Not every tourist has an unlimited budget and when you are travelling with children prices of attractions can quickly mount up, so it is good to know that there are still some brilliant attractions dotted across the US which will not cost you a cent. When it comes to educational attractions the Smithsonian Museums in Washington are hard to beat, offering more than 10 wonderful museums and galleries and a zoo. Historic attractions with free entrance include the Martin Luther King Jr. National Site, Boston’s Freedom Trail and Mount Rushmore. Natural wonders like Niagara Falls, the Point Reyes National Seashore and the Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater are free for all to enjoy. Certain attractions may be temporarily closed or require advance reservations. Some restaurants are currently offering pickup only. Hours/availability may have changed.
1.The Freedom Trail, Boston
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The Freedom Trail is a red-brick path in the heart of Boston city which links 16 significant buildings or locations which form part of the history of the Independence of United States. The path is around 2.5miles long, but there is so much to see along the way that you need to set aside a day to do it justice. Anyone can follow the trial free of charge, but some of the attractions along the way do have entrance fees. You can download an audio guide to give you background information and assist you on a self-guided tour. Alternatively, Tours by Foot offer free guided tours of the trail – you can pay as much or as little as you can at the end of the tour.
2.Cape Cod Lighthouses
Relied upon by ancient mariners to guide them safely to their destinations, the lighthouses of Cape Cod are a delight to explore, especially when rainy days keep you off the beach. Most of the 15 lighthouses are open to the public, although it is advisable to check their websites for opening hours. Several of the best lighthouses offer free lighthouse tours where you can learn about the history and the operation of the lights. A few of the most popular lighthouses to visit are Nauset Light (open daily) and the Three Sisters in Eastham - tours available on Sundays from May to October and also on Wednesdays in July and August.
Cape Cod Lighthouses, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
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3.Balboa Park, San Diego
One of the largest cultural parks in the US, Balboa Park in San Diego offers a host of free attractions and activities. Entrance to the park and parking is free and you can explore the entire park, including gardens, playgrounds and walking trails without parting with a cent. Hikers have access to 65 miles of trails, and the Timken Museum of Art and the Botanical Building are also free to enter. Regular free events are held on Tuesday evenings at the Velodrome and the Spreckles Organ Pavilion offers free Sunday concerts. October is Kids Free San Diego month – visit during October to enjoy free kids access to hundreds of attractions including San Diego Zoo.
Balboa Park, San Diego, California
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4.Cable Car Museum, San Francisco
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A ride on one of San Francisco’s iconic cable cars is usually at the top of the list of things-to-do when visiting San Francisco. The good news is that you can spend a few hours learning all about these vintage people-movers by visiting the interesting Cable Car Museum without spending any money. The museum is located inside the historic cable-car barn and powerhouse in Mason Street, where a large deck overlooks the enormous engines and wheels which keep the cable cars in motion. There are three beautiful old vintage cable cars to admire as well as loads of equipment, cables, tools and photos.
Cable Car Museum, 1201 Mason Street, San Francisco, Phone: 415-474-1887
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5.Samuel Adams Brewery Tour, Boston
© Samuel Adams Brewery Tour
The Samuel Adams Brewery offers free brewery tours for Boston locals and visitor who are interested in learning more about how their favorite brew is made. Their Classic Brewery Tour will take you behind the scenes inside the brewery to learn all about beer ingredients and the brewing process. Surrounded by the distinct aromas of roasted hops, you will get a deeper understanding of all the intricacies of brewing a perfect beer. Provided you are over 21 you will also get to taste 3 Samuel Adams beers and take home a souvenir tasting glass. The brewery also offers several other more in-depth tours at a nominal charge.
Samuel Adams Brewery Tour, 30 Germania St, Boston, MA 02130, Phone: 617-638-5080
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6.Circus-Circus, Las Vegas
It’s not common to find fabulous world-class entertainment on offer for free, but that is exactly what lies in store for you and your family at Circus-Circus in Las Vegas. Every week day (Monday to Friday) you can simply roll up and enjoy a great circus act several times a day. Shows start at around 11.30am and there is something new and exciting to watch every hour – on the half hour – until 10.30pm (Mon – Thurs) and even later on weekend nights. You will get to watch various acrobatic performances, thrilling aerial shows, jugglers, unicycles and everyone’s favorite – the circus clown.
