Are you looking for a weekend getaway in Southwest Ohio? Dayton is a really fun city, with lots of things to do.
As the birthplace of Orville Wright, and home to a major U.S. Air Force base, it’s also strongly associated with aviation.
So many people have asked me “What is there to do in Dayton Ohio for free” that I’ve put together this list of some free things to do in Dayton Ohio.
Free & Cheap Things to Do in Dayton
The following Dayton attractions are either free or fairly inexpensive to attend.
Some of these charge admission but have free days, so check ahead if you are looking for free admission. A weekend getaway in Dayton doesn’t have to be expensive.
If you want to, you can splurge on accommodations and a nice dinner out while saving money on these Dayton Ohio attractions.
If you plan to spend the night, we suggest booking a room at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Downtown which is directly across the street from the Riverscape Metropark and Day Air Park.
Or, if you’re traveling with kids, the Drury Inn & Suites Dayton Northn off I-75 is a great option that serves complimentary food and drinks for the 21+ crowd as well as a full, hot breakfast each morning.
Carillon Historical Park Concerts
The Carillon Historical Park is a favorite Dayton destination.
The open-air history museum covers 65 acres with many different things to see and do.
The park does charge admission, however, they do host free family-friendly concerts on Sunday afternoons in the summer months.
As part of the Five Rivers MetroParks System, this beautiful arboretum is free to visit.
Covering nearly 200 acres, Cox Arboretum includes 3 miles of trails, a children’s maze, an educational center, woodlands, and a conservation area.
You can also visit the Butterfly House, with dozens of varieties of butterflies native to Ohio.
Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park
This National Park Service site has tons of information about the birth of aviation and its ties to Dayton.
In addition to many exhibits about the Wright brothers, you’ll also learn about Paul Laurence Dunbar, one of the first Black poets, who is also from Dayton. You can tour his home, as well as two visitor centers in the park.
Disc golf is a fun way to enjoy the great outdoors, get some exercise, and maybe spark a friendly competition with your friends or family.
Disc golf is a lot like regular golf, but with frisbees (well kinda). And it’s free!
Dayton has over a ton of disc golf courses scattered throughout the area. Grab your gear and a friend and head out!
Downtown Public Art Walk
Dayton has tons of great murals and public art in the downtown area.
It’s free to see, and they have even built an app to help you craft your own self-guided tour of Dayton’s public art.
Visit downtown Dayton on the first Friday of each month for First Fridays.
Cruise through numerous art galleries while enjoying live music, street performers, and roaming entertainers.
Many local shops and restaurants will also have specials for the night, so plan a fun evening out on the town!
While you will need to spend a little bit of money on equipment and a fishing license, once you have those necessities, fishing is free in many Dayton-area parks.
There are even a few parks in Dayton where you can fish without a license.
Fishing is a fun way to spend time outdoors and see wildlife.
Great Miami Riverway
Did you know Ohio is home to the largest paved trail network in the country? The Great Miami Riverway stretches for 99 miles along the Great Miami River.
Connecting several riverfront communities, it’s the perfect place for a walk, bike, jog, or skate along the river.
If you have a kayak or canoe, there are also several free launch sites along the way.
Iams Homestead Museum
This historical home was built in 1847 and was once home to the Iams family, whose son Paul Iams would go on to found the pet food company.
Now home to the Trotwood-Madison Historical Society, you can tour the mansion for free and admire many heirlooms and artifacts from the 19th century.
Levitt Pavilion Dayton
Thanks to generous donors and sponsors, the Levitt Pavilion offers free entertainment in the summer months.
With over 40 free concerts scheduled this summer, this is a fun, free event for the whole family, right in the heart of downtown Dayton.
So grab your lawn chairs or blankets and stake out your space on the lawn to get comfortable and enjoy the entertainment.
National Museum of the United States Air Force
This free Dayton museum is the oldest and largest military aviation museum in the world.
Located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, they have more than 360 aerospace vehicles and missiles on display.
Collections include the Korean War Gallery, a Cold War Gallery, a Space Gallery, and more!
Another beautiful place to experience the natural side of Dayton is at Wegerzyn Gardens.
Here you’ll find ten formal gardens, which have been meticulously landscaped. The gardens are meant to inspire you with ideas for your own garden.
There’s also a nature trail and a swamp forest boardwalk to explore.
Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum
Cemeteries can be a great place to explore during your travels, and Dayton’s Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum is a perfect example.
It is one of the oldest garden-style cemeteries in the country and covers over 200 acres.
The Wright Brothers are buried here, as well as Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Erma Bombeck.
See over 3,000 trees, many of which are over a century old!
This cemetery even made our list of the best cemeteries in Ohio to visit before you die.
Wright Brothers Memorial
Overlooking the Huffman Prairie Flying Field, where the Wright Brothers got their start, this monument is dedicated to these pioneers of flight.
It also lists the names of over 100 pilots who were trained here at the Wright School of Aviation.
Side note: There is also a Wright Brothers Memorial in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, site of their first successful flight.
Dayton Museums with Free Days
Dayton has some great museums to explore, especially if you are visiting Dayton with kids.
They aren’t always free, but with a little bit of advance planning, you can take advantage of free days at these Dayton museums.
Boonshoft Museum of Discovery
This Dayton museum is an all-in-one destination for any Dayton family vacation.
It includes a children’s museum, a science and technology center, and a zoo featuring animals native to Ohio. It also has an observatory!
Every year, the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery hosts four Super Science Saturday events, which include free admission to the museum.
The 2023 remaining dates are August 5th and November 18th, which is also the Science Festival.
Dayton Art Institute
This art museum in Dayton has been rated as one of the top ten art museums in the country for children.
The collection spans 5,000 years of art history and includes art from all over the world as well as glass, photography, and outdoor sculptures.
Besides these free things to do in Dayton, consider purchasing a membership to your favorite Dayton attractions. A one-time fee will often grant you access or admission for a full year, and may even include reciprocal admission at other similar attractions around the country!
Looking for something free to do near Dayton? Check out the Hartman Rock Gardens in Springfield. I think it’s one of the best roadside attractions in the state!