13 Ways to do a Weekend on Less Than $25 a Day
  1. T+L
  2. Trip Ideas

13 Ways to do a Weekend on Less Than $25 a Day

London Destination Guide
Alamy

Have a great getaway in these popular cities—and do it within your budget. 

Wanting to travel is never the problem; finding the time and the money often can be, though. But in these days of flash sales and incentives, carving out that much-needed trip within your budget keeps getting easier and easier.

We’ve jumped in to help, outlining easy-on-the-wallet weekends in 13 of our favorite cities. Below, you’ll get full itineraries on fun things to do, where to eat and shop, and how to best enjoy it. The best part? It’s all achieved on $25 a day or less.

Related: 20 Long Weekends

Read on for the details, or jump to the destination of your choice: Beijing; Cape Town; Chicago; London; Los Angeles; Melbourne; Miami; New York City; Paris; Portland; San Francisco; Shanghai; and Vancouver

Beijing
DEA / ARCHIVIO J. LANGE/Getty Images

Beijing

Though the cost of living is rising in Beijing, there are still plenty of cheap thrills and free experiences to be had in China's capital. Spend a weekend exploring its history and art through former imperial gardens, fast-disappearing hutong neighborhoods, and vibrant creative communities.

Saturday: Gulou, Beihai Park, and Jingshan Park

Starts off the adventure at the southern end of Nanluoguxiang, a preserved hutong dating from the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) that is now one of the busiest tourist streets in Beijing. Accessible from exit E of Nanluoguxiang subway station (Line 6), Nanluoguxiang is home to bustling shops, cafes, bars, and snack stands, and is a good place to pick up souvenirs like ceramic teapots and kitschy t-shirts. The half-mile lane can get crowded—especially during major Chinese holidays like Spring Festival and the October golden week—but it is criss-crossed by much quieter hutongs boasting their own charm.

At the intersection of Nanluoguxiang and Beibing Masi Hutong, there is a hole-in-the-wall eatery called Tianjinwei Jianbing Guozi selling jianbing, a type of egg-filled pancake that is quintessential breakfast and street food. This particular stall makes Tianjin-style jianbing, which features youtiao (a strip of fried dough) instead of the usual baocui (a deep-fried cracker). A jianbing costs $0.65 to $0.80.

Nanluoguxiang intersects with Gulou East Street, a major thoroughfare named after the Drum Tower that used to serve as the city's official timekeeper. From there, walk east to Cafe Zarah, a long-standing cafe and restaurant with an airy courtyard and an extensive menu. At $4 to $7, the coffee is a relative splurge.

While you sip, walk the area at your own pace. Gulou East Street and the smaller hutongs that intersect it contain boutiques, cafes, and restaurants ranging from minimalist to eccentric. Hutongs worth strolling through include Beiluoguxiang (Beiluo Bread Bar, Mai Bar), Baochao Hutong (Modernista, Mr. Shi's Dumplings), and Doujiao Hutong (Great Leap #6).

At a Y-intersection with Di'anmen Street and Gulou West, you'll find the Drum Tower and its immediate neighbor, the Bell Tower. If you can handle the steep stairs, they're worth climbing for the views of Beijing. A ticket gets you access to both for about $5.

For lunch, there are many inexpensive restaurants along Di'anmen Street. Huatian Emei Jiujia (155 Di'anmen St., Dongcheng District; 86 10 6404 3097) offers faithful renditions of Sichuan dishes like yuxiang qiezi (fish-fragrant eggplant), koushui ji (mouth-watering chicken), and sweet-and-sour soup, for about $3 to $6 per plate.

Just a short walk from the restaurant is Beihai Park, a former imperial garden that was turned into a public park in 1925. You can go boating on the central lake in battery- or pedal-powered boats shaped like rubber ducks and lotus flowers. Don't miss seeing the Nine-Dragon Screen dating from 1402 and the 131-foot White Dagoba on Jade Flower Island (pictured). Admission to the park costs less than $2 per person.

If you exit from the east gate of Beihai Park you'll head straight to Jingshan Park. The pavilion that sits atop the towering artificial hill in the middle of the park offers 360-degree views, including the Forbidden City, Beihai Park, and the Drum Tower.

Cap off this day of historical sightseeing with a meal at the city's first privately owned restaurant. Founded in 1980, Yuebin Restaurant (43 Cuihua Hutong, Dongcheng District; 86 10 8511 7853) is an unassuming eatery that is still owned by the founder's family. The menu is entirely in Chinese, but all specialties are on the first page. Good bets include the guota doufu (stuffed tofu) or wusi tong (meat and cabbage rolls).

Sunday: 798 Art District and Caochangdi

Your second day is all about art, starting with 798 Art District in the northeast corner of Beijing. This famous community is housed in a series of Bauhaus-style munitions factories from the 1950s, which artists started moving into in the mid-1990s in search of cheap studio spaces. Since the area's rapid gentrification in the early 2000s, unchecked rent increases have forced out the many artists who contributed to 798's cultural rebirth.

Despite this, the neighborhood attracts local and foreign tourists alike with its shops, cafes, restaurants, colorful graffiti, and serious art galleries like UCCA, 798 Space, Galleria Continua, and Pace Gallery. Most are free.

Around a 10-minute cab ride away, there is the lesser-known artistic community of Caochangdi. Its first and most famous tenant was Ai Weiwei, who first moved out to the sleepy village to establish his studio and the China Art Archives and Warehouse (CAAW). The atmosphere at Caochangdi is much more subdued compared to its more famous neighbor, but respected centers like Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, Galerie Urs Meile, Pekin Fine Arts, Beijing Art Now Gallery (BANG), and Chambers Fine Art make the area worth visiting.

Train fans may want to drop by the China Railway Museum (1 Jiuxianqiao North Road, Chaoyang District; 86 10 6438 1317) just east of Caochangdi. Not to be confused with the branch near Tian'anmen Square, this location is the one that contains actual rolling stock from the 1960s and 1970s, including the steam locomotives that Chinese leaders Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai rode. Not all taxi drivers know where it is, so have a map and a phone number on hand. Admission costs $3.

