By Mackenzie Dunn

Published on September 26, 2018

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Photography by Aaron Bengochea

Have you ever used a hotel concierge? They’re actually quite wonderful. Too often, while traveling, we rely on recommendations from friends, Google, Yelp, or our favorite travel blogs, without taking advantage of the very people whose job entails helping patrons find the very best things to do while on vacation. Note to self: Use the hotel concierge service more often.

These hotel staff members know the area around their establishment like the back of their hand, so their recommendations are quite valuable. And forget what you knew about concierges, they’re not just for the rich and famous looking to live the luxe life. You can often use their services without spending a dime, and they can recommend a ton of free activities, too. In fact, using concierges is a great way to save money during your stay. Some will even create a custom itinerary for you based on the highlights you definitely don’t want to miss out on, From the activities included in your hotel stay to those in the area that won’t cost a thing, we asked a few hotel concierges what their favorite free attractions were around their establishments. Though some of their top picks are location-specific, keep in mind that many of these destinations have similar activities to offer—so when in doubt, just ask! Just take it from NYC-based concierge Patrick Trevor, who says, “Always make sure you wander because you may stumble upon some secret gems.”

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Underground subway art in Stockholm
Photography by BastienHervé via Unsplash

Learn about local history and culture

Many of our concierge experts love to recommend free cultural experiences that guests can take to get to know a bit about the history of their surroundings. If you’re visiting somewhere totally new, this can be a great opportunity to get to know the city’s backstory or immerse yourself into a bit of its cultural history.

“Always make sure you wander because you may stumble upon some secret gems.”

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Photography by Josh Saldana via Unsplash

For example, places like Philadelphia and Portland have free entry to the Museum of Art, according to the concierges at The Logan and Hotel Modera respectively, while Chicago has a hidden experience called The Chicago Money Museum where patrons can learn more about how and where currency is made. The LondonHouse Chicago’s concierge Shannon Boland also loves recommending the Chicago Cultural Center as a chance to take in more about the city and see some incredible rotating art exhibits, but any large metropolitan area is bound to have a cultural center that also acts as a free sightseeing activity. If you are in D.C., Chris Adcock, the Clefs d’Or Concierge at The Jefferson, recommends you check out the free Smithsonian museums, in particular, the National Air and Space Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, as well as the Library of Congress.

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photography by Hiro

Even if you are traveling abroad, be sure to ask about free museum days or deals in the surrounding area. Take the concierges at the Bank Hotel in Sweden for example, who recommend learning about Swedish architecture and design at the Architecture and Design Center or even going underground to see the amazing subway art. The point is, you never know what you can find in a new city. These concierges recommend trying to learn about your surroundings through free museums and cultural experiences you won’t soon forget. 

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Get Outside

Aside from many hotels offering complimentary on-property activities (like tennis course, bicycles, and swimming pools), concierges often suggest outdoor activities for those looking to get a little exercise while on vacation. State parks are a great place to start—and they’re always free.

Concierge Marcus Wilder at Mr. C Beverly Hills tells guests to enjoy a hike at the famous Runyon Canyon Park while James Soule,  a Visit Napa Valley Welcome Center Ambassador, says he loves telling visitors about the ability to hike and bike throughout Napa Valley. “It’s a great way to do some free sightseeing,” he says. Concierges are also always happy to provide guests with ideas of the best walking/jogging trails, as well as maps for different routes, and sometimes even shuttles that will take you within a certain mile radius of the property for a different vantage point, all for free.

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photography by Aurimas_via_Flickr

Meanwhile, if a hike or bike ride seems too involved for vacation,  sometimes a walk will suffice as a simple and relaxing activity for the family. Eric Landt, General Manager at The Wauwinet in Nantucket loves pointing his guests to the ‘Sconset Bluff Walk (also known as the Cliff Walk)  which is the most scenic path in Nantucket or suggesting they opt for some free morning meditation on the beach.

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photography by Susan Yin via Unsplash

Whether it’s in the valley, the mountains, or by the sea, these concierges say it can never hurt to get outside and take in your surroundings. As a visitor, you’ll be able to appreciate the landscape through walking trails, boardwalks, and open parks.

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Explore the downtown

As we said, hotel concierges know their area, and they want to help you get to know it, too. Several hotels will offer free walking tours of the surrounding city, but concierges suggest you also wander on your own. If you’re a book lover, some of our concierge experts loved recommending small, niche mom-and-pop bookstores that were a part of the local fabric for a taste of where the locals go.

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Photography by ThomasHank via Flickr

The concierges at the Bank Hotel in Sweden pointed out that in some big cities there are older, more historical sections, along with the newer, built-up ones. They love suggesting guests that walk through Stockholm’s old town along the narrow streets, as well as the newer, more modern heart of Stockholm’s downtown, but you should take this into account and use the concierge to scout out all the lesser-known spots, no matter what city you’re in. 

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Photography by EthanHoover via Unsplash

Try Local Cuisine

Concierges can recommend the best restaurant for you based on budget, but if you’re looking to cut costs on eating out or sampling some of the local fare, many of our experts suggested that markets are the best place to go. Concierge, Patrick Trevor, from Mr. C Seaport loves sending his guests to the local farmers market.

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Photography by Aaron Bengochea

“My favorite free recommendation is to take a trip to Union Square Farmers Market for a free sample extravaganza,” he says. “All of the farmers are very excited to share their products and ask them for a free sample!” The Grove in Beverly Hills is also famous for this, as is Smorgasburg in NY and LA. The concierges at The Nines in Portland, Oregon recommend the Portland’s famous Saturday Market. And if you’re traveling abroad, finding a local open-air market may be easier with cities like Paris and Barcelona boasting expansive spaces for taking in both the culture and the cuisine. Either way, these spaces are often the best places to mingle with locals. You might even want to ask vendors for their favorite local restaurant recommendations—locals know best!

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Photography by Kelly Kiernan via Unsplash

Listen to some local live music

This one might not be thing first thing that comes to mind when you’re thinking of how to occupy yourself during a trip, but you’d be surprised at how many cities have live music events throughout the week. After a day of exploring, relax with some music. Take advantage of the talent around you and sample the sounds of the city by asking your concierge where the free concerts are throughout the week. From live rock to jazz and instrumental, there’s bound to be something for everyone’s musical ear.  The concierge at The Ritz-Carlton in  Los Angeles recommends those visiting check out the numerous free concerts, festivals, and more at the historic Farmer’s Market at The Grove or Grand Central Market, while Zachary Serrano, the Clefs d’Or certified Concierge at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills suggests concerts at Amoeba, where your favorite bands will play in between major festivals like Coachella. One lounge near this Michigan hotel hosts top local jazz musicians on Sunday nights with no cover charge. 

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photography by FredrikÖhlander via Unsplash

Take a day trip

While it’s always fun to explore the area around your hotel accommodations, concierges also like to recommend taking a day trip if you have the time. Ask them if there are any places nearby that you should definitely check out. For example, the concierge at  King Charles Inn in Charleston’s Historic District loves to have his guests tour the city, but also recommends they take a fun day trip to nearby John’s Island. Concierges are also able to help you arrange transportation for your day trip excursion: whether that means taking a scenic train or boat ride, or getting a car service to take you where you need to go. If you plan your trip out right, sometimes you can fit multiple exciting day excursions to nearby cities, towns, or islands.