When people think of St. Louis, they think of the arch, baseball, and beer, but it’s also famous for something else: free things to do.
Widely considered one of the best cities in the U.S. for free things to do (not to mention its relatively cheap prices compared to other major cities), St. Louis is perfect for budget travelers.
The “Gateway to the West” has the perfect mix of free indoor and outdoor activities, making it an excellent destination year-round. Visit world-class museums, see breathtaking historical and architectural sites, and enjoy miles and miles of trails, all for free. Here are the 9 best free things to do in St. Louis.
1. Forest Park
Why you should go: Densest area of free fun in St. Louis.
- Address: 5595 Grand Drive
If you’re looking for free things to do in St. Louis, head to Forest Park. There, you can visit any of the five major cultural institutions or roam the grounds of this urban park that’s larger than New York City’s famous Central Park, all for free.
Locals and tourists alike come to Forest Park year-round to walk, run, bike, picnic, play frisbee, and bird-watch. Forest park was the site of the 1904 World’s Fair and many of the historic buildings remain to this day.
2. Saint Louis Art Museum
Why you should go: World-class art & sledding.
- Address: 1 Fine Arts Drive
Built in 1904 for the World’s Fair, the Saint Louis Art Museum houses a collection of art spanning mediums like paintings to fabrics and sculptures. View the museum’s main collection free of charge or visit on a Friday to peruse the special collections for free.
If there’s snow on the ground, don’t miss an opportunity to experience the best sledding in St. Louis on Art Hill, located in front of the art museum. Legend has it that in the winter of 1904, a particularly remarkable snowstorm hit and World’s Fair workers took a break to slide down the hill on folding chairs.
3. Saint Louis Science Center
Why you should go: A hub for all things creative & interactive.
- Address: 5050 Oakland Avenue
St. Louis is home to one of the largest science museums and planetariums in the country, and it’s free to visit. Inside, the Saint Louis Science Center has exhibits on everything from dinosaurs to the solar system. Don’t miss out on MakerSpace, where you can create objects using all sorts of tools. Daily from 2-4 pm, they run a free Maker Workshop, with the theme changing every three months. Outside, the science center has a gorgeous outdoor area where visitors can explore the science of agriculture.
The Saint Louis Science Center hosts epic free events as well. Themed “First Fridays” run from 5-9 p.m. and include hands-on activities, food and drink specials, and trivia. Come in costume (they’re encouraged) to take full advantage of the photo ops. Entrance is first come first serve, with free admission.
Other free events include science storytime, SciFest, and the Science Spooktacular. Heads up: while entrance to the museum is always free, extra activities such as the OMNIMAX, planetarium shows, and Yoga Under the Stars are not included with admission.
4. Saint Louis Zoo
Why you should go: Climb the outdoor canopy alongside lemurs & spider monkeys.
- Address: 1 Government Drive
More than 500 animals await you at the Saint Louis Zoo. The zoo is open daily, but hours change depending on the season, so be sure to check before you go.
Two unique free experiences at the zoo stand out: Primate Canopy and Sea Lion Sound. At the Primate Canopy, you can observe lemurs and spider monkeys enjoying their outdoor habitat, all while you climb a jungle gym yourself, making your way across elevated wooden and roped canopies.
Sea Lion Sound houses California sea lions and harbor seals in the Lakeside Crossing section of the zoo. Here you can walk through an underwater tunnel and observe the animals from within their habitat. You can also attend the Sea Lion Show (for a fee).
Like most parking lots in St. Louis, using the zoo lot is pricey ($15). If you don’t mind a short walk, check the free lots near the art museum first. If you have a lot of kids and gear in tow, it’s probably worth it to just use the zoo lot so you can make a quick exit when they get cranky.
Pro tip: The zoo stays open until 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays in the summer, making it a great place to take a date after happy hour.
5. Gateway Arch National Park
Why you should go: Touch the tallest national monument in the country.
- Address: 11 N 4th Street
The nation’s smallest national park is home to its tallest national monument – the Gateway Arch. Located along the banks of the Mississippi River, the Gateway Arch National Park makes up the 90 acres under and surrounding the arch. While traveling to the top of the arch will cost you, you can explore the grounds and visit the museum for free.
Also located in the national park is the Old Courthouse, where two historic civil rights cases were heard. Here Dred Scott sued for his right to freedom, which eventually led to the Civil War and the 15th amendment. Also, suffragist Virginia Minor sued for her right to vote, which eventually led to the 18th amendment and women’s right to vote in the United States.
