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There’s no better time to visit the city of Houston than now. This thriving Texas city abounds with fun and exciting things to do, and in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, your tourism dollars could really  help the city out. From BBQ and craft beer to world-class museums and urban green spaces, it has something for everyone. For a fun adventure on a budget, check out our list of the best things to do in Houston for under $20, and get the most out of your visit to the biggest metropolis in the Lone Star State!

RELATED: Dream road trip for the American music lover

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Discovery Green

1. Experience downtown’s buzzing urban green space, Discovery Green: Where once there stood a convention center parking lot, the city has built a 12-acre urban green space in the heart of downtown. There’s a little something for everyone here: playgrounds and a splash pad, art installations and upscale dining at The Grove. Catch a weekend concert in the fall or skate around the ice rink during the holidays.

2. Eat your way down Long Point Road: This Spring Branch neighborhood throughway is slowly being reinvigorated, but you can still find cheap gems to feast at and explore. Check out Vieng Thai (BYOB) for the spiciest panang curry around, try soju and cook your own Korean BBQ in your own little room at Tree Garden, or feast on pierogis and other traditional Polish dishes at Polonia.

3. Turtle Races: Little Woodrow’s Midtown is home to the famous Turtle Races every Thursday evening starting at 8pm. Betting is free for all three waves but drinks and food are on you. Sample beers from Houston’s own local breweries and cheer the surprisingly agile turtles on for the win and maybe a prized koozie.

4. Cheese tasting at Houston Dairy Maids: Off Airline Drive in an old Sicilian grocery store dating to the 1930s, a curated selection of local and artisan cheeses and free cheese tastings awaits you! The six-course tasting is accompanied by bread from Houston’s own Slow Dough Bakery, olives and honey. For a few dollars, enjoy a glass of wine or pint of beer to pair.

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Buffalo Bayou Park

5. Buffalo Bayou Park: Spend the morning exploring this 160-acre park set against the Houston skyline right along the bayou with hike and bike trails, bike and kayak rentals and even a $1.5-million dog park. Don’t forget to hunt for the mysterious red button on the Preston Street Bridge to “Burp the Bayou” or check out the free underground cistern tour.

6. Art Car Museum: If you don’t happen to be in town for the Art Car Parade, this museum south of The Heights is a close second. Various cars, buses and police cruisers have been turned into works of art with paint, mixed media and installations. Admission is free; check the website for hours.

7. Beer Can House: On an unassuming street in Rice Military off Washington Avenue sits a house sparkling in the sun because it’s covered in decorative beer cans. For 18 years John Milkovisch worked on covering his house in over 50K cans with designs, garlands and even siding. Weekend guided tours are offered for $5.

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Galveston

8. Galveston day trip: Just an hour’s drive south of Houston, this beachside getaway is well worth the trip. Besides the obvious draws of the ocean and world-renowned Moody Gardens Pyramid Aquarium, there’s tons of amazing seafood options and history in the area. Stop by The Gumbo Diner for its namesake dish, grab an old-school ice cream soda at La Kings Confectionery on the Strand, play a few rounds at Magic Carpet Mini Golf or tour the historic Moody Mansion, all for under $12 each.

9. Free Thursdays in the Museum District: Houston is home to a plethora of world-class museums, and you can get in for free at various times on Thursdays. Visit Monet at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts in the morning and the Dinosaurs at the Houston Museum of Natural Science after lunch. Finish up with the Children’s or Health Museum, if you have any energy left! The esteemed Menil Collection is always free.

10. La Carafe: In Historic Market Street Square, the original town center, this supposedly haunted tavern is the oldest bar and commercial building still in use in Houston. Don’t expect frills here; sip a cocktail while listening to the best jukebox in town in the candlelit atmosphere. The antique cash register doesn’t accept credit cards so bring cash for that glass of wine.

ALSO: Houston, we definitely don’t have a problem with earning instantly toward hotels—join Orbitz Rewards today!

11. Teotihuacan Mexican Cafe: After a night out, you are going to need to head here for your breakfast fix. $10 will get you a bottomless cup of amazing coffee and the Breakfast Grande including choice of meat, beans, roasted potatoes, a cheese tamale and cloud-like tortillas. Alternatively, go for a bowl of menudo and a spicy michelada.

12. Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens: Run by the Museum of Fine Arts, this former home of famous Houstonian Ima Hogg houses one the best collections of American decorative artworks and paintings, as well as 14 acres of organic gardens in the River Oaks neighborhood. Admission is $12.50 and be sure to check out their website for some of their year-round events like the Azalea Trail, Detective Days for Kids, and Sip and Stroll nights.

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Bridge over the Houston Ship Channel

13. Sam Houston Boat Tour: See the Houston Ship Channel up close and personal on this free 90-minute trip. One of the busiest ports in the US, catch site of international barges and learn all about the Port’s history and the maritime industry in the area. Inside seating with AC and outside deck standing room are available; be sure to make a reservation.

14. The Pit Room: What is Texas without BBQ? This locally grown joint has custom made smokers and makes everything you eat from scratch. $15.75 will get you your choice of two meats and two sides—we love the Elote. If you have any room left, get the sugar cream pie or a homemade ice cream sandwich—you won’t regret it!

15. Waugh Drive Bat Colony: Running over Buffalo Bayou Park, the Waugh Drive Bridge is home to a quarter million Mexican free-tail bats, one the largest non-migrating populations in the state. The massive colony’s evening exodus can be viewed from an observation deck anytime from sunset until dark year round. The only rule is please don’t touch the bats!

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Houston Zoo

16. The Houston Zoo: One of the top 10 zoos in the United States, a day pass will set you back $19.95 and get you in to see over 6,000 creatures from sea lions to snakes, big cats and giraffes, a children’s zoo, gorillas and even a red panda. Pack a lunch and check out the new elephant enclosure where they are often seen play wrestling and snorkeling. 

