Best 16 Free Things To Do In St. Louis

St. Louis is hands-down one of the best places to visit in the midwest if you’re looking for fun and affordable things to do with your family. As you know, traveling with a family can get expensive real quick and you’re forced to pick and choose where to spend your hard earned dollars on vacation. Lucky for you, there are so many free things to do in St. Louis that you can save a bundle and use that money for great meals or lodging when you visit the Gateway City.

Not only am I a professional travel journalist, I also spent most of my life in St. Louis! I absolutely love getting to share my favorite things to do here – including some tips from a local. While technically, I paid taxes for many years to provide most of these free things to do in St. Louis – I took advantage of them as well on many occasions! And still do when I’m in town!

So let’s get started. Here are some of my favorite free things to do in St. Louis!

1. Spend The Day At The St. Louis Zoo

Sorry Omaha and San Diego, I’ve been to your zoos and they don’t even come close to the amazing St. Louis Zoo! The best part is – admission to the St. Louis Zoo is totally free!

Here are a couple of local tips you should know. While there are several parking lots around the zoo, street parking is absolutely free in Forest Park. Get there a little early before the zoo opens and you’ll usually be able to snag a spot! And while attractions within the zoo do have fees, you’ll find it’s perfectly enjoyable simply walking around the various areas and viewing the animals. Save money on food and drinks by packing a lunch and eating under a tree somewhere in beautiful Forest Park!

2. Gateway Arch & Museum

Visiting the Gateway Arch is one of the most popular free things to do in St. Louis! You can wander the grounds beneath the arch on five miles of walking trails and explore the amazing museum inside. (The museum was completely updated in 2018 and is really cool!) There is a fee to ride the tram to the top of the arch.

While you’re there, be sure to pop in to the historic Old Courthouse and don’t forget to notice the beautiful (and historic) Eads Bridge while on the steps leading to the riverfront.

Fun Fact: There are 32 windows at the top of the arch! (16 on each side!)

3. Grand Hall Light Show at Union Station

free things to do in St Louis
Grand Hall at St. Louis Union Station

This is one of my favorite free things to do in St. Louis and I always take out of town guests to check this out! St. Louis Union Station is an historic train station that at one time was the busiest train station in the world, serving over 100,000 travelers a day!

When you enter the building from Market Street, go straight up the short set of steps and you’ll be blown away by the beauty of Grand Hall. There are chairs and couches (along with a bar) to relax and enjoy an incredible digital show that’s projected onto the ceiling in Grand Hall. There are more than two dozen versions of the show – from an introduction to St. Louis and a mini concert from Queen or The Beatles.

4. Sunflower Fields At Columbia Bottoms

Some places around the country charge visitors to meander around their giant sunflower fields but not here! Add this to your list of free things to do in St. Louis: Columbia Bottoms Conservation Area. Usually in mid to late summer, the sunflowers are in full bloom and the public can wander through them to enjoy the sights or take photos.

The area is located in St. Louis County, northwest of downtown St. Louis.

5. Free Seats At The Muny – St. Louis’ Outdoor Theater

Seeing a show under the stars at The Muny in Forest Park has been a tradition for locals in St. Louis since 1916. Each summer, a series of broadway style musicals are on stage – like Jersey Boys; Fiddler On The Roof; and Grease. And if you’re visiting during the summer months, you can see any of these shows – for free!

Yes there is paid admission for most of the seats but 25% (1,5000 seats) of the venue is reserved for free seating. You simply line up starting at 7pm to grab a spot! All of the details on how to score the free seats are available on The Muny’s website.

6. Missouri History Museum

free things to do in St. Louis
Missouri History Museum in Forest Park

I’ll admit that most state history museums tend to be a little boring. However, the Missouri History Museum has some really great exhibits and easily makes the list of great free things to do in St. Louis. The latest exhibit is a retelling of the historic 1904 World’s Fair which took place in what’s now known as Forest Park. Other exhibits are great for younger kids to learn about Missouri and America’s westward expansion.

Don’t forget you can explore all of the attractions in Forest Park by using the Metro trolley (bus) for free on weekends. (Weekdays, it’s only $2 for adults.) You can learn more on their website.

