Ohio

16 Surprisingly Free Things to Do in Cleveland, Ohio

by Holly Riddle
Updated November 23, 2022

free things to do in cleveland ohio
Photo: Jason Kostansek

Cleveland’s attracting attention as a top destination in the Midwest, transforming the city once dubbed “The Mistake on the Lake” into a world-class locale, filled with sports, museums, an emerging food scene, and a truly unique history.

Thanks to Cleveland’s central location in the region, it’s also easy to visit on a quick weekend trip from other top Midwest hubs like Pittsburgh, Columbus, and Cincinnati. The city is also a good pick for a longer trip, whether you’re traveling solo, with a friend or partner, or with the kiddos. Budget travelers will also find lots to love in the “CLE”, thanks to its wealth of free offerings and things to do.

Whether you’re a first-time visitor, or you’re just looking for a cheap getaway in the Midwest, here are the 16 top free things to do in Cleveland.

1. Discover historic artworks at the Cleveland Museum of Art

Cleveland Museum of Art
Photo: Jose Luis Stephens

General admission is always free at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Established in 1913, the museum boasts more than 60,000 works of international art, including a renowned collection of Asian and Egyptian art. The museum is also home to famous pieces from American and European artists as well, like Georgie O’Keeffe and Pablo Picasso.

Thanks to a very healthy endowment, the Cleveland Museum of Art is free every day, giving it the reputation of being one of the wealthiest museums in the entire country.

2. Browse Cleveland’s West Side Market

Photo: Sean Pavone

Many major cities have a historic market that reflects the area’s culture by displaying a wide array of makers and producers, showcasing both goods and crafts, as well as unique offerings from the area’s trendsetters.

For Cleveland, the West Side Market is that space. The oldest operating indoor-outdoor market in the region, it was established in 1912 and now houses more than 100 vendors. From fresh produce to gyros, donuts, Scottish fern cakes, and more, the market is an absolute feast for the senses – and don’t forget to fill up on the many free samples throughout!

3. Stroll through the headstones at Lake View Cemetery

Lake View Cemetery cleveland
Photo: Jesse Ashenfelter

If you like to walk among the spirits, head to the Lake View Cemetery. This 285-acre property is home to more than 100,000 graves and is a tourist spot thanks to its beauty (both natural and artistic) and notable gravestones and memorials.

You’ll find the memorial for Cleveland native and 20th President of America, James A. Garfield, as well as the grave of John D. Rockefeller (who is believed to be the richest American ever), among others.

Related read: 7 Hocking Hills Cabins with Hot Tubs for a Revitalizing Getaway

4. Brush up on your baseball facts at the Baseball Heritage Museum

The free-to-visit (though donations are appreciated) Baseball Heritage Museum sits within League Park, Cleveland’s original home for baseball. The museum sheds a specific light on the multicultural heritage of baseball and the diverse stories that helped shape the Great American Pastime.

Notable artifacts include Babe Ruth’s 436th home run baseball, which was hit right at Cleveland’s League Park in 1928 (the ball is also signed by Ruth himself), as well as a collection of historic jerseys and bleachers seats, and a notable exhibition on Black, Caribbean, and Latino baseball players.

5. Learn about pioneering women at the International Women’s Air & Space Museum

 

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This museum is fittingly located within an airport. Admission is free, but you can also pay a small fee for a guided tour. The museum is, as its name details, all about the history of women in the aviation and space exploration industries.

Rotating exhibits focus on topics such as women at the International Space Station and specific women pilots and astronauts. Permanent exhibits are dedicated to women such as Sally Ride, Amelia Earhart, and Bessie Coleman.

6. Take in the scenery at Edgewater Park

Edgewater Park cleveland
Photo: Jason Sponseller

Edgewater Park is a 147-acre oasis right on the shores of Lake Erie. The expansive park features a 2,400-foot beach, a swimming area, a yacht club, a fishing pier, picnic areas, boat ramps, and more. If you want to do something on or by the water, you can likely find it at this park. You can visit the park’s Edgewater Nature Shop during the summer to rent umbrellas, cabanas, and beach loungers.

Cycling is also popular at the park, as is walking along the paved waterfront trails. The park also provides excellent views of downtown, making it a perfect spot for scrapbook (or Insta) photos.

Related read: 9 Beautiful Cabin Rentals Near Cincinnati, Ohio

7. Take the short drive to Cuyahoga Valley

Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Photo: Ally Griffin

If you want even more nature (with no skyscrapers in the background), make the very short drive just outside of Cleveland to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where entry is free. You’ll arrive within minutes, but, once you’re there, you’ll feel worlds away from the city.