17. Craft Beer at Petrol Station: For an extensive craft beer list and unique wine selections, head to this refurbished gas station in the Garden Oaks area. $20 will get you a pint and the Rancor Burger, a half-pound beast with bacon, cheddar and fried egg and all the fixings. 

18. Brazos Bend State Park: An hour south of Houston in Needville, get up close and personal with tons of alligators and other wildlife for a $7 entrance fee. 37 miles of hike, bike and horse trails wind through swamps and forests. The Nature Center is worth a stop to meet a few animal residents and learn more about the ecology of the area. If your day runs long, stop by the George Observatory to catch some amazing views of those Texas stars at night.

19. Steak Night: You can find a bar steak night almost any night of the week here, but our top choice right now is at the eclectic Under the Volcano in Upper Kirby on Mondays. For $17 you get a rib eye or strip. You do have to buy a beverage, but it doesn’t have to be one of those amazing caipirinhas or delicious strawberry basil margaritas, a soda will do it.

20. Houston Arboretum and Memorial Park: Inside the 610 Loop along Memorial Drive you will see runners at any time of day or night hoofing it along this gravel 3-mile circle around towering Texas pines. When your workout is through, stop by the 155-acre Arboretum to explore native vegetation, wetlands and wildlife. The 5 miles of nature trails and a Discovery Room are free.

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Tagged: Cheap City, USA, Cheap Tips, Destinations, FREE!, Texas

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Those small snack plates known as tapas are an art form in Spain. They vary throughout Spain’s regions, reflecting the fruit of the land or sea. They’re often shared, and always delicious. In Spain, where dinner is served late, they make the perfect appetizer, and often come free when you buy a drink. The tradition is built around conversation, with the idea that small, shared plates encourage discussion among friends more than individual meals.

RELATED: Why you should visit Montenegro now

tapas

Tapas, or small snacks, usually come with each round of drinks in Spain. Photo: Salomé Chaussure – Flickr.

The history

The word tapa comes from the Spanish word “tapar” which means “to cover.” Way back in the day, when people traveled through Spain on old Roman roads, and when hardly anyone could read or write, innkeepers would serve their guests small portions of everything they offered. That tradition morphed over the years, and bartenders or restaurant owners would serve bread and meat bites to customers drinking sherry, since the salty nature of the snack made patrons thirstier. People would use the bread and meat to cover (tapar) their glasses of sherry to keep the flies off, and thus the tapas tradition was born.

Best tapas spots

In Barcelona, Las Ramblas is one of the most popular streets in the city, full of places to shop and eat. But it’s very touristy, and also draws pickpockets. Instead, try going to Gracía, a neighborhood with an increasingly hipster bent. Try Restaurant La Pepita or Nou Candanchu.

In Madrid, delicious tapas restaurants are lurking around every corner. Stop in Museo del Jamón on Calle Mayor to get your feet wet and really immerse yourself in ham (really, there is jamón everywhere). Then pick one of thelittle streets of Calle Mayor and wander to a tapas place. If you think there’s no room for dessert, Calle Colorares has a great chocolatería.

Many bars around Spain have gone against tradition, tacking price tags onto tapas. In Granada, though, tapas remain mostly pure and free. Near Plaza de Santillana is Bodegas Espadafor. Not only is its food good, the walls are adorned with art depicting bullfights and the bar has a great sherry selection. Also try Bodegas Castañeda on Calle Almireceros, off Calle Elvira.

What’s on the menu

In honor of this time-honored and delicious tradition, here are some of the most delicious and authentic tapas Spain has to offer:

croquetas

Croquetas have a fried crispy outside with a warm and creamy inside. Photo: Kent Wang – Flickr.

Croquetas — Quite possibly one of the most beloved and common tapas, and often available in tapas restaurants in America. Croquetas are small and often cylindrical, with a soft, warm and creamy inside and a crispy, fried shell. The inside isoften made with flour and cream, or may be made with potatoes. They’re then rolled in breadcrumbs and fried. Most croquetas have some kind of meat or fish mixed in, so look for croquetas de pollo (chicken) or croquetas de jamón (ham), to name a few.

jamón serrano

Slices of jamón serrano are cut from cured pig thighs often seen hanging in Spanish bars and restaurants. Photo: Anne-Arnould – Flickr.

Manchego y jamón serrano — Manchego, a cheese that’s a hard, very salty and not too sharp, is often served alongside jamón serrano, which is ham cut from the pig’s legs you’ll see hanging in almost every restaurant and market in Spain. The flavor combination is perfect, and both pieces of the concoction are very Spanish.

Pan con tomate

Pan con tomate, or bread with tomato, is a popular tapa in Catalonia. Photo: yosoynuts – Flickr.

Pan con tomate — Or bread with tomato, is a very Catalan dish. Catalonia is the region surrounding and including Barcelona, and stretching up into Southern France. They take a tomato and smear it all over some fresh, often toasted and oil-covered bread, throw the rest of the tomato away, and sprinkle some salt over the bread. At tapas restaurants in America, you’ll often find this topped with manchego. It’s a wonderful dish, but in Spain they serve simpler dishes, not weighed downwith sauces and cheeses like we do with much of what we eat here. So make sure to try it in its true form before adding cheese.

Tortilla de España

Tortilla de España is made with eggs and often onion and potatoes. Photo: ornello_pics – Flickr.

Tortilla de España — This is probably one of the most universal tapas dishes in Spain, and it has nothing to do with what we often think of as tortillas. Many menu translations will call it a Spanish omelette, but it’s really more of a thick frittata. Tortillas can be made with many things, but some of the most common are tortilla de papas (potatoes), tortilla de calabacín (zucchini) and tortilla de cebolla (onion), or some sort of combo. Some places serve these cold, so keep that in mind if you’re not into eating cold eggs.