Related Read: 6 Unique Places to Go Glamping in Missouri
6. James S. McDonnell Prologue Room
Why you should go: Free parking in St. Louis — a rarity! Plus some amazing aviation displays too.
- Address: 100 Airport Road
Open to the public only in the summer months, the James S. McDonnell Prologue Room at Boeing’s St. Louis facility honors pioneers of flight and celebrates more than 100 years of aviation history. Located northwest of downtown, adjacent to St. Louis Lambert International Airport, the complex has free entry and free parking (a rarity in St. Louis).
Aviation fans will love the large-scale models of planes like Air Force One, the Navy’s Blue Angel, and an Apache helicopter. The exhibit also features life-size models of the Gemini and Mercury capsules that transported the first astronauts into space. The Prologue Room is a kid-friendly destination, and wheelchair accessible.
7. Laumeier Sculpture Park
Why you should go: Enjoy unique art outdoors.
- Address: 12580 Rott Road
The Laumeier Sculpture Park aims to engage the St. Louis community through art and nature, and you truly will not find a better free combination of the two in the county.
Open daily, the park features flowers, native plants, local wildlife, and of course, sculptures, along with three trails, each under a mile in length. Check out the Art Hike Trail for an unpaved trail through the eastern woodland section of the park. Bikes, as well as pedestrians, are welcome on the paved Central Pathway, which features the most sculptures of the three trails. The short Western Woodland Trail provides an unpaved, wooded adventure connecting with the Central Pathway near the Wayfield and again north of the South Lawn.
If you have kids with you, do not miss the Emerson’s Children’s Sculpture Garden. Here you will find “Bugs” by Tom Huck, a touch-friendly sculpture your kids will enjoy. Access the children’s garden by parking at the main entrance and walking south along the Central Pathway.
Pro tip: Combine the Art Hike Trail and Central Pathway into a 1.4-mile loop
8. Grant’s Farm
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Why you should go: Where else combines 900+ animals with history and free beer?
- Address: 10501 Gravois Road
Disclaimer: Here’s the deal with Grant’s Farm. Free admission — yes, but in true St. Louis form, they charge $15 to park. No on-street parking nearby. The nearest bus stop or random parking lot is at least a mile walk. Consider utilizing your favorite ride-sharing app, or for a truly free experience, have a friend drop you off.
The parking situation aside, Grant’s Farm is a unique experience worthy of a line on your St. Louis bucket list. It’s the perfect adventure for animal-loving history buffs who appreciate free alcohol. That being said, a trip to the farm is also great for multigenerational family excursions, first dates, or anyone looking to spend the day outside.
Grant’s Farm surrounds a log cabin built by former president Ulysses S. Grant. The Busch family purchased the land in 1903 and transformed the grounds into a refuge for more than 900 animals, most notably the Budweiser Clydesdales. Besides checking out Grant’s log cabin and the animals, you can tour the Busch mansion, enjoy traditional German food, and sip on free samples of Anheuser Busch beers.
Visit the farm Tuesday through Saturday from mid-April thru early November. During the winter months, Grant’s Farm opens on the weekends for private tours and events.
9. St. Louis County Parks’ 30/30 Hikes Program
Why you should go: Explore the entire county one park at a time.
- Address: Trails throughout St. Louis County
St. Louis developed an ingenious way to help locals and visitors explore all the nature the city offers: the 30/30 Hikes Program. They have selected 30 trails across the county that each take 30 minutes or less to hike.
Download a punch card online, or pick one up in person at the six area recreation complexes, Faust Park, or Laumeier Sculpture Park. At the beginning of each 30/30 trail, you will find a sign with a punch and a map that highlights the 30-minute route and mileage.
Check out a few if you plan to visit St. Louis, or complete them all and exchange the punch card for a special prize (spoiler alert: it’s a 30/30 patch). In total, the trails equate to 55 miles and 15 hours of fresh air and exercise.
Pro tip: Check out the trails at Bee Tree Park for a hike through the woods on the bluffs along the Mississippi River. Start at the trailhead and head west along the Cedar Trail until you connect with the Fisherman’s Trail as you loop around the lake. Then head towards the Mississippi River where you take the aptly named Crow’s Roost Trail to loop back around to the trailhead along the river bluffs.
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