The most common thing I hear people say is “How do you afford to travel so much?” Well, there are lots of things I do to make travel more affordable. But one of the best things? Find free things to do wherever I go! Sometimes the freebies are not just budget-friendly, but they are also the best way to get to know a place and its history. So wherever you are, here are some free things to do on vacation around the world.
Originally published November 1, 2017. Updated January 6, 2020.
Search for public art and murals
Becoming increasingly more popular, you can find public art everywhere you go. Some cities have a collection of sculptures scattered around town. In Cleveland it’s painted guitars, Syracuse has horses, and you’ll find dolphins around Rehoboth Beach. Make it a scavenger hunt to find as many as possible! CowParade statues can be found in cities around the world as well.
Look for street art
Another great form of art to look for is street art! Don’t be afraid to look down alleys or along the sides of buildings; some cities even have particular streets dedicated to street art.
Gardens. Gardens everywhere! In every city there is green space. My favorite city for its parks and greenspace is most definitely Chicago. Between Millenium Park with Cloudgate, and other parks and fountains laid across the city, Chicago is winning in the park category. And Central Park in Manhattan? you could spend days wandering through the 843 acres and still not see it all!
Be on the lookout for wild animals
Is the place you’re visiting known for a specific type of animal? If so, is there a commonly known place to see them more easily? There are waterways in Queensland known for spotting platypus, manatees are found in Florida, and moose in Maine! Be patient and see what you can see.
Wildlife drives are a great way to find local native animals – and they are often FREE! I recently visited the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge and saw hundreds of birds – egrets, herons, ibis, blackbirds, etc. – alligators, and even at otter! The Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge is near me and a great place to visit if you’re winery hopping along Cayuga Lake.
Visit the local library
Libraries are free to visit and they each have their own special exhibit. Big cities and college campuses usually have the best libraries to visit (remember the library at the University of Rochester?). I even recently found out that my former college’s library has an Academy Award in the special archives. The Athenaeum in Boston has a book made of human skin! Find the local library wherever you go and see what makes it special.
Rediscover history at a cemetery
Yes, cemeteries are places of mourning and are generally sad places to visit. But they are also fantastic places to honor the dead. Find the oldest cemetery in town and you’re bound to find some historical figures buried there. Do a little bit of learning and remembrance by visiting their graves and paying your respects.
Even though TLC told us not to, sometimes it’s good to chase waterfalls! Are there any nearby? Then you should find them! Take a hike and experience nature at its finest wherever you are. Embrace the outdoors and get yourself some great photos. Even better, most waterfalls are dog-friendly, so it’s a great stop if you’re traveling with your dog.
Visit filming locations from movies and tv shows
Movies and tv shows are filmed all over the place! See if there was something filmed wherever you are and relive a scene from the movie. You can find filming locations all over the place with a quick google search. It was both creepy and awesome to walk up the famous stairs from The Exorcist in Georgetown. I’ve even put together a list of horror movie locations you can visit.
Believe it or not, many museums offer days with free admission. We all know that the Smithsonian museums in Washington DC are always free, but there are other major ones around the world that let you in for free if you know just when to go. For example, the Louvre – yes, that Louvre – is FREE on the first Sunday of every month. Seriously. I planned my whole trip to Paris around that fact. The Museum of Modern Art in NYC is free every Friday night from 5:30 to 9.
Keep in mind that the museums are usually much busier when there is free admission, so weigh your pros and cons.
Admire memorials & other historical sites
This ties in with some of the previously mentioned places, but be sure to find the monuments or historical places that are famous wherever you are. It’s no secret that Washington DC is full of them, but plenty of other places are too! Check out the mansions in Newport or the Brooklyn Bridge! The northeastern US in particular is full of historical buildings and monuments, as that was the region first settled by the Europeans. But head out west and you’ll see more historical places from Native Americans – just as amazing!
Do you have any other ideas for free things to do on vacation? Share them in the comments!