12 of the Best Free European Attractions
Many European cities have the bad reputation of being expensive to visit. And when you plan to see as much as you can during your vacation, the entrance fees really add up. Thankfully, there are also lovely places which can be visited for free. These can vary from a stroll down a popular street to spending time in a park to visiting incredible historical places like churches.
1 – St. Peter’s Basillica, Vatican City
St. Peter’s Basillica is one of the greatest Roman Catholic churches in the entire world. It is also has the largest interior, capable of holding 60,000 people. Catholic tradition holds that the tomb of Saint Peter, one of the Apostles of Jesus, is under the altar of the basillica. Despite popular misconception, St. Peter’s Basillica is not a cathedral (as it is not the seat of a bishop).
There was an old Constantinian basillica on this site since the 4th century and the present building was completed in 1626. It is associated with Michelangelo (the first chapel on the north aisle contains the famous Pietà) and with papacy. There are over 100 tombs within the Basillica, many located beneath the building (including 91 popes).
2 -The Pantheon, Rome, Italy
The Pantheon is the best-preserved Roman building in Rome and was built as a temple to all gods in Ancient Rome. The current building is actually a reconstruction of the first temple which existed here. Since the 7th century, the Pantheon has been used as a Roman Catholic church (and yes, masses are still held here on important Catholic holidays).
One of the most interesting features of the building is the central opening called the Great Eye. When the Pantheon was used as a temple, the fire inside the temple would create smoke which escaped through the opening. Today it is the only light source in the building.
3 – British Museum, London, UK
The British Museum is one of the most important museums in the entire world. The collections comprise over 7 million items, depicting the human history from its beginning to the present day. Among the key highlights you will be able to see: the list of the kings of Egypt from the Temple of Ramesses II, the Rosetta Stone, a fragment of the beard of the Great Sphinx, Mummy of ‘Ginger’ (3300 BC), mummy of Cleopatra from Thebes, and much more.
The museum opened in 1759 and has always been free to visit (except for the special exhibitions which usually require a fee to be paid).
4 – Schonbrunn Gardens, Vienna, Austria
The gates open at 6 a.m (or 6:30 a.m. during winter) and close between 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., depending on the season. If you arrive by metro you’ll probably enter the grounds via the Zoo gate, while if you come by tram, you can enter the grounds via the main gate.
The Privy Garden is located between the palace and the Gloriette (on top of the hill). In between those, there’s Neptune Fountain. The western parts of the grounds have been turned into an English Garden. On both sides of the Privy Garden there are 32 sculptures. Generally speaking, unless you enter a building, the maze, the Zoo, or climb up to see the views from the Gloriette, you don’t need to pay anything.
It’s pretty much impossible to see all the parts of the Gardens during one day. It gets very hot during summer so make sure to bring enough water (you have to enter to Zoo to get to the mini-shops, so that’s not exactly a good idea) and good walking shoes. It’s pretty easy to climb the hill to the Gloriette and the views are magnificent, even if you don’t go up on the viewing deck.
Also free in Vienna: St. Stephan’s Cathedral, Hofburg Gardens, walk on the Ring Street
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5 – Gellért Hill Cave, Budapest, Hungary
Gellért Hill Cave is also known as Saint Ivan’s Cave, from the hermit who lived here and was believed to have cured the sick by using the natural water from the muddy lake located next to the cave. The entrance in the cave is located 75 feet above the Danube River, on Gellért Hill (right opposite the Gellért Hotel & Baths).
Between 1926 and 1951 the cave served as a chapel and monastery, while during the World War II it was a field hospital. When the Soviet Army captured Budapest, the entrance to the cave was sealed and it wasn’t until 1992 that the cave was open again for the monks and the public.
The church can be visited for free but it’s advisable to show up right after the mass (while the organist still plays religious songs).
Also free in Budapest: guided tours of The Parliament (free for EU citizens only), a walk on Margaritsziget (an island)
6 – War Museum, Athens, Greece
Inaugurated in 1975, the museum depicts the history of warfare over thousands of years. You can admire weapons from every era, starting with stone axes and ending with a fighter plane.
The primitive weapons and the Bronze Age ones are among the most interesting. If you are interested in the Greek War of Independence, you can learn about the weapons used. Children will most likely enjoy climbing in the cockpit of the fighter plane.
