Free & 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 you decide to do, we hope it is full of fun! 

Free & Cheap Summer Activities in Columbus

Animals & Nature

  • Battelle Darby Creek:: See the bison roaming, take a nature walk and then head indoors to the state of the art Nature Center. (Hours for June-August are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.)  ** 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) * A $3 donation per person or $6 per family is suggested.
  • 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!  Bring your camera!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.
  • 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.
  • 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 $3.00 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 that just opened!Franklin Park Conservatory

Wet Fun

Outdoor Activities

  • Commons for Kids every Friday until August 10 (with the exception of July 6) from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.  You’ll find a carousel, bounce houses, giant chess board and special features each week such as the Columbus Zoo animals, balloon artist and music. 
  • Disc Golf:: Find a list of free courses in the area.
  • Farmers’ Markets:: There is a Farmers’ Market in Columbus for every day of the week!  Many of them have live music and other free activities.  Here’s a complete list: Farmers’ Markets in Columbus
  • Fishing:: Lots of options, but here are a few- Hoover Reservoir and many Metroparks
  • Feed the ducks:: Creekside in Gahanna is perfect for this and there are swans too!  (For a fee, you can rent paddleboats.) farmers market
  • Playgrounds:: Venture to a new playground! Here’s a list of 10 Great Playgrounds in Columbus. You may also want to check out Parks that Spark Imagination
  • Strawberry Picking:: Head to a local Columbus area farm.
  • Sculpture Spotting:: Explore different areas of Columbus and see unique sculptures such as: World’s Largest Gavel outside the Justice Building downtown, Arnold Schwarzenegger statue, Deer on a Bridge by COSI, Field of Ceramic Corn in Dublin, Dancing Bunnies in Dublin (Ballantrae)- look for different items imprinted into the sculptures, Leatherlips in Dublin and then stay to play at Scioto Park and the Rusty Steel Horses in The Farms apartment complex.  As the name implies, these horses are rusty, so admire from a distance and don’t touch.  All of these sculptures make interesting pictures, so be sure to bring your camera!
  • Columbus Clippers:: On Wednesdays, kids 12 and under eat free with a paid admission to the Columbus Clippers home games to remember the Columbus Jets.
  • Hilliard Ohio Historical Society:: Unless you have a scheduled tour, the buildings will be closed but you can walk around the grounds and see a one-room schoolhouse, log cabin, church, barn, caboose and covered bridge.  There are metal stands outside of the buildings with QR codes that will give you some historical information.

Concerts, Movies and Festivals

Can you believe we have another list jam-packed with FREE concerts, outdoor movies and festivals?  You won’t want to miss this list because it is filled with fun!summer-events-in-columbus-ohio

  • Outdoor Movies:: Many of these movies begin at dusk. Bring your blankets and bug spray and get ready for the fun. At some of them, there will be other special treats like concerts, face painting, and food trucks.  
  • Concerts:: There are tons of free concerts happening around Cbus this summer!  
  • Festivals:: From the Columbus Arts Festival to the Summer Jam, you are bound to find a fun event you’ll enjoy.  

