If you’re headed to the Midwest, you may be feeling as if there won’t be much for your family to do while staying within your budget. Columbus is a great city for having fun on a budget which means that there are a whole lot of free things to do in Columbus all year long! With so many cities and towns nearby, it is rather easy to take off for the day and get yourself lost!
The thing to remember about finding free things to do in Columbus, Ohio is that the weather will play a big part in what you’re able to do. If you’re visiting in the spring, summer, fall or “Indian Summer,” you will be dealing with the possibility of oppressive humidity or strong storms. If you’re visiting in the winter, snow and ice will be what you need to watch for. Don’t let that deter you from having fun, though! There will be plenty of nice days during your visit!
Free Things to Do in Columbus Ohio
You should also keep in mind that the Greater Columbus area can be pretty spread out. There are a lot of cities and smaller towns that surround it. That’s okay! It only means that you’ll have more options to choose from! Because we try to keep our travel attraction lists at no more than an hour away from where we’re staying, we have tried to keep this one at around 60 miles (or so) to make things easier for you.
Red White and Boom – Number 1 on our list of free things to do in Columbus is a must do if you’re going to be in Columbus during the week of 4th of July, be sure to check out the large Red White & Boom celebration. It’s the most featured fireworks display in the Midwest and Ohio’s largest fireworks display.
Riffe Gallery – If you like art, be sure to visit the Riffe Gallery. The Vern Rife Center for Government and Arts is open Monday through Saturday and admission is always free. While you’re there, you can take in different art exhibits and collections that showcase Ohio artists and collections from museums from all over the state making it a must-visit place if you’re looking for free things to do in Columbus.
North Market – Feel like doing a bit of shopping? Head over to number three on our list of free things to do in Columbus; the historic North Market. Here you’ll find everything from produce to baked goods all made by local Ohio sellers. In addition to that, you’ll also find events and activities scheduled throughout the month such as open houses that may catch your eye too.
Circleville Pumpkin Show – The Circleville Pumpkin show is one of the top free things to do in Ohio since there’s so much to do! Have you ever seen an 8-foot pumpkin pie? How about a 1500 lb pumpkin? Head down to Circleville in mid-October and you can. This yearly festival happens every year during the 3rd week of October. You’ll find pumpkin flavored foods (pumpkin chili or burgers anyone?), carnival rides, live music, and parades.
Ohio State University Campus – No visit to Columbus is complete without a visit to The Ohio State University Campus. Whether you’re visiting Mendenhall Library or are having a picnic on The Oval, there is plenty to do here for free. The University offers a self-guided walking map for those looking to tour the campus without possibly disturbing classes.
Thurber House – If you love literature, make sure to visit the Thurber House. It is the home of New Yorker cartoonist, James Thurber, and is open to the public for free during the week.
The Topiary Garden – Ready to get outside? Head downtown and check out The Topiary Park and Garden. Located on the original site of the Ohio School for the Deaf, the self-guided tour allows you to see famous works of art recreated in beautiful topiaries. The tree walk is worth a look too!
Visit the Short North – The Short North is known as the “Art and Soul of Columbus” and is the perfect place to spend the afternoon checking out! Or if you’re kid-free, check out the many restaurants and other adult attractions that evening! You’ll find everything from the local pub to art galleries and more!
Easton Town Center – Easton is much more than a mall, although you can shop while you’re there if you’d like. Enjoy walking around looking at the shops, grab a bite to eat or attend one of the many events that are planned throughout the year.
German Village – If you love learning about new cultures or seeing historical preservation sites, you’ll want to visit our next spot on our list of free things to do in Columbus and take a stroll through Columbus’ German Village. This historic neighborhood is one of the largest privately funded historic districts in the US.
Schiller Park – Schiller Park has a rich history, and when you visit, you’ll be able to see it in action. Take a leisurely stroll, let the kids play, go fishing, play a game of softball or take a look at the Umbrella Girl statue. While you’re there? See if you can find the original Umbrella Girl statue! Bet you can’t!
Ohio Statehouse – Located in downtown Columbus, the Ohio Statehouse is one of the most popular free things to do in Columbus. To start your day, why not have a picnic on the statehouse lawn? Not in the mood for a picnic? Grab a bite from a nearby food truck. After that, head into the Statehouse for a free self-guided tour.
The Book Loft – If you love to read, you’ll adore visiting The Book Loft! Wander through 32 rooms (an entire city block!) of books! Tour the Civil War era buildings, attend a book signing or listen to the featured music in the Music room.
Columbus Park of Roses – Like flowers? You’ll want to spend some time at the Columbus Park of Roses. With over 12k roses and 400 varieties situated across many different gardens, you’re sure to enjoy the beauty surrounding you.
Scioto Mile – Located in downtown Columbus along the Scioto River, the Scioto Mile is one of our favorite free things to do in Columbus. With a huge 15,000 square-foot interactive fountain, the country’s largest free outdoor climbing wall, the Scioto Audubon and more, you can easily spend a day or two here.
Swisher Creek Alpaca Farm – Ever wonder what a working alpaca farm looks like? Why not visit Swisher Creek? Visits are done by appointment only and can be scheduled by calling the farm. They even have an alpaca that likes to be petted so this one is perfect for the kids!
World’s Largest Gavel – If kitschy and kooky destinations are your thing, why not visit the world’s largest gavel? Made entirely out of silver, the gavel was created in 2008 by artist Andrew Scott in honor of the Ohio Supreme Court.
Gahanna Historical Settlement – Near to Columbus is the historical town of Gahanna. Take a short drive out, and you can take a historical walking tour of Olde Gahanna, take a stroll through the gardens or visit several of the area’s historical homes that each represent a different era in 19th Century American History.
