Best U.S. Budget Destination (2015)


These 10 U.S. cities, voted on by USA TODAY 10Best readers, help travelers stretch their travel budgets by offering loads of free or almost free things to do.

  • Savannah


    Savannah offers a host of family-friendly free activities throughout the year. Towering above Lafayette Square, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, dating back to 1799, mesmerizes visitors. The "art and soul" of the city, Savannah City Market has been a social hub since the early 1700s and offers plenty to do, while 30-acre Forsyth Park offers recreation with walking paths, playgrounds and a farmer's market. Bonaventure Cemetery, dotted with striking monuments and elaborate burial vaults, was named to the National Registry of Historic Places in 2001.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Colorado Springs

    Colorado Springs

    Colorado Springs is a dream destination for those wanting to enjoy the great outdoors on a budget. Acacia Park, Red Rock Canyon and North Cheyenne Cañon Park are outdoor options offered free of charge by Mother Nature. The Penrose Heritage Museum features artifacts and memorabilia from the area's past along with historic carriages, while the Peterson Air and Space Museum gives an overview of the Peterson Air Force Base. Garden of the Gods highlights magnificent red rock formations, while Old Colorado City, a national historic district, offers a glimpse into the past.
    Photo courtesy of

  • Baltimore


    Baltimore boasts a wide range of free family-friendly activities year-round. Edgar Allan Poe's gravesite at Westminster Hall Cemetery is always a draw, as is the Washington Monument, located in the cobbled Mount Vernon neighborhood. The 300-year-old Patterson Park, once an encampment for Union troops during the Civil War has playgrounds, an ice-skating rink and free music concerts during the summer. For a free taste of Baltimore culture, visitors can take in the collections at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Walters Art Museum, the sculpture garden outside the American Visionary Art Museum and 33 Art Center at no cost. The sprawling grounds at the Cylburn Arboretum are also free to explore.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • St. Louis

    St. Louis

    St Louis is one of the best cities for "freebies." Museums such as the Missouri History, Contemporary Art and Laumeier Sculpture Park offer free admission on varying days. Laumeier Outdoor Music Amphitheatre hosts outdoor movie screenings preceded by local bands in summertime. The St. Louis Zoo is always free and very much worth a visit. Remains of the largest prehistoric city north of Mexico can be viewed at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, while the Old Courthouse showcases the scene of the Dred Scott trial.
    Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

  • Houston


    Houston offers its share of free activities. Seafarers will enjoy the 90-minute Sam Houston Boat Tour of one of the world's busiest ports, while budding scientists can indulge in hands-on experiments at the Nature Discovery Center. The Art Car Museum showcases eclectic cars, while Discovery Green hosts everything from Pilates classes to rock concerts. Ten of the museums in the Houston Museum District, including the phenomenal Menil Collection, are always free, while the others offer free admission on Thursday afternoons. No-cost evening entertainment includes summer outdoor performances at Miller Outdoor Theatre or observing 250,000 Mexican tailed bats putting on their nightly show at Waugh Drive Bridge.
    Photo courtesy of Visit Houston

  • Washington


    It's hard to find things that aren't free in the US capital. Washington DC's impressive sights go beyond the obvious museums and monuments. The US Supreme Court offers lectures and tours on varying days as does the National Geographic Society headquarters. The Diplomatic Rooms of the Department of State are also open for prearranged guided tours, offering a glimpse into the government's official function rooms. The Smithsonian Institution offers free admission to most of its 19 museums as does the National Zoo.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Boston


    In Boston, travelers can climb to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument, explore the USS Constitution or visit Faneuil Hall Marketplace to watch street performers.  The 2.5-mile red brick Freedom Trail, takes visitors past 16 historically significant sites including the Old North Church, State House and Granary Burial Ground, where some of America's most notable citizens rest. Visitors in need of some fresh air can kick back in Boston Common – the oldest public park in the US – and play with the ducklings.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Las Vegas

    Las Vegas

    With its gambling, big name shows and post restaurants, Vegas might not immediately bring to mind budget travel, but Sin City offers a surprising variety of free activities. In fact, some of its biggest attractions come at no cost, like the impressive Bellagio Fountains and Conservatory. Other free things to check out on The Strip include the wildlife habitat at The Flamingo, the volcano at The Mirage, a free 3D movie at M&M's World and Lucky Cat at The Cosmopolitan. In other parts of town, the Fremont Street Experience, Ethel M Chocolate Factory, Marjorie Barrick Museum and the aquarium at The Silverton Hotel are also free.
    Photo courtesy of Bellagio

  • Chicago


    From free museums to concerts and festivals, Chicago offers much to do throughout the year that won't break the bank. The Lincoln Park Zoo is free (one of the few free zoos in the nation), as are its many parks and beaches, like the public art-filled Millennium Park. Admission is also free to the Navy Pier Boardwalk, where in summer, travelers can enjoy free concerts and fireworks. For museum lovers, visits to the Chicago Cultural Center, Cambodian American Heritage Museum, City Gallery at the Historic Water Tower, Hyde Park Art Center, Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, Museum of Contemporary Photography, National Museum of Mexican Art and the Oriental Institute Museum cost you nothing.
    Photo courtesy of Choose Chicago

  • Atlanta


    There's no shortage of free fun in Atlanta. The Governor's Mansion and Georgia State Capitol for instance, offer guided tours throughout the week. The Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site gives an overview of the Civil Rights movement, while the house where King was born is up the street. Oakland Cemetery is where Confederate soldiers, author Margaret Mitchell and golf legend Bobby Jones are buried. The Kennesaw National Battlefield Park is a preserved Civil War battlefield. When the weather's nice, the fountains at Centennial Olympic Park offer a perfect place to cool down.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

We asked our readers to vote daily for their favorite U.S. budget destination from a pool of 20 nominees chosen based on their variety of free activities and attractions. After four weeks of voting, the results are in!

Taking home the title of Best U.S. Budget Destination, Savannah offers plenty of free and cheap things to do, all served with a side of Southern charm.

The top 10 winners in this category are (click on each city to learn more about its free attractions):

  1. Savannah
  2. Colorado Springs, Colo.
  3. Baltimore
  4. St. Louis
  5. Houston
  6. Washington
  7. Boston
  8. Las Vegas
  9. Chicago
  10. Atlanta

Other nominees for the title of Best U.S. Budget Destination included Dallas, Honolulu, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, San Antonio and San Francisco.

A panel of experts picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Experts Kim Orlando ( and Lydia Schrandt (10Best Editor) were chosen based on their extensive knowledge of budget travel.

10Best and USA TODAY extend their congratulations to all the winners.

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Kim Orlando

Kim Orlando

Kim Orlando

Lydia Schrandt

Lydia Schrandt

Lydia Schrandt