The Highest Rated Free-Entry Attraction in Every Country and State
From museums and historic landmarks to zoos and white-knuckle theme parks, popular tourist destinations are often packed with sights to see and things to tick off the bucket list.
But the cost of visiting tourist attractions can soon add up. According to Budget Your Travel, the average person on a day out in the U.S. will spend $55 on admission fees for museums, attractions, sightseeing tours and the like. Fine, perhaps if you’re a solo adventurer budgeting for one — but multiply that cost by a whole family’s worth of sightseers and you’ve soon got a bank-breaking trip on your hands.
It’s true what they say, though — sometimes the best things in life are free. Wherever you go on vacation (or even if you’re just exploring your local area), there’s bound to be a selection of attractions that won’t cost a cent to stop by… but which of these free-entry attractions are truly worth the visit?
Casago went in search of the best of them all across the U.S. and the world based on the ratings of patrons gone before.
What We Did
For each U.S. state and 98 countries around the world, Casago found the best free-entry tourist attractions based on the proportion of TripAdvisor reviews that are rated five stars.
- 94.54% of ratings for the Luc Vanlaere Harpist – Mini Harp Museum in Belgium are five stars, making it the most highly rated free-entry attraction in the world
- In the U.S., the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, is the best free-entry attraction — 92.85% of its reviews are rated five stars
- In the UK, the best free attraction is the Big Pit National Coal Museum in Wales (89.71% of reviews are rated five stars)
- Three of the top 10 highest-rated free-entry attractions in the world are in the U.S.
A Belgium Harp Museum Is the Best Free Attraction in the World
What would you guess is the best tourist attraction in the world that doesn’t cost a penny to visit? A beach? An unmanned island? A national park? The answer is the Luc Vanlaere Harpist – Mini Harp Museum in Bruges, Belgium (94.54% of five-star reviews), a tiny harp museum where visitors can enjoy the music of harpist Luc Vanlaere as he performs daily 40-minute long concerts — all for free. One glowing review calls the attraction a “captivating musical experience to refresh your soul,” while others advise getting there on time and taking extra cash for donations.
But for those who’d prefer to stay local, we’ve mapped the free-entry attraction in 98 countries that have received the highest proportion of five-star ratings online. Across the world, they range from scenic beaches (like the “heavenly” Cable Beach in the Bahamas) and national parks (see Ireland’s “extraordinary” Killarney National Park) to museums, shopping districts and historic landmarks.
Ohio’s National Museum of the U.S. Air Force Is the Top Free Attraction in the Country
From the sandy beaches of California to Manhattan’s skyline, the U.S. is bejeweled with sights to see. And while the country makes billions of dollars a year from tourism, there are still plenty of things you can do stateside without spending a cent. The best of them all is the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, for which 92.85% of reviews are five stars. As the world’s largest military aviation museum, one reviewer writes that “you owe it to yourself” to visit if you have an interest in the subject.
Our next map reveals the best free attraction in each state, based on the proportion of TripAdvisor reviews accompanying it that are rated five stars. Attractions range from sites of natural beauty like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee — the most-visited national park in the country and one of 16 that are free to enter — to art museums, war memorials and entire districts, like the downtown district of Bozeman, Montana, deemed “lively and hopping” by one reviewer.
Eight of the Top Ten Free Attractions in North America Are in the U.S.
U.S. attractions dominate our ranking of the best of the best free attractions in North America, based on the proportion of reviews that are rated five stars. After the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Ohio, America’s top free-entry attractions include other military monuments and museums, like the “humbling” Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Virginia (90.59% of five-star reviews), art museums and religious sites.
But it’s Horseshoe Falls in Canada that ranks as the second most top-rated free attraction (92.70% of five-star reviews) on the continent, the largest of the three waterfalls that comprise the picturesque and free-to-visit Niagara Falls (which attracts 20 million tourists a year). Reviewers can’t stop gushing (pun intended) about this powerful waterfall, with one stoic writer offering: “Yes, not the highest in the world etc. but to observe the falls is impressing and interesting.”
Welsh Mining Museum Among the Top Free Attractions in Europe
After the aforementioned and truly magical-sounding tiny harp museum, the highest-rated free attraction in Europe (89.71% of five-star reviews) is the Big Pit National Coal Museum in a small Welsh town called Blaenavon. Visitors can park for £5 (you can’t win them all) and make their way onto a 300 ft-deep guided tour of an old coal mine that closed in 1980; one reviewer calls it “a great place to visit as long as you are not claustrophobic!”
Human-made attractions (like the Big Pit coal mine) and landmarks of nature mingle in our ranking of the best-rated free attractions across the continent. Italy is both home to top-rated beaches, like the “simply magical” Cala Mariolu beach in Baunei (89.37% of five-star reviews), and picturesque feats of human architecture, like the centuries-old Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi in Matera (87.09% of five-star reviews). Heading north, you’ll find the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in Iceland (89.15% of five-star reviews), where “parking is free and plentiful,” but boat trips cost extra.
