Long gone are the days you could explore New York City—or any dream destination—for under $5 a day. But you can discover America’s most treasured vacation spots without spending a fortune, thanks to plentiful free (or nearly free) attractions and sights.
Check out our favorite free museums, monuments, mansions, parks and sights in 20 of our nation’s most popular locales.
Albuquerque | Asheville | Atlanta | Boston | Cleveland | Denver | Las Vegas | Louisville | Milwaukee | Nashville | New Orleans | New York | Philadelphia | Phoenix | Saint Louis | Salt Lake City | San Antonio | San Francisco | Seattle | Tampa
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Breathe in desert air scented with sage and piñon pine while admiring Southwestern art and spicing your palate with smoke-kissed New Mexican cuisine, rich in blue corn, squash, pork and chili peppers.
Asheville, North Carolina
Bask in the beauty of Asheville’s Blue Ridge mountain scenery and the cultural cool of the city’s fine architecture.
- Cruise rare vintage autos, horse-drawn carriages and fire engines at the Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum.
- Enjoy nature’s beauty and stop for a picnic along the Blue Ridge Parkway, often cited as one of the nation’s top drives.
- Admire Asheville’s finest architecture and learn its history along the city’s Urban Trail, a 1.7-mile, 30-stop walking tour through downtown. Public sculptures reveal the city’s history.
- Witness sharks emerging from embryos and tropical fish from coral reefs at Team ECCO Ocean Center & Aquarium in nearby Hendersonville. Teachers are admitted for free with a current ID during the school year.
- Watch hunter/jumper and dressage horse shows at Tryon International Equestrian Center. Although it’s 48 miles from Asheville, the drive via freeway (I-26 and US 74) is easy.
Steep yourself in history in the bustling and sophisticated state capital of Georgia, with its warm Southern hospitality.
Photo courtesy of the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism
Boston is a seaside treasure trove of Americana, with Beacon Hill’s colonial history and cobblestone streets, the Freedom Trail and other Revolution-era landmarks, baseball’s famed Fenway Park and more than 100 universities.
- Take a self-guided stroll past historic and contemporary art installations through much of Boston, including Back Bay, Beacon Hill, the Financial District and the North End.
- Meander past 80-plus plant types in the lavish Victorian-style Boston Public Garden, America’s first botanical garden.
- Follow the Freedom Trail via a self-guided trek through more than 2 centuries of America’s past via 16 historical stops, some of which charge nominal entrance fees.
- Find fresh produce, restaurants and shops as well as jugglers, clowns, magicians, mimes and musicians performing on the cobblestone promenade surrounding Faneuil Hall Marketplace, built in 1742.
- After sunset, view the starry sky through telescopes and binoculars at Boston University’s Coit Observatory while learning about astronomy in this hourlong program that’s free on Wednesday nights, 7:30 p.m. through winter and 8:30 p.m. in spring and summer.
Sprawled on the shores of Lake Erie, Cleveland not only hosts the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but also the most golf courses per capita in the United States. It also ranks fifth in the nation for number of major cultural resources per 1 million residents.
- Admire jewel-encrusted Fabergé eggs, medieval statues, Andy Warhol prints and Pablo Picasso paintings among more than 45,000 artworks spanning 5,000 years at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Permanent exhibits are free.
- Attend free concerts at the Cleveland Orchestra’s home, Severance Hall, or under the stars on Public Square on July 4th weekend. Tour the facility at no charge on select Sundays during the season.
- Contemplate the final resting place of America’s 20th President, James A. Garfield, at Lake View Cemetery, with its ornate Romanesque, Gothic and Byzantine styles of architecture. John D. Rockefeller and inventor Garrett Morgan also rest here. Free band concerts occur throughout the year.
- Peek behind the curtains of downtown theaters at Playhouse Square, the country’s largest performing arts district outside of New York, free on select Saturdays throughout the year.
- Travel back in time at Great Lakes Science Center to explore the 1925 freighter Steamship William G. Mather or look inside the actual 1973 Skylab 3 Apollo Command Module. Entry is free for Ohio teachers and discounted for family members.
