15 Best Free Things to Do With Kids in Cleveland

Cleveland Skyline View at blue hour from the Hope Memorial Bridge


David Shvartsman / Getty Images 

Cleveland and Northeast Ohio may be known for the beauty of Lake Erie, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and its thousands of music artifacts, and Playhouse Square, the second-largest performing arts center in the United States. However, the area is filled with many activities for kids and adults to enjoy together, whether passing through on a trip or longtime residents of Ohio's second-largest city.

Fortunately, many of the attractions are free. At any time of year, you can explore places like museums and art galleries, greenhouses, parks, and other wonders without having to spend a dime.

01 of 15

Try New Flavors at the City's Oldest Market

West Side Market in Cleveland

West Side Market

1979 W 25th St, Cleveland, OH 44113, USA
Phone +1 216-664-3387

With over a century of history, the West Side Market is Cleveland's oldest municipal market and still one of the best places in the city for a culinary excursion. Built in 1912, the lines of stalls with butchers, fishmongers, and fruit vendors are not just fun for kids to explore but also an immersive way to teach them about shopping locally. And of course, there are plenty of food stalls that appeal to all taste buds. Pick up a pastry from one of the bakery stands, some locally made ice cream, or a bratwurst hot dog when the kids—or you—get hungry.

02 of 15

Go for a Hike in Ohio's National Park

Bicycle activity on the multipurpose nature trail, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Akron, Ohio, USA
Douglas Sacha / Getty Images
Ohio, USA
Phone +1 330-657-2752

Cuyahoga Valley National Park isn't notable just for being the state's only national park, but it's also one of the most accessible national parks in the country near a major city. Just a short drive outside of Cleveland, one of the primary draws of the park is the 21-mile Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail that follows the Cuyahoga River. There is a lot of breathtaking nature in northern Ohio, but it's hard to beat the beauty of Cuyahoga Valley with its waterfalls and historic farms. Spring and summer offer warm weather and swaths of flowers, but the fall foliage or sledding in the winter truly make this a four-season destination.

03 of 15

Explore Your Rustic Side at a Working Farm

Feeding goats at Stearns Homestead

Stearns Homestead

6975 Ridge Rd, Parma, OH 44129, USA
Phone +1 440-845-9770

Stearns Homestead is just 30 minutes outside of Cleveland in the suburb of Parma and one of the most bucolic excursions you can take in the Cleveland area. The working farm dates back to the 19th century and the historic houses are now museums detailing the agrarian lifestyle that the area was once known for. What kids love, however, is picking up some animal feed to give to the resident horses, donkeys, goats, pigs, and chickens. The farm is only open on weekends from May to October, weather permitting.

04 of 15

See World-Class Art at The Cleveland Museum of Art

Entrance of the old wing of the museum with the thinking man out front

Daderot / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

11150 East Blvd, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA
Phone +1 216-421-7350

Cleveland's best free attraction is not just for adults. The Cleveland Museum of Art, located in University Circle, is filled with more than 60,000 works of art from virtually all periods and genres. Of particular interest to kids is the armor court, a light-filled interior courtyard filled with medieval suits of armor, weapons, ​and tapestries. The museum's permanent collection is free every day for kids and adults alike, but donations are accepted and encouraged.

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05 of 15

Spend Time at The Nature Center at Shaker Lakes

The Nature Center building

NatureCenter / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

2600 S Park Blvd, Cleveland, OH 44120, USA
Phone +1 216-321-5935

The Nature Center at Shaker Lakes, founded in 1966, is a peaceful green space nestled among the gracious houses of historic Shaker Heights, just east of Cleveland. The 20-acre facility features a variety of trails that illustrate eight natural habitats, exhibits about animals and nature, bird walks, educational programming, and much more, all of which are free to enjoy.

06 of 15

Discover More About the Money

USA, Ohio, Cleveland, US Federal Reserve Bank
Douglas Sacha / Getty Images
1455 E 6th St, Cleveland, OH 44114-2566, USA
Phone +1 216-579-2000

The Federal Reserve Bank Museum's Learning Center and Money Museum features many interactive exhibits about the history and the power of money. You'll also learn how to make currency and identify counterfeit money. The most striking feature is a 23-foot tall money tree located across from the museum's entrance. Ironically, this museum is dedicated to money but the tours it offers are completely free to enjoy.

07 of 15

See Exotic Flora at the Rockefeller Park Greenhouse

Rockefeller Park Greenhouse

Erik Drost / Flickr / Creative Commons

750 E 88th St, Cleveland, OH 44108, USA
Phone +1 216-664-2512

Cleveland's Rockefeller Park Greenhouse, located just off of Martin Luther King Boulevard near University Circle, houses a beautiful collection of exotic and native plants. This peaceful and fascinating place is rarely crowded, and exhibits include the large orchid and tropical plant exhibits as well as the spring bulb and December holiday plants displays. Of particular interest to kids is the room full of cacti and other southwestern plants.

