There is a magic word that makes any experience that much more enjoyable: free.

Whether it’s free food, free tickets, free admission or even free parking, there is something wonderful about not having to pay a fee. Because of this, and because we know budgets are still tight in general, we’ve compiled a list of the state’s most enjoyable attractions that come with a price tag of $0. From world-class museums to concerts and performing arts events to spectacular hikes and nature preserves, there’s plenty to do without having to reach for your wallet. As you browse this list, remember, whether a particular activity appeals to you or not, the price is oh-so-very right.

Museum of Connecticut History

Hartford

Located in the historic and splendidly restored 1910 State Library and Supreme Court building across the street from the State Capitol, this small but enlightening museum highlights the roots of our state’s government, military and industry. Scan the many portraits of the state’s governors in the main Memorial Hall, and look over the original 1662 Royal Charter at the far end. Other historical documents include the 1639 Fundamental Orders, and the 1818 and 1964 State Constitutions. Other collections include Colt firearms, featuring one of the best assemblages of early prototypes, factory models and experimental firearms in the world; Connecticut artifacts from wars through the centuries; some of the rarest currency, coins and medals to be found anywhere; and Freedom Trail quilts, telling the African-American story of Connecticut. 860-757-6535, museumofcthistory.org

Elizabeth Park Rose Gardens

Hartford

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Elizabeth Park Rose Gardens

Elizabeth Park is a true gem, a gorgeous, grand park in a particularly extravagant area along the Hartford-West Hartford border. In keeping with the theme of roses in Connecticut (see Community, page 24), at the heart of the park is America’s oldest public rose garden, opened in 1904. Equipped with the proper mindset, it is possible to imagine yourself strolling around the gardens of the palace of Versailles, such is the almost-royal feeling of the gardens. There are some 15,000 rose bushes here, with 800 different varieties of roses, arrayed in formations that convey a sense of splendor. You don’t have to be royalty to enjoy it, though. 860-231-9443, elizabethparkct.org

International Festival of Arts & Ideas

New Haven

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Grammy award winner Lucinda Williams performs in front of thousands of concert-goers at the International Festival of Arts & Ideas on the New Haven Green in 2015.

One of the biggest arts and culture festivals in the state, this fixture of summertime in New Haven brings some of the biggest thinkers, writers and artists at work today to the Elm City. During several weeks in June, the IFA&I makes New Haven feel like it might just be the center of the universe of those invested in thinking and reflecting our world. While some of the programs have admission fees, many of them are free. The centerpiece of the festival is the free concerts on the New Haven Green, drawing artists like Lucinda Williams, the Kronos Quartet and Aaron Neville. artidea.org

J. Robert Donnelly Husky Heritage Sports Museum

Storrs

We love the Huskies, you love the Huskies. Since the Whalers left 20 years ago this month, the Huskies are undoubtedly the most recognizable sports brand in the state. Storrs — “the basketball capital of the world” — is the Husky mecca, and the Husky Heritage Sports Museum is Huskydom’s shrine. Game-worn jerseys, shoes and various types of memorabilia from across all UConn athletics (not just basketball) fill the museum. Worship at the temple, with tributes to high priests Lobo, Auriemma, Calhoun and Ollie. 860-486-1500, uconnhuskies.com/trads/museum

Submarine Force Library & Museum

Groton

Submarine Force Library & Museum

Submarine Force Library & Museum

It’s hard to overstate just how cool a museum this is and equally hard to believe it’s free, as is the on-site parking. The museum’s centerpiece is the Nautilus (pictured), the world’s first nuclear submarine. The amazing sub is docked in the Thames River and guests can venture below deck as they learn about how the futuristic vessel could generate its own fresh water and oxygen and stay underwater for months without surfacing. This is part of what allowed it to become the first seafaring vehicle to circumnavigate the North Pole. In addition, the Submarine Force Museum is the only submarine museum operated by the U.S. Navy and maintains the world’s finest collection of submarine artifacts tracing the history of the “Silent Service,” from Connecticut inventor David Bushnell’s Turtle, used in the Revolutionary War, to the Ohio and Virginia class submarines. 800-343-0079, ussnautilus.org 

