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Jacksonville is an amazing city with pristine ocean beaches, enchanting architecture, interesting museums, and great spots along the St. Johns River.
Since Jacksonville is the most populous city in Florida, you’d be right in thinking there are a huge variety of attractions and some of them are free!
This guide focuses on the best free things to do in Jacksonville including outdoor places of interest and indoor activities as well as free festivals and winter ideas.
Free Things to do in Jacksonville
Jacksonville is one of the best places to live in Florida for its outdoor spaces which we’re going to discuss first.
Free Outdoor Things to do in Jacksonville
One of the most iconic landmarks in Jacksonville is the Friendship Fountain (1015 Museum Cir).
It is located in the Southside district, adjacent to the Museum of Science and History at St. Johns River Park.
The Friendship Fountain is one of the oldest and largest self-contained fountains.
It was built in 1963 by architect Taylor Hardwick and opened to the public in 1965.
The fountain rises to a height of 100 feet and uses a whopping 500,000 gallons of water.
The fountain is most photographed by locals and tourists at sunset.
However, you’ll want to stick around at night to see the 265 lights fountain jets dancing synchronized with music, beautifully choreographed.
It is just mesmerizing. Who needs Las Vegas, huh?
Jacksonville’s sugary white sand provides the perfect blank canvas for leaving footnotes on Neptune Beach, Atlantic Beach, Mayport Beach, and Jacksonville Beach.
Jacksonville is also referred to as “River City by the Sea” for its 22 mile beach shoreline and waterfront activities.
Atlantic Beach is one of the secluded beaches in Jacksonville, ideal for relaxing.
Neptune Beach is a pet-friendly beach and there are many hiking trails close by.
Stroll Along the Southbank Riverwalk
For a stunning reflection of the city on the St. Johns River head to Southbank Riverwalk and look out for shorebirds too.
Walkers, joggers, and cyclists make good use of the 2-mile path along the Riverwalk.
There are a handful of restaurants such as Villager Bread Café and Ruth’s Chris Steak House for a variety of tasty foods.
Adventure Ride on Baldwin Rail Trail
Baldwin Rail Trail is a 14.5-mile biking cycle route that goes through dense trees, wetlands, and uplands.
It used to be a rail line and the transformation is thanks to the state’s ‘Rails to Trails’ program which takes abandoned railroads and turns them into linear parks!
Baldwin Rail Trail begins at Imeson Road.
Along the trail, you will find water fountains, benches, and restrooms.
Camp Milton Historic Preserve
Also on the Baldwin Rail Trail, is Camp Milton Historic Preserve (1225 Halsema Rd) which has replica Civil War structures.
The camp was named in honor of John Milton, Florida’s governor during most of the Civil War.
There is also an annual costumed reenactment.
Sunshine Park and Splash Pad
An entertaining park for kids at Osceola Avenue and South Beach Parkway is Sunshine Park and Splash Pad.
The park features sandy areas, swings, a tennis court, a basketball court, and six picnic shelters.
The best part?
Children can splash in the water and play in the sand – a great way to tire wee ones out!
The playground has a separate designated area for older children too.
Cancer Survivors Park
Cancer Survivors Parks are a series of parks funded by the Bloch Foundation and there is one located in Downtown Jacksonville (101 W State St).
It is a motivational space that celebrates and recognizes the journey of cancer survivors.
The park features miniature replicas of major Jacksonville bridges such as Dames Point, Acosta Bridge, and Main Street.
Hike to Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve
The 46,000 acres of Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve is surrounded by salt marshes, hardwood hammocks, and coastal dunes.
This hike is part of history.
The paths were used by the Timucuan Indians and the roads walked by enslaved men, women, and children.
Gigantic Octopus-Like Southern Live Oak Tree
One of the best free things to do in Jacksonville is to sit below the 250 years old oak tree at Jessie Ball DuPont Park, aka Treaty Oak Park (Prudential Drive) in Southbank.
When you visit, take a second to appreciate that this is possibly the oldest living thing in the city!
Public Art in Jacksonville
In Downtown Jacksonville, you will find Untitled by Bik Ismo (115 N Davis Street) and The Dance of the Seven Sins Muses by Okuda San Miguel (927 W Forsyth Street).
Shaun Thurston is the artist behind the mural on the side of the MOSH (Museum of Science and History) building and has some work at the TIAA Bank Field (near ramp two on the main concourse) too.
Free Indoor Things to do in Jacksonville
If the sun is too strong or there is a rainy day in Jacksonville, consider the following things to do indoors!
Cummer Museum of Art
The Cummer Museum of Art (829 Riverside Av) features European and American paintings from 2100 BC to the 21st century.
It houses an eye-catching collection of more than 6000 pieces of art, artifacts, and sculptures.
The museum is surrounded by three gorgeous gardens so you want to split your time indoors and outside.
For a free visit, plan a trip on the first Saturday of the month!
