There are a wide variety of free things to do in Columbus, Ohio, ranging for a number of different parks to art center and galleries to even a cartoon museum. Attractions and activities can be found throughout the city for just about any visitors of any age, from history enthusiasts to nature lovers. The city is also full of special events and festivals that take place throughout the year. Some attractions are free only on certain days – please check before you go.
1.Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum
© Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum
The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum is home to the largest collection of comic and cartoon related materials in the world. The collection at the museum includes newspaper comic strip clippings and pages, archival materials, magazine cartoons, comic books, journals, graphic novels, editorial cartoons, magazines, sports cartoons, books, and original art. Admission to the Billy Ireland Museum is free, and the Central Ohio Transit Authority provides easy access for those not wanting to find a place to park. The library and museum is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 1:00pm until 5:00pm, and closed on Mondays.
1813 N. High St, Columbus, OH 43210, Phone: 614-292-0538
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The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus is a grand building situated on more than ten acres. For architecture enthusiasts will likely love the structure’s beautiful exterior and interior features. Visitors can join a guided tour to explore the Ohio Statehouse on Mondays through Fridays on the hour, every hour beginning at 10:00am. The last tour of the day starts at 3:00pm. During the weekend, guided tours take place at 12:00pm, 1:00pm, 2:00pm, and 3:00pm. While the Statehouse is open for visitors to explore during the weekend, the chambers can only be seen on a guided tour.
1 Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 43215, Phone: 614-752-9777
3.Orton Geological Museum
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The Orton Geological Museum in Columbus, Ohio can be found on the South Oval inside of Orton Hall on the main campus of Ohio State University. The museum is a part of the university’s School of Earth Sciences and has a significant role in the school’s research, outreach, and teaching. The Orton Geological Museum is open to visitors, with no cost for admission, Monday to Friday, from eight in the morning to five in the evening. Guests can explore fossils, minerals, and rocks from throughout the state and other parts of the world. There is also a museum store.
155 S. Oval Mall, Columbus, OH 43210, Phone: 614-292-6896
4.Wexner Center for the Arts
© Wexner Center for the Arts
The Wexner Center for the Arts is free to visit for members, guests under eighteen years of age, and college students, as long as they have their ID. The galleries are open every day except for Monday, while the Cafe is open every day except for Sunday. The program of exhibitions at the arts center offers a platform recognized worldwide for both emerging and established artists who work in almost every imaginable art medium. The buses with the Central Ohio Transit Authority offer an easy way to get to the Wexner Center for the Arts from the downtown area and several neighborhoods.
1871 North High St, Columbus, OH 43210, Phone: 614-292-3535
5.Park of Roses
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The Park of Roses encompasses a total of thirteen acres of land consisting of approximately 12,000 roses, teak benches, and paved pathways. The public park features three rose gardens, along with perennial gardens and herb gardens scattered throughout the park among the numerous rose shrubs. Each one of the garden offers something unique for visitors to see. One example is the park’s Formal Rose Garden boasts an Italianate design with symmetrical rose beds, a large fountain, and a viewing tower. At the Park of Roses’ east end is the Heritage Rose Garden with older rose species.
3901 North High St, Columbus, OH 43214, Phone: 614-645-3337
© Riffe Gallery
The Rifle Gallery in Columbus, Ohio was founded on March 17 of 1989 by the Ohio Arts Council. The gallery was established to showcase the various works of art by artists in the state of Ohio, as well as art collections from the state’s galleries and museums. The gallery aims to inspire art, engage people, create connections, and be a place where people and art mix. Visitors can park in the Rifle Center Parking Garage after 6:00pm on Mondays through Fridays, as well as all day on Saturdays. The Rifle Gallery is located inside the Vern Rifle Center.
77 S. High St, Columbus, OH 43215, Phone: 614-644-9624
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Visitors can explore the Topiary Park in Columbus today to view mature shrubs and appreciate the living work of art in the garden. The topiary is by far the most well known feature of the public park, the grounds feature a beautiful landscape of walks that transport guests to carefully maintained beds of flowers and over 220 trees. The historical designation of the park as the Old Deaf School Park still remains, this park is now commonly known as the Topiary Park due to the popularity of the beautiful topiaries. One of the topiaries is a representation of a Georges Seurat painting.
