Lonely Planet Writer

Pricey, schmicey: free things in the world's most expensive cities

Nothing makes a traveller tremble more than having booked a holiday and, while having that dreamy cup of coffee over the papers, you spot your destination of choice glowing brightly on the list of 'The World's Most Expensive Cities!' All of a sudden your thoughts of luxurious lounging evaporate in your coffee steam and suddenly you picture yourself splitting an overpriced cheeseburger over two meals.

But not so! If you are destined for one of the 10 cities that topped The Economist's 2011 Worldwide Cost of Living Index (FYI the order runs: 1. Tokyo 2. Oslo 3. Osaka 4. Paris 5. Zurich 6. Sydney 7. Melbourne 8. Frankfurt 9. Geneva 10. Singapore) we've found some free things to do while you're there. You'll come home one of those annoying travellers who says 'No, I actually came home with money!'

1. Tokyo

Times Square building as seen from Tokyo Metropolitan Government building. Image by Micah Wright, Lonely Planet Images.

Tokyo has always had that pricey reputation, although simply wandering the pulsating neon doesn't cost a yen and thrills every time. But for some other attractions with no wallet required, check out:

  • Sony Building – Gadget-freaks will short-circuit when they see the four floors of gleaming high-tech gizmos they can play with.
  • Yoyogi Park - Sandwiched between the chaos of Shibuya and Harajuku, it offers a wealth of sights and splendour without yanking on your yen. Visit on the weekend to see dancing rockabillies or stroll to nearby Meiji Shrine to see traditional Shinto weddings.

Also check out our tips for doing Tokyo on the cheap - not free but the next best thing.

2. Oslo

Day-to-day costs in stylish Oslo can separate you from your savings pretty swiftly, but museums are often free (or free with an Oslo Pass). Here are a few ways to spend some time, and not your cash:

  • National Gallery – Norway's largest gallery will treat you to Edvard Munch's The Scream as well as many other European greats like Picasso and Modigliani.
  • Astrup Fearnley Museum - With its often steamy content this museum certainly begs the question, ‘What is art?’ Don’t miss the gilded ceramic sculpture Michael Jackson and Bubbles, by Jeff Koons.
  • Torchlight riverwalk – A stroll along the Akerselva river is lovely all year round, but time your visit for September, when a long stretch of it is dappled with thousands of torches and candles, and festivities celebrate the autumnal equinox.

3. Sydney

Okay, Sydney actually came in at #6 but for the sake of evening out the geography (Japan and Europe were hogging the top 5), we'll hit you up with Sydney freebies:

  • Bicentennial Park boardwalk – Escape the city and stroll the boardwalk through one of Australia’s most important wetland ecosystems. Or there's the always gorgeous clifftop walk from Bondi Beach to Coogee.
  • Museum of Contemporary Art - Constantly changing controversial exhibitions from Australia and overseas have featured explorations of fashion (Leigh Bowery, Vivienne Westwood), photography (Cindy Sherman, Annie Leibovitz) and the latest kids on the art block.

Have you found any freebie gems in pricey cities? Share your tips!

Further reading:
See our articles on the World's best free attractions, 20 free attractions in London and 40 free things to do in New York