—Sijia Chen

Want to know more about the above? Read the full scoop here.

cape town for $25 a day
David Donde

Cape Town

South Africa’s currency is in the throes of a steady decline—and coupled with the strengthening dollar, that means Cape Town has everything you need for a budget-friendly holiday. But even if you’re really strapped for cash, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the city for nearly free.

Saturday: Exploring Cape Town’s History

Begin your day with a budget breakfast at Truth, one of Cape Town’s best coffee shops—it has a cult following for its funky industrial interiors. An open-faced avocado sandwich will set you back about $2.83; wash it down with a flat white for $1.82. A filling breakfast for less than five dollars? Not a bad start.

Next, head up the block to the District Six Museum for a history lesson. This neighborhood was once a thriving multicultural hub until apartheid uprooted countless families; at the museum, their stories are retold through intimate exhibits that re-create the past. A stop here is a must for understanding the context of what South Africa has had to overcome in the past 21 years since independence, and admission is a mere $2.18.

By now you’re probably eager to learn more about Cape Town’s complex past as you tour (and affordable guided walking tours are also on offer), so why not download a homegrown app to help you with that? VoiceMap offers GPS-guided audio tours around the world; local offerings include Slavery in the Cape ($1.99) and the Company’s Garden ($1.99).

When you’re ready for a break and a bit, head to St. George’s Mall, a pedestrian promenade lined with lively stalls selling everything from artwork to scarves. This is where you’ll find Mariam’s Kitchen (101 St. George’s Mall), a humble local “takeaway” selling simple, hearty, home-style cooking with local flair—the steak salomie will fill you up and only costs $3.56.

Sunday: Experiencing the Sites

The Bo-Kaap neighborhood is an Instagrammer’s delight, a riot of postcard-worthy houses on Signal Hill. Strolling streets lined with yellow, hot pink, and turquoise homes is free, of course—just be respectful of the people who live there—but be sure to pop into Rose Corner Café (100 Wale Street) to try a local favorite: koesisters are Cape Town’s answer to the doughnut, and here the syrupy confections are $0.22 apiece.

Cape Town’s most magnificent sites aren’t likely to break the bank: a hike won’t cost you a dime, after all. While Table Mountain is the most obvious contender, it can be grueling for beginners, and you might be tempted to take the cable car back down—and at $9 each way, you’ll end up blowing your budget. We recommend hiking neighboring Lion’s Head instead: it’s an easier and quicker trail, and the views are just as sublime.

For meals, you can easily splurge on several and still stay within budget. For one of the best burgers in Cape Town, head over to Bree Street, where a whiskey-barbecue burger and fries at the popular IYO Burgers comes in at only $6.10. Afterward, experience Bree Street’s bar culture: pop into the divey Door 221, where the cocktails are $3.63, or Mother’s Ruin Gin Bar, where a gin-based drink like a Marmalade Tea is $4.21. Have ‘em both—you can afford it.

—Sarah Khan

Want to know more about the above? Read the full scoop here.

Millennium Park in Chicago
Alamy

Chicago

Spending the weekend in Chicago but on a strict budget? We've put together a two-day itinerary to enjoy the best of the city for $25 a day or less.

Saturday: The Loop

Spend a leisurely morning people-watching from inside Bow Truss Coffee Roasters on Michigan and Jackson, sipping one of the specialty fair-trade blends that make the chain famous in the city. One cup of coffee is $3.50.

Afterwards, cross Michigan Avenue and explore Grant Park and Millennium Park. Take a design tour through Chicago's most well-known green spaces, seeing the Art Deco opulence of Buckingham Fountain, and the modern sleek lines of the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion and BP Bridge. Have a quick lunch at The Artists Café, where a chicken pita sandwich will only set you back $7.

Head north to the Magnificent Mile and window shop through the brightly lit displays of Chicago's poshest boutiques. At the far northern end of Michigan Avenue, step into the old water tower for the hidden City Gallery art exhibit (free). For dinner, head to The Purple Pig, one of Chicago's premier restaurants. Don't miss the JLT, a mix of pork jowl, tomato, frisee, pesto aioli and duck confit, served a la plancha ($13).

Sunday: The Neighborhoods

Take a ride on The 606, Chicago's newest multi-use trail. What used to be 2.7 miles of abandoned rail line is now a haven for bikers, skaters, runners, and artists—the entire length is a living art exhibit as well. Refuel at Green Corner in Wicker Park with an organic smoothie ($8).

Stop by the farmer's market in Wicker Park, open on Sundays, and grab a picnic lunch to enjoy while sitting by the fountain in the neighborhood's namesake, Wicker Park, where you can take your time savoring your fresh finds.

That evening, alk over to Logan Square and indulge in some local art. Comfort Station and Gallery F are two community favorites, and entrance to both is free. Have dinner on the patio at locally sourced Lula Café, and order the famous Lula '99 Turkey Sandwich ($11). Drinks start at $8, but there's a good chance you have enough left—use it to toast a weekend well spent.

—Jennifer Billock

Want to know more about the above? Read the full scoop here.

Hawker House
Courtesy Hawker House

London

On a tight budget but keen to travel? Here's how to spend a weekend in London on just $25 a day.

Saturday: Art and Major Sites

One of the best things about the UK is that most museums are free. Start your Saturday in Holborn at the British Museum, admiring the collections along with the building's impressive tessellated glass ceiling.

From there, stroll down to Covent Garden: one of London's most famed areas, though a tourist trap, is worth a wander. Walk through the Piazza, then around the web of Seven Dials (seven quaint shopping streets that connect at a small roundabout), and don't miss Neal's Yard—quite possibly the quaintest, most colorful courtyard in London.

A short walk away in Aldwych, Lundenwic is the perfect lunch spot. It's a trendy, minimalist all-day cafe, which serves fresh salads, gourmet toasties, and great coffee. The roasted broccoli, cheddar, almond, and chili toastie ($8) is sure to hit the spot, washed down with a pick-me-up espresso ($0.75).

