You use a price comparison app to save money on airfare. You check the local Airbnb rates to stretch your lodging budget. And you scour the internet for deals and discounts on activities. After all, travel and money are unfortunately synonymous.
Unless you know where to look, that is. Ideal for travelers who appreciate the uncommon, click through to find strange places across the globe that offer plenty of fun at no cost.
1. Carhenge ― Alliance, Neb.
In 1987, artist Jim Reinders found two ways to make Stonehenge better: build it out of cars and situate it in Alliance, Neb. Carhenge doesn’t just feature the iconic roadside attraction of precariously balanced, gray-painted vintage cars; it also boasts a collection of car art sculptures to browse. As a bonus, the site is open all day, every day, and costs nothing to see — though donations are appreciated. Carhenge is proof you can find plenty of enjoyable, free things to do in every state.
2. Museum of Bad Art ― Somerville, Mass.
When your family moans at the idea of visiting a pretentious art museum, forgo the admission price in favor of a free visit to this museum, a tribute to kitsch in Somerville, Mass. Inside, you’ll find 400 pieces of art guaranteed to be bad, complete with written explanations that attempt to offer context. To get in free, just request a museum pass via email or buy a ticket to a movie or show at the Somerville Theatre.
3. The Glockenspiel at the Neues Rathaus ― Munich
In the central town square of Marienplatz, you’ll find flamboyantly dressed figures guarding the neo-Gothic Neues Rathaus aka New Town Hall. Things get a little weirder when the figures come to creepy life to perform a twirling re-enactment of moments from Munich’s history. It won’t cost you a single euro to see the glockenspiel show every day at 11 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. — though the latest show doesn’t run in winter. There are plenty of other affordable attractions to visit in the winter.
4. Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden ― Bang Saen, Thailand
Munich’s glockenspiel might be inadvertently creepy, but the sculptors behind the freakish statues at Wang Saen Suk’s monastery garden had every intention of freaking you out. Artists made this strange attraction to represent the 136 pits of torture in Buddhist hell; the site features half-human creatures and colorful depictions of torture ranging from impalement to lava bathing.
When looking for free things to do near Bangkok or Pattaya, this odd destination makes for a fearfully frugal day trip. You’ll know you’re there when you see the “Welcome to hell” sign. Seriously.
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5. Nuclear Waste Adventure Trail ― Weldon Spring, Mo.
Only one place exists where the phrase “nuclear waste adventure” is a good thing, and that just happens to be Weldon Spring. Likely the only 40-million-cubic-foot mound of toxic waste on your itinerary, the site features a mass of clay, sand, concrete and stone engineered to cleanse the area of its nuclear history.
The anti-nuclear slabs form austere, sci-fi-style architecture that visitors love to hike and climb for stunning views. This roadside attraction also hosts a free museum on-site.
6. The Island of the Dolls ― Mexico City
Right outside of Mexico City, you’ll find Isla de las Muñecas — aka the Island of the Dolls. The legend goes that caretaker Don Julian Santana Barrera found a drowned young girl floating in the surrounding Xochimilco canals shortly before he discovered her doll.
Out of respect, he hung the doll in a nearby tree. As the story goes, after the ghost of the girl began to haunt him, the caretaker started hanging hundreds of dolls around the island to ward off her spirit — a macabre tradition that visitors carried on long after his death in 2001.
7. Comic Book Route ― Brussels
Belgium brings to mind images of waffles and castles, but the city of Brussels is known for something else, too ― Franco-Belgian comics. This city-sanctioned, free walking tour features more than 50 colorful murals created by a variety of comic and street artists. Some are tucked away in hidden corners, and others are emblazoned across multiple stories of buildings.
8. The Mindfield ― Brownsville, Tenn.
Leave it to the artists of the world to provide us with the best — and weirdest — free things to do. In 1989, Brownsville, Tenn., artist Billy Tripp started his life’s work creating the Mindfield. An acre wide, 125-foot-tall mass of repurposed metal parts ― including an entire water tower — the Mindfield is a free-to-visit tribute to Tripp’s mom and dad, so the feelings are free, too.
9. The Fremont Troll ― Seattle
Speaking of wonderfully weird art, if you’re looking for odd things to do today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a quirkier or more beloved statue than Seattle’s own bridge-dwelling troll. After years of rumored troll sightings, sculptor Steve Badanes made the urban myth a reality in 1989. All you have to do to pose with this 18-foot-tall monstrosity ― who famously wields a Volkswagen Beetle in his hand ― is venture below the north end of the Aurora Bridge in Fremont.
