Last Updated on March 4, 2021 by Jim Ferri
Some of the best things to do in Europe are free…here’s where to find them…
Estimated reading time: 13 minutes
By Jim Ferri
Updated for 2021
Travel can be expensive, especially when you’re visiting some of the more popular cities in Europe. But even if you have a family in tow, you can stick to a budget by taking advantage of free things offered in many cities.
In London, for example, many of the city’s top museums and galleries are always free. This includes such notable attractions as the British Museum (the city’s most visited attraction), the two Tates, the National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert, and many more.
But even in other cities where museum entrance fees are charged, there are often times when they are waived for the general public. This is true for several prestigious European museums, including the Louvre In Paris and Rome’s Vatican Museum.
Of course, there are plenty of other free things to do throughout Europe in addition to museum visits. Oslo’s incredible sculpture park in Frogner Park is a good example.
While the list of free activities that follows is certainly not exhaustive, it’s a step in the right direction to keeping your travel budget under control.
Things to do in London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow
You’ll find plenty of free things to do in London any time of year. During the summer months, the Queen’s Guard changes inside Buckingham Palace’s gates at 11.30 am every day and on alternating days during the winter. It’s best to get there early as the crowd can be quite large. You can also see the free ceremony of Changing the Guard at Horse Guards Parade (11am Monday – Saturday, 10am Sunday).
You’ll find another free spectacle at Speaker’s Corner in the eastern section of Hyde Park (opposite Marble Arch tube station). There, on Sunday mornings, you can be entertained by anybody with anything to say.
On any night, you can join the 700-year-old ritual of the Ceremony of the Keys, the traditional locking up of the Tower of London by the Towers’ Chief at 9:30pm. It’s unique in Europe. Tickets to the ceremony are free, but you need to apply in writing at least two months in advance.
While there is a fee to enter Westminster Abbey during the day, if you wait until “Evensong” at 5:30pm, you won’t be charged anything, and you’ll be able to hear the choir, as well.
Another fantastic free thing to do in London is to walk along the south bank of the Thames, perhaps starting at Westminster Bridge and walking downstream past the London Eye. Further on you’ll find the Tate Modern and, beyond that, the Tower of London on the opposite bank.
A wee bit north in Edinburgh, Scotland, you’ll find several free museums along the renowned Royal Mile, including the Writers’ Museum, The People’s Story, and The Museum of Childhood, among others. In Glasgow, you can enjoy free entrance to the Gallery of Modern Art to admire local and international artists’ works.
Dublin and Galway, Two Wonderful Places in Europe
In Dublin, five national museums and galleries – including the National Gallery, National Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Decorative Arts and History, and the Museum of Natural History – provide free entry to everyone.
Also, head out west to Galway, one of Ireland’s best spots to listen to music. There stop in any one of many pubs and enjoy traditional Irish music performed by some of the country’s best traditional musicians. It’s all free, and you needn’t even buy a pint.
Things to Do in Paris and Nice
Entrance to the spectacular Louvre is always free for teachers (bring proof) and anyone under 26. The rest of us have to wait for the first Sunday of the month to get our free pass. But the wait is worth it for entry to this renowned museum in Europe.
If you want to get a great view of Paris without the hefty cost of going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, go instead to Sacré-Cœur atop Montmartre. The view is excellent, and you can later wander about Place du Tertre and view the works for sale of dozens of artists.
If you’re still bent on seeing the Eiffel Tower, join the crowds in the Trocadéro across the Seine every evening. There you can watch the dazzling light show put on every evening at twilight for five minutes or so and then continues hourly until 1 am (2 am in summer).
Notre Dame was also free before its horrific fire and, presumably, will continue to be so after the massive restoration unless you visit its museum or climb the towers. On Sundays, you can also enjoy Gregorian chants at the 10am mass as well as afternoon organ recitals.
In Nice, one of the best places to visit in France, you’ll enjoy free entrance to the Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain (MAMAC). It boasts collections of works by Yves Klein and Andy Warhol.
Rome and Venice
While in Europe you’ll find there are many things to do in Italy, starting with an abundance of free sightseeing in Rome. Start with the Fontana di Trevi and the incredible Pantheon, both top free attractions in the Italian capital.
Don’t forget St. Peter’s Basilica, of course, which is a free treasure trove of art. Every day there’s a free tour of the Basilica led by seminarians; check with the Vatican Tourist Office for time and place of departure. (In case you were wondering…the Basilica can seat about 35,000; St. Peter’s Square can hold more than 300,000.)
The incredible Vatican Museum, which includes the Sistine Chapel among its many treasures, is gratis on the last Sunday of the month.
Unfortunately, admission to the Roman Forum is no longer free. Still, entry is now included on your ticket for the Colosseum. You can, however, get a good (free) view of the Forum on the street behind the museums on nearby Campidoglio Hill.
In Venice, you can join the café culture in St Mark’s Square and listen to musicians’ performances outside places such as Café Florian. Just don’t sit down and order coffee!
