I’m a bit of an expert on free fun. I’ve spent years of my life on the road, often with no free money to speak of.
I love finding free and cheap things to do. But many lists of free things to do are full of the same old stuff: visit the public courthouse, see the library, walk the local art museum, and play the park. Blah blah blah.
Well, if you know where to look, there’s lots more to do! So here are some tips for finding free things to do no matter where you go.
Start with the Basics
Let’s start with the basics. When I’m new to an area, I normally do these three things.
- Search online for “free things to do” at reputable travel websites like Lonely Plant, Trip Advisor, TripBuzz, etc.
- Bigger cities typically have travel blogs manned by locals, too. These local travel blogs often have the best recommendations for general things to do!
- Find local events at the City or County Events calendars. Can often find a comedy show, public reading, boxing match, or something of the sort.
- Call and ask for destinations and recommendations from locals at the Chamber of Commerce or Tourist Information center. They’ll tell you about new items of interest that no one else knows about yet.
Besides the typical travel websites, here are some of my favorite for off-the-wall options:
MY TOP 10 WAYS TO FIND FREE THINGS TO DO, WHEREVER YOU ARE!
1. Find the Historical Society
Almost every town has a historical society. Many times, this historical society will man a small museum or attraction. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll walk into this hole-in-the-wall museum and for a $5 donation, you’ll be treated to a personalized 1-hr tour full of jokes, history, trivia, and facts you’d never learn from your high school history class.
This has happened to me more times than I can count. I’ve toured model trains in Somerset, Pennsylvania, learned the history of President George Washington in Port Royal, Virginia, climbed into the lantern room of a Lake Superior lighthouse, and much more. Historical societies are full of people who love history and thirst to share it!
2. Change Your Method of Locomotion
Personally, I get bored walking everywhere. But switching up my method of locomotion can open up entirely new worlds!
- I’ve explored the National Mall in Washington D.C. on a scooter. You can see 2x as many museums in one day!
- Don’t just walk a riverwalk; kayak it! You’ll get two different experiences from the same place.
- Bring a skateboard or roller skates, and any urban downtown becomes a skate park.
- Cycling around a lake transforms a meditative hike into an adrenaline rush!
Even if you’re traveling out of a car, you have options. You can pack along a foldable bike, an inflatable kayak, a pair of skates, hoverboard, etc.
3. Go Dancing
Dancing is a great way to meet locals and stretch those legs! On Fridays and Saturdays, you can often find a swing dance club, salsa lesson, jazz club, tap room, or square dancing group. During the weekend, you might find a lesson or two between 5-8 p.m.
4. Visit an Arts & Crafts Fair
Most towns sponsor Friday Art Walks, monthly farmer’s markets, summer craft fairs, or something of the sort. Some tourist destinations even have dedicated Arts & Crafts districts, with driving tours (the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community in Gatlinburg, Tennessee comes to mind). Some of the best art I’ve ever seen has been inside a 10×10 tent – gorgeous photography, handmade horsehair pottery, laser-cut woodworking, hand-cut jewelry, glass-blown art, and so much more. I’ve never regretted visiting an Art & Crafts fair, and I’ve always come away inspired.
5. Take a Tour
Many private businesses will be more than happy to give you a tour, especially if you plan to purchase.
- Wineries, breweries, and distilleries often offer free tasting tours.
- Art galleries often offer free tours or walk-throughs, especially with large groups.
- You can also sign up for a city walking tour, where a local reveals the hidden side of the city (donations expected).
- I’ve even toured firehouses, bakeries, bicycle mechanics, and leatherworkers. If you express interest in someone’s work, they are usually all to happy to show off!
6. Walk Around Historic Downtown
I’m not talking about skyscrapers and big public fountains (although those are cool, too). I’m talking about historic downtowns with cobblestone streets and brick facade storefronts.
- Window shopping at bric-a-brac and novelty shops.
- Following an urban mural walking tour (one of my favorites!)
- Read the signs commemorating historical monuments and statues
- Marvel at public sculptures
- Browse ethnic shops and eateries
7. When in Doubt, Go to the Water
If you’re just not sure where to go, head towards the water.
- Some of the best residential architecture? On the waterfront.
- Some of the most dramatic landscapes? By the water.
- Some of the most peaceful places to sit and enjoy nature? By the water.
- Some of the best restaurants? On the river walk.
- Some of the best hikes? You guessed it! – by the water.
8. Taste a New Ethnic Cuisine
I love trying out new foods. All the better if it’s a new cuisine, too! There are 195 countries in the world, and all of them have their own interesting take on delicious food. I’ve eaten at Mexican bakeries, Cajun fish fry diners, New York pizza carts, and Carolina BBQs. Trying different ethnic cuisines will change your perceptions about food and culture. Bonus points if no one at the shop speaks English but you.
9. Watch a Theatre Show
Small-town theatre shows are a national treasure, and tickets are often $12 or less! I’ve never not enjoyed one! The shows with good acting will blow you away. The ones with bad acting will captivate you endlessly (it’s like watching a train wreck). Friday-Saturday, in the summer, you can probably find a community theatre performance or school concert near you. Don’t pass them up!
10. Get Lost Outside
As an avid adventurer, this one never fails me. There’s nowhere in this country you can’t be entertained outside. And I’m not just talking about the big-name stuff, like National Park hikes.
- Fly a kite at the park.
- Cast a pocket fisherman.
- Look for bees on a nature hike.
- Search for shells on the beach.
- Enjoy an afternoon picnic.
- Climb a tree.
- Shoot some sunset photography.
- Climb to the local high point.
- Float down a river on an inflatable raft.
There’s no limit except your imagination.
Andy Herrick is a blogging nerd, #8 Enneagram, wannabe bread baker, INTJ, RV industry professional, and small business entrepreneur. He can be found hanging out with his lovely wife and family, skiing, cycling, climbing, hiking, and convincing anyone who will listen why dogs aren’t really that great of pets. Also, he runs this website.