The saying goes: There is no such thing as a free lunch (unless you hit your local warehouse club and treat yourself to the samples). While there may not be a free lunch, there are still plenty of free, fun things to do in and around Pittsburgh.
The Allegheny County Parks
The county parks are a treasure trove of free fun. Throughout the warmer months, the county offers numerous and varied events that are free to the public. On Sundays at Boyce Park, you can tour the Carpenter Log House. Deer Lakes Park is home to the Wagman Observatory. And throughout the year, the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh hosts Star Parties, when the public is invited to take in the beauty and majesty of the night sky. Many of the astronomers there are happy to let you take a peak through their telescopes and share their knowledge of the heavens. Harrison Hills Park hosts movies as do many of the other parks. Also during the summer months, Hartwood Acres and South Park feature concerts with local talent to nationally renowned acts, and the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra usually take their talents outdoors in free performances there each summer. While the county pools charge an admission fee, the Spray Parks at Deer Lakes and Round Hill Parks are free and are a great way to cool off during sweltering summer days. The tennis courts in the parks are free for public use. The county conducts free traveling sports clinics throughout the summer in economically depressed and low/moderate income areas for kids ages 6 and up. When the weather turns wintry, free ice skating lessons are offered at North and South Parks for ages 5 and up. Each year, The Allegheny County Marbles Program is offered to children 14 and under. The free program is conducted at various locations throughout the county and the best mibsters go on to compete at the annual Allegheny County Marbles Tournament. Allegheny County boasts numerous champions who have emerged from this program. At various locations throughout the parks systems, Nature Centers conduct free programs as well.
In addition to the parks, there is plenty of free fun to be had. Venture Outdoors holds its Venture Outdoors Festival each May where enthusiasts can try their hand at kayaking, biking, rock wall climbing, and fishing, all for free. They also have Geocaching!
The Biblical Botanical Garden
You don’t have to be an aspiring athlete to enjoy the outdoors. The Biblical Botanical Garden at Rodef Shalom Synagogue on Fifth Avenue in the city is the largest biblical botanical garden in North America. There, you can stroll through this bucolic paradise which features plants that are mentioned in the Bible. The garden is open from June 1st to the middle of September, and no admission is charged.
Museum Free Days
The Smithsonian Museums in Washington, D.C., are free every day, but on one day a year, other museums across the country join with the Smithsonian to offer free admission passes to two people per household on Smithsonian Museum Day Live. This year, the free day is September 29, and the participating museums in the area are the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History in Oakland, Photo Antiquities on the North Side, Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District, Westmoreland Museum of Art in Greensburg, and Compass Inn Museum in Laughlintown.
Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall
Soldiers & Sailors in Oakland is the nation’s only military museum dedicated to the men and women who have served in all branches of the service. Free admission is offered to military members serving on active duty, in the Guard and Reserve, and to those veterans who have served and retired military. Free admission is offered to families and their guests if the family has an immediate family member serving in a current conflict.
To be an art maven in Pittsburgh, you don’t need to have deep pockets. Four times throughout the year, The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust showcases incredible art and entertainment with its quarterly Gallery Crawl in The Cultural District. Throughout various venues and galleries, you can take in art, music, dance, architecture, and film from 5:30-9:00 p.m. It is free and patrons can join the crawl at any location.
The city also hosts various free programs. Citiparks Roving Art Cart visits neighborhood parks and playgrounds throughout the summer with different activities, all of which are free. Flagstaff Hill is the site for Cinema in the Park, which shows current movies suitable for family viewing on Wednesday nights. Before the show, take in the Wednesday Night Concert Series, which is also free.
The Nationality Rooms
These one-of-a-kind classrooms at the Cathedral of Learning on the campus of The University of Pittsburgh are a local treasure. The 29 rooms depict the various ethnic groups that call Pittsburgh home. Unguided tours of the classrooms are free.
The Allegheny Observatory
This observatory in Riverview Park is also owned and operated by The University of Pittsburgh. Tours of the building are offered April through October and culminate with a look through the 13” Fitz-Clark refractor. The tours are free, but require a reservation.
In addition to the numerouse free events from The Three Rivers Regatta to the Three Rivers Arts Festival to the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix that the area hosts throughout the year, Hay Days at Hartwood Acres and South Park are a great way to close out the summer. There are pony rides, games, face-painting, a veritable haywagon load of free, fun activities.