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Cheap and Free Things to Do in St. Louis

One of my family’s favorite places to visit in the middle of the country is the beautiful city of St. Louis, Missouri. There are many reasons for this. We love the architecture, the history, and the artsy vibe of the place. We also adore the fact that there are so many inexpensive and free things to do in St. Louis. 

If you’re headed to this awesome city soon, you may be wondering what to do in St. Louis. Don’t worry. You definitely won’t be bored—even if you’re on a budget. Whether you prefer museums, outdoor activities, or something else entirely, you’re sure to find plenty of cheap things to do and can definitely fill an entire vacation without breaking the bank. 

Not sure where to begin? Read on to learn about our absolute favorite things to do in St. Louis for free and cheap.

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Inexpensive and Free Things to Do in St. Louis

In this section, we will discuss what to do in St. Louis while still keeping your wallet full and happy. Pick and choose from his list, and you’re sure to have a great time. You will even have money left over for another awesome RV adventure!

Gateway arch in St. Louise

Discovering the Gateway Arch National Park: A Must-Visit Landmark in St. Louis

A trip to St. Louis is incomplete without witnessing the majestic Gateway Arch, a symbol of the city’s rich history and architectural marvel. The best part? Visiting Gateway Arch National Park doesn’t cost anything. It’s a public treasure where you can stroll around the expansive grounds, capture stunning photos of the iconic arch, delve into historical narratives at the Old Courthouse, and explore the comprehensive museum located beneath the arch—all free of charge.

Insider Tip: While enjoying the park’s offerings is without expense, certain experiences like the journey to the arch’s summit and the documentary film at the museum do require a fee, even for “America the Beautiful” pass holders. This information is crucial for planning your visit, especially if these unique perspectives of the arch are on your must-do list.

Additionally, the park offers an engaging opportunity for young explorers: the Junior Ranger program. It’s an educational adventure where kids can receive Junior Ranger books filled with activities. Completing these allows them to earn their very own Junior Ranger badges, creating a memorable takeaway from their visit to St. Louis.

Exploring the Wonders of the St. Louis Science Center: A Free Family Adventure

Delving into the realms of science becomes an unforgettable adventure at the St. Louis Science Center, a destination that stands out for its uniqueness among science museums. What sets this science center apart is not just its vast array of interactive exhibits but also its no-admission fee policy, making it an accessible option for families looking to explore the wonders of science together. While there is a charge for parking, ASTC reciprocal members can benefit from a reduced parking fee, adding another layer of value to your visit.

As you step into the museum, you’re greeted by an animatronic dinosaur, setting the tone for an exciting journey through the world of science. The exhibits are designed to captivate visitors of all ages: from the thrill of video game simulations that my son and husband found irresistible to the agricultural displays that fascinated my daughter, especially the engaging water tables. The makerspace, located upstairs, is a highlight where creativity meets science, offering hands-on activities that we all thoroughly enjoyed.

St. Louis Zoo

Hippo at the St. Louis Zoo

Easily one of our favorite zoos in the country, the St. Louis Zoo is another must-see. The good news? Admission to this Forest Park attraction is free! There is a charge for parking in the zoo lot, but we just found free parking elsewhere in Forest Park and walked to the entrance. 

The zoo is home to all kinds of wonderful animals. Our favorite exhibits have to be the Sea Lion tunnel, the super cold penguin house, and the beautiful polar bear. That said, we love it all and will definitely return over and over again. 

Missouri History Museum

The Missouri History Museum is another of the free Forest Park attractions. Best of all, parking is free here! 

Honestly, we didn’t expect much from this one, but we were pleasantly surprised. The museum focuses on the history of Missouri specifically and has a variety of interesting exhibits on the subject. There is a hands-on area for the kids with plenty of history-centered role-playing fun and a super cool music history area. 

