Have fun, stay warm and save money.

That’s often a tricky combination to achieve during a Maine winter. In the nice weather, you can find lots of free activities, from hiking and beach combing to bike rides and outdoor community concerts or movies. But in the winter, you have to start heading inside for concerts or art exhibits or movies, and that usually means paying an admission.

With inflation jacking up the price of everything from bread and eggs to electricity and heating oil, paying for fun might be a pretty low priority for a lot of people. Luckily, there are some absolutely free ways to have fun or soak up some arts and culture in Maine in winter.

These include college art museums, free exhibits, concerts, sing-alongs, author talks and a weekly s’more’s night. The latter event is outdoors, but warmed by a cozy fire. Here are a few ideas for free things to do around southern Maine in the coming months.


You can go to one of Maine’s excellent college art museums for free any time. The museums at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Bates College in Lewiston and Colby College in Waterville are always free, offering works from their permanent collections and special exhibitions.


One of the exhibits now on view at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art is “Masks of Memories: Art and Ceremony in Nineteenth Century Oceania” featuring masks from Papua, New Guinea. Also up at Bowdoin is “ReFraming the Collection: New Considerations in European and American Art, 1475-1875,” which explores art created as European empires were being built.

One of the exhibits now on view at the the Colby Museum of art is “Alex Katz: Theater and Dance,” which examines the Maine summer resident’s collaborations with theater and dance companies. Also on view at Colby is an exhibit of works, by other artists, from the Alex Katz Foundation collection. For more information, go each museum’s website: museum.colby.edu, bowdoin.edu and bates.edu.

The exhibit “Alex Katz: Theater and Dance” is currently on view at the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer


The Portland String Quartet has been creating beautiful music since 1969, when it began as the Portland Symphony String Quartet. If you’ve never heard them play, here’s your chance, for free. The quartet will perform at 12:15 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17, in the Rines Auditorium at the Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square, Portland. The performance is part of the Portland Conservatory of Music’s free Noonday Concert Series, now in its 27th season. For more information, go to portlandconservatoryofmusic.org or portlandlibrary.com.

The Portland String Quartet has upcoming free concerts in November and December. Photo courtesy of The Portland String Quartet

The Portland String Quartet will also perform a free concert called “Giving BACH to Portland” featuring work by J.S. Bach. The performance will be at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 21 at Mechanics’ Hall on Congress Street in Portland. Seating is limited. For more information, go to portlandstringquartet.com. 



Speaking of the Noonday Concert Series, it’s always free and always a great way to explore different types of music and performers. The performances are usually held twice a month from fall through spring, at either the Portland Conservatory of Music, 28 Neal St., or the Portland Public Library. Some upcoming performances include the duo Scheckmate – Raffael Scheck on cello and Timothy Burris on lute – on Dec. 1 and a holiday sing-along with the group Choral Art on Dec. 15. Both are at the conservatory. For more information and the full schedule through May 2023, go to portlandconservatoryofmusic.org.

“A Blue: Daniel Minter and the Layered Narrative of Illustration” is on exhibit now at the Portland Public Library’s Lewis Gallery. Illustration © Daniel Minter


The Portland Public Library’s Lewis Gallery is a great place to see innovative and thought-provoking art, including from local artists. And it’s always free. The exhibit on view now through Dec. 31 is “A Blue: Daniel Minter and the Layered Narrative of Illustration.” Minter is a Maine-based artist and award-winning illustrator of more than a dozen children’s books, including “Blue: A History of the Color As Deep As the Sea and as Wide as the Sky,” “So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk to Freedom” and “Going Down Home with Daddy,” which won a 2020 Caldecott Honor. Illustrations from those books and several others are part of the exhibit. In 2019, Minter co-founded Indigo Arts Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to cultivating the artistic development of people of African descent. For more information, go to portlandlibrary.com.


It’s nice to have friends who will share their food and a warm fire on a winter’s eve. In this case, those are The Friends of Congress Square Park, who are planning to host S’mores Nights every Thursday, beginning Dec. 1 and running through February. From 4-6 p.m., people can gather in the park and sit around fire tables creating their s’mores, with marshmallow, chocolate and graham crackers. The Pink Waffle food truck will also be there, selling hot beverages. The s’mores ingredients are free, with donations encouraged. Also free is the entertainment that will be happening most Thursdays along with the s’mores, including shadow puppet shows and music from local performers. The park is located across Congress Street from the Portland Museum of Art, For more information, go to congresssquarepark.org.

Thursday S’Mores Nights will be held in Congress Square Park this winter. Photo courtesy of Friends of Congress Square Park


Your local library is really the go-to place for free entertainment and diversions. The books are free, movies are free and many offer free concerts, events and author talks. Maine-based crime writer Bruce Robert Coffin will be giving a talk at Baxter Memorial Library in Gorham on Nov. 15 at 6 p.m., for instance. There’s more info at baxterlibrary.org. The Lewiston Public Library is hosting an event called Maine Audubon’s Backyard Birding Basics on Nov. 30 at 11 a.m., featuring Maine Audubon staff talking about how to attract birds to your yard throughout winter. Get more information at lplonline.org.

Also, many libraries offer free passes for various museums and attractions. The Portland Public Library has passes to the Portland Museum of Art, Portland Stage, and Southworth Planetarium at the University of Southern Maine. Find details at portlandlibrary.com. The South Portland library offers passes to the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland and Portland Museum of Art, among others. For more information, go to southportlandlibrary.com. But there are others as well, so check the website of your local library or maybe two or three around you, and see what free passes they might have.

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