Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Grand Rapids, MI

  • Published 2022/11/10

Between Detroit and Chicago sits Grand Rapids, the seat of Kent County and the second biggest city in Michigan, Washtenaw County.

Grand Rapids is named after the picturesque Grand River, which flows through the city and is Michigan’s biggest inland river.

While it was once the country’s furniture capital, Grand Rapids is famous today because of its craft beer culture.

People have known Grand Rapids as Beer City, USA, for many years.

Whether or not you are a beer enthusiast, Grand Rapids is one of the state’s must-visit cities.

Here, you’ll enjoy exploring interesting cultural attractions, beautiful outdoor areas, and many more.

Likewise, you don’t need to spend thousands of bucks to enjoy this beautiful city.

Here are the free things to do in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Snap a Photo with a Majestic Sculpture at Calder Plaza

La Grand Vitesse at Calder Plaza

BD Images /

Head to Calder Plaza and feast your eyes on one of the most iconic symbols of Grand Rapids!

Calder Plaza is an ample, open park-like space on Monroe Avenue.

It connects all the county and city buildings that surround it.

Besides being a popular location for community events and celebrations, Calder Plaza is also the home of “La Grand Vitesse,” a sculpture by Alexander Calder.

Close view of La Grand Vitesse at Calder Plaza

BD Images /

“La Grand Vitesse” was installed in the plaza in 1969 to symbolize the city.

If you observe the city’s logo, you will recognize a splotch of red in it that looks much like the sculpture.

Strike a pose and take pictures with this grand installation at Calder Plaza.

You can also take a leisurely walk around the area, bring a snack, and sit on one of the many chairs around.

Set Foot in a Stunning Oasis at Calvin Ecosystem Preserve & Nature Gardens

Are you looking for a way to relax and escape the city?

Look no further than the breathtaking Calvin Ecosystem Preserve & Nature Gardens.

This stunning nature preserve is on East Beltline Avenue and features more than a hundred acres of pristine natural beauty, including gardens, wetlands, and forests.

The best part is that it’s free to explore this preserve.

If you love the outdoors, this is the perfect place.

Visiting this preserve is the best way to discover the different plant species native to the city and reconnect with nature.

Explore the trails in this preserve that will take you all around the gorgeous areas of the gardens.

You can also join a class or program to learn more about conserving and protecting the environment.

Bring your camera as well because you’ll want to take hundreds of pictures with the beautiful natural areas as your backdrop.

Enjoy the day at the Calvin Ecosystem Preserve & Nature Gardens.

Enter a Beautiful Prairie Home at Meyer May House

Exterior of Meyer May House

Michael Deemer /

Discover the city’s history while deepening your appreciation for architecture at Meyer May House.

Located on Madison Avenue, Meyer May House is a stunning historic home that world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed in 1908.

Built for a prominent clothing store owner in the city, this home follows Prairie-style architecture, an architectural aesthetic that Frank Lloyd Wright pioneered.

This home is a must-visit if you are a fan of Wright or an architecture enthusiast.

Facade of the Meyer May House

Michael Deemer /

Although Steelcase Inc. now manages the home, restoring some of its features, you can still appreciate the beauty of each area within the property.

Join the free tours in this home and roam around the exquisite rooms.

You can check out all the decor and original furnishings and see how life was back then in Grand Rapids.

Visit the Meyer May House to get an authentic Prairie-style experience exactly as its outstanding architect intended.

Beautiful flora at Meyer May House

Michael Deemer /

Find a Moment of Peace at Saint Francis Sculpture Garden

Take a break from the city and find a moment of peace at Saint Francis Sculpture Garden.

Situated on Fulton Street, this idyllic location features peaceful walking paths, luscious greenery, and multiple sculptures.

The sculptures in this garden depict the life and works of St. Francis of Assisi.

All visitors are welcome to visit this scenic spot and find a moment of peace from their hectic day.

This garden provides the perfect environment for a peaceful retreat and meditation.

You can roam the walking trails and inspect the statues, posed as if praying or in meditation.

Immerse yourself in the tranquility of your surroundings as you sit on one of the many benches and reflect.

You will leave inspired after you explore the Saint Francis Sculpture Garden.

Relax with Your Loved Ones at Garfield Park

Welcome sign of Garfield Park

Gpwitteveen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you want to connect and relax with your loved ones, head to Garfield Park.

Garfield Park, located on Burton Street, is the perfect place to enjoy a meal outdoors or spend some time in nature with your family and friends.

Established in 1906, this park is home to many different amenities, such as a playground, a basketball court, and a sand volleyball court.

You can also go for a stroll or jog on the walking trails within the park’s premises.

If you get hungry, there are picnic tables where you can enjoy food while surrounded by a beautiful environment.

Thanks to its easily accessible location, Garfield Park is a great spot to take some time off your busy schedule and meet up with your loved ones.

Dive into African American Culture at Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives

Learn about the colorful history and beautiful culture of African Americans in the city at Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives or GRAAMA.

The museum, based in Monroe Center, seeks to teach guests about the story and lives of African Americans in the history of Grand Rapids.

The acronym GRAAMA is inspired by the African women who became the oral conveyors of history, a role fulfilled by grandmothers nowadays.

Apart from this, the museum’s logo also came from Adinkra symbols which means “he who does not know can know from learning.”

Established in 2016, GRAAMA features numerous exhibits that display memorabilia, artifacts, and even artworks that reflect the history of African Americans.

You can also listen to recorded stories about the lives and experiences of African Americans in the past.

Check out the permanent and rotating exhibitions showcasing aspects of African American life and history at the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives.

Admire the Breathtaking Architecture of the Cathedral of Saint Andrew

Exterior of the Cathedral of Saint Andrew

DioceseGR, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Cathedral of Saint Andrew is one of the most beloved free tourist destinations in Grand Rapids.

This cathedral on Sheldon Boulevard is the Mother Church of the devoted Diocese in the city.

Aside from this, the Cathedral of Saint Andrew celebrates arts and architecture regularly.

Many people visit the church for its magnificent interior while listening to liturgical music sung by its exceptional choir.

You can roam the church and marvel at the intricate stone carvings, beautiful stained glass windows, and the public display of outstanding craftsmanship!

Before you enter the church, feast your eyes on its breathtaking Gothic Revival architectural style.

You’ll be astonished by the two towering pillars on its facade, both adorned with a cross on its tip.

Stop by this church to see genius architecture at work!

See the City from the Top of a Hill at Lookout Park

Are you looking for a different way to see the city?

Then head to Lookout Park.

Set against a backdrop of towering buildings, this park provides visitors an excellent spot to watch the city below.

Lookout Park may be a small open area, but it is perched on top of a small hill in the city.

Get a great view of Grand Rapids and its surrounding areas.

Since it faces the West, this is also the perfect spot to watch the sun go down over the city.

You can stroll around this beautiful park while enjoying the breeze and gazing at the charming city.

If you’re lucky, you might spot some deer nearby and take pictures of them.

You can even bring along your friends and break a sweat here by doing yoga exercises under the shade of the trees.

Lookout Park is a great place to check out if you want to lounge around, see the views, or keep active.

Explore a Historic Neighborhood at Heritage Hill Historic District

A building along Heritage Hill Historic District

BD Images /

Take a step back as you walk the streets and see all the beautiful historic homes in Heritage Hill Historic District.

This place is a must-visit if you are a fan of old, grand houses with exquisite architectural styles.

Individuals who fought against the city’s urban renewal plans in the 60s owned the homes in the district.

After successfully standing up for their neighborhood, the homeowners successfully preserved their gorgeous homes.

Since this was once the city’s most prestigious residential area, Heritage Hill Historic District is now home to some of the most stunning houses that date back to the 19th century.

Amberg house along Heritage Hill Historic District

Jaydec at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Here, you can go on a self-guided walking tour and check out at least 37 homes with unique architecture.

Numerous architectural styles are reflected in the homes, from Prairie and Italianate to Greek Revival and Chateauesque.

All the gorgeous properties in this area make this another great spot to take pictures!

This is also the perfect place to see how wealthy individuals in the city lived years ago.

Feast Your Eyes on the Flowers at Grand Ideas Garden

Prepare your cameras and wear your best outfits because you’ll want to take many snapshots at Grand Ideas Garden.

