Free things to do in the city this summer

by cathy.baldwin

The pound may have regained some ground against the euro in the last few months, but many travellers are still trying to keep their costs down. If you are taking a city break this summer and don’t want to spend too much, take a look at our destination experts’ picks of the best free sights and attractions below.

For families:

“On a special riverbank stage outside the National Theatre (South Bank, SE1 9PX, 020 7452 3000,, Watch This Space puts on unhinged outdoor shows each summer - this year, they include a Catalan chap playing a piano suspended 18 feet above your head.

Rainy day? The Science Museum (Exhibition Road, South Kensington, SW7 2DD, 0870 870 4868, opens its new galleries in late June. Play with the Who Am I? voice-ageing machine or find out about the latest scientific discoveries.”

For couples:

“Go to see how the London 2012 Olympic Park is shaping up. There’s pleasant walking (and a café) close to Pudding Mill Lane DLR station, with canals running right beside the Olympic Stadium and Aquatics Centre.

In bad weather, head to the reborn Museum of London (London Wall, EC2Y 5HN; 020 7001 9844;, where you can take part in your own costume drama, strolling hand-in-hand round the recreated 18th-century Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.”

“One of Manhattan's greatest free pleasures is the HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival where 2010 offerings include Goldfinger, The French Connection and Monthy Python and the Holy Grail. Movies get going at dusk (around 8pm) but come early, with your picnic, to snag a good spot

Manhattan’s neighborhood of Chelsea has become New York’s art hub with over 300 galleries on offer. But unlike the city’s museums entry to these exhibition spaces are free. Not to be missed venues include Larry Gagosian, Paul Kasmin and Matthew Marks

Adults and kids alike will be thrilled by the spectacular views from the Staten Island Ferry. And the amazing vistas of Lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty and the New York Harbor come free on this commuter boat that runs from Battery Park to Staten Island, and back

FAO Schwartz is a kiddie dream, jam-packed with all kinds of goodies from Thomas the Tank engine trains to life size stuffed animals. You might not come out empty handed but you can enjoy one thing for no cash down—the free multi daily readings at the bookstore”

“The Fête de la Musique ( on Midsummer's Day, 21 June, always seems like the true start to summer. There are hundreds of concerts of every imaginable variety and degree of talent: all free, all over town and often outdoors.

From 11 June to 11 July, you can keep up with the Football World Cup on giant screens at place du Trocadéro and Stade Charléty ( In the Parc de la Villette, Cabaret Sauvage’s "Copacabareta" festival ( will be showing matches free during the week and with an entry fee at weekend when matches are followed by world music concerts and DJs.

Paris Plage (20 July-20 August, city beach has quickly become a Paris institution, with deckchairs, palm trees, pétanque pitches, beach volleyball, fitness and dance classes, and sandpits and a swimming pool for kids. Two sites: along the Seine and at the Bassin de la Villette.

Watch great movies by Godard, Loach, Sofia Coppola, Woody Allen et al under the stars at the Cinéma en plein air (17 July-22 August, in the Parc de la Villette. This year's theme is "to be twenty years old".”

“If you have little ones in tow, they’ll be more undoubtedly be more enchanted with a stroll down La Rambla looking at the street performers than they will traipsing round museums.

Another favourite with the kids is the Font Màgica (Magic Fountain), a fantastical sound and light show, with a kaleidoscopic array of colours playing on the jets of water, in front of the MNAC museum on Montjuïc.

During the Música als Parcs festival in summer, there are free classical concerts on Thursday and Sunday nights, and jazz on Wednesdays and Fridays, in various of the city’s parks. See for details.

In a popular recession-busting move, the city council has made all municipally run museums free to enter on Sunday afternoons, and extended the opening hours until 8pm.”

“At the church of Sant’Anselmo on the Aventine hill, Benedictine monks sing exquisite, ethereal Gregorian Chant at the Sunday vespers service, which starts at 7.15pm.

Head for a park like Villa Borghese to cool off. The wi-fi’s free too, here and in much of central Rome: find out more at

The boho left-bank district of Trastevere organises its own street fair, La Festa dei Noantri, for two weeks in mid-July. The fairground attractions aren’t free, but the atmosphere is.

