There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but fortunately, there is such a thing as a free day out. Cash-strapped residents of St Louis will be pleased to know their home town offers a whole host of fun-filled activities that won’t cost the earth (or indeed, a dime). From parks to zoos, from theaters to museum’s, from ancient burial sites to botanical gardens… whatever you taste, you’re sure to find something of interest in our top 20 list of awesome free things to do in St Louis.
Lone Elk Park
Kicking off our list is the delightful Lone Elk Park. If you’re looking for a fun day out for all the family, you won’t find many better options that this wildlife spotting paradise. Pack the kids and a few sandwiches in the car than head off to enjoy a day of watching bison, wild turkey, waterfowl, elk and deer in their natural environment. Although the park is open until sunset, try and arrive in time for opening (7am in the summer, 8am in the winter) to catch the park-keepers feeding the hungry residents. If you want to take in a spot of fishing while you’re there, you’re in luck – although you will need to both reserve your spot in advance and release the catch afterwards (no fish for dinner, unfortunately). Check out the St Louis County website for more details.
Missouri History Museum
Although a great day out regardless of season, the Missouri History Museum is perhaps best enjoyed in summer, when it offers free programs such as day-glo hoolo hoop shows, movies, concerts, and more besides. If you’re not able to make the free programs, be sure to turn up on a Tuesday afternoon between 2-8pm to enjoy free access. While you’re there, don’t miss the Mammoths and Mastodons exhibit: a guaranteed pleaser for little kids (and big ones too). For details and travel directions, take a look at their website.
World Bird Sanctuary
If you or any of your family members are wild about birds, don’t miss the World Bird Sanctuary. A tranquil paradise set on 305 acres, the sanctuary offers visitors the chance to witness a plethora of rare and endangered species (including the Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon and American Barn Owl) in their natural habitat, as well as the opportunity to see live bird handling demonstrations and pick the brains of the friendly staff. Free seasonal shows are available at various points throughout the year: find details of the next one at their website.
The Missouri Botanical Garden
Whether you’re wild about botany or are simply looking for a peaceful spot to while away an afternoon, you’re sure to love the Missouri Botanical Garden. With free entry and parking on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, the gardens are a treat for all the family: kids will love the Children’s Garden, while adults will find a surfeit of delights in the garden’s extensive grounds. Be sure to take in the splendid Chinese Garden and equally delightful Victorian District during your visit: both are a rare treat for all the senses. More details can be found at their website.
This working farm on Well Road, St Louis is a kid’s paradise: little ones will love the chance to stroke the many cows, pigs, sheep and horses that call Suson Park their home (although best tell them the colorful locals fishing for their dinner are not for petting, just in case). With an easy, pretty walking path that winds through the grounds and a playground for when your kids get bored of the animals, the park makes an ideal (and free) family day out.
Another farm to make our list is the delightful Grant’s Farm. The ancestral home of the Busch Family plays host to over 900 animals from a jaw-dropping 100 different species. Children will love the chance to mingle with the animals, while grown- ups will be equally delighted with the free Anheuser Busch beer samples they can pick up in the beer garden. While access to the park is free, you may have to stump up if you want to partake of a ride around the grounds on a camel… For a full list of the animals you can expect to see, along with details of opening hours and travel directions, visit the Farm’s website.
The City Garden
The City Garden is a relatively recent addition to St Louis’ arsenal of parks, having opened its gates to its first visitors just 10 years ago. Despite its newness, it’s already established itself as one of the hottest destinations for families and singletons looking for a relaxing (and free) day out: with a huge, interactive water feature to cool off in during the hotter months, and a breathtaking sculpture park to meander around in the cooler ones, the park makes the ideal spot to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Free entry is available daily between sunrise to 10pm.
The St. Louis Zoo
Budget conscious animal lovers will find much to delight them at the charming St Luis Zoo. The nationally accredited zoo provides free year-round entry, offering kids and grown-ups the chance to get upfront and personal with a whole range of animals, from lions to zebras, from giraffes to elephants. In addition to the 17000+ animals, the zoo hosts a variety of educational exhibits, attractions, shopping opportunities, animal demonstrations and dining facilities. If you’re there with kids, don’t miss the Kangaroo feeding at 10:30am and 3:30pm daily at the Children’s Zoo; it’s a guaranteed crowd pleaser.
The St Louis Muny
As the oldest and largest outdoor theater in the entire United States, the Muny is one of St Louis’ most popular tourist destinations. The theater has been putting on live performances every summer since 1918, but you’ll need to be quick if you want to take in a recital for free- the 1500 free seats tend to go quickly, and are issued on a first come, first served basis. The free seat gates open at 7 pm, with the show starting at 8:15 pm. For more information about upcoming performances, check out the theater’s website.