The laid-back Mile High City showcases spectacular Rocky Mountain vistas, local breweries and live music at the famed Red Rocks amphitheater.
- Follow the money trail to where your currency is conceived at Denver U.S. Mint. Admission is complimentary, but sorry—no free samples.
- Be entertained at free festivals year-round, including summer’s Cherry Creek Arts Festival, Colorado Dragon Boat Festival and People’s Fair, and September’s A Taste of Colorado.
- Enjoy the grounds of the Four Mile Historic Park, a wagon stop during frontier days. It’s open at no charge on select days of the month.
- Launch your weekend on a free shuttle between galleries and studios in a variety of art districts, from 6-9 p.m. on the first Friday of every month.
- Take a free tour of Coors Brewery, the world’s largest brewing site, in Golden, Colo., a half-hour west of Denver. Finish with free samples for visitors over 21. Tea lovers can sip at the Celestial Seasonings Tour in Boulder instead.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Vegas may be known for glitz, glam and 24/7 partying, but the city also fits families as a freebie destination.
- Bet on the Fremont Street Experience, a 7-block, open-air pedestrian mall featuring daily shows, concerts and a nightly light-and-sound display. Shows start at dusk.
- Experience Fall of Atlantis fountains, Caesar Palace’s hourly water show acting out the myth of Atlantis with animatronic figures hourly, starting at 11 a.m.
- Go behind candy-making and satisfy your sweet tooth at Ethel M Chocolate Factory, with free admission and chocolate tasting.
- Beat the Vegas heat at The Park, a 6-acre outdoor promenade with one-of-a-kind art pieces, including Bliss Dance, a 40-foot statue of a dancing woman with 3,000 LED lights.
- View Hoover Dam, an engineering feat and the second-highest American dam, about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas. Park for free on the Arizona side of the border and walk across during daylight. Power plant tours cost extra, but the visitors center is free.
Hearts race in this city known for the Kentucky Derby, bourbon, actress Jennifer Lawrence and the world’s sole underground bike park.
- Catch the state’s folk art heritage—with a focus on craftsmanship—at the just re-opened, expanded and renovated Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft—before it starts charging for entry in July 2017.
- Surround yourself with contemporary art at 21C Museum Hotel, whose 9,000-square-foot art gallery is open to the public 24/7.
- Get your Bard on at the nation’s oldest free outdoor Kentucky Shakespeare Festival.
- Immerse yourself in wildlife, with butterfly and dragonfly gardens, at Beargrass Creek State Nature Preserve.
- Shop with an added incentive: Many boutiques along fashionable Franklin Avenue offer free wine and snacks to those who stroll or take the First Friday Hop Trolley Hop from 6-10:30 p.m. on the final Friday of each month.
Milwaukee may be best known for brats, beer, cheese curds and festivals, but it has far more on tap.
- On the Milwaukee RiverWalk, take a selfie with the Bronze Fonz in honor of TV’s Happy Days being set in this city.
- Explore Milwaukee Art Museum. It contains one of the world’s largest Georgia O’Keefe collections. Entry is free the first Friday of each month and every day for Wisconsin teachers K-12 (with valid ID or paystub), as well as kids 12 and under.
- The City of Festivals’ freebies start with the Family Kite Festival at Veteran’s Park on Memorial Day Weekend and continue with free concerts all summer long, culminating with Summerfest (devoted to music) and Oktoberfest in honor of Milwaukee’s German roots.
- See the Basilica of St. Josaphat, a Franciscan center for prayer and spirituality commissioned by Pope Pius XI in 1929.
- Red pandas, bearded barbets and African straw-colored fruit bats are among 2,000 animals and 330 species at Milwaukee County Zoo. The zoo offers free admission several times a year and Milwaukee County residents with ID also get in free on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Photo courtesy of Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation
Music City USA not only touts country’s Grand Ole Opry but is a hotbed for fashion designers, artists, rappers, Christian musicians and rockers. It’s also home of line dancing and “honky-tonking” (AKA bar-crawling).
- Listen to live music, often for free, at venues such as Honky Tonk Highway, Lower Broadway, 2nd Avenue and Sobro. Nashville Symphony Community Concerts and Jazz on the Cumberland also don’t charge.
