38 Totally Free Things to Do in Europe
We basically live to travel. It’s exciting and adventurous, eye-opening and life changing…but it’s also expensive (bye, last month’s paycheck). And while there are some expenses you can’t avoid, you can always find awesome things to do that don’t cost a penny. Here's your official guide to the best free activities in every major European city.
Walk and Learn
Lace up your sneaks and take a walking tour with Sandeman’s New Europe. Explore the ins and outs of the canal city with a local—they’ll tell you where to find the best coffee shops stroopwafels and give you a little history lesson. All tours are free, but a tip is suggested. Tours operate about four times a day, but they’re popular, so make sure you book your spot in advance.
Much to our delight, Amsterdam is really into free samples. Peruse one of the many outdoor markets (our favorite is Nieuwmarkt, which holds a gigantic farmers' market on Saturdays). If you’re looking to nibble during the week, there are also cheese shops all around the canals (oh hiii, Golden Age Cheese Store) where you can taste Gouda to your heart’s content.
Have a Garden Party
There’s always something happening in the grassy lawn outside the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam’s dense national art museum. And while you have to pay to enter the exhibits, relaxing in the garden is free and open to the public. If you go in the summer, you’ll catch the breathtaking rainbow tulips, but it’s home to sculpture installments by artists like Joan Miró and Giuseppe Penone all year long.
Visit the Picasso Museum
Housed in a sprawling medieval palace in the stylish neighborhood of El Born, this museum is a must-see. But good news: Every Sunday after 3 p.m., admission is totally free. Yep, admire Picasso’s “Las Meninas” series up close for zero dollars.
Take an Architecture Tour
Famed Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí designed several iconic buildings throughout Barcelona, including his most renowned works, Casa Batlló, Casa Milà and the Sagrada Familia Basilica, which has been under construction for over 100 years. You have to pay to get in, but you can easily get a feel for Gaudí’s whimsical style by viewing them from the outside.
Soak Up the Sun
The best place to experience the vibrant energy of Barcelona? Hands down, Barceloneta Beach. Anything goes at this playa, where vendors hawk mojitos and margaritas and topless tanning is the norm. Bring a towel, scope out a spot in the sand and bake in the Mediterranean sun (with 50 SPF, of course).
See Art on the East Side
Berlin is home to some of the best street art in the world, and it’s all on display at the East Side Gallery. The 1,316 remaining meters of the Berlin Wall run along the Spree River, painted with politically and socially charged displays by 118 street artists. Who needs a stuffy museum when you have access to the largest open-air gallery in the world?
Join the Bite Club
On Friday nights in the summer, Bite Club brings together Berlin’s best food trucks, artisanal vendors and DJs by the river in Kreuzberg. There’s no entrance fee, but we have a feeling you won’t be able to resist the delightfully greasy bacon cheeseburger from Bunsmobile.
Unwind with Free(ish) Wine
OK, this one’s not exactly free, but it’s definitely worth an honorable mention. Berlin is known for its pay-what-you-want wine bars, and Weinerei in the Mitte neighborhood is our favorite. How it works: grab a glass at the bar, refill it as many times as you’d like from the selection of wine bottles on display and at the end of the night, pay whatever you think is fair. We’re not suggesting you drink and dash, but it’s one helluva good deal.
Climb Castle Hill
Sure, you could take a funicular ride to the top, but we’d way rather trek up the city’s Royal Steps to the medieval Castle Hill. Inside the stone walls are the Old Town and Buda Castle, the palace that once housed Hungarian kings. Get your camera ready: The panoramic view of the city and Danube River are going to crush on Instagram.
Explore the Eight Bridges
The city of Budapest is made up of two sides (actually named Buda and Pest), which straddle the Danube River and are connected by eight suspension bridges. If you’re going to cross only one, make it Chain Bridge. Walk across at night, when the whole bridge sparkles with thousands of tiny lights.
