Move over, oceans, forests and mountains. Some of the most awe-inspiring destinations on Earth are not natural wonders, but the work of bold and brilliant architects, engineers and builders.
Some are still under construction, others are the last remnants of civilizations that haven’t existed for thousands of years — but all of them cost nothing to visit, or at least to partially explore.
Keep reading to find out which of these soul-enriching and architecturally stunning man-made wonders you can see for free.
The Great Pyramids
Although ancient Egyptians built pyramids for centuries, the grandest and most famous are the three that still exist at Giza. The largest and oldest, the Great Pyramid, is the only surviving structure of the original Seven Wonders of the World.
To enter these monuments to the ancient pharaohs, you’ll need to buy a ticket, which can be tough to come by. You can admire these ancient masterpieces from the outside, however, without even reaching for your wallet.
One of the most instantly recognizable structures on Earth, the Eiffel Tower is a 1,000-foot-tall iron tower curved to be as wind resistant as mathematically possible. Situated in one of the most romantic cities in the world, work on the tower began in Paris in 1887 and was finished in just two years, two months and five days to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution.
There are several options for ascending the tower by stairs or by elevator — and all will cost you. But you don’t have to spend a single euro to appreciate and photograph it from the ground.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Petra in modern-day Jordan has been inhabited since prehistoric times — but it’s currently at risk of disappearing. Half of it was built, and half was carved into the surrounding mountains. A crossroads of vastly different worlds, Petra’s architecture reflects Athenian, Roman, Arabian, Egyptian and Phoenician style.
Everyone over the age of 12 has to pay for admission, but you can admire it from the outside for free.
The Great Wall of China
As the longest defensive fortification on Earth and the most enduring symbol of China’s ancient engineering prowess, the Great Wall of China is a series of separate walls built by millions of workers over thousands of years spanning multiple dynasties. When you visit this legendary landmark, keep in mind that different sections offer very different experiences and come with different physical demands.
You can pay for a guided tour, or you can take in one of history’s most incredible architectural achievements on your own for free.
In a world filled with towering skyscrapers, there can only be one that claims the title of world’s tallest building. That honor belongs to the vertical wonder that is Burj Khalifa.
Towering 2,717 feet above the streets of Dubai, the tower offers tickets to those with stomachs strong enough to make their way to the tippy top. Groundlings, however, can marvel at the man-made wonder from the safety of the streets below for free.
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The Roman Colosseum
Every year, nearly 4 million visitors flock to what’s left of the ancient Roman Colosseum, which is among the most iconic symbols of the great empire’s legacy. The massive stone and concrete arena could hold 50,000 spectators, who packed the house to watch some of the most imaginative and bloody spectacles that have ever been staged for an audience.
Visitors can step inside the blood-drenched stadium built by Emperor Vespasian for free on the first Sunday of every month.
Sydney Opera House
Whether you have an hour to spare or an entire day, you can take in the famous sails of the Sydney Opera House without spending a dime. Open every day except Easter and Christmas, the iconic harbor-side music venue offers a variety of tours at a cost, but it’s always free to visit.
The Atomium is a tribute to the atom and the European embrace of science in post-World War II Belgium. It’s a replica of a single iron atom — magnified 165 billion times.
You can buy tickets to travel in and through the structure itself, where you’ll soak in some of the most spectacular views of Brussels — or just take it all in from the outside.
The Grand Canyon of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
About 25 miles away from Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is the highest and longest glass-bottom bridge in the world. Spanning more than 1,400 feet across the forest’s canyon, you can walk or even zip line across the massive gorge — if you’ve got the stomach and the money for a ticket.
For those who aren’t daredevils or who just want to enjoy the gorgeous scenery on the cheap, avoid the bridge, set your camera to panoramic and admire the view from the safety of solid ground.
Temple of the Sagrada Familia
Barcelona is home to one of the grandest houses of worship on Earth. Work began on the Temple of the Sagrada Familia more than 135 years ago, and five generations of faithful Spaniards have watched the massive, ornate tower rise. Construction will continue through at least 2022.
There are discounts for seniors, children, students and the unemployed, but that’s only if you want to step inside. Anyone can view the masterpiece-in-progress from the street as it continues its journey skyward free of charge.
The Empire State Building
One of the U.S.’s most iconic structures, the 102-story Empire State Building was completed in a record 410 days and was dedicated in 1931. It was once the world’s tallest building and the tallest building in New York.
Visitors can buy tickets to enjoy the world-famous skyscraper’s observation decks, but there’s no charge to admire the New York City gem — and its spectacular nightly illumination — from the ground.
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Like the Empire State Building, the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, sell tickets for the observation deck — but that’s only if you want to see the surrounding cityscape from the highest possible vantage point. To admire the 88-story towers — each capped with an Islamic pointed star — from the ground level, you’ll need only your camera and the ability to look skyward without getting vertigo.
