You don’t need to empty your wallet to savor the sights and sounds of Dallas. If you’re traveling on a budget, there are several activities, events, and attractions that won’t cost you a dime, like hiking and picnicking in public parks, going to world-class museums, and exploring the city’s coolest, culture-soaked neighborhoods. Read on for the best free things to do in Dallas.
Spend the Afternoon at Klyde Warren Park
Klyde Warren Park is the crown jewel of the Dallas cityscape. This innovative 5.2-acre urban green space sits perched right above the freeway with the glittering skyline in the background. Klyde Warren isn’t just your average green space, though—there are areas for chess, croquet, a dog park, a children’s park, and ping-pong, plus walking trails and a rotating selection of delicious food trucks. Best of all, the park boasts a wide variety of daily free programming, from yoga classes and outdoor concerts to movie screenings and lecture series.
Go to the Dallas Museum of Art
One of the country’s biggest and best art museums is 100 percent free to experience. Established in 1903 (and conveniently located right across Klyde Warren), the Dallas Museum of Art became the first-ever museum in America to offer free general admission and free membership in 2012 (although special exhibitions do cost money). The museum’s incredible, permanent collection spans several continents and over 5,000 years of human history, with works from Rothko, O’Keeffe, Monet, Cezanne, Pollock, Van Gogh, and many others. Not to mention, the DMA hosts regular weekly events, including concerts, lectures, classes, and dramatic and dance presentations.
Explore the Dallas Art Scene in Deep Ellum
The thriving, historic Deep Ellum neighborhood is undeniably the cultural hub of the city, with its numerous art galleries, Instaworthy murals, lauded music venues and clubs, unique shops, and exciting festivals. Highly walkable, it’s a great place to stroll around, especially if you’re on a budget. Make plans to spend an afternoon here, soaking up the vibrant atmosphere, window-shopping, and looking at all the eye-catching murals splashed across the old brick buildings. Check the calendar for upcoming events before you go; there’s always something fun (and free!) going on in Deep Ellum.
Have a Picnic at White Rock Lake Park
Lush, scenic White Rock Lake Park is located just a few miles east of downtown, but it feels like a peaceful oasis far, far away from the chaos. It’s over twice the size of New York City's Central Park, with a 9.3-mile hike-and-bike trail, an Audubon Society-designated birding area, a dog park, fishing piers, and a kayak concession. We highly recommend packing a picnic and taking advantage of the park’s lovely little picnic areas scattered around the lake—the Stone Tables picnic area, on the easternmost corner of the park near Buckner Boulevard and Poppy Drive, is one of the most popular spots (you can reserve one of the tables or pavilion ahead of time, if you’d like).
Stroll Around the Bishop Arts District
Like Deep Ellum, the Bishop Arts District is a fun place to simply explore on foot (also like Deep Ellum, this is one of the most walkable areas in the city); there are over 60 independent shops, coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and art galleries here, but you don’t need to spend a cent to have a good time in Bishop Arts. Stroll through galleries and art collectives, look at antiques at M’Antiques, and pop into The Wild Detectives, an adorable bookstore, coffee shop, and bar that’s been called the literary heart of Dallas.
Watch Planes Take off From Founders' Plaza
Founders' Plaza, in Grapevine, is the ideal vantage point to watch planes as they take off and land at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. If you’re an aviation enthusiast in the slightest, this makes for a cool activity, whether it’s day or night. And even if you’re not, you’ll still enjoy yourself; pack a picnic and marvel at the wide-open Texas sky. The plaza includes an observation area for plane-spotting, with free telescopes and picnic benches.
Visit a Museum on a Free Day
Several of Dallas’s premier museums are either completely free, or free on certain days, so museum-hopping is one of the most budget-friendly activities you could do in the Big D. The beautifully designed Nasher Sculpture Center is home to the Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection: one of the finest collections of modern and contemporary sculpture in the world. The center is free every first Saturday and third Friday of the month from 5 p.m. to midnight. The Meadows Museum at SMU houses one of the world's biggest collections of Spanish art and is free on Thursdays after 5 p.m. The Crow Museum of Asian Art and the Dallas Museum of Art are always free, as is the ultra-hip Dallas Contemporary, a non-collecting museum (meaning it has no permanent collection) that presents challenging ideas from regional, national, and international artists.
Do a Skyline 360 Tour
Offered at Main Street Garden and Klyde Warren Park, the Dallas Architecture + Design Exchange (also called ADEX) hosts brief “standing” tours that give participants a brief overview of the Dallas skyline and its most iconic architecture. In just under 30 minutes, you’ll learn all about the city’s architectural heritage and the history of downtown. Tours are free to the public and no registration is required.
Go for a Hike in Cedar Ridge Preserve
Though there are a number of great hikes in and around the Dallas area, Cedar Ridge Preserve is easily the most-loved trail system. This 600-acre oasis is chock-full of natural scenery, including rolling hills, dense forest, wildflower-dotted meadows, and plentiful wildlife. The preserve is situated at an elevation of 755 feet, and there are 9 miles of unpaved (yet well-marked) trails that snake through the lovely terrain; these are the best hills in the area, so come prepared for a workout. For those times when you want to get away from the hubbub of downtown and stretch your legs, Cedar Ridge Preserve is a must-do.
Experience the Crow Museum of Asian Art
At the Crow Museum of Asian Art, visitors can peruse a growing permanent and rotating collection that showcases the breadth and diversity of Asian art. There are over 1,000 works from Japan, India, China, and Southeast Asia here, spanning the ancient to the contemporary (including scrolls, paintings, Chinese jades, objects of metal and stone, and large architectural pieces), plus a library of over 12,000 catalogs, books, and journals. Along with exhibits, the museum has a Center for Contemplative Leadership that offers programs on yoga, tai chi, mindfulness, and meditation education. The Crow is always free, and it’s open to the public Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Hop on the McKinney Avenue Trolley
Taking a ride through Uptown in a vintage streetcar doesn’t require a deep dive in your wallet; in fact, it’s totally free. The McKinney Avenue Trolley operates 365 days per year and provides a fun, unique way to see some of the best sights in the city. Get off at the St. Paul and Ross station for easy access to the Crow Collection, the Nasher, and the Dallas Museum of Art; the Trolley also goes to Klyde Warren.