50 Free Walking Tours Across America
Lace up those sneakers! Locals and tourists alike can learn much about a place by pounding the pavement. Free walking tours offer an up-close way to experience a new city and sometimes a new perspective on a town you've long called home. We've taken a cross-country approach, spotlighting a variety of free tours that touch on history, architecture, music, sports, recreation, and more. Bring a camera and remember, although no payment is required, tips are always appreciated.
Walk back in time on the Freedom Trail in the heart of Boston. Follow the red-lined, 2.5-mile route past 16 historically significant sites including burial grounds, museums, churches, and meeting houses key to the American Revolution. As they like to say, "Every step tells a story."
Delve into a violent side of the Big Apple with the New York Mafia Tour exploring the 20th century's "Five Families of New York." The Free Tours by Foot itinerary includes social clubs to scenes of hits (we're not talking Billboard charts here), tracing organized crime's history from Little Italy to the East Village and into Midtown.
Walk of the Town's free tours of Washington are varied, from the popular "Monumental sTOURies" trek, which takes in many historical sites (including the White House, Lincoln Memorial, and Washington Monument) to the seasonal Waterfront Walk along the Tidal Basin. Expect to spend about four hours learning about the nation's capital.
Add a touch of vintage Hollywood glamour to a trip to Los Angeles with a free two-hour, 2-mile morning walking tour that takes you back in time along Hollywood Boulevard. See where Charlie Chaplin's children went to school, the Capitol Records Building, and Grauman's Chinese Theatre.
Related: The Best of California on a Budget
Explore the great outdoors -- and plenty of local flora and fauna -- with free, guided walking tours offered by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. These nature walks from the Naples-based organization are given at locations in Naples and Marco Island. Depending on location, visitors may see rare birds, snakes, alligators, otters, and tortoises.
Pike Place Market has been called the "ever-changing soul of Seattle." It's not only rich in history but also filled with all kinds of culinary delights (and quite a few characters). Seattle Free Walking Tours -- a pay-what-you-feel operation -- offers a tour that touches on everything from the market's hidden secrets to its noted fish throwers.
San Francisco City Guides, a nonprofit and primarily volunteer operation, has more than 200 active guides who lead free walks that last 90 minutes to two hours. Combining landmarks and off-the-beaten-path sites, these popular walks range from "Golden Gate Bridge" to "Haight-Ashbury" and "1850s San Francisco: Paris of the Pacific."
Free Tours by Foot's New Orleans Voodoo Tour puts a spotlight on the Big Easy's spirited subculture. Mystery, secrecy, and more surround Louisiana's voodoo connections, from its roots in West Africa all the way to the modern-day French Quarter. Superstitions, rituals, and cemeteries are explored on this guided mile-long, 90-minute excursion.
The Global Greeter Network features locals sharing inside knowledge of their home cities across the world. If you're headed to Texas, you can tap into the Houston Greeters organization, which offers tours (advance registration required) on topics ranging from arts and culture to local foods, parks, and the outdoors. It's a custom experience without a custom price tag.
Vermont.org invites visitors to experience Burlington by walking. A handy guide and map list places easily accessible from the Church Street Marketplace, the heart of the downtown. From the University of Vermont to galleries and unique eateries, the options are plentiful -- and the pace your own.
The Newport Cliff Walk is known far outside Rhode Island as one of the nation's most scenic free, self-guided walking tours, where natural beauty vies with glimpses of man-made Gilded Age glories. This National Recreation Trail within a National Historic District is a 3.5-mile walk that requires caution, as a portion does cross a rough shoreline.
Many visitors to Mount Rushmore National Memorial ogle those oversize presidential faces and hop back in the car. Spend a bit more time at the South Dakota site and experience the 0.6-mile Presidential Trail (note: there are more than 400 stairs) to get an up-close experience -- and maybe even see some local wildlife.
Central Park Conservancy offers a number of tours of New York City's landmark oasis -- and the Heart of the Park is a free, east-to-west tour visit led by Central Park Conservancy guides. This child- and senior-friendly route (just a few stairs) covers some of the park's most noted elements, from Bethesda Terrace to Bow Bridge and Strawberry Fields, in 90 minutes.
The Kansas City Public Library, with roots going back to the 1870s, has created a free, self-guided walking tour of its historic-district neighborhood. This walk through Missouri history begins at the library's architecturally unique parking facility and continues through the surrounding streets and includes stops at bank buildings, law schools, and hotels.
Visitors can see "one of the finest residential showcases in the U.S." by taking the South of Broad Self-Guided Walking Tour featured on ExploreCharleston.net. Less than 2 miles in length, this walk through South Carolina's gem offers a glimpse of historic homes, private gardens, and some lovely waterside views over Charleston Harbor.
