Your WordPress theme is your site's foundation, which means it plays a big role in how quickly your site loads. Sure, there are a ton of tactics that you can use to speed up your WordPress site after the fact. But your theme is always going to act as a bottleneck.
In fact, I was doing some testing on my portfolio site once and I got an almost 50% reduction in page load times just by switching to one of the lightweight WordPress themes on this list (and that site was already decently optimized before the switch!).
So yeah, whenever possible, you always want to choose a lightweight WordPress theme. But – how do you find a theme that's lightweight? I mean, no developer advertises their theme as “slow loading”, so how do you get beyond the marketing copy and pick something that's going to load fast?
To make that easier, we've put together this list of the best free lightweight WordPress themes. All of these themes will give you a quick-loading foundation without costing you a penny. And to prove it – I'll install each one of these themes on my test site and show you the data when it comes to file size and HTTP requests.
Let's dive in…
What Makes A Theme “Lightweight”?
Unless you test a lot of WordPress themes yourself, I realize that “lightweight” doesn't mean much without context. So before I show you the data for the best free lightweight WordPress themes, I'll first give you a look at what an average theme looks like when it comes to file size and the number of requests.
To do that, I ran some tests for 4 random popular themes at WordPress.org (these are not the lightweight themes). I know – it's not the most scientific of experiments. But it should give you a good baseline for what your “average” theme looks like:
- Newsmag – 848.3 KB and 37 requests
- Hueman – 582.9 KB and 21 requests
- Ashe – 1.6MB and 24 requests (file size is extra large because it uses a background cover image by default)
- Activello – 612.4 KB and 22 requests
You can kind of see a pattern there – the average WordPress theme is well over ~600 KB and has somewhere in the low 20s HTTP requests for just a blank site, and some can easily go beyond that.
For all the data in this post, I'm using a brand new WordPress install with just the default content and no plugins. Additionally, the file size numbers are for the entire WordPress site – not just the theme files. That's why you might see a discrepancy between my numbers and the numbers that theme companies put in their marketing copy.
- File size on a fresh install: 108.4 KB
- HTTP requests on a fresh install: 11
Right off the bat, you can see that GeneratePress sports some impressive numbers when it comes to “lightweightedness”. Its numbers are well below your average theme, which will give you a great foundation to build on.
While GeneratePress doesn't look like much out of the box, the big perk of this theme is how customizable it is, which is why it's a great multipurpose option.
Using the real-time WordPress Customizer, you can easily switch up your site's header, typography, colors, etc.
If you're a fan of WordPress page builders, GeneratePress is also very easy to pair with a page builder because you get a meta box for each piece of content that lets you:
- Turn off the content title or other information
- Change width (e.g. create a full-width design with your page builder).
- Disable header/footer to use a page builder to design the entire page
If you're willing to pay, GeneratePress Premium adds on a lot of new customization options, as well as tons of hooks that developers will love. All the new features are modular, of course, to preserve GeneratePress' lightweight approach.
GeneratePress Premium also gets you access to a pre-made site library that you can import as needed.
- File size on a fresh install: 96.8 KB
- HTTP requests on a fresh install: 10
Zakra manages to squeak in a tiny bit under GeneratePress, going sub-100 KB for the file size on a fresh WordPress install.
Like GeneratePress, it doesn't offer a ton of styling out of the box, instead opting to give you lots of WordPress Customizer controls to set things up to your liking.
From the WordPress Customizer, you can control:
- Header layout
- Single layouts
Beyond those Customizer controls, you can also choose from 10+ free starter sites. And like GeneratePress, you also get those page-level controls that make Zakra really easy to pair with a page builder. You can:
- Change layouts
- Tweak sidebars
With that being said, it's not quite as flexible as GeneratePress in terms of what you can disable on a per-post/page basis:
There is currently no paid version of Zakra – everything is 100% free.
- File size on a fresh install: 174.1 KB
- HTTP requests on a fresh install: 9
Astra is another lightweight WordPress theme that's especially popular with people who use page builders.
One of my favorite things about Astra is that it comes with a big library of pre-made sites that you can import with just a few clicks. These sites are built with Elementor, Beaver Builder, or Brizy for easy customization. While paid users get access to all the pre-made sites, even free users can still install a solid number of pre-made sites.