7. St. Louis Art Museum

Regarded as one of the finest art museums in the U.S. – the St. Louis Art Museum is absolutely free! While you explore the other attractions of Forest Park, especially in the summer months, remember that the Art Museum has great air conditioning! If you plan to spend the entire day in Forest Park, it’s wise to visit the Art Museum in the afternoon as St. Louis can get hot and humid.

It’s also cool to note that this is one of just two buildings left from the 1904 World’s Fair.

8. Enjoy Tons of Parks in St. Louis County

I’ve traveled all over the country and have yet to find a region that has many parks as you’ll find in the St. Louis area. You’ll find state parks, parks in St. Louis City, St. Louis County parks, and parks that are found within the dozens of local municipalities in the region. It’s amazing!

Some of my favorites include Kirkwood Park; Tower Grove Park; Lone Elk Park; and Shaw Park. For hiking, consider Castlewood State Park or Powder Valley Nature Trails.

9. St. Louis Science Center

While I haven’t spent much time at the St. Louis Science Center as an adult, I can still tell you it’s one of the great free things to do in St. Louis. I’d say this one’s aimed for mostly smaller children as opposed to teenagers but it’s still worth a visit.

Helpful tip – you can enjoy free parking in Forest Park and walk over the bridge to the main exhibits. (We refer to this side as the Planetarium side – which was the original Science Center when I was a kid.) There are radar guns on the bridge so your kids can clock the cars below to see how fast they’re going!

10. Laumeier Sculpture Park

One of the many parks in St. Louis County is a sculpture park with large outdoor exhibits. There are walking trails around Laumeier Sculpture Park or you can simply explore on the grass between the pieces. One of the most popular sculptures is a gigantic eyeball!

You can check out their website to see a list of all of their sculptures and operating hours.

11. See The World’s Largest Chess Piece

Did you that St. Louis is home to the World Chess Hall of Fame? Admission to the Hall of Fame is free (though a suggested donation of $3 is recommended.) Directly outside of the building is the world’s largest Chess piece! It’s huge and beautifully crafted!

The World Chess Hall of Fame is located in what’s known as the Central West End area of St. Louis City. There are a few shops and restaurants that are within walking distance. It gets busy by 11:00am, so it’s usually best to stop by in the morning.

12. Visit St. Louis’ Main Central Library

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that one day I’d recommend checking out a library when on vacation. However, if you have the slightest appreciation for beautiful buildings – the St. Louis Library is one of the best free things to do in St. Louis.

It’s incredible! It’s such a beautiful building and so much fun to explore. If your kids are readers (which hopefully they are!) they’ll love the kids section as well.

13. Check Out The Cathedral Basilica

Talk about beautiful buildings! The Cathedral Basilica is one of the most beautiful church buildings in all of America. When you walk in the door, the view and details in the ceiling alone will take your breath away!

You are welcome to tour the church for free however they request that you wait for daily mass to exit before walking in. All of those hours are available on their website.

14. Grants Farm

Grants Farm has always been one of my favorite free things to do in St. Louis. It’s a beautiful property that was once owned exclusively by the Busch family. (Think Busch Beer!) For many years it’s been open to the public for free with tram tours to view animals and take guests to a super cool Biergarten.

There is a fee for parking your car but it’s well worth it if you’re taking an entire family. If you’re interested in bike riding, Grants Trail extends through St. Louis County and you can always park your bike for free and visit the attraction.

15. U.S. Grant Home Tour

Right across the street from Grant’s Farm is a historic home run by the National Park Service. The home was owned by the family of President Grant’s wife. Grant himself spent time here but didn’t own the home. It’s a free attraction with guided tours year round.

16. Federal Reserve Museum

This is a totally underrated attraction and one of the more unique free things to do in St. Louis! The Federal Reserve Museum has great interactive exhibits that are interesting for all ages. If you’re traveling with kids, they’ll have a chance to learn how the economy works and even see what a million dollars looks like up close.

They used to hand out “free money” – but I’m not sure if they still do. (Sadly it’s shredded and put in plastic bags.) Still a cool momento!

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