Cheap flights and hotels are important to keeping a travel budget in line, but activities and food—especially with the whole family in tow—can quickly eat away at any well-planned vacation. If you want to be sure you’ll have your pick of affordable entertainment that won’t break the bank, head to one of the below cities. All three are full of free or nearly-free activities for the whole family.
Raleigh, North Carolina
Raleigh’s historic neighborhoods, world-class museums, Southern diners, outdoor green spaces, performing arts venues, and local shops all work together to create a dynamic downtown and city. Tons of free (or nearly free) experiences and attractions make a trip Raleigh, North Carolina easy to plan. Explore what the Raleigh area has to offer without breaking the bank! Explore the ideas below, or see the complete guide of Things to Do in Downtown Raleigh.
Hunt for murals and public art – The expansive public art scene in Raleigh is quickly proving that beautiful and awe-inspiring art can easily be found both inside and outside of the area’s awesome museums and galleries. Slip on your walking shoes and hit the streets to find more than 140 pieces of public art (just downtown) that make for perfect photo ops about hunting for murals! Note: Some murals are located downtown, and others are around the county in nearby towns.North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences – Delight, entertain and educate with fascinating exhibits, both featured and permanent, about the natural world. The museum’s four floors are divided into two parts—the Nature Exploration Center (where you’ll find the Terror of the South) and the Nature Research Center, an unmistakable architectural icon that opened to much fanfare a decade ago. Exhibits range from detailed dioramas to actual ecosystems with living animals—all of which can be explored through various self-guided tours.Historic Oakwood – Tour Historic Oakwood for a wonderful array of late 19th- and early 20th-century Victorian-inspired homes featuring a diversity of architectural styles. The homes, some with the most beautiful gardens, have been lovingly restored to exude old-world charm and splendor. You can explore this 30-block neighborhood by car or on foot. For a self-guided tour brochure, visit the Raleigh, N.C., Visitor Information Center.First Friday – Art lovers rejoice! First Friday draws thousands downtown for a free, self-guided tour of cutting-edge cultural hot spots—local art galleries, art studios, alternative art venues and museums. Tour stops can feature music, a variety of creative works, wine samples, hors d’oeuvres and more. Local tip: Look for the First Friday flags to easily locate participating venues or pick up a detailed map/guide.Videri Chocolate Factory – A chocolate lover’s paradise! Visit the cozy, fully-operational, bean-to-bar chocolate factory and retail space located in the Warehouse District of downtown (a must-stop on any visit for chocolate and coffee lovers). Don’t forget to take the free, self-guided tour of the chocolate-making process and get a sample of some of Videri’s classic bars.North Carolina Museum of Art – One of the most visited attractions in the entire state (and ranked by Insider as one of the top 25 museums in the country!), the North Carolina Museum of Art and its permanent galleries are open to the public free of charge. You would also be wise to stroll through the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park, with its monumental public art installations and miles of multi-use trails weaving throughout.State Farmers Market, Raleigh – One of the best and most modern markets in the U.S., boasting 75 acres of indoor and outdoor vendor space. Shop and sample some of the freshest fruits, vegetables, meats and gift products from across the state year-round. Also check out the specialty gifts shops, plus the ever-popular State Farmers Market Restaurant (don’t miss the biscuits!)Pullen Park – Entertaining families since 1887, Pullen Park—nestled between downtown Raleigh and the main campus of North Carolina State University—was established as N.C.’s first state park (and it’s the fifth oldest amusement park in the U.S.). Admission and access to the playgrounds, grassy and tree-shaded areas, picnic shelters, grills and tables are all free. Families can also enjoy amusement rides, including a historic carousel first built in 1911, for a small fee.Historic Yates Mill County Park – At 174 acres, this wildlife refuge and environmental research center has it all—hiking trails, a 24-acre pond and Historic Yates Mill, Wake County’s last remaining gristmill (fully restored and operable!). Tour the mill to learn about the “farm-to-fork” process, witness the corn grinding process and purchase bags of ground yellow and white cornmeal. Admission is free, but the mill tour (available to the public March through November) costs $3 to $5.Neuse River Greenway Trail – A 27.5-mile paved, uninterrupted greenway that stretches from Falls Lake in North Raleigh to the Wake County line in southeast Raleigh is a year-round haven for outdoor recreation. With views of historic sites as well as winding boardwalk areas and suspension bridges crossing over wetlands, the trail is open to joggers, walkers, runners, cyclists, roller-bladers and others. Many consider this trail to be the gem of the 100-plus-mile Capital Area Greenway System. Local tip: Read up on what you need to know about the trail with this handy guide.
Jacksonville, Florida by Lance Asper – Unsplash
For the ninth year in a row, Visit Jacksonville invites families to discover all the family fun the city has to offer at its top attractions during Kids Free November. The best part? Free or discounted admission is available for children under the age of 12 with general adult admission throughout the month.
“Traditionally, the last few months of the year are time for families to enjoy each other’s company,” says Katie Mitura, Chief Marketing Officer of Visit Jacksonville. “Kids Free November is the perfect opportunity for families of all sizes to visit Jacksonville to make memories while also taking advantage of admission or tickets specials. It’s the chance to save money and do more at many of our local favorites and must-sees.”
