The rising costs of everything from gas to groceries have people looking for fun affordable ways to get out and enjoy the warm summer months. The Erie area is packed with free festivals, events, attractions and activities to help you plan your lake escape and save a few dollars. Here are the top 10 best and free things to do in Erie Pennsylvania. Pictured: Pontoon boat tours at Presque Isle.
1. Summer Festival Fun
Spend your summer taking in the sights, sounds and smells of many Erie County festivals that do not charge admission.
July 8-10: The Panegyri Greek Festival showcases the history, culture and amazing food of Greece.
July 15-17: Waterford Heritage Days is a celebration of the history, heritage and citizens of Waterford, PA.
July 23: The AmeriMasala event is a multicultural arts celebration of art, food and performances.
July 25-31: Discover Presque Isle features events and activities in honor of Presque Isle State Park.
August 3-6: Dan Rice Days commemorates the life of one of the most famous clowns in history.
August 5-7: Erie’s Blues and Jazz Fest is an eclectic mix of local, regional and national blues and jazz performances. (pictured)
August 12-14: St. Paul’s Italian Festival highlights all things Italian, including fantastic food!
August 19-21: CelebrateErie is a festival that focuses on local art, food, culture, music and the people of Erie.
August 26-28: Zabawa Polish Summer Festival is filled with lively polka music, dancing and food.
In addition to free admission and parking, Presque Isle has other free opportunities for visitors to experience and appreciate its natural beauty. Sink your toes into the seven miles of sandy beaches or take a dip in the waters of Lake Erie. Pontoon boat tours of the park’s diverse lagoon system, its unique plants and animals are offered Saturday and Sunday mornings from now until September 11. Complete ride information can be found here. Bring your rod and reel for a free fishing adventure at Presque Isle. There are several prime fishing spots throughout the park including the East, West and North piers, Perry Monument, the lagoons or any boat launch area. Learn about Erie’s rich maritime history during a tour of the Presque Isle Lighthouse (pictured). Tours are free the first Tuesday of each month (April to October). Click here for a detailed map of Presque Isle.
The Tom Ridge Environmental Center (TREC) is a free educational center dedicated to teaching visitors about the unique 3,200 acres of Presque Isle State Park and the many different forms of life that inhabit the peninsula. TREC features interactive exhibits, educational programs, Presque Isle Gallery and Gifts and a glass-enclosed observation tower providing beautiful panoramic views of Lake Erie.
4. Live Outdoor Concerts
From Erie’s beautiful Bayfront to the vineyards of Lake Erie Wine Country, the summer months are filled with free outdoor concerts. Almost every day of the week there is an opportunity to enjoy a different style of music performed by local, regional and national artists. Asbury Woods Monday Music in the Woods, 8 Great Tuesdays, UPMC Sunset Music Series, Goodell Gardens Summer Music Series, Penn Shore Vineyards Summer “Pop-Up” Series, Arundel Cellars Sunday Music Series. Pictured: 8 Great Tuesdays
5. Outdoor Movie Nights
Grab a blanket, pack up your favorite people and snacks and set out for a free family-friendly movie night! Enjoy a movie and trivia event on the last Monday during the summer months with the Erie Downtown Partnership’s Downtown Movie Mondays at Perry Square. Click here to view the schedule. Movies Under the Stars takes place on the lawns of Edinboro University and Goodell Gardens Thursdays in July and August. Click here to view the schedule. All movie events are weather-permitting. Picture of Downtown Movie Mondays credit D. Tamulonis
The Bicentennial Tower commemorates the 200th anniversary of the founding of the City of Erie and is easily one of Erie’s most recognizable attractions. Its top observation platform rises 138’ in the air, providing spectacular views of Presque Isle Bay, Lake Erie and the City. Free admission is offered on the first Tuesday of each month: July 5, August 2, September 6, October 4 (weather permitting). Photo by @crispsnaps via Instagram
Explore, learn, taste and shop! The Grape Discovery Center is the official visitor’s center for the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt Heritage Area. Located among the vineyards of Lake Erie Wine Country, the center supports and promotes the grape industry through engaging stories, educational exhibits, gift shop and café.
8. Live Horse Racing
Live thoroughbred horse racing has returned to Presque Isle Downs and Casino and best of all it’s free to watch and family-friendly! Get up close and personal to the action from their expansive trackside patio area. Racing takes place Mondays through Thursdays from now until October 27th. Post times are from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
9. Hiking and Biking Trails
Spend time exploring Erie’s wide open spaces with miles of hiking and biking trails. All are free to discover. Wintergreen Gorge photo by @hannah_ciotti via Instagram.
Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier Park
Presque Isle State Park
Greater Erie Regional Trail Network
10. Take a Self-Guided Tour
Explore Erie on your own time with one of several self-guided tours. A complete list of tours can be found here and are also available on VisitErie’s free ‘Hello Erie’ trip planner app.
Erie County Mural Arts Tour – Discover over 85 public murals located throughout Erie County. (Pictured right)
African American Heritage Trail - This tour highlights African-American historic points of interest, public art and businesses.
Downtown Erie Sculpture Walk –This walk features 15 sculptures placed throughout Downtown Erie and the Bayfront District, representing the work of 13 artists.