A bargain with that bed: Hotels often offer free admission to local attractions

Guests staying at the Halekulani get free admission to Iolani Palace in Honolulu.
(Caleb Jones / AP)

I’ve stayed many times at Honolulu’s Halekulani resort and thought I knew everything about it. Not quite.

Here’s something I didn’t know: Guests get free admission to six of Oahu’s most popular attractions.

For the record:

2:30 a.m. April 5, 2018An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that the Jefferson hotel in Washington, D.C., offered walking tours led by Custom Tours of D.C. The tours are self-guided.

Guests staying at the Halekulani can visit the Bishop Museum, Doris Duke’s Shangri-La, Honolulu Museum of Art and Iolani Palace as well as attend concerts by the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra.


Two people sharing a room get more than $200 worth of local experiences for free.

It’s on the hotel’s website, but no one has ever mentioned it to me. (To read more, go to

And these freebies aren’t confined only to the Halekulani.

Many hotels partner with local attractions and activities, offering free museum admissions, walking tours, cultural experiences and other enticements to getting out and exploring. These aren’t part of a package. Usually, anyone can take part regardless of how much the room costs.

But guests may be missing out because, like me, they didn’t know these opportunities existed.

At London’s One Aldwych, the hotel invites guests on a free, 90-minute tour of nearby Covent Garden led by a nationally accredited Blue Badge Guide, exclusively for those staying in the hotel. The tours ( operate Saturdays from July 7 to Sept. 29.

If you hired your own Blue Badge Guide, you would pay about $230 for tours lasting up to four hours. As with the Halekulani, the hotel doesn’t crow about these tours. It was only after my third visit to One Aldwych that I noticed a brochure in my room touting them.

London’s Bloomsbury hotel offers guests a free 70-minute walking tour of the culturally significant Bloomsbury neighborhood at 11 a.m. Saturdays. Guests can learn about the 20 leafy squares in the area (the old stamping grounds of the literary Bloomsbury set) and visit the British Museum, led by a licensed Blue Badge guide.

San Francisco City Guides teams with the Omni and the Fairmont hotels to offer free walking tours. Both hotels are sponsors of the nonprofit City Guides tour company.

“We start a handful of our neighborhood tours from their lobby,” said Michael Cushing, executive director of City Guides, “and they internally promote them as well.”

In New York, the Pod hotel group, which has properties in Manhattan and Brooklyn, offers free walking tours daily led by Streetwise, a New York-based walking tour company.

Monday’s tours explore Little Italy and SoHo; the Thursday tour navigates Greenwich Village and the Meatpacking District.

The 90-minute tours leave from the hotels’ lobbies. If these mini-expeditions weren’t free, you would pay Streetwise $200 for a group of one to four guests for tours up to four hours.

The Triumph Hotel group in New York also teams with Streetwise. Free walking tours leave from all six properties spring through fall every day except Mondays; in winter, tours depart from three hotels on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays.

In Washington, D.C., guests staying at the Jefferson hotel can choose from three free walking tours created by hotel’s official historian, including one this summer called “A Walking Tour of DC for Hamilton Fans.”

Le Méridien hotels offer a global program called Unlock Art. Using your room key as your admission ticket, each of the more than 100 hotels partners with a cultural or artistic institution in its destination.

In Paris, for example, guests staying at the Le Méridien Etoile may visit the Picasso Museum for free; in Minneapolis, it’s the Walker Art Center; in Rome, La Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna welcomes Le Méridien guests.

Ticket prices to these museums vary, but in most cases you would pay $15 to $25 a person.

The East Miami, operated by Hong Kong’s Swire Group, offers free admission to the Pérez Art Museum (otherwise $16 a person for adults, $12 for seniors 62 and older, students and kids 7 to 18).

And there are many more. Ask about these perks before you book or when you get there, but even if you come up empty, at least you’ve asked. If the hotel doesn’t have them, perhaps you’ve planted a seed.