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Visitors view Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors at the National Gallery in London. (Tom Dymond/London and Partners)
Visitors view Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors at the National Gallery in London. (Tom Dymond/London and Partners)

How to see the sights of Europe for free Add to ...

Amsterdam

Bloemenmarkt (Flower Market)

Flowers liven up the brown buildings and North Sea skies of Amsterdam. Experience this juxtaposition via a leisurely canal-side stroll through the floating flower market. From azaleas to tulips and exotic flora, the 150-year old Bloemenmarkt provides an authentic Amsterdammer no-cost experience. Take-home bulbs and kitschy souvenirs aren’t much more. Singel between Koningsplein and Muntplein; 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday -Saturday, 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Sunday; admission free.

Amsterdam Cheese Museum

You have probably noticed that cheese is a staple in the daily Dutch diet. This quaint little shop and educational centre is filled to the rafters with massive cheese wheels (and slightly smaller rounds). Take a one-stop dairy tour through the Netherlands, learning how the cheese is made and tasting its many regional varieties, then ham it up in traditional costume for photo ops. cheesemuseumamsterdam.nl; Prinsengracht 112; 9 a.m.-7 p.m. daily; free.

Copenhagen

Making connections

In Lego’s homeland, blockheads can make a pilgrimage to the toy’s birthplace in Billund, 260 km west of Copenhagen, and pay to enter Legoland (299Dkr). Or they could visit Copenhagen’s Lego store (lego.com; Vimmelskaftet 37; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and Saturday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday), to freely enjoy the Living Room creative arena, see huge models and learn facts (there are 915,103,765 ways to combine six eight-stud Lego bricks); free.

Open-air Museum

At a sprawling site just outside the city you can explore pre-Industrial Revolution Scandinavia at one of the world’s biggest open-air museums. The 50 original buildings range from windmills to a poorhouse, and are occupied by people dressed as peasants and millers explaining how Denmark evolved from 1650 to 1950. natmus.dk/museerne/frilandsmuseet; Kongevejen 100, 2800 Lyngby; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday May-June and August-October, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. July-August; free.

Geneva

CERN

Blow your mind with a free guided tour of the laboratory where the World Wide Web was born in 1989. Blow it still further with a gander at the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most massive machine, which accelerates protons down a 27km-long circular tube to create new matter from the resulting collisions. Incredible but true. cern.ch; Meyrin; guided tour 11am Monday-Saturday and 1 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; free.

La Barje

This waterside vintage caravan with its bright, candy-striped paintwork radiates energy and outdoor buzz. Drinks and snacks are cheap (profits help young people in difficulty), but it’s the catchy line-up of free gigs, concerts and street theatre that steals the show. Grab a front-row seat on the grassy riverbanks of the Rhône and chill in style. labarje.ch; Promenade des Lavandières; 11 a.m.-midnight Monday-Friday, 3 p.m.-midnight Saturday and Sunday April-September; free.

Helsinki

Design District

The epicentre of modernist Finland is the downtown Design District, where flagship stores (Pohjoisesplanadi Street; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturing and Sunday; admission free) from globally recognized brands like Iittala, Marimekko and Aarikka line Esplanadi Park. Browsing the 200 design studios, art galleries and clothing and jewellery boutiques can feel like hip (and free) museum-hopping. Bonus: the district runs down to Sinebrychoff Park (hel.fi; Blvd 40), where there are sometimes free performances.

Suomenlinna Island

Hop on a ferry to the UNESCO site that dates to 1748, when Finland was a Swedish colony. Explore the fortress, sunbathe, or take advantage of free events, exhibits and museums. There are a dozen restaurants and bars and a hostel. suomenlinna.fi; Port of Helsinki; ferry tickets from Helsinki’s kauppatori to Suomenlinna’s main quay one way/return €2.50/5, 15 minutes, three times hourly, less frequent in winter, 6:20 a.m.-2:20 a.m.

Oslo

Museum-Mooching

Visit Oslo on a Sunday and you’ll discover all Norway’s national cultural collections are free, including those at the National Gallery (3a; Universitetsgata 13; 11 a.m. -5 p.m.), home of Edvard Munch’s The Scream and Madonna, plus paintings by Cézanne and Manet; the Museum of Contemporary Art (3b; Bankplassen 4; noon-5 p.m.), the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design(3c; St Olavsgate 1; noon- 4 p.m.) and the National Museum – Architecture (3d; Bankplassen 3; noon- 5 p.m.). All nasjonalmuseet.no.

Picnic at the Palace

The free-access Palace Park or Slottsparken (6a; kongehuset.no; 24hr; free) is a popular picnicking and people-watching spot for locals and visitors, who often coincide their sandwich-munching with the Changing of the Guard (1:30 p.m. daily). Another awesome al-fresco eating spot is the Botanical Garden (6b; nhm.uio.no; Sars gate 1; 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday mid-March-September, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. rest of year) in Toyenparken (next to the Munch Museum), which contains 7500 species of plants.