Papas bravas — Another basic, these are fried potatoes with a little bit of spice. They’re cubed and often served with some sort of aioli or similar dip.

Jamón con melón

Jamón con melón. Photo: yashima – Flickr.

Jamón con melón — A beautiful salty/sweet combination, jamón and melón isn’t quite as easy to find as some of the other tapas for some reason. There’s a wonderful kind of melon available in Catalonia throughout most of the summer that is green like honeydew but is much sweeter. Slice that up and wrap it in a slice of jamón, and you’ve got yourself a little bite of heaven.

Tagged: Food & drink, FREE!, International

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Hotel Deals for New York
NobleDEN Hotel
NY, USA
Jul 18 - Jul 18, 2018
per night from
$ 362.71
$ 253.9

If you’re making plans to head to the Big Apple, but you’re worried about spending too much in a notoriously expensive city, don’t stress! We’ve got some tips to help you stretch your dollar the farthest while still having a blast in the city that never sleeps.

Don’t take a cab from JFK to Manhattan.

Don't taxi from JFK to Manhattan - always opt for the subway instead!

Let’s start this trip out on the right foot. While cabs are the most convenient option, the flat rate from JFK to Manhattan is $52—that’s a lot of money just to get to your hotel! Instead of a cab, take the Airtrain directly from JFK to the subway—the Airtrain is $5, and the entrance to the subway system is $2.75. Oh look, you just saved $44. Nice!

Actually, take the subway everywhere.

m01229, http://bit.ly/2catHMh, Attribution CC BY 2.0

Forget taxis and ride-sharing apps like Uber. The subway is hard to beat in NYC—it’s one of the best public transportation systems in the country, and tourists and locals alike use it daily. Even if you’re only going tobe in New York for a few days, the $31, 7-day Metrocard is worth it. You get unlimited rides, which will be very handy for zipping all over the city to see the sights. Bonus: the Roosevelt Island Tramway, which is an aerial tram that connects Roosevelt Island to the Upper East Side, is a cheap (and fun!) skyline tour on the MTA that costs as much as one subway ride. Score!

Revel in ambiance.

Paul Hudson, http://bit.ly/2c6iXQF, Attribution CC BY 2.0

Photo: Central Park | Paul Hudson, Flickr CC

Some of the best things to see and do in New York Cityare 100% free. Take a long walk through Central Park (duh), gawk at the neon displays in Times Square, and take in high culture at the Museum of Modern Art on Friday nights (free entrance from 4-8 p.m.) You can take a free ferry to Governor’s Island, kayak for free at the Downtown Boathouse, and take the Staten Island Ferry for free, if you’re looking for some water views. Oh, and guess what else? All public parks are equipped with free wi-fi! Is NYC…a secret free paradise?

Street food is your friend.

Britt Reints, http://bit.ly/2cEaHFb, Attribution CC BY 2.0

Photo: New York City 214 | Britt Reints, Flickr CC

It may seem obvious, but this one of the best cheap NY tips: Those ubiquitous hot dog stands? There’s a reason those are everywhere—the hot dogs are delicious and cheap. The pizza places advertising $1 slices? They’re great—fold up a slice like the locals do and chomp as you walk. Macbar has outrageously tasty, generous portions of specialty mac n’ cheese for under $9 a plate, Vanessa’s Dumplings will give you eight basil-and-chicken dumplings for $4.99, and GaiaItalian Cafe has big $5 paninis with mozzarella and tomatoes dripping out the sides. In short: you’ve got cheap eating options.

Skip the Ritz.

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There’s no need to stay at a high-end hotel in Manhattan—there are actually plenty of hostels where you can stay for way under $50 a night! If hostel living isn’t quite your style, check out the options for under-$100 rooms on Cheaptickets—the Bowery Grand Hotel has rooms for $72 per night, and New World Hotel in the East Village is $79 per night. Step away from the $350-a-night hotels!

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Tagged: City, Food & drink, FREE!, New York City, Tips & advice

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Looking for a way to have a (relatively) cheap European holiday? Think about skipping France and Italy this time around. Skip most of Western Europe, actually. Point your toes directly towards Eastern Europe, and visit Montenegro, to be exact. This small, Balkan country—which is sandwiched between Serbia, Albania, and Bosnia and Herzegovina—is everything you want in a scenic vacation. Dramatic coastlines, charming villages, historic architecture—all the elements of a quaint European getaway are there, except for one thing: Montenegro is way cheaper than more traditional European destinations. Let’s go!

Explore Kotor

When you visit Montenegro, you must stop in Kotor, the gorgeous city by the sea...specifically, the Adriatic.

Photo: Bay of Kotor | amira_a, Flickr CC

Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage town, is so beautiful you’ll be shocked you’ve never heard of itas a tourist destination. Set on the Adriatic Bay of Kotor, this stunning little city of 13,500 features classic Venetian fortifications and architecture, as well as winding medieval streets. There are multiple hostels that charge between 30-38€ per night (a steal in Europe!) and include extras such as free wi-fi and bikes available for rental. Spend a day sunning on the sand at the free, public Kotor Beach, where the turquoise water and mountain views will make you consider staying indefinitely. Later, explore the Old Town, where you can dine well for under 15€ a plate—or go for one of the crepe stands, where a savory crepe with ham and cheese can be had for under 5€.

Go church-hopping in Perast

When you visit Montenegro, don't miss the medieval-looking St. Nicholas Church in Perast!

