Need cheap-but-amazing vacation inspiration? These are the 10 top free attractions in the US.

Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Source: Yovav Gad/Shutterstock
Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Source: Yovav Gad/Shutterstock

Odds are you could use a vacation: Roughy half of adults reported in a recent survey that they have experienced the increasingly common phenomenon of "vacation shaming," or being guilted for taking time off. Fewer than two-thirds of people use all their allotted vacation, even though people who take time off tend to get more raises and bonuses, research suggests.

Now, while a nice little travel savings fund can help cushion spending on a trip, studies have shown that as far as being memorable, there's little difference between a $500 and a $5,000 getaway. In other words, it's worth trying to find a cheaper alternative before you pony up for that $120 Segway tour.

With that in mind, Mic compiled some of the best free attractions in the United States, using TripAdvisor's top "things to do" rankings to determine the most popular attractions across the nation, screening out any that came with an entrance fee or some other price of admission.

Many of the best free attractions are national parks, which may charge for certain kinds of permits, such as camping, but are free to enter — and enjoy.

10. The Getty Center

Los Angeles, CA

"Excellent" reviews: 8,849

Located in the Los Angeles area, the Getty Center is a museum displaying the art collection in the J. Paul Getty trust, and admission is always free. The museum boasts a world-class collection — including works from Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and Leonardo da Vinci — and its building is highly regarded for its architecture and central garden.

The Getty has a large permanent collection with a popular public garden attached.
Source: Tinseltown/Shutterstock

9. Garden of the Gods

Colorado Springs, CO

"Excellent" reviews: 9,390

Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs is one of the most popular city parks in the country, and admission to the park and visitor's center is completely free. The park is perhaps best known as a destination for climbers who come to scale its famous rock formations. If that sounds like you, you can fill out a form for a free annual permit here.

Entrance to Garden of the Gods Park completely free year round.
Source: Brennan Linsley/AP

8. Savannah Historic District

Savannah, GA

"Excellent" reviews: 8,803

The Savannah historic district is the largest landmark district in the country, and boasts 20 public squares filled with nice restaurants, revolutionary forts, and museums like the Telfair Museum. Many of the attractions come with a price for admission, but no one can charge you a dime to walk around and look at all the pretty houses. Savannah's historic district also doesn't have any open-container laws, making it a popular destination for pub-crawlers.

Savannah has the largest landmarked district in the country.
Source: David Goldman/AP

7. Gettysburg National Military Park

Gettysburg, PA

"Excellent" reviews: 5,569

Gettysburg is obviously a must for history buffs, as it's the site of a turning point of the Civil War and President Abraham Lincoln's most iconic speech, the Gettysburg Address. Entry to the park is free of charge and, in lieu of hiring a guide, you can make your own itinerary by checking out some of the resources available to teachers through the Gettysburg Foundation.

Gettysburg is a must for history enthusiasts, if you're lucky you might be able to catch a re-enactment.
Source: John Moore/Getty Images

6. Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce, UT

"Excellent" reviews: 5,483

Bryce Canyon National Park has the largest collection of "hoodoos" — oddly shaped rock formations, pictured below — in the world. It also plays host to an annual astronomy festival, where admission to many star-gazing events and presentations are also free.

Bryce Canyon has the most hoodoos in the the world.
Source: Ross D. Franklin/AP

5. The New York City skyline (from the Staten Island Ferry)

New York, NY

"Excellent" reviews: 13,625

One of the best-kept tourism secrets of New York City is that the Staten Island Ferry — a free commuter service that goes between lower Manhattan and Staten Island — offers many of the same panoramic views people pay for on paid attractions like the Circle Line.

Catch the views in NYC.
Source: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

4. The Lincoln Memorial and National Mall

Washington, DC

"Excellent" reviews: 17,377

The national park that's located in Washington, D.C., contains more than 18 monuments and memorials, including the Lincoln Memorial, as well as roughly 150 other reservations, circles, fountains and park spaces. Entrance is also completely free. Park rangers also offer tours of more obscure nearby attractions, like a monument commemorating the first air flight.

The National Mall contains some of the country's most historic structures including the Washington Monument.
Source: J. David Ake/AP

3. Golden Gate Bridge  

San Francisco, CA

"Excellent" reviews: 27,176

Located in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Golden Gate Bridge is a fantastic attraction for fitness enthusiasts like runners and cyclists, as well as visitors interested in photography and history. It offers great views of the San Francisco Bay Area and on occasion visitors can spot marine life, like whales and dolphins, and other cool fauna.

If you're in San Francisco, you have to take a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge; it's basically required.
Source: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

2. Bellagio Fountains

Las Vegas, NV

"Excellent" reviews: 52,726

The fountains at the Bellagio are one of the most famous free attractions in Las Vegas (and arguably in the world), with light shows running every half hour during the day, and every 15 minutes at night. Because the shows are choreographed to more than 30 different songs — by artists from Frank Sinatra to Michael Jackson — many people stick around for multiple viewings.

The Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas have free shows starting every half hour during the day, and every 15 minutes at night.
Source: John Locher/AP

1. Central Park

New York City, NY

"Excellent" reviews: 76,103

New York is expensive but the great Central Park is one a few free gems in Manhattan — no surprise it's one of the most-visited tourist destinations in the world. Many of its most iconic structures, like the Belvedere Castle, are completely free to enter, although there are paid attractions inside, like the Central Park Zoo and the famous carousel. Be sure to check out legendary Strawberry Fields and the Great Lawn — which is expansive and far less crowded than fields further downtown.

Many of the Central Park's iconic structures like Belvedere Castle are free to enter.
Source: Mary Altaffer/AP

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James Dennin

James is a staff writer covering money and millennials. Send your tips and your money problems to jdennin@mic.com.

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