Hungarian Parliament Building
The Hungarian Parliament Building is the third-largest parliament on Earth. With nearly 700 rooms and 12.5 miles of stairs, the structure has been standing in Budapest for more than a century.
Although you can buy a ticket to tour the inside, some of the best views are available from the nearby Danube River — and that vantage point is completely free.
Seattle Space Needle
Few structures on Earth are as instantly recognizable as the Seattle Space Needle. Although it doesn’t exactly reach the cosmos, it does soar 605 feet in the air above the Emerald City.
Like so many of the world’s great towers, tickets are available to enjoy the observation deck. But you don’t need a pass to marvel at the futuristic West Coast landmark from the outside.
Conceived by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, this minimalist landmark was originally created as part of Expo 67, the iconic world’s fair held in Montreal in 1967. The sprawling, 12-story housing complex features modules stacked on top of one another to form more than 140 residences.
The structure is free to view from the sidewalks outside, but tickets are required if you want to see the inside.
St. Basil’s Cathedral
Steeped in mystery, little is known about St. Basil’s Cathedral other than that work began in 1552 and was completed in 1560 under the orders of Ivan the Terrible to commemorate the capture of Kazan from the Mongols. When visiting Red Square in Moscow, you’re welcome to walk the spiral wooden staircase leading to the cathedral, which doubles as a museum. There, you’ll see firsthand the intricate, ornate detail that makes the structure famous worldwide.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul has endured through the centuries, even as the ground on which it sits changed hands and cultures. Its genesis can be traced to Roman Emperor Justinian in 537. For nearly 1,000 years it was the heart of Eastern Christianity until the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople in 1453. The Muslim world then claimed it — and continues to claim it — as a centerpiece of their own religious culture and history.
You can admire the structure from the outside for free, or buy tickets to the museum for a reasonable 40 Turkish liras (approximately $10 USD).
St. Peter’s Basilica
Vatican City is the heart of global Roman Catholicism — and the center of it all is St. Peter’s Basilica. A central destination for both tourists and pilgrims worldwide, St. Peter’s Basilica is open every day of the year and is always free of charge. Even Wednesday morning papal audiences are free, although a complimentary ticket is required to enter.
Disney Concert Hall
Home to the world-renowned Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra, the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Calif., is an architectural marvel. The architecture was designed to be visually stunning while providing world-class acoustics.
The 3.6-acre facility is instantly recognizable by its curved, stainless steel exterior. Of course, to attend a performance in the hall will cost you something — and LA isn’t a cheap city to travel to — but to simply admire the building is no charge.
Aqueduct of Segovia
Running water was a central component of the unprecedented standard of living enjoyed by citizens of the Roman Empire. The lifeblood of the empire was its aqueduct system, and the grandest remaining remnant of that system is the Aqueduct of Segovia, which carried water from the Frio River. Built in the first half of the first century A.D., the aqueduct’s two-story arched arcades still span the rolling, hilly landscape.
The Catedral Metropolitana Nossa Senhora da Aparecida
The church known commonly as the Cathedral of Brasilia is supported by 16 curved pillars and features a central dome covered entirely in stained glass. Massive angels dangle from steel cables, and bronze sculptures stand nine feet tall on the outside. Visitors can gaze at the structure’s beauty without having to spend a dime.
Home of the British Royals since 1837, Buckingham Palace remains the nerve center of Great Britain’s monarchy. You can buy tickets to step inside the vaunted halls of the royal headquarters during select times of the year, but it’s always free to admire from the outside.
Complete with 775 rooms the palace is anchored by the royal balcony, where Queen Victoria made history’s first now-traditional royal balcony appearance in 1851.
The Roman Pantheon
No structure in what was once the mighty Roman Empire is as well preserved as the Pantheon. To stand in front of it is to step back two millennia in time and marvel at the engineering and architectural achievements of one of the greatest civilizations in history.
The building’s famous dome and rotunda stand testament to the staying power of Rome’s classic monuments. Starting in May 2018, unless you’re going there to pray, you’ll have to pay an entry fee of two euros to enter.
Golden Gate Bridge
Where there are people and water, there are bridges — but none quite as magnificent as San Francisco’s fog-drenched Golden Gate. With towers that soar 746 feet skyward, connected by draping main cables, the bridge connects San Francisco to the northern counties of California.
You’re welcome to admire it from a distance or, if you’re feeling adventurous, walk or even bike across for free.
If you visit Reykjavik, Iceland, it will be nearly impossible not to notice Hallgrimur Church, which was built over four decades between 1945 and 1986. Among its most striking features are its massive pipe organ, which contains 5,275 pipes, its soaring tower and imposing statue of Leifur Eiríksson, who is believed to have reached America 500 years before Columbus. You’ll need a ticket to enter, but admiring from afar is free.