Photo: Perast – St. Nicholas Church | Marjan Lazarevski (Montenegro), Flickr CC

Perast, a tiny town that’s a 20-min bus ride from Kotor (1.5€ each way) has only one main street. Despite this, you’ll find 16 churches to explore, as well as Venetian-style grand palazzos (some crumbling, some fully restored) to goggle at. St Nicholas’ Church is a great starting point, with its pointed bell tower soaring over the town. Get your camera ready, too—Perast is a water town featuring some unique views; everywhere you look, palm trees stand with white-capped mountains in the background, and there are two small islands in the bay just begging to be featured on your Instagram. Have dinner at the 12th-century Konoba Otok Bronza restaurant, where a mountain spring spouts from the cave-like interior, and where you can fork up fresh local seafood for less than 12€ a plate.

Spend like it’s 1959 in Podgorica

Visit Montenegro for the cheap food and beaches; stay for the gorgeous Podgorica Cathedral, pictured here.

Photo: Podgorica Cathedral | Tony Bowden, Flickr CC

Podgorica, Montenegro’s capital city of about 185,000 people, is often overlooked as a destination for travelers planning to visit Montenegro. It’s not on the coast, and the city is (gasp!) relatively untouristed. But trust us: you can live well in Podgorica for very little money. There are lots of hostels where you can pay under 27€ a night (check out Hostel Izvor, which features clean, bright rooms, an onsite nightclub and free valet parking). Plus, there are endless cafes on pedestrian-friendly streets, where you can sit and watch the locals go by. The prices? Try 1€ for coffee, pizza for 2.5€, and lots and lots of street food. Walk along the Slobode, a popular street that closes to cars at night, or cool off during the day at the (free) rocky beaches that line the Moraca River. Podgorica is it for living like an actual European in a town that hasn’t been slammed by tourism just yet—give it a try and your wallet will thank you!

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Tagged: City, International

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Sometimes the best and cheapest (re: free) way to enjoy a nice day in a new city is via its public spaces. Here are some of the best city parks around these great United States.

Central Park, New York City

An aerial view of Central Park, arguably the best of the best city parks in America

Central Park | Phyllis Buchanan, Flickr CC

Of course Central Park makes our list! Not only is Manhattan’s Central Park arguably the most famous city park in America, it was also the first (1856!) designated park for public use in the country. Central Park puts all of its 843 acres to good use—inside the grounds, you’ll find a wildlife sanctuary, a picturesque reservoir, running tracks, an ice-skating rink, and the Central Park Zoo. Add pools, gardens, the enormous, neoclassical Bethesda Fountain, and the fact that you are, at all times, smack dab in the center of Manhattan, and you’ve got yourself one of the best parks in the country. Nay, the world.

Grant Park, Chicago

Buckingham fountain at Grant Park, which is one of Chicago's best city parks

Buckingham Fountain — Grant Park Chicago (IL) September 2014 | Ron Cogswell, Flickr CC

When a city sets aside 319 acres of prime waterfront real estate just to provide an amazing public place for its residents to play, you know you’re dealing with a great city. Grant Park is a stunner of a park—it overlooks Lake Michigan, houses Millennium Park in its boundaries, and is home to the massive, Instagram-worthy Buckingham Fountain. There’s also the Museum Campus, meaning you don’t have to criss-cross Chicago to take in many of its main attractions. At Grant Park, the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium, and the Field Museum are within walking distance of each other. Go Chicago!  

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

A garden and conservatory in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park

Conservatory of Flowers Golden Gate Park | arianravan, Flickr CC

So you like nice views? Try renting a bike and spending the day at Golden Gate Park, where gorgeous vistas are so commonplace youbegin to expect them. Situated next to the famous Haight-Ashbury district and ending at the Pacific Ocean, this 1,000+ acre park is designed to impress. Cruise past the ornate glass Conservatory of Flowers, and check out the pagoda in the Japanese Tea Garden. There’s a herd of grazing buffalo, a dreamy children’s carousel, an aquarium, and a photo-worthy waterfall at Strawberry Hill. Nearly all of it is free—that’s a decent deal in one of the most expensive cities on Earth!

Patterson Park, Baltimore

Patterson Park in Baltimore

Patterson Park | JoAnna Kopp, FlickrCC

You can’t miss Patterson Park, aka “Baltimore’s Backyard”—just look for the Observatory, a giant pagoda-style building on Hampstead Hill. This famous, 1890s-era observatory has a winding staircase open to visitors looking for a workout and a view of downtown Baltimore. But there’s more than a pagoda here. Patterson Park is 137 acres of jogging paths, public tennis courts, and playgrounds. There’s also a Boat Lake, a swimming pool and a dog park, so bring Fido with you on your Baltimore trip!

Forsyth Park, Savannah

The overhanging trees of Forsyth Park, one of the most beautiful city parks in the country

Forsyth Park | Alex Cheek, Flickr CC

While you’re strolling around one of America’s most graceful cities, don’t forget to walk through Forsyth Park. This elegant little 30-acre park boasts wide brick avenues shaded by Spanish moss-draped trees, and the north entrance leads to famous Forsyth Fountain, splashing merrily away in the heat. What else can you find? How about a cafe and an innovative fragrant garden for the blind? Of course there are playing fields and sports courts, but the real joy in Forsyth Park is packing a blanket and a picnic lunch and settling down on the grass to watch the world go by.

Gas Works Park, Seattle

The skyline view at Gas Works Park in Seattle

Seattle Gas Works Park | W & J, Flickr CC

Get your camera ready—Gas Works Park has one of the best views of Seattle, period. Built around one of the last remaining (and very rusty) gasification plants in the United States, this 20-acre park has amazingly steep hills overlooking Lake Union. Perch atop one with the rest of Seattle and you’ll get a panoramic view of boats going by, the city skyline, and people strolling and biking along its trails. Can you see the Space Needle? Of course you can!

Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park, Minneapolis

Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park often sees many sailboats during summer months

Lake Calhoun, Minneapolis, MN | Joe Bielawa, Flickr CC

According to the New York Times, “If you live in Minneapolis, there’s a 95 percent chance you live within a 10-minute walk to a park.” Let’s hope it’s the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park, which is a mouthful, but a good name for what is essentially many smaller parks, linked together by a chain of lakes that connect with each other. When the weather’s nice (go in summer!) you could walk forever on shady paths overlooking the water, stopping only for an ice cream cone or free concert at Lake Harriet. Lay out atowel on the beach at Lake Calhoun and watch the windsurfers; kayak through endless shady nooks and startle napping swans. There are gardens and trails, bird sanctuaries and dog parks…wait, should we move to Minneapolis?

CTIXblog CTA _ cheap of the week

Tagged: City, Family, FREE!, New York City, Sports

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Memphis, Tennessee is the spitting image of its namesake in Memphis, Egypt. In both locations you will find an astonishing man-made pyramid, a long and winding river, and plenty of blues and barbecue…Okay, maybe the last two are a hard sell in Egypt.

But either way, the stateside Memphis is a great destination for travelers who want to eat, drink and party—which also makes it college students’ paradise if they can find a way to afford it. So here are the best things to do in Memphis if you’re traveling cheap.

See the Great Pyramid of Memphis

A broke student’s guide to doing Memphis on the cheap

The Lookout at Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid. Photo credits: Allen Gillespie and Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau

We weren’t kidding—there’s actually a pyramid downtown. And admittedly, it’s one of the weirder things to do in Memphis. The iconic structure did a stint as a sports stadium and a concert venue, but its unique shape made it difficult for the building to find success (as it turns out, pyramids do not have very good acoustics). Locals say this modern-day replica of its distant Egyptian cousins sat empty for years before it finally found its true calling: becoming a Bass Pro Shop.

Now, the 32-story steel pyramid is home to the United States’ tallest free-standing elevator, hundreds of live animals, and even a hotel. All of this is surrounded by a countless racks of outdoor merchandise, including yachts and boats that actually float in the stream that winds through the store. In this stream you can see native fish that will astound you with their size and willpower to not eat the smaller fish. A stroll around the store also offers tropical fish aquariums, actual alligators, and an impressive array of “stuffed” animal specimens… not the kind you want to hug and cuddle with.

After seeing the indoor zoo and walking through the heaps of merchandise, make your way to the enormous 28-story freestanding elevator—it’s pretty hard to miss. For just $10, you can take the tripup to the lookout and see Mississippi like those who built the Egyptian pyramids saw the Nile during their (probably awful) work day.

Pro Tip: There’s a General Store in here, too. Before heading to the elevator, stop in for some sweet treats like roasted nuts or gourmet fudge for the trip up. There’s a restaurant at the top, and this will help keep you from being tempted to sit down for a steak.

Where’s the party?

A broke student’s guide to doing Memphis on the cheap

A broke student’s guide to doing Memphis on the cheap Crowds on Beale Street. Photo credits: Andrea Zucker and copyright Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau, 2011, all rights reserved.

Beale Street, that’s where, and it has been since the birth of blues music. This cobblestone street, located in the heart of downtown Memphis, dates back to 1841. It’s where you’ll find three blocks of restaurants, nightclubs, live music and museums, as well as street performers that can really rock it, and without you having to pay a dime in cover charge.

But beware: Recently, Memphis put a $10 cover charge on Beale Street, which takes effect at 10 p.m. every night. Although this might be a bit of a bummer, entrance to the street is free before 10 p.m. and you’ll likely want to leave around then anyway…

Pro Tip: Beale Street security might be enforced at 10 p.m., but there is a larger crowd at this time, making it easier for thieves and pickpockets to maketheir way through. Stay alert and consider leaving before it becomes overcrowded.

Discover the Home of the Blues

And the Birthplace of Rock’n’Roll. Meaning the bars along Beale Street are far from the only places to catch some live music here. Memphis has plenty of other options for great music and a good time.

For instance: Right on Beale Street and 3rd is Handy Park. Here, you can find free concerts in the afternoons that are open to the public. There’s also Bluesday Tuesdays in Overton Square, where every Tuesday is a chance to enjoy free authentic blues and breathe in some fresh air. And from June to September, the Memphis Blues Society hosts an evening of blues music in the Tower Courtyard at Overton Square.

Indulge in an all-American sport

A broke student’s guide to doing Memphis on the cheap

The Triple-A Memphis Redbirds play baseball at AutoZone Park. Photo credit: Craig Thompson

Memphis is home to the bat-swinging, base-running, baseball-playing Redbirds. There’s almost nothing as nostalgic as a good old-fashioned baseball game. And even if you’re far from local, the friendly hometown crowds here can make you feel like you belong.

As a bonus, tickets for a Redbirds game can cost as low as $20. Meaning you don’t need to feel guilty about splurging on some peanuts, cracker jacks, hotdogs, nachos, beer and whatever else you might require to enjoy this American pastime.Pro Tip: People-watching at sporting events can give you some excellent insight into what it means to be from that city. And it’s always fun to play along, if you’re up for it.

You can’t miss the Mississippi River

A broke student’s guide to doing Memphis on the cheap

Aerial View of Mud Island River Park. Photo credits: Jack Kenner and copyright Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau, 2011, all rights reserved.

If you’re looking for some history and culture beyond great music and great food, head to Mud Island River Park.

On the Mud Island Riverwalk, which is free to the public, you can see an exact scale model of the Lower Mississippi River. You can also enjoy the life-sized version of the river just by walking around the grounds of the park.

The park itself is made up of 18 galleries and exhibits that cover 10,000 years of Mississippi River history. For $10 you can have access to all of these exhibits, a guided tour of the park and a round-trip ride on the monorail.

