88 Absolutely Free Things to Do This Summer
Are you looking for that great summer experience?
You don’t have to break the bank for a good time, even if you’re seeking activities that adhere to social-distancing restrictions.
We’ve come up with 88 ideas to help you make the most of your summer — and best of all, they’re all free.
88 Free Summer Activities
Summer fun doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a suntanned leg. Here are 88 free summer activities for kids, parents, friends and more. From camping to coding, use our list to make this summer the best — and most affordable — one ever.
The Great Outdoors
There are a wealth of free things to do outdoors – as long as the weather cooperates!
1. Parks: Whether you live in a small town or a big city, chances are there’s a free park nearby ready for you to stop by and enjoy for the afternoon.
2. Picnics: Make a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or spend a morning deviling up some eggs. Then pack your picnic basket, grab a blanket and enjoy dining al fresco.
3. Hiking: Parks, lakes and other nature areas often have marked hiking trails. They also usually designate the trail’s skill level and provide options for novice hikers, as well as experienced ones. Make sure to wear comfortable, sturdy shoes — and bring the bug spray!
Before you head out, check with your city and state parks department websites for closures due to social distancing restrictions.
4. Playgrounds: Swingsets and slides are great places for kids to run and play, but they’re fun for adults too!
Take the kids to the playground, or go after sunset with someone special and swing side-by-side.
5. Swimming: There are two ways to swim for free in the summer. See if local pools offer free swim days, or check out the beaches, lakes and swimming holes in your area.
6. Kite-flying: As Mary Poppins put it: Let’s go fly a kite! If you don’t already have a kite, it’s pretty easy to make your own.
8. Camping: Before you start planning your trip, check out our guide to camping on a budget. Look for free campsites in your area and then pack up the car, the tents and the marshmallows!
9. Backyard Camping: Where better to pitch your tent than in your own backyard? I went backyard camping as a kid, and it was a fun way to experience the thrill of sleeping outdoors. Plus, it’s one campsite you don’t have to pay for!
Arts and Entertainment
Check out these free arts and entertainment ideas to keep busy during the summer.
10. Virtual Performances: Many performing art groups had to cancel or postpone in-person events since the pandemic, but plenty of them have moved online. Check out Lincoln Center at Home for free dance, film and theater offerings.
11. Outdoor Movies: Many towns and cities have free outdoor movies in the summer, although with distancing restrictions in place this year. Bring a blanket and get there early to claim your spot!
12. Free Movies: Outdoor movies aren’t the only way to see free flicks this summer. Did you know you can get free movies from your local library
13. Outdoor Theater: Whether you’re watching Shakespeare in the Park or a summer musical, plenty of cities offer free outdoor theater in the summer. Check with your parks department for social distancing policies.
14. Summer Concerts: Free outdoor summer concerts are starting up again, albeit socially distanced. Check out the schedule of events on your community calendar or event space.
15. Free Museum Tickets: Nearly all museums offer free admission days, so figure out when you can go for free and enjoy an afternoon spent in air-conditioned comfort. You may need to register on the museum’s website for timed ticket entry — meaning you can only go during your scheduled time — so plan ahead
16. Bookstore Author Nights: Bookstores regularly invite authors to give readings from their newest books, and since the pandemic, many of those readings have gone virtual (and free).
17. Public Lectures: Many communities have free public lecture series, so see what’s being presented in your area, whether in person or online. You could learn about anything from aardvarks to zydeco.
In the Community
Depending on where you live and your comfort level, you may not want to venture far from home these days. But there are still ways to get involved in your community.
18. Community Events: Check your local newspaper or community calendar for free community events like online 5K runs that you can do from anywhere.
19. Volunteering: Even amid social distancing, your favorite local organizations need volunteers — perhaps now more than ever.
You can even use volunteering as an opportunity to learn a new skill — the Smithsonian needs digital volunteers who’re interested in learning to transcribe to help make historical documents more easily accessible.
Volunteering is also a great way to give back — and yes, it’s free!
20. Virtual Tourism: You may still be holding off on In-person travel, but you can still explore distant places — including space — by taking one of these virtual field trips.
