In most cities, free won’t get you very not far. But things are a lot different in St. Louis. Here, you’ll find dozens of interesting places to go and things to do that won’t cost you a dime. These free attractions are some of the best, most popular places around.
Here’s a sampling of what you can do for free in St. Louis:
Underneath the Gateway Arch, the Museum of Westward Expansion offers a chance to relive the Old West. Visitors can get a glimpse into the land that Lewis and Clark explored and see how mountain men lived in the 1800s. There are rare Indian Peace Medals, weapons of survival and an authentic tipi, and the historic tale is by the voices of life-like “animatronic” figures. And by the way, get thee to the Gateway Arch. You do have to pay to go up in the elevator, but when else are you ever going to be there and do it! Go on!
City Garden: One of St. Louis’ newest downtown attractions is Citygarden. Framed by office towers and surrounded by the hustle and bustle of downtown, Citygarden is a free, 2.9 acre sculpture park that incorporates a unique design of water, stone, architecture and modern artwork by world-renowned artists. I’ve seen people SWIMMING in the fountains. The guard did not seem to mind. Just saying… it gets pretty hot and humid in St. Louis in the summer.
Old CourthouseThere’s more free history at the Old Courthouse, part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. The Old Courthouse served as the site of many historic trials, including those associated with the Dred Scott slavery trial. If your timing is right, you might be able to participate in a courtroom trial reenactment.
Then head for Forest Park and a visit to the Missouri History Museum and a host of exhibits detailing St. Louis’ diverse history. Check out exhibits on everything from Charles “Lucky” Lindbergh and dozens of local breweries to more artifacts from explorers Lewis & Clark and a look at the storied 1904 World’s Fair.
Another Forest Park freebie is the Saint Louis Science Center and its 700-plus hands-on exhibits. Visitors of all ages can explore the “gene scene” and cast their vote on the ethical issues of genetic engineering, or build a replica of the Gateway Arch. Get a feel for what it’s like to live, work and play on the International Boeing Space Station, then use radar guns to clock the speed of cars zooming beneath the enclosed bridge spanning I-64.St. Louis Art Museum Atop Forest Park’s Art Hill is the Saint Louis Art Museum, the only building that remains from the 1904 World’s Fair. Built to house priceless artwork from countries around the world during the Fair, the museum continues the tradition today, with an extensive collection of 30,000 objects from ancient to contemporary. In fact, the museum’s pre-Columbian and German Expressionist collections are considered among the best in the world.
The Saint Louis Zoo has more than 6,000 exotic animals, many of them rare and endangered, from the major continents and habitats of the world. Wander through the Jungle of the Apes and the River’s Edge for a look at the elephants, cheetahs, mongooses and hyenas. Other attractions include the cool Penguin & Puffin Coast habitat and Fragile Forest, home of the great apes. In the Zoo’s Living World center, hands-on, interactive exhibits teach lessons on man’s relationship to the animal world, while creepy, crawly critters and beautiful butterflies call the Monsanto Insectarium home.
While there’s no general admission charged at St. Louis’ Zoo, Art Museum and Missouri History Museum, the institutions frequently host special exhibitions that require an admission fee. But all offer days and times when these fees are waived. Daily from 9 – 10 a.m. at the Saint Louis Zoo, visitors can enter the special Children’s Zoo for free, and enjoy a variety of animal shows and programs, and educational play activities. Fees for special exhibits at the Missouri History Museum are waived every Tuesday when museum hours expand to 8 p.m., and on Fridays, the Saint Louis Art Museum stays open until 9 p.m., with no charge to tour special exhibits. Free, docent-led tours of the collection are offered Tuesday through Sunday between 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
There are even more free museums in the Grand Center arts and entertainment district.
The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, open on Wednesdays and Saturdays, highlights contemporary art and architecture, and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis offers free admission to visitors each Thursday. Nearby, the Saint Louis University Museum of Artfeatures collections of Asian Decorative Arts, collections of the western Jesuit missions, and a gallery of modern and contemporary arts.
