From sprawling public parks and golden beaches to snow-capped peaks and rolling prairies, the USA has a great number of free attractions to explore – well, it is the world’s third largest country, after all. But there are certain must-sees that are just so famous and so beautiful that you’d be forgiven for thinking there must be an entry fee, and it might well eat up a fair chunk of your spending money.
As it turns out, many of the most popular attractions and institutions can be explored for free. Whether it’s national parks, historic city trails or world-renowned museums, on your next USA holiday you can choose from a host of attractions that won’t cost you a penny, giving a whole new meaning to the land of the free. Here are our favourites.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
© Geir Olav Lyngfjell
A must-visit for nature lovers, the Great Smoky Mountains park is one of the few national parks that’s free to enter year-round (though we happen to know how to get into all of them for free – read on to find out how!) and is the most-visited NP in the country. Over 10 million visitors per year are drawn by the rolling ridges of forest and abundance of wildlife including black bears, groundhogs and deer. Hikers frequently pass through the park as part of the famous Appalachian Trail running from Maine down to Georgia.
© Songquan Deng
When you consider the sheer number of sights in Washington, DC, from monuments for former presidents to museums crammed with interesting artefacts, it’s incredible that visiting the lot won’t cost you a penny, but that’s how it goes in the nation’s capital. Along the National Mall, icons like the Washington Monument, the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial are free to explore. The 18 Smithsonian Institutions are also free to enter, and there’s even a free app available to help you plan your tour, as we’re sure the founding fathers would’ve wanted.
The Getty Center, Los Angeles
There’s much more to Los Angeles than glitz and glamour. The Getty Center is one of the city’s finest art museums, with an extensive collection of American and European art, including Van Gogh’s Irises and Claude Monet’s Sunrise. Entry is free and includes access to a picturesque garden featuring waterfalls, over 500 different plants and stunning panoramic views at sunset. It’s also bound to keep your offspring entertained, with numerous attractions including interactive exhibits in the Family Room and an art treasure hunt.
The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
© Martin M303
There’s no denying it; this iconic structure was built for public access so perhaps you wouldn’t expect to have to pay to see it. But when you consider that it’s one of San Francisco‘s most iconic sights, stretching for over a mile and proclaimed one of the seven Wonders of the Modern World, you realise how lucrative such an icon could be. Yet this striking red structure remains free to cross, and tourists flock to it in their millions to photograph its graceful lines and Art Deco detailing.
The Grand Canyon, Arizona
© Martin M303
We’re not telling porkies; you really can visit this behemoth in the heart of the Arizona desert free of charge – you just have to time it right. Normally visiting the Grand Canyon would set you back $12 per person or $25 per vehicle, but the thoughtful folks at the US National Park Service set several days each year when entrance fees are waived, including National Parks Week every April.
What’s more, this doesn’t just apply to the Grand Canyon but to all American National Parks! So if on your next USA holiday you fancy goggling over the giant sequoias at Yosemite NP or tackling the taxing if sweetly named Angels Landing hike at Zion NP, you’ll know when to come to save a bundle.
Boston Freedom Trail
© Zack Frank
Boston is an academic and cultural hub with a rich history and stunning architecture, boasting so many sights that it’s difficult to cram them all into a short visit. The solution comes in the form of the Boston Freedom Trail, a two-and-a-half-mile redbrick path taking you on a journey of 16 of the city’s most significant landmarks, including Boston Common, Faneuil Hall and Bunker Hill Monument. Head for the Visitor Center on State Street to bag yourself a place on a free guided tour.
Bellagio Fountains and Conservatory, Las Vegas
© Charles Zachritz
If, on your Las Vegas holiday you lose all willpower in front of the surprisingly addictive one-armed bandits and end up somewhat short on cash, you’ll be glad to have an opportunity for some free entertainment up your sleeve. The fountain show at the Bellagio is rightly one of Sin City’s most iconic attractions, putting on a spectacular water and light show every half-hour. Inside the hotel, the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens are no less visually stunning, with 13,000 square feet of extravagant horticultural displays.
© Lori Monahan Borden
We’re counting New Orleans as one big free attraction, as there’s just so much to do in this unique city with plenty of cash left in your pockets for chugging Hurricanes on Bourbon Street. Free city tours are available from the French Quarter Visitor Center on Decatur Street on a first-come first-served basis half an hour before the tour kicks off. And the freebies on offer at the visitor center don’t end there; you can also catch free talks, see exhibits on local jazz history and hear live jazz six days a week.
Museum of Modern Art, New York City
Dating back to 1929, the MoMA houses one of the most extensive modern art collections in the world and is right up there with the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty on our list of New York‘s must-visit attractions. On Friday evenings between 4pm and 8pm the normal entry fee is waived, leaving you $25 richer for your trip to the gift shop. You can’t book Free Friday Night tickets in advance, so try to arrive early and expect to queue.
The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas
© Richard A McMillin
The 4.2-acre complex known as the Alamo, site of the Battle of the Alamo in 1836, is one of Texas’s most popular tourist attractions, welcoming over 2.5 million visitors every year. And in a state that’s larger than France, that’s a fact not to be taken lightly. Yet there’s no fee to enter, meaning visitors can ‘Remember the Alamo’ free of charge. This San Antonio site’s many attractions include the Shrine, the Long Barrack Museum and the Gift Museum, all steeped in history and housing exhibits on the Texas Revolution.
What’s your favourite free attraction in the States? Let us know in the comment box!