10. The Giant Corrugated Iron Animals of Tirau ― Tirau, New Zealand
You’ll find no shortage of sporty tourist attractions in New Zealand, but few are as odd — or free — as the “Corrugated Capital of the World.” Typically used in the construction of barns and sheds, corrugated iron is also an artistic tool for the people of Tirau. So far, they’ve constructed building-sized sculptures of a dog, a sheep, a praying mantis, a castle, a pukeko bird and a cow pushing a shopping cart.
11. The Giant Sculptures of Casey ― Casey, Ill.
Not to be outdone by the Kiwis, the small town of Casey, Ill., prides itself on being home to a whole lot of Guinness-sanctioned “world’s largest” stuff. An effort spearheaded by resident Jim Bolin, the cartoonishly massive and fully functional giant sculptures include the world’s largest rocking chair, mailbox, golf tee, knitting needles, crochet hook, pitchfork and wooden shoes.
The town also boasts oversized renditions of a birdcage, ear of corn, yardstick, coin, balsa wood plane, pencil and for some reason, a minion, but those sculptures aren’t record-setting yet.
12. Rainbow Tunnel ― Toronto
Not to be confused with the recently rechristened Robin Williams Rainbow tunnel in Sausalito, which is another free, strange place to visit, Toronto’s rainbow tunnel has been brightening up the Moccasin Trail Park since the 1970s.
As a tribute to his fallen friend, Norwegian teen B.C. Johnson repeatedly painted rainbows on this Don Valley Parkway tunnel. No matter how many times the city painted over them, Johnson kept repainting. Nowadays, many Canadians have contributed to this wildly colorful mural, and Toronto has embraced it as an attraction, even officially restoring it in 2013.
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13. Dinosaur Park ― Rapid City, S.D.
Hiking through the woods is fun, but you’re unlikely to encounter any dinosaurs. Located in the Black Hills, Dinosaur Park solves that problem. A staple oddity of Americana since 1936, the kitschy statues of Dinosaur Park — including a stegosaurus, tyrannosaurus rex and brontosaurus — are still free and open to view by the public. Of course, they’re not in the Black Hills for no reason; the sandstone ridge is known for its fossils and dinosaur footprints as much as its majestic views.
14. Giant Transforming Gundam Statue ― Tokyo
The world wept in March 2017 when Tokyo dismantled its life-size Gundam robot ― based on the mecha from the popular anime series, “Mobile Suit Gundam” ― but people didn’t have to wait long for a replacement. In September, an all-new 64.6-foot Unicorn Gundam model took its place. Even better, the new Gundam lights up and transforms into Destroy Mode. Plan a repeat visit for the future, however, because the mecha-loving district of Odaiba plans on constructing a full-sized, walking Gundam by 2019.
15. Park Guell ― Barcelona, Spain
Despite what the residents of Somerville might say, art doesn’t have to be bad to be free. Built between 1900 and 1914, Park Guell is architect Antoni Gaudi’s living expression of Catalonian modernism. The park boasts colorful mosaics and lively sculptures of wild creatures, as well as organically inspired baroque architecture that incorporates wavy lines. All areas of the park except for the Monumental Zone are free to visit.
16. Speakers’ Corner ― London
Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park is the place on the Venn diagram where “free,” “odd” and “educational” meet. Head on over to the free park’s Marble Arch, and you’ll stumble onto a lively public stage that has played host to political and intellectual speakers ranging from George Orwell to Vanessa Redgrave. Continuing a tradition that began in 1872, Speakers’ Corner still hosts Sunday soapbox speeches from anyone with an opinion to air, proving that sometimes people are the most interesting attraction of all.
17. Spotted Lake ― British Columbia, Canada
Tucked away in Osoyoos, British Columbia, lies a unique speckled lake sacred to original inhabitants because of its supposed healing properties. Spotted Lake is rich in minerals including calcium, sodium and magnesium sulfates, causing the lake to radiate colors ranging from blue to green to yellow.
During the hot summer months, the water evaporates, revealing unusual spots scattered across the lake. Throughout the season, the spots morph extravagantly in shape and size.