Feeling fueled, head at a leisurely pace down The Strand, taking note of the iconic Savoy Hotel as you go, before eventually arriving at Trafalgar Square. Walk down Pall Mall to Buckingham Palace, or hang a left to see Big Ben and Westminster Abbey up close.

Walk along the Southbank to the Tate Modern. Spend a couple of hours admiring the exhibitions (it's one of the best galleries in the country, whether you're an art aficionado or not), before heading up to the cafe on level 6, where we suggest skipping the coffee but admiring the stunning city views from its terrace.

Cross Millennium Bridge, admiring the quintessential London skyline views as you go, and on the other side, it's the mighty St. Paul's Cathedral. It's time for an early dinner. Jump on the DLR to Canada Water, which plays host to Hawker House, the latest incarnation from Street Feast, an organization that can be credited with revolutionizing the London street food scene. Hawker House is a late-night indoor market in a converted warehouse, with 14 food traders and eight bars

Sunday: East London

You're spending Sunday in East London, in neighborhoods that have changed and diversified a lot in the last 10 years, with the arrival of craft coffee shops, hipster cafes, and designer fashion boutiques. There's a buzz in the air, the crowd is young, and when you pick the right places, your money can go far.

After a long lazy lie-in, drag yourself out of bed and head to Beigel Bake on Brick Lane—a real institution that, along with being a favorite among locals, draws crowds from far and wide who flock to it 24 hours a day for its impressively cheap bagels. Though its salt beef bagels are a common favorite, go for the equally delicious salmon and cream cheese combo, and you'll get change from $5.

After eating, walk down bustling Bethnal Green Road—lined with fruit and vegetable stalls and dazzling sari shops—to the V&A Museum of Childhood. Don't be fooled, this isn't a museum just for children. It's a nostalgic spot for adults, too, with all the favorite toys from your childhood on display.

Back in Shoreditch, potter along Redchurch Street, the neighborhood's chicest street, where you can window shop the likes of A.P.C, Sweaty Betty, and Aesop. Marvel at the wonderfully colorful fresh produce outside Albion Cafe, before popping into Labour & Wait, a small but perfectly formed homewares boutique, full of heritage brands, luxury stationery, and en-vogue Falcon enamelware.

It must be lunch time, and on Sunday, Brick Lane is buzzing with international food markets. Expect crowds. Take cash. Then choose from everything from dim sum, to curry, sushi, Lebanese, and Thai. You'll get an overflowing plate and change from $10.

Next, head to Columbia Road Flower Market, London's favorite, where you'll join the hoards squeezing through the stalls, handing over cash to heckling East End traders in return for giant, paper-wrapped blooms. No East London Sunday is complete without such a purchase—even if they are only spending a couple of nights in your hotel room.

Later, perhaps after dropping your flowers at your hotel, and putting your feet up for a quick half hour, it's time for a bite. Get up Google Maps for directions and hop on a bus (from $2.30) to Exmouth Market, an atmospheric street that's home pretty much entirely to restaurants. There's all sorts, from seafood restaurants to Thai, and Turkish. Our favorite—and one of the cheapest—is Pizza Pilgrims, the newest addition to the street, but one with a big cult following. Oh, let the night be merry.

—Alice Tate

Want to know more about the above? Read the full scoop here.

Broad Museum
Iwan Baan

Los Angeles

It might seem near impossible to enjoy a weekend in a major metropolitan area like Los Angeles on a budget, but it can be done—especially if you opt for public transportation or biking instead of renting a car. Here are our tips for how to do a two-day weekender in the central LA area on $25 a day. Here’s how it’s done.

Saturday: Museum Row and Koreatown

Start off your day with some of the best breakfast burritos in town at Cofax, where they stuff their tortillas with smoked potatoes, chorizo, and eggs for just $7, or go veggie for $6.50. They also do excellent drip coffee for $3.50 and espressos for $3. After strolling the Fairfax District, ride down the street to Museum Row, where you can check out the public exhibitions and sculpture gardens at LACMA and the La Brea Tar Pits park for free. Be sure to explore nearby Little Ethiopia, too.

Ride down 6th Street, or take the bus ($1.75) heading east on Wilshire to get to L.A.’s bustling Koreatown, where cheap eats abound. A personal favorite is the Koreatown Galleria, where upstairs you’ll find a food court fit for the gods. A massive bibimbap bowl at Jin Su Sung Chan easily feeds two people for $9.95, and will keep you full though the evening. Downstairs you’ll find K-beauty shops to stock up on trendy face masks and BB cream, and on the bottom floor there’s a cool restaurant supply shop where you can pick up Korean cookery at bargain prices.

Stop by happy hour at EMC Seafood for $5 well drinks and $1 oysters between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., or hit up the lobby at the newish Line Hotel for DJs and a lively vibe before the EMC happy hour starts again at 10 p.m. (You’ll learn quickly that this part of the city never sleeps.) If hunger doesn’t strike, use the remainder of your funds for a round of tunes at K-town’s most popular karaoke dive, the Brass Monkey Bar.

Sunday: Echo Park, Downtown, Little Tokyo

While there are plenty of great things on the menu at Square One at Echo Park Lake, the most budget-friendly items are the scones ($3.25), stone ground grits ($4), and steel cut oats ($5.25). Grab your breakfast and stroll around this historic park, which was originally built for drinking water in 1870, and then was transformed into a sprawling landscaped public space in 1892. It was recently shuttered for renovations, and reopened in 2013 to include new paddleboats, repaved paths, and the lake’s iconic lily pads.

Work your way toward Downtown to enjoy some of the area’s many free arts and culture offerings, like the newly minted Broad Museum. (Note: viewing the massive collection of contemporary art does require reservations, which can be booked ahead of time here.) Then, tour around architectural landmarks like the Grand Central Library and the Bradbury Building, also gratis.