Reykjavik

The Imagine Peace Tower

Yoko Ono’s tribute to John Lennon, the Friðarsúlan writes ‘Imagine Peace’ in 24 languages on clouds above Reykjavík for 61 days each year – 9 October (Lennon’s birthday) to 8 December (when he was shot). The geo-thermally powered tower uses 15 searchlights and prisms to beam the hopeful message from a wishing well containing a million written wishes from dreamers around the world, which Ono collected during her Wish Trees project. Viðey Island; October-December; free.

Grótta Lighthouse

One of the city’s most dramatic walks takes free-ranging explorers across a narrow corridor of land to the lighthouse at Grótta. This is an evocative spot, popular with locals, and if you get lucky it’s an amazing place to behold the Aurora Borealis. Be sure to time your run right, though, because the footpath disappears when the tide comes in. Or take the number 11 bus to Lindargotu Rd. Free.

Stockholm

Medeltidsmuseet

Almost hidden beneath the oldest stone bridge in the city, the Medieval Museum feels like a secret fortress. It was destined to become a parking lot, but excavation crews discovered a stretch of 16th-century city wall and a tunnel leading to the Royal Palace – which now form the core of the artfully displayed multimedia exhibits. medeltidsmuseet.stockholm.se; Strömparterren 3; noon-5 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday-Sunday, noon-8 p.m. Wednesday; free.

Söder cliffs and Katarina bridge

It’s hard to beat the views that await you once you have tramped up the rickety wooden staircases just south of Slussen to the top of the Söder Hills. Take the walkway leading to the historic Katarina lift, then take Maria Trappgränd, a narrow stairway just east of Slussen leading up towards the 500m-long cottage-lined Monteliusvägen; this is also a good picnic area! Slussen T-bana station; 24 hours; free.

Venice

Basilica di San Marco

Venice’s byzantine basilica is the apotheosis of the city’s self-invention. It took 800 years to build and wrap the bones of St. Mark the Evangelist in a golden carapace of mosaics. This is all yours for free, although you can skip the queue by pre-booking (€2). Free tours run at 11 a.m. Monday to Saturday (April to October). basilicasanmarco.it; Piazza San Marco; 9:45 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Monday -Saturday 2-5 p.m. Sunday summer, 2-4 p.m. Sunday winter; free.

Lido beaches

For centuries the bastion of the city, the Lido found a new lease of life in the 19th century as a bathing resort. For years it attracted the bel mondo and in September celebrities still flock here for the Film Festival. Mere mortals can make do with the Lido’s three free beaches: the Spiaggia Comunale (4a), the San Nicolò beach (4b) and the Alberoni (4c), where Byron raced his horses in 1817. 24 hour; free.

London

The Tate

This four-venue gallery is home to controversial pieces and experimental work, such as the 4D Sensorium, which combines visuals with smells, sounds and tactile elements. Two of the gallery’s four U.K. sites are in London: Tate Britain (7a; Millbank, SW1P; 10am-6pm), displaying British art from 1500 to the present day, and Tate Modern (7b; Bankside, SE1; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday and Saturday), which exhibits art from 1900 onwards. tate.org.uk; free.

More London Free Festival

This annual series of free events hijacks the South Bank of the River Thames for five months of summer action comprising of everything from live music and fringe theatre performances to children’s entertainment and screenings of flicks in the Scoop – a 1000-seat concrete amphitheatre near Tower Bridge. The big screen on site broadcasts major sporting events such as Wimbledon and the Tour de France. Events take place year-round along the South Bank, which is also the atmospheric location for a Christmas market. morelondon.com; June-October; free.

Paris

Promenade Plantée

The inspiration for New York’s High Line, this elevated park built on a 19th century railway viaduct is an unexpected green space floating above eastern Paris. Starting just east of Opéra Bastille in the hip and non-nonsense 12e, it unfolds to provide a quite otherworldly urban adventure. Following the full 4.5km takes you to the very edge of central Paris. 12e; 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday winter, 9 a.m.-9:30 p.m. summer; free.

Deyrolle

This taxidermy shop dating from 1831 is a veritable museum of natural history. See animals exotic and familiar, great and small, incredibly lifelike and artistically posed (all from zoos, circuses or farms, naturally deceased). And all for sale. If you can’t fit a recumbent tiger into your luggage (or budget), pick up a beautifully illustrated vintage poster or a gorgeous arrangement of exotic bugs. deyrolle.com; 46 rue du Bac, 6e; 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2-7 p.m. Monday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; admission free.

Excerpted with permission from The Best Things in Life are Free © Lonely Planet 2016; $32.99, available at indigo.ca and lonelyplanet.com.

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