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Go Easy on your Wallet with these Budget-Friendly Attractions in Top US Cities

I love visiting bigger cities but let’s face it, they can be brutal on the wallet. So I’m sharing some of my favorite low-cost attractions in some of my favorite big cities so you can plan a budget-friendly vacation. 

The Chicago Cityscape as viewed from Chicago 360

Budget-Friendly Activities to do ANYWHERE 

You don’t have to visit a big city to participate in these fun activities, but they will help you stretch your budget substantially. 

  1. Attend a matinee– saves you money and tend to be less busy than later showings.
  2. Visit a local museum– I’ve found local museums to be much less expensive than some of their larger counterparts.
  3. Picnic at a local monument– you save money by not eating out and make the most out of a visual attraction- don’t forget to pack your sketchbook or camera.
  4. Visit the beach or local body of water– over half of all Americans live near the coast and 10% live near the Great Lakes that means most people are never far from a beach.
  5. Go on a hike– it gives you time to explore a part of the city you normally don’t see in a fun active way.
  6. Seek out public art- probably my favorite low-cost activity when I’m traveling. Check out the local murals, sculptures, and gorgeous architecture which is readily available in most locations and free to view.
  7. Pack board games to play after a day of exploring.
  8. Save money by packing some food from home and cooking in your hotel room

And here are some city-specific budget-friendly attractions in Top US Cities

chicago millenium park


There is so much to see and do in Chicago on the cheap that it has become one of my favorite cities to explore. Don’t miss:

Millennium Park and read this post if you want to snap a great photo of the Bean. (Free)

Buckingham Fountain is gorgeous and one of the largest fountains in the world. Every 20-minutes it shoots a stream of water 150-feet into the air. Don’t miss it. (Free)

The Agora Statues are one of my favorite finds in Chicago and surprisingly enough, they are designed to eventually waste away into nothingness. (Free) Find out why the Agora Headless Sculptures in Chicago are a Must See.

You’ll find plenty of statues throughout Chicago and many of them have a story to tell. Swipe the tag near the statue with your smartphone and the “statue” will call you to share their story. Statue Stories runs until August 2020. (Free)

Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the oldest zoo’s in the United States and it’s free. You can even take your own food into the zoo. It doesn’t get much more budget-friendly than that.

After you’ve traversed the city by foot, give your feet a rest with a Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise with Chicago’s First Lady Cruises. Noted as one of the best tours in the country, this boat tour is splurge-worthy for the person who loves architecture, history, and a fun, educational tour. ($47 daytime cruises, $52 Twilight Cruises )


Pittsburgh skyline from the Duquesne Incline

The Duquesne Incline offers an amazing view of the Pittsburgh skyline and costs $5 for a round trip ride for adults (ages 12-64), $2.50 for kids 6-11 or free for 5 and under. Once you’re at the top walk over to DiFiorie’s Ice Cream Delight for a sweet treat. Just make sure you have cash on hand, they don’t accept plastic.

Travel around the country and back when you explore the nationality rooms at the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh. Self-guided recorded tours are available on Sat. & Sun. when school isn’t in session. Cost is $4 for adults and $2 for ages 6-18.

The Clayton Mansion is located on the Frick Art and Historical Center Campus. In addition to touring the home, you’ll also find a garden and greenhouse on the property. The home features stunning architecture and an impressive art collection. It’s sure to appeal to those with an affinity for Downton Abbey. General admission to this 22-room mansion is $15. This is also a Blue Star Museum so active members of the military and their immediate family get free admission from Memorial Day to Labor Day.


Seattle is a great place to visit and the weather is ideal which is why I have a huge list of 70+ Things to do in Seattle with Teens– of course, many of these suggestions work for couples or singles as well. If you’re limited on time and can’t get to all 70 (that’s a joke, I promise), here are my top recommendations:

Pike Place Market is a Seattle icon. This establishment features fresh produce, bakeries, fish markets, butchers and specialty foods with plenty of samples available. A highlight of the market is the flying fish. Plus, don’t miss the original Starbucks across the street which opened in 1971.

Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe along the waterfront is unlike any store I’ve been in before. From pressed penny machines to shrunken heads, and mummies, this shop is sure to amaze everyone in your party.

The Fremont Troll is a must because no trip is complete unless you’ve seen at least one roadside attraction.

Make sure you read this post before your trip —-> Travel Tips for the City of Seattle.


cleveland skyline

Aww, Cleveland, how I love thee. There is so much to see in do in Cleveland that you could visit repeatedly. Of course, I suggest grabbing a copy of one of my books to help you plan your stay but beyond that, here are my favorite free or low-cost Cleveland experiences:

Lake View Cemetery has been called an outdoor art museum and if you’ve ever visited, you’d understand why. This attraction features gorgeous tombstones, mausoleums, and monuments. Highlights include the stunning Tiffany Chapel with the priceless interior designed by Tiffany, the Garfield Monument which pays homage to our slain president, and the Haserot Angel which is rumored to cry black tears. 

Located amid the Cultural Gardens is one of the city’s hidden gems, the Rockefeller Park & Greenhouse. This free attraction is gorgeous throughout the year and often frequented by photographers. (Free)

Art aficionados will enjoy browsing the extensive collection at the Cleveland Museum of Art that is in the cultural hub of the Wade Oval Park District. The museum offers free admission to its regular collection.

Music lovers will find the Rock-n-Roll Museum is a great splurge-worthy way to spend the afternoon.


From Cambridge to cannoli’s to the Make Way for Ducklings Statue, we have an entire three-day walkable itinerary to help you plan your Boston Getaway. Find it here —> How to explore Boston in Three Days

Washington DC

MLK Jr monument in DC

When visiting the nation’s capital, you can’t beat the Smithsonian Museums. It doesn’t get any more budget-friendly then free. Plan to visit 2-3 a day max and then spend time checking out the monuments- which I suggest that you view both day and night. Here are some tips for visiting Washington D.C.

This post shares which Smithsonian Museums in Washington DC you won’t want to miss. You’ll even find tips on the best time to visit each. 

My family found the Red Roof Plus Alexandria to be a convenient option for our DC stay and great a way to save money over some of the hotels closer to the Mall. This property was a short drive from the metro station and easy trip into the city.

Have you traveled to any of these cities? What attractions would you add to this list? 

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