The city of St. Louis is the place to go for the budget-minded traveler. With major attractions like the St. Louis Zoo, the Science Center, and the St. Louis Art Museum all offering free admission, you can spend several vacation days discovering the attractions of this gateway city. However, when budgeting for your trip, keep in mind that while many of these attractions are free, additional charges are required to access special exhibits and amenities. Check pricing details and the hours of operation of each locale.
The St. Louis Zoo ranks high among its nationwide counterparts. In 2016, this zoo was chosen as "The Best Free Attraction in the United States" in USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards. The zoo houses to more than 5,000 animals from seven continents, offering a unique experience every time you visit. Whether you’re there to see the birds at the Penguin and Puffin Coast exhibit, or to welcome baby elephants to the River’s Edge, it’s hard to beat a day at the St. Louis Zoo. Although admission to the zoo is free, some attractions like the Children's Zoo and Zooline Railroad require a small admission fee. The St. Louis Zoo is located in Forest Park and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours in the summer.
The St. Louis Science Center offers a hands-on experience for the whole family. Test your knowledge of fossils and dinosaurs, clock the speed of cars on Highway 40 with a radar gun, and experience what it’s like to travel to outer space in the planetarium. The Science Center is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is free, but you will need to purchase tickets to special exhibits and the OMNIMAX Theater movies.
Peruse more than 30,000 paintings, drawings, and sculptures at the St. Louis Art Museum. This locale also boasts one of the world’s top collections of twentieth-century German paintings. Kid-friendly tours and activities are offered on Sundays, or attend a free lecture and live music on most Friday nights. The St. Louis Art Museum sits atop Art Hill in Forest Park and is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and on Fridays until 9 p.m.
The Missouri History Museum provides a look back at the key events that shaped St. Louis. Their 1904 World’s Fair exhibit, the Lewis and Clark expedition display, and the recount of Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic come complete with artifacts and renderings that capture your imagination. General admission is free, yet a fee is still required for special exhibits. The museum is located in Forest Park and open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours on Tuesday until 8 p.m.
See how Budweiser and other Anheuser-Busch beers are made during a free tour of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in Soulard. You'll also learn about the history of beer-making in St. Louis and see modern beer processing technology in action. At the end of the tour, imbibe in a free sample for those 21 and older. Tours are available Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., with extended hours during the summer. The Anheuser-Busch Brewery is located just south of downtown St. Louis.
In the heart of downtown St. Louis lies Citygarden urban park, a metropolitan reprieve filled with fountains, wading pools, a sculpture park, and year-round activities. Pull up a bench and watch the people, take a walk on the park's trail, or let the kids play in the fountains on a warm day. Citygarden hosts free concerts and events in the summer as well as an annual Christmas light display each winter. The park is located on Market Street between 8th and 10th Streets in downtown St. Louis. It is open daily from sunrise to 10 p.m., as are most public parks in the city. Special events—around Christmas time and during mid-summer—may extend the park's closing hours.
The Municipal Opera (aka, "The Muny") is the nation's largest and oldest outdoor theater. Live performances at this Forest Park theater have been a summer tradition for nearly a century. Each year, The Muny stages seven musicals, starting in mid-June and ending early August. Nearly 1,500 free seats are available for every performance (located at the back of the theater). It's a first come, first serve basis with gates opening for the free seats at 7 p.m. Showtime starts at 8:15 p.m.
At Grant's Farm, your family can interact with both farm animals and exotic animals from around the world. This 281-acre farm in South St. Louis County not only houses hundreds of animals but is also the home of the famous Budweiser Clydesdales. Hop the tram to the middle of the park and go exploring from there. Admission to Grant's Farm is free for everyone, but they charge a fee for parking The farm—located in South St. Louis County—is open on weekends during the spring and fall, and every day except Monday in the summer.
A visit to the World Bird Sanctuary gives you the chance to get an up-close look at bald eagles, owls, falcons, vultures, and other avian species. The Sanctuary also educates people on the world's most threatened birds through a variety of seasonal shows, educational programs, and special presentations. Admission and parking are free and the locale is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (except for Thanksgiving and Christmas).
Cahokia Mounds gives you a peek at St. Louis' ancient history. And frankly, there's no place quite like it. This archeological site was once home to the most advanced civilization north of Mexico and is deemed a World Heritage Site by the United Nations due to its role in early Native American history. Climb to the top of the mounds, take a guided tour, or check out the exhibits in the Interpretive Center. Cahokia Mounds hosts special events like Kids' Day, Native American Market Days, and art shows. Admission is free, but there is a suggested donation. The site is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, until dusk.
The Cathedral Basilica in the Central West End is more than just a church—it is the spiritual center of the St. Louis Archdiocese. This ancient building is also home to one of the largest collection of mosaics in the world, consisting of 40 million glass pieces which took nearly 80 years to install. It's truly a site to see! Guided tours are offered Monday through Friday (by appointment only) or on Sundays after the noon mass.
Laumeier Sculpture Park is an outdoor art museum in South St. Louis County. Here, dozens of pieces of art are spread out among the park's 105 acres. There are also indoor galleries, special exhibits, and family events. Every year on Mother's Day weekend, Laumeier hosts a popular art fair. The park is open daily from 8 a.m. to sunset (except Christmas and the day before the art fair). Free guided tours are offered the first and third Sundays of each month from May to October—one-hour tours depart from the museum shop at 2 p.m.
The Mississippi River plays a key role in the history of the St. Louis area and the Great Rivers Museum showcases this through educational and interactive exhibits. Take a free tour of the largest locks and dam on the Mississippi River. The museum is located next to the Melvin Price Locks and Dam in Alton, Illinois. It's open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. but closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, and New Year's Day.
The Pulitzer Foundation celebrates art through exhibits, gallery talks, tours, concerts, and other collaborative programs. The museum is located in Grand Center and is free and open to the public on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday, and Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Riding to the top of the Gateway Arch does cost money, however, the Museum of Westward Expansion—located under the Arch—is free. This museum features exhibits on Lewis and Clark and the nineteenth-century pioneers who moved America’s borders westward. The Museum of Westward Expansion is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, with expanded summer hours from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Tour the Old Courthouse
Just across the street from the Arch is another free attraction, the Old Courthouse. Once the site of the famous Dred Scott slavery trial, this historic building teaches you about the infamous historical event. Touring the building is equally as interesting as you step back in time when you poke your head into restored courtrooms and galleries. The Old Courthouse is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.