CAPITAL OF CULTURE
London has museums – lots of them – and, best of all, most of the major must-sees are free. You could easily spend an entire week in the UK capital museum-hopping, but for those with less time or inclination, make sure to tick off at least three.
The Museum of the City of London charts this buzzy metropolis’s evolution from prehistoric settlement and Roman outpost right through to cutting-edge modern hub.
If fashion, ceramics and design are loves of yours, make a beeline for the V&A. Among its many highlights are the British Galleries, which trace the history of British design over 400 years.
The Wallace Collection, in an historic townhouse, has 25 galleries full of French masters, and entry is free.
Saving the best to last, the British Museum is one of the world’s oldest and boasts eight million-plus artefacts, including mummies, the Parthenon marbles and the Rosetta Stone.
Admission to Westminster Abbey is a tad north of $30, but if you’re savvy it needn’t cost you a penny. It’s not so well publicised, but five nights a week Evensong services are offered at 5pm – and at 3pm most weekends – and there’s no charge. As well as being able to explore the impressive interior, you’ll also get to enjoy a 45-minute service, complete with the dulcet tones of the majestic Abbey’s resident choir.
AS SEEN ON SCREEN
You might not realise it, but being a part of the studio audience in one of your favourite American shows doesn’t cost a dime. So if you want entertainment, skip the pricey Broadway musicals and instead sign up to attend a taping at one of the nearby NYC-based studios. Good Morning America, The Dr Oz Show and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah are just a few of the shows shot in the Big Apple in front of a studio audiences.
Sign up online to guarantee seats or take your chances for standby tickets at the studios on the day. It’s fun, you get to see huge stars up close and – if you’re lucky – might even end getting your face on TV.
FERRY GOOD VALUE
Skip the (long) lines and save cash at the same time by bypassing the paid boat ride to the Statue of Liberty and Liberty Island, and instead get priceless views all for nothing by taking a trip on the Staten Island Ferry.
Bag a seat on the deck and enjoy 25 minutes of stunning views of soaring skyscrapers, Governors Island, plus the Brooklyn Bridge, lower Manhattan, and of course, Lady Liberty herself.
GET YOUR OM ON
While temples in the Thai capital are everywhere, for those interested in scratching beneath the surface the city centre temple of Wat Mahathat offers free daily meditation classes. Taught in both English and Thai, they run at regular intervals throughout the day. Potential enlightenment aside, you can also get a more immediate insight into your future from the fortune tellers inside.
Much more majestic is the famous Marble Temple; entry remains less than $1.
PUPPET ON A STRING
Thai puppetry is a dying form of entertainment, but savvy sightseers who want to experience this traditional pastime pay a visit to the 200-year-old Artist’s House.
Astride a canal – or “klong” – the building has been restored into a performance and exhibition space and every day (Wednesdays aside) at 2pm a Thai puppet show is performed. Each day a different story from Thai folklore is told and while there’s no cost for the show, donations are welcomed.
If you’re in Honkers during the week and fancy a little culture – without having to put your hand in your purse – then take advantage of the innovative “free Wednesdays” initiative. Seven of the city’s museums take part, including the Museum of Art, Museum of History, Heritage Museum, the Science Museum and the Space Museum. And if you’re feeling very ambitious you can attempt to hit them all in one day!
TAKE A HIKE
Despite its reputation as a heaving, cramped island of urban sprawl, almost 70 per cent of Hong Kong’s land area is undeveloped countryside, protected national parks and outlying islands. And away from the crowded high rises and madding crowd, the city is home to some of the best urban hiking tracks in the world. If you only have time to do one trek then make sure it’s the Dragon’s Back. Hailed by Time magazine as Asia’s best urban hike, the 8.5km walk takes in vistas of dazzling seas and nearby islands. Short and incredibly scenic, walkers can finish at Big Wave Bay for a refreshing dip in the sea.
SENSE OF THE BAZAAR
Leave the flashy buildings and five-star opulence behind you and get a sense of pre-oil Dubai by visiting its cultural heart in the historic Bastakiya area, where gold and spice souks are still thriving. Soak up the scents, sights and sounds as you haggle with vendors for an A to Z of spices, perfumes, sweets and other delights. The gold souk is a must for jewellery lovers as the precious metal is cheaper in Dubai than anywhere else on Earth.
As the heat of the day subsides, take advantage of the Emirate’s balmy evenings by heading to the free rooftop cinema atop the incredible pyramid-shaped and ancient Egyptian-themed Wafi shopping mall. Every Sunday evening from 8.30pm visitors can perch on plush beanbags, order up a pizza and enjoy a themed double feature!
The 850-year old Notre Dame cathedral is a free must-see for any visitor to the city. Try to get in line early in the morning... and avoid altogether if your visit falls on a major Catholic holiday. If you have the stamina – and you don’t mind parting with some cash – you can climb the 422 tower steps to get an impressive view over Paris.
LAID TO REST
Paris’s Cimetière Père Lachaise is claimed to be the most visited graveyard in the world, and given that so many famous folk are interred here it could well be true. Classical music heavyweight Chopin, French songstress Edith Piaf and The Doors’ lead singer Jim Morrison are all entombed. You’ll also find the resting place of Irish author Oscar Wilde. Handy maps at the entrances of the cemetery point out the location of the most famous grave sites.