21. Hometown Tourism: If a friend or relative visited your town or city, what special sights would you show that person? Why not explore those places yourself?
22. Next-Town-Over Tourism: Are you a little bored with your hometown? Take a bike or car ride to the next town over and play tourist. See what free parks and exciting vistas it has to offer!
23. Window Shopping: Just because you don’t want to spend money doesn’t mean you can’t have the fun of shopping.
Window-shopping is a great way to explore a new neighborhood. You have to have really good self-control, though — no impulse buys!
24. Farmers Markets: Here’s another free activity that requires just a little self-control: visiting a farmers market. You can spend your time people-watching and might even get to enjoy a little free local entertainment.
25. Meetup Groups: Meetup.com gives you the opportunity to connect with other community members who share similar interests, from orienteering to knitting.
Some groups might meet in places that cost money, such as coffee shops, so look for groups that meet in free spaces like a park or meet virtually.
26. Public Library: How could we get this far without mentioning the library? Your public library has a wealth of free books, movies, music and games for you and your family to enjoy. If your library isn’t open for visits, try free library apps like Hoopla and Overdrive.
You’re great just the way you are, but if you want to level up your life, these free ideas can help.
It’s a great way to process emotions, explore ideas or even write short fiction. It’s also absolutely free.
28. Gratitude Journal: Write your Morning Pages as soon as you get up. Then, at the end of the day, write down three things in your gratitude journal. These can be three things you’re grateful for, or just three happy memories from the day.
29. Walk 10,000 Steps: If you’re looking to improve your general health, start by walking. Aim for a 10,000-step-per-day goal, which is about five miles.
If you don’t already have a pedometer, use a free pedometer app to track your steps — or just walk around a park or a track for about an hour.
30. Couch to 5K: Ready for something a little more intense? Try spending your summer going from couch to 5K — that’s a 5K run, of course.
The Couch to 5K program helps beginner runners slowly work their way up to a 5K run by steadily increasing the distance run every day.
31. 7-Minute Workout: The New York Times’ 7-Minute Workout is another great — and free — way to stay fit.
All the exercises are designed to be performed at home with no special equipment. Push up and crunch your way to physical fitness, in just seven minutes per day.
32. Declutter Your Home: Whether you use the KonMari method or make it up as you go along, taking the time to declutter will leave your home feeling refreshed and re-energized for fall.
Trust us — you’ll be glad you took the time to clear out those old papers and even make some money off of those old clothes.
33. Refresh Your Home’s Look. If you’re getting tired of the look of your surroundings, we have tips from home decorators for refreshing your home — and they don’t cost a dime.
34. Read All the Books on Your Nightstand: If you’re anything like us, your nightstand has at least five half-finished books stacked on it. Finish them, and then put them away!
For the Family
Round up the kids, grandkids, aunts, uncles and cousins for these free summer activity ideas.
35. Family Dinner: How often does the entire family sit down to eat dinner together — and how often does that dinner last for more than 10 minutes?
Use summer’s more relaxed schedule to plan regular family meals where you not only eat together, but also share conversation and enjoy each other’s company.
36. Tell Your Day: How can you make these family dinners memorable? Try the “tell your day” technique, where each family member goes around and shares the story of his or her day.
If you need additional inspiration, ask everyone to share one good thing and one challenge from their day.
If you can’t be near your family due to coronavirus-related restrictions, use one of these free services platforms for staying connected and schedule a virtual activity together.
37. Family Cooking Projects: Make these family meals even more special by inviting kids to help cook.
Whether you’re making cool, sweet treats like popsicles or passing down your secret spaghetti sauce recipe, you’ll be making both food and memories in the kitchen.
38. Chronicle Family History: Do you have a record of your family’s history? How far back can you track grandparents, great-grandparents and extended relatives?
Write down family stories and interview relatives to learn more about your family and its many generations.
39. Make a Time Capsule: Look to the future by making a time capsule. Let kids choose what they want to include, from school photos to a list of favorite toys.
Then bury the time capsule in the backyard or put it away somewhere safe so it can be found by future generations — or so you can dig it up when your kids become adults!