Our favorite part was the temporary St. Louis architecture exhibit, which gave guests a chance to color in iconic St. Louis buildings that were printed on all the walls, sort of like a giant coloring book in room form (but with giant dry-erase boards instead of paper). 

St. Louis Art Museum

Like so many other things to do for free in St. Louis, the St. Louis Art Museum is located in Forest Park. The parking lot across from the museum is also free, so you won’t spend any money to visit. 

The museum features art from all eras and parts of the world. Everything was beautifully displayed, and I could have wandered the museum for hours. Unfortunately, it is not set up for kids, so we had to leave after only an hour and a half, as the kids were getting impatient.

If you do plan to visit with young children, plan to visit on a Sunday when there are activities set up for little ones. 

Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site

Ulysses S Grant National Historic Site.

Anyone who knows me knows I love a good NPS site, so obviously, the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site has to be on this list. This site is free and open to the public, making it a great addition to your St. Louis vacation on a budget. 

Located about 10 miles outside of town, this place was home to Ulysses S. Grant, Civil War general and 18th president of the United States. Guests can tour the grounds and home and learn about the life of this incredibly interesting man. 

Psst…be sure to visit Grant’s Farm right next door and see the animals there!

Magic House Children’s Museum

Magic House was, by far, the 3-year-old’s favorite thing we saw on this most recent trip to St. Louis. While this museum does charge an admission fee, we visited after 3:00 pm in order to take advantage of their “$3 admission after 3:00” deal. The kids loved it so much that we actually ended up going twice!

Wondering what to expect? This is a relatively large children’s museum with an enormous number of hands-on activities and fun play spaces that allow little ones to explore and learn through play. The preschooler adored the climbing structure, sand play, and serving ice cream at the miniature town’s ice cream cart. Meanwhile, our 10-year-old enjoyed pretending to be a judge, and the US president in the government play areas on the lower floor. 

Where to Stay

Of course, you will need a place to stay while you explore the city. This is where your RV comes into play, giving you a comfy place to call home during your getaway. Not sure where to park the rig? Consider the cheap RV camping in St. Louis options listed below. 

Horseshoe Lake State Recreation Area

During our most recent visit to St. Louis, we stayed at Horseshoe Lake State Recreation Area. This was a pretty enough place and was very conveniently located right outside of the city. 

There were pit toilets available at this campground, but they weren’t very clean. Trash cans, potable water, and a dump station were also available, but there were no hookups at the individual sites. The reason we chose this park? The fee to stay was only $8 a night!

Dr. Edmund Babler Memorial State Park

If you prefer to have hookups at your site, Dr. Edmund Babler Memorial State Park is the place for you! This park is also located right outside of the city and is very well maintained. 

Electric hookups are available at the RV sites, and potable water spigots are onsite. There is also a dump station available. Restrooms with showers are available for guest use, and there are plenty of hiking trails to explore in the park. The cost of this park? Just $25 a night!

Embark on an Unforgettable Journey in St. Louis Without Overspending

Our exploration of St. Louis unveils a city brimming with opportunities for adventure, learning, and discovery, all without the need to spend extravagantly. From the awe-inspiring Gateway Arch National Park to the captivating St. Louis Science Center, this city invites travelers to immerse themselves in its unique blend of culture, history, and science. The beauty of St. Louis lies not just in its iconic landmarks but also in its ability to offer a rich tapestry of experiences that cater to every interest and budget.

As we’ve shared our personal highlights, including free attractions and budget-friendly tips, we hope to inspire you to create your own memorable itinerary. St. Louis is a testament to the fact that enriching travel experiences don’t have to come with a hefty price tag. Whether you’re marveling at historical exhibits, engaging with interactive science displays, or earning Junior Ranger badges, St. Louis offers a gateway to exploration that is accessible to all.

So pack your bags, set your sights on St. Louis, and prepare to embark on an adventure that proves the best things in life—and travel—don’t always require a ticket. Discover the heart and soul of the Midwest in a city that welcomes you with open arms and endless possibilities.

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