With the increasing expenses of everyday items, such as groceries, people are looking for cost-effective ways to make the most of the warmer months. The Erie region is overflowing with free festivals, events, attractions, and activities that will allow you to plan a refreshing lake escape and help you save some cash. If you’re wondering where to begin, here are the top free and fun things to do in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Festivals and Events
Immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and smells of numerous festivals across Erie County festivals that offer free- admission.
May 19 – 21: Edinboro Art & Music Festival showcases art and music in the spirit of the Appalachian culture.
June 11 – 17: Erie’s Juneteenth Celebration is a block party celebration of freedom with live entertainment, vendors, food trucks, and family activities.
June 14: 14th Fest, hosted by Erie Downtown Partnership, will feature live music, food, games, and children's activities from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the corner of French and 14th Streets.
June 24: Erie Pride Fest and Parade is a welcoming space for everyone to celebrate their true selves. It includes a parade down State Street, drag queen performances, vendors, and musical entertainment.
July 7-8: The Panegyri Greek Festival showcases the history, culture, and amazing food of Greece.
July 22: The AmeriMasala event is a multicultural arts celebration of art, food, and performances.
July 24-30: Discover Presque Isle features events and activities in honor of Presque Isle State Park.
August 3-5: Dan Rice Days commemorates the life of one of the most famous clowns in history.
August 5-6: Erie’s Blues and Jazz Fest is an eclectic mix of local, regional, and national blues and jazz performances.
August 11-13: St. Paul’s Italian Festival highlights all things Italian, including fantastic food!
August 18-20: CelebrateErie is a festival that focuses on local art, food, culture, music, and the people of Erie, with nightly nationally acclaimed headliners on the mainstage on State Street.
August 25-27: Zabawa Polish Summer Festival is filled with lively polka music, dancing, and food.
Presque Isle State Park
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 dip in Lake Erie’s waters. Pontoon boat tours of the park’s diverse lagoon systems are offered Saturday and Sunday mornings from Memorial Day through Labor Day at the canoe and boat livery. Fish throughout the park at the East, West, and North piers, Perry Monument, the lagoons, or any boat launch area. Learn more about the beaches of Presque Isle State Park here.
Pictured above - Lagoon by Pontoon at Presque Isle State Park. Photo by Paul Gibbens.
Tom Ridge Environmental Center
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, and a glass-enclosed observation tower providing panoramic views of Lake Erie.
The late spring and summer months are filled with free outdoor concerts from Erie’s beautiful Bayfront to the vineyards of Lake Erie Wine Country. Almost every day of the week there is an opportunity to enjoy a different style of music performed by local, regional, and national artists. Some of the ongoing music series include Asbury Woods Monday Music in the Woods, 8 Great Tuesdays, UPMC Sunset Music Series (at Presque Isle State Park), Erie Philharmonic Concerts at Gibson Park, Goodell Gardens Summer Music Series, Penn Shore Vineyards Summer Concerts, and Arundel Cellars Sunday Music Series.
Nearly every day of the week, the Erie Downtown Partnership hosts free events in downtown Erie.
- Mondays in June: free fitness classes for all fitness levels, led by Kaitlyn Falk. Classes begin at 6 p.m. in Griswold Park
- Wednesdays from June to August: free morning gentle flow yoga overlooking Presque Isle Bay led by Chelsea McQuaid. Classes begin at 6 a.m. on the Bicentennial Tower observation deck.
- Thursdays in July and August: free concerts on the Perry Square Park Stage from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. (pictured, above. Photo courtesy of the Erie Downtown Partnership)
- Sundays from June 25 to September 3: Farmers markets in Perry Square from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., featuring fresh local produce and goods, as well as live music on the Perry Square Stage.
The present lighthouse was built in 1867 and was the first commissioned lighthouse along the Great Lakes. The former keeper's house is separate and serves as a private residence. The light at the top of the tower functions but is not an active aid to navigation. Every first Tuesday of the month from April through October 2023 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the lighthouse is open to visitors to climb its winding staircase to the observation platform for stunning views of Lake Erie.
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 (excluding holidays, weather permitting).
Pictured above. Photo by @crispsnaps on Instagram.
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 May 15 until October 19. Post times begin at 3 p.m.
Pictured above. Photo by Paul Gibbens.
Hiking and Biking Trails
Erie's vast and varied hiking and biking trails are the perfect spaces for free fresh air. Walk in the woods to find the Grandfather Tree at Asbury Woods or stroll through miles of manicured trails and lots of species of trees at Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier Park. The Greater Erie Regional Trail Network offers great resources for finding trails throughout Erie County.
Self Guided Tours
Explore Erie on your own during a self-guided tour. A complete list of tours is here and is also available on VisitErie’s free ‘Hello Erie’ trip planner app. Tours include the Erie County Mural Arts Tour, which features the more than 90 public murals located throughout Erie County, and the African American Heritage Trail, highlighting African American historic points of interest, public art, and businesses.