Three Top Freebies in Great Cities

As winter blahs have you hunkering down with travel brochures …. put these Lonely Planet (and my) recommendations into the mix:

1. Tea, Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

Pyramids of spices waft their pungent scents and cabinets of gold glitter and dazzle.  Lanterns dangle, ceramics teeter and tourist tat triumphs – Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is a retail blitzkrieg, an undercover labyrinth of endless stuff.  Browing the stalls is wonderful but exhausting, as is fending off a harem of eager shopkeepers.  So give in and let the carpet-seller with the best lines lead you into his showroom, then sip small glasses of apple tea while roll upon roll of woven flooring is unfurled before you with hopeful theatrics and persuasive spiel. It’s Istanbul’s most atmospheric freebie – as long as the salesman isn’t too convincing.

The Grand Bazaar is open 9am-7pm Monday to Saturday. Take a tram to Beyazit, Universite or Sirkeci.

2. Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, New Zealand

See all of New Zealand for nothing at Te Papa. Well, sort of – this beefy building on Wellington’s waterfront is the country’s national museum, where you’ll find its finest art, its history, and its Maori culture celebrated.  Given the wide remit, the gems inside are unsurprisingly eclectic – from pounamu (greenstone jade) clubs to stuffed kiwis, and from a pair of prosthetic cycling legs to a 1.4 billion-year-old stone.  To learn about the Maori, start with the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi display, then visit the marae, a modern take on the traditional meeting house, designed to be used by all cultures.

Te Papa is open daily, including public holidays, from 10am-6pm (to 9pm Thurs). See www.tepapa.govt.nz.

3. Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, Hong Kong

It’s two for the price of none on this Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront. This promenade at the tip of Kowloon hugs Victoria Harbour; it’s where modern shopping centres meet the old colonial Clock Tower, and where the Star Ferry chugs in. It’s also where, three mornings a week, tai chi gurus Mr. Ng and Ms. Wu lead free sessions of this meditative martial art against a backdrop of Hong Kong Island’s just-distant skyscrapers. Revisit at 8pm every night for something less subtle, as the Symphony of Lights laser-sound spectacular sets the high-rises a-sparkle, Tsim Sha Tsui offers the best views.

Tai chi lessons run from 8am to 9am on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. See www.discoverhongkong.com.

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About Chris McBeath

Travel writer Chris McBeath has worked aboard cruise ships, opened hotels, managed convention centers, marketed spas and spa resorts, and written guide books and travel articles on nearly every aspect of travel.
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