The food is totally worth the money

If you’re going to splurge on something in Memphis, we highly recommended that you splurge on food. Specifically, the city’s famous barbecue. Your taste buds, and your tummy, will thank you.

The best part about this “splurge” is that it is not even a huge one. Many barbecue joints in Memphis are very reasonably priced, and beyond that, they’re completely worth theprice you pay. That said, don’t be surprised if the meal is served on paper plates with plastic utensils.

Which restaurants should you try? Well we’ve got a shortlist right here: Tops Bar-B-Q, Central BBQ and Charlie Vergos’ Rendevous.

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You can never have enough free. So here are more things to do in each BBQ Smackdown city that cost exactly $0. Find more, as well as where to stay and eat in each city, here.

Austin, TX: BBQ Smackdown frontrunner

Austin, TX

See the world’s largest urban batcolony: Specifically, see all 1.5 million of them take flight each night from beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge.

Explore Hope Outdoor Gallery: This abandoned condo development is a living work of street art, constantly changing thanks to the city’s talented artists.

Tour the castle-like capitol building: The Texas Capitol Building hosts myriad exhibits, including those on the Texas Revolution and local ranching.

Memphis, TN

Pay your respects to the king at Graceland: It costs money to tour the mansion itself, but the Meditation Garden, the King’s final resting place, does not.

See pandas at the Memphis Zoo: Technically, this one’s only free to Tennessee residents on Tuesday afternoons, but those fuzzy pandas are worth it either way.

Grab a treat at the A. Schwab’s Dry Goods Store: The oldest Beale Street business offers up everything from a soda fountain to feather boas and actual voodoo supplies.

San Antonio; BBQ Smackdown contender 

San Antonio, TX

Sample the city’s best at Market Square: This outdoor plaza is lined with restaurants, produce stands and shops, as well as working artists, cultural events and live entertainment.

Explore the famous Riverwalk: After poking around the artist’s shops all day, you can kayak in the moonlight, head to a bar or sit down toa dinner al fresco.

Free your mind at the Laboratory of Dreams: This indie art space curates seriously innovative artworks from up-and-comers around the globe.

Kansas City, MO

Free things to do: nelson-atkins museum of art, shoal creek living history museum, country club plaza

Get cultured at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art: Check out African, contemporary and American works, as well as a plenty of decorative arts.

Step back in time at the Shoal Creek Living History Museum: Tour historic log cabins, see real-live bison and take a stroll along Hodge Park.

Check out designer duds at Country Club Plaza: The outdoor shopping district boasts gondola rides, plenty of restaurants, as well as Madewell, Sephora and Tumi shops.

Nashville, TN: BBQ Smackdown destination

Nashville, TN

Enjoy a free concert: The Symphony Under the Stars series brings seriously upscale tunes to the masses—bring a blanket and a picnic dinner to make an evening out of it.

Breathe that fresh air at Centennial Park and Gardens: Besides the famous Parthenon dupe, this park offers a sunken garden, a lake, an arts center and historical monuments.

Pay homage to the Dukes of Hazzard at Cooter’s Place: See Cooter’s wrecker, Daisy’s Jeep and costumes from the popular film.

St. Louis, MO

Free your mind at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis: On Wednesdays and Saturdays, its always-rotating exhibits are free to the public.

Learn about Dred Scott at the Old Courthouse: This historic institution has seen plenty of pivotal cases; learn about their history here.

Get artsy at the Pulitzer Art Foundation: Its cutting edge and interactive exhibitions led by international artists are free on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Charleston, SC: BBQ Smackdown contender

Charleston, SC

See the colorful houses of Rainbow Row: Take in that beautiful architecture while snapping photos of the pastel-colored rowhouses.

Sun yourself at Folly Beach: Enjoy the slow pace of this barrier island beach, which offers local shops, tasty seafood and tons of live music.

Learn about the forgotten Constitution signer: Visit the Charles Pinckney National Historical Site to tour his coastal plantation, learn about slavery in the south and understand Pinckney’s contribution to the American Constitution.

New Orleans. LA

Play: NOMA and sculpture garden (free on Wednesdays)

See Bourbon Street in action: Obviously the drinks aren’t free, but this famous thoroughfare makes for some choice people watching.

Be one with nature in Jean Lafitte National Park: Discover wetlands, battlefields and the Cajun Prairie Acadian culture in this massive, diverse park.

Explore the NOMA: Its stunning sculpture garden and interior collection of Japanese, French and American art are free on Wednesdays.

Greenville, SC: BBQ Smackdown contender

Greenville, SC

Free things to do: Cleveland park, ride the downtown trolleys, mice on main

Stroll the banks of Reedy River: Or hit Cleveland Park’s portion of Swamp Rabbit Trail, its baseball diamonds, gardens and playground.

Take a ride on a downtown trolley: The charming open-air cars are free, and offer up a poor man’s tour of downtown, venturing from the historic West End to the Colonel Elias Earle Historic District.

Spot the Mice on Main: There are nine adorable mice sculptures planted all over Main Street, so keep your eyes peeled as you shop and explore your way down this thoroughfare.

Atlanta, GA

Visit the heritage village at Autrey Mill:  Learn about this BBQ Smackdown destination’s proud rural past and see replica Native American dwellings in this beautiful nature preserve.

Meet some hip locals at Ponce City Market: All while exploring the market’s many shops and food stalls, many of which offer locally made goods and James Beard Award-winning chefs.

Explore the great outdoors at Big Trees Forest Preserve: Climbboulders and hop over bubbling streams as you hike through this beautiful forest park.

