Urban life

How to Spend a Perfect Day in 5 Expensive Cities for Less Than HK$450

Insider tips from locals for cheap things to do in some of the world’s most expensive cities

Hong Kong

Ignoring price-per-square foot, Hong Kong is a budget travel playground Tamsin Cocks

Hong Kong Xiqu Centre, Star Ferry Harbour
Credit: Derry Ainsworth and Joel Fulgencio

Get fired up on the Morning Trail hike to the Peak – you can be up and down in an hour while enjoying those money-can’t-buy views. Reward yourself with a dim sum feast: a HK$2.30 tram ride will deliver you to the North Point branch of Michelin-starred chain Tim Ho Wan, where dishes hover around HK$30.

Avoid the post-dumpling slump with a leisurely walk through Victoria Park to the Wan Chai ferry pier for a cross-harbour trip on the Star Ferry (HK$2.50).

Once in Kowloon, bargain shopping options include Fa Yuen Street for outlet stores; Tung Choi Street Ladies’ Market for souvenirs; or the colourful bloom of the Flower Market. Then head to the city’s most famous cha chaan teng: the Australia Dairy Company, renowned for its scrambled eggs and brusque customer service (HK$38 for a lunch set).

Get an art and culture fix at the new West Kowloon Cultural District: rent a Smartbike to explore the waterfront Art Park (HK$20 per hour), or immerse yourself in traditional Chinese opera at the Xiqu Centre (tickets from HK$180). In the evening, head to neon-lit Causeway Bay for street food classics from Ying Heong Yuen: fish balls in curry sauce (HK$12), plus spicy octopus skewers (HK$15).

Total spend: HK$329

Singapore

The Lion City’s prices might be steep, but there’s plenty for thrifty tourists –Sanjay Surana

Singapore Hindu temples, cafes, Chinatown
Credit: Yu Kato/Unsplash. Annie Spratt/Unsplash

Grab Breakfast at Simply Bread in Cluny Court – a whitewashed cafe that serves sticky buns, raspberry twists and smooth cappuccinos (S$7/HK$39). From here it’s a short stroll to the immaculate Unesco-listed Singapore Botanic Gardens, where entry is free and attractions include wetlands, a palm valley and a ginger garden. Continue exploring the outdoors at Thomson Nature Park, opened at the end of 2019 to help conserve the critically endangered Raffles’ banded langur. 

For lunch, New Rong Liang Ge Cantonese Roast Duck Double Boiled Soup is a beloved hawker stall that debuted on the Bib Gourmand list of the Michelin Guide Singapore 2019, and serves roast meats with rice from S$2.50/HK$14. 

Afterwards, squeeze in a visit to the free exhibits at Singapore City Gallery; or catch a free afternoon performance at the Esplanade theatres. You should also have enough time to join a free afternoon walking tour of Chinatown, Little India and the Malay Kampong Glam area, run by Monster Day Tours.

Bring your appetite to the Japanese buffet dinner at Kiseki (from S$40/HK$223), with a gut-busting selection of sushi, sashimi, teppanyaki and yakitori. Continue the party at Artemis Sky Bar with a 3pm-to-close Happy Hour (S$15/HK$84).

Total spend: S$64.50/HK$360

Paris

How to pull off Parisian-chic on the Parisian-cheap – Madévi Dailly

Paris Seine Oysters Restaurant lIlot
Credit: Greg Jeanneau/Unsplash & Courtesy of L’Îlot’s

Start with caramelised chausson aux pommes at Sain Boulangerie (€1.60/HK$13) to fuel a browse of nearby rue de Marseille’s outlet shops. If your budget doesn’t stretch to discounted Maje or A.P.C., check out Macon & Lesquoy’s bright stick-on patches (from €10/HK$85) for your wardrobe classics. Follow the cobblestones south to continue foraging in the hip boutiques of Le Marais. 

Come lunchtime, grab a stool at L’Îlot’s tiny counter for half a dozen Fine de Claire oysters (€9.50/HK$80), served with a glass of crisp Picpoul (€4/HK$34). A 10-minute walk away, Lafayette Anticipations champions cutting-edge contemporary art; in April, catch a free exhibition of Rachel Rose’s dream-like films, collages and sculptures. 

Download the Lime app to whizz your e-scooter down the car-free banks of the Seine (€5.50/HK$46 for 30 minutes). Park at Invalides and hop on the metro (€1.90/HK$16) to Bouillon Julien, where classic bistro fare is served in a splendid Art Nouveau dining room (€15/HK$130). Finish the night at La Bellevilloise, a boho hangout that often hosts free jazz concerts beneath its Insta-worthy olive trees.

Total spend: €47.50/HK$412

Zurich

An efficient, economical tour of the Swiss capital – Adam Graham

Zurich Löwenbräu Areal Flussbad Oberer Letten
Credit: Courtesy of Löwenbräu-Areal & Magnus Winter

Zurich’s quintessential breakfast is the butterbrezel – a pretzel stuffed with butter. One of the best can be found at Bäckerei A Stadelmann for CHF3.50 (HK$28). A ten-minute walk away is Brockiland, a second-hand shop stuffed with unusual souvenirs from caquelon fondue pots to oil paintings. 

Armed with a 24-hour transport pass – just CHF9 (HK$70) – head over the river to grab a spicy beef pepito from Brasserie Louis on Niederdorfstrasse 10 (CHF9/HK$70). Nab a picnic spot overlooking the Limmat river to enjoy your mittagspause (midday pause). After watching locals float by – well, it’s your turn: the Flussbad Oberer Letten is a central bathing facility right on the river.

As the sun weakens, head to the Löwenbräu-Areal, an art complex housing free contemporary exhibitions, or the Kunsthalle Zurich – one of the city’s best museums, with free entry every Thursday.

For dinner, settle into a terrace table at Rheinfelder Bierhalle in the Old Town with a plate of cordon bleu (CHF25/HK$214). Finish off with a nightcap at Xenix Bar in scruffy Helvetiaplatz, a subterranean art cinema and pétanque courtyard with unfiltered Paul Dunkel beer and rosé wine for just CHF7/HK$55.

Total spend: CHF53.50/HK$423

London

How to get more bang for your… er, pound in the UK capital –Marisa Cannon

London Laksa CR Cafe Sheikh Zainuddin art piece
Credit: Courtesy of C&R Café & Wallace Collection

With their meandering routes, London’s public buses are a brilliant way to get to know this urban powerhouse. Hop on the old-school Route 15 heritage bus at the Tower of London, and take in the sights of the city all the way to Trafalgar Square (£1.50/HK$15) before diving into the gleaming lights of the West End. Stroll through Soho to C&R Café in buzzing Chinatown for the best laksa outside of Singapore (£9.50/HK$95). After lunch, head north to Marylebone and the Wallace Collection, a resplendent 17th century townhouse filled with artwork from the likes of Rembrandt and Canaletto – like most London museums, it’s free to enter. As you’re nearby, it would be rude not to visit Sherlock Holmes’ statue just off Baker Street, for a mandatory selfie with the great consulting detective – followed by a short walk to leafy Regent’s Park, where free open-air exhibitions fill the gardens in warmer months. 

If the weather is particularly obliging, rent a pedalo on the lake (£10.50/HK$105 per hour). Replenish your caffeine stores at The Boathouse Café (£2.10/HK$21), then head eastward towards Goodge Street: a popular stomping ground among students and home to Icco’s family-run pizza house. Here, a 12-inch mushroom and mozzarella pizza will set you back a paltry £5.50/HK$56. Buon appetito!

Total spend: £29.10/HK$295

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