With its legendary seafood restaurants, abundance of historical sites, and popular destinations, such as Fenway Park and the original Cheers pub, there is plenty to love about Boston, Massachusetts. When I began researching my recent vacation to the area, I discovered one more thing to love: There are dozens of free or inexpensive things to do and see while visiting this vibrant and historic city.
By taking advantage of these fun, cheap activities and keeping costs low by saving on a hotel room and eating cheap while traveling, I’ll have enough money left to take a second vacation this summer. Whatever your reason for visiting Boston, you are sure to find something to please you that falls within your budget.
The Freedom Trail
The Freedom Trail is a walkable journey that takes you to historical sites along your travels. The two-and-a-half-mile trail has been preserved to tell the story of the American Revolution, and many sites offer free admission and tours.
1. Boston Common
Established in 1634, this scenic area is America’s oldest park and the start of the Freedom Trail. Explore the 50-acre park or, if you can, catch a festival or performance. The Public Garden, established in 1837, is also nearby. It is America’s oldest public botanical garden, and has offered its famous swan boat rides for more than a century.
2. State House
Take a 45-minute tour to learn about the history and architecture of the State House. Free tours are available weekdays from 10am to 4pm and require a reservation.
3. Park Street Church
This historic church, which dates back to 1809, was once the first landmark travelers saw when entering Boston, and it served as a site for anti-slavery lectures and many other historical happenings.
4. Granary Burying Ground
The graves of Benjamin Franklin’s parents, John Hancock, Paul Revere, and many other historical figures are located at the Granary Burying Ground.
5. King’s Chapel and Burying Ground
Take a self-guided tour of the King’s Chapel, which was built to resemble the churches in England. King’s Chapel Burying Ground is where many colonists are buried.
6. First Public School Site and Ben Franklin Statue
Not only was this the first public school in Boston, but it was the first in America, founded in 1635. It was attended by Samuel Adams and John Hancock, and another famous former student, Benjamin Franklin, is remembered by the statue in the front of the school.
7. Bunker Hill Monument
Climb the 294 steps to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument to see where the first major battle of the American Revolution took place. It is open daily from 9am until 5pm.
8. Former Site of the Old Corner Bookstore
It may now be a jewelry store, but this site is the location of the famed bookstore that published “The Scarlet Letter.”
9. Old South Meeting House
Take a tour, sit in on a lecture, or view a Boston Tea Party reenactment. Originally built as a Puritan house of worship, the Old South Meeting House is where the Boston Tea Party began.
10. Old State House
Take a tour with guides from the Old State House Museum. This house was the seat of British Government before the Revolution.
11. Boston Massacre Site
This is the site of a riot in 1770 that escalated until five colonists were killed by gunfire by British soldiers. The incident was declared a massacre by Samuel Adams and other patriots.
12. Faneuil Hall
At Faneuil Hall, talks are given every 30 minutes from 9:30am until 4:30pm by National Park Service Rangers. Since 1742, Faneuil Hall has served as both a meeting place and marketplace.
13. Quincy Market
Constructed from 1824 to 1826 by Josiah Quincy, mayor of Boston, Quincy Market was created to replace the then-deteriorating Faneuil Hall Marketplace. An impressive, lengthy structure, it stands adjacent to Faneuil Hall and features many eateries.
14. Paul Revere House
Learn more about the life of this patriot when you visit where he lived from 1770 to 1800. Built in 1680, it is the oldest building in downtown. Tours are available through the Paul Revere Memorial Association.
15. Old North Church
The bells of the 191-foot Old North Church, built on Salem Street in 1723, were the first bells to be brought to America. From the steeple, Robert Newman signaled with lanterns the approach of the British: “One if by land, two if by sea.”
16. Copp’s Hill Burying Ground
This is the second oldest burying ground in Boston and is the final resting place of, among many others, thousands of African-Americans who lived in Boston’s “New Guinea” community.
17. USS Constitution and Charlestown Navy Yard
The USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world. It tours every 30 minutes from Tuesday through Sunday, 10am to 5:30pm from April 1 to September 30 , and 10am to 3:30pm the rest of the year.
18. Bell in Hand Tavern
Established in 1795, Bell in Hand is one of America’s oldest taverns. Patrons at this Union Street alehouse have included Paul Revere and Daniel Webster. Nearby, on Marshall Street, one can find the Green Dragon Tavern. The Green Dragon may be the oldest continuously operating bar in the United States, though it is no longer in its original Union Street location – the site of the planning of the Boston Tea Party.
Art and Museums
Whether your particular area of interest is history or art, or if you just need to find suitable activities for children, Boston contains an array of museums to fit your desires. Many museums offer “free days,” discounted admission, or are low-cost.
19. Boston Children’s Museum
The Boston Children’s Museum is filled with interactive exhibits that provide children with an experience that is both fun and educational. Admission is $1 on Friday evenings.
20. Commonwealth Museum
Learn more about the history of Massachusetts and the significant people who have shaped the state. The Commonwealth Museum offers free admission.
21. The Museum of African-American History
Learn the history of African-Americans and famous figures who have influenced America. Admission is $5, but only $3 for those over 62 or between the ages of 13 and 17. Children 12 and younger are free.
