Free and Cheap Summer Activities in Columbus


Free and Cheap Summer Activities in Columbus

We’ve gathered an amazing list of free summer activities in Columbus. From splash pads to factory tours, there are an abundance of activities to keep the whole family happy. Whatever free and cheap summer activities you decide to do, we hope it is full of fun!

{Note: all information in this guide is subject to change. Please verify the information before heading out to avoid any unpleasant surprises.}

Animals & Nature

  • Riverboxes:: Head to Dublin to use the clues to search for various Riverboxes designed by artists. Once you find the box there is a stamp and information about the area. Be sure to download the Riverboxes Passport for the clues and more information.
  • Riverboxes in Dublin
    Turtle Riverbox at Scioto Park
  • Battelle Darby Creek:: See the bison roaming, take a nature walk and then head indoors to the state of the art Nature Center. (Currently all Nature Centers are closed at the Metro Parks)  ** They also have tons of free programs such as scavenger hunts, family yoga and story time.
  • Stratford Ecological Center:: Explore (live animals, hiking trails, creeks, pond, gardens) * In 2021 they will be having pod sign ups for self guided tours. Stratford Farm
  • Slate Run Living Historical Farm:: Go back in time to life in the 1880’s and walk inside an old-fashioned farmhouse, play games and see animals such as horses, cows, sheep, pigs and chickens.  It is worth the drive to Canal Winchester for this free and cheap summer activity!  Bring your camera! A great spot for lunch on the way home is Brew Dog!

    Grange Insurance Audubon Center
    Grange Insurance Audubon Center
  • Gallant Farm:: Depicting life in the 1890’s, you’ll find a Farmhouse, barn, machine shed, demonstration crop fields and other aspects of farm life. This is located in Delaware. It is currently closed due to COVID, but check their website for summer updates.
  • Sunrise Sanctuary:: Open Barn Days are monthly events where they open the Sanctuary to the public, allowing you to visit and get to know the animals on a personal level. Admission prices are: Adult (18+) Admission $10, Youth (4-17) Admission $5, and Children 3 and under are free. Check their website for updates!
  • Grange Insurance Audubon Center:: You’ll find both indoor and outdoor options here. They also have Preschool Story Time on Thursdays and Saturdays at 10 a.m. Preregistration is required for 2021.
  • Zoo Scavenger Hunt:: This fun scavenger hunt puts a whole new spin on a trip to the zoo. Download it HERE.
  • Topiary Park:: Walk around and look at the topiaries and bring a picnic lunch for a peaceful afternoon. Be sure to make a stop at the Main Library too!
  • Geocaching:: A GPS scavenger hunt. Read more about it here: Real Life Treasure Hunt.
  • Waterfalls can be found in two locations in Dublin: Hayden Falls Park & Indian Run Falls Park.  You’ll definitely want to keep your kids close and have a safety talk with them.
  • Animal Encounter Exhibit at Olentangy Indians Caverns:: Admission into the 50,000 square foot animal encounter exhibit is $4.00 per person. For an additional small fee, you can buy a bag of food to feed the deer and goats roaming around. There’s a great playground on the property, some large wooden yard games, a wooden climbing wall and picnic benches.  The other activities such as gem mining, exploring the caves and miniature golf have individual prices.
  • Franklin Park ConservatoryCommunity Days:: On the first Sunday of each month, free admission is offered to residents of Franklin County and City of Columbus. Must show ID as proof for free entry. Be sure to check out the beautiful outdoor Children’s Garden! Reservations are needed in 2021 for entry.
    Franklin Park Conservatory
    Having fun in the Children’s Garden!

    Franklin Park Conservatory
    There are so many great parts at the Conservatory!

Wet Fun

  • Splash Pads:: Get wet at one of the fun locations in Columbus!
  • Creeking:: Strap on water shoes and bring a small net to explore the water!
  • Top Municipal Pools in Central Ohio:: With waterslides, lazy rivers, play structures and more these pools are sure to keep you cool on the hot summer days. Many modifications will be in place for pools this season, so be sure to check individual websites!
  • Beaches in Ohio:: Yes, Ohio isn’t the first place you think of when it comes to beaches, but there are a few around the state that are worth checking out.
  • Alum Creek State Park:: Head to the closest beach to Columbus. (located near Polaris)
  • Delaware State Park:: 800-foot public beach, boat, fishing, disc golf, trails and hunting are options here.

Outdoor Activities

Outdoor Movies

  • Outdoor Movies:: Many of these movies begin at dusk. Bring your blankets and bug spray and get ready for the fun. Reservations are required for many 2021 movies.
  • Drive-In Movies:: Load up the car and grab some snacks to watch a movie while you sit in your vehicle.

Indoor Activities

  • Bowl for Free:: Sign your kids up for 2 free games of bowling each day at specific bowling alleys in Columbus such as Plain City Lanes, Marysville, Gahanna Lanes and Holiday Lanes. Read more about FREE Daily Bowling for Kids.
  • Free Summer Movies: Free select 10 am showings every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at Lennox Town Center 24. Free admission for all ages and groups are welcome. Doors open at 9 am and movie begins at 10 am with two films to choose from. Event will run until August 12.
  • Book to Film at Gateway Film Center:: Check back for 2021 updates! Admission is free with your Columbus Metropolitan Library card.
  • Recreations Outlet:: Currently closed for open play times but hope to be back soon!
  • Irish Fairy Doors of Dublin:: Download a trail map and walk along the path to discover 10 fairy doors hidden in various businesses in Historic Dublin.  Many new doors have been added along the Bridge Park area as well! The fairy doors are inside the shops, but it will require walking outside to each location. If you find all 10 fairy doors and return your completed passport you’ll receive a FREE Dublin Fairy Doors of Dublin t-shirt.  Be sure to check the hours of operation for each business before you plan your adventure.