Or head west for Laumeier Sculpture Park for free art of another kind. The open air “museum” features a fascinating – and sometimes whimsical – world-class collection of more than 70 modern sculptures. The 105-acre campus includes indoor galleries and exhibitions of paintings, ceramics, glass and photography related to the outdoor sculpture program, as well as an outdoor garden.
Get Electrified at The Magic House – St. Louis Children’s Museum holds “Target Free Family Nights”every third Friday of the month from 5:30 pm to 9:00 pm. These special nights enable a family (no more than two adults and four of their own children) to enjoy the more than 100 hands-on exhibits in the museum.
Spend a day in the “country,” at Grant’s Farm, the former homestead of President Ulysses S. Grant, and family estate of the beer-making Busch family. In 1848, Grant married a St. Louis girl and built a small cabin in 1848 he nicknamed “Hardscrabble.” In addition to the cabin, Grant’s Farm also features a 281-acre wildlife preserve with more than a 1,000 animals from six continents, including the Budweiser Clydesdale breeding and training facilities. There’s also a petting zoo, animal shows, tram rides through the Deer Park, and the Bauernhof – German for ‘farmstead’ – which houses the Busch family’s renowned carriage collection.
Across the road, the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site features another of Grant’s St. Louis homes – historic White Haven. The National Historic Site includes the Main House, built in 1816, an interpretive museum in the historic stables and a Visitor Center that frequently hosts a variety of Grant-related touring exhibits.
Speaking of Anheuser-Busch, you can see how beer is made with a free tour of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery. The tour includes the historic Brew House, Budweiser Clydesdale stables, lager cellar and packaging plant. At the end of the tour, visitors are rewarded for their rapt attention with a visit to the Hospitality Room for free samples, along with sodas and salty snacks.
Schlafly Bottleworks: Complimentary tours on a smaller but no-less-interesting scale are served up at Schlafly Bottleworks, a microbrewery that produces a litany of Schlafly ales, stouts and specialty brews. The tour includes a video about St. Louis’ brewing history and manufacturing as well as a look at some “antique” advertising memorabilia.
Learn all about the mighty Mississippi at the National Great Rivers Museum located at the Melvin Price Locks and Dam in nearby Alton, IL, and then get a look at the breathtaking view at Confluence Point State Park. The park offers a bird’s eye view of the merger of two mighty American rivers, as the Mississippi and the Missouri join forces. There’s a collection of outdoor exhibits that detail the role both rivers played in the Lewis and Clark Expedition, along with the history of the rivers.
Explore an ancient civilization at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. Located just minutes from downtown St. Louis, Cahokia Mounds has been designated a World Heritage Site for its importance to the understanding of the prehistory of North America. The 2,200-acre tract features the remnants of a prehistoric native civilization that lived in the complex community known as the Land of the Sun, which vanished after 1400 AD. It includes the 100-foot tall Monks Mound, the largest prehistoric earthen structure in the New World.
Get some kicks. Even if you’re not old enough to remember the legendary Route 66 or the famous TV show, you’ll enjoy a trek to Route 66 State Park. There are miles of trails for walking and biking and a free museum with memorabilia from the days when Route 66 was America’s Main Street. Afterwards, experience the historic Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, which was once Route 66’s link between Illinois and Missouri. Today, it serves as America’s longest pedestrian bridge, and is open daily to hikers and bikers.
Shakespeare in the Park: Late spring brings free theatre to Forest Park during the annual Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis.For two weeks in early June, The Bard’s works enjoy a lively display under the stars, much to the delight of the picnicking audience members.
The Muny: Across the park at The Muny, 1,500 free seats are available on a first come, first serve basis for each evening’s performance. The outdoor theater offers Broadway musicals during its season, which runs from mid-June through mid-August.
These are just a few of the many freebies awaiting visitors to St. Louis. So plan a visit soon and see how many things you can pack in for free. Visitors can visit the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission’s web site to find deals on hotels, calendars of events and everything you need to know about St. Louis.
Did you know that St. Louis is no more than a day drive from one third of the US population? What are you waiting for! Get going.