Compact and low-key, Santa Fe is entirely doable on a tight budget. Not only are some of the top sights of New Mexico’s artsy capital free to enjoy, but opting for these spots over the high-priced tourist attractions will allow you to see the city like a local.

From dancing at outdoor evening concerts to tackling rewarding forest hikes, here’s our guide to visiting “the Fe” for free.

Dancers and spectators enjoy a summer music concert in the historic Plaza in downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Join locals strutting their stuff during the free concerts in Santa Fe Plaza during the summer months © Robert Alexander / Getty Images

Santa Fe Plaza

With its various museums, churches, galleries, and shops, Santa Fe Plaza is undeniably the heart of New Mexico’s capital. But, for those who want to make the most out of nothing, the free concert series that happens in the plaza during summer is a must.

On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6pm, join visitors and locals of every age in the heart of Santa Fe to dance like nobody's watching. From babies to elders, these events bring everyone together to enjoy live music by various bands.

Afterward, cool down with a stroll around the 400-year-old plaza neighborhood at night. Nothing is more beautiful than the evening lights outlining the pueblo-style buildings (an architectural style that originated in the area and is characterized by the use of flat roofs and wooden beams, as well as the pastel pink coloring) against a clear, inky sky.

Art stalls under the Portal 

This mini-adventure costs as little or as much as you want. Under the “portal” (a covered walkway along the south side of the Palace of The Governors), Native American artists, representing forty-one tribes, chapters and villages in New Mexico, as well as the Navajo Nation and parts of Arizona, sell handmade jewelry and art almost every day of the year.

Before the creation of formal markets in the 20th century, the Palace of The Governors’ portal was used as a market for produce, game, pottery and basketry. Today, there are different artists, regulated by the Portal Committee, who aim to promote traders who emphasize authenticity and work with traditional materials. 

A view of the grand Cathedral Basilica Of Saint Francis in Santa Fe, framed neatly by a stone structure in the foreground.
The Cathedral Basilica de Saint Francis of Assisi is one of Santa Fe's top sights, and it's free to enter © traveler1116 / Getty Images

Saint Francis Cathedral

The Cathedral Basilica de Saint Francis of Assisi, otherwise known as Saint Francis Cathedral, is a Santa Fe landmark that overlooks the city’s Plaza from the east end. Rich in history, culture, architecture and art, this Roman Catholic Church is open to visitors Tuesday to Friday from 9:30am to 4:00pm, and Saturday from 9:30am to 3:00pm.

This Romanesque cathedral was built in 1869 by Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy and stands in contrast to the surrounding adobe (mud brick) buildings. Behind the altar you’ll discover Spanish art in the retablo style, a vibrant type of folk art popular among Spanish churches. In front of the cathedral, between statues of Lamy and St. Francis, stands a statue of St. Kateri Tekakwitha by Jemez Pueblo sculptor Estella Loretto. Tekakwitha was the first Native American to be canonized (declared a saint) in 2012.

Mass is held at least once a week in both Spanish and English; check the cathedral’s website for timings.

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Window shopping at Jackalope 

Home goods store Jackalope has been decorating homes and gardens in Santa Fe for decades. Expect six and a half acres full of colorful, eclectic folk art and import items of every variety – it's fun just to wander and window shop. 

Within this multi-building compound of plants, pottery, decor and more, you’ll find a building full of rugs and furniture, another filled with Talavera pottery and Mexican art, and yet another with walls loaded with strands of gemstone beads. Also on the property is Prairie Dog Glass, where you can witness the magical art of glass blowing in action, or, should you wish to get the wallet out, even take a class. Additionally, if you’re looking for really unique budget gifts or souvenirs, this is the best spot in town to find something for everyone. 

A view of the Cross of the Martyrs in Santa Fe: a large cross standing on a hill, with a view of the city skyline beyond it.
The Cross of the Martyrs offers one of the best views of Santa Fe © Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

Cross of the Martyrs

New Mexico is legendary for its sunsets, and Santa Fe is especially noteworthy for captivating skyscapes. Electrifying oranges, neon pinks, and liquid gold clouds have been known to take the breath away as a prelude to clear, starry desert nights.

The hilltop Cross of the Martyrs is the best spot in the city to take in a sunset or full moon rise. To climb to the cross, the foothill entrance is located opposite the Santa Fe School Of Weaving on Paseo de Peralta, to the northeast of the plaza. With luck, one might find curbside parking at the nearby Tommy Mascione park, but you can also skip the climb and access the park by car from Artist's Road.

The hike isn’t too strenuous, but it’s good to keep in mind the 7000ft elevation, which has been known to take your breath away (in a more literal sense than the sunset views at the top). The walk has handrails and plenty of places to stop, take photos, and rest.

During the Fiestas de Santa Fe, which happens the weekend after Labor Day, a candlelit procession to The Cross of the Martyrs from Saint Francis Cathedral occurs after a special Mass.

Santa Fe National Forest

With the Espanola District of the Santa Fe National Forest located just outside of town, a quick drive into this region of alpine woodland, lakes and rocky peaks is the perfect natural escape. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains provide the perfect backdrop.

No matter how deep into the forest you choose to drive, there are many places to stop, picnic, hike, or just take in the view and cool mountain air. If you’re visiting in late summer or early fall, the aspen trees will be turning golden. The Aspen Vista Hiking Trail is the best place to enjoy the changing season. 

Remember to take extra water and a sweater, regardless of the time of year. Extreme weather can happen at a moment’s notice, and summer storms can strike with unexpected coldness.

Ed Larson studio and gallery in a very old adobe and wood farm house with commercial sign inviting people to by folk art. In front of the gallery on the sun there are some paintings with motives from Wild West.
Santa Fe abounds in art galleries of all shapes and sizes © DavorLovincic / Getty Images

Art galleries of Canyon Road

It doesn't cost a dime to look – that’s pretty much the mentality of Santa Fe. There are easily 100 fine art galleries along Canyon Road that house every type of art, from sculpture gardens to contemporary art to Navajo rugs and Pueblo pottery. 

A bonus is the free cheese and wine that frequently accompany a Friday evening art opening where you can meet the artist and rub elbows with the Santa Fe elite.  

Street parking is free but a rare find along Canyon Road. Alternatively there is a paid lot available at $1.80/hour, which happens to be by the wonderful Tea House Santa Fe, a local favorite for breakfast and brunch.

Tour the Santa Fe Spirits distillery

Following the craft beer boom, New Mexico is seeing more and more craft distilleries popping up. The award-winning Santa Fe Spirits distillery was founded in 2010 and offers tours at 3pm and 5pm on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays on Mallard Way. 

From grain to barrel, you’ll learn how their whiskey, vodka, brandy and gin come to life. The tour is free but ends in the tasting room, where you can participate in a paid-for guided tasting session of the distillery's products.

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