Anheuser Busch Brewery Tours
Like a bit of history with your beer? If you do, you’re going to love the guided tours of the Anheuser Busch Brewery. Tour participants not only get the chance to explore the heritage of the ancient brewery (taking in three landmark sites and the fascinating brew kettles and Beechwood Aging Cellars along the way), they also get the opportunity to imbibe of two complimentary samples of the world-famous brew (tee-totalers will be pleased to note non-alcoholic samples are also available). The best thing… it’s all completely free (including the tasters!) For details of tour start times, take a look at the website.
Laumeier Sculpture Park
Free? Tick. Open to the public? Tick. Open 7 days a week? Tick. Worth the trip? Tick, Tick, Tick. The Laumeier Sculpture Park is one of St Louis highlights…. its mission statement of engaging the community though art and nature is well and truly achieved with its fascinating displays of life size (or larger) sculptures, family workshops that teach the basics of sculpting in a fun setting, Food Truck Fridays (a caravan of mobile menus), regular performances from local artists, and year-round education programs. For a fun-filled, educational day out for the whole family, it’s hard to beat. Visit the park’s website for more information on upcoming events.
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
Situated just across the river from St Louis, Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site (the largest earthwork in North America) covers 3.5 miles of natural reserve with around 80 mounds marking the spot of ancient sites. History lovers will get a real sense of the past as they wander the extensive, fascinating grounds. Stop by the Interpretive Center for maps, advise from the center’s friendly and knowledgeable staff, or to check out an audio tour. The center also includes a museum shop, exhibits, snack outlets, and restrooms. More information of opening times and directions can be found at the site’s website.
St Louis Science Center
If you’re on a budget but need a fun day out for all the family, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better option than the St Louis Science Center. While certain special attractions come at a price, general admission is free. If you can, make your trip on the first Friday of the month, when the Center’s Planetarium puts on a very special, and very worthwhile, Star Party. If you can’t make it, don’t worry too much… you’ll still find plenty to entertain you in the many interactive exhibits and attractions of the Center’s main site. Check out the Center’s website for opening times and info.
The Jewel Box
The Jewel Box, a display greenhouse that takes its name from the hundreds of bright, “jewel” like flowers that line its racks, is one of the most beautiful destinations in St Louis. The greenhouse is open to the public Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m, on Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m., and on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is usually $1 per person but turn up on Monday or Tuesday from 9 a.m. until noon to take advantage of the free entry.
The Magic House – Children’s Museum
Ranked as one of St Louis’ best attractions for kids, the Magic House is a hub of fun exhibits, creativity and yes, “magic”. Kids will love the chance to get involved in one of the many interactive delights, while parents will find equal pleasure in exhibits that pique their kid’s curiosity and get them learning without them even releasing. Admission is usually $9.50 but free entry is available for families on the third Friday of the month from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Check out their website for details of upcoming programs.
St Louis Art Museum
Art lovers will rejoice in the bountiful displays on show at the City’s art museum. As well as housing permanent collections from Africa, Europe, Islamic art, the Pacific Islands, Native American art, and more besides, the museum offers a fascinating sculpture garden and handy gift-shop. Although some select exhibitions are chargeable, general admission is free. Opening times and details are displayed on their website.
If your kids dream of the chance to play around with some of the cutest animals known to man, a trip to the charming Purina Farms might be called for. Suitable for all ages, the farm offer kids the chance to take part in the twice daily milking demonstrations, romp around with the animals in the petting area, take in a canine agility demonstration, and pet the farm’s many pet puppies and kittens to their little heart’s content. If that wasn’t enough, the farm also offers wagon rides and regular exhibits. Check out their website for more info.
If you’re in town in summer, be sure to take in one of the many performances at the Shakespeare Festival St Louis, an annual celebration that see’s the town thespians take to the streets with recitals that aim to address the topical issues and concerns of the day in a fun, interactive way. To catch one of the free street performances for yourself, check out their website.
With lush gardens, a splash pad to cool down in and a colorful garden perfect for kids to burn off some energy, Kiener Plaza offers the perfect setting for a fun, relaxing day. Its 1.9 acre area features a host of garden spaces filled with some of Missouri’s most beautiful plant specimens, while its plentiful array of seating provides ideal spots to watch the sunset or enjoy a picnic. The park offers free entry between 6am- 10pm.
The Old Courthouse
History buffs will love St Louis’ Old Courthouse. The building was original designed to serve as the city’s federal and state courthouse, but these days is a part of the Gateway Arch National Park. The Courthouse, which offer year- round free admission, offers visitors the chance to walk down memory lane while learning about the city’s rich and varied past.
Light Show at Union Station
If you happen to be in the vicinity of St Louis Union Station Hotel between 5pm and 10pm, be sure to check out the stunning 3D light display. Each night, the hotel plays host to one of the most stunning sights you’re likely to encounter, with visitors able to enjoy a visual feast of flying birds, dancing fish, floating flowers and stellar fireworks, all projected in 3D animation across the historic lobby of the Hilton Hotel. While the display is technically only available to guests, it’s been known for the odd passer-by to sneak in unannounced…