Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 23, 2017
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More for less in top US cities

Last fall there were high fives all around when the long-languishing loonie began to hover at par with the US greenback. But this summer there’s another reason for dollar-wise travellers to rejoice.

That’s because an increasing number of attractions south of the border are now throwing open their doors, allowing you to pay a visit without actually paying anything at all. Read on for a sampling of great American freebies in some top conference destinations.


Hurray for Hollywood

Best known for freeways and free beaches, LA has a surprising number of free attractions as well. Highlights include hilltop venues like the Getty Center (tel: 310-440-7300; www.getty.edu) and the Greco-Roman style Getty Villa, both of which give access to their enviable collections along with a full slate of events.

The Los Angeles County Music Center (tel: 213-972-4399; www.musiccenter.org) is equally accommodating. Not only does it host no- or low-cost performances under the “Music Center Presents” banner, it also runs complimentary Symphonian Tours showcasing four “campus” buildings, among them the aggressively-angular Walt Disney Concert Hall.

But let’s be honest. This city’s true forte is pop culture — Hollywood being the chief arbiter. You can cue the action in the much-photographed forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (tel: 323-464-8111; www.manntheatres.com) where celebs have been pressing hands, feet and an occasional hoof into cement since 1927. The theatre’s website has a helpful location key, plus info on the movie premieres that are still held here regularly.

Outside, get reel by following Hollywood Boulevard’s star-paved Walk of Fame; then take a peek at the Kodak Theatre (home of the Oscar ceremonies) and zoom in for a pic of the legendary Hollywood Sign. The local Chamber of Commerce (tel: 323-469-8311; www.hollywoodchamber.net) offers how-to tips.

If you prefer music to movies, the gratis museum at the Hollywood Bowl (tel: 323-850-2000; www.hollywoodbowl.com) is another option, as it’s loaded with memorabilia relating to the rock stars who have headlined here. (Time a morning trip right, and you may also get to hear a current act rehearsing in the outdoor amphitheatre.)

Interested in a different kind of star gazing? At the recently-renovated Griffith Observatory (tel: 213-473-0800; www.griffithobs.org), on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood, there is no charge to view stellar exhibits and peer through the five-metre long Zeiss telescope. Of course, in LaLa Land, even observatories can boast pop culture connections: numerous films have been shot on location here, starting with Rebel Without a Cause in 1955.


Big Apple, Small Budget

Like DC, New York City has a wealth of no-cost attractions and activities. Remember, it doesn’t cost a dime to see the bright lights of Broadway, stroll across the fabled Brooklyn Bridge or take in the view of Lady Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry. However, the big deals here are the free tours.

The Big Apple Greeter program (tel: 212-669-8159; www.bigapplegreeter.org) is a case in point. It pairs vacationers with compatible, carefully-vetted volunteers who are eager to show off their hometown’s hidden nooks and crannies. Aside from a two- to four-hour tour for up to six people, this service includes hotel pick-up and even related public transit costs.

Some 300 in-the-know greeters are now on the program’s roll. The caveat is that their services are very much in demand, so travellers are advised to book a month in advance. Procrastinators, on the other hand, can opt for one of the informative guided strolls sponsored by local Business Improvement Districts.

The Grand Central Partnership (tel: 212-883-2420; www,grandcentralpartnership.org), for instance, gives tours in and around Manhattan’s most celebrated train terminal, Fridays at 12:30pm. Additional walks are organized around Time Square (tel: 212-768-1560; www.timessquarenyc.org), Fridays at noon; Union Square (tel: 212- 17-1826; www.unionsquarenyc.org), Saturdays at 2pm; and Wall Street (tel: 212-606-4064; www.downtownny.com), Thursdays and Saturdays at noon.

Parks get in on the act, too. The most notable, however, being Central Park. You might already be aware of its complimentary cultural presentations. Shakespeare in the Park (tel: 212-539-8500; www.publictheater.org) and the SummerStage (tel: 212- 360-2756; http://summerstage.org) concert series are only two of the popular programs hosted here each summer.

But the Central Park Conservancy (tel: 212-360- 2726; www.centralparknyc.org) also offers assorted guided and self-guided walks focusing on history or ecology. Rather paddle than plod? Try getting your fresh air fix instead at the non-profit Downtown Boathouse (tel: 646-613-0375; www.downtownboathouse.org). It operates free, first-come, first-served kayak tours every weekend and holiday morning until September 14.