If at any point you’re getting hungry, there are plenty of eats inside Grand Central Market to keep you sated; while some are a bit more expensive (part of the modernization of the markets has brought in more artisans and hipster vendors), there are some old-school vendors that offer great eats at a low cost, like Sarita’s Papuseria ($3.54 each) or Tacos Tumbras a Tomas ($2.50 each).

Mosey on over to Little Tokyo, where you can escape the pulse of the city at the hidden Koyasan Buddhist Temple and the lush James Irvine Japanese Garden oasis or window shop along 2nd Street’s boutiques from local designers. When you’re ready for a nibble, head to Spitz, which specializes in doner kebabs ($8.50), but also has killer happy hour if you’re in town on a weekday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., including $3 pints, $4 sangrias, and $1 pita and hummus. Afterwards, be sure to check in to the Blue Whale, one of the best jazz bars in L.A., where they’re known to put on performances that start at $5.

—Krista Simmons

Want to know more about the above? Read the full scoop here.

royal botanical
Getty Images

Melbourne

At the moment, $25 converts to about AU$35, and while that’s not a stack of cash, there are plenty of free and inexpensive amusements to keep the average visitor very busy when in town. A bit of cash should be preloaded onto a myki card (the prepaid ticket used on public transport), but that leaves plenty left over. Here’s how to make the most of the city on a budget-friendly weekend.

Saturday: Downtown and the Beach

Spend Saturday morning exploring the Central Business District. A lap on the free City Circle tram to will provide a sense of place, and stops at main attractions. Many of the big galleries are free, including the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), both of which are located in Federation Square.

Historic Queen Victoria Market is on the city’s northern edge and, alongside sections and shops selling souvenirs, homewares and clothing, there is an amazing fresh food section. Load up on $3 böreks (flaky pastry filled with meat and cheese), fresh fruit and jam donuts ($5.50 for 5), then take a picnic to one of the lush gardens. Carlton Gardens is a few minutes’ walk away, or a quick tram ride will deliver hungry bellies to the Royal Botanic Gardens (pictured) for lunch in the sunshine. Walk it off afterwards on The Tan, Melbourne’s popular path that circles the gardens, Kings Domain and passes along the Yarra River.

Another tram ride of about 20 minutes will deliver visitors to the bayside suburb of St Kilda for a swim at the beach. Once refreshed, stroll around Luna Park (unfortunately, the rides are probably out of the budget) and down Acland Street with its European cake shops, whose displays ensure mouths will water. On Fitzroy Street, The Banff is a popular, rustic restaurant with pasta, pizzas and other assorted dishes on the menu for less than $10.

Back in the city, get a great view at Rooftop Bar and have a drink (pints are about $10); the space also hosts an outdoor cinema in summer. Night times can be tight times for those on a budget, but Federation Square often has free movies, music or some sort of community festival on a Saturday evening.

Sunday: Music and Shopping

Sleep in on Sunday (Melburnians aren’t renowned for waking early on the weekend) before heading to Fitzroy, a popular village-style neighborhood in the inner north, where there’s the chance to wander around the shops, check out the street art, and visit the Rose Street Artists’ Market. The always-pumping Bimbo Deluxe has $4 pizzas, $4 deluxe dogs and $4.50 beers all day on Sunday. Stop in at some point to fuel up.

Melbourne is known for its live music, and there are numerous venues where bands often play for free. One of the best known is The Retreat, an old-school local pub in the nearby suburb on Brunswick. Usually the music kicks off at about 5 p.m.— sometimes in the beer garden—and on Sunday nights, starting at 7:30 p.m. there’s Soul Sunday, with Melbourne’s best soul bands and DJs. When hunger strikes, head to local Kao Thai, a cheap and cheerful restaurant, where a bowl of wonton and noodle soup costs about $9.

—Carrie Hutchinson

Want to know more about the above? Read the full scoop here.

WYNWOOD WALLS
Courtesy Wynwood Walls

Miami

Miami is not generally considered an inexpensive vacation destination, but to see the city like locals do—with its mix of funky cultural enclaves, cheap ethnic restaurants, and public art—can be surprisingly affordable. Even in Miami, the best things in life are sort of free.

Saturday: Little Havana and Wynwood

Start off the day in Little Havana with the $4.75 breakfast at El Exquisito, a hearty eye-opener with everything from Cuban toast to eggs to café con leche. Then, wander down to the Little Havana Cigar Factory to watch cigars being made: there’s nothing quite so Miami as the bracing aroma of a cigar factory.

From Little Havana, it’s a short drive to Wynwood, which has emerged as a shopping destination with thoughtful retail operations: Wynwood Letterpress, for example, carries elegant stationary, and the hybrid shop and café Made in Italy offers an assortment of Italian cheeses and cured meats. For lunch or early dinner, head to the echoes-of-the-Caribbean B&M Market (219 NE 79th St.; 305-757-2889), which has a small restaurant, is owned by natives of Guyana, and was featured on the Miami edition of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.” The restaurant is known for Roti, and a curry goat roti ($8) goes well with a Jamaican grapefruit-flavored Ting soda ($1.50).

Afterwards, head back to Little Havana for a little down time at CubaOcho Art Center. With food, drinks, murals, and caricatures of Cuban stars, the place is like stepping into old Havana. The neighborhood also has two fun dance palaces, Hoy Como Ayer and Ball & Chain, a historic (and inexpensive) bar that features acts like the Spam Allstars, Nil Lara, and Palo! For a nightcap, sip yet another café con leche at the venerable restaurant Versailles, the center of nocturnal Little Havana and heated Cuban exile political discussions.

Sunday: Art All Around

Miami is emerging as a contemporary art center, and art—free art—is everywhere. Serge Toussaint’s surreal street murals, which span from images of President Obama to the Miami Heat, are all around Little Haiti. In Wynwood, visit the “Wynwood Walls,” a park with curated street murals launched in 2009 by the late developer Tony Goldman. Don’t miss the large-scale works by Shepard Fairey, Kenny Scharf, and Ron English. For lunch, stop by the nearby S&S Diner, known for classic All-American diner fare: a cup of chili costs $4.95 and will satiate the fiercest appetite.

