Ann Arbor isn’t just about the University of Michigan, although the school does influence the overall experience of being there. Much of this self-proclaimed “little-big city” can be enjoyed on a budget. From museums to markets, Ann Arbor offers many family and budget-friendly attractions and activities.

Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market

Open Saturdays all year round and both Wednesdays and Saturdays in the summer, the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market offers many goods from more than 100 local businesses.

For almost 100 years now, the farmer’s market has offered locally grown crops such as fruits, vegetables, flowers, cider, honey, and maple syrup. There are also many vendors who sell toys, art, and crafts.

Fairies, Farms, & Flowers — Free Things to do in Ann Arbor

Locals enjoying the flowers at the Ann Arbor farmer’s Market. Photo credit:

Burton Tower Carillon

Every weekday at noon, on the University of Michigan campus, people gather to listen to the Carillon at Burton Tower.


First of all, what is a Carillon? Well, according to the Burton Tower website, “A carillon is a musical instrument consisting of at least two octaves of bells arranged in a chromatic series and played from a keyboard that permits control of expression through variations of touch.”

If you’d like to experience this musical attraction on your trip to Ann Arbor you can either listen from the ground below or from the observation deck. The observation deck and bell chamber are open to the public during the recitals.

An internationally renowned summer recital series takes place on Monday evenings throughout July and August.

You can also request a formal tour of the tower, as long as you request two weeks ahead of time.

Find the Fairy Doors

Ann Arbor’s fairy doors are tiny doors set into walls that began appearing in public spaces in 2005.

Jonathan B. Wright, a teacher of graphic design technologies, is said to have been the first to install a public fairy door outside Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea in April of 2005. He claims to have found three doors within his own home, except, he did not put them there…

Doors have popped up on many  buildings around town, although no one knows who else, other than Wright, has been placing them over the years. Wright released a children’s book titled “Who’s Behind the Fairy Doors?” to speculate on the origins of the other doors.

Wright also runs the Urban Fairies website, which offers a map and tips for finding the doors.

Fairies, Farms, & Flowers — Free Things to do in Ann Arbor

A young explorer tries to see if anyone is home. Photo credit:

Kerrytown Shops

A few blocks from the heart of downtown Ann Arbor, a trio of century-old buildings make up Kerrytown.

Kerrytown was part of the original village of Ann Arbor and was converted into markets and shops in the late 1960s. The historic area has been preserved and put to use. housing a combination of shops, cafes, restaurants, and markets that can make for a unique shopping experience.

The shops are open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., and Sundays 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Matthaei Botanical Gardens

Get back to nature by visiting the University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens. Matthaei boasts seasonal gardens, water features, walking trails, children’s garden, edible garden, and more.

Gaffield Children’s Garden is designed especially for the “kids-eye view.” Kids can climb into an oversized bird nest, experience a kid-friendly maze, discover magical creatures like fairies and trolls, or get their hands dirty in the digging pit.

For the animal lovers Matthaei offers plenty of water features that attract frogs and toads and house several fish. The gardens also attract many winged creatures such as butterflies and hummingbirds.

Several events are held throughout the summer, including plant sales and gardening classes.

Fairies, Farms, & Flowers — Free Things to do in Ann Arbor

The garden can be fun for all ages. Photo credit:

 Museum of Natural History

The University of Michigan Museum of Natural History provides many exhibits featuring Michigan wildlife, anthropology, and geology, but it’s claim to fame is the most extensive dinosaur exhibit in the state of Michigan.

The prehistoric exhibit can be found on the Museum’s second floor, called the Hall of Evolution. Here you can find an impressive fossil collection of dinosaurs, prehistoric whales, mastodons and much more.

Most of the museum’s exhibits focus on Michigan’s natural history but the Anthropology Galleries feature artifacts from human cultures around the world, and highlight the research of University of Michigan archaeologists.

The museum offers a range of annual and weekly events that are immersive and focus on the learning aspect of the museum. There are also tours offered upon request.

Fairies, Farms, & Flowers — Free Things to do in Ann Arbor

Photo credit:

This post was updated by Alexandra Olsen, a college student intern for, in April 2016. Her love of travel began at a very young age–traveling with her family to little beach towns growing up in Brazil.  She has her own personal travel blog, Trail Mix, which she started while spending a summer studying abroad in Norway.

What is your family’s favorite free experience while traveling? Let us know about it in the comments section!