Having fun in port doesn't mean you have to shell out a ton of money on shore excursions or private tours. Depending on where you cruise, there are a number of activities that allow you to relax, explore or get a taste of the culture free of charge. Swim at a hidden cove, visit an old church or sample local delicacies at the markets. Whether you're a couple, family, group of friends or solo traveler looking for a wallet-friendly way to experience the exciting new destinations on your itinerary, we've got you covered. Here are nine free activities to do in port.
Tip: Although the following activities are free, you should still keep a little cash on hand for meals, transportation, shopping and emergencies.
Hit the Beach
Tropical itineraries are sprinkled with beaches that make for literally priceless activities. Spread out your towels and soak up some vitamin D, walk along the beach looking for seashells or cool off in the crystal-clear waters. Many beautiful beaches are within walking distance or just a free shuttle ride from your cruise port. Pina coladas and lunch won't be included, but at least you'll have money to spare if you work up an appetite. For inspiration, check out pictures of our favorite beaches in the Eastern, Western and Southern Caribbean.
Explore the Outdoors
Although many terminal areas might not evoke an outdoorsy vibe, you'd be surprised by what you can find beyond the city limits. Hiking trails abound in a number of ports, and can range from easy paths to more challenging inclines. We recommend doing a bit of research beforehand, or using an app like AllTrails, which lists nearby hiking trails for any given location. Popular itineraries with opportunities for adventure include Alaska, Hawaii and Australia and New Zealand.
Tour the City
Why pay for a tour of the city's landmarks when you can see them for free? If you're comfortable getting around on your own, make it a point to visit some of the port city's most prominent sights. From statues and street art to places of worship and sacred monuments, you can give yourself a mini-history lesson by doing a bit of your own research and chatting with locals. Wing it, or follow a self-guided tour that's already mapped out for you, such as those offered by tourism offices or on apps, such as City Walks or Google's Field Trip. Europe bound? Rick Steves' guides offer great walking tours (both written and audio) for those sailing Mediterranean, Baltic Sea, British Isles and European river itineraries.
Browse the Markets
Shopping won't spare your bank account, but browsing the markets is free. While local markets vary depending on where you cruise, you most likely will see handmade crafts, local art and food -- some of which you might even be able to sample. Markets are also great places for photographs, a free souvenir of your trip. If there's a chance you'll make a purchase, make sure you have local currency on hand.
Catch Live Music
From steel drum bands in St. Maarten to accordion players on the streets of Venice, public performances are a great way to enjoy free entertainment in port. (Tipping is encouraged if you stick around.) Live music can be found anywhere from local bars to street corners. If you stumble upon an act that starts to draw a crowd, don't be afraid to sing, dance or clap along. Just be aware of your surroundings; pickpocket thieves love crowds of happy-go-lucky tourists.
Go for a Run
Fitness junkies aren't confined to onboard gyms and jogging tracks when it comes to getting in a good workout. Cruises are a great way for runners to combine exercise with sightseeing in various ports. Just don't expect to find a suitable starting line as soon as you step foot ashore. Ask your ship's guest services desk if they know of any local trails, tracks or quiet roads (so you don't end up on a busy highway). Bringing along your phone? MapMyRun is a great tool for runners abroad, as it allows you to search and follow user-generated routes.
There's no denying it: Cruises are the perfect places for people-watching and speculating about the story behind the interactions you observe. When in port, it's another way to learn about a country's culture and environment -- plus, it's free. If you feel like kicking back and surveying the crowd, head to a public park or a bench outside a major attraction. Just don't make it awkward.
Geocaching is pretty much modern-day treasure hunting. Roughly two million containers (geocaches) are hidden worldwide, and each contains assorted trinkets and a logbook. Participants use a GPS to hide and seek containers -- signing the logbooks and trading the items inside along the way. It's fun, free and especially great for groups. A number of cruise destinations are home to geocaches. Bermuda has more than 280 on the island, while other popular ports include San Juan and Juneau.
Attend a Local Festival
Attending a festival, or even celebrating your favorite holiday abroad (think: attending an Easter mass or watching a New Year's Eve fireworks show), is one of the most immersive free activities you can do on a cruise. While you'll need to plan your cruise around specific dates, like Carnaval or Oktoberfest (which offer free events and can be accessed by cruise ship), smaller-scale events are more prevalent year-round. Check out the events calendars for your cruise ports to see what will be buzzing while you're there.
--By Gina Kramer, Associate Editor