Every year, human resources consulting firm Mercer conducts a survey to determine the world’s most expensive cities to live in. Many times this means that these same destinations are pricey for travelers, translating to steep hotel rates and costly meals. This year’s Cost of Living Survey — which tallies up factors like currency fluctuations and cost of inflation for goods and services — finds Hong Kong to be the most expensive, followed by Luanda, Angola; Zürich, Switzerland; Singapore; and Tokyo, Japan. No worries if these places are on your must-do list, though: We’ve got you covered with some of these destinations’ free and nearly free activities.
1. Hong Kong
In a destination where a cup of coffee will set you back nearly $8, is it any surprise that Hong Kong topped this list? Java aside, affordable street food is in abundance; you can grab dinner (like deep-fried squid or claypot hot-pot rice) from a stall at the Temple Street Night Market, which is free to enter. By day, take in the sights and aromas at the Flower Market, or pop into the antique shops and galleries along Hollywood Road. Victoria Peak Garden, home to several walking trails, also costs nothing to visit.
2. Luanda, Angola
As Angola’s largest city and one that sits seaside, the beach — particularly Mussulo Island, with its white sand and calm water — can’t be missed. For architecture buffs, there’s the Palácio de Ferro with its intricate ironwork; the building is believed to be designed by Gustave Eiffel, architect of the Eiffel Tower, but others believe that it is the brainchild of one of his students. You’ll also pay nothing to explore Museum Nacional de Antropologia, which just celebrated its 40th year. The building beholds several thousand artifacts that depict Angola’s rich culture.
3. Zürich, Switzerland
No need to blow all of your money on chocolate and watches in this charming city. Can we recommend something cultural, instead? There are several free-to-visit museums, including the MoneyMuseum (showcasing the importance and different forms of currency) and the University of Zürich’s Zoological Museum, where guests can learn about more than 1,500 animals. Admission at Langenberg Wildlife Park is gratis, too, and it’s where you can observe animals native to the country.
The world’s only island city-state claims Singapore Botanic Gardens, which boasts the largest orchid display in the world, as well as areas for picnics and jogging — all at no cost to you. Singapore is also where you can get your hands on cheap, yet tasty street food; look for barbecued meats, including jerky-like bakkwa on New Bridge Road. When you’re full, duck into Thian Hock Keng Temple and Sri Mariamman Temple, which is Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple.
5. Tokyo, Japan
Sure, Tokyo’s got its expensive side but it has one of the world’s best fish markets to wander through at no cost. There, you’re guaranteed fabulous, almost-free eats. The Tsukiji Fish Market, for example, dishes out fresh dishes for as little as $2. And you can’t forget about the city’s ramen scene where you can slurp a serving for just $8; we enjoy Chuka Soba Inoue, a stall just outside of the fish market.