18. The Leshan Giant Buddha ― Sichuan
For an exotic and spiritual experience, consider traveling to China to bask in the beauty of the Leshan Giant Buddha located to the east of Leshan City on Mount Emei. The largest Buddha in the world, reaching a towering 233 feet, was carved into the outcropping of a hillside during the Tang Dynasty and finished in the ninth century. The solemn Buddha, a true feat of ancient architecture, sits in a fixed position, with a wide smile and coiled hair adorned with 1,021 buns.
19. Las Pozas ― Xilitla, Mexico
Surrealist artist and English poet, Edward James, used his talent, wealth and exile to create a secret-garden-esque haven in the middle of Xilitla, Mexico. James named Las Pozas — translated as “the pools” — after the nine natural flowing pools of water that range throughout the property. This alone draws in tourists — but the true attraction lies within the 30-plus sculptures planted across the property gardens. Designed to mimic the foliage of the Huastecan jungle, the surreal structures range from plant sculptures to misshapen staircases leading to nowhere.
20. Lake Hiller ― West Australia
Until 1802, this geological oddity remained undiscovered. Nestled off the southern coast of West Australia on the Recherche Archipelago Islands lives a rose-pink lake. It’s believed the rosy color is in part to Dunaliella salina microalgae, which produce carotenoids, a brightly colored pigment found in fruits and vegetables, such as carrots. The water is extremely salty — slightly less than the Dead Sea — but completely safe for swimming if you so choose.
21. Boulder Field ― White Haven, Pa.
The Poconos is a popular destination for campers and nature enthusiasts. While you’re there, take a visit to Hickory Run State Park, home of Boulder Field, a glacial dumping ground for ancient rocks and stones. Likely formed during the ice age about 20,000 years ago when trapped rocks traveled southward from Canada, the boulders found their home within 18 acres of Pennsylvania terrain. Traveling across Boulder Field is a thrilling activity, but beware of rattlesnakes and giant spiders lurking beneath the rocks.
22. The Hand in the Desert ― Chile
The last place you’d expect to discover a must-see oddity is in the middle of the Atacama Desert in Antofagasta, Chile. But, that’s exactly where this 36-foot protruding hand is happily waiting to wave at visitors. Literally located in the center of nowhere, Mario Mario Irarrázabal designed this concrete and iron sculpture as a testament to the desert’s emptiness. This left hand has a partner in a right hand — also created by Irarrázabal — located 1,200 miles east of Antofagasta in Uruguay.
23. Rakotzbrücke Devil’s Bridge ― Kromlau, Germany
When near Germany’s Kromlauer Park in Kromlau, consider viewing Rakotzbrücke, a dramatically arched stone bridge. Otherwise known as the “devil’s bridge” because the expectation that these dangerous structures were only designed by Satan, its reflection creates a unique and enchanting effect over the water below it. The parabola of the bridge, which was designed to be one half of a circle, creates the illusion of a perfect circle when the water is perfectly still and the light is just right.
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24. Wall of Gum ― Seattle
Because of its unique charm, it’s not surprising to find multiple oddities in Seattle. Dubbed the Gum Wall or Wall of Gum by locals, the collective piece of art has been growing since the 1990s. It first began while bored patrons waited for a show to begin at Post Alley’s Market Theater. Over the years, the decades of decaying gum have stretched from a single slab of a brick wall on the theater to now encompassing an entire alley.
25. The Bishop Castle ― Rye, Colo.
People often visit Colorado for its majestic mountains and alluring natural adventures, but if you’re interested in an unusual pit stop, check out the Bishop Castle. Originally intended to be a family cabin, this castle now houses ballrooms, towers, bridges and a fire-breathing dragon, among other spectacles. When it comes to finding free things to do with kids, it’s a must-see.
26. Salvation Mountain ― Niland, Calif.
Beginning in 1985, the late Leonard Knight painted and repainted his 50-foot mountain with colorful biblical messages. Made of adobe clay and donated paint, the mountain showcases in huge letters, “God is Love.” Not without scandal, environmentalists tested Knight’s mountain and deemed it toxic. Plans were made to tear it down, but this never happened, so, you still have a chance to visit this unusual roadside attraction.
27. Freetown Christiania ― Copenhagen, Denmark
Instead of visiting just one strange attraction, you could visit a whole town. Forty years ago, rebellious hippies occupied military barracks and founded Freetown Christiania — a would-be utopia for aspiring free spirits. While you’re visiting this town of misfits, you can check out homemade houses, workshops, art galleries, music venues, natural eateries and nature’s exquisiteness.
Laurel Funk contributed to the reporting for this article.