Spend your time (not your money) exploring these inexpensive U.S. cities.
“Norfolk once had a bad reputation as a Navy Town,” says one Travel + Leisure reader from the Virginia port city. “While we still are a Navy Town (and proud of it!), we’re so much more.”
Indeed, Norfolk is home to a strikingly full calendar of events. The best part? Most of them are free to attend.
In our annual America’s Favorite Places survey, we ask T+L readers to dish about their hometowns — the place they grew up or have lived in and know better than anywhere else on Earth. Unlike the World’s Best Awards, which encourages readers to weigh in on travel experiences across the globe, the America’s Favorite Places survey is a way for locals to share what their hometowns do best.
And when it comes to scoping out the best free things to do in a destination, who better to turn to than locals? They selected Norfolk as one of this year’s favorite cities for an affordable getaway, thanks to its wealth of free events. Yet coastal Norfolk is an outlier. Eight out of 10 high-scoring cities are located inland, with a plurality in the Corn Belt states of the Midwest.
Regardless of region, each of these cities offer a priceless combination of standout attractions at low to no cost. So read on for this year’s picks of America’s favorite cities for affordable getaways — and put away your wallet.
15. Chicago, Illinois
The Windy City comes in as number 15 on this year’s list of America’s favorite cities for affordable attractions, thanks largely to its collection of activity-filled public parks. In West Chicago, the massive Garfield Park Conservatory (the third largest plant conservatory in the world) displays thousands of species in jungle-like settings under its glass roofs. Near the lakefront, the Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the last major zoos to offer free admission. More than 1,000 animals representing over 200 species — many of them rare and endangered — call its spacious, landscaped enclosures home. And in the downtown Loop, Maggie Daley Park Play Garden is a must for families traveling with children. Close to the iconic Bean of Millennium Park, the 20-acre whimsical playground has a lighthouse, ship, gardens, and picnic areas.
14. San Antonio, Texas
Remember the Alamo? Travelers to San Antonio will be pleasantly surprised to find that visiting the historic mission is free. The 18th-century Catholic convent, site of a pivotal battle during the Texas Revolution in 1836, is the most visited attraction in the state. After touring the UNESCO World Heritage site, visitors can meander the famed San Antonio Riverwalk, a 15-mile park lined with restaurants, bars, and skyline views.
13. Greenville, South Carolina
This charming South Carolina city at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains made it onto T+L’s list of The 50 Best Places to Travel in 2018 due to its rising status in the culinary world. But there’s plenty to do between meals here, and readers appreciate the town’s affordable attractions. Visit the free-of-charge Greenville County Museum of Art (home to impressive collections of works by Andrew Wyeth, Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns) or bike along the scenic, 20-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail, before heading to the just-opened outpost of Husk, chef Sean Brock’s ode to New Southern cuisine.
12. Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota
Twin Cities residents are famous for being “Minnesota Nice,” and T+L readers find their hometowns to be just as friendly on the budget. Several local breweries, such as St. Paul’s popular Summit Brewing, offer free tours with samples. And admission is always free at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, with its encyclopedic collection of 80,000 pieces that covers 5,000 years of history. Come summertime, the annual Minnesota State Fair is one of the most renowned in the country. While it doesn’t cost a cent to enter the fairgrounds, there’s no guarantee how much you’ll spend on fried cheese curds, nachos, and grilled cheese bites.
Read more: http://www.travelandleisure.com/slideshows/best-us-cities-for-affordable-getaways#santa-fe-new-mexico-museum-of-contemporary-native-arts