The #1 Free Thing to Do in Your Study Abroad Host City Is…

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IES Abroad
August 27, 2018

We asked IES Abroad Ambassadors, recent alumni who volunteer to share their study abroad expertise, about the best free things to do in their study abroad host city.

So, what was the number one free thing most all of our Ambassadors suggested?


Yes, explore in a leisurely, casual, or aimless way all through your host city, and soak it all in.

There are definitely benefits to planning ahead for things such as a free day at the Louis Vuitton Foundation’s art galleries or finally visiting that must-see UNESCO World Heritage Site on your bucket list. But, often, some of the best memories are made when you stumble across something new and unexpected.

These 12 Ambassadors shared their favorite free places to wander while studying abroad:

amsterdam canal

In Amsterdam

“Honestly, just wandering around the city by bike or by foot was my favorite free things to do. The canals and houses are just so beautiful, and there's always something new to look at. I also loved hanging out in the city's parks.”
- Mikaela S. (IES Abroad Amsterdam | Purdue University)

a photo of barcelona cathedral

In Barcelona

“I loved walking around the Gothic Quarter (Barrio Gotico). It's such a beautiful part of the city filled with history and culture. Not only does it have ruins from the ancient Roman city of Barcino, but it's also infused with modern Catalan culture through shops and art. The Gothic Quarter also has the cathedral, which is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city.”
- Sophia B. (IES Abroad Barcelona | University of Wisconsin – Madison)

“All the signs in larger cities in Spain are written in English as well as Spanish (and sometimes Catalan), so navigating street signs and public transportation is quite straightforward. The first thing I did in Barcelona was wander around the main downtown area to get my bearings. Wandering often leads to the best discoveries…I would always venture up to the top of Bunkers del Carmel with friends to watch the sunset.”
- Isabella C. (IES Abroad Barcelona | University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill)

sunny dublin with people sitting on the grass in the park

In Dublin

“Taking a day to spend outside at Phoenix Park or St. Stephen's Green are really fun ways to get in touch with nature within the city limits. Dublin also has an abundance of free museums to offer such as the Trinity College Science Gallery, National Gallery of Ireland, and the National Museum of Ireland.”
- MollyMaeve L. (IES Abroad Dublin | University of Iowa)

Galapagos Islands - Pup on Beach

In the Galápagos Islands

“Definitely visit the beaches and hike around the island. Walking the malecon (pier) is always a fun time!”
- Naomi T. (IES Abroad Galápagos Islands | Colorado College)

granada - view from san miguel alto

In Granada

“One of my favorite things to do for free in Granada was climb up to San Miguel Alto and bask in the amazing view of the city from that high vantage point. Although you definitely need a guide to bring you there the first time, as the way to get there winds through the narrow streets of the Albaicín, once you've been brought to the church on the hill one time it isn't too hard to find your way back. From the hill at San Miguel Alto, you get an incredible view of all of Granada and the Alhambra.”
- Hayley S. (IES Abroad Granada | Connecticut College)

a guy looking at the view from the skyscraper

In London

“One of my favorite things to do in London was just walk around and see everything. I would say the Sky Garden is definitely worth a visit because, one, it's free, and two, the views are absolutely amazing! There's a 360-degree view of London from this skyscraper and you can see most of the major landmarks in the city.”
- Megan N. (IES Abroad London | University of Rochester)

trees in the parque del buen in madrid

In Madrid

“One of the best free things to do in Madrid is to visit one of the many beautiful parks! My favorite to visit was Parque del Buen Retiro. It's one of the largest parks in Spain and is so incredibly vast and wonderful to explore…I had a really fun time immersing myself in the park, and getting lost in the beauty and wonderment of Spain's culture through their public parks.”
- Brianna B. (IES Abroad Madrid | University of Redlands)

Rome - Villa doria Pamphili

In Rome

“I would highly recommend exploring Villa Doria Pamphilj. The beautiful villa is surrounded by a large park and garden.”
- Sarah Cervini (IES Abroad Rome | Fordham University)

Santiago - Cerro San Cristobal a view of the sky and mountains

In Santiago

“Go for a hike! Santiago is located between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes. The land around the city is gorgeous. You can take your pick of hiking up Cerro San Cristobal or venturing farther out of the city to the true Andes. Hiking offers you an escape from the noise of the city and provides you with time to reflect on your study abroad experience.”
- Collin T. (IES Abroad Santiago | Hope College)

Siena - view from Medici Fortress

In Siena

“Walk out to the Medici Fortress (la fortezza) with friends. If you want, you can bring food and enjoy a picnic out there. Big trees provide shade if you go around mid-day, and there are plenty of benches to sit on, or simply go to enjoy the view. From the fortress, you have one of the best views of the whole city! From Piazza del Campo (the city center) it takes roughly 15 minutes walking to reach the fortress, which makes it the perfect small excursion just outside the heart of town.”
- Alexis W. (IES Abroad Siena | University of Washington)

Vienna - Schonbrunn Palace

In Vienna

 “The best free thing to do Vienna is to explore the various districts and the outer surroundings of the city. It is such a diverse and beautiful city rich with history and a surprising amount of nature, too. Some of my favorite places are: Schönbrunn Palace (bring a picnic and enjoy the views at the top of the gardens!); the Brunnenmarkt, a heavily Turkish-influenced outdoor market (less touristy and cheaper than the Naschmarkt); and Steinhofgründe, which is a beautiful park on the outskirts of town with views of the mountains and plenty of space to relax and soak in some quiet time outdoors. You definitely don’t need to spend money to enjoy living in Vienna! Explore as much as you can!”
- Allie J. (IES Abroad Vienna | Texas Christian University)

Grab a buddy, pick a starting point, and start exploring, or wandering! Not sure where to start? Our dedicated local staff at each of our Centers are experts on where you’re living. They are always willing to offer suggestions of fun, safe, and best kept secrets of your host city to explore.

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