When you’re on the road, internet connections can be a make-or-break factor in your ability to change plans on the fly and coordinate with your travel buddies. So then, what great news it is that there are these European cities where, not only can you get the internet, but you can do it for free! Prepare for some majorly itchy feet.
Barcelona has a total of 443 hotspots for free WiFi and most are in the Old Town (Ciutat Vella), and the districts Eixample, Sants and Gràcia. This service has been available since 2011, and now is the largest free WiFi net in Spain and one of the most important in Europe. Elsewhere in Spain, Madrid also has free WiFi, as well as Bilbao, which was one of the first cities in the country to have it (with the same restrictions).
- Ideal locations: Browse the web in public facilities maintained by the city: libraries, neighbourhood centres, markets, parks, museums, sports centres, and even the beach are options. Airports also have 15 minutes free WiFi after registration.
- Restrictions: Free after registration. The speed is 256 Kbps, which is too slow to download anything, listen to music or look at videos, but you can surf normally and use WhatsApp.
There are over 260 public places, and 400 terminals around the 20 “quartiers” with WiFi, but most are concentrated in the central areas like Hôtel de Ville, Les Halles and Châtelet. The service is called Paris WiFi and it started back in 2007, managed by three companies: first Alcatel, then Orange and since 2013, Nomotech. The government is creating public spaces for free lessons about technology and how to deal with computers and the internet, for older people or people with no computer skills. In Bordeaux, you’ll find WiFi on the streets and in public places, as well as in the cities of Orléans, Metz, Nantes, Grenoble, and Clermont Ferrand.
- Ideal locations: Scenic locations for your comfort and connection: Terrasse des Archives at Le Marais, Café de L’Institut in the Latin Quarter, Le Conti at St. Germaine-Montparnasse, Rosa Bonheur at the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, Point Éphémère (which is also a concert venue at Belleville).
- Restrictions: 2 hours of free connection, but you can simply log in after that times out. Generally, the internet is available from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. but it depends on the closing times of the public building you are in, for instance, a library or municipal house. Open spaces like the Champ de Mars, the centre Kellermann or the square of the Hôtel de Ville have WiFi open 24 hours a day.
This is a city covered in hotspots from The Cloud that give you 15 minutes of free WiFi daily, as well as the public networks BT WiFi and O2. Since 2012, mobile operator O2 rolled out the free internet to millions of residents and visitors in central London by launching Europe’s largest free WiFi zone for the Olympics. Beyond the capital, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, and Nottingham. are among the ‘wireless cities’ offering free access to their centres. Many chains like Pizza Express, Pret A Manger, McDonald’s, Punch Taverns, Marriott Hotels and various London Underground stations also offer WiFi (free to their subscribers, otherwise a paid-for service), and in many London Overground stations.
- Ideal locations: Joe and the Juice (Regent Street) is a great place to work and people watch. It’s never too crowded and there are great comfy sofas.
- Restrictions: In shops, there are few restrictions if any, though consider buying a second coffee if you’re in a café for the long haul. On The Cloud WiFi, you just need to download “The Cloud” app, and signal will pick up automatically. When using O2 access in restaurants and cafés you generally need to register on their site before automatically being texted an access code.
Since 2013, free WiFi has been available throughout the whole inner city, as well as some hotspot locations on the outskirts. Coverage is shared between nine local mid-sized companies which continue to spread their scope. Free WiFi is catching on across Germany, especially in public spaces. In the near future, it will likely be offered in most bigger cities since politicians and planners realise how much prestige a city gains by providing it. Berlin already has upwards of 40 hotspots, while Stuttgart, Hamburg, Düsseldorf, and other cities have free internet at selected locations in their city centres. More than 120 train stations in Germany give visitors access to 30 minutes of free internet per login on the network Telekom.
- Ideal locations: If you want to surf the web, head to the campus of Pforzheim University of Applied Sciences, or, on sunnier days, one of the many green spaces outside it, including the luscious Goldsmiede Park.
- Restrictions: After a one-time sign up by email and phone number or PayPal account, you receive a text with your password. With this, you receive 500mb high speed per month for free, but after that, the internet connection slows.
There are hundreds of hotspots and antennas throughout the city so that you can get connected for free. This is only part of the free WiFi project across the country, called “Wireless Belgie,” which has been ongoing since 2003 as a way to modernise cities and attract visitors. The first city to achieve public WiFi was Sint-Katelijne-Waver, a close neighbour of Antwerp.
- Ideal locations: Some nice bars such as Coffeelabs or Caffenation provide free WiFi with your latte, making them excellent places to sit down to work or simply surf. Also, Meir (the main shopping street in Antwerp), recently introduced free WiFi for shoppers to improve their experience in combination with social media to try to offer customers all kinds of promotions through Bluetooth. The central train station has free WiFi as well as many bars.