Afterwards, work off lunch with a visit to the Perez Art Museum Miami for the exhibition “No Boundaries: Aboriginal Australian Contemporary Abstract Painting,” on view through January. The show is drawn from the collection of Debra and Dennis Scholl. In 2016, the Scholls are mounting a new exhibition of Aboriginal Australian Contemporary art, entirely focused on female Aboriginal Australian artists. (Adult admission to PAMM is $16, though admission is free on the second Saturdays of the month and the first Thursday of the month.)

At sunset, take a whimsy-fueled stroll on the beach along Miami Beach, from South Pointe Park to 86th Street. Miami Beach’s lifeguard outposts were once featured in the book South Beach Lifeguard Stations, and have embraced themes that include The Jetsons and surfing. The lifeguard stations are the happiest public art imaginable, a fitting prelude to another multi-cultural culinary infusion on Miami Beach, El Rey Del Chivito. The Uruguayan institution features a Classic Chivito sandwich for two, with ham, beef, and a fried egg for $12.90. It’s the perfect, hearty end to an equally substantial Miami day.

—Tom Austin

Want to know more about the above? Read the full scoop here.

black seed bagels
Daniel Krieger

New York City

Who says you need to blow your budget on a trip to New York City? Sure, there are plenty of luxury hotels and splurge-worthy restaurants, but the city that never sleeps also provides plenty of free things to do, and affordable drinking and dining for budget-conscious travelers.

Saturday: Getting Immersed in New York’s Culture

For breakfast, it doesn’t get much more classic than a bagel and a cup o’ joe. It’s easy to find the combo at corner cafes and delis all over the city, but for the best, grab a ticket at Russ & Daughters, a Lower East Side institution since 1914, where a bagel and a schmear will only cost you $2.75. Or stop by Black Seed for Montreal-style wood-fired bagels and Stumptown coffee. Though their signature sandwiches (baked eggs, cheddar, and bacon, for example) range from $6 to $12, you can get a simple bagel with cream cheese for $3. Add a small coffee for $3.27 and you’ve only spent $6 and change for a filling breakfast.

While museums can be expensive to visit—we’re looking at you, MoMa—there are plenty of other ways to soak in New York’s artistic legacy. You’ll find the largest concentration of galleries in Chelsea (all free and open to the public). The major ones to hit up include Gagosian and David Zwirner for blockbuster shows by artists like Jeff Koons and Yayoi Kusama; Pace and Milk for cutting-edge contemporary art. The High Line also has temporary art installations that rotate regularly, and you can spot cool street art murals nearby.

After all that, you’ll likely be ready for a drink. At Ten Bells, a laid-back wine bar with a focus on biodynamic and sustainable wines, you can get dollar oysters and split a $15 carafe of wine with a friend during happy hour until 7 p.m. New York has no shortage of dive bars where you can get cheap drinks all the time. The Ear Inn is a no-frills historic mariners’ bar where you can choose from 13 beers on tap for $7, plus fried dumplings (6 for $8), chicken potpie ($13.50), and burgers ($11 to 16). And though it’s shockingly common to find cocktails priced at $12 to $16 around town, at the hip bar Mr. Fong’s in Chinatown, you can imbibe unfussy but creative cocktails for $9 all night long.

Still hungry? Soak up the booze with a delicious, greasy slice at one of New York’s old school pizzerias. There are family-owned spots all over the city where you can grab a satisfyingly cheesy slice for a couple of bucks.

Sunday: Exploring the Parks

This so-called concrete jungle actually has more than 1,700 parks, playgrounds, and recreational facilities and, needless to say, it doesn’t cost a dime to visit them. Beyond Central Park, local favorites include Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, Tompkins Square Park in the East Village, Riverside Park on the Upper West Side, and Prospect Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn. On weekends, the city’s parks become especially animated with street performers, locals walking their dogs, and people canoeing on the lake, playing basketball, or shopping at the greenmarkets.

Grabbing lunch at a food hall is a great way to taste dishes by some of the city’s best chefs at a fraction of the price you’d pay for a sit-down meal at their restaurants. Inside Gotham West Market, you’ll find perennially popular ramen by Ivan Orkin ($13), burgers by Michelin-starred chef Brad Farmerie at Gotham Roadside ($8.04), and tapas by Seamus Mullen at El Colmado ($5 to $17). Go to the new Urbanspace Vanderbilt behind Grand Central for local favorites like Roberta’s Pizza ($6 to $12 for small pizzas) and sweet treats by Ovenly ($2.75 to $7). Chelsea Market and Gansevoort Market provide plenty of dining options, too. In the Financial District, Brookfield Place has French food hall Le District and Hudson Eats.

Since Sundays were made for day drinking, why not take a tour of one of the city’s breweries or distilleries? Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg offers free tours on the weekends, and $5 brews in the tasting room. Nearby, the New York Distilling Company gives free tours and tastings of their excellent gins and rye whiskeys from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.

—Laura Itzkowitz

Want to know more about the above? Read the full scoop here.

Paris, France
Getty Images

Paris

In a city where public parks are plentiful, a luminous natural light is ever-present, and walking has become a pastime with its own fancy name (see: the flaneur), it's possible to experience Paris with little more than one's eyes and feet. Of course, our taste buds would get the short end of the stick if we didn't spend anything, so here's how to enjoy a Parisian weekend on $25 a day.

Saturday: Arts & Culture in Charming Montmartre

Begin by downloading the free Flash Invaders app. While it won't direct you to a Monet or point you toward a Picasso, it's a fun game to play as you stroll the city by foot, keeping an eye out for work by the famous French street artist known for stealthily installing hundreds of quirky mosaics on buildings and structures throughout the 20 arrondissements. Snap 'em as you see them, and rack up points along the way.