Autobahn Indoor Speedway is offering an hour of unlimited arcade access with any race purchase, and Community First Igloo is offering free skate rental with the purchase of public skating admission. iFLY Jacksonville is having a BOGO special on First Time Flyer packages. Free admission specials are also being offered at Catty Shack Wildlife Sanctuary, Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Durkeeville Historical Society, Jacksonville Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Museum of Science & History.
In addition to being Kids Free November, there will be special events free to the public on select dates. On November 11th is the Veterans Day Parade, and on November 26th is the Light Boat Parade. Deck the Chairs will also be free, with opening night on November 22nd. Jacksonville is also home to many free and low-cost family attractions including the Beaches Museum and History Park, Riverside Arts Market, Downtown Art Walk, Jacksonville Farmers Market and Fort Caroline National Memorial.
Other participating attractions in Kids Free November include Explore Jax Core, FSCJ Artist Series performances at Jacksonville Performing Arts Center, the Jacksonville Icemen, King Pins Bowling Center, Sweet Pete’s, and more. For more information about and details about participants visit www.KidsFreeNovember.com.
A mural in Clarksville, Tennessee by Elmer Cañas – Unsplash
A successful vacation with kids means keeping them engaged during your getaway. A blend of fun activities, recreation, creativity, and favorite foods, along with some disguised education, will ensure great memories for the whole family for years to come. Clarksville, Tennessee offers a variety of fun for kids of all ages, no matter their interests. Give them the opportunity to invest in your family’s adventure by letting them choose some favorites among these options.
For toddlers and young kids:
Mochas & Minis Indoor Play & Cafe is a place where adults can sip on a coffee or refresher while the kids run free. The indoor playground is designed specifically for ages 8 and under with separate spaces for toddlers and older kids. Reservations are recommended.The Customs House Museum & Cultural Center is full of areas for kids to enjoy. The lower level includes a bubble cave, model trains, and Explorers Landing complete with age-appropriate activities to teach children about community, urban development, and local wildlife.Downtown Commons is an urban park and gathering place in Historic Downtown Clarksville where kids can run and play on the grassy lawn, build forts with the Imagination Playground, and have picnics with food from downtown shops.Stroll along the Cumberland River at Liberty Park, visit the ducks at the fishing pond, or release some energy at the community-built playground.Downtown Clarksville is full of public art. A favorite of these in the hot summer months is the Children’s Fountain on Strawberry Alley.The Wade Bourne Nature Center located inside Rotary Park is a 4,200-square-foot facility that educates children on natural history with hands-on activities and events throughout the summer. The center includes indoor exhibits, demonstration gardens, and pollinator and butterfly gardens. A new aquarium will open inside the center in late July. Children will also enjoy the nature-inspired playground.Let the kids cool off at the Heritage Park All-Inclusive Playground & Splash Pad.
For bigger kids and teens:
If your kids have their own phones, let them download the Visit Clarksville App to take any of 18 themed Challenge Trails. Check in at the required number of places and earn custom-designed pins for each trail.There is certainly no shortage of activities for the competitive kid at The City Forum which has it all under one roof – go-karts, mini golf, bowling, laser tag, arcade games, and more.D&D Blacklight Mini Golf, Sky Zone Clarksville, and The Flip’n Axe are all unique indoor recreation experiences.Looking to spend some time in the great outdoors? A Dunbar Cave State Park cave tour is a great combination of recreation, education, and history. The cave stays at a constant temperature of 58 degrees making it a great place to escape the summer heat while still being outdoors. There are several tour options available to visitors. For those who want to be in the water this summer, Float Ya Boat allows families to spend an afternoon floating down the Red River.Take a break from the heat and get out on the ice! Ford Ice Center hosts public skates each weekend.Every kid loves a selfie! Grab a phone and document all the unique stops along the Public Art Trail. For anyone feeling creative, ArtLink hosts workshops throughout the summer teaching everything from stained glass to painting. For anyone visiting on the first Thursday of the month, be sure to head to the Downtown Artists Co-op for the First Thursday Art Walk.Rent a bike or take a walk at the Clarksville Greenway, a scenic 9-mile paved walking trail.
In addition to activities, Clarksville has plenty of dining options to satisfy everyone—including picky eaters. These locations are sure to have something to satisfy everyone’s craving.
Wolf Down at Downtown Commons, Miss Lucille’s Café, and Wicked Good Sandwiches focus more on sandwiches, while Dock 17, Johnny’s Big Burger and Joe’s Garage are great places to grab a burger. The Thirsty Goat serves pizzas and doubles as a coffee shop and beer garden with expansive outdoor seating.Cool down with a cold treat this summer. Golly G’s and Frozen Fuel serve handmade ice cream, while La Michoacana Delicias sells Mexican popsicles. Café 931’s acai bowls are both tasty and filling.Enjoy a tea party at Pinky’s Up Afternoon Tea or Miss Ashley’s Tearoom & Cafe, or grab donuts at Parlor Doughnuts.Does everyone want something different? Check out the Chow Down with the Clarksville Food Trucks events every Saturday to dine with local food and dessert trucks.