Be a Fisherman for the Day
Easily the most recognizable street in all of Denmark, Nyhavn is a 17th-century waterfront where candy-colored townhouses overlook the canal. Packed with bars, restaurants, street musicians and sailboats, the pedestrian walkway is a bit touristy, but it’s worth checking out for the energy and scenery.
Take a Dip
To cool off in the summer heat, do as the locals do and dive into the Port of Copenhagen at the Islands Brygge Baths. The five public pools in the center of the city will undoubtedly be packed on a warm June day, but don’t worry—they’re cleaned daily (thank you, Scandinavian tax system).
Brush Up on Your Irish History
Open every day but Monday, the National Museums of Natural History, Decorative Arts and History and Archeology all boast free admission. If you’re traveling with kids, they’ll love the Natural History exhibits, which feature about 200 species of animals. After this much learning, you've totally earned a Guinness.
Hear Live Fiddlers
Irish music is a huge part of the culture in Dublin: Head to just about any pub at night and you’ll hear fiddles, banjos and singing galore. The Temple Bar neighborhood is a bit touristy, but Whelan’s on Camden Street is where the locals go for live music. (You’ll have to buy the drinks, but the entertainment is on the house.)
Explore the Duomo
You don’t have to spend a dime to enter Florence’s most iconic landmark, the Duomo. Construction of this enormous, gothic church began in the 13th century, and the interior is covered with fresco murals and stained-glass windows. Climbing the 463 steps to the top of the dome costs about $14, so skip it and save up for some gelato.
Climb the Piazzale Michelangelo
Firenze is a seriously photogenic city, and the must jaw-dropping vista is from the lookout at Piazzale Michelangelo. Start your trek on Via San Miniato, then follow the steep set of stairs to the top. Hey, a great Instagram shot is worth a little legwork, right?
If you plan your visits strategically, you could see all of the city’s main attractions without opening your wallet. The MUDE (Museum of Design and Fashion) is always free, while the 500-year-old Jerónimos Monastery and the historic Belém Tower (with its sweeping views of the Tagus River) offer free admission on the first Sunday of every month.
Take a Tile Tour
Portugal is famous for its azulejos—elaborately painted ceramic tiles that decorate the walls of houses, park benches and palace facades around the city. The best way to see these beauties is to wander around the city. If you’re still looking for more, The Museu Nacional de Azulejos offers free admission on the first Sunday of every month.
Taste Local Wines
We know, it sounds way too good to be true, but Viniportugal, an organization that promotes Portuguese wines, offers free glasses between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Stop by to try the sweet ports and hearty Douro Valley reds.
Watch the Changing of the Guard
The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace is one of the coolest British traditions, and luckily, witnessing it doesn’t cost a thing. (It’s also the closest you’ll get to spotting Kate Middleton.) Check the schedule ahead of time so you don’t miss the daily ceremony.
One of our favorite things about London: the free museums. Check out works by Matisse and Rothko at the Tate Modern and classics by Cézanne, Vermeer and Da Vinci at The National Gallery. And if you’re entertaining the kids for the afternoon, the Science Museum and Natural History Museum are a must.
Escape from the City
Parque del Buen Retiro is Madrid’s answer to Central Park—a peaceful refuge from busy city life. You could spend hours exploring the perfectly manicured Rose Garden, the fairy-tale-like crystal palace and the serene Great Pond.
Get to the Prado Pronto
Madrid is home to two world-class museums, both of which offer free access if you know when to go. Pop into the Prado from 6 to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday, to see famous works by Spanish artists Velázquez and Goya. On Monday through Saturday from 7 to 9 p.m. and most of the day Sunday, you can get free access to the Reina Sofia, home to Picasso’s famous “Guernica.”
Hit the Flea Market
Locals spend their Sunday mornings scouring El Rastro flea market for ceramic bowls, silver jewelry and fabric fans. But even if you don’t spend a dime, it’s a treat: The streets surrounding the enormous market are filled with street performers and musicians playing the flamenco guitar.
