Lonely Planet Best Things in Life are Free Book Review

Amazing experiences don't have to cost the earth. Lonely Planet's Best Things in Life are Free travel guide offers tips for your inner travel frugalista. Credit:

I love hotel butlers, swish cocktails and luxury travel as much as the next traveller. But at heart, I’m a bit of a frugalista when I’m on the road. One of my favorite words in any language is free.

So imagine my joy at the arrival of Lonely Planet’s The Best Things in Life are Free travel guide! This new, hardcover book lists more than 880 sights and experiences in over 60 cities worldwide. It’s the new travel bible for my inner cheapskate. After all, the more money you save, the more money you’ll have to enjoy more travelling, no?

Our friends at Lonely Planet want to share the free love (so to speak). We’re giving away a copy of this ultimate money-saving travel guide, to help you plan your next budget-wise holiday adventure. Giveaway details below. But first, my review.

Amazing experiences don't have to cost the earth. Lonely Planet's Best Things in Life are Free travel guide offers tips for your inner travel frugalista.

The modest cover disguises a rich, money-saving travel guide. Credit: Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet’s The Best Things in Life are Free

The book’s cover is plain paper-esque, as if to evoke frugality in its design and production. But the pages within are rich with budget-friendly travel advice on great things to see and do on the cheap. Each city page includes a handy map for reference, as well as eye-catching colour photos and artistic renderings.

Amazing experiences don't have to cost the earth. Lonely Planet's Best Things in Life are Free travel guide offers tips for your inner travel frugalista.

Wat Arun in Bangkok, Thailand. Credit: ©seng chye teo/Getty Images/Moment RF

Contents are divided by Continent and major cities (i.e. Bangkok, London, Sydney), and color-coded by theme of Arts & Culture, Food & Drink, Music, Sports & Leisure and Festivals and Events. It’s easy to find the city and free travel goodies you’re looking for within the guide’s colorful pages. Bonus: Most of the free attractions and suggestions are very family-friendly.

There are also special sections focused on the best free swimming spots, museums, galleries, movie nights, national parks, walking tours and even wine tastings. My favorite of these sections is Europe’s Best Tours by Public Transportation. While not free, public transport is much cheaper than private bus tours and usually quite an adventure in itself.

I’ve compiled my own top ten list of fave free things suggested in the guide. Some of these sights I’ve already experienced and loved, and others await a future visit. What might some of your suggestions be?

My Top 10 Best Things in Life are Free List

Amazing experiences don't have to cost the earth. Lonely Planet's Best Things in Life are Free travel guide offers tips for your inner travel frugalista.

An oasis in the bustle of medieval Bruges. Credit: C Laroye

Bruges – Begijnhof

One of our favorite cities in Europe offers many free attractions, including a church housing a masterpiece sculpted by Michelangelo. But my personal favorite is the Begijnhof, or Beguinage, an oasis of calm in the craziness that can be Bruges in summer. The gated garden and housing complex dates from the 13th-century, housing nuns and widows in low, whitewashed cottages surrounding a lovely garden.

Lima – Free Walking Tour

Visiting Peru is in my own top five list, so Lima had to be here. A good guided walking tour is one of the best ways to visit a city you’re unfamiliar with, and Lima’s city tour is free (though tips appreciated). Daily walking tours illustrate Lima’s history, and highlight curious, overlooked places that you’d likely never notice on your own.

Amazing experiences don't have to cost the earth. Lonely Planet's Best Things in Life are Free travel guide offers tips for your inner travel frugalista.

Overview of Djemaa el- Fna market. Credit: ©Michael Heffernan/Lonely Planet

Marrakesh – Djemaa el-Fna

I love walking through lively markets by day or night. The sights, smells and people-watching make for indelible travel memories. Marrakesh’s largest and best-known public square is filled with snake charmers and magicians by day, and street-food hawkers, dancers and musicians by night. Magical souk time.

Melbourne – Royal Botanic Gardens

A royal respite from the hustle of Australia’s culture capital is the Royal Botanic Gardens south of the Yarra River. Thirty-eight hectares of free, beautiful park space, including “The Tan” loop for walkies, a lake, and a wonderful Children’s Garden with water features.

New York City – High Line

I’ve spent quality time in fabulous and free Central Park on my last visit to NYC, but a walk along the High Line is top of my list next time I hit the Big Apple. The 2.4 km (1.5 mile) elevated greenway offers city views of various NYC neighborhoods, as well as the chance to sit in admiration of wildflowers and public art installations. The High Line is flat and stroller-friendly, just look for entrances with elevators if your buggy is on the bigger size.

Amazing experiences don't have to cost the earth. Lonely Planet's Best Things in Life are Free travel guide offers tips for your inner travel frugalista.

