Travel Like a Local: Be a $5 Culture Vulture

Featured, Local Insight — By Alex Resnik on October 19, 2010 at 6:00 am

Travelling is expensive. We know this, and we feel your pain. That’s why, for this week’s Local Expert Challenge, we asked our eyes and ears on the ground to tell us about cultural attractions in their destinations that a) had an entrance fee under $5 and b) were not free. Needless to say, they struggled. And we kind of liked watching them squirm.

But what we got was a schooling in the economic situation of some of the world’s top destinations, and a surprisingly diverse list of things to do as a tourist for under $5.

The Best $5 You’ll Ever Spend

Click through to view our Local Experts’ full blog posts, including more details on things to do, tips for doing them yourself (for under $5, of course), and ideas for what to do with the extra change. Many of our experts have also included ways to splurge, if you feel like spending a little more than a fiver.

Erin in London

$5 equates to a whopping £3.15. Hardly enough for round-trip bus fare in town. Now, London does do free very well: museums, parks, street entertainment, exhibits and walks. But when we’re talking attractions such as the Tower of London or Buckingham Palace the entrance fees soar towards the £20 ($30) mark.

For £3.00 (only £1.00 for children), I suggest climbing The Monument. It’s not just about the spectacular panoramic view of London once you’ve huffed up the 311 spiral steps; it’s about why it’s there in the first place. Built by Sir Christopher Wren (the same chap who built St. Paul’s and Buckingham Palace), The Monument was erected in 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire of London of 1666, which wiped out over 13,000 houses and structures. The Doric column stands 202 feet tall, with a giant bronze orb and flame at the top.

Brie in Portland

Portland is not the most expensive city, but $5.00 doesn’t go as far as it used to. It will buy you some tasty fare at one of the city’s many food carts, a decaf soy mocha at Stumptown Coffee (including tip), a bean and cheese burrito at Laughing Planet or a day pass on the city’s bus and light rail system.

Portland is appropriately named. It sits at the nexus of the Columbia and Willamette rivers and has a rich maritime history. The steamer Portland is the last operating steam-powered sternwheel tug boat in the United States, and the current home of the Oregon Maritime Museum. The main attraction is the Portland herself – well worth the $5 admission.

Jess in Boulder

Rarely are cultural activities in Boulder less than $5, but not free. To extract the best cultural experience out of your $5, have a pot of tea at the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse.

The Teahouse was given to Boulder by our sister city of Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Built between 1987 and 1990, more than 40 artisans from cities across Tajikistan created the elaborate, creative elements of the Teahouse, including its beautiful hand-carved and hand-painted ceilings, columns, and ceramic panels. In Central Asia, teahouses serve as gathering places where friends meet to talk or play chess over a cup of tea, and the Teahouse is a wonderful place to do either of these things. (Yes, chessboards are available for you.)

Kevin in Bangkok

$5 (USD) is roughly 150 baht. Depending on your point of view, that could be a nice little pocketful of cash. This will almost get you into a Hollywood new release at a modern, swanky cinema, or it could get you 3-4 dishes at a streetside food cart. It’s a pretty reasonable price for a museum or important site.

Bangkok has become a sprawling metropolis: a hodge-podge of soaring, stylish high-rises, modern malls and open-air markets, and labyrinthine neighborhoods of concrete slum tenements. But it wasn’t so long ago that it was dominated by canals with simple homes along their lengths. One shouldn’t leave the city without visiting a traditional wooden Thai house, and hearing the story of a foreigner who revived the Thai silk industry. Jim Thompson gathered six Thai-style homes on a plot of land along the Klong (Canal) Maha Nag (now Klong Saen Saeb). Admission is only 100 baht, so that leaves you 50 baht more.

Sanjay in New Delhi

What do you get in New Delhi for $5? Pretty much everything if you are watching a Bollywood blockbuster.

For a ticket price of around Rs.250 (roughly $5) you get three hours of unadulterated song, dance, action, emotion, and romance all packaged together in one thrilling ride. Catching a movie in New Delhi is pretty easy. Almost every mall has a multiplex with a mix of popular movies running.

Susan in Cancun

While the value of the dollar is strong in Mexico (1 dollar = 12.6 pesos at today’s exchange rate), many prices are inflated in Cancun, simply because it is a major tourist destination. You can easily spend $300 pesos, or more, per entrée in some of the nicer restaurants in Cancun’s hotel zone.

El Meco was a small, but important, village when it was occupied in the 10th or 11th century.  From around 1000AD-1100AD, it was a major commercial port for the Mayas and remained so until the Spaniards arrived on the Yucatan Peninsula around the 16th century. Due to its proximity to the island of Isla Mujeres, it was a departure point for Mayans sailing to the island. It was also a major religious center. Admission is under $5 USD for all of the archaeological sites of Mayan ruins in the state of Quintana Roo.

Gyongi in Budapest

Anything under 1000 HUF (that is $4.99 according to the current exchange rate) can be considered a real bargain when it comes to cultural events and things to do in Budapest, especially when even a simple trip to the cinema costs 1200 HUF.

