The city of St Louis is full of family-friendly attractions, from major league baseball and a variety of iconic restaurants to a list of historic sites, all nestled against the Mississippi River. Making it an amazing stop on a family vacation is the abundance of things to do that are absolutely free. Budget travelers rejoice because we have rounded up some entertaining, culturally significant excitement for all ages, right within the famous city.
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Saint Louis Zoo
Upon entering the Saint Louis Zoo, it’s baffling to think there’s not an admission charge. Zones focusing on different regions of the world expose children and adults to a variety of habitats like the Red Rocks, rainforests and even the ocean. Penguins, sea lions, hippos and giraffes are amongst the thousands of animals, including some endangered species that visitors get to see up close. Focused heavily on conservation, the zoo makes great efforts to educate attendees about what we can do to sustain the world, and the environments these animals naturally dwell in. A list of cafes serve basic, affordable fare, but reviews note that outside food and drinks are allowed. We can see why it’s been voted as one of the best zoos in the United States.
Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis
Completed in 1914, this cathedral is a surprising find in Missouri, as it appears like a centuries-old European structure. You don’t have to be Catholic to gaze upon the grand and ornate church, detailed with mosaics, and sculpted architecture. Some opt to experience the Sunday prayer, which is followed by an in-depth, historically informative tour of the impressive landmark.
A well-known performance venue in St Louis, The Muny, or the Municipal Opera Theatre, is an 11,000 seat outdoor amphitheater featuring a variety of shows in the warmer months. As a courtesy to the public, 1,450 free, first come first serve seats open up for the summer season, and while in the very back, the visibility is excellent. Get there at 7pm if you want one of these seats, as that’s when people are allowed to come in.
Union Station Fire and Light Show
There’s an outdoor train covering which hovers over a lake at Union Station in Missouri. While the historic site has many attractions, from bars with train-themed cocktails, an aquarium to a holiday Polar Express ride, the Fire and Light Show is a spectacular mesh of spouting features, falls and fire that bursts from lotus figurines floating in the water—and it’s free. You can catch the show every night from 5 to 9pm.
World Chess Hall of Fame
Three levels of chess memorabilia and history fill this interesting and fun museum. Even if you’ve never played chess in your life, a tour through the hall of fame offers plenty of photo ops and fun facts that anyone would find to be intriguing. Some come just to snap a selfie by the world’s biggest chess piece, while others simply enjoy the nerdy goodies at the gift shop. It’s totally free to visit, but donations to the non-profit excursion are always appreciated.
Set within downtown, and in view of the Gateway Arch, is a little slice of nature, Citygarden. Overflowing with native foliage, expansive lawns, calming paths and a glass wall cafe, the oasis serves as a retreat within a busy city. Renowned artists have created dozens of sculptures that elegantly rest in various spots through the park, adding a modern but delicate touch. But the coolest part is the abundance of waterfall, pools and fountains which kids and adults can play in during the hot summer months, all for the grand price of zero dollars.
Anheuser-Busch Brewery and Biergarten
Dating back to 1852, the Anheuser-Busch Brewery doubles as a historic site, and as a place to take a variation of boozy tours, with the added bonus of a Biergarten. A complimentary 45-minute tour of the facilities is offered on a first come first serve basis, but for $5 the ticket can be guaranteed in advance. See the 7-Step brewing process, beechwood aging cellars and the Budweiser Clydesdales at the historic 1885 stables. Other options are offered for a price, like the sampling, beer masters and brew experience tours.
St. Louis Science Center
One of the only free nonprofit science museums in the country, St. Louis Science Center is able to waive admission largely thanks to donations—several additional exhibits are also available as side attractions to the main center. However the main part of the establishment is what’s free, and any add on exhibits will cost extra. What you get within the main attraction is an array of exploration opportunities that take you to space, ancient Egypt, or times when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Owned by the Busch family for generations, and once a place where Ulysses S. Grant worked, the estate is described by the site as a blend of “history, wildlife and adventure”. Around 900 animals and 100 species roam the operating farm and are there to educate guests. Free to get in, Grant’s Farm has an abundance of add on activities that aren’t too expensive at all. A lovely little Carousel ride runs at just $2, while camel rides stay at $6. Feeding a baby goat a bottle or handing a parakeet some treats is just $1.50. On top of all of that, a free animal show is open to everyone, and tram rides around the farm are on the house.
A lot of history is rooted in St Louis, meaning there’s no shortage of museums. More than a handful offer free admission, including the Saint Louis Art Museum brimming with 30,000 stunning artifacts, the Missouri History Museum focusing on pivotal moments of the city’s history, National Great Rivers Museum’s interactive “Mighty Mississippi River” exhibits, the Pulitzer Arts Foundation and Museum of Westward Expansion. The World Bird Sanctuary and Laumeier Sculpture Park are two free outdoor attractions.
Gateway Arch National Park
While typically visitors pay $3 to enter, those 15 and under get a free pass. However, you can visit on the many days that national parks offer free admission, which includes the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., the first day of April’s National Park Week, the National Park Service’s Birthday in August, National Public Lands Day in September and Veterans Day. Those who’ve served in the military, have worked 250 hours as a federal volunteer or anyone with a permanent disability can apply for a free pass to all National Parks at NPS.gov, which would ultimately make your visit to the iconic symbol of St. Louis free.