- Roam downtown art galleries, which open for free on the first Saturday of the month for an Art Crawl that often includes free wine and appetizers.
- Enjoy a free night out with other educators at Teacher’s Night Out. The Adventure Science Center offers refreshments, science demonstrations hand-on labs and more, for you and a guest. Play games and win prizes for your classroom.
- Explore 132 acres of Centennial Park, with Lake Watauga, a 1-mile walking trail, sunken garden, band shell, arts activity center, sand volleyball courts and historic monuments.
- Bring a picnic to Arrington Vineyards, which hosts free Music in the Vines concerts from April through December.
New Orleans, Louisiana
The Big Easy’s motto, “Let the good times roll,” fits its distinctive melting pot of Creole, African-American, Caribbean and Irish cultures.
- Join the citywide Mardi Gras party from Epiphany until Ash Wednesday, with parades, balls and other festivities. Or skip the crowds and head year-round to the Germaine Cazenave Wells Mardi Gras Museum, where you’ll find ball gowns, costumes, krewe invitations and other memorabilia of Mrs. Wells, queen of 22 balls between 1937 and 1968.
- Watch local street musicians play in front of the bronze statue of Battle of New Orleans victor Andrew Jackson. Other Jackson Square highlights include historic St. Louis Cathedral, Louisiana State Museums and Upper Pontalba, among the nation’s oldest apartment communities.
- Stroll beneath magnolias and crape myrtle trees along the redbrick promenade across the 16-acre Woldenberg Park, extending from Jackson Square to the Audubon Aquarium.
- Enjoy live music and oysters at Le Bon Temps Roule Bar & Sandwich each Friday at 7 p.m. Beers are $1 during Saints games, and oysters are free seasonally. (Call ahead to check.)
- See the aboveground tombs, known as Cities of the Dead, that inspired horror novelist Anne Rice.
New York, New York
The Big Apple is a wonderful—and bustling—town, packing the nation’s best museums, shops, restaurants and theaters in a small space.
- Follow The High Line, a revitalized elevated subway track turned greenway: one of Manhattan’s greatest gems. It starts on über-trendy Gansevoort Street and West 20th Street and stretches to the Rail Yards on 34th Street on Manhattan’s West Side. Break for a picnic on the lawns at 23rd Street.
- Join the studio audience at tapings of popular TV shows, including “Good Morning America” and “The Dr. Oz Show.” Reserve online to book tickets for your desired date, or take a risk and wait in standby lines.
- Escape the skyscrapers at Central Park, Manhattan’s oasis of gardens, meadows, arches, sculptures, statues and vistas, plus free outdoor concerts at SummerStage.
- Discover the best contemporary artists, including Jim Dine, at The Museum of Modern Art, AKA MoMA. It costs nothing 4-8 p.m. on Fridays. Also worth viewing are works by Joan Miró and Henri Matisse at MoMA’s outdoor Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden. It’s open to the public daily at no charge 9-10:15 a.m.
- Hop aboard the free Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty plus Manhattan and Brooklyn’s skylines while crossing New York Bay.
Photo courtesy of Visit Pennsylvania
The birthplace of our nation—and the Philly cheesesteak sandwich—is steeped in colonial history and contemporary nightlife. The first UNESCO World Heritage City in America also boasts the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s steps that Sylvester Stallone ran in “Rocky.”
- Absorb some of the world’s best Impressionist and post-Impressionist art at The Barnes Foundation at no cost on the first Sunday monthly (and every Sunday for Philadelphia K-12 parochial educators) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- View the famed Liberty Bell up close—crack and all—across the street from Independence Hall, which also offers no-cost tours.
- Hang out at Franklin Square, considered the city’s most family-friendly square for its carousel, mini-golf and SquareBurger (a burger, fries and shakes outpost). There is a small fee for the activities.
- Savor performances by Afro-pop musicians, Irish bagpipers and Brazilian samba dancers while eating ethnic specialties at free outdoor festivals celebrating Islamic, Irish, Indian, African, Mexican and Brazilian cultures. PECO Multicultural Series runs on weekends all summer at Penn’s Landing.
