Finding free attractions at travel destinations
By Karen Olson House
There is nothing like the word "free" to bring on a smile, especially when traveling. Paying for lodging, food, and other basics can leave you feeling spent, and shelling out more money for expensive entertainment can batter your travel budget. Fortunately, even in today's economy, there are many excellent attractions where admission is free. Here are ideas for finding them in North Carolina, as well as other states.
City and state searches
Visitors centers or chambers of commerce for cities and towns usually have good suggestions for free attractions in their area. Don't be embarrassed to ask staff. Also, check their websites. For example, the visitors' website for Asheville, www.exploreasheville.com, offers numerous suggestions for free activities, including those tailored to a particular season.
If you don't see a link for "free attractions," or "free events" on a website, try putting those words in a search. On the visitors' website for Asheboro and other towns in Randolph County, www.heartofnorthcarolina.com, if you type in "free event," you'll get a great list.
Also visit a state's tourism website, and make sure to play with the wording in your search. On a recent check on North Carolina's tourism website, www.visitnc.com, typing in "free" in the general search field brought up long lists of free travel brochures first. But clicking on the categories "Events" or "Attractions" and then putting in "free" in their accompanying keyword search field, brings up a targeted list of either free events and attractions, respectively.
To find free attractions in a state or city, you can also try www.travelingmom.com (click on "Freebies," and put in any state) and www.free-attractions.com (listings include free concerts, festivals and zoos).
If you have a membership at a local museum, you may be able to get a free admission at a partner museum at your travel destination through a reciprocity program. Check your membership benefits. For a list (by state and also those in Canada) of nearly 200 museums that participate in the Association of Children's Museums Reciprocal Program, visit www.childrensmuseums.org. Participating North Carolina museums include Exploration Station in Lumberton, The Children's Playhouse in Boone, Children at Play in Kitty Hawk, Kidzu Children's Museum in Chapel Hill and Fascinate-U Children's Museum in Fayetteville.
D.C. and the Big Apple
Washington, D.C., and New York City are among popular U.S. cities that boast an impressive array of free attractions and activities. For free in D.C., you can see money made at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, pretend to be a pilot in a mock cockpit at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, and enjoy a free early evening concert at the Kennedy Center. For more, visit www.washington.org. In New York City, for free you can explore its unique neighborhoods on guided tours by "Big Apple Greeters" (informed locals), climb aboard the Staten Island Ferry for bay views of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline and talk with robots at the Sony Wonder Technology Lab, a technology and entertainment museum. www.nycgo.com.
Scenic drives are free
Remember that getting there can be half the fun. America's Byways, the term for a collection of 150 uniquely distinctive roads, are akin to hidden treasure. They take you through magnificent, unspoiled landscapes and introduce you to friendly small towns and local culture. Awe-inspiring drives in the South include the Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina and Virginia), Cherohala Skyway (North Carolina and Tennessee), Outer Banks Scenic Byway, and Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway (Georgia). 1-800-4BYWAYS (1-800-429-9297) or www.byways.org.