Free Things to Do with Kids in Metro Detroit

The best things in life are free — just visit one of these no-cost attractions to see for yourself.

There’s no shortage of fun things for families to do in metro Detroit. From visiting museums to attending a sporting event or dining at delicious eateries, it’s easy to plan an exciting day out with the family — but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy on your wallet. 

These fun destinations and activities are either completely free or have no admission fee, which makes them ideal for day trippin’ on a budget or saving a few bucks so you can enjoy a paid activity later on in the day. 

Pair one of these ideas with a free event from our calendar. Your wallet will thank you! (We can’t promise that your kids will, though). 

Macomb County 

Stony Creek Metropark Nature Center

Photo credit: Huron-Clinton Metroparks

The educational nature center is tucked on the edge of a 4,461-acre park with Stony Creek Lake at its center. Before you hit the trails, make a stop at the Nature Center to learn about the wildlife, conservation and history of the park in fun ways that kids can understand. 

Walter & Mary Burke Park

This downtown waterfront park offers a boardwalk, benches, picnic facilities and pavilions, all with views of Anchor Bay. After an afternoon of swimming, racing around the playground or playing volleyball or tetherball, kids will love relaxing on the dock and taking in views of the water. There are designated areas for fishing, too! 

Oakland County

Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum

Neon signs, movie posters and model airplanes cover the walls and ceiling at Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum. The museum is filled with oddities, unusual nostalgia and, of course, vintage coin-operated arcade machines (and new video games, too!) You’ll need some coins to play the games, but admission is always free, and a walk around this unusual place is half of the fun. 

Red Oaks Nature Center

Photo credit: Oakland County Parks

No trip to Friendship Woods would be complete without a visit to the Red Oaks Nature Center. Year-round programming includes guided hikes, and the center has live native animals, educational displays, nature presentations and more. 

Stage Nature Center

Hike four unique trails, dig for Mastodons in The Kids Activity Area and visit The Exhibit Hall to see live reptiles and amphibians. There’s even a library with field and wilderness guides. 

Washtenaw County

Border to Border Trail

  • Address: Trailheads in Ann Arbor, Chelsea and Dexter 

Get active on this paved trail that has six corridors and multiple access points in Washtenaw County. The B2B Trail follows the Huron River, meaning it has some great water views. Plus, it cuts through Ann Arbor where there are many other free destinations for families! 

Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Photo credit: Sarah Mullersman/Kelsey Museum

This free archaeology museum at the University of Michigan is home to more than 100,000 artifacts dating from prehistoric to medieval times. Kelsey’s permanent collection includes mummy coffins from ancient Egypt, magical amulets from the ancient Middle East and Greek and Roman pottery, sculptures and glass. 

Leslie Science & Nature Center

Photo credit: LSNC

Trails, raptor enclosure and a critter house — oh my! At the Leslie Science and Nature Center, families can walk through Black Pond Woods, play at the imaginative Nature Playscape and more.

Matthaei Botanical Gardens

Photo credit: Joe Mooney

Visit the Great Lakes Garden or Perennial Garden and learn about Michigan’s ecosystems. Play at the Gaffield Children’s Garden, a natural play space with a builder’s garden, picnic plaza, sensory garden and more fun surprises, including a fairy and troll knoll! 

Nichols Arboretum

Photo credit: Scott Soderberg

Take time to smell the roses (and peonies, blooming shrubs and more!) with a free visit to the University of Michigan Nichols Arboretum. Elevate your garden stroll by walking one of the arboretum’s landscaped trails. Bonus: The Arb is just a few miles from Matthaei Botanical Gardens. The only thing better than a free family activity is two free activities, right? 

Nickel’s Arcade

Luckily, window shopping is free! This historic mall features beautiful architecture, local shops and coffee. A quintessential Ann Arbor destination. 

Search for Urban Fairies

  • Address: Around Ann Arbor

All around Ann Arbor exist tiny doors that allow us to peek into a magical fairy world. Use this map to begin your quest as your search for glimpses into fairy castles, libraries, fields and more. 

University of Michigan

Your kids don’t have to be prepping for college entrance exams to enjoy visiting the campus of this Big Ten school. The lively campus includes many beautiful, historic buildings, water fixtures and statues. Switch up your usual walk and take in some new academic sights — for free! 