You'll definitely find a few in Montmartre, one of the oldest areas of the city, with its winding cobblestone streets and few remaining windmills. Educate yourself on the history of this cultural hub by paying a visit to the oft-overlooked gem of a museum, the Musée de Montmartre ($9). Inside the former home of artists like Renoir, you'll learn about other painters such as Toulouse-Lautrec and the Moulin Rouge era. It'll provide perspective for your forthcoming stroll around the "butte" (literal translation: mound), as it's called on account of its hilly landscape.

Afterwards, stop for lunch at the charming, vegetarian-friendly Soul Kitchen, where a fixed daily menu includes a choice of a hot and healthy main dish (lasagna, curry bowl, frittata, etc.) a salad and a dessert for $12.

Once you're feeling good and energized, get lost amid the streets behind Sacré-Coeur, finding the Place du Tertre where modern-day artists have their easels set up. If you can stand the crowds, make your way to the church itself and marvel at the city down below. Eventually, find your way to the famous Rue Lepic going downhill, stopping at the blue door in front of No. 54, where van Gogh once lived with his brother, Theo. Continue as the block winds to the right until it drops you off in front of the Moulin Rouge itself. Snap a few pics and take a left on the boulevard toward the trendy area called South Pigalle, once known for its seedy (and sexy) nightclubs.

Find the Rue des Martyrs, a street much adored by locals. It features various specialty food traiteurs and boutiques, where you'll spend your remaining dollars on some quality cheese and a baguette for dinner back at your room ($4). If you've got change to spare, duck in for a buttery, crusty croissant at famed patisserie Sebastian Gaudard ($3).

Sunday: Literary History and Monuments by the Seine

Start the day on Rive Gauche at Shakespeare & Company bookstore, a rickety old establishment at the banks of the Seine originally opened by American expat Sylvia Beach in 1919. The multilevel space is filled to the rafters with new hardcovers, out-of-print tomes, and nooks and crannies that reveal quotes, signatures and photos from eras long gone. Following your literary exploration, head next door for a nosh at its newly opened café, which features coffee from Paris roaster Cafe Lomi, and savory and sweet treats from Bob's Bake Shop ($8).

Next, it's time to practice the art of patience by waiting in the seemingly infinite line outside the city's most famous Gothic cathedral, the Notre Dame de Paris, just across the river. (It moves fast—plus, it's free. Only climbing to the top requires a ticket.)

After you've marveled at its gargoyles and gotten a peek at what's believed to be Jesus' Crown of Thrones, make your way onto Rive Droite, landing just in front of Hotel De Ville, the city's official town hall. Inspect its revived Renaissance facade, and see if you can spot the sculpture of mathematician Jean le Rond d'Alembert by Auguste Rodin among the dozens of other famed and stonefaced French academics.

From here, walk a few blocks north on Rue de Renard to a completely different architectural masterpiece: the Centre Pompidou. Completed in 1977, the industrial complex is home to some of the world's most famous modern art, including a massive, 25-foot-high mobile by sculptor Alexander Calder that stands out front. It's free to enter the library or take the tunnel-like escalators up to the trés chic restaurant Le Georges—just for the view, of course.

Weather depending, this might be a good time to take out one of the city's Velib rental bikes. For only $2, you can ride as many times as you'd like (in 30 minute intervals) for 24 hours, hopping on and off and docking whenever you see a station. Start with a short distance and head west toward the Galeries du Palais-Royal. Dock your bike, and then roam the beautifully manicured gardens of the former estate, home to many aristocrats.

By now, you should be ready for rest and a beverage. Hop back on the bike down Rue de Rivoli, passing the Louvre and the Jardin des Tuileries on your left. Carefully ride your way around Place de Concorde to cross over the river once more. Find a docking station and head to Rosa Bonheur sur Seine, a hip bar and snack spot on a renovated barge docked by Pont Alexandre III. Grab a table on the deck to watch the sunset while sipping a glass of wine ($4) and munching on tapas like fried goat cheese, sardines, and artichoke dip, ($3-$10).

—Sara Lieberman

Want to know more about the above? Read the full scoop here.

Portland Oregon Childrens Museum
© Andre Jenny / Alamy Stock Photo

Portland

In a city that caters to artists, students, and a steady supply of visitors, there’s plenty to do in Portland on a budget-year-round (though there’s even more in summer, when free outdoor festivals for music, art, and crafts abound). Here’s our plan for a great weekend that sticks to $25 a day per person, without scrimping on tasty food and fun experiences.

Friday: Free Museum Admission

Take the TriMet MAX Light Rail from the airport to your hotel (sorry, your room isn’t included in the $25 a day) for just $2.30. If it’s the first Friday of the month, you can gain free admission to the Portland Children’s Museum from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., and if it’s the fourth Friday of the month, stop by the Portland Art Museum for gratis admission from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. (note that admission is waived for those 17 and younger at all times).

And don’t forget that the historic trains at the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation are always free to view. For dinner, find a food truck pod and sample amazing international fare that typically costs less than $10 a person for a massive meal. One of the biggest, the Alder pod offers traditional fish and chips at the Frying Scotsman, and several pan-Asian options. Another, the Tidbit Food Farm and Garden, feels like an expansive outdoor beer garden, and is perfect for lounging.

Saturday: Market and Ride

Start the day at the Portland Farmers Market on the grassy campus of Portland State University, one of the largest and best greenmarkets in the country, running every Saturday of the year. Walk around and listen to the live music, people-watch, and sample the local meats, fruits, vegetables, cheese, and desserts. Then for a delicious $6 brunch, stop at the market’s Pine State Biscuits stand for a bacon and egg or fried chicken sandwich on a biscuit, or try the even larger pepper, onion, and Italian sausage sandwich at the Salumeria di Carlo tent.

You can burn off those delicious sandwiches by hopping on a bike. Formalized tours can be pricey, so instead rent a single-speed bike at Cycle Portland for only $5 an hour, and ride along the Springwater Corridor, a paved cycling and jogging path with great views of downtown. For dinner, eat early to save big bucks on great food and drinks—most restaurants around town have happy hour until 6 p.m. with specials on both. One of the best deals is at upscale Clarklewis, where happy hour runs from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Saturdays, and includes $5 for a martini or luxe macaroni ‘n’ cheese with fennel sausage, roasted garlic, and parmesan.