Circus-Circus, 2880 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89109, Phone: 702-734-0410
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7.Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site
© National Historic Landmarks Program
If you are visiting Philadelphia you can spend a few interesting hours touring the home of the celebrated American writer/poet Edgar Allan Poe. Entrance is free and free ranger-led guided tours of the historic site are offered daily. To make things even more interesting for children, they can pick up a Junior Rangers Activity booklet on arrival and use their budding detective skills to solve puzzles and earn a certificate and badge. Children can also have fun dressing up in 19th century costumes. Adults can enjoy a spirited reading of one of the writers’ detective novels or other literary works in the Reading Room.
Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site, 143 S. 3rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106, Phone: 215-965-2305
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8.The French Quarter, New Orleans
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The French Quarter in New Orleans offers visitors many free attractions. On Wednesdays there are free concerts at Lafayette Square and the New Orleans Museum of Art offers free entrance. Other free activities include riding the Algiers Ferry from the French Quarter to the Algiers neighborhood, one of the oldest areas in New Orleans. In Jackson Square you will find a variety of street entertainers and artists providing free entertainment and if you visit during the Carnival Season (January 6th to Easter) you will be treated to free street parades every night. You can also download a map and do a free self-guided walking tour of the French Quarter.
French Quarter, New Orleans, LA 70116-70130
9.Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs
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Although some of the activities and attractions within the amazing Garden of the Gods Park are charged for, admission to the park and the very interesting Visitor and Nature Center is free. The Nature Center is full of interesting (free!) interactive exhibits to help you learn about the origins of the park, and children can join the Junior Ranger program for a very modest fee of $2. Once in the park you will find many free activities including access to 21 miles of hiking and biking trails – you can get a free map at the Visitor’s Center. If you prefer to learn a little more about the park and the amazing red rocks you can join a free guided walking tour.
Garden of the Gods, 1805 N. 30th St, Colorado Springs, CO 80904, Phone: 719-634-6666
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, Michigan beaches
10.The Getty Center, Los Angeles
Art lovers in Los Angeles are indeed lucky to be able to visit the remarkable Getty Center as often as they like without parting with one cent. The museum is a masterpiece of modern architecture combined with several inspirational gardens where you can spend some time admiring the plantings and the sweeping views of the city. This exceptional art museum is home to an extensive permanent collection of American and European art, sculpture and photography, and also hosts regular temporary exhibitions. Getting there is half the fun as you ride up to the hilltop site on the free Getty Tram.
The Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90049, Phone: 310-440-7300
11.Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
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Covering more than 1,000 acres and home to 10 lakes and several beautiful themed gardens, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is free to visit during the daytime. Families can take children of all ages to have (free) interactive fun at the deYoungsters Studio (any day of the week), while everyone gets free entry to the de Young Fine Arts Museum and the Conservatory of Flowers on the first Tuesday of each month. If you would like to see the lovely Japanese Gardens you can enjoy free entry if you arrive before 10am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. There are many other free activities in the park including picnics and walking trails.
Golden Gate Park, 501 Stanvan St, San Francisco, CA 94117-1898, Phone: 415-831-2700
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12.Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles
The Hollywood Forever Cemetery has been a Los Angeles landmark since 1899. The cemetery is beautifully landscaped and is the final resting place of hundreds of former Hollywood celebrities. The cemetery is free to visit and you could easily spend several hours enjoying the landscaped gardens, ponds and sculptures as you make your way through this peaceful place on a self-guided tour. You can get a map detailing the final resting places of several celebrities at the flower shop just inside the cemetery entrance. This is a large place to explore and visitors with mobility issues are allowed to drive through.
Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90038-1864
13.International Rose Test Garden, Portland
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Offering garden enthusiasts and nature lovers a wonderful free day out, the International Rose Test Garden in Portland is totally inspirational. The best time to visit the garden is between April and October, when most of the 10,000 rose bushes will be flowering (June is the peak month). You can admire over 650 exciting varieties of roses great and small as well as taking in sensational views of downtown Portland and Mount Hood. There is plenty to see as you make your way along the paved paths or take advantage of the free seasonal park shuttle. You can join a free guided tour daily at 1.00pm from Memorial Day to Labor Day weekend.
International Rose Test Garden, 400 SW Kingston Ave, Portland, OR 97205, Phone: 503-823-3636
14.Lake Eola Park, Orlando
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Orlando attractions generally don’t come cheap, as any visitor will tell you. However, when your wallet needs a break you can take the family to have some fun at the Lake Eola Park. You can spend a few hours walking or hiking around the perimeter of the lake where you will nearly always find hungry water birds vying for your attention – free bird food is provided by dispensers. If you visit on a Sunday you will find a lively Farmer’s Market on the go and at night you can enjoy free lightshows coordinated to the lake’s centerpiece fountain. For a nominal fee you can rent a paddle boat for some fun on the water.