480 E. Town St, Columbus, OH 43215, Phone: 614-645-0197
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© Thurber House
The Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio is designated on America’s National Register of Historic Places. The house is the former home of James Thurber, an author, humorist, and cartoonist for the New Yorker. The home now houses the Thurber museum and a nonprofit literary center. Self-guided tours of the Thurber House are free of charge, and visitors can explore the museum from 1:00pm until 4:00pm. Guests can park for free on Jefferson Avenue after 6:00pm Monday to Saturday, and all day on Sundays. The parking lot right behind the Thurber Center and Thurber House also offers free parking.
77 Jefferson Ave, Columbus, OH 43215, Phone: 614-464-1032
9.Columbus Public Library
© Columbus Public Library
The Main Branch of the Columbus Public Library is situated in the heart of the Discovery District in downtown Columbus. The library hosts a Carnegie Author Series, allowing the public to come and listen to different Author Talks, free of charge, featuring national authors. The Columbus Public Library is also home to the Carnegie Gallery, which displays free exhibits of artwork created by both established and emerging artists. The gallery is open during the library’s regular hours of operation. While at the library, visitors can grab a cup of coffee, tea, or a smoothies from the Carnegie’s Cafe.
96 S. Grant Ave, Columbus, OH 43215, Phone: 614-645-2275
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10.Cultural Arts Center
© Cultural Arts Center
The Cultural Arts Center is Columbus, Ohio offers workshops, classes, art exhibits, tours, lectures, special events, and a treasure-filled gift gallery. The arts center is the leading center for visual arts in central Ohio. The Cultural Arts Center art gallery features contemporary works of art, as well as has a focus on emerging artists. Free parking can be found after 6:00pm in the Central Ohio Synod parking lot on 2nd. There is also a gravel stretch of road on Jewett Alley’s west side, between Mound and Noble. This if free to park at on Saturdays and after 6:00pm on weeknights.
139 W. Main St, Columbus OH 43215, Phone: 614-645-7047
11.King Arts Complex
© King Arts Complex
The King Arts Complex is home to the Elijah Pierce Gallery. This art gallery showcases a broad range of contemporary and historical exhibits that include decorative arts, photography, graphics, sculpture, and painting. This gallery is named after Elijah Pierce, the foremost wood carver in America of twentieth-century folk art and a resident of the late Near East Side of Columbus. The gallery offers school tours, hands-on workshops and gallery talks about various art education topics, guided tours, and exhibitions of international, national, and local artists. The King Arts Complex is open Monday to Friday, from 11:00am until 6:00pm.
867 Mt. Vernon Ave, Columbus, Ohio 43203, Phone: 614-645-5464
© North Market
More than one million people visit the North Market each year. It is a farmers’ market often visited by artisans, entrepreneurs, foodies, and all kinds of other people. The North Market provides guests with an opportunity to purchase something unique, whether it is a stunning painting, homemade preserves, or handmade jewelry. Farmers and merchants in Ohio have served the Columbus community and those who visit the market from throughout the state since the year 1876. Cooking demonstrations and classes, festivals, entertainment, and live music for visitors to enjoy also take place at the North market throughout the year.
59 Spruce Street, Columbus, OH 43215, Phone: 614-463-9664
13.Ohio Craft Museum
© Ohio Craft Museum
The Ohio Craft Museum is an establishment run by the Ohio Designer Craftsmen. The museum displays five major exhibitions every year, along with a number of focus exhibits. Visitors can also view a rotating exhibition of items from the museum’s permanent collection. Along with the exhibits, the Ohio Craft Museum providers occasional events and educational workshops and is also home to the Craft Research Library. Admission is free and free parking can be found on museum’s east side. The museum is open 10:00am to 5:00pm Monday to Friday, and 1:00pm to 4:00pm on the weekends.
1665 W. Fifth Ave, Columbus Ohio 43212, Phone: 614-486-4402
14.Blendon Woods Metro Park
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The Blendon Woods Metro Park consists of stream-cut ravines featuring exposed ripple rock sandstone, along with oak-hickory and beech-maple forests surrounding open fields where visitors can relax and children can play. The park encompasses more than 650 acres and includes the over one hundred acre in size Walden Waterfowl Refuge and its Thoreau Lake. The Walden Waterfowl Refuge area is a safe habitat for hundreds of ducks, birds, and other kinds of wildlife, including wild turkeys, waterfowl, and songbirds. There are two elevated shelters for observation open throughout the year with spotting scopes available for viewing the waterfowl.
