The 10 Best Free Events Happening in October

Where you can have fun on (less than) a dime this month

photo by robert clifford photography
A wide variety of fall festivals, like the New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival pictured here, are among this month's best free events.

1. New Hampshire Roads Taken—Or Not, Auburn, October 5

Following the second great war, the Granite State embarked on an extensive program of constructing new highways and making improvements to existing roads to accomodate growth. Hundreds of millions of (tax) dollars went into these projects and the decisions about highway projects were often politically driven. Steve Taylor of the New Hampshire Humanities Council will talk about the most significant road choices of the 20th century and how they affected economic, social and cultural changes.

2. Monadnock Art Tour, various, October 7-9

Sure, you can use the open studios of this tour as a miles-wide art shopping mall, but this annual event doesn't have to cost any more than the price of gas. Use the tour map to chart a course through the 50 artist studio open houses, then enjoy a leisurely drive through the region's best art and best foliage. And if you are looking to buy, you're in luck — many stops on the tour include works on sale at discounted, this-weekend-only rates.

3. Sidore Lecture Series: A Conversation with Sacha Pfeiffer, Plymouth, October 7

You've seen "Spotlight." Now see one of the real reporters depicted in the film as she discusses her craft right before your eyes. Expect discussion on the challenges faced by modern investigative reporters and an overview of the history of the genre. (603) 535-2787;

4. Brew Ha Ha, East Madison, October 7

Okay, so the actual brews of this brouhaha aren't free. But you can have a lot of fun at the festival without shelling over any cash. The Lifters will provide live blues music, and activities including corn hole, giant-sized Battleship and Connect Four, and face painting will be available throughout the day. Plus, fan-favorite breweries such as Smuttynose and Moat Mountain will be on hand, so you can pony up the money for a commemorative sample glass or just find intel on the brewers' latest concoctions in case you'd like to buy a six-pack later from your local grocery rather than a six-ounce taster at the tents. (603) 367-8896;

5. Toscana Fest, Salem, October 8

Sure, there are plenty of chances to take in a New England-style fall festival this month, but what about an Italian-inspired fest? At this one, put on by Tuscan Kitchen team, visitors can try their hand at bocce and snack on gelato and paninis while they get their pumpkin-painting and fall fun fix. Certain elements of the day (including food truck eats) are fee-required, but you can rest assured that your money's going to a good cause: Proceeds benefit Lazarus House Ministries of Lawrence, Mass. (603) 952-4875; Facebook

6. Change Direction New Hampshire, Hooksett, October 12

Four years ago, a team of psychology experts and advocates started Change Direction, an initiative to change the way we talk about and deal with mental health in America. With this kickoff event, the Granite State launches its own branch. Former State Supreme Court Chief Justice John Broderick will join in on the festivities to lead a discussion of the benefits of early detection and treatment for mental health issues. (603) 485-6092;

7. RiverFire, Berlin, October 14

By day, this free festival includes standard fall fun such as hay rides, duck races and food, but the true spectacle comes after dark. Lit pumpkins on the bridges and small fires on the boom piers of the Androscoggin River create the illusion that the river itself is aflame. Bring your camera and prepare for some stunning, zero-cost sights. (603) 752-6060;

8. Nashua ArtWalk Weekend, Nashua, October 14-15

Now in its 13th year, this showcase calls itself the largest arts festival in southern New Hampshire. It's a great opportunity to shop local — from both the participating artists and performers and the restaurants you'll find along the ArtWalk route — but, if you're low on cash, there's plenty to see for free. In addition to browsing the art, catch live music, enjoy craft demonstrations, and stay tuned for a number of other festivities to be announced as the weekend approaches. (603) 883-8093;

9. 20 Years of Star Island Photography, Portsmouth, October 19-November 21

Star Island has always caught the attention of artists, but for the past two decades, it's been of particular interest to a select few: the members of the New Hampshire Society of Photographic Artists. This exhibition shows off the best works created at the society's annual Star Island retreats. Peruse the works or stop by on October 20 for the opening soiree. (603) 430-6272;

10. Portsmouth Halloween Parade, Portsmouth, October 31

There's all kinds of free fun (and free candy) to be had around the state on October 31, but for the granddaddy of all New Hampshire Halloween events, mark your calendars for this storied community parade. Suit up in your best costumes and march through downtown Portsmouth on this annual dose of grassroots spookiness.

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