After paying for airfare and accommodation, admission to attractions can quickly become another big expense when traveling around the world. Home to the Smithsonian Institute and towering monuments, Washington, DC offers the most free things to do in the United States. And in America’s heartland, St. Louis is only second to the nation’s capital to offer the same. From awe-inspiring museums to historic sites – including a UNESCO World Heritage Site – stretch your travel budget to the max by checking out these fantastic free things to do in St. Louis.
Note: some of my experiences were hosted by Explore St. Louis. All opinions are mine.
1. St. Louis Art Museum
Behind a statue of the city’s patron saint, mounted on his horse with his sword raised skyward, the city’s most important art museum is located in what was the Palace of Fine Arts during the Exposition of 1904. Perched on a verdant hill overlooking the great basin of Forest Park, the Saint Louis Art Museum contains over 34,000 works of art from a wide range of cultures spanning 5,000 years of human history. Admission to the museum’s main collection is always free, and visitors can enjoy free entry to special exhibitions on Fridays.
Pro Tip: During your visit to the Saint Louis Art Museum, be sure to discover these 22 new works of art, including two works by Pablo Picasso.
2. Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum
Enjoy even more amazing art in the Gateway City as you venture into the Kemper Art Museum on the campus of the University of Washington. One of the oldest education museums in the country, this free St. Louis attraction is filled with impressive works by American and European artists from the 19th to 21st centuries.
Pro Tip: If you love art museums, but regularly travel with someone less interested in them, check it out those advices.
3. Missouri History Museum
In a majestic building built with profits from the 1904 World’s Fair, the Missouri History Museum shares the history of Saint-Louis from 1764 to the present day. Learn about the Louisiana Purchase that essentially doubled the size of the nation, the 1904 World’s Fair, Charles Lindbergh’s historic transatlantic flight, and the civil rights movement in St. Louis.
Pro Tip: Although admission to Forest Park’s museums is free, expect to pay around $10-15 per attraction to park in adjacent lots. Or, if you’re willing to walk a short distance, free curbside parking is often available.
4. St. Louis Science Center
In the southeast corner of Forest Park, the St. Louis Science Center is one of the largest science museums and planetariums in the United States and one of the only free science museums in the country. More than a million people visit the futuristic-looking domed building each year to explore everything from prehistoric life to the solar system.
Pro Tip: Although admission to the Saint Louis Science Center is free, some experiences are chargeable, including planetarium shows, OMNIMAX movies, and flight simulators.
5. St. Louis Zoo
Stretching along the southern part of the park in what was the World’s Fair Flight Cage, the St. Louis Zoo is one of the best zoos in the Midwest, exhibiting 500 species of fish, birds, mammals, and other animals in spacious, natural enclosures. Visitors can see everything for free at the zoo, from ants to zebras, but will have to pay to ride the carousel or attend the annual Wild Lights event.
Pro Tip: Here are several other US zoos with free admission.
6. Forest Park
In addition to its museums and zoo, the 1,300-acre green space in the heart of St. Louis that once hosted the 1904 World’s Fair is larger than New York’s Central Park and offers just as much to see and see. To do. Take one audio-guided tourenjoy an ornithological walk led by the St. Louis Audubon Societyor rent a boat and paddle Post-Dispatch Lake.
Pro Tip: In addition to the free museums and outdoor adventures in Forest Park, here are several other things you must do while in St. Louis.
7. World Chess Hall of Fame
A few blocks from the northeast corner of Forest Park, with the the largest chess piece in the world mark the place World Chess Hall of Fame celebrates one of the oldest games in the world. This free museum includes an impressive display of unique chess boards, including the chess pieces used in Bobby Fischer’s legendary victory over Boris Spassky in the 1972 World Chess Championship.
Pro Tip: Although there is no admission fee, donations from visitors help fund museum exhibits and educational programs.
8. Gateway Arch National Park
Covering 90 acres under the towering 630-foot-tall Silver Arch symbolizing the gateway to the western United States, the Gateway Arch National Park stretches from the Old Courthouse to the Mississippi River. And while you can expect to pay around $35 to visit America’s first national park, Yellowstone, there’s no charge to explore one of the country’s newest national parks.
9. Gateway Arch Museum
Built at the base of the Gateway Arch, the Gateway Arch Museum is another fantastic free thing to do in St. Louis. Newly updated interactive galleries guide visitors through 200 years of American history about the important role St. Louis played in America’s westward expansion.
Pro Tip: Although there is a small charge for take the tram atop St. Louis’ most famous attraction, it’s reasonably priced and offers stunning views of the city.
10. Old courthouse
Gateway Arch National Park is more than a sky-scraping stainless steel arch and museum. It also includes the Old Courthouse, home to two trials that helped advance civil rights in the United States. In the mid-1800s, a slave, Dred Scott, sued for his freedom. And 20 years later, female suffragist Virginia Minor sued for the right to vote. Although Scott and Minor lost their lawsuits, the rulings helped ignite the flames that would ultimately lead to Civil War, the 13th Amendment in 1865 abolishing slavery, and the 19th Amendment in 1920 giving all American women the right to vote.
11. St. Louis Basilica
In the shadow of the city’s symbolic arch, St. Louis Basilica (also known as the Old Cathedral) was the first cathedral west of the Mississippi River. You can enter and respectfully admire the historic church for free (remember this is an active parish). You can also visit its museum for a small fee.
12. Soldiers Memorial Military Museum
Housed in an impressive art deco building about half a mile west of the old courthouse, the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum pays tribute to the brave soldiers of the country. An engraved black marble monument lists the names of St. Louisians who perished during World War I. And prominently nearby is the bell of the USS St. Louis, a World War I warship that brought troops home from Europe. A wide array of exhibits, including uniforms, handwritten notes and other artifacts, tell the personal stories of other men and women who gave their lives for the United States from World War I to the Vietnam War .
13. City Garden
With waterholes and trees drowning out the hustle and bustle of the surrounding city, city garden is an oasis in the heart of downtown St. Louis. Just steps from the Old Courthouse, this lush square block is filled with fragrant flowers, comfy benches, and a variety of public artwork.
14. Grant’s Farm
If the first thing that comes to mind when you think of St. Louis is Budweiser, the second thing might be the magnificent Clydesdale horses. Since Anheuser-Busch is no longer offering free tours that let you meet the iconic workhorses and taste the bud, other animal (and beer) lovers will want to visit. Grant’s Farm. Around a log cabin built by President Ulysses S. Grant, this free attraction is a wildlife sanctuary with a beer garden steeped in history!
Pro Tip: Like many free things to do in St. Louis, there is no admission fee to visit Grant’s Farm. But expect to pay $15 for parking.
15. James S. McDonnell Prologue Room
Although this free attraction is only open to the public during the summer months of June, July and August, the Prologue Room at Boeing Headquarters in St. Louis encompasses more than 100 years of aviation history and pays tribute to the pioneers of flight. See life-size Mercury and Gemini capsules and full-scale models of several iconic aircraft, including Air Force One.
16. Cahokia Mounds
Just across the Mississippi River in Illinois, but still in the greater St. Louis metropolitan area, Cahokia Mounds is one of 24 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States. This impressive pre-Columbian indigenous community crafted intricate mounds, cultivated crops, traded goods with other indigenous cultures, and was more populous than London in the 13th century.
Pro Tip: To explore other UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Midwest, check out these Frank Lloyd Wright sites.
From art museums to animal encounters and historic buildings to a World Heritage Site, St. Louis is full of fantastic and free things to do during your visit.
If you want to learn more about the Midwest, explore the rest of our coverage: