Published by Jeremy. Last Updated on September 28, 2022.
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Sometimes we want to get out and explore Pittsburgh without spending a lot of money. Other times we want to get out and enjoy the city without spending any money at all.
While entry fees for attractions and experiences are commonplace, there are thankfully many great free things to do in Pittsburgh that you may want to consider when you want an activity that doesn't break the bank.
So in this one, we thought we'd share a few of our very favorite ideas to help you get exploring without having to bust out your wallet!
Please note: As of publishing, the below attractions are all completely free to visit; however, you may require to pay for parking at some locations depending on when you visit. These locations will be noted accordingly. Some attractions may also require advanced reservations and many have donation boxes available near the entrance. If you are able, tipping a little bit goes a long way to help keep these attractions open to all!
We often describe Randyland as the most colorful place in Pittsburgh, and it doesn't take long after arriving to realize why that is. This art installation in the North Side features renovated houses whose exteriors are painted top-to-bottom in some of the most vibrant colors you'll see.
The houses here (enjoyed outside only) are connected via a central courtyard that is full of tchotchkes, knick-knacks, and other equally vibrant pieces of art that change regularly, giving you something new to see every visit. Visitors will likely spend 15-60 minutes here or more depending on how many corners of the property you dive into and if you are able to talk to Randy when visiting!
Randyland is located at 1501 Arch Street in the North Side, but note that the open entrance is typically on Jacksonia. Hours can be variable here, but the exterior of the property is beautiful even if the courtyard is closed. A donation box is found on-site.
Find a New Skyline View
It would be easy for us to simply tell you to head up to Grandview Avenue on Mount Washington to go check out the views of Pittsburgh's skyline. The street is certainly worthy of its name and offers some of the finest views of the city you can ask for.
But did you know there are well over two dozen other great spots to check out the skyline in the city? From the West End Overlook to Fineview, South Side Slopes, and many more neighborhoods you can get a great view of Pittsburgh for free (our full list is available at the previous link). So go out on a quest to hit a new one, or make a day of it and hit as many as you can for some seriously amazing views of the city!
Parking for some overlooks may require a meter during operating hours or finding a side street for free parking (often limited duration for non-permit holders).
Go on a Gallery Crawl
While some of the most famous Pittsburgh museums charge an entry fee, many small and independent galleries do not. These can be found all over the city, sometimes have random hours, change art frequently, and sometimes even change ownership/names at intervals faster than even we can keep up with.
For those who want guaranteed access to some of the very best galleries when exploring, visiting during organized neighborhood gallery crawls is a good option. Downtown Pittsburgh's Gallery Crawl takes place once per quarter (don't miss SPACE and Wood Street Galleries managed by the Cultural Trust) and Garfield's Unblurred Gallery Crawl takes place the first Friday of the month. These are arguably two of the best art crawls in the city and feature some of the finest galleries you can ask for!
Can't attend those? Be sure to look out for the annual Art All Night festival as well as it is truly one of the best ways to check out a large amount of art in a single location.
Other galleries we love include Redfishbowl in Lawrenceville, Gallery Closed in Troy Hill (two rotating art pieces viewed from outside only), and The Mr. Roboto Project in Garfield to name a few. Many Pittsburgh neighborhoods have metered street parking during conventional hours, and downtown Pittsburgh offers numerous paid garages. Side streets and off-hours may offer some limited free parking opportunities.
Pittsburgh Banjo Club
When it comes to unique Pittsburgh experiences, the Pittsburgh Banjo Club's practice night is one of the very best. For over 30 years, the Pittsburgh Banjo Club has been delighting residents with their music at events around the city, and their practice nights at the Elks Lodge in the North Side are free to attend every Wednesday from 8 pm to 11 pm.
Be sure to arrive to this one early as tables fill up fast for this incredibly popular practice night. For those who are looking for more music on Wednesdays, be on the lookout for seasonal live music at Allegheny City Brewing nearby too (often a bit earlier in the evening than Banjo Night, making for a great one-two stop). Sadly, while the music is free snacks and brews are extra!
The Elks Lodge is located at 400 Cedar Avenue in the North Side.