This small botanical garden is on Ball Avenue and features numerous captivating flowering plants, luscious greeneries, and paved walking trails that will allow you to explore the area.

You can visit this garden anytime because it is open to all visitors all year round!

Stroll along the paved walking trails and stop by each sign to read about the plants and flowers in the garden.

You can also try to find the small pond and mini waterfall within the garden’s premises as you explore this oasis.

There are also benches and tables around the garden where you can rest or unwind by gazing at the beautiful plants.

Many people visit the Grand Ideas Garden to take pictures, so prepare your camera and pose before visiting this spot!

See the Fish Swim Upstream at Fish Ladder Park

Waters of the Fish Ladder Park

Danita Delimont /

If you want to see something unique and different, head over to Fish Ladder Park, where you can watch fishes swim up concrete steps against a stream of water!

Although this may not sound appealing initially, it is quite a fascinating sight to see.

Fish Ladder Park houses a public brutalist installation in the shape of concrete steps that help migrating fish swim up the Grand River to their breeding grounds.

This fish ladder was constructed in 1974 and allows visitors of the park to watch fish swim upstream and sometimes even jump out of the water.

Fish Ladder Park is a great place to visit if you want to watch fishes and observe this unusual behavior.

You can bring your kids and let them witness fishes jump out of the water like dolphins.

You can also take a relaxing stroll through the park as you gently listen to the water from the installation splash.

Gaze up at the Stars at Calvin University Observatory

Visit Calvin University Observatory and peek through the telescopes to see the stunning stars in the sky!

Looking up at the stars has never been easier than it is here!

Get a better understanding of the night sky and see fascinating objects in space through the telescopes at the observatory.

The observatory, built in 1969, was constructed for students studying in fields relevant to astronomy.

It is at the top of the university’s Science Building and is accessible to all school guests.

You can check out this observatory for free on Wednesday nights if the weather permits!

Call ahead if you want to visit, especially if you are coming with a large group.

Treat Your Inner Bookworm at the Grand Rapids Public Library

Exterior of the Grand Rapids Public Library

BD Images /

Browse the shelves at the Grand Rapids Public Library and find something new to read!

This facility on Library Street houses an extensive collection of books, movies, and many other resources that you can use if you are a student or an avid reader.

You can find both new titles and vintage records as you explore this library’s areas.

If you prefer to read on your smartphone or tablet, you do not have to worry because this library also offers eBook downloads!

Whether you are a student writing a paper or a bookworm looking for a quiet place to read, visit the Grand Rapids Public Library!

Watch Planes at Aircraft Viewing Park

Spend an afternoon observing planes fly and land at the Aircraft Viewing Park!

Nestled on Kraft Avenue, this park is the perfect spot to go plane-watching and witness aircraft land and take off at Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

While watching planes, you can even turn your radio to a specific channel to listen to pilots and airfield operations specialists plan their landing.

There are also numerous seating areas and picnic tables in this park where you can hang out with your family and watch planes.

You can bring your kids along and let them enjoy witnessing aircraft in action.

Enjoy the planes at the Aircraft Viewing Park!

Join Free Events at Rosa Parks Circle

Statue of Rosa Parks at Rosa Parks Circle

Matthew Dicker /

Come to Rosa Parks Circle and participate in the numerous free events all year round!

This public space in downtown Grand Rapids is named after the civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

Aside from this, this area was also named one of the five Great Public Spaces in the United States.

It serves as a gathering place for people of all ages and cultures to enjoy various forms of entertainment.

Asian Pacific Festival at Rosa Parks Circle

Roberto Galan /

All year long, various events take place in Rosa Parks Circle, from farmers’ markets to holiday celebrations and art festivals!

During the winter, ice skating activities are also available at this spot.

You can check their calendar of events on the park’s website to see what’s happening during your visit.

Rosa Parks Circle is also a perfect place to take a break from shopping or sightseeing and relax in the beautiful surroundings.

A performer during the Asian Pacific Festival at Rosa Parks Circle

Roberto Galan /

Final Thoughts

There’s something for everyone in Grand Rapids.

No matter your interests, you will find activities to enjoy in this beautiful city.

Remember these free things to do in Grand Rapids, Michigan, so you can enjoy an unforgettable budget-friendly trip!

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