This national park features a mix of forests and farmlands and is jam-packed with history and heritage. Popular activities include scenic train rides, hiking, and biking. Top-recommended hikes include the Ledges Trail, which offers views and rock formations, as well as the Brandywine Gorge Loop, known for taking hikers right by a beautiful waterfall.

8. Visit the Cleveland Cultural Gardens

 

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The Cleveland Cultural Gardens are a unique addition to the city. Whereas many cities today have large murals scattered across their neighborhoods and visitors are encouraged to hop between them, Cleveland has its Cultural Gardens – a collection of more than 30 gardens placed along a long strip of boulevard and parkland.

The property is loaded with manicured gardens and impressive sculptures, all designed to reflect a range of international cultures, as well as significant figures from history. You can find a cultural garden for nations like Albania, Armenia, Estonia, Croatia, Vietnam, and more.

9. Find hands-on fun at the Money Museum

 

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The Money Museum is a free, hands-on, and family-friendly attraction created by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. Recently renovated and redesigned, the museum covers all things money and finance in an easy-to-understand manner.

You’ll learn about the history of money, cash operations, cybersecurity, and more, all through interactive games and other fun activities. The museum also houses some historic coins and bills.

Related read: 9 Delightful Weekend Road Trips From Columbus, Ohio

10. Look for wildlife at Rocky River Reservation

Rocky River Reservation
Photo: Arthur G. Photography

For that worlds-away-from-the-city feeling (without actually having to leave the city) try a visit to Rocky River Reservation, which is part of the Cleveland Metroparks. This scenic parcel of land feels so removed from the city that you may even spot some wildlife hiding among the foliage.

Popular activities include hiking, horseback riding, and fishing (the reservation has been called one of the country’s best fishing spots). You can also check out cultural and historic sites, or one of the reservation’s three golf courses. During the winter months, many parts of the park open up for sledding.

11. Catch a concert at the Cleveland Institute of Music

Cleveland may be most associated with rock ’n roll, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find other types of music performed in the city. The Cleveland Institute of Music is a renowned educational institution producing some of the world’s best in orchestral and classical music.

The school regularly puts on free concerts where students show off their skills. You can simply show up, no tickets or seating reservations are required.

12. Take a historic neighborhood tour

Love a good tour but don’t always love the price tag? You can join Take a Hike for a free guided tour of one of Cleveland’s historic neighborhoods or attractions. The organization offers more than a dozen tours, both guided and self-guided, so you can pick the option that best matches your interests.

The tours vary, with some focusing on historic neighborhoods, while others center around parks and coastal areas. But one of the coolest offerings is their tour centered around historic hotels.

Related read: 7 Drop-Dead Gorgeous National Parks in the East

13. Visit the Reinberger Gallery

In addition to the free Cleveland Museum of Art, the city also offers the free Reinberger Gallery within the Cleveland Institute of Art. The gallery mixes faculty and student exhibitions with curated exhibits from regional, national, and international artists.

If you want a little more than just a quick browse of the gallery’s current offerings, you can stop by on a Friday to catch the Lunch on Fridays lectures, during which the gallery offers art and design lectures over the lunch hour that are free and open to the public.

14. Window shop at The Arcade Cleveland

The Arcade Cleveland
Photo: Nagel Photography

Even if you’re not keen on window shopping, you’ll definitely want to stop by The Arcade Cleveland. Called the inaugural shopping center of the United States and dubbed Cleveland’s Crystal Palace when it opened, the arcade cost nearly a million dollars to build in the late 1800s.

After being left derelict (and even shuttered) for years, the arcade is now a Hyatt Regency and the public is welcome to come and see it in its restored glory. Guest rooms, shops, restaurants, and lounges have once again made the arcade one of the most enviable properties in town. Even if you don’t want to spend any money at the arcade, simply walking through it is an experience all its own.

15. See what’s on at Transformer Station

Yet another way that Cleveland is embracing its artsy side and making the arts available to the public at no cost is Transformer Station. This privately owned art gallery is free and open to the public thanks to a partnership with the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Exhibitions focus on modern art of various mediums, all housed within a stunningly industrial and minimalist space, paying homage to Cleveland’s history of manufacturing and industry.

Related read: 11 Beautiful Small Towns on Lake Michigan For a Coastal Getaway

16. Get out of the weather at the Rockefeller Park Greenhouse & Botanical Gardens

 

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Whether you want to escape the summer sun or the blustery snow, you can do so at the Rockefeller Park Greenhouse & Botanical Gardens. This lovely indoor-outdoor space is open seven days a week, including holidays, for free. You’ll find seasonal floral displays, but also specialty plant collections and themed gardens.

Indoor exhibits include a water garden, fern shophouse, cacti shophouse, orchid shophouse, and more. If the weather cooperates and you can explore the outdoor grounds, you’ll find a Japanese garden, rose garden, and veggie garden, among others.

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