1. Home
  2. Planning
  3. Cruise Tips and Advice
  4. 9 Free Activities to Do in a Cruise Port

9 Free Activities to Do in a Cruise Port

  • Having fun in port doesn't mean you have to shell out a tonne 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 traveller 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.

    Find a Cruise

    Photo: Pawel Kazmierczak/Shutterstock.com

  • 1

    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.

    Photo: haveseen/Shutterstock.com

  • 2

    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.

    Photo: Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock.com

  • 3

    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. Staying in Europe? Rick Steves' guides offer great walking tours (both written and audio) for those sailing Mediterranean, Baltic Sea, British Isles and European river itineraries.

    Photo: Taras Vyshnya/Shutterstock.com

  • 4

    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.

    Photo: IR Stone/Shutterstock.com

  • 5

    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.

    Photo: Alexandre Zveiger/Shutterstock.com

  • 6

    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.

    Photo: Maridav/Shutterstock.com

  • 7

    People-Watch

    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.

    Photo: Ekaterina Pokrovsky/Shutterstock.com

  • 8

    Go Geocaching

    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. 

    Photo: Multihobbit/Shutterstock.com

  • 9

    Attend a Local Festival

    Attending a festival celebrating your favourite 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.

    Photo: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock.com

    --By Gina Kramer, Associate Editor

Find a Cruise

Popular on Cruise Critic

How To Choose a Cruise Ship Cabin: What You Need to Know
Your room on a cruise ship is called a cabin (or stateroom) and is akin to a hotel room, but typically much smaller. Choosing a cruise ship cabin can be fun and challenging at the same time, and not just a little bit frustrating on occasion. Cabins fall into different types or "categories," and some cruise lines will present as many as 20 or more categories per ship. Before you get overwhelmed, it's helpful to remember that there are essentially only four types of cabins on any cruise vessel: Inside: the smallest-sized room, with no window to the outside Outside: a room with a window or porthole (a round window) with a view to the outside, often similarly sized to an inside cabin or a bit larger; also known as oceanview Balcony: a room featuring a verandah that allows you to step outside without going up to a public deck Suite: a larger cabin, often with separate living and sleeping areas, and a wide variety of extra amenities and perks
6 Best Adults-Only Cruise Sun Decks
Cruise ship sun decks offer all the convenience of loungers, hot tubs and beverage service -- and all the headaches of screaming children, rock concerts on poolside screens and live bands playing "Hot Hot Hot" for the 20th time. Adults-only sun decks offer all the former in a much more serene environment. We have nothing against kids, but even on the most family-friendly cruise ships, an area explicitly excluding children gives parents a valuable hour or two of "me time," while maintaining the sanity of fellow cruisers who came on vacation for peace, quiet and minimal crying. Adults-only sun decks come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Many have amenities not available in the main deck areas and nicer loungers or sun beds; some also require an entry fee. We have not included adults-only solariums that are strictly covered pools. If the only "whining" you want comes with dining, then consider the following six sun decks that maintain a strict adults-only ambiance.
Onboard Credit: How to Get It, Where to Spend It
Free. Money. Are there two more beautiful words in the English language? While money doesn't grow on trees, increasingly it can be found somewhere else -- on the high seas. Call it an incentive, call it a bonus; whatever you want to call it, onboard credit lets you spend more freely with less guilt. You've paid your cruise fare, and now you can splurge on those enticing extras -- Swedish massage, specialty restaurant, an excursion to swim with the dolphins -- without busting your budget. Not many need convincing as to why onboard credit -- money automatically deposited into your onboard account-- rocks, but finding out exactly how to get it and where you can spend it is a bit trickier. We found eight ways to hit the OBC jackpot (some more preferable than others) and offer even more suggestions on how to burn through it, although you probably have your own ideas already.