08 of 15

Learn About Women's Roles in Air and Space

A 1963 Pilurs-Smith DSA-1 Miniplane

Aeroplanepics0112 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

1501 N Marginal Rd Ste. 165, Cleveland, OH 44114, USA
Phone +1 216-623-1111

Located inside the lobby and west wing of downtown Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport, the International Women's Air and Space Museum celebrates the contribution of women in flight with a rotating schedule of temporary exhibits, including airplanes, flight suits, and memorabilia from the likes of Amelia Earhart and others. The museum is open seven days a week during airport hours.

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09 of 15

Watch the Cleveland Browns Training Camp

Cleveland Browns Training Camp
Jason Miller / Getty Images
76 Lou Groza Blvd, Berea, OH 44017, USA
Phone +1 440-891-5000

From late July to late August, Cleveland Browns fans have the opportunity to view the team up close for free during the training camp workouts in Berea, a suburb of Cleveland. The team also hosts a free family night once a year. Kids 12 and under are selected daily at random to get autographs from their favorite players at no additional cost, as long as they bring their own souvenir to sign. While the event itself has no cost to attend, you do need a ticket to enter, so be sure to register early to make sure you can attend.

10 of 15

See the Covered Bridges of Ashtabula County

Harpersfield Covered Bridge

IntuneDan / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Ashtabula County, OH, USA

Ashtabula County in northeastern Ohio and right on the border with Cleveland is home to 17 authentic and reconstructed covered bridges, including the longest and shortest covered bridges in the United States. These reminders of the past are all slightly different and situated in beautiful settings. Take a self-guided tour with maps that are available online from the Ashtabula County County Covered Bridge Festival, and while the gas isn't free, you can view the bridges and perhaps have a picnic lunch to save on costs for this excursion.

11 of 15

Learn About Wildlife at Lake Erie Nature and Science Center

Kids looking at underwater exhibit

Lake Erie Nature and Science Center

28728 Wolf Rd, Bay Village, OH 44140, USA
Phone +1 440-871-2900

The Lake Erie Nature and Science Center, located east of Cleveland in Bay Village, is a great spot for kids and adults alike to learn about wildlife and nature. The center, founded in 1945, houses an animal rehabilitation clinic as well as a variety of indoor and outdoor animal exhibits, including a Rabbit & Turkey Barn, a Planetarium, and a Turtle/Tortoise Exhibit. among others.

12 of 15

Hit the Beach

Landmark Beach on the Lake Erie Shore, East Harbor State Park, Marblehead, Ohio, USA
Douglas Sacha / Getty Images

Lake Erie isn't necessarily known for its beaches, but a notable exception is the beach at Headlands Beach State Park in Mentor, which is east of Cleveland in Lake County. This long stretch of white sand is ideal for getting lost in a good novel, watching the waves lap up at the shore, or combing for seashells. There's even a picturesque lighthouse, and ample free parking just off the beach.

Another good choice is Breakwater Beach at Geneva State Park in Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio. This large cove beach has lifeguards, picnic tables, and restrooms, and parking is free here, too.

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13 of 15

Check Out a Book

Front entrance of the Cleveland Public Library

Spamguy / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

325 Superior Ave, Cleveland, OH 44114, USA
Phone +1 216-623-2800

The main branch and 28 neighborhood branches of the Cleveland Public Library house more than 10 million books, tapes, DVDs, and CDs—all available to loan to Cleveland area residents. If you're in town for more than a few weeks (perhaps visiting for the summer), you can get a temporary library card and check out books on a short-term basis.

Otherwise, many of the Cleveland Library branches are home to stunning architecture and a variety of quiet places where anyone is welcome to enjoy a good book. While you can't check out a book from the library, they are open to the general public regardless of residence. Visit the historic main library on Superior Avenue, between East Third and East Sixth streets, for its classic architecture and peaceful, outdoor reading courtyard..

14 of 15

Check Out Model Trains and Antique Toys

Children's Toy steam locomotive
Douglas Sacha / Getty Images
7 Public Square, Medina, OH 44256, USA
Phone +1 330-764-4455

Located right on the square in the center of Medina, about 45 minutes from Cleveland, the Medina Toy and Train Museum features dozens of model train set-ups, interactive children's exhibits, model cars, and airplanes dating back to 1900, as well as many dolls and toys. They even have an on-site library with books for loan about toys and trains, but this check-out service is only available to residents of Ohio.

15 of 15

Travel by Trolley

E-Line Trolley in Cleveland

Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0 

A fun way to check out Cleveland and many of its attractions on weekdays is to ride around on The E-Line Trolley at no charge. The trolley conveniently takes you near shops at The Arcade and Tower City, where window shopping and exploring are always free. Plus you can check out Playhouse Square, the country’s second-largest performing arts center. Exit the trolley wherever you like to have a good time with the whole family.

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15 Best Free Things to Do With Kids in Cleveland