- Restrictions: You must be a client of the major Belgian networks (Belgacom, Scarlet, Mobistar or Versatelto) to use the WiFi for free.
Public spaces across this Dutch city enjoy free and easy WiFi access. The project initially began in 2007 but was then cancelled in 2010. In 2013 the city of Groningen restarted the project after it received a 3 years investment for free WiFi for 2 hours a day. The university also offers its students 3 years unlimited use of the WiFi (via eduroam). Another initiative, ‘Bullseye’ launched in 2014, providing WiFi but requiring a download of their app and registration (giving some personal details). Unfortunately, the information about your browsing behaviour is saved to send to advertisers. By the end of the year, they will be online in 37 cities.
- Ideal locations: If you want to sit down and enjoy a nice cappuccino, head to Black and Bloom, a lovely coffee-bar.
- Restrictions: You must be a client of the provider, Draadloos. It is available for two hours per day and only in public places rather than shops, and speed is limited to 200Mb.
There are 370 hotspots around the city (70 of which are indoor) and they continue to grow. The process of conversion to public WiFi started in 2012, as Milan aims to become a “smart” city in time for the 2015 Expo. The free internet initiative across Italy was first promoted by Rome, Sardinia and Venice and since 2010, a lot of Italian cities also joined the project. Trains on Frecciarossa (high speed from Torino to Salerno) and Frecciargento (high speed from Rome to North East to Southern Italy) by Trenitalia give users free WiFi on their journey.
- Ideal locations: WiFi is not only at McDonald’s! Arnold Coffee is a great haunt with 4 locations around the city. Public libraries and some museums provide it too and you’ll find WiFi throughout Malpensa airport.
- Restrictions: You’ve first go to register, but that’ll give you access to up to 300 MB per day, including one hour of high-speed internet before being limited to 192 kb/s.
All of Vienna is surrounded by free WiFi hotspots. However, it is usually referred to in German as WLAN! WiFi access points are growing, especially in Vienna, with ever more hotspot possibilities being available. Though WiFi connection in Austria is pretty decent across the bigger cities like Graz, Salzburg or Innsbruck, be careful not to count on the internet when you go to remote places like the Eastern Alps of Austria. Most local coffee places there won’t have WiFi and are too small that any Starbucks or McDonald’s franchise would set up shop there.
- Ideal location: In the summer, go have a seat at Donaukanl on Tel Aviv beach where you can WhatsApp like the locals due to the amazing WiFi. Or you can go to Karlsplatz Kunsthalle, where the beautiful exhibits are mirrored by beautiful cafés. The major universities are close by where you can mingle with the art and tech students, or just sit with your laptop. One perfect place to test out both the WiFi and your Tinder skills is at Palmenhaus close to Biergarten, where you can find people enjoying both nature and technology at once.
- Restrictions: Technically, there is a restriction of one hour a day, but you just have to disconnect and reconnect to restart another hour.
The internet! It’s everywhere! Tallin is a wireless city. You can find the internet in all the public places, including beaches and in the forest. In the petrol stations, you can buy an hour of WiFi if you prefer to have a more private and secure connection. The programme for free WiFi started to develop in 2005, because of which Tallinn is considered an incredibly innovative city. In fact, Tallin is also the home of Skype. The Estonian government considers internet access a universal right for inhabitants, so you can find it almost everywhere. Estonia was also the first country that allowed people to vote through the internet and soon they are planning make it possible through mobile phones too.
- Ideal locations: You can get connected in all sorts of public spaces (parks, squares, pubs, cafés), especially in the tourist areas. The Japanese Gardens of Kadriog are set to be completed in 2015, and may provide an environment calming enough to get even the most restless workers focused. The train stations and airport also have free access.
- Restrictions: Download speed is limited to 15Mb per second.
The city of Helsinki offers a free WiFi service for residents and travellers alike. Finavia also offers a free WiFi with unlimited use for all passengers at Helsinki Airport. The municipality has been setting up its free wireless Internet network in a number of public spaces in Helsinki since 2006. A few years ago, Finavia improved the connection in Helsinki by increasing the number of base stations to more than 80 and upgrading the speed rate as it’s becoming more and more popular year after year. Free WiFi is quite common throughout the country in urban centres, and it is commonplace for cafés and bars to offer service either for free or with purchase.
- Ideal Locations: The heart of the city holds the Esplanade park between the 2 streets of Pohjoisesplanadi and Eteläesplanadi. Many Finns come here for picnics, but it also has a good connection to WiFi so it’s a great spot to stop and surf. As well, the largest shopping centre, Kamppi, has its own WiFi. Nearly all cafés have their own free WiFi for their customers, though very few offer shared computers, so make sure to bring your own device.
- Restrictions: There is no password or registration required. Just select “Helsinki City Open WLAN” from the available networks.
Feature Image Courtesy of Flickr: August Brill
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