Beyond that, you also get a ton of detailed WordPress Customizer settings to control exactly how your site looks, as well as per-post/page options to:
- Change content width
- Disable title, header, featured image, or footer
- Change the number of sidebars
- Enable a transparent header
Astra also has special integrations for WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads, and some LMS plugins that let you control the plugin's looks via the WordPress Customizer. That's a nice plus if you use one of those plugins.
If you need more functionality, there's also a Pro version that adds a lot more modular options for $59.
- File size on a fresh install: 543.6KB
- HTTP requests on a fresh install: 19
Airi is a little larger than the previous three themes but makes up for it with more of a polished look out of the box. It's a great option for businesses, agencies, and freelancers.
To further change things up, Airi includes multiple importable demo sites, all created with the Elementor page builder, which means that you can easily customize the templates using simple drag-and-drop editing:
For other tweaks, you can use the real-time WordPress Customizer.
If you want more functionality, Airi Pro adds even more demo sites, as well as some new Elementor widgets to expand the free version of Elementor with widgets for:
- Post grids
- And more
The Pro version also gives you more WooCommerce options in the Customizer.
- File size on a fresh install: 625.8KB
- HTTP requests on a fresh install: 18
Along with GeneratePress and Astra, OceanWP is the third member in this trio of themes that are super popular with people who build WordPress sites with page builders. It's the heaviest theme on this list, but it comes with a lot of customization options to make up for that.
It has a lot of similarities to those two themes in that:
- It includes detailed WordPress Customizer controls
- You get page-level controls to disable certain information if you want to use a page builder (as long as you install the free companion Ocean Extra plugin)
OceanWP's post/page meta box is a little more detailed than the other themes, even letting you get into things like breadcrumbs and a custom logo for specific content:
Where you'll start seeing some of the bigger differences with OceanWP is in the premium version. Beyond adding a bunch of importable site designs, the premium version is also a little more focused on adding functionality than just pure customization like Astra and GeneratePress.
For example, the premium version includes features like:
- Cookie notice
- Popup login
- Instagram feed
- Modal window
- Social sharing
You can get all the premium extensions for $39.
- File size on a fresh install: 206.8 KB
- HTTP requests on a fresh install: 12
As the name suggests, Page Builder Framework is specifically designed to pair with whatever your favorite page builder is.
As a result, it's focused on giving you the basic controls you need and then getting out of the way so that you can use a page builder for everything else.
Using the WordPress Customizer, you can set up:
- Your header (the premium version adds a lot more flexibility here)
- Blog layouts, including archives and singles
And you also get those page-level controls that let you:
- Hide page titles
- Disable the header and/or footer
- Go full-width
- Change the sidebar configuration
If you need more functionality, there's a premium add-on that gives more detailed header/menu options, like:
- Sticky header
- Transparent header
- Off-canvas menu
- Mega menu
As well as lots of other customization options, including more detailed Customizer controls.
That premium version costs $59.
- File size on a fresh install: 206.0 KB
- HTTP requests on a fresh install: 11
In terms of file size and requests, Neve clocks in almost equal to Page Builder Framework.
Like many of the others, Neve is built to pair with your page builder of choice and/or the new Gutenberg block editor that became the default editor in WordPress 5.0.
As such, it comes with detailed WordPress Customizer controls for your site's basic looks, including lots of different layouts for your blog archive pages (you can either go with a list or a grid, with several permutations on each).
You also get page-level controls where you can:
- Change the number of sidebars
- Change the width, including a unique option to specify a custom width percentage
- Disable the header, title, or footer
Beyond that, Neve also comes with its own Sites Library that lets you import any one of 7 pre-built sites (these are built with Elementor).
Currently, Neve is 100% free.
Get Started With A Lightweight WordPress Theme Today!
Usually, I try to end my roundups with recommendations for which specific theme you should choose. However, that's hard with this one because many of these themes are trying to do the same types of things.
Instead, I'll just leave you with some recommendations for what to consider:
- Header/menu options – do you want a sticky header? Transparent header? Off-label menu? Those are all things to consider because each theme handles it differently.
- Pre-built sites – some themes – like Airi, Astra, Neve, and Zakra – include demo sites in the free version, while others only do in the paid version. That might be important if you don't want to start from scratch.
- Customizer controls – many of these limit which Customizer controls you get access to for free. So double check that you're able to customize what's needed in the free version.
Other than that, all of these themes should set you up with a great lightweight foundation to build your site on!