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How to Visit the World’s Coolest Cities for Free

With new stopover programs on popular airlines, you can get two vacations for the price of one.

Buy one, get one free puts on a smile on the face of any shopper. It’s one thing to get an extra bottle of laundry detergent or toothpaste, but if you really want to get excited, look at airline stopover programs that allow you to visit an additional country at very minimal or no extra cost.

Here’s a rundown of the best deals from airlines that offer a budget-friendly way to get more bang for your travel buck.

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PHOTO: forma82 /Shutterstock
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Lisbon

WHERE: Portugal

TAP Air Portugal makes it easy for you to see one of Europe’s coolest capitals. If you’re traveling from the U.S., Canada, or Brazil on TAP, you can fly to more than 70 destinations and enjoy a five-day stopover experience in Lisbon. There’s no extra charge for this extended layover, and more than 100 airline partners offer discounts on hotels, restaurants, museums, tuk-tuk rides and more.

Lisbon merges the old and new seamlessly, with places like the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a magnificent monastery in the Belem district. Built in the early 1500s, it’s one of the most decorated churches in Portugal, with vaulted ceilings and an ornate altar. For something trendy, visit Chiado, the arts and culture district full of galleries and shops, or Pink Street in the Bairro Alto district, the heart of Lisbon’s night life. Liberty Avenue is beloved for its designer shops and restaurants–locals say it is their Avenue des Champs-Elysees. With so much to see and do in Lisbon, five days will just be a tease.

2 OF 10

WHERE: Turkey

Istanbul is in the middle of the action–it’s a gateway between east and west and a three-hour flight lands you in 41 destinations in Europe. Turkish Airlines’ stopover service for passengers departing from its U.S. gateways and flying to Africa, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, South Europe, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Russia, Iran, and Kazakhstan, let’s you combine two countries for the price of one. If you have more than 20 hours of connection time in Istanbul, you are also eligible for free accommodations in ideal neighbohoods: Economy passengers get a one night stay at a 4-star hotel in Sultanahmet, while those flying in business class get two nights at a 5-star hotel in Taksim.

While in Istanbul, make good use of your limited time with a boat ride along the beautiful Bosphorous. Tour The Sultan Ahmed (Blue Mosque), where the main prayer hall can hold up to 10,000 worshippers. The 600-year-old Grand Bazaar and Spice Market is another must see and an excellent place to sample pastries like Baklava, layered filo dough filled with pistachios and syrup.

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PHOTO: Catarina Belova /Shutterstock
3 OF 10

WHERE: Italy

You probably need little enticement to consider making a pit stop in Rome, but if you travel through Rome on your way to one of the destinations in Alitalia Airlines’ network, you can take a three-day detour for no extra charge. Filling your itinerary will be easy. There’s the Sistine Chapel, Colosseum, Vatican City with its gardens and museums, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pantheon, and the Forum. See what you can and in between, eat and drink your way through the eternal city.

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There’s so much buzz about Dubai, and as a hub for Emirates, it’s worth spending a few days here. With the Dubai Stopover package, you’ll get access to a five-star hotel, special rates on City Sightseeing Dubai’s hop-on, hop-off bus, and much more. You won’t want to miss the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, along with outrageous shopping, vibrant nightlife, and world-class restaurants. If you’d like a taste of the desert or the Persian Gulf, pristine beaches and sand dunes await.

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5 OF 10

WHERE: China

Air China’s 72 or 144-hour layover gives you the opportunity to soak up the sites and sounds of Shanghai. The top of your list should include the Longhua Temple, built in the 10th century and said to be the place where Buddha reached enlightenment. Come evening, you’ll want to walk the Bund to see illuminated architectural gems like the Shanghai World Financial Center and Oriental Pearl TV Tower. Make time for the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium, Shanghai Museum, Zhujiajiao Ancient Water Town, and the Huangpu River Cruise.

reyk
PHOTO: Boyloso / Shutterstock
6 OF 10

WHERE: Iceland

Are you the only one among your friends who hasn’t seen the Northern Lights? When it comes to Reykjavik, this is one time you might want to follow the crowds. Icelandair and Alaska Airlines have stopover programs that make the decision easier. While there, you can go whale watching or check out the National Gallery of Iceland, which showcases 19th and 20th century local artists, as well as those from around the world. The Sun Voyager sculpture is a must-see, as is Hallgrímskirkja (Hallgrímur’s Church).

helsinki
PHOTO: Oleksiy Mark /Shutterstock
7 OF 10

WHERE: Finland

When flying between Europe and Asia via Helsinki on Finnair, touch down in Helsinki for a layover—anywhere between five hours or five days. With the stopover program, you get roundtrip tickets for the Finnair City Bus, two overnights at a downtown Helsinki hotel in a standard guest room with a breakfast buffet, a 3-course dinner at Zetor, a day cruise from Helsinki to Tallinn on Tallink Shuttle (with meals included), and a spot on the Helsinki Panorama Sightseeing bus tour.

8 OF 10

WHERE: China

Take advantage of Alaska Airlines’ generosity with a Hong Kong stopover when you fly roundtrip from the US to Asia. Cathay Pacific is a partner with Alaska Airlines, so you can spend days or weeks in Hong Kong before getting to your final destination elsewhere in Asia. Relax in one of the many day spas– or go on a food tour of the city’s legendary restaurants, noodle shops, and street vendors, serving Chinese barbecue, dim sum, and more. Walk it off at the Hong Kong Museum of History, explore Nan Lian Garden, or wander through the Temple Street Night Market.

9 OF 10

While on your way to Asia or Australia, don’t pass up the opportunity to see Singapore. With Singapore Airlines’ Singapore Stopover Holiday, you can stay at 3- to 5-star hotels for a night, get complimentary rides on the SIA Hop-on Bus, and get deals on attractions for prices starting at $30. Make the most of your time in Singapore with the Singapore River Cruise, the National Museum of Singapore, Gardens by the Bay, Ola Beach Club, and Chinatown Heritage Centre.

10 OF 10

On a stopover with Etihad Airways, you can spend two nights in Abu Dhabi. You’ll get a discount on the hotel the first night and the second night is on the airline. Come back with tales of dune buggy rides, sand surfing, belly dancing, kayaking in the mangroves, or afternoon tea, glamorous shopping, and a gold leaf facial.