    Irish Fairy Doors
    Finding the doors!
  • Aquarium Adventure:: View the large variety of fish and other sea animals such as stingray and turtles. (New Location in the Hilliard Mill Run area)
  • Graeter’s on Bethel Road:: New Location in 2019! Indoor play area (remember socks) with a variety of things to do for kids of all ages. Don’t forget the treat too. 🙂
  • Orton Geological Museum:: Virtual exhibits going on now!
  • OSU Airport Observation Tower:: View flight activity and listen to the sounds of Airport Control Tower over the radio. The airport is newly renovated in 2018! Unfortunately, having breakfast or lunch like usual at Jack & Benny’s Barnstormer Diner won’t be an option as it is currently closed!
  • Fire Station Tour:: Make an appointment and visit a fire station. Consider bringing a handmade card or goodies to show appreciation.
  • Dave & Busters:: Wednesdays are Half-Priced Game Day. (Hilliard and Polaris location)
  • Skate Zone 71:: Tuesdays from 6:00-8:30 p.m. admission is $2 (plus skate fee). Masks are required even when roller skating.
  • Cabela’s:: This huge retail store has an 8,000-gallon aquarium with live fish and an extensive wildlife display including a polar bear, elk, wolves, goats and more.
  • Pins Mechanical Co:: Come out with the family to play games like duck bowling, life-sized Jenga and more! Kids are welcome until 8:00 p.m. New location at Easton and Dublin too! Family fun day!
  • 16 Bit Arcade:: All of your favorite arcade games in one spot! The new location at Easton has a big slide that is lots of fun! The Dublin location is great too!

Factory Tours

  • Anthony Thomas Chocolates Factory Tour:: No factory tours as of yet, but check back often to see updates!

    Anthony Thomas Tour
    Anthony Thomas Tour
  • Al’s Delicious Popcorn:: Unavailable at this time, but hope to be back and running soon! Gather up a small group of people and schedule a free tour. (Most people buy the $1.25 ($1.50 for specialty flavor) sample bag of popcorn.)
  • American Whistle Corporation:: Come take a guided tour of the factory in Worthington! Virtual tours are available as well.
  • Conn’s Potato Chip Factory in Zanesville:: Call 740-452-4615 to inquire about a tour.
  • Velvet Ice Cream:: It’s a little bit of a drive to Utica, but the ice cream is worth it. Free public tours occur on weekdays from May 1-October 31 (11 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.) and exclude major holidays. You may want to pick peaches too! Read more here. Closed on Mondays!

Artistic Fun

  • Home Depot Kids Workshop:: This is such a cute free and cheap summer activity! Kids get a kit with instructions and materials to assemble a wooden craft. They earn pins for their apron for each new craft they make. (first Saturday of every month). Pick up now available to do crafts at home!HomeDepotKids
  • Camp Creativity at Michael’s:: 21 days of free online crafting for mini makers!
  • Lakeshore Learning Store:: No crafts as of yet!
  • Columbus Museum of Art:: Every Sunday is free admission. You will need a timed reservation.  There are hands-on and learning activities scattered throughout the museum. Be sure to check out the Wonder Room as it is geared specifically towards kids.  While you’re there, grab lunch at Schokko Art Cafe for delicious food. They are offering studio at home for kids too which are virtual activities!

Reading Activities


  • Apple Camp:: Fun workshop at Apple stores. You can download materials for 2021 and complete this at home!

Fitness Classes

Mall Activities

  • Easton:: Model train (near Brio), Splash Pad (near Brio), Trolley car that runs, head to the Lego Store (or Legoland) to build.
  • Play Areas::

Day Trips or Quick Trips

  • National Museum of the US Air Force:: Located in Dayton and open daily from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (closed major holidays) offers FREE admission. This is a must-see spot!
  • Clifton Gorge:: Stunning scenery includes waterfalls and gorge. Be sure to check out the eclectic town of Yellow Springs and stop by Young’s Jersey Dairy for homemade ice cream and to see the farm & cheap summer activities
  • Hocking Hills:: Beautiful state park with walking trails, waterfalls and caves. Check out this Family Guide to Hocking Hills.
  • The Ohio Bird Sanctuary:: Live birds are on display, walkthrough aviary and hiking trails are found here. Located in Mansfield and open Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Sunday 1:00-5:00 p.m. (While you are in the area, stop on over to Little Buckeye Children’s Museum– it’s full of fun!! The Buckeye Museum is hoping to open back up this summer! Admission is not free, but reasonably priced. You can also pay a small fee and take a ride on the Richland Carrousel.)
  • Indian Lake:: 2 public beaches, fishing (with a valid license), playgrounds and more.
  • Bob Evans Farm:: The farm sits on a beautiful setting in Rio Grande, Ohio. Call the farm to see about open times for 2021!

Columbus is full of free and cheap summer activities to do and the activities on this list are sure to keep you busy!


  1. For those long car rides, get some kids’ podcasts! There is a new Highlights Hangout podcast that is fantastic.

  2. Umm thank you so much for putting this together! I really appreciate your time and effort and my kids are pumped to start checking things off their summer bucket list! I know we are going to have a great summer and I hope you do too! ?❤️

    • So glad to hear you are excited about this resource. It’s amazing how many fun things there are to do around Cbus. Our summer is off to a great start!

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