- Stroll through Philly’s top attraction, Reading Terminal Market, an indoor foodie paradise with local produce, artisanal cheeses, sandwiches and desserts.
Phoenix showers sunshine 320 days annually. You’ll also find Native American artifacts and James Beard-recognized chefs amid the natural beauty of the Sonoran Desert and mountain buttes.
- Brush up on your knowledge of arid plants, from towering saguaros to delicate blooms, on winding paths in the 50-acre Desert Botanical Garden, for which admission is free the second Tuesday monthly from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
- Discover how PING golf clubs are made at Karsten Manufacturing Corporation. Book well in advance during the busy season of October to April.
- Explore Roosevelt Row, downtown’s eclectic art district, with galleries and mural-splashed walls downtown. Take the monthly First Friday self-guided art tour.
- Hike Phoenix peaks for an overlook of the city. Camelback Mountain is best known, but South, Usery and Phoenix Mountains have easier trails and fewer hikers.
- Absorb American Indian culture via song and dance at free Native Trails festivals, presented by the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation at noon most Thursdays and Saturdays from January to March in Scottsdale.
Saint Louis, Missouri
The Gateway to the West sports not only the Cardinals baseball team and the Arch, but many free attractions that delight visitors.
- Take a walk on the wild side where you’ll find 7,000 critters—many rare—at one of the nation’s top-ranked animal parks at the St. Louis Zoo. Early birds find free parking on nearby streets.
- See one of the largest mosaic collections in the Western Hemisphere, along with vestments worn during Pope John Paul II’s 1999 visit at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. The basilica is open daily for Mass and self-guided explorations, but the mosaic museum charges $2.
- Follow the journey of our food supply at the 700 hands-on exhibits of Saint Louis Science Center. Only the planetarium and OMNIMAX Theater charge.
- Traverse the globe for free, via 30,000 objects from ancient Africa, pre-Columbian South America and early-20th-century German Expressionism at internationally renowned Saint Louis Art Museum in Forest Park.
- Go back in time at Route 66 State Park, a historic highway called America’s Main Street, outside of nearby Eureka, Missouri. Bike, walk and check out a memorabilia-filled museum, or cross Old Chain of Rocks pedestrian bridge, once the link between Illinois and Missouri.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Photo courtesy of Adam Barker/Visit Salt Lake
Utah’s capital combines major metropolitan amenities with small-town warmth surrounded by the mountains that make Utah the greatest show on earth for skiers and snowboarders.
- Mormons in good standing can enter the 6-spire Temple itself, but anyone can delight in the spectacular gardens and Christmas light display at the 10-acre Temple Square, Salt Lake’s best-known attraction. Catch an earful at 8 p.m. Thursdays, when the Mormon Tabernacle choir rehearses.
- Tackle immigration, poverty and politics via art and film by groundbreaking artists at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, along with related films and classes.
- Swim, run and play tennis at Liberty Park, Salt Lake City’s oldest park.
- You won’t find gold or silver as miners did in the mid-1800s at Big Cottonwood Canyon, but you can hike, fish, picnic, rock climb and camp a half-hour outside the city among alpine slopes and a half-dozen lakes.
- Hear free rap, blues and rock concerts in the summer, and attend free community events monthly including dog-friendly Yappy Hour.
San Antonio, Texas
Long the sleepy stepsister of nearby hipster Austin, the Alamo City has emerged from the shadow of the Texas capital, 80 miles away. Ultra-stylish boutique hotels, theme parks and close encounters with dolphins and giraffes draw guests, as does Texas history.
- Stroll the Paseo del Rio, or River Walk, just steps from the Alamo. You’ll spot historic architecture, river taxis, mariachis, restaurants, museums and, thanks to a recent upgrade, 15 miles of trails linking some of the city’s Spanish missions.
- Absorb the impact of Texas history’s pivotal battle at the Alamo, which along with 4 other missions has become the first UNESCO World Heritage site in Texas.
- Bike, walk or drive the Mission Trail, a 9-mile stretch along the San Antonio River, dropping by missions at no charge in San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.
- Drink in the beauty of a waterfall and safe habitat for koi and aquatic plants in the lush Japanese Tea Garden (Jingu House).