Explore the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville
The Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville (Hemming Plaza ) showcases 800 pieces of modern artwork from national and regional artists.
The artwork is displayed on the first, second, and third floors of the building.
The first Wednesday of every month is free entry day.
Read at Jacksonville Public Library
Jacksonville Public Library is more than just a place to read books!
It also has a series of exhibitions and an Art Walk on the first Wednesday of the month.
Plus, events and weddings take advantage of its state-of-the-art grand rooms, garden and courtyards.
Jacksonville library is the largest in Florida.
Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum
Karpeles Manuscript Library (101 W 1st St) holds the world’s largest collection of original historical manuscripts including Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, the Bill of Rights, and Figaro by Mozart.
Karpeles Manuscript strives to promote education and is committed to offering free access to original manuscripts for learning.
It is housed in the striking former First Church of Christ the Scientist which was built in 1921.
Browse Riverside Arts Market
Rain or shine, Riverside Arts Market runs every Saturday.
This family-friendly market in Jacksonville sits just next to RAM at the Black Knight.
It is under a bridge so there’s a roof overhead and plenty of fresh air.
The market showcases artworks, paintings, handmade poetry, and sculptures.
You can also buy products like bread, cheese, and other mouth-watering fresh sacks.
Explore Jacksonville Farmers Market
Head to Downtown’s Beaver St, near Riverside Downtown, to find the cheapest market in Jacksonville, its Farmers’ Market.
Operating for more than a century, this daily market is mostly outdoors but the stalls do have covers so you can duck underneath if it’s raining!
Buy fresh products like honey, watermelon, peanuts, or baked goods and plants at affordable prices.
Cheap Things to do in Jacksonville
Some activities are worth spending a little on, here are the best affordable things to do in Jacksonville.
Jacksonville Escape Room
This 1-hour escape room adventure is sure to test your and your friends’ problem-solving skills.
During the challenge, you’ll solve clues and crack puzzles to break free from the room.
There are different themes to choose from such as heists and prison breakouts.
Amelia Island Kayak Rental on Lofton Creek
This 2-hour kayak tour to Lofton Creek is a great way to get lost in the majestic cypress trees, wildlife, and flowers around Amelia Island.
The tour is aimed at beginners so if you’ve never paddled before, don’t worry.
Amelia Island also features in our guide to the top islands to visit in December.
San Marco Theatre Summer Kids Films
San Marco Theatre (1996 San Marco Blvd) is located in one of Jacksonville’s antique halls and it is a fun place to watch kids’ movies and enjoy pizza.
The interior was designed by famous architect Roy Benjamin.
Free Events in Jacksonville
Free festivals in Jacksonville celebrate art, music, and cultural activities throughout the year.
Great Atlantic Festival
Jacksonville’s events kick off with the Great Atlantic Festival where Jax Beach is packed with vendors selling seafood and snacks
Live music takes to the stage from afternoon into the night.
World of Nations Celebration
Every year, the World of Nations Celebration features food, dance, and craft from a variety of countries.
Annually, 75,000 visitors, including 12,000 children on school field trips take part.
Springing the Blues Music Festival
If you are a fan of music, Springing the Blues Music Festival has to be on your bucket list because this is the most anticipated event for local blues artists.
The festival takes place at the massive Seawalk Pavilion in April for three consecutive days.
Free Things to do in Jacksonville in Winter
Light the Christmas Trees
Every December, the 56-foot Christmas tree is switched on for the festive period.
The energy-efficient tree features around 78,000 LED lights and 150 ornaments.
Meet Santa at St John’s Center
Meet the main guy at St John’s Center and get your photo taken with him!
Remember to tell him you’ve been a good kid…
Schooner Freedom Sail Tour of Night of Lights
If you love Christmas you might want to do the 30-minute drive to St Augustine to see the Schooner Freedom Sail Tour of Night of Lights launch.
The tour set sails in a ship covered in fairy lights!
If you’d rather be on the boat, you will need to pay for the sunset tour.
Affordable Accommodation in Jacksonville
For those on budget, check out Best Western Premier Jacksonville Hotel which is 10 minutes drive from Jacksonville city center.
The rooms are cozy and equipped with a small refrigerator and microwave.
There is also an outdoor pool.
How to Get Around Jacksonville on a Budget?
The cheapest way to explore Jacksonville is by public transport with the water taxis, buses, Skyway, and trolleys being the most affordable options.
You can also download the Beach Buggy app for the electric cart that offers free rides around the beach communities.
For self-drive road trips, the best option is to rent a car.
There are plenty of options available from the airport as per your budget.
Lastly, Uber, Lyft, and taxis operate in Jacksonville.
About the Author
Trijit Mallick from Budget Travel Buff is a software engineer and a travel blogger who has a passion for trekking and motorcycle riding. Trijit is currently based in the city of the joy of India – Kolkata and previously lived in Florida and California for five years while working there.