms from £84
Every evening at 8pm Hong Kong puts on a show. Make sure you find yourself in Victoria Harbour for the evening Symphony of Lights: an array of vibrant light projections over and onto the city’s skyscrapers set to music. If you’re not within reach of the speakers, never fear, this forward-thinking city has an app that gives you access to the full audio experience. Or if you’re looking for a free daytime activity, visit the oldest pagoda in Hong Kong inside the Kowloon Walled City Park. You’ll be able to see locals practising morning tai chi and if you’re feeling brave you can join in too.
Your budget-friendly hotel: Panda Hotel, rooms from £55
While you can’t meet the Norwegian Royal Family, you can watch the daily changing of the guards at 1.30pm outside The Royal Palace. In summer, the 40-minute event starts with a Norwegian Military Band procession complete with mounted police officers. For unbeatable views over the city (and to make you feel like a daredevil) it’s also free to walk up the sloped roof of Oslo’s Opera House.
Your budget-friendly hotel: Cochs Pensjonat, rooms from £68
It’ll be hard to visit Geneva without taking in views of the famous Jet d’Eau (translated as water jet) located at the side of Lake Geneva. This impressive water fountain can reach a mighty height of 140m as the water is pumped at 500 litres a second. In summer the Jet d’Eau is lit up until 10.30pm – ideal for an evening stroll by the lake and you can even walk along a path that leads directly to the jet for a closer view, but warning, you’ll be right in the splash zone.
Your budget-friendly hotel: Hotel Central, rooms from £86
For an industrial futurist twist on the South Korean capital, take Subway Line 6 out to the World Cup Stadium Station – no, not to see the football – but for the Oil Reservoir Culture Park. Created out of six 1970s oil tanks, the space has been turned into a cultural hub. Visit Tank 6 first where you’ll find the information centre and café. Tank 4 is home to a performance space lit by sunlight into the central hole. We’d recommend leaving Tank 3 alone as it’s been left to nature and a whole heap of spiders, but Tank 1 on the other hand now has a glass pavilion and exhibition space. The Oil Tanks are open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-6pm and are free to explore.
Your budget-friendly hotel: Sieoso Hotel Seoul, rooms from £32
You could spend days exploring the colourful streets of Copenhagen, trips to the harbour and a spot of mermaid-statue-watching all for free. An alternative option though, is the Kunsthallen Nukolaj, a performance space and art gallery. Located in an old church – just to make it really obvious the sign outside states ‘this is not a church’ – new exhibitions open every couple of months and feature Danish and international artists. Entry is normally 70DKK (about £8) but on Wednesdays it’s completely free.
Your budget-friendly hotel: Cabinn Metro, rooms from £64
Situated on the Mediterranean coast, Tel Aviv is a summer holiday hotspot. The 14km strip of beach is an obvious free location to spend an afternoon sunbathing. But for a little bit of history, take a walk through Old Jaffa’s small alleyways where you’ll get a glimpse of the town’s dramatic past. Then find the locals and the buzz in HaCarmel Market where you’ll come home with some cheap fruit and veg.
Your budget-friendly hotel: Idelson hotel, rooms from £64
Regardless of what you plan on doing in Sydney, the Opera House and Harbour Bridge will be in your sights. Located around the corner of Circular Quay and in the shadows of the Harbour Bridge, sits The Rocks, the oldest section of Sydney. A makers and art market takes place every weekend while Friday is reserved for the food market. Once you’ve shopped the stalls, find out about Sydney’s history at The Rock Discovery Museum where you’ll see Australia from pre-European settlement to present day. Entry is free and the museum is open daily aside from bank holidays.
Your budget-friendly hotel: Song Hotel Sydney, rooms from £53
New York, New York – one of the world’s most fashionable cities. Off the beaten track in Manhattan you’ll discover the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum with three exhibition galleries. Open Tuesday-Saturday, the permanent collection alone covers 250 years of fashion history with 50,000 garments. The special exhibitions are also totally free and change a few times a year. After you’ve had your fill of fashion, jump onto the free Staten Island Ferry where you’ll get a view of the Statue of Liberty on your way to explore Staten Island.
Your budget-friendly hotel: St Marks Hotel, rooms from £105
London has more free museums and galleries than you could comfortably fit into a trip but for a more unique experience head into the concrete jungle that is the Barbican Centre. On selected Sundays and bank holidays the Barbican Conservatory is open to the public (and, of course, it’s free). There are over 2,000 species of plants and trees plus a café that hosts afternoon tea. Opening hours are noon-5pm with last entry at 4.30pm.
Your budget-friendly hotel: Manor hotel, rooms from £63
Japan’s capital isn’t all about robots and beautiful temples, its skyline, backed by Mount Fuji is the real highlight. You can get an incredible view from Tokyo’s Skytree, but for a free alternative, visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observatories. Pick a clear day for the best chance of seeing Mount Fuji (mornings between November and February make that chance even higher). The South and North Observation Decks are open most days and have alternating late evening options to see the city lit up.
Your budget-friendly hotel: Comfort Hotel Tokyo Kiyosumi Shirakawa, rooms from £65
Start booking your budget-friendly getaway today and search ‘everywhere’.
All flight and prices mentioned in this article are estimates of the cheapest prices based on Skyscanner’s flight search tools. These are subject to change and were correct at time of writing on 4 March 2019.