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“What are you going to do with all that free time?” Actual and soon-to-be retirees know the question well. When you’re ready to call it a career, it’s one of the things people love to ask you most.

But it makes sense! Most people sink 40 or more hours per week into their jobs—a massive dance card that suddenly opens up in retirement. And while some of that time might be spent sitting around, much of it probably won’t.

Seniors do have to operate on a fixed income, however. Sure, there will be the occasional travel and events with friends, but they won’t exactly be touring the Riviera every month, either. Thus, most seniors would benefit from an activity or two that doesn’t tug on their wallets.

Whether you’re on a fixed income or just naturally frugal, free hobbies are preferable to expensive ones. So with that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of free things for seniors to do. 

Free Activities for Seniors

senior discount cycling forest woods retirement

Some of the activities in this list are free specifically for older adults, while some of them are free for all people—seniors included. I’ve also explored in-person and online options so there’s something for everyone, regardless of social outgoingness and mobility. The same considerations go for the type of activity; some are physical, others will work out your mind, and a few provide benefits for both.

Just one note: Many hobbies and activities, while free to participate in, might require some amount of gear at the onset. I’ve intentionally excluded many of those activities, and instead am focusing on things to do that require little to no gear—maybe a pair of shoes or a cheap set of binoculars, but nothing more.

Now, let’s discover your next favorite free hobby!

1. Hiking + Walking

senior hiking walking lake

Hiking provides ample benefits—it’s great exercise, you can see parts of the country you never could before, and being out and about in nature can be calming.

Some of the best sights you can see can be found in America’s national parks. And better yet? You can visit national parks for free during certain days of the year. In 2024, these days include:

  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 15)
  • The First Day of National Park Week (April 20)
  • Juneteenth National Independence Day (June 19)
  • Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act (Aug. 4)
  • National Public Lands Day (Sept. 28)
  • Veterans Day (Nov. 11)

Some national parks are free every day! And for those that aren’t, you can also benefit from a great senior discount on the America the Beautiful Pass.

If you don’t live near a national park and aren’t sure where to hike local trails, the AllTrails app holds a database of map trails and has crowdsourced reviews, many of which include images.

As someone from the Midwest, I understand that outdoor hiking might not be an option for you every season. That’s OK—indoor walking can be great too! Malls are a popular location for indoor walks because they are public places, there are long stretches to walk, and they often have plenty of benches for when you need a rest.

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2. Continuing Education

elderly college graduate

You might have stopped working, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop learning.

In 2023, associate professors Rachel Wu and Jessica A. Church wrote in Scientific American to describe their study of adults between ages 58 and 86. The adults took three weekly classes, each lasting two hours, to learn new skills. Their finding?

“Over the course of the intervention, people significantly improved their cognitive scores for memory and attention. In a follow-up study, we discovered that the participants had not only maintained their gains but had improved further: their cognitive abilities after one year were similar to those of adults 50 years younger. In other words, giving these seniors a supportive and structured three-course routine—much like an undergraduate student’s schedule—seemed to eventually improve their memory and attention to levels similar to that of a college student.”

Most states have at least one tuition-free state university program for seniors. (The exceptions—Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, and South Dakota—still have deeply discounted tuition programs for senior citizens.)

Depending on the state, the minimum age for free tuition ranges from 55 to 65.

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3. Auditing Classes

senior auditing classes college classroom

Alternatively, you could learn without doing homework and taking tests.

If you’d just prefer to listen to captivating lectures and learn at your own pace, you don’t need to work toward a degree—you can audit college classes. When you audit a class, you can attend lectures and even participate in discussions. But you don’t need to complete coursework or take exams. You’re not receiving official credit, but you’re not being graded, either.

Many states have universities that allow seniors to audit college classes for free. For instance, a Wisconsin state legislature mandate allows Wisconsin residents who are at least 60 years old to attend lectures for free within University of Wisconsin System schools.

This is a great option if you want to obtain more knowledge and expand your horizons without added pressure. (And hey! Younger college students might benefit from occasionally hearing from different generations about world events prior to when they were born.)

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4. Podcasts

senior podcast headphones

Podcasts are somewhat reminiscent of how radio stations used to be—but instead of having to tune into a specific station at a specific time, you just download what you want to hear when you want to listen to it.

These audio-only productions might be monologues, involve interviews, or just feel like you’re overhearing friends talking. They can be fiction or nonfiction. Some are run by celebrities or a full production team, but it’s also possible your next-door neighbor has one.

There’s a podcast on just about any topic that might interest you. Marketing, animals, politics, television, beauty—you name it. Too broad for you? Podcasts can get very niche. There is an eight-part series called Containers that just talks about shipping containers. Crime Pays But Botany Doesn’t is about “plants as viewed through the lens of evolution and ecology with a side of deranged ranting, crass humor, occasional profanity, & the perpetual search for the filthiest taqueria bathroom.”

Anyone can listen to free podcasts on Spotify, SoundCloud, YouTube, the Podcasts app, and more.

And if you feel ambitious (and own a microphone), rather than just listening to a podcast, you could even start your own!

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5. Reading

books reading studying

Reading is an enjoyable hobby at any age, but it can be particularly beneficial for older adults. A collaborative effort between researchers at the Beckman Institute and staff from Illinois’ Champaign Public Library found that reading can improve memory skills in older adults.