Brazil Is Home to Six of the Top Ten Free Attractions in South America
90.63% of ratings for the 11,171 ft-tall Cerro Fitz Roy mountain in Patagonia (a region governed by Argentina and Chile) are five stars, making it the highest-rated free attraction to visit in South America. Known to locals as “El Chaltén,” a Tehuelche word meaning “smoking mountain” for the thick clouds at the mountain’s peak, the area today is a popular spot for hiking, climbing and camping. As one reviewer raves: “Free entrance, free camping and you can enjoy the nature!”
Brazil lays claim to six of the top ten free attractions on the continent, led by the Fortaleza Canyon (84.03% of five-star reviews) in the free-to-visit Serra Geral National Park. While the road to the top can be tricky, one reviewer deems the canyon “amazing, breathtaking, and worth … the hardship.” The National Sanctuary of Our Lady of Aparecida in Aparecida ranks after that (82.91% of five-star reviews), but visitors traveling to the “breathtaking” basilica by car take note: parking is R$15.
India’s Golden Temple Is the Highest-Rated Free Attraction in Asia
Asia has no shortage of highly-rated attractions that don’t cost a cent to visit. With nine in ten reviews (90.63%) rated five stars, the best of them all is the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, a centuries-old, gold leaf-covered gurdwara and “one of the most sacred pilgrim spots for Sikhs.” However, you don’t have to be Sikh to enjoy this sacred site; as one reviewer writes, it’s “well worth the trip out, no matter what faith you come from.” Another notes that “it’s all free, including food, but make a good donation.”
Lanta Animal Welfare in Ban Sala Dan, Thailand, is the next top free attraction in Asia (90.01% of five-star reviews). Founded in 2005, this animal sanctuary welcomes visitors for free, but behind-the-scenes guided tours cost just over seven dollars for adults and four dollars for kids. Paro Taktsang in Bhutan comes next (88.60% of five-star reviews), an ancient Buddhist monastery you can only get to by hiking. One reviewer writes of the journey: “It’s not going to be easy, but it’s worth it!”
Australian War Memorial Is Oceania’s Top Free Attraction
The Australian War Memorial in Canberra, Australia’s capital, ranks as the best of the best free-to-visit attractions in Oceania (90.22% of five-star reviews). Unveiled in 1941, this “powerful” memorial to fallen members of Australia’s armed forces offers free admission and tours to visitors (but booking a ticket is still required). Reviewers’ tips include booking two separate two-hour visiting slots with a break for lunch and eating said lunch inside to stop “feathered friends” from stealing it.
The next highest-rated free attraction in Oceania is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in Tongariro National Park, New Zealand, for which 84.79% of reviews are rated five stars. One for fans of hiking and Lord of the Rings, this scenic 19-km route meanders across a dramatic volcanic landscape and is “often described as New Zealand’s greatest day walk.” Getting there early is recommended as the trail can get very busy, and visitors by car should note that parking does cost extra.
Lion’s Head Mountain in South Africa Is the Best Free Attraction in Africa
From safari-wild plains to white-sand beaches, Africa’s natural landscape offers something for everyone, which might explain why many of the top free attractions on the continent are landmarks of nature. The best-rated of all is the Lion’s Head in South Africa (76.48% of five-star reviews), a 2,195 ft-tall mountain in the Table Mountain National Park that offers a particularly busy climb during a full moon. One reviewer advises: “I would definitely avoid hiking this during a full moon or leave right after sunset.”
South Africa is home to two other top-rated free attractions in our ranking: Knysna Heads (69.34% of five-star ratings) and Camp’s Bay Beach (61.94% of five-star ratings), two scenic coastal points lapped by azure water. Morocco claims three other top attractions, including the Chefchaouen Medina (76.40% of five-star ratings). Chefchaouen’s streets are lined with pretty blue houses, a sight deemed a “photographer’s dream” by one reviewer (who also advises not to visit in the busy summer months).
How to Find Free Attractions
Whether you’re on vacation or just stepping out in your local town, the high cost of activities and attractions can be a bit off-putting. Big tourist destinations like New York City are bound to be even more expensive; take the Empire State Building, for example, the top attraction in the United States — admission to the viewing deck is an eye-watering $44 for just one adult and a not-much-better $38 for a child. Add anything else to the itinerary and a day out could break the bank.
Fortunately, wherever you find yourself in the world, there’s bound to be something just around the corner that’s free to do. That applies even in New York, where just down the road from the Empire State Building is the free-to-explore Central Park. Researching online is the best way to find these free activities and attractions, which may lead you onto a free walking tour or to a bustling local market.
In some places (like London), even top art galleries and museums are free, so if you play your cards right, you could spend a whole day soaking up the culture with only the cost of lunch and traveling to consider. Local community pages can also be full of tips for finding free local events and festivals, and another reliable resource you can check out is TimeOut.
How We Did It
We located the “things to do” page for every country on Tripadvisor and selected the “free entry” filter. Next, we pulled the first five pages of attractions ranked by “traveler favorites.”
Finally, we calculated the percentage of five-star, or “excellent,” reviews for each attraction by country. We then ranked attractions by the percentage of five-star reviews to isolate the highest-rated attractions by country and worldwide. We repeated this process for the U.S. states.
The information is correct as of July 2023.