The best free thing I do in Venice every time I return is just to aimlessly wander its beautiful canals. Go get lost and see for yourself – it’s really very easy to find your way out of wherever you may be.
Berlin and Munich
In addition to visiting one or more of Berlin’s museums on Thursday evenings, take a walk along the East Side Gallery, a 1.3km-long stretch of the old Berlin Wall, now covered with works of art by more than 100 international artists. It’s one of the great free things to do in Europe.
Here you’ll also find that all 16 of Berlin’s national museums are free after 6pm on Thursday evenings. This includes such spectacular museums on Museumsinsel (Museum Island) as the Pergamon Museum, Bode-Museum, the Old National Gallery, and others.
It’s also free to go to the Reichstag’s roof by walking up to the top of the glass dome to get a beautiful view of the city.
In Munich, join the crowds on Marienplatz, in front of the New Town Hall (the Rathaus), to watch the Glockenspiel on which large figurines do the “Cooper’s Dance. (Twice daily at 11am and noon, and at 5pm except November through February). You can also visit the Münchner Stadtmuseum (Municipal Museum) and see the collection of Greek and Roman antiquities at the Glyptothek for free every Sunday.
Come September, you can join the city’s famed Oktoberfest for free, as well.
Prague, a Great City in Europe
There aren’t many castles you can wander about for free in Europe, so if you’re in Prague, head up to Prague Castle overlooking the River Vltava. While there is a charge to tour St Vitus’ Cathedral, Golden Lane, and some other areas in the castle, it’s free to wander most of the castle grounds. There’s also the Changing of the Guard daily at noon.
Another great, free thing to do in Prague is to walk across beautiful Charles Bridge. (Just about everyone who visits Prague does so, and at times it gets so crowded you feel that they’re all there at once.) The beautiful 14th-century bridge is lined with 30 statues as well as countless artists, musicians, buskers, etc. It’s also beautiful at night.
Things to Do in Madrid and Barcelona
Suppose you love Goya, El Greco and Velazquez, and other Spanish masters. In that case, you can enjoy them for free at the Museo del Prado from 6–8 pm Monday-Saturday and 3–5pm on Sundays and holidays, another of the great free cultural things to do in Europe.
Spain’s national museum of 20th-century art, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, is free Monday and Wednesday-Saturday 6–8pm; Sunday 1:30 – 2:15pm.
Madrid’s Royal Palace is open free to all visitors Monday to Thursday after 4pm (last admission 5pm). The Bullfighting Museum is free every day (open 10am – 6pm daily).
In Barcelona, the beautiful Catedral de la Seu is one of the most prominent Gothic buildings. Admission is free 08.45am – 12.45pm and 5:15pm – 7.30pm daily. After visiting the cathedral, don’t miss the Capella de Lepanto, where you’ll find, among other things, white geese in a pond.
Vienna and Salzburg
If you’re a music lover traveling about Europe, you needn’t pay for concert tickets in Vienna during the summer months. Just grab a seat in front of the Rathaus (city hall) where free films of famous concerts are broadcast.
You’ll find similar shows in Salzburg, where films are shown on the city’s historical Residenzplatz. Afterward, walk over to Kapitelplatz for a free game of chess with the substantial chess pieces one moves about on the large chessboard painted on the street.
Amsterdam, Bringing Free Concerts to Europe
In Amsterdam from September to June, you can enjoy free lunchtime concerts every Wednesday at 12:30pm at the world-renowned Concertgebouw. It’s one of the great free cultural things to do in Europe and is quite popular, so get there early to join the queue.
At the Muziektheater, the home of the country’s national ballet and opera companies, you can enjoy performances that sometimes spotlight the performances that will take place that evening before a paying audience. Tuesdays, September – June, 12:30–1pm.
If you’re looking for something more earthy, visit the free flower market, Amsterdam’s Bloemenmarkt (on the Singel canal between Muntplein & Koningsplein).
In Istanbul, you can go window-shopping in the fabled Grand Bazaar. Just beware of pickpockets in the labyrinth of streets that can be near claustrophobic at times.
For a calmer, more serene experience, you may want to visit the world-famous Blue Mosque, where there is never an entrance fee. Also, take a walk around the fascinating Sultanahmet District near the mosque.
In Lisbon, both the Museu Nacional do Azulejo and the Centro de Arte Moderna are free every Sunday. The Museu Calouste Gulbenkian is free on Sunday after 2 pm, and Belém Tower every Sunday from 10am to 2pm. There is free entrance to the Monastery of Jerónimos on the first Sunday of every month.
Oslo, and a Park Unique in Europe
In Oslo, the fantastic sculpture park in the Frogner Park is unique in Europe and, in fact, the world. With more than 200 sculptures by Gustav Vigeland, it is free 24 hours a day, every day of the year. It’s not only astonishing, it is also one of Norway’s top tourist attractions.