Thursday, 2 August 2007

Sightseeing for free

The cost of sightseeing can soon add up if you're visiting museums and historic sites. For instance in Seville, add together the cathedral, the Alcazar, and a couple of the other museums and houses, and you can easily have spent twenty euros before you realise.

But some of the best sights are free. Or they're sometimes free.

* The Great Mosque of Cordoba only costs money to visit after ten o'clock in the morning, when the crowds arrive. Turn up at 8.30 instead of having a lie-in, and you'll not only miss the crowds,  you'll get in for free. And no one actually came to turf me out at ten o'clock, either.

* The Escorial is free to EU citizens (remember to take your ID or passport) on Wednesdays. (And also, apparently, to citizens of Latin American countries.) However, this only covers the areas you can visit freely - apparently, not the Royal mausoleum.

* Many museums in Italy and France have one free day a week, sometimes one a month. Some have free evening opening.  For instance the basilica of Saint-Denis is free on the first Sunday of each month (with some exceptions) as is the Louvre. (The Louvre does have massive crowds that day, though.) In Cordoba, the Alcazar and Arab baths are free on Friday.
* Watch out for events like 'La Nuit des Musees' and the UK heritage open days. These are often not just an opportunity to save some money - there are special exhibitions, and some areas may be on view that aren't usually open to the public.

* Look out for free museums like the Archaeological museum in Granada. Unfortunately the exhibits are only labelled in Spanish but even without being able to read the information, you'll be amazed by some of the finds on show.  Often, the museums that are free are specialised or quirky little places, and a nice antidote to the showiness and cultural weight of the 'must see' sights.

* In Paris, the city run museums are free, thanks to Mayor Delanoe.

* Cathedrals are not always free. But if you go to a service, though you won't be free to wander round, you'll get to see the architecture and experience the building in the way it was meant to be experienced - as part of an act of worship rather than a guided tour. If you visit one of the major English cathedrals, or one of the Oxford or Cambridge colleges with a fine choir, you'll also get to hear some excellent music (but not on Monday which is usually the choir's day off; and for the colleges, not during school holidays).

Not that I am always a cheapskate. I don't mind shelling out ten euros for the Alhambra; it's a wonderful place, quite unlike anywhere else on earth. (Though for free, you get an isolated taste of Arab splendour if you take time to find the Cuarto Real de Santo Domingo, down below in the modern city of Granada; a fine qubba that you can have entirely to yourself most mornings and afternoons.) And quite often, I'll visit a cathedral one day for tourism, and then come back the next day for matins or evensong, to get a different feeling for it. But saving a bit of money from time to time can be useful, if there's not that much to go round.

And at least when the entrance ticket is free, and you're not enjoying your visit, you don't get that "I-paid-eight-euros-for-this-ticket-and-I'm-damn-well-going-to-stay-here-

two-hours-even-if-I-hate-it" feeling. You can just find the exit door, and do something else!

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