9 fun things to do online

The World Wide Web provides many paths to popular culture. Whether you strive for self improvement by learning a new language or you just wish to be entertained, you can find great sites to help you pass the time and enrich your life at the same time.

Explore these nine fun things to do online that won’t cost you a dime.

Watch free movies

Download free movies from Hulu.com. You have to sift through some so-so titles, but there are some real jewels, too. Among them: true classics, such as “His Girl Friday” and Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps”; kitschy fun, like “Beach Blanket Bingo” and “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians;” plus such screen gems as “Gandhi.” These are alphabetized for your convenience. All you have to supply is the popcorn.

Stream or download music

Want to liven up your computer time? Check out Pandora.com or Yahoo Music, which allow you to select a category (everything from rock to Latin jazz to stand-up comedy) and stream to your heart’s content. Like regular radio, you get unlimited play for free, with occasional commercials. You can also listen in to actual broadcasts from stations across the country.

Rather make your own music? Try your hand at Bach, Beethoven or something more contemporary with free sheet music from MutopiaProject.org. You can download, play and enjoy more than 1,600 pieces of music for piano, voice and various instruments. Browse by composer or instrument, then download zipped files in a variety of formats, including PDFs.

Take language lessons

Ever wanted to parlez-vous francais or habla espanol? Learn a handful of essential phrases in 36 different languages — including Icelandic, Chinese and Catalan. Or take a 12-week course in French, Spanish, German or Italian via computer, complete with lessons, weekly e-mail tips, an “end of course assessment” and a certificate when you’re done. It’s all courtesy of the BBC.

Just deciphering a word, phrase or paragraph? Check out Yahoo Babel Fish.

Access the classics

From Homer to Agatha Christie, Project Gutenberg literally has something for everyone. Browse more than 30,000 books by author, title or most recently posted. Or just check out the most popular selections with the “Top 100.” Download formats are compatible with virtually every computer and eBook device. Also available: audio books, sheet music and recorded music. If you find yourself returning to the shelves regularly, you can kick in a donation to keep the enterprise going.

Find Wi-Fi hotspots

WiFiFreeSpot.com tells you which restaurants, retailers, cafes, fast-food joints and coffee shops in your area let you surf for free. Or try PCWorld.jiwire.com, and search for free Wi-Fi by ZIP code, map or city.

Learn haute cuisine

Want to try your hand at making tabbouleh? Chill up a batch of lavender-infused lemonade? Delight in a moist, delicious, dark chocolate cake? Just feast your eyes on AllRecipes.com, which publishes recipes, with lots of photos, and tips for everything from appetizers and ethnic favorites to kid-friendly options and traditional main courses.

Find free eats

Have a family? From small, local mom-and-pops to chains like IHOP and Chili’s, restaurants offer free kids meals, usually on specific days or between certain hours. To find local participants, Google your city and the phrase “kids eat free.”

Take college classes

The OpenCourseWare Consortium is a network of more than 250 colleges and universities around the globe offering 13,000 college undergrad and graduate-level classes online for free. While you don’t earn college credit, you can learn at the university level on topics that span all interests from medieval literature to managing personal finances. Search by topic or school.

With many classes, you can read detailed lecture notes, keep up with class reading assignments and assess your own performance on tests and quizzes, says Steve Carson, president of the OpenCourseWare Consortium. In addition, some classes offer audio-video lectures, giving you a feel for what it’s like to attend classes at the university, he says.

Read about personal finance

OK, so learning about money isn’t normally fun or funny. But these stories present personal finance in a different light. Just take a look; you’ll see what we mean. More importantly, these resources can help amuse you straight to the road of wealth.