Looking for another colorful attraction in Pittsburgh's North Side? Bicycle Heaven is a must-visit just a mile or so drive from Randyland. This bike store and museum hybrid boasts the largest collection of bikes in the world and features rare and historical bikes, bikes used in movies, and so much more!
Visitors should be aware that Bicycle Heaven has two floors and arguably the best rooms are upstairs- so do not miss it when visiting. The neon sprocket room is a personal favorite of ours!
Bicycle Heaven is located at 1800 Preble Avenue in the North Side and has its own dedicated parking lot. It is also reached from the North Shore River Trail. A donation box is found on-site.
Hike or Bike at a Local Park
Wanting something that is free to do, outdoors, and great on a day with beautiful weather? You can't go wrong exploring a Pittsburgh park. Within roughly 90 minutes of downtown Pittsburgh there are 75+ state parks, county parks, city parks, green spaces, conservation areas, rail trails, and so much more- all free to visit.
In fact, the only real green space with a fee worth noting is the Pittsburgh Botanic Gardens, and apart from that, you can explore to your heart's content!
In need of some recommendations to get started? We love Frick Park for hiking in the city limits, Fall Run Park for its ~25-foot waterfall near the city, the Ghost Town Trail for a long bike ride, Moraine State Park for its gorgeous lake, McConnells Mille State Park for the mill and covered bridge (plus more waterfalls), Raccoon Creek State Park for its spring wildflower reserve, and fall colors at Laurel Hill State Park in the Laurel Highlands.
While parks are generally free to visit, note that you may have toll roads heading to some, like in the Laurel Highlands. These can be avoided in your GPS but may take significantly longer to reach pending where you are driving from.
Kelso Museum at the Pittsburgh Seminary
This small museum has two main exhibits. The first focuses on the seminary's archaeological digs in the Holy Land and the second is a robust exhibit about the history of written text. These make for a great duo that can be explored in just under an hour when in East Liberty!
The Kelso Museum of Near Eastern Archaeology is located on the bottom floor of Long Hall at the Pittsburgh Seminary on 616 N Highland Avenue. Note that appointments may be necessary to visit depending on the day.
Tour the Observatory (Seasonal)
The Allegheny Observatory has been a staple in Riverview Park since its construction in 1861. Today, the facility is maintained by the University of Pittsburgh and features seasonal, free tours on Thursdays and Fridays (variable by month). If you get lucky and arrive on a night where the skies are clear, you may be able to take a glimpse at some amazing celestial objects as well!
In addition to seasonal tours, the observatory offers a public lecture series as well- but note these also require reservations.
The Allegheny Observatory is located at 159 Riverview Avenue in Riverview Park.
Music and Movies in the Parks (Seasonal)
Looking for more things to do in our area parks that isn't hiking or taking in the observatory? Pittsburgh and Allegheny County parks have a robust entertainment program in the summer months that include things from live music to movie screenings!
At the above-mentioned Riverview Park, for example, Saturday nights in the summer months include live jazz (aptly named Stars at Riverview Jazz) followed up by a movie screening by Cinema in the Park (which can be found at numerous city parks on different nights of the week). Mellon Park features Bach, Beethoven, and Brunch on Sundays in the summer. Hartwood Acres also has a pretty robust live music calendar as well.
Suffice it to say, there is no shortage of great entertainment at our area parks in the summer months, all for free!
Take a Walking Tour of the City
One of the best ways to get to know downtown Pittsburgh is simply to explore it on foot! For those who like DIY exploration, we recommend checking out our five-mile Pittsburgh walking tour itinerary that will take you to 17 unique highlights. Or for those who want something a bit more formal, Free Pittsburgh Walking Tours offers free tours of the city with a pay-what-you-can tip option at the end (while technically “free”, we really do recommend tipping generously if you can).
So if you have a day of good weather and you want to go explore, simply take a beautiful walk around downtown!
- Note: Our walking tour itinerary involves taking both inclines which do charge. The itinerary has an option to avoid the Inclines which will make the route completely free apart from possible parking charges. For those who want to take a walking tour around downtown without paying to park, meters typically end at 6 pm on weeknights, are free on Sundays (some limitations on game days around PNC Park), and there is limited free trail parking on River Avenue in the North Side near Heinz Lofts as well.
What is your favorite free thing to do in Pittsburgh? Comment below to share!