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Top Ten Free Attractions and Things to Do in the Southeast U.S.

Budget Friendly Vacation Destinations

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The Southeast U.S. is generally a budget friendly destination with an abundance of reasonably priced accommodations and sightseeing options. Visitors can find hundreds and hundreds of interesting, fun and free things to do, including some of the region's top attractions. My top ten picks for the best of the best free attractions and free things to do in the Southeast include:

1. Free Fun at the Beach

Cape Hatteras National Seashore; Photo Credit: Courtesy of George Alexander
Cape Hatteras National Seashore; Photo Credit: Courtesy of George Alexander

With over 2500 miles of coastline stretching from Virginia to Louisiana, the Southeast U.S. is one of the top beach destinations in the world. And, with good planning, going to the beach doesn't have to cost a dime.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore on the Outer Banks has 70 miles of often uncrowded wilderness beaches and free parking. At Virginia Beach, spend the day on the beach, stroll the boardwalk and enjoy free seasonal entertainment. The Myrtle Beach Boardwalk offers a new free attraction to the lively and popular free beaches of the Grand Strand. For more beaches, see:

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2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Mount Le Conte, in Great Smoky Mountains National Park; Photo: The National Park Service
Mount Le Conte, in Great Smoky Mountains National Park; Photo Credit: The National Park Service

Tennessee and North Carolina
Welcoming eight to ten million annual visitors, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States. Located along the North Carolina and Tennessee border, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the only major national parks that does not charge an entrance fee. More about visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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3. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site

Birth Home at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site; Photo: The National Park Service
Birth Home at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site; Photo: The National Park Service

Atlanta, Georgia
Drawing visitors from the around world, this memorial complex was established to preserve the places where Dr. King was born, worked, worshiped and is buried. Several facilities, which are operated in partnership by the National Park Service, Ebenezer Baptist Church and The King Center, provide the opportunity to pay tribute to Dr. King and to explore his life's work and legacy. Admission, parking and ranger tours are free. More about visiting the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site

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4. The Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway; Photo: Courtesy of the Virginia Tourism Corporation
The beautiful and iconic Blue Ridge Parkway; Photo Credit: The Virginia Tourism Corporation

Virginia and North Carolina
The Blue Ridge Parkway traverses 469 miles along the high crests of the central and southern Appalachian Mountains, connecting Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. Designed as a recreational scenic roadway, the Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited unit of the U.S. National Park System. More about visiting the Blue Ridge Parkway

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5. Savannah's Landmark Historic District

Forsyth Park Fountain in Savannah - Photo: George Alexander
Forsyth Park Fountain in Savannah; Photo Credit: Courtesy of George Alexander

Savannah, Georgia
The Historic District of Savannah, encompassing an area of 2.5 square miles, is the largest registered urban National Historic Landmark District in the United States. While most of the historic museum homes charge admission for interior tours, visitors can explore the magnificent exterior architecture, lovely garden squares, ornate fountains and more via convenient and easy self-guided walking, bike and driving tours without spending a dime. More about visiting the Historic District of Savannah

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6. The Appalachian Trail

Wildflowers bordering the A.T. - Photo: Kathryn Case, Appalachian Trail Conservancy
Wildflowers bordering the A.T. - Photo: Kathryn Case, Appalachian Trail Conservancy

The iconic Appalachian Trail (A.T.) extends more than 2,175 miles between the southern terminus at Springer Mountain in Georgia and the northern terminus at Mount Katahdin in Maine. Touching 14 states, the A.T. is longest marked footpath in the United States.

Approximately 1010 miles of the A.T. pass through five southeastern states: Georgia - 75 miles; North Carolina - 88 miles; Tennessee - 293 miles; Virginia - 550 miles; West Virginia - 4 miles. Permits and fees are not required to walk on the trail, although some areas require camping permits. Even a relatively short hike may require a bit of planning. For essential information and planning tips, visit:

7. North Carolina Museums of Natural Sciences, Art and History

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences - Raleigh NC; Photo Credit: NC Division of Tourism / Bill
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences; Photo Credit: NC Division of Tourism / Bill Russ

Raleigh, North Carolina
Admission is free at these museums, although cover charges for special exhibits may apply.

  • NC Museum of Natural Sciences - The largest museum of its kind in the region, this museum offers four floors of exhibits. See the world's most complete Acrocanthosaurus dinosaur, the Living Conservatory and more.

  • NC Museum of Art - This premier museum features a collection of over 5,000 objects spanning 5,000 years to the present. An expansion, completed in 2010, features day-lit galleries, sculpture gardens and more. (Opens April 24, 2010)

  • NC Museum of History - History exhibits explore the state's military history, decorative arts, sports and more. Craft demonstrations, concerts and family events are scheduled regularly.

8. Arlington National Cemetery

The Tomb of the Unknowns - Photo by Kimberly Nguyen; Courtesy of Arlington National Cemetery
The Tomb of the Unknowns - Photo by Kimberly Nguyen; Courtesy of Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington, Virginia - Located within the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area in Arlington, Virginia, Arlington National Cemetery receives more than four million visitors each year. Whether paying tribute to a lost loved one or taking a journey through history, a visit to the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery is an interesting, powerful and memorable experience. There is no admission fee to visit the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. There is, however, an hourly charge to park in the Visitor Center parking area. More about visiting Arlington National Cemetery

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9. Centennial Olympic Park

Centennial Olympic Park's Fountain of Rings; Photo Credit: Georgia Department of Economic Developmen
Centennial Olympic Park's Fountain of Rings; Photo Credit: Georgia Dept of Economic Development

Atlanta, Georgia
Atlanta is the only Southern city, and one of only a handful of U.S. cities, to host the Olympic Games. Originally developed for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games held in Atlanta, Centennial Olympic Park was later redesigned for daily public use. A popular 21-acre oasis for visitors and residents alike, the Park is conveniently located in the heart of Downtown Atlanta across from the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola. More about visiting Centennial Olympic Park

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10. The World's Longest Yardsale

World's Longest Yardsale; Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Fentress County Chamber of Commerce
World's Longest Yardsale roadside vendors; Photo Credit: The Fentress County Chamber of Commerce

The World's Longest Yardsale stretches over 650 miles and has grown to become the largest event of its kind in the world, attracting hundreds of thousands of bargain hunting road trippers each August. Attending the event is free and offers great browsing opportunities, as well as some free entertainment and many regional attractions.

Granted, most visitors are tempted to purchase at least a few treasures, which, of course, are not free. However, for a unique experience with plenty of free fun along the way, the World's Longest Yardsale is a standout event. More about the World's Longest Yardsale

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