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SOURCEBOOK 2007 | AFFORDING THE BEST

Bargains, even in Paris and Tokyo

February 04, 2007|Avital Binshtock | Special to The Times

IT'S the perpetual travel dilemma: Go somewhere iconic but come home significantly poorer. Or choose a destination with less of a siren song, but keep the savings account flush. A few tips, though, diminish the dilemma. Here's a list of expensive cities and advice about how to visit each without going broke.

1. Milan, Italy

Head to Mercato Papiniano, where designer duds and footwear can be had for far less than at the typical posh Milan shop. If you're there in May, see celebrities like Sting and Avril Lavigne perform at the Cornetto Free Music Festival for -- you guessed it -- free. And these attractions don't cost a single euro: Il Duomo (cathedral), Castello Sforzesco (castle free, but museums charge about $4) and the Giardini Pubblici (public gardens).

2. New York

The New York Botanical Garden, the Bronx Zoo and the Brooklyn Children's Museum all have free-admission days. A great resource is "Pauline Frommer's New York City." Among the book's recommendations: Dine at Charlie Palmer's Kitchen 22, which offers a gourmet three-course meal for $25; shop at designer sample sales instead of department stores (www.nysale.com for schedules).

3. Paris

To get the lowest prices on hotels, book from November to February; avoid September and October. However, Teri Gault, a savings guru and founder of thegrocerygame.com, notes that prices for good-sized hotel rooms are always comparatively high; she suggests staying in an apartment instead (try Paris' Craigslist or www.trading-homes.com).

4. Copenhagen

Copenhagen has a trust-based system for free transportation: the City Bikes (www.bycyklen.dk). Passersby borrow a bicycle off an unattended rack; all that's required is a deposit equivalent to $3.50, which you get back upon returning the bike. Some of the city's most beloved tourist draws, such as the Little Mermaid statue and the National Museum, are free.

5. Hong Kong

Affordable attractions include Victoria Peak ($4.20 for a round-trip tram ride), the 75-foot-tall Buddha near Po Lin Monastery (free) and Temple Street Night Market (free), where vendors peddle designer knockoffs and Asian curios. Also: Most museums are free on Wednesdays; Star Ferry's fare is about 68 cents for a scenic ride

6. Geneva

For affordable lodging, go with the Hotel & Residence Saint-James (starting at $64 per night), which could use a makeover but is comfortable enough and centrally located. Free things to do include strolling Old Town's cobblestone streets, touring historic Tavel House, exploring the Natural History Museum, lazing along the waterfront at Lake Geneva and savoring the Botanical Gardens.

7. Seoul

The Korean Travel Card, or KTC, works like a credit card for most purchases (no discount there), but includes free travelers insurance, special currency-exchange rates, and if used as a calling card, up to a 90% discount on calls. As for sightseeing, the National Museum is a bargain at just over $3. It's somber and martial-themed but it'll make Americans feel like superstars. Admission prices for ancient palaces and temples are reasonable.

8. London

Looking for ways to make London less steep? It's in the cards. Visit London, the city's official tourist organization, offers the London Pass card (about $66), which affords free entry to more than 50 attractions, including the Tower of London, St. Paul's Cathedral and Windsor Castle. Visit Britain's Oyster card is the cheapest way to buy Tube, bus and tram fares. Remember, many London museums are free.

9. Tokyo

Though it costs more than $6 just to sit in a Tokyo cab (take public transit instead), the city is rife with affordable hostels -- many of which have perks such as a central location, private rooms (though bathrooms may be shared) and traditional Japanese decor. Go to www.hostelworld.com.

10. Moscow

If you're willing to endure the cold, prices throughout Moscow drop along with temperature in September. Budget travel during high season is more difficult, but tourists can mitigate cost by visiting only inexpensive highlights, such as the Kremlin ($11), Tretyakov Gallery ($8) and bulbous St. Basil's Cathedral ($3.75).

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