Friday, December 21, 2012

Free or inexpensive things to do in a city

by ecstaticist via Flickr
I originally wrote this post years ago for a now defunct blog. As Jess and I are starting to plan our cross country roadtrip, I thought back on this post for ideas for things to see and do in new cities. 

Watching your pennies doesn't always mean that you have to stay home all day, everyday. I live in Richmond, Virginia and the River City offers plenty of opportunities to get out and have fun without blowing your budget. I've broadened these categories so that they can be applied to most cities or larger towns in America. These ideas would also be a good starting point for inexpensive things to do while visiting another city. Always remember: it's not the amount of money you spend, but having a good, positive attitude that makes going out anywhere enjoyable.

Budget movie theatres. Never got around to seeing that big flick a few months ago? Check your local movie listings to see if a budget theatre picked it up. For a buck or two you can get a second chance to see it on the big screen.

Museums. Art, science, and history museums often have free admissions on certain days- usually Sundays. Also, if you get there a few hours or less before closing, they may waive the admission fee. Keep in mind there are a good number of well funded museums that always offer free admission. And of course, if you are a student or a member of a certain organization, you can often get free or reduced admission.

Local music scene. Shows for local bands at bars, restaurants, and venues often don't have a cover charge, or if they do, it's only a few bucks since they want to encourage as many people to come as possible. Local bands are always eager to see a few new faces at shows to help spread the word about their music. You might just be pleasantly surprised at how good some of the bands really are!

Festivals. Every city and its surrounding area usually have at least a few free festivals every summer, if not during the rest of the year as well. Whether it's a festival revolving around food, ethnicity, or a special event, you are sure to expand your world view for very little cost.

Art openings. Once a month, there is usually a designated day of the week that all art galleries in a certain area of a city stay open later than normal (for example, the first Friday or third Thursday of every month). Most of these galleries have free, light refreshments that you can munch on while you check out artwork and wander from gallery to gallery.

College speakers. Colleges and universities bring in a wide array of speakers throughout the school year to enhance the intellectual environment on their campuses. Many times, these events are open to the public and are free. Check the college's website or newsletter for announcements.

Rush tickets at theater productions. Many theatres offer a reduced ticket price, or rush tickets, for theatre goers who purchase their tickets (with no reservations) 5-10 minutes before a show begins. A cut in profit is better than a seat remaining empty. Also, high school and college's theatre productions are usually a fraction of the cost of a "professional" theatre's production.

Factory tours. Companies are usually all too eager to have present and potential customers take a tour through their factories. They should have a schedule of their tours posted on their website or recorded on their answering machine. Free samples are usually distributed at the end of the tour (especially at breweries, wineries, and factories that produce food).

Stroll through an interesting neighborhood. Whether it's for the architecture, the window shopping, or all around vibe, sometimes just hitting the street on a beautiful day can offer plenty of eye candy and entertainment.

Bodies of water. Lakes, oceans, and rivers usually have an abundance of things to do around them. Canal walks, islands, beaches, nature trails, swimming, boating, fishing... you name it, you can do it, and usually cheaply or for free.

Public parks and estates. When owners of vast estates pass away, some of them donate their property to the city and the city, in turn, converts them into museums and or public parks. A tour of the house itself may be a few bucks, but you can usually visit their gardens for free. If none of the estates are budget friendly, regular public parks are a nice escape as well. You can pick up a few items from a local market and enjoy a picnic watching kids fly kites or romp on the jungle gym. State or national parks are also good, frugal choices if they're nearby.

Dog parks. If you, a friend, or a family member owns a dog, see if there are any public dog parks in the area. Your dog will get some much needed exercise while you get to meet nice, interesting people who live in your city and share your love of dogs.

Historic landmarks. Monuments, memorials, cemeteries, battlefields, settlements, and birthplaces (just to name a few historic places) are usually free for the public to peruse. What better way to brush up on American history than to see it face to face?

Parades and marathons. Make sure you get to the route early so that you can pick a good spot to see all the action. Bring some drinks and maybe a few light snacks as these types of things seem to last a long time. Parades and marathons are even better if you know anyone who's going to be participating.

Book signings/readings and open mic nights. Independent bookstores often have local author readings and signings while chain stores usually attract more popular authors. Check bars, cafes, and even bookstores for listings of open mic nights.

Visit thrift stores and or used bookstores. Sometimes you just never know what you're going to find at an amazing price or what interesting characters you'll meet.

Volunteering. If you really want to attend a pricey event, see if they need any volunteers to usher, help set up or break down, or tend the refreshment stand. Chances are, they'll let you see/attend the event for free in exchange for your assistance. If you want more than just an excuse to get out of the house, volunteering on a regular basis for an organization or cause that you feel strongly about will not only have you rubbing shoulders with like minded people, but will also give you the opportunity to spend your time more productively than you would on any kind of entertainment.

Did I miss anything? What are your tips for exploring an area without spending a fortune?

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