University of Michigan Museum of Art

The Museum of Art at the University of Michigan features unique, rotating exhibits in a bright space. Check to see which current exhibits are at the museum before you head out. 

Wayne County

Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory 

Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory on Belle Isle

The indoor gardens at the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory are closed for renovations through 2024, but we couldn’t skip adding this beautiful gem to the list. Check back next year to find out how you can visit for free. 

Belle Isle Aquarium

aquariums-in-michigan-and-ohio
Photo credit: iStock

Visit the oldest aquarium in the country for free! Explore the waters of the Great Lakes all the way to the shores of Africa and South America. 

Belle Isle Nature Center

Free + education + nature = Belle Isle Nature Center. Observe honeybees, reptiles and amphibians, and learn about conservation on the beautiful Belle Isle.

Belle Isle State Park

Belle Isle has some of the best free activities in Detroit — have you caught on yet? Although accessing the island requires a recreation pass, many of its major attractions are completely free. Explore gorgeous gardens, watch boats and waves, and discover the natural beauty of this state park. 

Dabls Mbad African Bead Museum

Photo credit: Mbad

The Dabls Mbad African Bead Museum has 18 outdoor installations and three indoor ones, all covered in African beads and all free of charge. View symbolic art and sculptures made from African materials and browse handmade beads at this uniquely Detroit attraction. 

Detroit Institute of Arts Museum

This massive art museum with more than 100 galleries is free to residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. 

Detroit Riverfront

There is so much to see and do on the Detroit Riverfront — and it’s all free! Take in sights of Canada and the Detroit River; explore waterfront parks with colorful playscapes; indulge in a moment of quiet relaxation at an outdoor, landscaped Garden Room; take in the energy at the riverfront Hart Plaza and so much more. 

The Dequindre Cut Greenway

Urban transit meets greenway at the Dequindre Cut. Formerly a Grand Trunk Railroad Line, this two-mile path offers paths for cyclists and pedestrians who want to take in the city from a unique, nature-focused perspective. 

Eastern Market

Historic Eastern Market in Detroit

The hustle and bustle of any outdoor market is exciting. Eastern Market is a non-profit public market committed to making healthy food accessible to metro Detroit. Enjoy people watching and browsing the vendors on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. 

Fair Lane: Home of Clara and Henry Ford

Visit the former home of Henry Ford — yes, that Henry Ford — and his wife, Clara, completely free. Your kids will finally understand why the man’s name practically covers Detroit. 

Fisher Building

Located in the heart of the city, this historic landmark known as the “Golden Tower” is arguably the most recognizable in Detroit’s skyline. The interior of the building is a work of art in itself, and it’s totally free to stop by and take a peek inside. 

The Heidelberg Project 

An image of one of the houses in the Heidelberg Project
Photo credit: The Heidelberg Project

Instantly recognizable by its iconic polka dots, the house at The Heidelberg Project attracts artists and curiosity seekers from all over. The outdoor, non-profit art space never charges an admission fee to see its funky installations and thought-provoking art. 

Mt. Elliot Park 

Kids playing on the schooner-themed splash park in Detroit
Photo credit: Detroit Riverfront Conservancy

There are quite a few splash parks in metro Detroit, but can you name another free splash park that’s on the riverfront? Kids will love cooling off with pirate ship-themed water structures, like “kid-activated” water cannons. Take the Detroit Riverwalk further north to reach Gabriel Richard Park.

Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

If the thought of a historic art museum alone makes your eyelids heavy, consider switching it up by viewing art made by interesting contemporary artists. Admission fees operate on a sliding scale or “pay what you can” system, and kids under 12 are always free. 

William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor

Thirty-one acres of (free) green oasis await you at Milliken State Park, Detroit’s first urban state park. Enjoy shoreline fishing platforms, a water conservation wetlands area, views of boats in the harbor and even a replica lighthouse.


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Nikki Roberts
Nikki Roberts
Nikki Roberts is the assistant editor on the Metro Parent team. She is always on the lookout for the coolest and trendiest new attractions, restaurants and events for metro Detroit families. Her newsletters, online family guides and exciting digital content keep families informed on all the latest happenings around town.

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