Sunday: Ultimate Fun Day

Work up an appetite hiking the scenic Pittock Mansion in Forest Park. Though it’ll cost you to go into the historic home, it’s free to take in its lush gardens and panoramic views of the city (and on a clear day, Mt. Hood). If the weather isn’t cooperating, hang out with a good book and warm up in the original Stumptown Coffee Roasters shop on SE Division and 45th, where a steaming cuppa can set you back less than $3.

Speaking of books, you can browse the aisles of Powell’s Books, the largest independent bookstore in the country. When you get hungry again, hit another happy hour. Locals love the one at Clyde Common, inside the Ace Hotel, which runs from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends, offering $4 beer and $6 cocktails (like the Bittersweet Symphony, with Aperol, gin, Punt e Mes, and lemon peel), plus hefty meal options for just $8 each (mussels, french fries, and chorizo butter; kielbasa; a burger with bacon jam).

—Sarah Z. Wexler

Want to know more about the above? Read the full scoop here.

San Francisco mural wall
San Francisco Travel Association/Scott Chernis

San Francisco

Ignore those depressing headlines about how expensive San Francisco has become (both for renters and travelers)—there’s still plenty to do on a budget in this constantly evolving city. By sticking to one neighborhood each day, you’ll save on transportation costs and allow yourself more time to dive into the city’s nooks and crannies. Here’s how to do it all without shortchanging your experience.

Friday: China Town

You’ll find some of San Francisco’s most colorful and affordable dive bars in China Town. Li Po is the most famous of the bunch, named after a great poet of the Tang Dynasty. It opened in the post-prohibition bar boom of the 1930s and hasn’t changed much since (it has the worn red leather booths and tattered Chinese lanterns to prove it). The oddball vibe sets the mood for their notorious lethal Chinese Mai Tai: dark and light rum, Bacardi 151, Chinese liqueur and pineapple juice for $9, which is pretty cheap considering it has the strength of four drinks in one.

Head around the corner to Z&Y, a Chinese restaurant frequented by every spicy food fan from locals to President Obama. Their atomic Szechuan-style crispy chicken ($8.95) is a local favorite, and served in a traditional Chinese restaurant setting (think groups at large round tables with a massive Lazy Susan in the middle).

Brave souls can cap off the evening at Bow Bow Cocktail Lounge, the tiniest, grittiest, and liveliest karaoke dive in the city, with an immortalized bartender who goes by the name Mama Candy.

Saturday: Cruising the Embarcadero

Rise early and book it down the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, open Saturdays year-round from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. More than 120 vendors crop up, selling anything from fresh-baked kouign-amanns to heirloom dragon tongue beans. Most Saturdays, CUESA hosts free seasonal cooking demonstrations (with tastings) at their post in front of the entrance.

As a general rule of thumb, stick to the southern end of the Embarcadero pedestrian promenade to avoid the row of overpriced tourist traps that comprise the north end (Fisherman’s Wharf; Pier 39). Make a slight exception to hit The Exploratorium a few steps south. While general entrance is a pricey $29 a pop, check their calendar for the occasional free day. Otherwise, you can check out their thought-provoking outdoor installations gratis.

Nearby, head to Waterbar, which has an oyster happy hour for $1.05 per shuck, from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Make a pits top at the Instagram-worthy Cupid’s Span—a giant bow and arrow sculpture puncturing the Rincon Park grass. Continue down to Red’s Java House, a historic waterfront dive where you can score a hefty sourdough cheeseburger for $5.52. Work it off with a bike rental at neighboring Bike Hut $6 per hour ($3 per hour for kids’ bikes).

Sunday: Culture in the Mission

In the morning, fuel up with a cup of drip coffee from one of The Mission’s scene-y third-wave coffee houses, like Ritual Coffee Roasters (from $4 per cup). Nurse it from the succulent-clad curbside parklet, the perfect perch to watch the Mission awaken.

Do as the locals and swing by Bi-Rite market for a bottle of bubbly under $12, then head to Dolores Park. Really, they should charge for seating here because the people-watching is better than a movie. Dolores is the confluence of the city’s archetypes—flannel-clad hipsters, Google Glass-eyed techies, vendors pushing popsicle carts, shirtless bros in pastel polos tossing around a game of ladder golf.

When you’ve had enough of the show, walk to La Taqueria, where you can score one of the best tacos in the city starting at $2.10 (though you’ll probably want more than one). The Mission is saturated in murals. Spend the afternoon strolling Balmy and Clarion Alley and the 24th street corridor until the sun begins to set.

—Jenna Scatena

Want to know more about the above? Read the full scoop here.

Shanghai for $25 a day
Courtesy Big Bus Tours

Shanghai

The fantastic thing about Shanghai is that public transit is cheap and convenient, and many of the main attractions are in the city center, within easy walking distance of each other. A $25 a day budget may not sound like a lot, but you can have a fun, delicious time by living like a local

Saturday: Lay of the Land

Kick the day off with a jianbing, a savory breakfast crepe (which costs about $0.50). Found street-side throughout town, it's made from corn, soya bean and wheat, covered with scrambled egg, cilantro, green onion, and pickled mustard tubers, before sweet soya bean paste and a deep fried wonton skin is added. Served in a plastic bag, this is an excellent snack to warm cold hands while on the move.

Flag down an open-top, double-decker from Big Bus Tours for 24 hours of unlimited travel on their red, blue, and green routes ($15). Tickets can be bought at their bus stops, which run from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. in the winter, or 8 p.m. in the summer.

Begin at Nanjing Road, and take the red route to get a feel for the city. It's possible to hop off at popular People's Park, the shopping mecca of Nanjing East Road and the historic Bund, to get lost in the rabble of local Shanghainese enjoying their weekend.