Look up in amazement at the oculus of the Pantheon. Credit: Shutterstock

Rome – Pantheon

Another Travelling Mom favorite city. Rome has oodles of free attractions that go back 2,000+ years. One of the best-preserved and must-see ruins is the Pantheon. Started around 29 BC and completed just over 200 years later, the Pantheon remains an architectural wonder. With the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world, a visit to the Pantheon with sunlight or rainfall pouring through its oculus will amaze.

Amazing experiences don't have to cost the earth. Lonely Planet's Best Things in Life are Free travel guide offers tips for your inner travel frugalista.

Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay. Credit: ©Matt Munro/Lonely Planet

Singapore – Gardens by the Bay

A ‘fantasyland of bio-domes,’ these hi-tech trees and sculptures at the Gardens by the Bay are at their best around early nighttime, when the Supertrees put their glow on for the free Garden Rhapsody light-and-sound show.

Stockholm – Djurgården

After a lovely (and free) walk through Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s historic neighborhood, pack a picnic for a visit to the former royal hunting grounds at Djurgården. There are gentle walking trails, sandy beaches for summer sunbathing, and quiet parks for your post-lunch nap.

Celebrating reaching the top of the Grouse Grind, North Vancouver. Credit: C Laroye

Celebrating reaching the top of the Grouse Grind, North Vancouver. Credit: C Laroye

Vancouver – North Shore Mountains

My hometown is filled with free and fun things to do, especially outdoors, and the guide highlights some of the best local secrets. If you’re up for a major workout, check out the free ‘nature’s stairmaster’ Grouse Grind (pack some money for the gondola ride down). Also on the North Shore, the entire family will love green, cool and free Lynn Canyon Park, complete with a swaying suspension bridge, forest trails and swimming holes.

Amazing experiences don't have to cost the earth. Lonely Planet's Best Things in Life are Free travel guide offers tips for your inner travel frugalista.

People picnicing beneath cherry blossom tree in Yoyogi Park, Harajuku. Credit: ©Lottie Davies/Lonely Planet

Yoyogi Park – Tokyo

A free-for-all public park with no ‘keep off the grass’ signs. A perfect place to spend a sunny weekend picnicking on a grassy knoll, enjoying a free festival, or marveling at the cherry blossoms in spring-time. Another wonderful reason to visit Japan – I have such a long list.

The Fine Print: This Lonely Planet Books Giveaway is only open to Canadian residents (sorry American friends!). The winner will be chosen at random by Random.org. Prize fulfillment will be provided by Raincoast Books. The Travelling Mom thanks Lonely Planet and Raincoast Books for sponsoring this giveaway. 

Feature Photo Credit: Lonely Planet. Others: Shutterstock, and as attributed.

 What is your go-to free thing to do and see in your favorite city? Share your tips in the comments below.

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58 Comments

  • Annemarie says:

    Dang! When I was in Bruges, I had no clue of Begijnhof. I really need to go back now. It looks so pretty and quaint. And I love how you featured a cherry blossom picture of Japan. It’s really the best time to hang out in Yoyogi park, tough Tokyo has many more amazing parks. Love it!

    • Claudia says:

      Yes, you have to plan a return visit and enjoy the quiet peace of the Begijnhof. It’s one of our favorite places in beautiful Bruges.

  • Bella WW says:

    From the one’s that you’ve mentioned I would love to visit Singapore – Gardens by the Bay and Yoyogi Park – Tokyo.
    However, my favorite go-to free thing to do is walking the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, by night 🙂

  • Meg Jerrard says:

    Love it! My favorite free activities in any city are walking tours – and also just getting lost on your own self guided walking tour – you see so much of a city behind the scenes that way!! Also with you on the botanic gardens in each place.

    • Claudia says:

      Yes, just getting lost is a wonderful way to discover a new place or city. Gets one away from the crowds to boot!

  • Laura Lynch says:

    Here’s my “nearly” free tip for Seattle: Everyone wants to get out on the water here, but the water cruises and boat tours are really expensive. Get on a ferry instead and take a trip across the water for a small fraction of the cost.

  • I can definitely see why Rome is one of your favorites. Visiting the city is like an open-air museum and, unless you enter the sites, the highlights are mostly free! Visiting public parks and historic town centers are great ways to get a feel for places, while making sure you don’t break the bank.

    With over 800 featured sights, I’m sure the Lonely Planet book has a wealth of information on places to see/things to do.

  • Valerie says:

    That definitely looks like my kind of book! I’d say that Vancouver, B.C. is one of my favorite cities and one of my favorite activities was just walking along the water front, Stanley Park and cool areas like Gastown.

  • Even though I’m American and not eligible, I’d like to offer a free tip for San Francisco. If you love great public art, especially murals, venture into Balmy Alley in the Mission District (just off 24th Avenue.) It’s full of passionate paintings full of stories from around the world, political to spiritual statements, textures and beauty. Swing an inexpensive tour with Precita Eyes if you want to go deeper.

