12 Free Things to Do on Vacation

Looking for fun, free things to do on vacation? From walking tours to festivals to museums, there are all kinds of options for the budget-conscious traveler.

A family of four looks out at the Paris city skyline.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Good news for travelers: after a period of higher prices across the board, inflationary pressures are starting to slow, and U.S. airfare, hotels, and gas prices are on the decline.

Domestic airfare dropped 5.9% in May 2024, from May 2023 levels, according to the latest Consumer Price Index data. Gas prices are still up modestly from a year ago, but are down from recent weeks, falling to an average pump price of $3.43 per gallon in mid-June from $3.58 a gallon at the end of May, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. And U.S. hotel rates declined nearly 2% from a year ago, the CPI found. 

Now is also a good time for international travel: similar price declines are playing out at many destinations abroad, too.

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Both domestic and international travelers can cut costs even farther by finding free things to do at their destination. Here are 12 ways to discover free activities for your next vacation.

1. Find a Meetup group

From hiking and cycling groups to improv troupes and artist collectives, the Meetup website and mobile app can help you connect with like-minded locals. Many of these groups host free events, giving you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the local community with people who share your hobbies.

2. Go couch surfing

For free accommodations, consider using Couchsurfing, a global community of 14 million people in more than 200,000 cities that offers travelers free places to stay. The mobile app also provides access to free events, such as dance classes, live music, and city tours.

3. Take a walking tour

For many travelers there’s no better way to explore a new city than on foot. Search for free walking tours through Free Tours By Foot, GuruWalk, Freetour, or the International Greeter Association.

4. Find activities on Eventbrite

You’ll find no shortage of free things to do using Eventbrite, which lets you search for events by interest, offering access to a variety of fun gatherings — everything from bird watching excursions and picnics to photography classes and air guitar competitions.

5. Attend music, art, and food festivals

Many cities offer free music, art, food, and other outdoor festivals year-round. If you’re traveling in the U.S., explore the events calendar at the local chamber of commerce or tourism office.

6. Hit up museums

Some of the best museums in the world — the Smithsonian in our nation’s capitol, the Getty in Los Angeles and the British Museum in London, to name a few — offer free admission. And some paid museums offer free admission on certain days of the week or the month.

7. Chat up locals

Striking up conversation with people who live in the community is totally free. It’s also a great way to learn about hidden gems you won’t come across on a travel guide book or website. Consider connecting with the locals at coffee shops, outdoor parks, or other informal settings.

8. Take advantage of reciprocal memberships

Some museum memberships offer free admission to other museums in their network. For instance, members of the Cincinnati Museum Center get free admission at participating science centers in the Association of Science & Technology Centers.

9. Mine social media

Social media sites can be gold mines for finding free things to do. On Instagram, search using the hashtag #freeevents and the city you’re traveling to. On Facebook, click on the “events” tab in the left rail of the homepage and filter by your destination and travel dates.

10. Go on a photo scavenger hunt

Draw up a list of the landmarks that pique your interest and spend a day snapping pictures at these locations.

11. Check your credit cards' benefits

Some credit cards offer access to free attractions. Eligible Capitol One cardholders can get a six-month complimentary Enthusiast membership, which provides free admission to more than 50 museums around the world.

12. Google it

Don’t forget to do an old-fashioned Google search. For best results, search “free events in…” or “free things to do…” and the city you’re going to.

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Daniel Bortz
Contributing Writer, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Daniel Bortz is a freelance writer based in Arlington, Va. His work has been published by The New York Times, The Washington Post, Consumer Reports, Newsweek, and Money magazine, among others.