22. Boston Art Commission
The Boston Art Commission displays both temporary and permanent art across the city on property owned by the City of Boston. This is a great way to see art for free while also seeing different parts of the beautiful city. The Boston Art Commission website features an interactive map to help you locate public art sites.
23. Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts offers free admission every Wednesday from 4pm until 9:45pm, and it’s always free for anyone under the age of 17.
24. Institute of Contemporary Art Boston
The ICA offers free admission on Thursdays from 5pm to 9pm, and is free for anyone under the age of 17 at all times. It is also free for families (two adults accompanied by children 12 or younger) on the last Saturday of each month (with the exception of December).
Its rich history and scenic surroundings make Boston a perfect place for sightseeing, and there is plenty to see away from the Freedom Trail. These destinations offer great entertainment at no cost.
25. The Boston Public Library
Take a free tour of the nation’s first public library that highlights the architecture of Charles Follen McKim and Philip Johnson. Tours last an hour and meet in the lobby of the McKim Building. The library also offers lectures, classes, and other various events.
26. Harvard University
Cross the Charles River into Cambridge to visit the prestigious Harvard University. Also, be sure to check out Harvard Square, which is a great place to spot performers, listen to lectures, visit a variety of shops and restaurants, and attend book signings. The Harvard Book Store also offers many events throughout the year.
27. Boston HarborWalk
Boston HarborWalk is a public boardwalk that runs the length of Boston’s waterfront neighborhoods, from Charlestown to South Boston. It is lined with cafes, shopping, and artwork. It also includes access to water taxis and ferries. Download the free audio tour to discover the area on your own.
28. Newbury Street
An eight-block stretch filled with boutique shopping, dining, galleries, and salons, Newbury Street was originally a residential neighborhood – so it has a unique and cozy atmosphere. Notice the European design elements along the way.
29. First World Series Site
The first-ever World Series game was played on October 1, 1903 at Huntington Avenue Grounds, the original home of the Boston Americans (now Red Sox). A statue of Cy Young, who threw the first pitch in World Series history, stands on the site of the pitcher’s mound, located on the campus of Northeastern University.
Enjoying Boston’s history and art scene aren’t the only things to do in this lively city. There are numerous opportunities for free or affordable entertainment.
30. Fenway Park
If you want to experience this famous ballpark, but are not in town on game day, take the official Fenway Park tour. The price is $12 for adults, $11 for seniors, and $10 for children ages 3 to 15.
31. New England Aquarium
Considered to be one of the premier aquariums in the country, the New England Aquarium is an affordable, family friendly attraction that features rotating exhibits, a “giant ocean tank,” an IMAX theater, and whale watches (from April through November).
32. The Hatch Shell
Check out the Hatch Memorial Shell on the Charles River Esplanade, which features free outdoor concerts through the summer.
33. Coit Observatory
Gaze at the stars at the Coit Observatory at Boston University, which offers free observations on Wednesday evenings at 7:30pm during the fall and winter, and at 8:30pm in the spring and summer.
34. Parks and Beaches
Many of the Boston area’s public parks and beaches offer free admission. Check out a listing at the Department of Conservation and Recreation website.
35. Samuel Adams Brewery
Sam Adams Brewery tours are available Monday through Thursday between 10am and 3pm, on Friday from 10am to 5:30pm, and on Saturdays from 10 am until 3 pm. Tours depart every 45 minutes and last about one hour. There is a suggested donation of $2 to support local charities.
Ways to Get Around Boston
In addition to its many free or cheap activities, Boston’s transportation system makes it even more of an affordable destination. The city has many walkable areas, public transportation, and is bike-friendly.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), or the T, offers affordable public transportation around the Greater Boston area. You can travel by rail, bus, subway, or boat. Visit the official MBTA site to view schedules and rates, and to enter your desired location for easy directions.
A single-use ticket to ride any public transportation is called a CharlieTicket, but if you are planning to use the subway or bus frequently, consider purchasing the plastic, refillable CharlieCard. The CharlieCard is free, as you do not pay a surcharge, such as the one required when buying the one-time CharlieTicket.
With a CharlieCard, money is stored on the card, and you can manage and monitor your account online. The card also allows holders such benefits as discounts at local restaurants, stores, and other businesses – just be sure to pick up the discount book to redeem discounts. Get the card from MBTA Customer Service Agents at subway stations, select bus terminals, select retail stores, T sales offices, or online.
Biking is an inexpensive way to get around, and it’s good for your health and the environment. During the warmer months, depending on what part of the city you’ll be visiting, Boston can be quite bike-friendly. Check out the city’s bike maps, get directions to your destination by bike route, and find out where you can park your bike.
Whether you’re a lover of history, art, sports, shopping, or fine dining, there are many memorable experiences awaiting you in Boston. It is a great place to visit alone, with a friend, or as part of a family group vacation, especially with so many free attractions and cheap accommodations.
Like most places in the Northeast, the winters can be brutally cold. Therefore, the best time to travel to this lively city is during summer, spring, or fall. The comfortable weather will allow you to enjoy the city’s many outdoor activities, walkways, and historic sites without freezing!
What are your favorite attractions in Boston? What tips can you suggest to save on a Boston vacation?
[photo credit: aceshot1 (Quincy Market), Shutterstock]