Our charming hometown is filled with art, history, educational opportunities and tons of fun. And, even if you’re on a tight budget, you can enjoy all of that and more—completely free of charge. Highlights in this guide include 1,588 total acres of park space, strange animal encounters, 1000 BCE Middle Eastern artifacts, prehistoric whales, outdoor concerts and ukulele parties!
Located on campus, the University of Michigan Museum of Art is one of the largest university art museums in the country. Their collections represent 150 years of art collecting and include everything from 1000 BCE Middle Eastern artifacts to 21st-century paintings. Admission to the museum is always free, but a $10 donation is also appreciated. Get full details and plan your visit here.
This educational facility on the north side of Ann Arbor encourages sustainability, understanding and regular nature encounters. You can join the fun and visit the grounds, trails and raptor enclosures for free any day from sunrise to sunset. The Critter House is open on select days (which you can see here) and invites guests to observe frogs, turtles, snakes and other adorable and unusual animals. For more visiting information, click here.
Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum are two educational and environmental spaces on the U-M campus. The botanical gardens include 11 outdoor areas full of bonsai, native and medicinal plants, perennials and more, and if you want to head inside, you can enjoy the year-round indoor conservatory filled with plants from around the world. The arboretum spans miles of trails and land with impressive collections of both native and exotic trees and shrubs.
Both the gardens and arboretum offer free admission, but if you decide to drive, you’ll have to pay $1.70 per hour for parking at Matthaei with a $5 daily maximum charge.
The U-M Museum of Natural History story begins all the way back in 1837 when the university was created, but the first museum building wasn’t constructed until 1881. In April 2019, the museum celebrated its most recent grand reopening after a move into the brand new Biological Sciences Building, part of the U-M School of Literature, Sciences and the Arts. Today, the constantly expanding exhibits include interactive displays about mastodons and prehistoric whales, multimedia artwork, the evolution of life on Earth, space exploration, and more. You can even see the museum staff at work in the Fossil Prep Lab! For more information on your visit, click here. And remember, admission to the museum is free, but donations are always accepted.
The home of JIFFY Mix and the industrial heart of Chelsea, tours of the Chelsea Milling Company are free and open to the public with a reservation. Your one-hour journey through the factory includes an inside look at the packaging plant, a video presentation, refreshments and a product sample. Yes, that means you get to enjoy a free muffin, too!
Since 2008, Sonic Lunch has been bringing free, outdoor concerts to the streets of downtown Ann Arbor every summer. Suitable for all ages, the seasonal concert series kicks off in early June and continues through August for a total of about 11 shows each year. All of these performances begin at 11:30 a.m. and you can see the full lineup for this year here.
Fairy doors have been popping up all over Ann Arbor in various locations for as long as we can remember. Today, you can find these charming, artistic, miniature doors at locations throughout town, including The Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ark, Nicola’s Books and more. Check out the locations here and see if you can track them all down!
Located on the U-M campus, this museum supports teaching and research on Classical, Egyptian and Near Eastern archaeology. With a collection of more than 100,000 artifacts—1,500 of which are on permanent display—and two to three annual exhibitions, there’s plenty to explore and learn. Admission is always free, but a donation is also appreciated.
The Charles Baird Carillon is the third heaviest in the world and contains 53 bells cast in 1936 by the John Taylor & Co. Bellfoundry in Loughborough, England. The tower and carillon were originally dedicated in 1936 and got a complete renovation in 2011. Today, you can hear the bells chime throughout the day from 9:15 a.m. to 9 p.m., including a free, thirty-minute recital performed on the Charles Baird Carillon at noon every weekday when classes are in session. To get there, enter the belfry observation deck any time during the recital, take the elevator to the eighth floor, and climb two more flights of stairs to the belfry. For full information and dates, click here.
Located on Main Street in Downtown Ann Arbor, WSG Gallery showcases original fine art including paintings, prints, drawings and sculpture. The team’s special exhibits change every six weeks and you can often attend free artist talks, receptions and other special events, too! To preview their current exhibit, click here, and follow the team on Facebook here.
The Ann Arbor District Library provides services at no charge to all residents living within the library service area, and residents outside the area can still access available services for a fee. In five different locations, these guests can access millions of items, print and digital research materials, computer and Internet training, free WiFi, library exhibits and regularly scheduled, fun events! These include things like Tea 101 with Arbor Teas, Family Writing Labs with 826michigan, film screenings, business workshops, and family-friendly ukulele parties! To see all the upcoming events, click here.
This local nonprofit is home to Al the Alligator, Quinn the Bald Eagle, Suzi the Macaw, Dumpie the Ball Python, Jerome the Argentine Tegu, Harper the Mountain Lion, and several other rescued animals. Their conservation through education mission allows our community to meet these animals, learn about wildlife and nature, attend educational programs and camps, and more. On weekdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., you can enjoy limited outdoor viewing for free, and if you want to get up close and personal, admission ranges from $8 to $10 on Saturdays and Sundays.
A recreation destination throughout the year, Buhr Park’s 39 acres are home to softball diamonds, two tennis courts, playground equipment, a basketball court, open fields, a sledding hill, picnic facilities with a grill, an outdoor pool with a special family activity pool during the summer, and a seasonal ice rink. The park is also connected to Cobblestone Farm, a historic educational facility with a house on-site that was originally completed in 1845. Visiting and recreating in the park are always free of charge, but admission to the pool, ice rink and guided tours of Cobblestone Farm Museum cost a few dollars each. For more information on all three, click here.
Although there is an annual or daily fee for vehicles, hikers, bikers and inline skaters can enter Hudson Mills Metropark for free using the trail system. The park is located in Dexter and covers a whopping 1,549 acres, including Huron River access, basketball and volleyball courts, softball diamonds, soccer fields, picnic shelters, a playground, and a 3-mile, paved loop trail for hiking and biking which connects to the nearly 5-mile West River Trail to Downtown Dexter.
Located right here in Ann Arbor, the Gerald R. Ford Library is one of two Michigan facilities dedicated to Gerald R. Ford. The museum can be found in Grand Rapids. At the library, guests are invited to explore the massive collection of archival materials on U.S. domestic issues, foreign relations, and political affairs during the Cold War era, focusing on the Ford administration. Other attractions include a permanent exhibit on President Ford’s life, rotating exhibitions and frequent special events.
What’s on your itinerary?
If you have a favorite free activity in Ann Arbor, tell us about it in the comments below!