The Opera for a fiver? Come on! The Opera House is considered to be one of the most beautiful buildings in Budapest both inside and out, and is internationally renowned as one of the best sounding opera houses in Central Europe. For a shocking 500 HUF, not only do you get to see the gorgeous interior decor, but you can experience (even if not from the best seat) a world-class opera performance.

Jane in Copenhagen

Trust me, in Copenhagen, $5 is cheap. At current exchange rates, this will get you just under DKK 30. While many museums are free or offer free days, the average ticket to – for example – Rosenborg Palace is DKK 75.

The Round Tower is one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Copenhagen, and the oldest functioning observatory in Europe. Walk up a 209-meter-long spiral ramp that twists around the tower an entire seven and a half times, and you’ll be met with a fantastic view of the city.

Marianne in Singapore

Anyone who has visited Singapore knows that it’s an expensive city – one of the 10 most expensive cities in the world, in fact. There must be few places on Earth that charge an average of USD$11 a beer, and it’s easy to blow more than $200 on a quiet mid-week dinner for two.

The National Orchid Garden boasts the largest display of tropical orchids in the world. There are over 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids to admire, and they are all cultivated on site. The collection is presented in a beautifully landscaped area, with easy access through wide open paths, seating areas, waterfalls, and shaded pagodas. In short, it is a breathtaking collection of the most beautiful flowers on Earth.

Judy in Jerusalem

Even with the dollar sinking rapidly against the shekel–current rate is around 3.60NIS to the $–finding the best cultural activity in Jerusalem for $5 is not so difficult.

The best $5 you’ll ever spend is at the Herodian Quarter, Wohl Museum of Archaeology in the Old City. Some of the most opulent mansions from the Upper City of the Second Temple period are here.  We’re talking about the period just prior to 70 AD when the Romans destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem. The period of Herod and Jesus.

You’ll walk through three distinct levels, where you’ll see magnificent frescoes, beautiful geometric-patterned mosaic floors, and even the glassware and ceramics the wealthy families used in their day-to-day lives.

Lauren in Beijing

$5 in Beijing can get you a lot of food — and not sub-par food, either. But spending $5 on a cultural experience that you’ll remember the rest of your life and will be able to bring up at every “have you ever?” party is a bit more difficult.

A visit to Wangfujing’s street food market is one way to spend $5 that will leave you with vivid memories, amazing pictures, and a strange and lasting taste in your mouth. You can try anything from beetles to starfish to squid legs and baby birds. There are even fun options for vegetarians like potatoes, fresh veggies cooked like meat on a skewer, and corn on the cob in Chinese spices. To get the most out of your $5 you’ll want to start with the expensive items, like whole snake or starfish, and move backwards toward cheaper items like beetles, scorpions, and sea horse.

More Five-Dollar Forays

Walk the street markets of Shanghai

Take a ride across the Bosphorus in Istanbul

Check out Dublin’s historic city hall

Take in some art in Florence

Investigate Seattle’s supernatural activity

Visit Lake Tahoe’s Maritime Museum

Delve into natural history in Oslo

Climb a mountain in Santiago

Peruse Orlando’s fine art

Geek out on Wild West history in Las Vegas

Hike a tropical paradise in Maui

Tags: $5, Bangkok, Beijing, Boulder, Budapest, Budget Travel, Cancun, cheap travel, cheapest, Copenhagen, cultural, five dollars, Jerusalem, London, new delhi, portland, sightseeing, Singapore


  • Lorena Carthy says:

    You can take a combi (smaller than a bus) go to the beach “Huanchaco”, rest there enjoying the sun and the culture, and then eat Picarones or Papa Rellena (google it, you’ll be amazed), finally, if you still want to, you can come back to th…e city and your $5 will be spend 😛
    Should I explain it better? 1 dollar round trip to the beach in a combi, 2 dollars for the food (big meal I mean) and you have 2 dollars left if you want a cold beer 😉

    Let me know if you’re coming to Trujillo – Peru! 😀

  • Rachel Greenberg says:

    Seriously, if you’re in Budapest, go to the opera. It’s much easier to get cheap tickets there than in other Central European cities (like Vienna). The subway even goes right to it…just get off at Opera!

  • Eric says:

    5 bucks will buy you lunch at Tommy’s Famous Burgers on Rampart and Beverly. A must stop for anyone visiting LA.

  • Gurkha Encounters says:

    OHO Really cheap in Delhi !! I think Delhi is the most expensive city LoL

  • Sanjay Kumar says:

    @ Gurkha

    Delhi is full of surprises, and you can make your dollar go a long way. You just have to know the right places…

  • Pete says:

    Take an art class for $5 in Yosemite NP. A different professional artist each week teaches courses all summer at the Yosemite Art and Education Center. Bring Half Dome home with you.

  • Sayeed A. Chaudhury says:

    $5 will take you far in Bangladesh. One of the things one can do is hire a boat and go for a couple of hours or so on the pristine waters of Kaptai Lake from Rangamati. The best time is in the afternoon before sunset. One will experience the exhilarating breeze and the beautiful scenery of the many hillocks jutting out of the surface of the water. If you can humor the boatman and induce him to sing the songs of the tribal people then you will be virtually transported to heavenly bliss. Pay the boatman $4 and spend the remaining $ to buy some snacks which you the boatman can savor.


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