5 Tips for Sightseeing on the Cheap
When you’re traveling, half the fun is seeing the sights — museums, historical locations, that sort of thing. But more and more of those sights are trying to make money off of tourists: they charge entry fees, mark up gift-shop items and offer outrageously priced cafeterias. There are ways to keep your sightseeing on the inexpensive side, especially if you have an opportunity to plan your itinerary ahead of time.
- Look for Nationally-Controlled Sights: Museums are one of my favorite touristy sights — a national museum brings together a wide variety of exhibits that can show large portions of the country that you’d never get to see otherwise. Consider the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, D.C. They’re run by the U.S. government, in a round about way, so entry to the museums is free, just like visiting the local monuments. There are more exhibits than you can go through in the average trip, too. Compare that to Mount Vernon, a popular tourist destination just outside of D.C. — there’s perhaps a couple of hours of entertainment, and an adult ticket costs $13.
- Go Off the Beaten Path: If you aren’t visiting something that a lot of tourists aim for, you’re more likely to avoid those costly entry fees and gift shops. I learned this rule young, hiking in the Garden of the Gods. While entry to the park is free, the commonly used trails practically lead inside of the Visitor’s Center and its gift shop. Instead, heading on to the less popular trails offer more opportunities to explore and climb, and you’ll wind up with just as good of a view of the park.
- Check the Local Tourism Board: Those organizations in charge of bringing tourists to an area can be your best bet to find coupons and special deals. In Ireland, the local tourism offices in each town can often connect you with a deal for just about anything — I was with a group of students traveling around and they managed to call ahead and get a group rate fifteen minutes before we were planning to show up at an attraction. Tourism boards are often at their best when they’re trying to convince you to visit their area — they can arrange special deals, notify you of upcoming events, and do other things to make sure their area gets your business.
- Try Public Transportation: I think half the cities in the world have those hop-on-hop-off tour buses these days, and I really don’t think they’re the great deal they’re made out to be. When touring Cardiff, a friend and I snagged a copy of their map and hopped on a public bus that went to basically the same places. Our tour cost literally a tenth of theirs and we didn’t have to figure out what some squawking intercom was saying.
- Go to Church: Many churches and other religious sites are considered amazing tourist attractions, such as Paris’ Notre-Dame, but are free. Architectural buffs, take heed: you can see some of the best-preserved buildings just by visiting religious sites during your sightseeing. Cemeteries can also be worth a visit, though you might not think of them at first. But if you’re particularly interested in a particular historical figure, look up where they’re interred: most cemeteries have some beautiful sculpture and can give you a great introduction to an area’s history.