Ah, the glamorous life of jetting off to Paris or Tokyo. If only we all had unlimited travel funds, right? Visiting the world’s most expensive–and popular–cities can mean blowing through cash at an alarming rate.
There are ways to have a great time without draining your life savings though, thankfully. You just have to make some adjustments on your transportation and sightseeing.
First, there are some obvious moves that will ease the pain in any city. Seek out the free museum days. Use public transportation instead of taxis. Spend some time scouting out the best hotel deals. Pick up the local tourist magazines and flyers for coupons and cheap entertainment tips.
Here is some insider advice for each location, however, with tips to keep the budget in line and one unique experience that won’t cost you a thing.
Tokyo on the Cheap?
When it comes to expensive destinations, Tokyo is quite the role model. You know you’re in trouble when half the “affordable tips” section of a city’s website is made up of ways to get from the airport to the city for under $50. If you search “free” on the official Japan Tourism website, it says “0 Results.”
To find an affordable meal, eat at noodle stalls for under $10 or explore the unique Japanese culinary stop: the department store basement. Seibu Department Store in the Ikebukuro area is a destination in itself, with two giant underground floors of food stalls extending several city blocks. The prim uniformed greeters will even bow as you enter.
There are 44 things listed to do for free at the Go Tokyo site, but this may be the strangest collection you ever see. Fancy a visit to the Sewage Museum? How about the Gas Science Museum or the National Diet Laboratory?
Thankfully, there are better options. You can Book a free walking tour of the Shinjuku commercial avenue through the Toyko tourist office and you can get the lay of the land with volunteers who speak English. You can also ride to the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office Building skyscraper and visit the observation room at no charge. There’s no admission for Sensoji Temple, the oldest in Tokyo. Get up early to stroll through the Tokyo Central Wholesale Market, otherwise known as the Tsukiji Fish Market. By either name it’s the world’s largest, with active auctions going on from 5 to 10 a.m. and 1,700 active stalls selling everything that moves in the ocean.
Elusive Bargains in London
Traveling in England has gotten a bit less expensive for travelers since the Brexit vote hammered down their currency, which still hasn’t fully recovered. London is a popular destination for business travelers and well-heeled vacationers though, so you’ll pay dearly for those theater tickets and hot restaurants.
On the plus side London has a better choice of hotels in all price ranges than most other European capitals and most of its fantastic museums are always free.
To find other bargains, go to the free attractions section of the Visit London website for an exhaustive rundown on free attractions, museums, and performances. Be sure to get a refillable Oyster Card if you’ll be using the Tube regularly. It cuts the ticket price down by half for your rides.
Want a unique free experience? Put yourself into a BBC show audience by reserving tickets for a TV show taping.
Penny Pinching in Paris
France is the most popular tourist destination on Earth, so restaurants and hotels in Paris don’t have to try very hard to stay full. Thankfully there are plenty of ways to save a euro besides sitting by the Seine eating baguettes and cheese.
Marie Curie’s laboratory? The home of Victor Hugo? Eau de toilette? Visiting the Louvre will cost you (unless you’re under 26), but plenty of less famous museums in Paris are free. Three of the municipal museums in the pedestrian-friendly Marais neighborhood are free: an art museum, a photography museum, and a Paris history museum. The Fragonard Perfume Museum doesn’t charge admission and it won’t cost you anything to visit the Cathedral of Notre Dame on your own, posed hunchback photos optional.
See a full listing of free attractions, museums, and show at the dedicated page on the Paris Tourism site.
Finding Travel Deals in New York City
New York City edges out San Francisco as the most expensive place to travel or live in the USA, partly because it has the highest-priced real estate. That impacts everything from New York City hotels to prices at that hole-in-the-wall restaurant. You can save a bit with a CityPass or other discount book for attractions, but finding the freebies will help even more.
There are a good number of free museums in New York City every day of the week, some all of the time and some on specific days. If you time it right, you can even check out the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) as well as most of the zoos and botanical gardens. Central Park is free, of course, and the long-running insider tip is to hop the free Staten Island Ferry to get a view of the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan from the water. There are regular free concerts going on around the city, especially in the summer.
Oslo on a Budget
The whole of Scandinavia rivals Japan for eye-popping prices and it’s not easy to find a cheap place to sleep or eat in Oslo. With some advance planning and some time to enjoy nature, however, you can avoid spending your life savings on a visit.
For €41 a day or less, you can use the Oslo Pass to control costs. It gives you free entry to 30 museums and attractions, free travel on all public transport, free entry to outdoor swimming pools, free walking tours, and lots of discounts.
The city’s Oslo on a Budget website provides tips on free attractions and events, cheaper accommodation, and places to eat well for less.
Oslo has plenty of free outdoor concerts and cultural performances from June through September. Any month of the year you can keep your wallet tucked away for the popular Vigeland Sculpture Park. You don’t have to go very far to find good public hiking and biking trails around Oslo, no fees required. There are an incredible 40 islands and 343 lakes within the city limits.
So if you find a good flight deal to one of the expensive cities, don’t assume you can’t do it on a budget. Get a nice points payback when you book your hotel on Bonwi, then use the links above to keep the costs in check upon arrival.