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

New Haven

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

Those who are under 3 years old, are Peabody members or have a Yale ID can enjoy this top-shelf museum for free any time. The rest of us need to visit the museum between 2 and 5 p.m. on Thursday afternoons from September through June. That’s when “admission is free but donations are encouraged.” Once inside, guests will enjoy one of history’s most influential museums and research organizations and see why it’s known as “the Sistine Chapel of evolution.” The institution celebrated its 150th anniversary last year. During that time it has helped shape humanity’s understanding of the world. The museum’s centerpiece is The Great Hall of Dinosaurs, a breathtaking room featuring a mounted skeleton of a Brontosaurus. Nearby are the reconstructed skeletons of Camarasaurus, Stegosaurus and Camptosaurus. The hall is also home to Rudolph Zallinger’s famous mural The Age of Reptiles. But the Peabody is not resting on its considerable laurels. Last year it opened its multimillion-dollar gem hall, designed to be one of the globe’s pre-eminent gem-gazing destinations. 203-432-5050, peabody.yale.eduSteep Rock Preserve

Steep Rock Preserve

Washington Depot

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Steep Rock Preserve

A 974-acre preserve, Steep Rock offers nature and hiking enthusiasts the chance to walk for free along the banks of a scenic river, trek up to a breathtaking overlook reminiscent of the views Leonardo DiCaprio had in the survival epic The Revenant, traverse the river on a suspension foot bridge and boldly walk into the cavernous darkness of a former railway tunnel. The tunnel cuts dramatically through the side of a ridge, creating an opening that looks like King Kong’s lair (no more movie references, we promise). The Steep Rock preserve is part of the Steep Rock Association, a land trust which oversees other nearby preserves and a total of 2,700 acres. 860-868-9131, steeprockassoc.org

Tarrywile Park

Danbury

Tarrywile Park

Tarrywile Park

If you don’t have plenty of images to post on Instagram after a visit here, you’re just not trying hard enough. This 722-acre municipal park is home to 21 miles of hiking trails, two ponds, a lake and multiple picnic areas. Pretend you’re in The Sound of Music and frolic through the park’s sprawling fields, a favorite spot for wedding and engagement photos, hike through wooded trails, take in the architecture of the restored Tarrywile Mansion or embark on a quest to gaze at the ruins of the Hearthstone Castle, a once-magnificent dwelling on the park grounds, now hidden, fairy-tale style, in the forest. 203-744-3130, tarrywile.com

Knights of Columbus Museum

New Haven

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The Knights of Columbus Museum is an architectural curiosity as well as a too-often overlooked museum among the many it competes with in New Haven. As the museum attached to America’s largest Catholic fraternal organization, the Knights of Columbus museum devotes much of its space to the history of Catholicism in America. The current temporary exhibition details the history of Irish immigration to the United States, fleeing starvation in Ireland, while past exhibitions have dealt with Mother Theresa and traditional expressions of Catholicism in Germany. 203-865-0400, kofcmuseum.org

Connecticut Audubon Society Center

Pomfret

The Connecticut Audubon Society’s mission is to conserve the state’s “environment through science-based education and advocacy focused on the state’s bird populations and their habitats.” This is beautifully apparent at the society’s Center at Pomfret (one of several Connecticut Audubon society centers across the state). The center manages the 168-acre Trail Wood Sanctuary and the adjoining 700-acre Bafflin Sanctuary. It is a nationally recognized bird area that includes former farm fields that now provide habitats for hard-to-find grassland birds, a large beaver pond, streams and hemlock ravine. There are more than 10 miles of trails with interpretive signage and plenty of opportunities for bird watching, and it’s all free. 860-928-4948, ctaudubon.org

State Capitol

Hartford

State Capitol

State Capitol

Built in the 1870s, the State Capitol building is one of the most stunning architectural specimens the state has to offer. Because of our tendency to associate the building with nasty things like state budgets, taxes and financial shenanigans, we perhaps overlook the majesty of the building, and its fascinating contents. Even the outside is brilliant, and one could spend hours just looking at the various statues and carvings on the outside of the gold-domed seat of state government. Guided tours of the building leave the lobby of the adjacent Legislative Office Building every weekday at 9:15, 10:15, 11:15, 12:15 and 1:15. Booklets for self-guided tours are available, too. 860-240-0222, cga.ct.gov/capitoltours

Weir Farm National Historic Site

Wilton

Weir Farm

Weir Farm

This 60-acre national park is focused on the visual arts, one of only two such sites within the National Park Service. It was established by Congress in 1990 and preserves a site associated with the American Impressionist movement. It is an idyllic landscape that has inspired artists for more than 100 years, including Julian Alden Weir, one of the leaders in the development of American Impressionism. Attractions include the Weir House, Weir and Young Studios, barns, gardens and Weir Pond. The site welcomes “everyone to experience the power of creativity, art, and nature,” urging them to “rediscover the beauty of light and color in everyday life.” Plein air painters are always encouraged to visit, as well, and there are even some free art supplies on site. 203-834-1896, nps.gov/wefa