40. Family Book Club: Choose a family-friendly book for everyone to read and discuss together.
41. Family Movie Club: Have a weekly family movie night and let everyone take turns picking a free movie from the library or on your streaming service.
42. Family Game Night: Was it Mr. Green in the library with the revolver? Who can build the Longest Road? Family game nights are great ways to spend time together without spending money.
43. The Longest Picture in the World: In Beverly Cleary’s “Ramona and her Father,” the Quimby father and daughter work together to draw The Longest Picture in the World.
Replicate Ramona’s adventure with your kids, using crayons or markers to create your own Longest Picture as a family.
44. Family Slumber Party: Grab your jammies and your sleeping bags and have a family slumber party in the living room.
45. Reconnect With Relatives: Set up chat sessions with relatives you don’t see very often, or introduce your kids to their second cousins!
For grandparents who live far away, consider setting up a weekly or twice-monthly session to keep in touch and get to know each other a little better.
46. Yes Day: Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s “Yes Day” is about how parents can create magic for their children by simply agreeing to say yes to every request for one full day. Yes, you can eat ice cream for breakfast. Yes, you can have another hour of screen time.
Have a Yes Day in your house for anything that doesn’t cost money, and see if it isn’t the most memorable day of the year!
47. Family Band: Whether your kids have a year or two of piano lessons under their belt or they’re still learning how to play the recorder, have fun spending an afternoon together singing and recording your family’s favorite songs.
Don’t forget to send the recording to Grandma — she’s going to love it.
48. Shakespeare in the Backyard: Work with your kids to stage a play or put on a talent show in the backyard. Use toys and dress-up clothes as props and costumes, and invite friends to come over and see the show!
49. Family Sports Day: Play parents-vs-kids basketball, show your kids how to play HORSE, mark off a baseball diamond in the backyard or teach your kids the many “rules” of Calvinball.
If you need inspiration, here’s a list of 1,000 recycled craft ideas, from placemats to space ships.
51. Parent Date Night: Leave the kids with grandparents or arrange a free babysitting swap. Then go out for a much-needed date night, doing free activities like stargazing, going to an outdoor concert or having a picnic.
52. One-on-one Kid Dates: Take each of your kids out for a special one-on-one kid date. Do free, fun activities like hanging out at the playground or visiting a museum.
These free kids’ programs are perfect for encouraging them to stretch their minds.
53. Barnes and Noble Summer Reading: If your kids love reading, they can earn a free book by signing up for the Barnes and Noble Summer Reading program, reading eight books and journaling about them.
54. Virtual Zoo: Zoos in your area may be starting to reopen and offering deals, but you can also take free virtual tours of zoos near and far. The San Diego Zoo offers webcam video of its residents in action along with activities and games to keep your little animal lovers entertained.
55. TD Bank Wow Zone: Got a would-be stock market whiz on your hands? Let them try out their skills — without risking real money — on TD Bank’s Virtual Stock Market. Kids can learn basic terms and compete against other players, starting with $100,000 of virtual money to trade on more than 25,000 stocks.
56. Pizza Hut Camp Book It!: A lot of us remember participating in BookIt! as children. It’s still around, and Pizza Hut is offering a free summer reading challenge — and the opportunity to win coupons for free pizza — to young readers.
57. Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge: Let your kids join a community of readers with the Scholastic Summer Reading Program. They’ll attend weekly author events, play book-based games and win virtual prizes.
For You and Your Friends
Be the hero of your social circle when you suggest these free activities to do with your friends.
58. Babysitting Swap: Exchange free babysitting with a friend. You’ll watch their kids one night, and they’ll watch yours another night. Or extend the fun by starting a summer camp co-op.
59. Clothing Swap: Whether it’s in person or virtually, have your friends bring out their gently worn clothes and enjoy swapping your way into new favorite outfits.
60. Toy Swap: Have your friends drop off their gently worn toys to swap for the toys your kids no longer use.
61. Jam Session: Invite your musically inclined friends online or in your backyard for an evening jam session.
62. Game Night: Invite a few friends over to play the board games you loved as a kid.
63. Hang Out: You don’t always have to plan an event for your friends. Just invite them to come over and hang out! It’s easy and free!