Cast a Wish in the Trevi Fountain
You’ll immediately recognize the famous Trevi Fountain, a marble, baroque sculpture located at the end of a 19th-century aqueduct. Legend has it that if you toss a coin into the fountain, you’ll return to Rome again one day. (And you’ll definitely want to after tasting the carbonara.)
Gaze at the Pantheon
It’s not every day that you can visit a preserved ancient Roman temple. And you don’t have to be religious to feel like you’ve stepped a little closer to heaven as you gaze up into the Pantheon’s light-flooded dome.
Get Lost in Trastevere
Think of a dreamy, quintessential Italian neighborhood, complete with cobblestone streets, trattorias draped in ivy, young couples sipping Sangiovese al fresco and clean laundry hanging from windows in winding alleyways. That’s Trastevere, and you could spend hours exploring the nooks and crannies on the right bank of the Tiber River.
Picnic Under the Eiffel Tower
A ticket to the top of the Tour Eiffel will set you back about $18 (and a few hours waiting in line), but there’s more than one way to marvel at the monument. Grab a seat on the Champ de Mars, the huge public lawn in front of the tower. Shell out a few euros on some Brie, a baguette (and some rosé if you’re feeling ambitious) and enjoy a picnic with a legendary view.
Take in the View from Montmartre
On the outskirts of the city in the 18th arrondissement, the giant hilltop neighborhood of Montmarte is home to bohemian artists, street performers, sidewalk cafés and the best views of the city. Walk all the way up to the Sacré-Coeur Basilica, set on Montmartre’s highest point, to see Parisian boulevards and neighborhoods sprawling before you.
Explore Notre Dame
One of the most famous cathedrals in the world, Notre Dame is open every day of the year, free of charge. It’s worth waiting in line to enter the lofty Gothic interior, complete with huge flying buttresses, stained-glass windows and a light-drenched altar. Explore Île de la Cité, the maze of streets surrounding the cathedral, and keep an eye out for the facade’s infamous gargoyle sculptures.
Draw Your Own Graffiti
The Lennon Wall is a giant, rainbow panel of public art that originally began as a show of resistance to the communist rule. It’s a constantly changing place where artists and tourists alike can leave a message of love and peace in paint on canvas.
Stroll Across Charles Bridge
Like most Eastern European cities, a river traverses Prague. The Charles Bridge, which spans the Vltava, is a quasi-outdoor museum, featuring 30 Baroque statues of different religious saints. It’s also a prime spot for people watching, complete with noisy street vendors selling jewelry and postcards.
Take an Underground Art Tour
Stockholm is home to the world’s longest art gallery…but it’s not a museum. We’re talking about the subway system (called the Tunnelbana), where 68 miles of underground tunnels are filled with abstract designs, mosaics and stone sculptures. The T-Central station walls are lined with multicolored glass tiles, and the ceiling of Stadion station is decorated with a sweeping rainbow mural, painted on blue marble.
…Then Venture Indoors
Stockholm’s Modern Art Museum, Moderna Museet, is open every day except Monday, and you never have to pay to check out the permanent collection, which features mixed media and works by artists like Matisse, Picasso and Warhol.
If you visit in any season except winter, keep an eye out for the many outdoor public gyms (called utegyms) around the city. Many are surrounded by parks or woods and are complete with running tracks, pull-up bars and strength training equipment. Consider this workout the perfect excuse to eat extra Swedish meatballs.
Get into the Christmas Spirit
There’s nothing quite like visiting Vienna over the holiday season and walking through the city’s many festive Christmas markets. Beginning in November, you’ll find brightly lit town squares lined with booths selling hot mulled wine, candles, ornaments and bratwurst. The scents of gingerbread and chestnuts wafting through the air? Totally free.
See an Outdoor Movie
During the summer months, a number of outdoor spaces around the city turn into open-air cinemas. Pick up a bottle of Austrian Riesling and catch a free flick at the Cinema Under the Stars at Karlsplatz or the Music Film Festival at Rathausplatz.