4265 E Dublin Granville Rd, Columbus, OH 43081, Phone: 614-620-1861
15.Chadwick Arboretum & Learning Gardens
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The Chadwick Arboretum and Learning Gardens spans across more than sixty acres of green, urban, extensive reserve on the main campus of the Ohio State University. The arboretum is open throughout the year and is open for free to visitors to come and explore all of the plants. Among the areas available for guests to explore is the green roof garden with a size of twelve thousand square feet. There is no charge to visit the Chadwick Arboretum and Learning Gardens, however, guests can choose to schedule a tour of the grounds for a small amount.
2001 Fyffe Ct, Columbus, OH 43210, Phone: 614-688-3479
16.Columbus Art Walks
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The Columbus Art Walks are a group of self-guided audio tours and walking maps that guide people through one of several different districts in the city of Columbus. Maps guide visitors who decide to do one of the Columbus Art Walks to a number of sites throughout the chosen district while a series of recorded information shares details with them about each site. Districts features on the Columbus Art Walks include Capitol Square, the Brewery District, the Discovery District, German Village, Near East, the University District, the Arena District, Highland West, Short North, River South, Merion Village, Clintonville, and Franklinton.
17.Downtown Pearl Market
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The Downtown Pearl Market offers both visitors and local residents alike a chance to buy locally produced vegetables, fruit, coffee, baked products, and more from artisans and farmers throughout region. Visitors at the market can also get a bite to eat from some of the local food trucks on site. The season for the Downtown Pearl Market runs from sometime in the month of May to around the middle of October. Local farmers can let guests know what produce grows in the state of Ohio. The beginning of summer offers berries and asparagus, while the latter part brings tomatoes and corn.
19 N Pearl St, Columbus, OH 43215, Phone: 614-591-4559
18.Franklin Park Conservatory Farmers Market
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The Franklin Park Conservatory Farmers Market starts its season in Columbus, Ohio at the beginning of June and runs until the beginning of September. The market takes place every Wednesday afternoon from 3:30pm until 6:30pm. There is no farmers market event on July 4th if Independence Day falls on a Wednesday. The farmers market is located in the lot just outside of the Franklin Park Conservatory and offers a mixture of local produce, specialty foods, beauty and health products, and baked goods. There are also kids’ crafts, and wellness and cooking demonstrations on occasion.
1777 E. Broad St, Columbus, OH 43203, Phone: 614-715-8036
19.Highbanks Metro Park
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The Highbanks Metro Park gets its name for the huge one-hundred-foot shale bluff that towers above the Olentangy State Scenic River. Several deep ravines have been created in the eastern side of the park by tributary streams that cut across the bluff. The park encompasses more than one thousand acres, and is open from April through September from 6:30am until 10:00pm and from October through March from 6:30am until 8:00pm. Olentangy and Ohio shales can be seen on the edges of the ravines and the bluff face. These shales often contain large concretions.
9466 Columbus Pike, Lewis Center, OH 43035, Phone: 614-906-3149
20.Ohio Open Doors
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The Ohio Open Doors event allows both locals and visitors to learn more about the heritage of the state of Ohio. During the event, landmarks and historic buildings across the state invite visitors to open the doors and discover the historic sites through events and special tours. Ohio Open Doors typically lasts for a little over a week in the month of September, during which over two hundred partner organizations host events in their communities throughout the state. Guests of these event can get a behind-the-scenes look in many different historical attractions. All of these events charge no admission.
21.Pickerington Ponds Metro Park
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The Pickerington Ponds Metro Park is a leading destination in Ohio for birdwatching. Over 260 different species of birds have been spotted within Pickerington Ponds. The mix of rich wetland vegetation and seasonal ponds, along with the bordering woodlands, act as a sort of magnet for waterfowls, land birds, and shore birds during their migration. Fox, beaver, and deer can sometimes be seen in the adjoining fields and woods and near ponds across the 1,608-acre Pickerington Ponds Metro Park. In addition to being great for birdwatching, the park is also a good place for a picnic or simply sitting and relaxing.
