Sometimes the best things in life really are free. Here are 22 world-class experiences that cost nothing yet nourish your mind and soul.
The Smithsonian Museums, Washington, D.C.
Is there any U.S. city that’s a better bargain for museum lovers than Washington, D.C.? The National Gallery of Art (rated the #1 thing to do in D.C. by the TripAdvisor community), the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (rated #5), the National Air and Space Museum (#10), and all the other favorites on the National Mall are free, as are top landmarks such as the Lincoln Memorial (rated #2), the Washington Monument, and much more.
The Getty Center, Los Angeles
This complex of art, architecture, and gardens is the #1 thing to do in L.A., according to TripAdvisor travelers. In summertime on Fridays and Saturdays it’s open till 9:00 pm so you can enjoy the sunset and twilight views. The Getty Villa, the collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, is free too. There’s a parking fee of $15 per car, but that fee covers parking at both sites, and they’re also accessible by public transit.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York City
Admission to this world-renowned art collection is normally $25, but on Fridays entry is free from 4 pm to 8 pm and includes all the exhibitions and films too. Warning: The MoMA Design and Book Store (open till 9 pm on Fridays) may tempt you to spend all the money you saved.
The Freedom Trail, Boston
Many Boston neighborhoods feel like outdoor museums, but the Freedom Trail is really the ultimate. Follow the red line and you’re on a 2.5-mile historic trail that leads you past unique historic sites from the American Revolution. The Freedom Trail app isn’t free, but the $4.99 price tag goes to preserve the buildings you’ll see.
You can walk across the Bridge (rated the #2 most popular landmark in the U.S.) for free, but if haven’t got the time or energy, you can get ideal views and photos of it from the Civil War fortress at its southern end. The Bridge is open till 9 pm in summertime so you can enjoy the panoramas at sunset and twilight.
In summertime the Park presents a slew of events and shows, including music, opera, dance, theater performances…even a circus. As for the zoo, it’s one of the top-rated in the country, it’s open 365 days a year…and who doesn’t want to see zebras?
Staten Island Ferry, New York City
The 5-mile, 25-minute ride from downtown Manhattan to Staten Island provides stellar views of New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island. It’s certainly the closest you’re going to get to Lady Liberty without paying money.
It seems fitting that the most powerful symbol of our nation’s freedom is free. In fact, all the buildings that make up Independence National Historical Park—where our forefathers gave birth to the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution—are free (although there’s a small fee if you want to reserve an entry time).
The National September 11 Memorial, New York City
Entry to the September 11 Museum costs $24, but you can take in the Memorial for free. Of America’s most popular landmarks, it’s #4. It’s an eight-acre park with twin reflecting pools that sit within the footprints where the Twin Towers once stood and feature the largest manmade waterfalls in North America.
New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park, New Orleans
This is the place for free live educational jazz performances, presented both at the Old U.S. Mint and at the Park’s French Market Visitor Center. Even the park rangers perform! Concerts are live streamed; listen in here and you’ll be itching to book a trip to NOLA.
Conservatory & Botanical Gardens at Bellagio, Las Vegas
Seeing the 13,000 square feet of gardens that fill the Bellagio’s atrium is the #2 thing to do in Las Vegas. There are free live musical performances there daily, and of course just outside you’ve got the famous Bellagio Fountains—the light, music, and water show that is the Strip’s #1 sight.
Royal Hawaiian Center, Honolulu
Take a ukulele class. String fresh flowers into traditional leis. Learn to dance the hula or give a Lomilomi massage. Such free classes, as well as free cultural performances, are held in a shopping center conveniently located just off Waikiki, so you can stop by for a beach break. (Go for lunch too: The food court is awesome, filled as it is with its diverse international assortment of eateries.)
You’ll find more travel advice from Wendy at WendyPerrin.com.