Feast of the Flowering Moon – If you’re in the area during Memorial Day weekend, why not make your way down to the Feast of the Flowering Moon Festival? Each year, traditional Native American displays and shows line the streets of Chillicothe for this free festival.
Deer Creek State Park – Nestled just south of Columbus is Deer Creek, State Park. Go for a swim at the beach, have a picnic, get some archery in, go hiking, fishing and more. You can even go hunting if you visit during hunting season (be sure to have all applicable licenses). If you need a place to park your RV, there are also several campgrounds nearby.
Century Village – Step back in time with a visit to Century Village in Grove City. Admission and parking are both free. You’ll be able to see an authentic one-room 1800’s schoolhouse, log house, blacksmith shop and more. The village is open on the fourth Saturday each month from 2-4 p.m. from June to September.
Gahanna Creekside Live – Visiting Columbus during the summer means plenty of free summer concerts and Gahanna’s Creekside Live is just one of them. Head out and enjoy the concert every 2nd and 4th Saturday from June-August.
Gahanna Veterans Memorial– Support those who served with a visit to the Gahanna’s Veterans Memorial.
Fryer Park – Ready to go fishing for the day? Head to Fryer Park in Grove City. Go bird watching in the preserved wooded area, walk or bike a trail or go fishing! Fishing is allowed in the park with no fishing license required provided the fish are immediately released.
Gahanna Woods Nature Preserve – Known for its wildflowers and swamp woods, Gahanna Woods is the combination of two parks. Get outdoors and take a hike on one of their numerous trails. There’s plenty of wildflowers and wildlife to see!
Take in a movie – During the warmer summer months, you can find a free movie that is playing in a lot of places around Columbus. The Scioto Mile is just one of the places that offer these.
The Wexner Center – Another gallery, the Wexner Center has free admission every Thursday evening and the first Sunday of every month.
Columbus Museum of Art – Grab the kids and head out on a Sunday for free admission! There is tons to do, even for little kids!
Mirror Lake – Take a few minutes and have a picnic alongside the beauty of Mirror Lake! Is it mirror clear? You’ll have to visit to find out!
A.W. Marion State Park – Head south around 30 miles and you’ll find A.W. Marion State Park. Fish in Hargus Lake, hike around it, let the kids play and more! If you need a place to park the RV, there is a campground right on the edge of the park.
Columbus Food Truck Festival – Like food? Who doesn’t? If you’re in town, swing by the Columbus Food Truck Festival for some good fun and food.
The Longaberger Basket (Largest Basket in the World) – Head East of Columbus about 20 minutes and you will find every basket lovers dream. The largest basket in the world at the now-closed Longaberger Basket office!
Go fishing – Two days a year, the State of Ohio opens up fishing for free with no license. If you happen to be visiting those days, you’re welcome to fish in any public waters without paying for a non-resident license. Always double check the dates of the Ohio free fishing days before you go on the ODNR website under “exemptions.”
Jazz and Rib Fest – You can’t visit Columbus during the summer without visiting the Jazz and Rib Fest. Great music and awesome food!
US Air Force Museum – Learn the history behind the US Air Force for free! Make sure to get a special ticket for the Presidential Gallery. Admission and the special ticket are always free.
Billy Ireland Cartoon Library – If you love to read the Sunday comics, you’ll want to swing by the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library.
Ohio Veterans Memorial – If you’re visiting downtown Columbus, stop and honor an Ohio veteran at the Ohio Veterans Memorial then have a picnic lunch at the Statehouse.
Field of Giant Corn – Another kitschy one and part of Dublin’s art in public program, everyone should stop at the field of giant corn and take their photo with a gigantic ear of corn. The field has a point, but it’s a super cute stop if you happen to be passing by.
First Night Columbus – If you’re going to be in Columbus on New Year’s Eve, attending the First Night Columbus is one of our must do family friendly, fun and safe, free things to do in Columbus.
Homestead Park – What makes this park unique from others is that it has a complete train station replica complete with a train caboose. If you or the kids like trains, you’ll love this one.
Everal Homestead – Take a look back at history with a tour of the Everal Homestead. Tours are free and can be self-guided or guided. The location is also an event venue so keep that in mind when visiting.
Ross Art Museum – Wander through the galleries at the Ross Art Museum at Ohio Wesleyan University for free.
Hocking Hills – About 45 minutes southeast of Columbus is the Hocking Hills area. Here you can camp and hike until your heart’s content. Check out Old Man’s Cave, Cedar Falls, Cantwell Cliffs, Ash Cave, The Rock House and more.
McKell Library – This historic library features over 37,000 photographs, sheet music, books, diaries and more from the collection of Colonel David McCandless McKell. The building itself is beautiful!
Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park – This is one of my favorite free things to do in Columbus! Head toward Dayton, and you can visit the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park for free. There are buildings on the site that require an admission charge, but the majority of the location is available free. As always, be sure to double check before you go.
Wagner Hagans Auto Museum – If you had a large collection of amazing auto items, what would you do? Open a museum! The owner of the Wagner Hagans Auto Museum personally conducts tours, and he does them for free.
Asian Festival – Number 50 on our list of free things to do in Columbus is the Asian Festival. To help promote and teach cultural diversity, the festival is hosted each year. See displays, eat good food and learn!
If you are going to be in the area beautiful Niagara Falls is just a day drive away! Check out our 18 Free Things to do in Niagara Falls New York.
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We have been on the road since August 2015, and loving travel and seeing new things! I am sharing our journey along the way!
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