Travel costs can add up pretty quickly, especially when you're trying to hit all of the coolest, must-see spots in a new city: Food, drinks, transportation, accommodation... the list seems endless. But, if you add a few awesome, free attractions to your itinerary, you can save a little money to put towards the rest of your trip... And if you're traveling with a family, the money you save from a free attraction can go a long way! Here are some of our favorite no-cost spots for fun across the country.
Boston is an incredible city to explore, and the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail is a fantastic way to hit up all the best spots. This free tour of the city's iconic historic sites takes you along Boston Common (a great place for a picnic) to the Old State House, Paul Revere's House, the Massachusetts State House, King's Chapel, the site of the Boston Massacre, and Faneuil Hall.
Definitely plan to spend time at Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, and bring your appetite because there are tons of delicious local food vendors offering everything from North End pizza to traditional Boston cream pies and lobster rolls. In all the Freedom Trail passes through 16 historically-significant locations that cover the early history of Boston and the United States. You follow the trail, which is marked on the ground on bricks, all the way to the USS Constitution in Charlestown.
New York City is an urban playground in so many ways, so it's no surprise that it's home to one of the world's most amazing urban parks. Central Park is an incredible achievement in landscaping and design, and has absolutely withstood the test of time, having been established way back in the 1800s. It's retained its timeless charm, and today you could spend an afternoon people-watching in the relaxing 15-acre Sheep Meadow, or climb atop the bronze "Alice in Wonderland" sculptures.
Don't forget your camera! There's loads of great photo ops, from the Conservatory Garden, a 6-acre European garden, to the Belvedere Castle, which offers stunning views of the Great Lawn, and Turtle Pond.
Washington D.C. is full of free museums, memorials, and monuments, but if you have limited time the way to make the most of your visit is to head straight to the National Mall. This massive large public park takes you from the U.S. Capitol building to the Lincoln Memorial, sandwiched between Constitution Ave. and Independence Ave. On one side of the Mall are museums, and on the other are memorials.
You can find free, un-timed parking along Jefferson Drive and Madison Drive. If you only have time to hit up a couple museums along the Mall, the Air and Space Museum, American History Museum, and Natural History Museum are the top three can't-miss. If you're hungry, there are a few refreshment stands that offer hot dogs, sandwiches and ice cream throughout the Mall.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the best national parks in all of America and it's absolutely 100% free of charge, which is pretty significant considering most national parks can charge upwards of $20 a day to visit! There are over 800 beautiful square miles to explore, including parts of the historic Appalachian Trail, which having originated in Maine, goes smack dab through the center of the park, and ends in Georgia. There's a little something for everyone, from hiking and biking trails, to wildlife viewing, fields of wildflowers, horseback riding, and fishing. The park is also open every single day of year, 24/7.
A few must-see spots include: Chimney Tops Trail, which provides a drop-dead gorgeous view of the mountains; Fontana Dam, the tallest dam east of the Rockies; beautiful Cades Cove, an 11-mile one-way looped road that has incredible waterfalls and fields of wildlife; Elkmont Historic District, an entire abandoned summer resort town in the middle of the park where you can wander around the cottages and even spend the night in the campground; and lastly, Clingmans Dome, an essential way to end your trip. With an elevation of nearly 6,643 feet, the view is absolutely out of this world.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas is an absolutely mind-blowing building. As far as American architecture goes, it's a masterpiece. Housing a permanent collection of American art from colonial times to today, this is one of America's premier museums. Some of the masterpieces it includes are portraits of George Washington, Asher Brown Durand’s "Kindred Spirits," as well as Norman Rockwell’s iconic "Rosie the Riveter."
Remember the Alamo! Even if you don't know the full story or the historical significance of this famed fort, you at least have heard its name. The Alamo is the site of a notorious siege against Texan rebels by the Mexican Army, led by General Santa Anna. The Alamo fell after a few days, and almost everyone inside was killed in the ensuing battle. However, "Remember the Alamo!" became a rallying cry for the rest of the Texan rebels, and it carried them on to defeat the army and declare Texan independence from Mexico.
It's open pretty much year-round (with a few holiday exceptions) and it's totally free. There are a few buildings to explore here, including the famous church and a military barracks, with tons of historical background provided on the various sites. In fact, the whole Alamo Plaza is worth exploring. It's pretty crazy to see the old building surrounded by modern development, but the parks, gardens, restaurants, and shops nearby all add to the experience of looking into Texas' storied past.
Garden of The Gods
Behold the Garden of The Gods, where mortals can experience divine beauty the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else on this earthly plane. Blue skies, brightly hued rocks for climbing, and green trees for shade make this heavenly landscape a favorite of humans and celestial beings alike. In Colorado, a state known for its natural beauty, the Garden of the Gods stands out from many other parks, and not just because admission is free.
Rock climbing is a popular activity in the park. You simply need to bring your gear and sign a waiver at the visitor center, and then you can hit the rocks! The are also trails throughout the park, which makes for some awesome hiking and biking... and along the trails, you can spot the popular "named" red rock formations and enjoy the unique scenery. It's also a good place to hone your landscape photography skills, or even just enjoy a nice picnic. Bonus: the park is dog friendly, too!
Whether you're into star spotting (space stars, not movie stars) or you just want a good view of the Hollywood sign, head to Griffith Observatory. Located on a hill above Hollywood, Griffith Observatory offers incredible views of the LA area, and the observatory's museum and telescopes are free! There's a planetarium that costs extra to visit, but with multiple telescopes, films, and exhibits, you can easily spend an afternoon here without spending a cent. And, since countless movies have been filmed here, from "Terminator" to "Rebel Without A Cause,” it's got some cool Hollywood history as well.
Bonus: there are several trails around Griffith Park, where the observatory is located, that are awesome for a hike. Head in search of the carousel or the abandoned zoo after you check out the exhibits at the observatory!
International Rose Test Garden
Portland has been known as the City of Roses since the 1880s, which was when it was discovered that the city has the perfect climate and soil conditions for growing roses. There are tons of rose gardens across the city, including the famed International Rose Test Garden. This garden was founded in 1917, and was originally meant to be a place to experiment with different breeds of rose, as well as to serve as a place where European roses could be grown so that the individual hybrids wouldn't be lost during WWI battles.
It's free to visit and enjoy the flowers, which bloom continuously throughout the spring, summer, and fall. All different colors, styles, sizes, and scents can be found here, and the garden's location offers some pretty incredible views of the City of Roses as well!
Having a good time doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg! These are some of the best attractions across the country and they're absolutely 100% free to enjoy. So, get out there and have experiences and memories to cherish for a lifetime that won't break the bank.
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