Yale Center for British Art and Yale University Art Gallery

New Haven

Yale Center for British Art

Yale Center for British Art

Two world-class museums, both completely free, sit across the street from each other in the heart of downtown New Haven. The Yale Center for British Art is the largest collection of British art anywhere outside the United Kingdom. The Yale University Art Gallery houses exquisite collections of early Italian Renaissance paintings, African art, and ancient Greek and Roman artifacts. The modern and contemporary art — featuring the works of Rothko, Degas, Basquiat, Miró and Picasso — could, on its own, compete with the best collections in New York and Boston. 877-274-8278, britishart.yale.edu203-432-0600, artgallery.yale.edu

Tapping Reeve House & Law School

Litchfield

Tapping Reeve House & Law School

Tapping Reeve House & Law School

In 1773, the couple Tapping Reeve and Sally Burr Reeve moved to Litchfield, where Reeve established a legal practice. A year later, Sally’s brother, Aaron Burr (yes, that Aaron Burr), came to live with them and learn the law profession from Reeve. Prominent residents of Litchfield also sent their sons to Reeve for legal training, ultimately establishing what became America’s first formal school of law. More than 1,100 students attended the school before it closed in 1833. Visitors today get to (almost) literally walk a mile in these students’ shoes. Through role-playing, hands-on areas and interpretive exhibits, visitors are immersed in the life of students who attended the school, discovering students’ stories as they try on clothes that a student might have worn, make decisions about what supplies to buy and vote on issues of the day. 860-567-4501, litchfieldhistoricalsociety.org

Connecticut College Arboretum

New London

Connecticut College Arboretum

Connecticut College Arboretum

Founded in 1931, the Connecticut College Arboretum features 750 acres of diverse botanical attractions. There are three major collections to visit: the 25-acre native plant collection features more than 300 kinds of woody plants, a four-acre pond, a conifer collection, a legume collection, a wildflower garden and more; the Caroline Black Garden features an assemblage of the finest species and varieties of trees and shrubs for landscaping; and the campus collection features more than 200 different species and varieties from all over the world, combined with views of the Thames River and Long Island Sound. 860-447-1911, conncoll.edu/the-arboretum

Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz

One of the great urban parks in Connecticut, and the jewel of downtown Hartford, Bushnell Park is also home to one of the state’s best music festivals every July. Bring your lawn chair, sunglasses and your good mood to listen to jazz from Hartford and beyond. This year, legendary New Orleans composer Donald Harrison headlines the Sunday of the festival from July 14-16. Founded by the late Hartford jazz stalwart Paul Brown in 1992, the festival has been attracting tens of thousands of jazz fans every summer for 25 years, making sure that our capital continues to punch above its weight in the jazz world. hartfordjazz.org

Elm Shakespeare Co.

New Haven

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Elm Shakespeare Co.

To read or watch a Shakespeare play is almost to put on X-ray glasses. The dramatic — and indeed, human — themes explored in Shakespeare’s plays laid the foundation for so much of the art that followed it. We even derive dozens of everyday phrases from The Bard himself. Every summer, New Haven’s Elm Shakespeare Co. brings Shakespeare — for free — to the people of the Elm City. This summer, from Aug. 17-Sept. 3, it’s Romeo and Juliet. Director Raphael Massie says the play shows us “the effect of hate and violence, not only on those directly involved, but on the surrounding community.” 203-392-8882, elmshakespeare.org

The Observatory at the Westport Astronomical Society

Westport

Observatory at Westport Astronomical Society

The Observatory at the Westport Astronomical Society

For more than 40 years, this observatory has helped bring thousands of visitors closer to the wonders of the night sky. The volunteer-run, nonprofit Westport Astronomical Society opens the observatory to public every Wednesday from 8 to 10 p.m., if the skies are clear. It is housed in a former Nike radar site, which is an attraction in its own right. Nike missile sites were erected during the Cold War around major cities throughout the U.S. to provide anti-aircraft protection from a Soviet strike. The dome observatory houses a 12.5-inch Newtonian telescope, and the lawn regularly hosts a 25-inch Obsession telescope, billed as “the largest in Connecticut available to the public.” 203-293-8759, was-ct.org

