Enjoying Ohio—a state within the Great Lakes region of the midwestern United States—doesn't have to be expensive, whether you are in Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo, or elsewhere. There are scores of things to experience in the Buckeye State that don't cost a dime, from exploring one of the best art museums in the world to seeing the state's diverse natural wonders (think enormous glacial grooves and hiking trails galore) at many parks. Visitors also have the opportunity to walk in historic neighborhoods, go to wine tastings, and check out fun festivals and events, all for free or nearly free.
Cleveland, Ohio's second-biggest city and located on the southern shore of Lake Erie, is filled with things to do that won't cost anything. Bring the whole family to the Cleveland Museum of Art—one of the world's most popular museums—or one of the plentiful Cleveland Metroparks nature centers and hiking trails, along with the zoo's free days. The Cleveland Orchestra also has several community concerts all year that don't have an entrance charge.
Additional no-cost activities include visiting the Westside Market filled with fresh fruits and veggies, taking a tour of The Great Lakes Brewing Company, or checking out the educational money exhibits and a 23-foot tall money tree at the Federal Reserve Bank.
Cleveland and Northeast Ohio have numerous activities for kids and adults to enjoy together at no cost. Get out and explore the city's festivals such as the Hessler Street Fair in June in University Circle, Feast of the Assumption in August in Little Italy, and the Geneva Grape Jamboree in September.
Seashell seekers may want to visit Headlands Beach State Park in Mentor, while Breakwater Beach at Geneva State Park in Geneva-on-the-Lake is a prime spot for a picnic. The Nature Center at Shaker Lakes just east of Cleveland has many trails and bird walks, and kids can enjoy learning from the exhibits about animals and nature.
The winter holiday season brings its own set of no-cost activities in the Cleveland area. The best known of these is WinterFest, the tree-lighting ceremony and concert on Public Square, but there are also theater events like The Christmas Carol at the Ohio Theater at Playhouse Square, a must-do holiday activity in Cleveland.
The Little Italy Holiday Art Walk is a fun time for all, when over 25 galleries open the first Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of December; several places give out hot chocolate, cookies, wine, or other festive treats. There are a variety of other free holiday activities taking place as well in Cleveland.
Akron, a suburb about 45 minutes south by car from Cleveland, offers a bounty of free activities. The "Rubber City" has beautiful parks—including the Akron Skate Park for all levels of skaters—and Summit County Metroparks' more than 120 miles of hiking and skiing trails as well as picnic pavilions.
Plus you'll find fascinating galleries like Summit Artspace Gallery, which displays local artwork, and free days at museums such as the Akron Art Museum. Lock 3 Park hosts free family-friendly events year-round, from concerts to auto shows to trolley rides.
Toledo can be surprisingly affordable, and it's just a two-hour drive west of Cleveland, on the western part of Lake Erie. Learn why this city is called the Glass Capital of the country at the Toledo Museum of Art, where you'll see thousands of glass art pieces.
Stroll around historic neighborhoods like the Old West End, featuring late 19th century structures—including Victorian, Queen Anne, and other architectural styles—spread among 25 city blocks. Don't miss lovely parks such as The R. A. Stranahan Arboretum on the west side of Toledo, a relaxing preserve with lawns, ponds, ornamental trees, natural woods, and more.
Visiting Cedar Point, one of America's favorite amusement parks, can get expensive. However, Ohio's north-central region (and Sandusky, about an hour west of Cleveland) have a number of fun and interesting things to do that are free or inexpensive. For a unique experience, head to see some Ice Age remnants: The world's largest accessible glacial grooves, found on the north side of Kelleys Island.
The Merry-Go-Round Museum is a fun place to take the kids, boasting a great carousel and carousel animal collection. Winery tours and tastings on the central Ohio Lake Erie coastline and Lake Erie Islands are free or cheap. The lake's coastline also has many public access beaches like East Harbor State Park, where you can have a picnic or hike, along with the dog-friendly Catawba Island State Park.
Visiting the "Queen City" doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. This southwest Ohio metropolis on the Ohio River offers a wonderful free place to explore in the Eden Park cultural district: The Cincinnati Art Museum, featuring a collection of over 60,000 objects from European portraits to ancient Nabataean art (the largest collection outside of Jordan). Also in Eden Park, you'll find the Krohn Conservatory, a longtime garden center with over 3,500 plant species.
In addition, it's fun to stroll around eclectic and historic Cincinnati neighborhoods like Mount Adams for nice shopping and diverse restaurants, and parks such as Sawyer Point on the riverfront, where visitors will find festivals, art fairs, fishing, volleyball courts, and more.
Enjoying Dayton, about one hour north of Cincinnati and known as the home of aviation, doesn't have to cost a fortune. This friendly southwestern Ohio city features a wealth of parks, like Aviation Historic Park, various sites honoring the accomplishments of the Wright Brothers who invented the first power-driven aircraft.
Carillon Historical Park is another good stop south of downtown, with a 65-acre living history museum. The Oregon District is the city's oldest neighborhood and was the first to be designated as a historic district. Check out its art galleries, restored homes, bed and breakfast inns, and restaurants. Another site that may interest visitors is the Woodland Cemetery, one of the country's largest garden cemeteries.
Central Ohio and Columbus—the state capital and the most populated city in Ohio—offer a number of free and inexpensive things to see and do if you know where to look. The Columbus Museum of Art, which displays late 19th and early 20th-century American and European modern artwork, has free admission on Sundays for children 3 and under as well as for members. If you are traveling with kids, The JPMorgan Chase Center for Creativity is a must-stop destination filled with engaging interactive activities and exhibitions.
North Market is great for people watching and free concerts and offers numerous restaurants and boutiques. The many Columbus Metro Parks provide locals and visitors with more than 175 miles of trails and a plethora of child-friendly events.