Ease the Sting of 5 Expensive Cities by Finding Free Attractions and Events

Paris on a budget

visiting Paris on a budget tips

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?

Temple with free admission in Tokyo

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

How to visit London without spending a fortune

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.

Travel cheaply in these five expensive cities (like London) with these tips and linksOn 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.

Paris on a budget

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.

Oslo free atttraction Akershus Fortress

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.

You want Bonwi points? Go to London!
You want Bonwi points? Go to London!

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.

Tim Leffel is author of books The World’s Cheapest Destinations and Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune. He runs the popular Cheapest Destinations Blog, running continuously since 2003.

London Is a Great Place to Score a Lot of Bonwi Points

We just returned from a trip to London and what a remarkable city it is.  Part of what surprised me when I was there was how few people I met in the course of business and on the street who were from England.

The fact is that there are almost no Uber drivers who are native Britons.  Nor are there many shopkeeps and restaurant employees.  Instead, you get a wide-ranging stew of just about every other country in the world, living in London, and it’s about as diverse a city as I’ve ever seen.

But what about hotels, and where did we stay?

You want Bonwi points? Go to London!
You want Bonwi points? Go to London!

As you can see from the graphic, you can really score big on Bonwi points if you visit London right around now.  The Ambassadors Hotel isn’t even a very expensive property, but for a six-night stay, if you spent $1635,  you’d bank a whopping 68,293 Bonwi points!

What means is if you wanted to return to London and use your 68,293 points, you could stay either here:

Total with Tax: 60,414
and pay nothing. Zilch!  Bonwi points are like getting a bonus of more hotel rooms simply by booking with them for your first stay.  You could have gone to London on business and then returned and stayed for fun for two nights without paying anything.
The next time you have to go somewhere on business–take a minute to look up hotels on Bonwi.  Then find a place with a lot of points, book your hotel at the best available rate, and voila—you’ll have points in the bank for a future free trip!
You can’t go wrong–and you’ll also be able to use the points for car rentals if you don’t need a hotel room.

Exploring the Worlds of Harry Potter in London

Harry Potter London Studio tour

The character of Harry Potter, the international book and movie phenomenon, is about as British as it gets. So London offers plenty of Potter-themed attractions. Whether you’re just a casual fan wanting to stop by Platform 9 ¾ during your day trip around the sights of the city, or a more hardcore fan ready to sign up for the all-day Warner Brothers Studio tour, this classic city has something for the wizard in everyone.

Harry Potter London train station

As a Harry Potter fan on my first trip to London, there were a couple things I knew I had to do while I was there. Upon first arriving at Kings Cross Train Station (home of Platform 9 ¾ and The Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter novels and movies) you’re met with crowds of bustling people hurrying about to catch their trains to cities and provinces all over England. The station has been incredibly modernized over the years, and is easy to navigate, so it didn’t take long to find the swarming corner of the station devoted to Platform 9 ¾. Keep in mind it’s not actually on the real platform (in fact, the movie scenes were filmed on platform 1 and 2, because 9 and 10 are in a different section of the station) but is more like a small homage to the Harry Potter story in a significant landmark in modern London.

Once you get to the “platform” there are two options: a photo op and a gift shop. The gift shop is fairly large, with multiple rooms filled with every Harry Potter trinket you could imagine, from t-shirts and posters to wands and replica props. You can even find an array of Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts merchandise as well as all the books in the series in various editions. The employees are helpful and friendly and will attend to all your merchandise needs.

If you choose to wait in the photo op cue for a good 20 minutes or so, you’ll have the opportunity to take a picture with a Hogwarts cart (halfway through the wall, of course) with a wand and scarf of choice. The “scarf fluffer” on duty will first give you the option of choosing a house scarf to wear (Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff or Slytherin). The fluffer will then proceed to toss the ends of the scarf into the air as the photo is snapped to give an illusion of it flowing in the wind. It’s an awfully simple gag that looks great on camera, as well as the mid-jump shots you can choose to take.

As far as the photos itself go, you have the choice to either have a friend or family member take them with a phone or personal camera, or buy a physical photo taken by the photographer. Either way they’re lenient and won’t push you to buy one, so it’s worth waiting in line to snap a quick Instagram photo to show off to your friends, even if you were only a technically a wizard for a couple minutes.

Harry Potter tour double decker bus London

On a Double Decker to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour

If you want the full London Harry Potter experience, a fantastic fan opportunity that you’ll never forget, the Warner Brothers Studio Tour is the thing for you. If you’ve ever wanted to see some of the authentic sets, props and costumes from the Harry Potter films, this tour is an opportunity you won’t want to miss. After pre-booking the tour, you’ll meet at an assigned pick-up spot in the city to be swept away by a large double decker bus, the exterior decorated like the Hogwarts Express. From there it’ll be about an hour bus ride to the studio, but don’t worry, they show The Philosopher’s Stone (The first Harry Potter film) on little overhead TVs on the way there.

Once you get to the studio, after wait in the queue and scanning your tickets multiple times, you’re in! After a couple brief presentations (one by an employee and one pre-filmed by the stars of the films) you enter the Great Hall and your adventure begins.

