Free Things to do in Central Arkansas
It seems like everything is getting more expensive these days. The good news is there are plenty of places in Arkansas that are free to visit.
The River Market District
The River Market District is a popular place in Little Rock and there are many free options to check out among the restaurants, coffee shops, stores and museums that call this district home.
In the heart of the River Market District is Ottenheimer Market Hall where you can access Riverfront Park. The park features a large amphitheater, a popular outdoor concert venue for the city. It is also a great place to take a walk and has many free attractions within walking distance, including Petit Roche Plaza, where you can find the "little rock" the city is named after. The Junction Bridge Pedestrian Walkway, which connects both sides of the river and the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock, is in this area. Nearby is a delightful free destination: the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden, where you can encounter many inspiring outdoor sculptures.
The Witt Stephens Jr. Nature Center, which is run by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and located at 602 President Clinton Ave., is located in the River Market District and is free to visit. Inside are displays and exhibits that teach about the wildlife and natural resources of the state. The Arkansas River Trail runs by the center so you can walk or bike here and take in the view of the Arkansas River.
Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts
The Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, formerly known as the Arkansas Arts Center, has reopened. This architectural beacon is located at 501 E. Ninth St. and is free to visit. Work on the museum first began in 2016 and a redesign and expansion has transformed the building and grounds.
Along with the art offerings, new landscaped grounds surround the museum at MacArthur Park, Little Rock’s oldest municipal park. This park is home to the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, which is free to visit.
You can read more about the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts in this article.
Arkansas has a deep well of history and heritage and many museums that preserve this history are free to visit. The Historic Arkansas Museum is located in the block between Scott and Cumberland off E. Third Street. The grounds include a restored half-block of the original city of Little Rock. They also have some of the oldest buildings in the state still standing on their original sites. This includes the 1827 Hinderliter Grog Shop, which is the oldest building in Little Rock. The museum also has many galleries with permanent exhibits including an Arkansas Made gallery, knife gallery, Native American gallery and more. Admission and parking are free; there is a small fee for tours of the grounds. To learn more about the museum grounds, check out this interactive map: arkansasheritage.com/historic-arkansas-museum/about/interactive-map.
The Old State House Museum, which is located nearby at 300 W. Markham, is a place to learn about Arkansas history from statehood up to the present times. Built in 1836, the Old State House was the state's original capitol until 1911. Admission to the museum is free. For more information, visit OldStateHouse.com.
The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, at 501 W. Ninth St., is located in the middle of what was once an African American business district for the city: West Ninth Street. The center's mission is to preserve, interpret and celebrate African American culture and history in Arkansas. It is free and open to the public.
Arkansas State Parks
Arkansas has 52 state parks and each has its own reason to visit. Central Arkansas is home to a landmark park: Petit Jean State Park, which was Arkansas’ first state park. Visit arkansasstateparks.com for a rundown of all the parks you can find in Central Arkansas and across the state. All state parks are free to enter. If you visit them, please make sure to keep in mind that Leave No Trace principles are appreciated. We all have a role in helping keep The Natural State natural.
Visit a National Historic Landmark
Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site is a U.S. civil rights landmark that is also a National Historic Landmark. This site is still a working school and is the only operating high school in the nation to be designated a National Historic Site. Free guided tours are given by the National Park Service. More details can be found here.
The Old Mill
The Old Mill in North Little Rock, featured in the opening scenes of the classic movie "Gone With the Wind," is free to visit. You can read more about it in this article.
Historic Roundtop Filling Station
The architecture of the Roundtop Filling Station in Sherwood is an interesting free sight to see. It was built in the 1930s for the Pierce Oil Company and is located along the original U.S. Highway 67/167. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and is now used as a substation for the local police.