How to Save on Sightseeing

Meghan Coyle
By Meghan Coyle 
Edited by Mary M. Flory

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

You didn’t come halfway across the world to find that the most famous attractions at your destination will cost more money than you planned on spending for your entire trip. Do you walk away from the ticket counter and try to settle for the fact that you were there? Do you fall into an obvious tourist trap, or can you Indiana Jones your way to a more affordable route to sightseeing?

We have seven tips for visiting your next destination’s most famous landmarks without maxing out your travel rewards card. See how you can see the sights and save.

1. Check for free admission days

The first thing you should do when planning your itinerary is to see if the attractions you want to visit have free admission days. Some museums offer free or discounted entries on weekdays or during the evenings. For example, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City is free on Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m. If the free days don’t work for your schedule, don’t forget to look up other discounts you might be eligible for, like special prices for students or guests of nearby hotels.

2. Take a hike instead of a cable car

Going to the summit? By giving yourself some more time, you might be able to save money if you forgo the cable car or escalator to some high lookout and take the long way up instead. Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa, is a prime example. You could opt to take the five-minute cable car ride to the peak for $28 per person, or you could spend the day exploring the park’s more than 350 trails to the top, many of which are free. The hiking option gives you more time to appreciate the views and the natural habitats of the mountain, and work off some calories from all of that vacation eating!

Some attractions might also offer some combination of getting to the summit by foot and by moving vehicle. Take the famous Eiffel Tower looming over Paris. Going to the top by elevator will cost you about $28, while climbing the stairs to the second floor and then taking the lift the rest of the way up will put you back about $22. The savings might be just enough for a celebratory baguette after your climb.

3. Ride a ferry

Similarly, instead of shelling out money for a boat tour, board a ferry with the locals to get views of the city from the water. A ferry in Sydney Harbour, for example, usually costs about $4 to $6. That’s a lot cheaper than the boat tours will charge you for the same views of the famous Opera House or Sydney Harbour Bridge. Not to mention, you’ll get to explore a different neighborhood when you get off the ferry. Another benefit to taking a ferry is that spending with boat operators, unlike tour operators, is often categorized as a “travel” purchase for certain travel rewards cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, meaning cardholders could earn double the points.

4. Buy a city pass

If you’re planning to see most of the sights of a city, it might be worth it to buy a city pass to bundle the savings on admission fees to multiple attractions. New York, London, Rome, and many other destinations offer city passes like these. Some even offer skip-the-line perks that save you from waiting to enter.

5. See it all with hop-on, hop-off tours

Hop-on, hop-off tours are a great way to save for the most ambitious travelers with the stamina to cram in multiple tourist attractions in one or two days. You’ll want to look for a tour operator with frequent buses so that you won’t spend a lot of time waiting to catch your ride to the next stop. A good strategy is to get up early to start your sightseeing and utilize the transportation to attractions that might be a little harder to get to or a bit farther from the city’s main tourist areas. Some hop-on, hop-off tours are included with city passes or come with discounts or fast-track admission to attractions, so look for packages that can combine the savings.

6. Take it slow with a local walking tour

If you want to sightsee at a slower speed, consider finding a walking tour. These are often free, tip-based or low cost and can give you more of a local feel of the city. The Global Greeter Network can connect you with local residents who want to show you around for free. You can also search on Meetup, Viator, TripAdvisor or Airbnb Experiences for other walking tours. Of course, a good old Google search might yield some affordable results as well.

7. Splurge on a guided tour

Guided tours are the priciest sightseeing option, but they are cost-effective for certain sightseeing trips. Attractions like the Great Wall of China are the easiest to access through a guided tour because they are hard to reach from the city by public transportation. Look for tour operators that can pick you up from your hotel, get you skip-the-line privileges at the attractions, and allow you to spend the most time at the major landmarks. Take advantage of having a guide and find out what knowledge they have to make your sightseeing experience even richer.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:

Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.