Lake Eola Park, 512 E Washington St, Orlando, FL 32801
15.Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park
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Born into a world of segregation, Martin Luther King Junior was destined to change the world he lived in for the better. When you visit the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park in Atlanta, you can learn more about this remarkable man and see where he was born and raised and where he worshipped and preached. The park is free to enter and everyone is welcome to come and visit. Highlights of your visit should include touring the Birth Home, the beautiful World Peace Rose Garden and the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. To make the visit more interesting for children you can enroll them in the Junior Ranger Program.
Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park, 450 Auburn Avenue, NE Atlanta, GA 30312, Phone: 404-331-5190
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It’s great to know that when you visit Miami you will not need to spend any money on public transport. The Metromover is an automated train system that easily transports locals and visitors around most of the most popular parts of the city. The Metromover is available in Downtown Miami, Park West, the Arts and Entertainment District and Brickell. If you need to travel further afield the Metromover will easily connect you to the Miami Metrorail and the bus service. There are 21 stations in total, and all of them are accessible for wheelchair users. You can also bring along your bike, making this an ideal way to explore Miami.
Metromover, Miami-Dade, Florida
17.Millennium Park, Chicago
There is always something on the go in Millennium Park, Chicago’s amazing urban green space which combines impressive architecture, beautiful gardens and thought-provoking sculpture. Best of all, everything within the Millennium Park is free to access for everyone. The remarkable Jay Pritzker Pavilion is a permanent outdoor concert and event area which regularly hosts free music concerts and festivals for up to 11,000 guests. Highlights of your visit to Millennium Park include seeing the Cloud Gate and Crowd Fountain, both of which are enormous outdoor art works and the perennially lovely Lurie Garden. You can explore on foot or rent a bicycle on site.
Millennium Park, 201 E Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60602, Phone: 312-742-1168
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18.Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota
You can treat yourself and your family to a great free day out at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. At the Visitor’s Center you can watch a short video to find out more about the famous US presidents who have been immortalized on the mountain, and how they helped shape the nation. If you are exploring at your own pace you can hire an audio guides to listen to a detailed explanation of everything you are seeing. You can also listen to a few of the free ranger programs which are held in various locations during June, July and August. Highlights of your visit should include the Sculptor’s Studio and the Presidential Trail.
Mount Rushmore, 13000 Highway 244, Keystone, SD 57751, Phone: 605-574-2523
A visit to Niagara Falls should feature on everyone’s bucket list. This phenomenal natural wonder has to be seen to be believed – photos simply do not do it justice. Although there are many adventures and tours on offer that you have to pay for, viewing the sensational waterfalls is free for everyone. In addition, you can also enjoy the free nightly Light Show and a free fireworks display – check the website for dates and details. Other free activities close to the falls include hiking and biking trails, visiting a few wineries and farmer’s markets or spending a few hours in the beautiful Botanical Gardens on the Canadian side of the falls.
Niagara Falls, Buffalo Ave, Niagara Falls, NY 14303
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20.Pike Place Market, Seattle
Pike Place Market is one of the oldest and largest farmer’s markets in the US, covering over 9 acres in the historic district. Visiting the market is a great free activity for cash-strapped visitors, provided that you will be able to resist all the delightful goods on sale. The sprawling market is home to four fish markets, dozens of foods stalls selling specialty goods, a craft market in the North Arcade and no fewer than three floors of shops selling unique collectables and antiques. In addition, there are many places to eat and a lively mix of buskers and street entertainers to provide a great atmosphere. There are several down-loadable walking guides available on the website.
Pike Place Market, 1st Ave and Pike St, Seattle, WA 98101
21.Point Reyes National Seashore, California
For an inexpensive fun day in the great outdoors you can bring the family to have loads of fun at the Point Reyes National Seashore, where no entrance fees are charged. If you are visiting with children they can join the Junior Ranger program which is both fun and educational and will earn them a badge. Activities within the National Seashore include all type of beach fun from tide-pooling to castle building, wildlife watching (you may see whales and sea lions), hiking and nature walks. If you happen to visit on a rainy day you will still find several interesting activities on offer at the Visitor’s centers.