Viva Las Vegas

Though high rollers get most of the attention here, tightwads can still hit the jackpot — provided they play their cards right. Free gaming tutorials teach you how to do just that. You can pick up some tips (and chips!) at the Imperial Palace’s (tel: 800-634-6441; www.imperialpalace.com) hour-long blackjack, craps and roulette lessons; or learn the art of card dealing by shuffling over to audit a class for prospective pros at the Casino Gaming School (tel: 702-893-1788; www.learntodeal.com).

Afterward you can enjoy endless free entertainment, because Vegas is basically one gigantic venue with performances ranging from the 12-million-bulb light show at the Fremont Street Experience (tel: 877- 834-2748; www.vegasexperience.com) to the Bellagio’s (888-987-6667; www.bellagio.com) signature water ballet.

Frugal souls will be happy to hear that many live acts are also priceless, both literally and figuratively. Cirque du Soleil tickets cost at least $60, yet you can watch jugglers, clowns and daring young men on the flying trapeze for free when the world’s largest permanent circus performs at the Circus Circus Casino (tel: 800-634-3450; www.circuscircus.com).

As if that wasn’t enough, Rio’s Masquerade Show in the Sky (tel: 866-746-7671; ww.playrio.com) re-creates Brazil’s Carnival, complete with garish floats and bead-throwing revellers; Treasure Island (tel: 800- 288-7206; www.treasureisland.com) gets arrgghh-rated as scantily-clad sirens mix it up with a motley crew each night aboard a life-size pirate ship

When the kitsch factor gets too high, swap cheesiness for chocolate by heading to the tasteful Ethel M. Chocolate Factory (tel: 888-627-0990; www.ethelschocolate.com), 15 minutes southeast of the Strip. The factory schedules free tours to satisfy your curiosity and passes out free samples to satisfy your sweet tooth.

For anyone who’d rather take a walk on the wild side, the MGM Grand (tel: 800-929-1111; www.mgmgrand.com) maintains its own Lion Habitat, and the Flamingo (tel: 888-902-9929; www.flamingolasvegas.com) has a Wildlife Habitat that houses the casino’s titular birds. The Silverton (tel: 866-946-4373; www.silvertoncasino.com), meanwhile, offers something fishy: namely a 530,000-litre aquarium filled with 4000 tropical fish. Feeding shows are held three times daily.


Capital Gains

Washington DC understandably emphasizes America’s founding fathers, yet it also boasts the mother lode of free stuff. In fact, most of its 70 major sites charge no entrance fee. So feel free to take an up-close look at those iconic Mall monuments (tel: 202-426-6841; www.nps.gov) and check out the institutions that Americans hold so dear. At the National Gallery of Art (tel: 202-737-4215; www.nga.gov), for example, you’re invited to view North America’s only Da Vinci painting, watch a film, listen to a lecture, participate in hands-on workshops and kick back with al fresco Friday evening jazz concerts.

The Capitol (tel: 202-225-6827; www.aoc.gov), Pentagon (703- 697-1776; www.pentagon.afis.osd.mil), Supreme Court (tel: 202- 479-3211; http://supremecourtus.gov) and money-making Bureau of Engraving and Printing (tel: 866-874-2330; www.moneyfactory. gov) all welcome guests. Ditto for the White House Visitor Center (tel: 202-456-7041; whitehouse.gov) and, on a limited basis, the White House itself.

As Nicholas Cage and his co-stars discovered, more National Treasure — including a draft of the Declaration of Independence — lies among the 135 million items in the Library of Congress (tel: 202- 707-8000; www.loc.gov). Tours are free, as are trips to see the signed version of the Declaration, along with the Constitution and Bill of Rights, in the National Archives (tel: 866-272-6272; www.archives.gov).

But unless you use Cage’s unorthodox methods (and we certainly don’t endorse that!), gaining entry to such venues can eat up valuable time, since advance tickets and rigorous security checks are often required.

The good news is that it is always easy to access the city’s other great treasure trove: the Smithsonian (tel: 202-633-1000; www.smithsonian.org). Covering everything from world-class museums and galleries to the National Zoo, this massive complex offers both complimentary admission and a long list of added bonuses.

Similarly, at the National Air and Space Museum, you can marvel over the Wright Flyer and the Apollo 11 Command Module on a docent-led tour. It is also possible to touch a real moon rock, or toy with dozens of interactive gizmos in the “How Things Fly” gallery without once pulling out your wallet.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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