Free stuff actually worth having? It doesn’t happen often, but HouseTrip blogger Andrew Matthews has tracked down a range of travel experiences that even Ebeneezer Scrooge would be happy to sign up for…
It’s a cruel fact of life that the rich and the very, very rich get given free stuff and the rest of us don’t. Either this is going to make you see every eat-all-you-can buffet as a personal challenge or you’re going to rise above it (because you know money isn’t everything) and redirect the considerable effort it takes to consume 256 spring rolls and an acre of fried rice to the more rewarding task of seeking out your own freebies.
The benefits are legion and, unlike the super-rich, you get to hold on to your soul which might come in handy should you ever find yourself torn between behaving like a decent human being and laying waste to a small, defenceless nation.
So with a nod to irony (one of the few things the very rich don’t get) I’ve ferreted out some free stuff from a few of the world’s most exciting cities. I haven’t confused ‘free’ with ‘cheap’: free is graciously given and speaks of goodwill and hail-fellow-well-metliness; cheap is another thing entirely. And, I’ve managed to avoid couscous in Paris, anything that involves climbing over barbed wire or an intimate knowledge of security systems, elaborate disguises and stuff that’s free because they couldn’t pay you to take it.
Free Bike Tours, Hôtel de Ville, Paris
BYOB and join dozens of other nocturnal cyclists every Friday night at 10.30 in front of the Hôtel de Ville in the city centre for a Round-Paris-Guided-Cycle. The 3-hour long tours are free and (unsurprisingly in a country obsessed with cycling) loved by locals and visitors alike. The Rando Vélo team are relaxed, friendly and not even slightly worried about your grasp of French. If you don’t have your own bike, hiring one in Paris is not a problem (but of course requires parting with a few bucks, plus you need a helmet and lights too).
Free Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 1st – 25th August 2013
Two things you need to know about the Fringe: 1. some of it is so bad you’d rather be dancing on a bar with rats down your tights and 2. some of it’s so good that next year even hard cash won’t get you tickets. It’s launched the likes of Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, ‘Rosencrantz and Guildernstern Are Dead’ was first performed here and the Fringe is where Craig Ferguson did late shows long before The Late, Late Show. Free Edinburgh Fringe Festival is 6300 Performances, 350 Shows and over 20 Venues across Edinburgh – a lot to go wrong, but a lot that could go very right too.
Viernes Culturales, Calle Ocho, Little Havana, Miami
Little Havana is home to all things Hispanic and on the last Friday of every month it celebrates its roots in true Cuban tradition with Viernes Culturales (Cultural Fridays). 100’s of artists, musicians and performers take to the renowned Calle Ocho to entertain from 6.30pm to 11pm. It’s completely free and you can catch free walking tours of Little Havana too.
Free Yoga Classes, Bayfront Park, Miami
Mondays and Wednesdays 6pm and 9am on Saturday, Bayfront Park’s very popular and very free yoga classes welcome beginners, enthusiasts and experts. The views are amazing (right by the sea), the instructors are excellent and encouraging and it’s not a ‘body beautiful’ competition (all ages, shapes and sizes and t’s and shorts are fine). Like I said it’s v. popular and first come, first served so get there early.
Free London Museums
London has some of the best museums in the world and most of them are famously free. A lot of the big names are always busy, but try special opening hours and evening openings to miss the worst of the crowds. Dozens of smaller museums all over the city are free too, some wildly eccentric, some very specialist and a few just plain strange. For the world’s most overenthusiastically stuffed walrus, giant totem poles and 1000’s of other natural history and anthropological exhibits visit the Horniman Museum, SE23. The Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood E2 is enchanting. The Sherlock Holmes Museum, Baker Street is self-explanatory. And for pickled organs, giant skeletons and Winston Churchill’s false teeth, brave The Hunterian Museum, WC2A.
Free Tapas, Granada
Every city in Spain used to serve Free Tapas with drinks, sadly now most charge for both, but not Granada. Beautiful and generous to a fault, Granada is probably the only place in the world where there’s such a thing as a ‘free lunch’ (or dinner, since the city keeps pretty traditional Spanish hours ie. 8 till late). The locally loved bars are usually standing room only and ‘Tapas Is The Gift of the House’: you order drinks and eat what you’re given. But if you’re picky about the likes of jamon, fresh bread, local olive oil, sherry soaked clams, tortilla, pork stew and Manchego cheese as standard, you just don’t deserve free food.
La Fête de la Musique, June 21st 2013, Paris
Okay when it comes to music the French do have a bit of a poor rep. And it’s true Johnny Halliday is strangely admired and they love a bit of Celine Dion. But is it all bad? Or is there more Daft Punk than daft old Serge Gainsbourg? Decide for yourself on June 21st when 100’s of musicians descend on the bars, cafés and streets of the capital for the free Fête de la Musique, starts at sunset and stays up all night, all over the city.
Choir Practice, 9.45am Every Sunday, Sacre Coeur, Paris
Some of the best views in the city, soaring sacred music beautifully sung and you’re welcome to listen – free of charge.
Suleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul
One of the city’s largest mosques and certainly one with the best view of Istanbul, Suleymaniye is free to visitors. Completed in the 16th century the mosque has a vast 53 metre high dome and beautiful lush courtyard gardens.
El Rastro Flea Market, Madrid
The largest and one of the oldest flea markets in Europe, El Rastro is held every Sunday from about 9am to 3 or 4pm and on Public Holidays. You can buy anything here from love birds to antique lace but the trick is to take just enough money for lunch and enjoy El Rastro’s theatricality for free.
St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome
Michelangelo’s heart breaking ‘Pieta’, the bronze statue of St. Peter (rub his poor foot for good luck), the Papal Altar with its vast 30 metre high canopy designed by Bernini and the awe inspiring exterior colonnades are all part of the world’s largest and most revered Basilica and it’s all free (there’s a nominal charge to climb up into the dome).
Hundertwasser-Haus, Kegelgasse, Vienna
Vienna’s most visited building Hundertwasser-Haus is probably the strangest public housing you’ll ever see. It’s famous for undulating interior floors, a ‘personalised’ facade (everyone who lives here has the right to paint round the outside of their own windows), the turf roof, bizarre planting and the unique vision of its mastermind Friedensreich Hundertwasser. You can’t explore the apartments but if you visit the coffee shop on the ground floor you can watch Hundertwasser’s film of the Hundertwasser-Haus interior for free.
That’s probably enough to get you started but please beware; finding free stuff’s addictive and there’s a fine line between ‘Free Find’s Hero’ and ‘Complete Cheapskate’ – trust me, no one wants to walk 10km across Istanbul for complimentary condiments.
This post written for Urban Travel Blog by Andrew Matthews, resident travel pundit for holiday rental experts HouseTrip.com.