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America's Top Free Attractions

America's Top Free Attractions: The Getty Center

Ted Soqui/Corbis

Imagine seeing masterpieces by van Gogh, entertaining your kids with activities, and strolling a hilltop garden with waterfalls and beautiful views at sunset.

Now imagine doing it all for free. That’s how your day could play out at the Getty Museum in L.A., where admission doesn’t cost a thing.

Enjoying what America has to offer can get expensive fast: in 2011, the U.S. travel industry made $813 billion, and some of America’s most popular cities are also its most expensive. Travelers of all budgets can appreciate a good deal, and with high gas prices and airline fees, it’s refreshing to know that there are still some venues like the Getty that give another meaning to the land of the free.

In our search for the top free attractions, we bypassed public parks and train stations to focus on experiences you wouldn’t necessarily expect to be free: a guided tour of Gothic-style Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah; an afternoon with cute baby animals at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo; and a behind-the-scenes look at a Harley-Davidson factory.

Money-saving strategies for New York, the priciest U.S. city for visitors according to Hotels.com, include taking advantage of free admission evenings at museums and timing your trip to July and August, when hotel prices drop. One of our favorite freebies year-round is a ride on the Staten Island Ferry for views of the Statue of Liberty and downtown Manhattan. When you’re done, you might pay your respects at the free National September 11 Memorial not far from the terminal.  

Tim Leffel, affordable-travel expert and author of the book Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune, points out that during the summer in particular, cities cater to both locals and tourists with “a packed schedule of freebies, from outdoor concerts to art walks, plays in the park to outdoor movie screenings.” Spoiler alert: we know where to find free ukulele and hula classes.

Find out just how far $0 can get you from coast to coast—and share your favorite free experiences in the comments below.

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