UConn Animal Barns

Storrs

UConn Animal Barns

UConn Animal Barns

You don’t have to wait for the state’s big agricultural fairs to see farm animals up close. You can always make the trek up to UConn to check out dozens of Holstein and Jersey cows, sheep and horses. It’s all part of the school’s Department of Animal Science program. Every day in the early afternoon visitors can see dairy cows being milked at the Kellogg Dairy Center. It’s not a petting zoo, though, and the folks who run the barns ask that visitors refrain from feeding the animals, as some of them are on special diets. On your way out — or on your way in and out — stop by the UConn Dairy Bar for some of the best ice cream in Connecticut. 860-486-2413, animalscience.uconn.edu/visitors/tour.php

Heublein Tower

Simsbury

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Hueblein Tower

Up for a hike? You’ll need to be to make the 1¼-mile trail to the top of Talcott Mountain, where the 165-foot tower stands. Built in 1914 by Gilbert Heublein (pronounced HIGH-bline), who had promised his fiancée he would build a castle for her there one day, the tower of concrete with white stucco was designed to withstand 100-mph winds. The top story is an observatory that, at 1,000 feet above sea level, offers panoramic views, on a clear day, of Long Island Sound, the Berkshires and Mount Monadnock 80 miles away in New Hampshire. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the tower and its museum sit within Talcott Mountain State Park. Bonus fact: The structure’s architects, Smith & Bassette, also designed the north and south wings of the Governor’s Mansion in 1916. 860-677-0662, friendsofheubleintower.org

Governor’s Mansion

Hartford

Governor's Mansion

Governor's Mansion

Even if you haven’t stopped by, you might be familiar with the annual holiday open house held here each winter. For 26 years in a row, the residence has been festooned with holiday decorations, including wreaths, Christmas trees and seasonal plants, and the doors tossed open to allow the public to get into the holiday spirit. But you can visit the mansion year round (with an appointment). Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the residence was built in 1909 in the Georgian Revival style and has served as the home of governors and their families since 1945. Take an hour-long guided tour of the structure’s interior and outdoor sculpture garden on Tuesdays. 860-524-7324, ctvisit.com/listings/governors-residence-tours

White Memorial Conservation Center

Litchfield

White Memorial Conservation Center

White Memorial Conservation Center

An outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, these 4,000 acres of preserved forests, fields and wetlands along Bantam Lake in Litchfield and Morris offer 40 miles of trails for endless fun. Explore the property through hiking, biking, horseback riding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and other activities. The popular Little Pond Boardwalk Trail includes a wooden boardwalk that traverses the woods and marshes right above the edge of the pond. Ten ponds, Bantam Lake and six miles of Bantam River are open for kayaking, canoeing, wildlife viewing and fishing. Each is different and offers stunning views. Campgrounds and a marina provide plenty of options to visitors. The center provides year-round programs for all ages, and the nature museum has exhibits on local natural history, conservation and ecology. 860-567-0857, whitememorialcc.org

Ansonia Nature and Recreation Center

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Ansonia Nature & Recreation Center

 A wonderful asset of the Lower Naugatuck River Valley, the nature center experienced a rebirth last summer when local business and community leaders banded together to build a new playground over a single steamy weekend. Kids now enjoy tube slides, tire swings, a sandbox, wall towers, climbing walls and a section devoted to the youngest little ones. Encompassing 150 acres of wooded hills, grassy fields, streams and a two-acre pond, the nature center also features guided hikes every Sunday at 1 p.m. Don’t call it a zoo, but there are plenty of animals here, including a bearded dragon, a ball python, a red-tail boa, various owls, a dove, a guinea pig, a domesticated rabbit, turtles, hundreds of honey bees, crayfish, walking sticks, a gecko and a tarantula. Saturdays are the time for the popular Creature Feature program, during which the center’s tame animals are taken out and can be touched. Stop by for the Earth Day celebration April 29 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 203-736-1053, ansonianaturecenter.org

Flanders Nature Center

Woodbury

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Flanders Nature Center

Only one part of the more than 2,000 acres owned by the Flanders Nature Center and Land Trust, this is where it all started. Named after Natalie Van Vleck, whose farm was famous for its turkeys and sheep before she donated the property for a nature center, the Van Vleck Farm and Nature Sanctuary is a haven for all those who desire a closer connection with the natural world. Navigate more than four miles of trails through pine forests, meadows, a large marsh, stone walls, streams, ponds and an orchard. Educational activities are held all over the property, including at the sugar house, where sap is boiled into maple syrup. Or learn how to make a bluebird nesting box or how to kickstart your garden in the spring. You can fill up at a pancake breakfast. After that, you might want to sign up for the Field & Forest 5K, scheduled for June 9. 203-263-3711, flandersnaturecenter.org

Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry

Storrs

Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry

University of Connecticut, Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry

We profiled this interesting gem of a museum back in our February issue, in which Ballard director John Bell told us that puppetry is both “ubiquitous and invisible.” It is everywhere, but we don’t necessarily realize it. At the Ballard Museum, located on the University of Connecticut campus, one can learn about the curious history of puppetry, and UConn’s role in developing and deepening the art form (UConn is known throughout the puppetry world, Bell says). The museum and the institute also put on free shows of cutting-edge puppetry in their theater. While tickets are usually free, the popularity of the shows means you should reserve tickets ahead of time. 860-486-8580, bimp.uconn.edu

Osbornedale State Park

Derby

Pickett's Pond foliage

Pickett's Pond at Osbornedale State Park in Derby

Occupying 417 acres on the east bank of the Housatonic River, with a small portion in Ansonia, these lands have seen silver mining in the years after the Revolutionary War, bottling of spring water, and farming operations including Holstein and Jersey cows. Today, it’s a place of recreation featuring an extensive network of hiking trails, pond fishing and ice skating, and picnicking. But the history of the place can still be felt, especially at Osborndale, a Colonial Revival house listed on the National Register of Historic Places that offers tours. It was here that Frances Osborne Kellogg, a pioneering and successful businesswoman in the first half of the 20th century, lived before she willed the property to the people of Connecticut in 1956. The Kellogg Environmental Center offers educational programs. ct.gov/deep/osbornedale

New Britain Industrial Museum

New Britain Industrial Museum

New Britain Industrial Museum

In many ways, New Britain provided the backbone of America’s once-mighty manufacturing industry. As this museum’s description states, “out of the blacksmith forges populating 18th-century New Britain grew five major industries that fueled daily life in America for most of the 20th century. From the lock on your front door and the key in your pocket to the appliances in your kitchen and the parts in your car, all of those things and more were either made in New Britain, contained New Britain parts or were made on a New Britain machine.” The history of the “Hardware City” is honored at this museum with permanent and rotating collections. A new exhibit called We Went to the Moon With Slide Rules tells how the original slide rules, invaluable calculating machines in the pre-electronic calculator era, were manufactured in — you guessed it — New Britain. 860-832-8654, nbindustrial.org

Silver Sands State Park

Milford

Silver Sands State Park

Silver Sands State Park

Legend has it that Captain Kidd once set foot on Charles Island, just off the coast of Silver Sands State Park — and left a wondrous treasure behind. Try as they might, no one has ever found it. Still, beachgoers can walk out to the island at low tide on the tombolo — though be careful to leave yourself plenty of time to walk back before it’s covered by water again. There’s also plenty of beach for sandcastle building, laying out and swimming. If you are into watersports, Silver Sands is a good spot, too. As for the treasure, you won’t be able to look for it in the summer — the island’s interior is off-limits until Aug. 31 because of heron and egret rookeries there. Admittance and parking is currently free at Silver Sands, but that might change. A $10 million state project would add bathrooms, a concession stand, improve parking and institute a parking fee. Many residents have opposed the proposal. Only time will tell if this popular 297-acre park will remain free for all. ct.gov/deep/silversands

SoundWaters Coastal Education Center

Stamford

SoundWaters Coastal Education Center

SoundWaters Coastal Education Center

Housed in the historic Holly House in Cove Island Park, this center devoted to the aquatic life of Long Island Sound may not be as famous as Connecticut’s two big aquariums, but it’s well worth a visit. It’s home to hundreds of species native to local waters, including animals from the Sound and coastal salt marshes and freshwater animals that live in local rivers. There are special tanks for horseshoe crabs and diamondback terrapins, a touch tank, a learning lab and environmental displays. Open year round, the center is located in a public park within a few feet of coastal habitats, including salt marshes, sandy beaches, mudflats and rocky shorelines. 203-323-1978, soundwaters.org/coastal-education-center

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The senior writer at Connecticut Magazine, Erik is the co-author of Penguin Random House’s “The Good Vices” and author of “Buzzed” and “Gillette Castle.” He is also an adjunct professor at WCSU’s MFA Program and Quinnipiac University

Albie Yuravich is the editor in chief of Connecticut Magazine. A product of the Naugatuck River Valley, he's also been a newspaper editor and writer at the New Haven Register, Greenwich Time, The Register Citizen and the Republican-American.