    • Claudia says:

      Thanks for the great free tip, Elaine! We love public art and murals in particular. They always give insights in to the local scene and culture.

  • It’s surprising how many free things there are to do around the world! I’ve been collecting them and putting them in blog posts, but wow – I didn’t know there was enough to fill a book! Thank goodness you’ve found your ‘travel bible for your inner cheapskate.’ Too funny.

  • What a fun book… travel + money saving tips I mean it really doesn’t get any better than that 🙂 Love that you are giving one away too!

  • Jenna says:

    This book looks wonderful–I’m definitely going to have to check it out! I love your list of the 10 spots you picked out of the book. I would love to head to Singapore to check out the Gardens by the Bay. We visited Yoyogi Park in Tokyo and loved it–it was the beginning of Cherry Blossom season and was so gorgeous!

    • Claudia says:

      I’m jealous now! Japan and a visit during cherry blossom season is practically #1 on my travel list. Can’t wait to get there soon. 🙂

  • Mar Pages says:

    This looks like a great compilation of every country’s best! I always enjoy organising my own tours because there’s always the option of changing the plan if I find something more appealing. Parks are one of my favourite free places to visit.

  • This looks like a great book – who doesn’t love free!! London is one of our favourite cities and although it’s expensive there are many free things to do there including visit many of the museums.

    • Claudia says:

      Love that about London!! It makes the city more accessible, as it is such an expensive place to visit. Thanks for your comment Lisa!

  • Linda says:

    My favourite free thing to do in Vancouver is walk around Queen Elizabeth park in the fall.

  • Bryanna says:

    Love how the book showcases FREE things! There are so many amazing things you can see and do around the world without having to spend any money. Then you can use the money you saved to go buy ice cream for the family :)!

  • Janet Kyle says:

    In Pererborough Ontario, my best free things to do us visit the zoo and Peterborough Musicfest

  • Aubrey Mendoza says:

    Great post Claudia! Love the places you listed here. For me, the best free thing to do are beach hopping and walking tours!

  • Jeannie Lam says:

    My favourite free activity to do in Vancouver, BC is definitely the self guided walking tours. I love using GPSmycity. You can print out the map and it’ll guide you to key sightseeing sites and tell you a little about it.

  • Kelly D says:

    My favourite free activity is the Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas, NV. They are beautiful and inspiring! And FREE!

  • Bonnie Y. says:

    My favourite free thing to do in my favourite city is to do a self guided walking tour to explore the different neighbourhoods.

  • Heidi says:

    Walking around Stanley Park sea wall in Vancouver

  • KittyPride says:

    Walking along the sea wall in Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC. beautiful scenery

  • Linda H says:

    My fave free tourist attraction is the V&A Museum in London

  • joy says:

    in Ottawa, it is fun to visit the Byward Market and Parliament Hill – it is free just to wander around, take photos, and enjoy the historic surroundings!

    • Claudia says:

      Ooh, I love the Byward Market too when I lived there many years ago! Great place for people-watching and shopping too.

  • Jelena says:

    Brick Lane Sundays in London for me, it’s the food, the people, the markets, and just all the cool things you get to see & experience. It’s always great!

  • Jenni says:

    I live in Bristol UK and we have a harbour side festival once a year lasts for three days and there’s lots of things going on that’s free to go to but there are also lots of yummy food stalls that unfortunately are not free lol

  • Tara says:

    My favourite free activity is winning books by Lonely Planet about free things to do around the world 😉

    I also love finding out which days are freebie or discount days at local spots and showing up when the locals do: (pay-what-you-want-Tuesdays at the Vancouver Art Gallery for example).

    Some city passes have some good deals too. The Budapest transportation card includes a free entry to The Lukács Thermal Bath (and some museums etc.).

    • Claudia says:

      Yes, winning books is awesome! 😉 Great to know about the Lukács Bath and City Pass. I’ve heard great things about it!

  • Miranda P says:

    Love this list of free things to do and love the sounds of this book. One of my favourite free experiences while travelling was an afternoon stroll through Bosque de Chapultepec in Mexico City – the castle on the hill, the park itself and the colourful vendors are all super fun to explore.

  • Jessica says:

    The Gardens By The Bay sounds amazing! I love visiting gardens in an city I travel to.

  • jan says:

    I like seeking out the public parks in cities I visit. Grab a bagable lunch and sit on a bench. Hyde Park was great for this, but would love to check out Central Park one day.

  • Adam Wright says:

    London can be one of the most expensive capital cities in the world. It doesn’t have to be though. There are many museums and art galleries that are 100% free to enter. Some highlights include The British Museum, The Natural History Museum, Science Museum, V&A, The Tate Modern and Saatchi Gallery to name but a few!

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