Our economy depends on people paying for nearly everything. We expect to pay as we go. But it doesn’t always have to be that way.
The old saying nothing is free any more is not yet completely true. Every city has at least a few free admission activities from visiting city parks to dropping by visitor centers. Atlantic City, NJ is no different in that respect.
Dig a little deeper and you’ll usually find some hidden gems among the dozens of events and activities available in Atlantic City. Of course, if you’re staying at one of the major hotels they’ll have perks for guests but that’s a cheat.
By the same token, if you pay for a subscription to some of the local museums you’ll get free admission to their activities but the general public is still required to pay a door fee.
Many “free things to do in Atlantic City” lists also cheat you by mentioning places where you can shop. Yes, you can park for free and walk through the stores but you can do that at home. While there are a couple of historic venues such as Historic Smithville located just north of Atlantic City, shopping isn’t free.
What can you really do for free in Atlantic City without having to pay someone for a corresponding service or membership?
This is a great question to ask about any city you visit for more than a day. While Atlantic City may no longer have a monopoly on east coast gambling, if you’re going there for the casinos and want a few alternatives to the resort shows, here are several ideas for you
1 – Stroll Along the Boardwalk and Public Beaches
You can’t talk about Atlantic City without discussing its oceanfront view. The Boardwalk is a historic landmark because it was one of America’s earliest tourist venues.
Several things set the Boardwalk apart from local historic shopping venues. The most important point is that the Boardwalk gives you a great view of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Boardwalk is one of the most well-known tourist venues in the United States because of the game Monopoly. People have an innate curiosity about the places that inspired the game. What sets the Boardwalk apart from, say, Ventnor Avenue is that the Boardwalk has been featured in movies and television shows.
There is no admission fee for the Boardwalk and it stretches along the Atlantic City coast. You can walk to historic landmarks such as Boardwalk Hall and Absecon Lighthouse.
Atlantic City beaches are also free and open to the public. No passes are required. Tourists flock to the beaches every summer.
2 – Bass Pro Shops
What sets this retail venue apart from others is the 13,000 gallon freshwater fish tank. The tank features local water wildlife and a mural based on the nearby Mullica River. The store is also decorated with other murals and replicas of native wildlife.
While Bass Pro Shops is a store they offer free family-friendly events throughout the year from their February Spring Fishing Classic to Christmas. The store has 85,000 square feet of floor space.
3 – Atlantic City Mural Tour
There are over 50 murals adorning Atlantic City. Visitors are encouraged to browse the city and enjoy the local artwork.
The Atlantic City Arts Foundation provides a free map you can download or print out.
The mural tour is part of the city’s innovative 48 Blocks cultural program. The program includes public arts projects across all 6 of the city’s wards, and events scheduled in the late spring and summer months.
Mural Week is celebrated every May.
4 – Korean War Memorial
Often dubbed “the Forgotten War”, the Korean War remains – technically – the United States’ longest war. Formal hostilities never ended between North Korea and the United Nations countries that sent troops in 1950 to defend South Korea from invasion. The United States maintains more than 40,000 military personnel in South Korea.
The memorial is located at 124 Park Place, Atlantic City, NJ and is open to the public.
The solemn tribute features statues of American soldiers in various poses. Veterans of the war experienced the same traumas all combat veterans do but their war has been overshadowed by other conflicts.
Designed by J. Tom Carillo and Thomas Jay Warren, the memorial park ensures that future generations will not completely forget “the Forgotten War”. The Mourning Soldier bronze statue is 12 feet tall and depicts a soldier holding dog tags from fallen friends and comrades.
An eternal flame burns atop a wall bearing the names of New Jersey citizens who died in the war.
The memorial’s slogan is “Freedom is not free” and it pays tributes to the thousands of military personnel who gave their lives on behalf of freedom.
5 – Free Concerts and Music Events
Atlantic City residents enjoy great musical entertainment throughout the year. Most of these performances require an admission fee but a some of the venues occasionally open up to the public. Past advertisements for The Pool After Dark mention free admission to some events.
Every year the city sponsors a series of free concerts at Gardner’s Basin, the location of the Atlantic City Aquarium. While admission to the Aquarium may not be free it’s not very expensive. The free concerts are promoted online and in local news reports.
Past concerts have included popular artists from the 1960s and 1970s.
Unfortunately the aquarium has lost its previous domain to a questionable owner so you should only visit official city sites for more information.
6 – Free Movies
Although some of the local venues may offer free movies to their guests and members, if you’re visiting Atlantic City in the summer months look for the free Movies Under the Stars program.
The movies are presented at Bartram Avenue & Boardwalk (Thursdays), and at Gardner’s Basin (Sundays). You will need to bring your own chair, blanket, drinks, and popcorn. Movies begin at dusk and may be rescheduled to the following evening if the weather is uncooperative.
7 – Visit the Atlantic City Free Library
There aren’t many public libraries that promote themselves as tourist attractions. While the Atlantic City Free Library doesn’t quite match expectations, it’s part of the city’s overall efforts to be welcoming and interesting to travelers.
The library is part museum, part library, and part event venue. While not everything is free to the public visitors are welcome to browse the many exhibits and attend events open to the public.
Anyone interested in Atlantic City history will want to drop by the library when one of its occasional historical programs is on the schedule.
The library also operates the Atlantic City Experience at the Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall. The exhibit is open to the public on weekdays from 9 AM to 5 PM.
The library’s Film Society occasionally brings in actors as special guests to meet the public.
There’s nothing wrong with paying an admission fee. That’s expected for most of today’s cultural and public venues because someone must pay the electric bill. But it’s nice to know there are still free things to do when you’re visiting a city for the first time.
Atlantic City was founded as a tourist destination and it’s counted heavily on its beachfront experience to keep tourists coming in. But the Boardwalk isn’t everything and even the casinos don’t fill your entire day.
If you’re undecided about where to go for an East Coast vacation then Atlantic City offers more to do than most people realize.