- Check out San Antonio’s Central Public Library. You’ll find works by Colombia’s Fernando Botero and neon artist Stephen Antonakos.
San Francisco, California
Leave your heart in this scenic city by the bay—and your wallet at home.
- Devote a day to Golden Gate Park, an outdoor mecca with 1,017 acres of meadows, lakes, Japanese tea gardens, an arboretum, a music concourse and the West’s tallest artificial waterfall. Entry is free the first Tuesday of each month at the park’s de Young Museum, which specializes in 17th- to 21st-century American art.
- Brush up on history and enjoy the city’s best views at The Presidio, with its Indian barracks, artillery batteries and military ruins from the military base where Spanish, Mexican and American flags flew for more than 200 years.
- Experience unbeatable views of San Francisco Bay at Pier 39, where sea lions dwell and diners feast on seafood. You’ll find shopping and entertainment too.
- Discover San Francisco’s architectural highlights and distinctive neighborhoods via narrated 1- or 2-hour City Guides walking tours.
- Meet noted authors and top chefs at this literary town’s bookstores including Omnivore Books (for food lovers), City Lights Bookstore (for Beat Generation poets) and Books Inc., the West’s oldest independent bookseller, dating back to the Gold Rush.
Photo courtesy of Visit Seattle
Despite frequent downpours, this cosmopolitan waterfront city between Cascade and Olympic mountains may have you singing in the rain. Known as the Emerald City, its temptations, as enduring as its centuries-old evergreens, lured Boeing, Amazon and REI here.
- Sample aplenty at Pike Place Market, where fishmongers pitch salmon across aisles and vendors sell everything from okra chips to truffle potato soup. Don’t rush in: Street buskers outside the 90-year-old market may be immensely talented.
- Set sail across Lake Union at the Center for Wooden Boats. Volunteer skippers helm the hour-long trek on steamboats, electric boats, schooners, yachts and yawls year-round, rain or shine, for free, solely on Sundays.
- Delight daily in famed sculptures including Alexander Calder’s Eagle and Jaume Plensa’s Echo at Seattle Art Museum’s free 9-acre outdoor venue set against the backdrop of Puget Sound and the Cascade Range.
- Enjoy true surround sound from the Seattle Symphony’s 26-foot tall, 4,490-pipe Watjen concert organ in Benaroya Hall during free recitals held bimonthly at 12:30 p.m. Mondays. Gratis tours of the symphony’s Benaroya Hall occur at noon each Tuesday and Friday and following free Watjen recitals.
- Let authors reveal their inspiration and read passages from their latest works at Elliott Bay Book Company throughout the year. Most talks are free.
Since the late-19th century, snowbird flight from freezing climates fueled the growth and vacation vibe of Tampa and neighboring St. Petersburg. The arrival of Seminole Indians and immigrants from Cuba, Sicily and Spain added flavor to the mix.
- Get close to manatees at their sanctuary, Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center, between Nov. 1 and April 15, during the marine mammals’ annual swim to the warm waters of Big Bend Power Station. You’ll also find a butterfly garden and environmental education exhibit at this free destination.
- Once the center for manufacturing cigars and coffee, Ybor City is now a blend of old (streetcars on brick streets) and new (pubs and Cuban restaurants). Tour the area and stop by Centro Ybor Museum, which like many Tampa museums is free after 4 p.m. on the fourth Friday monthly.
- Shuffle into the weekend—literally—at the St. Pete Shuffleboard Club, where the world’s oldest such club opens its doors for free each Friday from 7-11 p.m.
- Celebrate sunset at Clearwater Beach’s Pier 60, where artisans and street performers gather nightly from 2 hours before sunset through 2 hours after sunset.
- Partake in St. Pete’s Saturday Morning Market, the Southeast’s largest fresh produce site, with 130 vendors selling and offering samples of everything from produce to homemade soaps in downtown St. Pete.
Tips to find other free attractions
To find free activities in any city:
- Google the destination’s name, adding “visitors bureau,” “free,” “free events” and “deals” in the search engine box.
- To ask a question, use the hashtag #free and the city’s name on Twitter and other social media sites, and find the city’s handles on its website.