Also free in Athens: Changing of the guards in front of the Parliament, Railway Museum, Museum of Popular Musical Instruments, The Hellenic Children’s Museum, Municipal Gallery of Athens
Paris is filled with incredible places to visit, and Notre Dame is one of those iconic landmarks we all have learned about at some point during our school years.
The beautiful Gothic Cathedral is located on the eastern half of the Île de la Cité. It was the first building in the world to use the flying buttress, although it was not originally designed to use them. The construction began in 1163 and was completed in 1345.
Just like visiting any other Roman Catholic or Orthodox cathedral, make sure to dress accordingly (or how they put it on the official web site “show a respectful attitude, through both their behaviour and their clothing”).
Also free in Paris: The Louvre Gardens , Sacre Coeur
8 – The Berlin Wall, Berlin, Germany
Once the barrier dividing West and East Berlin, the Berlin Wall is an important part of the German history. The wall fell on November 9, 1989 after a series of protests. Right after the fall, the government opened ten new border crossings and visa-free travel was allowed starting on December 23, 1989. In the summer of 1990 the official dismantling of the Wall began.
Today, only some sections of the walls exist as memorials, and nearly all of the original wall is gone. The longest remaining stretch is the East Side Gallery, which is now considered an open-air museum. There are also sections of the wall along with their histories located in the busy Alexanderplatz area (pictured above).
Also free in Berlin: Reichstag
9 – Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic
The Charles Bridge is one of the most beautiful places and best-known attractions in Prague. And best of all, it’s free. The stone Gothic bridge started its life in 1352. There are towers on each end of the bridge but only one can be climbed. The bridge is lined with 30 statues (most of them are replicas of the originals). Touching the statue of St. John of Nepomuk is believed to bring luck.
The pedestrian bridge is almost always full so if you want to avoid the crowds, plan to walk on the bridge either early in the morning or late at night.
Also free in Prague: the Prague Astronomical Clock
10 – Red Square, Moscow, Russia
The most famous square in Moscow and possibly the most famous in all of Europe is, without a doubt, the Red Square. During the Soviet era, the square was used to hold all the parades, and soviet rulers even wanted to demolish the famous St. Basil’s Cathedral only to have more room for their displays of power. Nowadays, the square is a preferred place to organize concerts.
Today the Kremlin and the Red Square are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The buildings located in the square are: Lenin’s Mausoleum, the State Historical Museum, Kremlin towers, the Iberian Gate and Chapel, and St. Basil’s Cathedral.
Also free in Moscow: Alexander Gardens
11 – Vigeland Sculpture Park, Oslo, Norway
Part of Oslo’s Frogner Park, Vigeland Park features 212 bronze and granite sculptures created by Gustav Vigeland. Among the interesting art pieces, one can admire the fountain – originally designed to be placed in front of the Parliament , the Monolith and the eight statues of children playing (in the area called Children’s Playground).
The park is also known for the lovely picnic area and the possibility to sunbath.
12 – La Rambla and La Boqueria Market, Barcelona, Spain
The most famous street in Barcelona is, without a doubt, La Rambla. During summer it’s awfully crowded with both locals and tourists but it represents a lovely way to do some people watching and window shopping. The middle part of the street is pedestrian only and at any time during the tourist season it comes to life due to the live performances and the flower market. There are interesting buildings on both sides of the street and if you want to relax, go to Placa Reial, just off La Rambla. And for a colorful and exotic meal, check out La Boqueria, the iconic street market filled with pretty much anything you might want to buy or eat.
Read more about budget travel in Europe:
- 10 Free Ways to Discover Your World
- Six Tips for Exploring Stockholm on a Budget
- 12 Budget European Destinations to Add to Your Round the World Trip
Every week, on “Round the World Wednesday” we share tips for planning, budgeting and selecting a route, plus advice on where to go and what to see and do all around the world.
Photo credits: 1 – Andreas Solberg; 2 – diluvienne; 3 – listentoreason; 4 – Poom; 5 – Cristina Puscas; 6 – mitko_denev; 7 – treyerice; 8 –www78; 9 – freefotouk; 10 – Kate McKenna; 11 – aliasgrace on Flickr; 12 – Adam and Megan Seper