Now, if you want to buy books, that won’t be cheap. But getting a public library card is free.

Public library membership allows you to go there and read, or check out a few books there and bring them home. Struggle with small print? Library visitors can ask for assistance finding large-print books, which have bigger font sizes to accommodate those with less-than-perfect vision. Want some socialization? You can join a book club to discuss literature.

Also, libraries have far more than just books—you can also borrow audiobooks, movies, CDs, video games. You can utilize free internet access. And a handful of libraries have an even wider array of options, loaning out everything from tools to cooking supplies.

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6. Games

senior library boardgames

Another thing you can get from some libraries? Games—including board games, card games, and even video games. So whether you prefer a game of solitaire or playing around on Minecraft, you might be able to borrow what you need for free.

Online games on your phone or computer are an excellent option as well. Every morning my (senior) mother and I text each other our Wordle scores, which we each do while drinking our morning coffee in our respective homes. The NYT Games app is a fabulous free app—while you can’t do the crossword for free, you can play Wordle, Sudoku, Connections, and other games for free.

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7. Library Events

senior library event knitting

Public libraries frequently host a wide range of events. While some are geared toward children, others are for all ages, and some are specifically designed for older adults.

A quick look at my city’s public library event calendar shows upcoming events including Adult Beginning Sewing, First Friday Films, Saturday Art, Munch Mobile Lunch Van (which offers a free lunch), and a Sculpey workshop (clay sculpting) … and all are completely free.

Check out your local library’s website to see whether any interesting events are coming up soon!

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8. Free Fitness Classes

fitness yoga instructor senior retiree

Long ago, if you wanted to take a fitness class, you either had to sign up for paid in-person classes or buy videos advertised on TV.

But nowadays, on the internet, you can find more free fitness classes—via online videos—than any one person could ever complete.

YouTube is a wonderful place to start your search. I’ve personally enjoyed videos from PopSugar Fitness and Blogilates. A few other highly popular YouTube fitness channels are Yoga With Adriene, Chloe Ting, and The Fitness Marshall.

Also worth noting is the SilverSneakers fitness program, which includes live online fitness classes and, in select locations nationwide, in-person classes. SilverSneakers is designed specifically for adults aged 65+ and is included for free in many Medicare Advantage plans. (Note: Medicare Advantage plans are private health insurance plans the federal government pays for—not state-sponsored health insurance.) You can find locations through SilverSneakers’ local tool; I tried it out with my midsized-city ZIP code, and were I old enough to be eligible, I could go to seven fitness locations within about 4 miles.

It also never hurts to reach out to a community pool or gym and ask if they have a free access pass for seniors.

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9. Bird Watching

senior bird watching binoculars

Bird watching is a fun and affordable way to spend your time at any age, but it seems particularly popular among old adults.

People enjoy seeing birds’ colorful features, hearing their melodic chirps, and figuring out their species. It’s surprisingly good for you, too. A recent study published in Scientific Reports found “significant positive associations between seeing or hearing birds and mental wellbeing” both in people with and without a diagnosis of depression.

Bird watching can be done at home, parks—really most outdoor locations. If your city has indoor botanical gardens, that can be a good place to spot them as well. To identify birds, consider renting a book from the library or searching identifying bird characteristics online. Binoculars can be helpful but aren’t necessary.

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10. Public Concerts + Events

singer at concert

Big cities don’t have a monopoly on free public performances and other events. Even villages with a few thousand people often host free concerts, outdoor movies, and more—you just need to be informed that these events exist.

One way to find out about performances and other events is to take a peek at a local newspaper. Facebook Events is an excellent option if you already have an account. City websites might also provide calendars of events.

Schools often host concerts and other performances, too, you can also check the websites of your local school district to view any upcoming public events.

In many cases, you’re doing the event a favor—organizers want as many visitors as possible, but might struggle to spread the word.

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11. Volunteering

senior volunteering clean up

Senior citizens can benefit substantially from volunteer work. When you join advocacy groups, it can give you a sense of purpose. Volunteering can also help you meet new people and, depending on the type of volunteer work, get some exercise.

Plus, it can often give you free admission to attractions and events you otherwise would have had to spend money to attend. If locally owned amusement parks have a special event, you might run a station for kids before enjoying a few rides yourself. Or you might volunteer at an annual film festival, which often lets you watch some of the films for free.

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12. Senior Center Activities

senior center activities yoga fitness

Senior centers fall under the umbrella of community centers. A local community center is a place where community members of all ages can gather for free and cheap activities. Senior centers cater more specifically to older members of the community.

But unlike, say, a country club membership, senior centers typically don’t require dues or registration (aside from signing up for certain events). Activities will vary by location. A glance at the website of a senior center in my city shows upcoming events such as bridge games, a veteran’s social, bingo, and more. A center near you might host free poker nights, have painting events, or offer another activity that interests you.

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Hannah Kowalczyk-Harper has been a professional writer since 2016 and has worked with WealthUp (formerly Young & the Invested) since 2019.

Prior to becoming a full-time writer, she was still immersed in words through previous roles as a library specialist and teacher. Her background in education helps her take complex topics and turn them into easy-to-understand text.

Hannah holds a degree in Elementary Education from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. When she isn’t writing, Hannah is usually found playing with her niece and nephew, traveling, or brewing more coffee.