Hiking Oahu Hawaii is dedicated to "sharing the true spirit of real Hawaiian aloha" by offering guided nature trails at no charge. (Optional pickup and drop-off service is available for $39.) Visitors can experience breathtaking natural scenery of parks and waterfalls on eco-minded treks that cover geology, archaeology, mythology, natural history, and culture. Hiking options vary by time, distance, elevation, and degree of difficulty.
Dollar Bank offers Take a Hike, five free guided walks through distinct neighborhoods of downtown Cleveland on select days May 16 through Sept. 17. Each tour lasts about 90 minutes and features actors portraying historic figures from the city's past. For those who like things easy, we're told "taking a hike" is more like taking a leisurely stroll.
Visit San Antonio offers a wealth of free, self-guided tours that invite visitors to explore the city and its surroundings. Check out the free touring maps for ideas on how to experience the vibrant downtown or the famed River Walk designed for everyone from fun-loving families to hopeless romantics and nature lovers.
Visitors can experience Redwood National and State Parks in northern California through a wide array of free ranger-led tours including junior ranger treks (short and sweet for the younger set), tidepool walks, and many other nature walks and programs. (Note: Upcoming tours and programs have yet to be scheduled.)
Get an up-close introduction to Milwaukee's Third Ward, a historic neighborhood filled with turn-of-the-century ambiance and plenty of interesting architecture to boot. A free, downloadable PDF points out the highlights. This trek some three blocks south of downtown is filled with restaurants, theaters, galleries, and shops.
Fargo, the most populous city in North Dakota, is more than just the setting for a classic yet offbeat film and TV series. Tour Fargo's historic buildings with the Fargo Underground Downtown Audio Walking Tour, a free smartphone- and tablet-friendly option, or download the free brochure "Look Around Downtown."
Baltimore's Pennsylvania Avenue Heritage Trail, the city's newest urban heritage trail, explores a historic African-American neighborhood. Visitors can learn about the city's civil rights legacy, notable residential and religious architecture, and entertainment districts. A free map is also available at the Baltimore Visitors Center at the Inner Harbor.
San Diego's famed Balboa Park features 1,200 acres to explore. Overwhelming? Yes, but easier to maneuver with free guided tours offered several days a week. Options range from ranger-led excursions touching on historical, botanical, and architectural treasures to self-guided walks outlined in free booklets at the park's visitors center.
The capital of Arkansas is filled with historic sites, shopping options, restaurants, and more. Visitors can see a lot by taking the Downtown Little Rock One-Day Walking Tour offered by the state's official tourism site. The tour includes the Old State House Museum, the River Market District, the Clinton Library, and more.
Roswell may not be the big city of Atlanta, but it's got plenty to keep visitors busy. Billed as a place with a modern spirit and Southern soul, Roswell offers a free Walking Tour Map that spotlights more than 40 sites of interest including churches, a fire museum, and the picturesque Old Mill Ruins.
Ocean City invites visitors to "Come walk all over us!" as a clever way to promote its downtown association's two walking tours. Factoids and vintage images enliven the materials, available online as a free download and at the organization's information cottage on the boardwalk.
The Detroit Experience Factory grew out of a grassroots nonprofit and is now an independent program of the Downtown Detroit Partnership, encouraging newcomers and locals to get "more connected" to the city's people, places, and projects. Its many free tours, supported by Bank of America and donations, include the "Best of Downtown," which features the Theater District, Campus Martius Park, the Second Baptist Church, and Greektown.
"Key West" suggests a slower place, so take as long as you like (an hour, maybe two) to walk the Old Island Restoration Foundation's Pelican Path Self-Guided Tour. Explore more than 50 of the Florida destination's notable buildings, from President Harry S. Truman's Little White House to the circa-1829 "oldest house in South Florida."
Related: The Best of Florida on a Budget
Lewes is a gem of a walking town where the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean meet at Cape Henlopen. Founded in 1631, Lewes' historic district is filled with museums, inns, restaurants, and shops. Visitors can check out Lewes.com's tour of the town, which features everything from historic homes to the best place for ice cream.
It's not Plymouth Rock, but Plymouth, Connecticut, is also very historical -- and eminently walkable. A self-guided walking tour of the village, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, starts at the Town Green. In about a half a mile, it winds past Revolutionary War gravestones, Underground Railroad stops, and, yes, a place where George Washington slept.
The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation encourages both visitors and locals to step back and appreciate the Pennsylvania city's rich heritage with free Friday walking tours. The season kicks off in May, and the tours highlight historic buildings, modern skyscrapers, and legacies of famous residents.
Visitors headed to Alaska can take advantage of a free, guided walking tour in Anchorage offered by Alaska.org and the Anchorage Convention & Visitors Bureau. The tour features more than 10 sites, including historic homes and a onetime ladies-only bar and café that ensured 1940s and '50s women (often excluded from men's clubs) could have their own place to tie one on.