RECESSION SPECIAL

Expensive Cities on the Cheap

Strategies for navigating notoriously pricey cities like Honolulu, London, New York, and Tokyo, along with unique experiences in each that won't cost you a penny.

Big Ben and the London skyline
Big Ben and the London skyline (Goodshoot/Corbis)
The foot of Powell Street in San Francisco is a downtown transportation hub (Phil Coblentz/San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau)

LONDON
At about $5 for a pint and $8 for a single Tube ride, that London pub crawl is going to cost you. But London does have a better choice of hotels in all ranges than most other European capitals, and most of its fantastic museums are always free.

To find other bargains, go to the Budget section of Visit London for an exhaustive rundown of free attractions and performances, cheap eats, and inexpensive hotels. If you're only going to be in London a short time and plan on buying theater tickets, you can save a small fortune by booking a Theater Breaks package with tickets and a hotel stay. Be sure to get an Oyster card if you'll be using the Tube regularly; it cuts the ticket price down to a more bearable level.

Freebie Join a BBC show audience by reserving tickets for a TV-show taping—perhaps trivia with Brain of Britain or comedy with Grown Ups. Choose from a schedule of upcoming sessions and come ready to laugh or clap.

TOKYO
You know you're in trouble when half of the "affordable tips" section of Tokyo's website is devoted to ways to get from the airport to the city for under $40.

To find an affordable meal, eat at noodle stalls for under $10, or explore the unique Japanese culinary stop: the department store basement. Seibu Department Store in the Ikebukuro area is a destination in itself, with two giant underground floors of food stalls extending several city blocks. The prim uniformed greeters bow as you enter.

Book a free walking tour of the Shinjuku commercial avenue through the tourist office and you'll get the lay of the land from English-speaking volunteers.

Freebie Gape at the neon city below from the 45th-floor observatory of the Tokyo government skyscraper. For only-in-Tokyo views of another sort, stroll through the Tokyo Central Wholesale Market, otherwise known as the Tsukiji fish market. By either name it's the world's largest, with 1,400 stalls selling everything that moves in the ocean,as well as active auctions from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m.

NYC
New York City gets a bad rap mostly because of its sky-high hotel prices. But beyond hotel doors, NYC is teeming with cheap or free events and attractions all year long.

If you're around in the summer, look for free outdoor concerts in Bryant Park or during Central Park's SummerStage series. On Saturdays between 10 a.m. and noon and on Wednesdays, you don't pay to enter The New York Botanical Garden. Every day is free at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Museum at the Hispanic Society, and the National Museum of the American Indian, the latter housed in the beautiful original Custom House building.

One silver lining in the recent economic meltdown is that prices are leveling off and even falling a bit at many New York hotels. If you don't see a deal, try Hotwire and Priceline, where unbooked rooms go for a sizable discount. Also check BT's recommendations: New York Hotels at a Price That's Right.

Freebie Get a good look at the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline by taking a free cruise on the Staten Island Ferry. Join the commuters at dusk to watch the skyscrapers change as the sun goes down. There are also views of the Statue of Liberty from the Ikea Water Taxi, which makes the trip between Manhattan and Ikea's new location in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Tip: On the way there, sit on the starboard/right side as you're facing forward—and leave time to sample Ikea's take on Swedish meatballs.

MOSCOW
Expensive restaurants, pumped-up prices for foreigners at museums, and forgettable hotel rooms that can easily top $500 a night—what's not to like?

Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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