Virtually Stretch Your Mind
Fire up the computer to check out these online freebies.
65. Project Gutenberg: Get free access to nearly every public domain book through Project Gutenberg.
You can even read Project Gutenberg books on your Kindle or ebook reader, or the free Kindle app.
66. Free Audiobooks: Prefer your books in audio form? LibriVox offers free audio versions of public domain books, read by volunteers. (Yes, you can volunteer to record LibriVox books too! It’s one more free, fun summer activity.) Or use one of these free apps to download free audiobooks, movies, TV shows and more from your library.
67. JayIsGames: Like games? JayIsGames features the best browser and computer games out there, from RPGs to locked room games to interactive novels. A few games are pay-to-play, but the majority are free.
68. Free Streaming Video: Watch hours of TV shows and movies with free video streaming apps that let you check out your favorite shows for free.
69. Learn a New Language: Summer is a great time to begin learning a new language. We’ve got eight free language-learning tools to help you get started.
70. Make Movies: Have you always wanted to make a short film or start a vlog? You probably have all of the tools you need already on your laptop.
71. Record Music: Your laptop also probably has most of what you need to record music — all you have to do is come up with the hit song!
72: Start a Blog: Everyone has a story to tell, why not share yours with the world. Set up a free blog and start writing.
73. Laugh at YouTube’s Best Webseries: YouTube has plenty of great original webseries, from kid-friendly to adult.
74. Binge-watch Your Favorite TV Show: Whether you’re a fan of “The Office” or you’re more into “The Handmaid’s Tale,” summer is the time for binge-watching your favorite TV shows.
75. Apple Workshops: Apple moved their previously in-person workshops online during the pandemic. Sign up for a free session and learn how to edit video on a Mac, make music with Garageband and more.
76. Explore a New Personal Finance Topic. Sure, you can always zone out on the latest true-crime podcast. But why not brush up on your personal finance knowledge by tuning in to one of these personal finance podcasts?
Saving and Earning Money
If you have some spare time, check out these ways to save and earn money over the summer.
78. Get Paid to Play Video Games: Despite what your parents told you, playing video games may not be a waste of your summer after all. In fact, we found seven ways to get paid playing video games.
79. Have a Yard Sale: A classic summer activity that combines decluttering with earning cash — and you can do it outdoors. What could be better?
81. Start a Coin Jar: Get the whole family involved in saving by setting up a coin jar and encouraging everyone to drop in their change.
Add extra motivation by creating a family goal, such as a day at the water park, and taping the goal to the jar.
82. Update Your Resume: When’s the last time you updated your resume? For better or worse, it’s something you can do for free on a summer day when you’ve got time on your hands. If you’re not sure where to start, check out this step-by-step guide for writing a resume.
83. Update Your LinkedIn Profile: While you’re updating your resume, you might as well update your LinkedIn profile. When’s the last time you added new skills or asked for a recommendation?
84. Make a Five-Year Plan: Where do you want to be in five years? Take a summer afternoon to sit down and think about your goals and dreams — as well as what you need to do to get there.
85. Get Out of Debt: If one of your goals is to get out of debt, you can start working on that right now.
If tackling all your debt at once seems overwhelming, think smaller, like paying off debt you accumulated while in quarantine.
86. Make Money Without a 9-to-5 Job: Want to earn a little extra money to pay down debt or plan for next year’s summer vacation?
We came up with 53 creative ways to make money that don’t involve a 9-to-5 job, so you can still enjoy your summer.
And if you’re looking for a way to make more money from the comfort of home, check out our job portal. We post new work-from-home job opportunities every weekday.
87. Get Paid for Your Secret Talent: If it feels like the job market is a little too tight for your taste, consider making a few bucks off your special talent.
88. Start Planning for Fall Expenses: The last free thing you want to do this summer? Start planning for fall.
Whether you’re budgeting for back-to-school or thinking about college and retirement costs, taking time to plan now will mean saving money in the long run — and thinking ahead is always free.
Nicole Dieker is a freelance writer focusing on personal finance and personal stories. Staff writer/editor Tiffany Wendeln Connors contributed to this story.