Walking along Shanghai's food-lined streets certainly whets the appetite. Get off the bus at Yu Garden to enjoy authentic Shanghai xiaolongbao, (soup dumplings; $2). If it's the right season (October to December), upgrade to the hairy crab variety—these are not to be missed.

After lunch, switch to the green route, the temple tour, to visit the Jing'an and Jade Buddha temples (admiring them from the outside is free; but entry costs $8 and $3, respectively). Both Buddhist places of worship give guests an alternative view to the modern, materialistic shopping centers in the city.

Before the sun begins to set, switch to the final blue route, the Pudong tour, to cross the Huangpu River and take in 360 degree views of the iconic Lujiazui skyscrapers. Get off the bus at the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, and do a lap of the elevated pedestrian ring road at the center of the financial district.

End the bus tour back at the Bund, and wait for the city's iconic buildings to light up on both sides of the waterfront as the sun sets on the city. Take a slow stroll back up Nanjing East Road toward People's Square. Join the large gathering of synchronized, dancing grannies hitting every note that blares out from their stereo system in the pedestrianized zone (free).

For dinner, find a busy shaokao (barbeque) stand on one of the side streets. Stick to steamed bread and vegetables to ease the stomach into the local lifestyle, and enjoy the peppery and cumin spices shaken over the chargrilled treats ($2). End the evening by grabbing a Tsingtao beer from a local convenience store. Enjoy this roadie because hey, this is China after all, and it's okay here ($0.50).

Sunday: Viewing the Sites

After calculating the previous day's expenditure, last night's beer may seem a little excessive. Drown these worries in soya milk and a breakfast of youtiao (deep-fried breadstick), easily found around town—the breakfast of champions ($0.50).

Ride the metro to Qibao, an ancient water town on the outskirts of the city ($1.50). Pose for photographs against a backdrop of Song, Ming, and Qing Dynasty architecture. If you get hungry, sample traditional snacks such as mooncakes and stinky tofu—it tastes better than it smells ($1.50).

Take the metro back to People's Square and find the marriage market at the center of People's Park. Browse photos of the city's fine, young, single men and women, which are flaunted by worried parents in a desperate attempt to facilitate a grandchild. Visit the English Corner nearby, and watch as attendees clamor to practice their English skills on foreign visitors. After, amble toward the Shanghai Museum in People's Square for free entry and to view their collection of more than 140,000 precious Chinese relics.

As the museum closes its doors, head for any one of the city's many hole-in-the-wall Xinjiang restaurants for fresh, hand-pulled noodles ($1.50). Watch as a sinewy chef magically works the dough into thin, uniformed noodles, before quickly boiling them in a pan and adding them to a rich soup broth. Then enjoy.

—Nyima Pratten

Want to know more about the above? Read the full scoop here.

Vancouver, BC, Canada Space Centre
Getty Images

Vancouver

Vancouver can be an expensive city, but there are ways to keep daily expenses low. The big advantage for Americans is the favorable exchange rate. One Canadian dollar equals $0.75, which makes it seem like you get a 25 percent discount on anything you buy. Here's our plan for spending a weekend there without breaking the bank.

Saturday: Whirlwind Overview

Fuel up for your day at Tim Hortons, the ubiquitous Canadian fast-food cafe. The coffee is strong ($1.47 for a large) and the breakfast options substantial, such as the Bagel B.E.L.T. with bacon, egg, lettuce, tomato, and cheese ($2.86). Once you've got your energy going, the Stanley Park Seawall is a must for its incredible views of the city's natural beauty, and access is free. You can walk, run, or bike the roughly 5.5 mile paved trail, which follows the water and offers vistas of the mountains, trees, and dramatic rock formations.

Come lunchtime, Meat & Bread in Gastown is a foodie sandwich shop with an enthusiastic following. You can sit in the industrial-chic dining space and enjoy a porchetta sandwich ($7) at the communal table or bar counter. Afterwards, head to Chinatown: The first big wave of Chinese immigrants into Vancouver settled into Shanghai and Canton Alleys between 1890 and 1920. Today, the Chinese make up a high percentage of the city's population. You can explore the cradle of this ethnic group in Chinatown and browse through exotic markets and stores.

Asian cuisines are big in Vancouver, so for dinner, grab a seat at Marutama Ra-Men, which specalizes in the chicken broth-based noodle soup. This is a popular spot in the West End, so get there early to avoid the line out the door, and try the original Marutama Ra-Men for $7.

There's still time to sight-see in the evening. H.R. MacMillan Space Centre charges an entrance fee, but you can visit the Observatory next door for free (or choose to give a donation) from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Saturdays. You can look at the stars up close via a half-meter Cassegrain telescope and ask questions of the knowledgeable staff.

Sunday: The Great Outdoors

Ease into the day at JJ Bean, a local, family-owned coffee roasting company with several popular café locations around Vancouver. You can get a large coffee for $2 and a breakfast chorizo wrap for $5.50. To save on lunch, grab a ready-to-eat meal for less than $8 at a Safeway downtown—they offer a wide variety of options, from fresh-fish sushi to fried chicken—then make your way to Lynn Canyon, a free park about a half-hour drive, or an hour bus ride, from downtown. You can marvel at rushing water below while standing on the suspension bridge and hike through trails along pine-scented forest and a tranquil lake, then settle down for lunch in the park.

Later in the day, the Granville Island Public Market is worth a stroll for culinary inspiration. There are beautiful local, artisanal, and handcrafted items on display, such as cured meats, specialty cheeses, and baked goods. Make your way to Canada Place, a landmark in Coal Harbour with lovely panoramic views of the water and mountains. You can watch the boats, rowers, and sea planes go by.

In the evening, get a taste of authentic Cantonese cuisine at Hon's Wun-Tun House, a cafeteria-style eatery on busy Robson Street. You can order a dish of 12 pork, beef, chicken, or vegetable potstickers that are fried, steamed, or in soup for $5.

—Aileen Torres-Bennett

Want to know more about the above? Read the full scoop here.

More from T+L
 
Advertisement
Advertisement