Point Reyes National Seashore, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956, Phone: 415-464-5137
22.Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater, Denver
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Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater in Colorado does not charge for entry, proving that some of the best things in life are, indeed, free. Here you can spend a day admiring an enormous 640 acre area encompassing massive sandstone formations, some of which are over 250 million years old. Several of the towering rock formations reach heights of over 300 feet. You can explore on foot along several hiking trails or bring along your bike and enjoy the biking trails. You can also do a free self-guided tour of the amphitheater, which has been cleverly built to provide excellent acoustics. If you wish to attend a concert you will need to pay for your tickets.
Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater, 18300 W Alameda Parkway, Morrison, CO 80465
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23.The Smithsonian Museums, Washington DC
Arguably the most outstanding free attractions in the US, the incredible educational resources of the Smithsonian Museums are offered free of charge to all visitors. Here you will find no fewer than 19 sensational museums, galleries and a zoo, all waiting to welcome visitors to view their precious collections. The National Air and Space Museum is probably the most popular attraction, where you can see actual aircraft and spacecraft which once made headlines. Art lovers should not miss the chance to admire the collections at the Hirschorn Museum and Sculpture Garden as well as the Freer Gallery of Art. Families should make time to visit the National Zoo.
Smithsonian Museums, Washington, DC
24.USS Constitution Ship Tour, Boston
The USS Constitution is the world’s oldest floating warship and forms the last stop on your tour of the Freedom Trail. Visiting “Old Ironsides” is free and you are welcome to join a free tour of the top three levels of the ship from Wednesday to Sunday each week. If you would also like to visit the USS Constitution Museum you will be asked to make a donation in lieu of an entrance fee. The Museum features many interactive exhibits which are both fun and educational. You can visit the museum website prior to your visit to download a variety of fun games to prepare children for their visit.
USS Constitution Ship Tour, 3rd St, Boston, MA 02129
25.Waugh Bridge Bat Colony, Houston
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For something a little bit out of the ordinary, you can bring the family to see the Waugh Bridge Bat Colony. Watching an entire colony of bats emerge as one from all the nooks and crannies under the bridge is a wonderful experience for all nature lovers. You will need to be quiet and patient as you wait for the bats to set off on their nightly nocturnal feeding program, which usually results in each bat eating hundreds, if not thousands, of mosquitoes and other insects. You can watch the nightly emergence from the Bat Observation Deck in the Buffalo Bayou Park.
Waugh Bridge Bat Colony, Buffalo Bayou Park, 1800 Allen Pkwy & Memorial Dr, Houston, TX 77019, Phone: 713-752-0314
25 Best Free Things to Do in the United States
- The Freedom Trail, Boston, Photo: Chee-Onn Leong/stock.adobe.com
- Cape Cod Lighthouses, Photo: lucky-photo/stock.adobe.com
- Balboa Park, San Diego, Photo: f11photo/stock.adobe.com
- Cable Car Museum, San Francisco, Photo: Klaus Nowottnick/stock.adobe.com
- Samuel Adams Brewery Tour, Boston, Photo: Samuel Adams Brewery Tour
- Circus-Circus, Las Vegas, Photo: Circus-Circus
- Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site, Photo: National Historic Landmarks Program
- The French Quarter, New Orleans, Photo: Calee Allen/stock.adobe.com
- Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Photo: John Hoffman/stock.adobe.com
- The Getty Center, Los Angeles, Photo: Izabelle/stock.adobe.com
- Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, Photo: Jaynes Gallery Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com
- Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, Photo: SailingAway/stock.adobe.com
- International Rose Test Garden, Portland, Photo: Ritu Jethani/stock.adobe.com
- Lake Eola Park, Orlando, Photo: Gabriele Maltinti/stock.adobe.com
- Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park, Photo: Jaynes Gallery Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com
- Metromover, Photo: OutdoorPhoto/stock.adobe.com
- Millennium Park, Chicago, Photo: Gian/stock.adobe.com
- Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota, Photo: Aaron/stock.adobe.com
- Niagara Falls, Photo: elena_suvorova/stock.adobe.com
- Pike Place Market, Seattle, Photo: Crin/stock.adobe.com
- Point Reyes National Seashore, California, Photo: nikolas_jkd/stock.adobe.com
- Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater, Denver, Photo: STORM INSIDE PHOTO/stock.adobe.com
- The Smithsonian Museums, Washington DC, Photo: jonbilous/stock.adobe.com
- USS Constitution Ship Tour, Boston, Photo: patrick1050/stock.adobe.com
- Waugh Bridge Bat Colony, Houston, Photo: Irina K./stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: aphotostory/stock.adobe.com
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