Need cheap-but-amazing vacation inspiration? These are the 10 top free attractions in the US.
Odds are you could use a vacation: Roughy half of adults reported in a recent survey that they have experienced the increasingly common phenomenon of "vacation shaming," or being guilted for taking time off. Fewer than two-thirds of people use all their allotted vacation, even though people who take time off tend to get more raises and bonuses, research suggests.
Now, while a nice little travel savings fund can help cushion spending on a trip, studies have shown that as far as being memorable, there's little difference between a $500 and a $5,000 getaway. In other words, it's worth trying to find a cheaper alternative before you pony up for that $120 Segway tour.
With that in mind, Mic compiled some of the best free attractions in the United States, using TripAdvisor's top "things to do" rankings to determine the most popular attractions across the nation, screening out any that came with an entrance fee or some other price of admission.
Many of the best free attractions are national parks, which may charge for certain kinds of permits, such as camping, but are free to enter — and enjoy.
10. The Getty Center
Los Angeles, CA
"Excellent" reviews: 8,849
Located in the Los Angeles area, the Getty Center is a museum displaying the art collection in the J. Paul Getty trust, and admission is always free. The museum boasts a world-class collection — including works from Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and Leonardo da Vinci — and its building is highly regarded for its architecture and central garden.
9. Garden of the Gods
Colorado Springs, CO
"Excellent" reviews: 9,390
Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs is one of the most popular city parks in the country, and admission to the park and visitor's center is completely free. The park is perhaps best known as a destination for climbers who come to scale its famous rock formations. If that sounds like you, you can fill out a form for a free annual permit here.
8. Savannah Historic District
"Excellent" reviews: 8,803
The Savannah historic district is the largest landmark district in the country, and boasts 20 public squares filled with nice restaurants, revolutionary forts, and museums like the Telfair Museum. Many of the attractions come with a price for admission, but no one can charge you a dime to walk around and look at all the pretty houses. Savannah's historic district also doesn't have any open-container laws, making it a popular destination for pub-crawlers.
7. Gettysburg National Military Park
"Excellent" reviews: 5,569
Gettysburg is obviously a must for history buffs, as it's the site of a turning point of the Civil War and President Abraham Lincoln's most iconic speech, the Gettysburg Address. Entry to the park is free of charge and, in lieu of hiring a guide, you can make your own itinerary by checking out some of the resources available to teachers through the Gettysburg Foundation.
6. Bryce Canyon National Park
"Excellent" reviews: 5,483
Bryce Canyon National Park has the largest collection of "hoodoos" — oddly shaped rock formations, pictured below — in the world. It also plays host to an annual astronomy festival, where admission to many star-gazing events and presentations are also free.
5. The New York City skyline (from the Staten Island Ferry)
New York, NY
"Excellent" reviews: 13,625
One of the best-kept tourism secrets of New York City is that the Staten Island Ferry — a free commuter service that goes between lower Manhattan and Staten Island — offers many of the same panoramic views people pay for on paid attractions like the Circle Line.
4. The Lincoln Memorial and National Mall
"Excellent" reviews: 17,377
The national park that's located in Washington, D.C., contains more than 18 monuments and memorials, including the Lincoln Memorial, as well as roughly 150 other reservations, circles, fountains and park spaces. Entrance is also completely free. Park rangers also offer tours of more obscure nearby attractions, like a monument commemorating the first air flight.
3. Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco, CA
"Excellent" reviews: 27,176
Located in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Golden Gate Bridge is a fantastic attraction for fitness enthusiasts like runners and cyclists, as well as visitors interested in photography and history. It offers great views of the San Francisco Bay Area and on occasion visitors can spot marine life, like whales and dolphins, and other cool fauna.
2. Bellagio Fountains
Las Vegas, NV
"Excellent" reviews: 52,726
The fountains at the Bellagio are one of the most famous free attractions in Las Vegas (and arguably in the world), with light shows running every half hour during the day, and every 15 minutes at night. Because the shows are choreographed to more than 30 different songs — by artists from Frank Sinatra to Michael Jackson — many people stick around for multiple viewings.
1. Central Park
New York City, NY
"Excellent" reviews: 76,103
New York is expensive but the great Central Park is one a few free gems in Manhattan — no surprise it's one of the most-visited tourist destinations in the world. Many of its most iconic structures, like the Belvedere Castle, are completely free to enter, although there are paid attractions inside, like the Central Park Zoo and the famous carousel. Be sure to check out legendary Strawberry Fields and the Great Lawn — which is expansive and far less crowded than fields further downtown.
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