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Dads totally luck out—Father’s Day falls in June, when the weather is warm and the outdoor activities are plentiful. And not only does dear old Dad deserves nothing but the best for Father’s Day, but experiential gifts trump traditional presents any day. So treat your dad to the best gift you can give him, without bankrupting yourself in the process. We’ve got some cheap Father’s Day suggestions right here:

Red River Gorge

Red River Gorge at Natural Bridge. Photo: hspauldi – Flickr.

Hit the trails

Take dad for a hike. This is an easy one no matter where you live — if you’re in the city, it’s a great opportunity to get out into nature and blow off some steam, and if you’re in the country, well, that just makes it even easier. If you’re willing to travel for the privilege, Red River Gorge in Kentucky is one for the books. There are more than 500 miles of trails that vary in difficulty, and there’s no entrance fee to the park.

MillerCoors brewery tour - a cheap Father's Day delight

A sign at the MillerCoors brewery in Milwaukee. Photo: Adam Sonnett – Flickr.

Imbibe in a brew

Head to Milwaukee for a beer with dad. The industrial city is known for its plethora of breweries, but before hitting the craft beer scene, head to the MillerCoors factory for a tour of a Midwestern mainstay. German immigrant Frederick Miller founded the brewery in the 1850s, and besides a brief pause during Prohibition, it’s been quenching the country’s thirst ever since. Tours are free, last about an hour and end with three free samples in the beer garden. How’s that for a cheap Father’s Day excursion?

Wright-Pat

The National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. Photo: Jennifer Morrow – Flickr.

Visit Wright-Pat

There’s no better fatherly activity than diving into the fascinating history of aviation. The National Museum of the United States Air Force—located on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio—has one of the Wright Brothers’ planes, modern models and everything in between. The museum just opened its fourth building on June 8, which has more than 70 aircraft in its Presidential, Research and Development, Space and Global Reach galleries. Visitors can board space shuttles and walk through Air Force One. The free museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney performs on his Out There Tour at Centenario Stadium in Montevideo, Uruguay in April 2014. Photo: Jimmy Baikovicius – Flickr.

See an outdoor concert

Moms may sing us lullabies as children, but dads play their favorite rock songs for us, making surewe’re way cooler than our age. Sting and Peter Gabriel are touring together this summer in what’ll surely be an epic, dad-approved blowout. If your pops wasn’t into either of them, try Paul McCartney, Guns N’ Roses or Black Sabbath, all of whom are also on the road. There’s a concert for every taste this summer, so find an outdoor venue near you, take your dad, and—this last part’s really important—buy him a beer. After all, he changed your diapers and fed you for years and whatnot. But at least you can tease him about getting too old for the lawn seats.

Car show

The 47th Annual Twin Cities Collectors Car Show & Swap Meet in Blaine, Minnesota.
August 2014. Photo: Greg Gjerdingen – Flickr.

Stroll through a car show

Most dads love a good car show. But which kind you take him to are up to you: You’ve got your new, unattainable cars for wishful thinking, and your classic hot rods for reminiscing. The Tahoe City Solstice Festival has a car show the evening of June 17, or try Thunder on the River Car Show June 18 near Scranton, Pennsylvania. If cross-country road trippin’ is more your dad’s thing, try a boat and RV show, which usually costs about $10–$15 at the door.

Hit the back nine

A game of golf is always cause for father/kid bonding. Florida is known for its golfcourses, and it’s a smart escape from the beaches, which get crowded this time of year with summer breakers. Try Bay Hill Club in Orlando or Hammock Dunes Club Link Course in Palm Coast. A word to the wise: Pick a tee time on any weekend except Father’s Day, as the greens will likely get about as crowded as the beaches.

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Tagged: Cheap Tips, Family, Florida, Food & drink, FREE!, Holidays, Seasonal, Tips & advice

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Although winter will likely still have its icy grip on Boston throughout March, there aren’t many better places to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and the weekends leading up to it. So brave the chill for a trip to Boston in March and soak yourself in some true Irish heritage. And while you’re at it, you can learn a little about the founding of our great nation, too.

Boston Logan International Airport

Boston Logan International Airport from East Boston. Photo: Bill Damon – Flickr

Plane, train or automobile — Training from city to city is a breeze on the East Coast, but if you’re coming from a home base that’s a little farther out, you’ll likely touchdown at Boston Logan International Airport. The Blue Line subway service and Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit run directly from the airport to downtown Boston.

 

The T

The T. Photo: Andrea Monari – Flickr

Cheap local transit — Walking is probably your best bet if you’re staying pretty close to downtown, as you can experience the rich history of Boston best on foot. But if you’re going the extra mile, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority runs the city’s buses, trains, commuter rail and even boats. Get a CharlieCard and ride the subway (or the T, as they call it) for $2.10.

 

St. Patrick's Day Parade

St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Boston. Photo: William Murphy – Flickr.

Ship up to Boston — Nearly 14 percent of Bostonians have some Irish heritage, and they won’t let you forget it, especially this month. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 20 last for three hours, so make sure to catch at least a bit of it before you start your pub crawl. It starts at 1 p.m. at the Broadway T Station on the Red Line.

The Beehive

The bar at The Beehive, a jazz club in Boston. Photo: Ally Marotti

Get jazzy — Pick up on some of the best vibes in the city at The Beehive. It serves dinner, but go later once they turn the lights down and the music up. There’s live jazz music nearly every night and no cover. The bar, voted the best jazz club in the city, is nestled just off Tremont and Clarendon streets.

Harvard Yard

Harvard University in the fall. Photo: Ally Marotti.

Visit Harvard Yard — Harvard is just outside of Boston in Cambridge, and it’s worth the short train ride to spend a few moments among some of the brightest young minds there are. Grab a beer at a pub near campus or just poke your head into some of the buildings. You’ll feel smarter just walking through campus.

 

Boston Common

Boston Common, America’s oldest park. Photo: Doug Kerr – Flickr

Stroll through Boston Common — The nearly 50-acre park is the oldest in the country, dating back to 1634. Cattle grazed there until 1830, and public hangings until 1817. Nowadays, it’s home to a host of other colorful activities and things to see (most of which are a little less nefarious than the public hangings), and is sure to provide some entertaining people watching experiences, at the very least.

 

Old State House

The Old State House in Boston, near the site of the Boston Massacre. Photo: Charles Hoffman – flickr

Hop on the Freedom Trail — This self-guided tour of Boston’s historical sites starts at Boston Common and takes you through some of the city’s must-sees, such as the site of the Boston Massacre, Faneuil Hall, Old North Church, Paul Revere’s house and more. This could be turned into a day-long expedition, but since it’s self-guided, feel free to visit only the top sites on your list before moving on to the next activity.

Little Italy

A bottle of wine in Boston’s Little Italy. Photo: Ally Marotti

 Holy cannoli — Boston’s Little Italy is bursting with some of the best treats this side of the Atlantic. Swing into one of the neighborhood’s bakeries and feast your eyes on the delicacies. We recommend making an evening out of your Little Italy visit, grabbing dinner at one of the myriad authentic Italian restaurants, topping it off with a bottle of wine and saving that cannoli for dessert.

 

Tagged: Food & drink, FREE!, Holidays, Uncategorized

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Cheap Right Now gives a snapshot of a cheap weekend getaway each month.

Whistler, British Columbia is a real-life winter wonderland, and what better place to visit during the most magical time of the year. The resort area near the town, which is north of Vancouver, covers nearly 8,000 acres over Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. It’s the largest ski area in North America, gets nearly 40 feet of snow a year and is still tingling with some of the energy the 2010 Winter Olympic athletes left in the mountains. But traveling this time of year can be tough, what with the pockets growing so shallow after all that Christmas spending, and ski trips have some expensive fixed costs that can’t be avoided (i.e. lift tickets). We’re here to keep your time off the slopes down to earth and affordable in Whistler in December.

 

Vancouver International Airport

Vancouver International Airport. Photo: JamesZ_Flickr – Flickr

Plane, train or automobile — A trip to Whistler is much more feasible as a weekend getaway for those on the West Coast, as it’s only about a five-hour drive from Seattle. For the rest of us, plane is the most efficient way to get there. Fly into Vancouver International Airport and take the 2.5-hour scenic drive to Whistler. The Pacific Coach Line (which has Wifi) offers frequent daily transport from the airport to the resort, but it costs $72 per adult, and must be booked in advance. If you bring travel companions, it would be more economical to rent a car.

 

Whistler car rental

Renting a car is probably your best and most affordable transportation option for Whistler. Photo: kcxd – Flickr

Cheap local transit — The hub of Whistler is a compact village ripe with chalet-style lodges, and most of it is walkable. For longer distances, rely on the BC Transit system, which connects the valleys and villages near the ski resort and allows skiers another route to a new slope. One ride is $2.50, and day passes go for $7. Also, make sure you don’t forget about that car you rented. It could beyour route to beautiful vistas.

Coffee

Coffee. Photo: waferboard – Flickr 

Energize your day — Carb up before you hit the slopes with a ham and egg breakfast panini and cup of joe at Mount Currie Coffee Company. Prices vary, but whatever breakfast delicacy you decide to indulge in, it won’t put you behind on your budget before the day is even in full swing.

 

Snowshoeing in Whistler

Snowshoeing outside of Whistler. Photo: pfly – Flickr.

Strap on your snowshoes — There are hundreds of miles of trails in the mountains surrounding Whistler, many of which are traversable even in the winter by snowshoe. The Sea to Sky Trail is a great placeto start. It stretches 20 miles through Whistler, from Lost Lake Park north of the village to Green Lake, and is wide and easily navigable via snowshoe or ski. If you’re feeling ambitious, extend your expedition — the whole trail runs more than 111 miles from D’Arcy to Squamish.

 

Burger and Fries

Burger and fries. Photo: Maya83 – Flickr

Taste the valueEl Furniture Warehouse, or El Furny, as it’s so fondly referred to, offers all meals for only $4.95. All day, every day. They use ingredients sourced as locally as possible to create dishes that are sure to make your altitude-adjusting stomach growl—think everything from green apple and quinoa salad to braised beef dip sandwich au jus. You can also warm up with their alcoholic hot beverages.

 

Brandywine Falls near Whistler

Brandywine Falls before the freeze. Photo:Matt Swern – Flickr.

Fathom the falls — Head to Brandywine Falls Provincial Park just outside the city. The parking lot is closed during the winter, but snowplows create a makeshift lot nearby. It’s about a 20-minute snowshoe trip to the majestic falls, where you’ll watch the water plunge into hole carved out of the frozen pond below. Keep going to the Bungee Bridge if you have the energy. If you don’t have snowshoes, check out the path anyway and see if someone has already packed it down enough to walk on.

 

Whistler Olympic Park

The Olympic spirit is still alive and well in Whistler. Photo: Jon Wick – Flickr

Follow the paths of Olympians — Visit Whistler Olympic Park, where one-third of the medals awarded in the 2010 games were won. There is plenty to do at the park, but watch the hours, it closes at 4:30 p.m. most days. The park offers  tobogganing, skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and more. $25 will get you a shuttle ride from Whistler village to the park and a snowshoeing excursion.

Whistler mountain views

Check out the vistas surrounding Whistler. Photo: chispita_666 – Flickr

Utilize your rental car — If you ended up renting a car for this trip, take advantage of it. There are too many beautiful vistas in the area to even comprehend, so pile in and go.

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Tagged: Cheap Tips, Food & drink, FREE!, Holidays, Seasonal, Sports, Tips & advice