7680 Wright Rd, Canal Winchester, OH 43110, Phone: 614-208-4329
© Scioto Audubon
The Scioto Audubon is set within a former industrial landscape that has now been transformed from what was once a ruined brownfield into now a green oasis habitat where birds and other wildlife can thrive. The park spans across 120 acres and is an educational and recreational destination for people of any age. The Scioto Audubon is located just to the south of the downtown district of Columbus along the Scioto River’s banks. The riverside park is a result of the partnership between Columbus Metro Parks and Columbus, Ohio Audubon. The goal was to bring more nature into the city.
400 W. Whittier St, Columbus, OH 43215, Phone: 614-202-5197
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The Scioto Mile consists of lush parkland across 145 acres, running through the center of downtown Columbus. It connects the different downtown area of the city’s riverfront arena district. The Scioto Mile provides locals and tourists a way to explore the riverfront through an integrated system of parks, boulevards, pathways, and bikeways. There are several attraction along the way, such as a free climbing wall, a massive interactive fountain, the Scioto Audubon, and an amphitheater. A number of special events also take place on the Scioto Mile during the year, such as the rib and jazz festival.
1111 East Broad St, Columbus, OH 43205, Phone: 614-645-3300
24.Short North Gallery Hop
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The Short North Gallery Hop; which celebrates good food, local shops, and art; has become a monthly tradition in Columbus over the past thirty years. The gallery hop takes place on the first Saturday of every month, during which thousands head over to the city’s Short North Arts District to explore new exhibitions in galleries, special events, street performers, drinks, and food throughout the Arts District. The actual Gallery Hops is from 4:00pm until 10:00pm. Most galleries and shops open earlier and bars and restaurants stay open later. Vendors sell one-of-a-kind handcrafted items as well.
25.The Gateway Picture Show
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The Gateway Picture Show in Columbus, Ohio happens on the second Wednesday each month. This is a free movie night on the Plaza at The Gateway. Guests are advised to come earlier to get some refreshments, including drink specials offered by The District PourHouse. People wanting to watch the Gateway Picture Show can bring their own chairs or grab a seat on the outdoor patio of The District PourHouse. Blankets are not recommended as views can be obstructed by chairs. The weekly summer movie series at The Gateway generally runs from the middle of June through the middle of September.
1556 N High St, Columbus, OH 43201, Phone: 614-515-2266
25 Best Free Things to Do in Columbus, Ohio
- Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, Photo: Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum
- Ohio Statehouse, Photo: Courtesy of Bryan Busovicki - Fotolia.com
- Orton Geological Museum, Photo: Courtesy of herraez - Fotolia.com
- Wexner Center for the Arts, Photo: Wexner Center for the Arts
- Park of Roses, Photo: Courtesy of bucknut4pic - Fotolia.com
- Riffe Gallery, Photo: Riffe Gallery
- Topiary Park, Photo: Courtesy of bucknut4pic - Fotolia.com
- Thurber House, Photo: Thurber House
- Columbus Public Library, Photo: Columbus Public Library
- Cultural Arts Center, Photo: Cultural Arts Center
- King Arts Complex, Photo: King Arts Complex
- North Market, Photo: North Market
- Ohio Craft Museum, Photo: Ohio Craft Museum
- Blendon Woods Metro Park, Photo: Courtesy of Andy Dean - Fotolia.com
- Chadwick Arboretum & Learning Gardens, Photo: Courtesy of Hysteria - Fotolia.com
- Columbus Art Walks, Photo: Courtesy of aceshot - Fotolia.com
- Downtown Pearl Market, Photo: Courtesy of dvb60 - Fotolia.com
- Franklin Park Conservatory Farmers Market, Photo: Courtesy of arinahabich - Fotolia.com
- Highbanks Metro Park, Photo: Courtesy of rouda100 - Fotolia.com
- Ohio Open Doors, Photo: Courtesy of aceshot - Fotolia.com
- Pickerington Ponds Metro Park, Photo: Courtesy of bucknut4pic - Fotolia.com
- Scioto Audubon, Photo: Scioto Audubon
- Scioto Mile, Photo: Courtesy of aceshot - Fotolia.com
- Short North Gallery Hop, Photo: Courtesy of aceshot - Fotolia.com
- The Gateway Picture Show, Photo: Courtesy of robypangy - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com