Kids will also enjoy the ghoulish crypt of Santa Maria della Concezione in Via Veneto, where the bones of generations of Capuchin monks who died here are arranged on the walls in pretty patterns. It’s officially free, though a donation is appreciated.”

For families:

“From 27 June to 6 September, the sloping roof terrace of Nemo science centre ( will be transformed in to a free-to-access urban "beach", with ice-creams, lounge chairs and sand on offer.

Skip the pricy and touristy canal boat rides, and take one of the free foot and bike ferries that ply frequently across the IJ waterway from the dock directly behind the Centraal Station.”

For couples:

“Amble round the lovely, laid-back Jordaan district. If you want a focus for your wanderings, look in on some hofjes - idyllic little courtyards, hidden from the street, surrounded by almshouses. See for locations.

Free-to-view art is always on show in the Civic Guards Gallery, an arcade lined with giant 17th-century paintings that is part of the Amsterdams Historisch Museum (”

“See an authentic bit of ancient Egypt for free. The Debod Temple dates back to the 2nd century BC and was brought to Spain 40 years ago. It now stands on the western edge of central Madrid, between Plaza de España and the Oeste park.

The Prado museum is free after 6pm Tuesday - Saturday, and after 5pm on Sundays, and the Reina Sofia museum is free after 7pm weekdays, on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings.

Mooch around the Rastro flea market on Sunday morning, but you’ll never come away without buying anything (Ribera de Curtidores and nearby streets, metro La Latina).

Walk along the Gran Vía, the main avenue through the city, which is celebrating its centenary this year with free concerts, exhibitions and dancing to live bands.”

For couples:

“Grab yourself a good vantage point – anywhere high or along the Giudecca canal will do – and watch impossibly romantic fireworks exploding for the feast of the Redentore (the Redeemer) on the third Sunday in July.

August 15 is the feast of the Assumption, so where better to celebrate than at the spectacular basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, where there’s a free concert after the 4pm mass.”

For families:

“Book ahead for the free Kids Days events held through the summer on Sundays at 3pm at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection ( Children aged 4-10 are introduced to an art work and given a chance to recreate it… or something similar.

For a village fete, Venetian style, head to the church of San Pietro in Castello on the last weekend of June. There are bouncy castles, kids’ games, competitions and concerts, all held on Venice’s only remaining grassy campo.”


“Traditionally, the Côte-d’Azur hasn’t really grasped the concept of “free”, giving away nothing except the surroundings (and then only when it couldn’t find a way to charge for them). However, Nice at least has begun to come round to the idea. All its municipal museums are free – including the Museum of Modern Art in the city centre and the wonderful Matisse Museum up on Cimiez Hill. After Matisse, wander the nearby Roman arena and gardens. They’re also free.

As, of course, is the celebrated spectacle of the morning flower market on Cours Saleya (as long as you don’t buy anything) or a stroll along the Promenade des Anglais.”


“The only free show in Monaco is the daily changing of the guard, at 11.55am, outside the princely palace. It’s not fabulously impressive but, in a small seaside town, it’s surprising that it’s done at all. Otherwise, the ambling is free – and diverting, whether around the old town, along the sculpture trail in the Fontvieille district or amid the sumptuousness of the Casino Square of Monte-Carlo.”


“If you want something for nothing in Cannes, best bet is the beach or to get east out of town into the Esterel hills. Here the walking is wild and elemental: you’d never believe you were just 30 minutes from a cornetto.

St Tropez and Marseille

Walking is also pretty much all you can do for free in St Tropez. I’d suggest the coastal path from the village to the Rabiou headland. Such is the natural beauty that the resort’s fashionable excesses suddenly seem a little frothy. In Marseille, Notre-Dame de la Garde stands upon its hill, seen by all and itself all-seeing. It’s the city’s emblematic church and a cracker to visit. Then take a bus (not free but cheap) out to Les Goudes and Callelongue for hiking over the high cliffs and vertiginous creeks of les Calanques. This is utterly exhilarating, and costs nothing but a bit of energy.

Can you add any tips on where to find free sights and attractions in the city this summer? If so, leave a comment below.