Harry Potter London Studio tour

Strewn throughout the rooms of the enormous property where many iconic Harry Potter scenes were filmed are sets, costumes, props, puppets, sketches, photos, and just about anything else you would ever want to see as a fan of Harry Potter—or even just as a fan of film. You start indoors with the interior-use objects and sets such as the Gryffindor Common Room, The Ministry of Magic, and the hundreds of costumes. Then you proceed to the new Forbidden Forest expansion, the train station, the outdoor sets, and the concept art and model rooms. It’s a lot to take in and takes a good 3-4 hours. There’s a halfway point cafeteria, however, where you can stop for a bite to eat or the iconic Butterbeer (imagine cream soda but more magical), feasting on your treats next to Privet Drive and The Knight Bus.

Exit Through the Harry Potter Gift Shop

Once you reach the end of the tour, past the rooms of prosthetics and drawings from the early stages of the films, you get to see the scale model of Hogwarts (the one they used for outdoor shots, it’s about 9 feet tall) before ending in the massive gift shop. Along with all the usual Harry Potter merchandise you can buy elsewhere—such as at the Universal Studios parks in Orlando and Los Angeles, or the Platform 9 ¾ store in London—they have an incredible selection of more authentic prop replicas in a glass case display in one of the shop’s corners. There you can get realistic-looking horcruxes as well as boxes of paper props which contain assortments of replica tickets, Azkaban posters, letters, maps, etc. But of course, if that’s not your thing and you would rather have your favorite character’s wand and a house scarf, they’ve got you covered for those as well. The studio is absolutely breathtaking, it’s really something that must be experienced in person to fully appreciate, so if you’ve got a morning free, don’t miss the opportunity to book a spot.

Overall, both these attractions are fun experiences to take advantage of, a little modern sightseeing break to differ from the classic London must-dos. Whether you have kids with you who are avid fans, or are one yourself, Platform 9 ¾ and The Warner Brothers Studio Tour are exciting for all ages, anyone who simply wants to go back to the magical world of Harry Potter, or even for those who never left in the first place.


Search Bonwi.com to find the best rates on London Hotels and earn points you can use for a future trip. Follow these links to see more info on Platform 9-3/4 and the Harry Potter studio tour.

Story and photos by guest contributor Alina Leffel, young adult author of the  novel Demon High, available at Amazon.

In London, You’ve Gotta Go to Harrods!

In London, Harrods offers the widest and most impressive array of luxury goods and fine foods in their huge food court.
In London, Harrods offers the widest and most impressive array of luxury goods and fine foods in their huge food court.
In London, Harrods offers the widest and most impressive array of luxury goods and fine foods in their huge food court.

Among the many shops and restaurants of London, one stand-out is the extravagant Harrods shopping mall. Situated in the Knightsbridge section of London, one of the wealthiest parts of the English capital, Harrods is home to a wide variety of different goods and luxuries. This should come at no surprise with a motto such as, “Omnia Omnibus Ubique,” meaning, “All things for all people, everywhere.”

Ranging from boutiques stocked with Prada, Dior and other high-end brands, to 27 restaurants with a myriad of flavors, and food halls chock-full of fresh produce, tea, and chocolate, Harrods has everything and anything you could want in a shopping mall.

You can find lovely gifts for mom, or any woman for that matter, in the extensive collection of designer clothes and accessories within the many boutiques. For soccer fans such as myself, you will find plenty of English Premier League soccer jerseys and many other sports apparel. It’s impossible to go hungry in Harrods when you can dine on steak, pizza, Chinese food, or whatever else you may have a hankering for.

Harrods is so famous and huge that there are many shopping tours you can book on sites like TripAdvisor to give you a personal tour taking in everything with a trained shopper.

Harrods famous food hall in London.
Harrods famous food hall in London.

Interestingly, Harrods is owned by the government of Qatar, and the company includes an airline, a bank, and extensive real estate holdings to complement the million-square-foot retail store.

Up to 300,000 customers visit the shop on peak days, comprising the highest proportion of customers from non-English speaking countries of any department store in London. More than five thousand staff from over fifty different countries work at the gigantic departmen store.

Harrods Bank has also started selling gold bars and coins that customers can buy “off the shelf”. The gold products range from 1 g to 12.5 kg and can be purchased from Harrods Bank. They also offer storage services, as well as the ability to sell back gold to Harrods in the future!

Within this wealthy section of London are plenty of beautiful hotels that match the elegance and opulence of the store. The Rembrandt and The Jumeirah Carlton Tower are two lovely examples of hotels located in London’s affluent Knightsbridge section.

If you plan on visiting London and wish to stay within a fairly close margin to the one-of-a-kind Harrods, the best place to explore your lodging options is Bonwi.com where you can find the best rates on hotels while earning reward points towards gift cards, free flights, and hotel stays. Just because you want to stay in one of the wealthier parts of London doesn’t mean you have to pay insane prices!

You’ll get a great price PLUS you’ll get a lot of Bonwi points you can use later to buy more hotel rooms, car rentals or even flights!