Indoor Activities

  • Bowl for Free:: Sign your kids up for 2 free games of bowling each day until August 31 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.
  • Cinemark Summer Movie Clubhouse:: Watch movies like Paddington, Storks, The Emoji Movie and more. $1 per show or $5 for 10 shows.
  • Kids Dream Summer Film Series:: Enjoy $3 movies for select showings at Crosswoods Cinema.
  • Book to Film at Gateway Film Center:: Each week this summer a movie inspired by a book will be shown at Gateway. Free admission to the 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. show times when you present any library card (up to 4 admissions). Lots of great movies are in the lineup! Begins May 25- August 23. 
  • Super Tuesdays at Gateway Film Center:: $5 movies and free popcorn all day!
  • Recreations Outlet:: Enjoy the trampolines, basketball hoops and climbing equipment on the Charitable Days; Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 9 a.m. – 11 a.m. $2 donation per family for up to 3 kids and $1 for each additional child.
  • Irish Fairy Doors of Dublin:: Download a trail map and walk along the path to discover 7 fairy doors hidden in various businesses in Historic Dublin.  The fairy doors are inside the shops, but it will require walking outside to each location. If you find all 7 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.
  • Goldfish Swim School during weekday family swim times. (Free for Goldfish members and for non-members it is $5 per person with a maximum fee of $15 per family.)  Read more about why We love Goldfish Swim School!
  • 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)
  • Graeters on Bethel Road:: Indoor play area (remember socks) and you can see part of the production facility.
  • Orton Geological Museum:: Explore rocks, minerals, and fossils at this building on OSU campus.  (Open to the public Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
  • OSU Airport Observation Tower:: View flight activity and listen to the sounds of Airport Control Tower over the radio.  Open daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.  While you are there, grab breakfast or lunch at Jack & Benny’s Barnstormer Diner (Mon-Fri 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. & Sat-Sun 8 a.m. – 3 p.m.)
  • 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)
  • Piccadilly:: Summer Happy Hours- $5 per child from 2-5 p.m. on select weekdays
  • Skate Zone 71:: Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:00-8:30 p.m. admission is $1 (plus skate fee).  This special pricing begins on May 30th.
  • 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.

Factory Tours

  • Anthony Thomas Chocolates Factory Tour:: From June-August, tours are available on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. Children under 2 are free. Ages 3 to 18 are $1.00 per person. Ages 19 and over are $2.00 per person. Admission fee may be used towards a purchase.
  • Al’s Delicious Popcorn:: 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
  • 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 and exclude major holidays. 

Artistic Fun

  • Home Depot Kids Workshop:: This is such a cute program.  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)HomeDepotKids
  • Camp Creativity at Michael’s:: Make a themed craft *$5 per session or $12 for 3 sessions  (Runs June 11-July 27 from 10 am to noon.)
  • Lakeshore Learning Store:: Free Crafts for Kids program every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Columbus Museum of Art:: Every Sunday is free admission.  There are hands-on and learning activities scattered throughout the library.  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 (operated by Cameron Mitchell Premier Events)

Reading Activities


  • Apple Camp::  Kids 8-12 can register for a 3-day workshop at Apple stores.

Fitness Classes

Mall Activities

  • Tangerkids DIY:: Every other Sunday through August 12 children can participate in various DIY activities.
  • Easton:: Model train (near Brio), Splash Pad (near Brio), Trolley car that runs, head to the Lego Store to build
  • Play Areas::


  • Free Food Days: July 10- free meal from Chick-Fil-A if you come dressed as a cow and July 11- Slurpee from 7-11.
  • With a Columbus Zoo Membership, you can get a Buy One, Get One FREE admission to select Columbus attractions through December 31, 2018.  Just show your valid Columbus Zoo Membership card before purchasing tickets at the admission area, no special coupon is needed.  Read more about the program here: Columbus Member Advantage
    • Buy One, Get One Free with Columbus Zoo Membership:: Columbus Museum of Art, COSI, Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Kings Art Complex, Ohio History Center & Ohio Village and Wexner Center for the Arts.

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 animals.Dayton Air Force Museum
  • Hocking Hills:: Beautiful state park with walking trails, waterfalls and caves.
  • 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!!  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. The Farm and Homestead Museum are open daily May 1-October 31, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 
  • Zoo Reciprocity:: With a Columbus Zoo membership, you can take advantage of discounted or FREE admission to the AZA accredited zoos in Ohio and across the country.  Read more about the reciprocity details here: Zoo Reciprocity. Toledo Zoo is awesome and has hippos!!
  • Science Center Reciprocity:: If you have a COSI membership or another ASTC membership, you can take advantage of FREE admission to many other science centers.  Read more about the reciprocity details here: ASTC Travel Passport Program

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

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One Response to Free & Cheap Summer Activities in Columbus

  1. Kelly Davis-Orr June 4, 2018 at 5:22 pm #

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

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