Want to visit Boston but worried about breaking the bank? The good news is that there are plenty of free things to do in Boston that will give your wallet a break.
In my previous post, I wrote about 7 Beautiful Outdoor Spaces Near Boston. Be sure to read that post to learn about some of the incredible parks you can visit in Boston at no cost to you!
This post is going to focus on some of the less obvious ideas for visitors new to this stunning city.
20 Free Things to Do in Boston, MA
1. Check out the stunning view from the ICA
Next to the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) you will discover this incredible cityscape. It is the perfect spot to visit at any time of the day. However, I highly recommend checking it out at sunset. Talk about a romantic date night walk!
Since you are right beside the ICA, you can also check out the museum for free on the following days: Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Be sure to check out their website to find out when they will reopen post-pandemic.
2. Show the seals some love outside of the New England Aquarium
While getting into the museum comes has an admission fee, that doesn’t mean you can’t pay the harbor seals a visit for free! Right next to the admission area, you will find a large 42,000 gallon outdoor tank outside. There you can visit two families of harbor seals without paying the price of admission or dealing with the crowds inside.
3. Walk the Freedom Trail
On a nice day, you must take the journey to see all of the historic spots in Boston. There are some excellent photo ops along the way. The trail starts in historic Boston Common and loops all the way through the historic North End before crossing the Charles River and splitting towards either the USS Constitution or the Bunker Hill Monument. (PDF trail map) Be sure to check their website for pandemic related updates.
4. Step back in time with a visit to Acorn Street
This colonial era style street is located in the prestigious neighborhood of Beacon Hill. Yet, it costs nothing to visit. Acorn Street still has its cobblestones and is easily one of the most photographed streets in the United States. It is a perfect spot to take pictures for a wonderful trip memento.
5. Enjoy a free show at the Edward A. Hatch Memorial Shell
The Edward A. Hatch Memorial Shell or simply Hatch Shell is right along the Charles River Esplanade. The area is a very scenic park a few streets down from Newbury Street. When we aren’t in a pandemic, they host a number of free concerts and events in the summer months.
Personally, I love this spot because you can enjoy the view of sailboats while listening to some incredible concerts. Be sure to check their website for pandemic related updates concerning their reopening this summer.
6. Get into museums for free!
For those new to the city, you may be surprised to discover there are free admissions days for Boston area museums if you meet their requirements. If I had to pick two to recommend, it would definitely be the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) is MASSIVE and will take you time to get through. Typically their admission is free on Wednesdays after 4 pm with a voluntary donations. Admission is always free for MFA members, military, area university students, faculty, and staff. Plus kids ages 17 and younger are always free. There are also additional discount and free programs on their site. Be sure to bring your ID if applicable. Note that the hours and policies are temporarily altered due to the pandemic. Be sure to check their current admission policies here before your visit as they are subject to change.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum also has a free admission day to celebrate Frank Hatch Free Day each year on September 4th. Typically starting at 11 am they operate on a first-come, first-served basis. This museum has a beautiful indoor garden/courtyard that is worth the visit. Stay updated on their reopening guidelines before your visit.
7. Want a laugh? Check out the spite house on Hull Street
There is a funny local story about an inheritance dispute between brothers resulting in one of the brother’s building this house out of spite. The main goal being to block his brother’s house from having adequate sunshine. Also called the Skinny House, this North End treasure is famous in the area. You can find it at 44 Hull Street in Boston.
8. Enjoy a relaxing day at Constitution Beach
Why pay for beach access if you don’t have to? Look no further than East Boston’s Constitution Beach for a relaxing day at the beach. It is accessible with public transportation and also has a free parking lot. If the lot fills up, there is metered street parking available nearby.
While there are facilities available such basketball courts, due to COVID some may be closed. Check this website for updates as the summer approaches. Hopefully with the vaccine things will begin to open up! Fun fact: you can also watch planes take off and land at Logan Airport from this beach.
9. Go window shopping on Newbury Street
Newbury Street is located in the Back Bay area of Boston. It is the perfect street for window shopping and people watching. You will love seeing all of the brownstones that go on for a mile. There are many high end shops, trendy cafes, and incredible restaurants. My favorite days to visit are when Newbury Street is closed to traffic and becomes a pedestrian haven. They have a bunch of fun events throughout the year. I highly recommend strolling down this famous area.
10. Explore the historic North End
The historic North End is known for being a hub of Italian American residents and phenomenal restaurants. It may be the oldest residential neighborhood in Boston, but it is still going strong today with its popular restaurants, markets, historic sites, and summer festivals. You must add this destination to your list. It is a great place to walk around to get to know the city. Check out their website to discover events.
11. Enjoy free samples from Quincy Market
The Quincy Market Food Colonnade at Faneuil Hall Marketplace is home to over 30 food merchants. Lucky for you, most of the food stalls offer free samples to stuff yourself without even opening your wallet. Check out their most recent list of food vendors. You will also get to see incredible street performers outside.
12. Get some photo ops by the Boston sign
If you look directly across the street from Faneuil Hall, you will see a staircase. At the top of the staircase is the Boston sign built by Boston Seasons Beer Garden. This huge sign is an excellent place to take a cute photo to remember your trip to the city. The beer garden is seasonal, but the sign is always there!
13. Hike to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument
If you are feeling like getting your steps in, then give the Bunker Hill Monument’s 294 steps a go! You can see some incredible views from the top. Be sure to check the weather before your visit as poor weather may prevent the monument from opening. Check out their website for COVID related updates.
14. Revisit your childhood and see the Make Way For Ducklings statues
You can find the Nancy Schön’s bronze statues created in tribute to Robert McCloskey’s famous Make Way for Ducklings near the corner of Beacon Street and Charles Street. These adorable statues are decorated each season so there is always something new to see when visiting.
15. Get historical onboard the USS Constitution
While the USS Constitution’s museum has an admission fee, you can board the ship for free with ID. Anyone under the age of 18 does not need ID. This ship is known for having never lost a battle and is the oldest naval commissioned ship still afloat. Currently the ship is closed to boarding due to COVID but you can still go to see the ship from the harbor. Hopefully by summer the ship will reopen for boarding. Stay tuned for updates on their website.
16. Tour Harvard University’s Campus
While in the Boston area, why not visit the oldest university in the United States? Harvard University has a picturesque campus that is perfect for touring on your own or you can take a free student led tour. Donations are appreciated.
17. Spend an afternoon at the Boston Public Library
Boston Public Library in Copley Square is another historic landmark that is completely free to visit. If you need a break from walking, take a rest in the library or the picturesque courtyard. The Beaux-Arts architecture is well worth the visit. You won’t run out of books to look at either considering there are 23.7 million items in their collection.
18. Game on at The Lawn on D
Another space worth visiting post-pandemic will be the Lawn on D. This is an interactive event space full of fun outdoor games in South Boston. There are swings, ultimate Jenga, giant checkers, and so much more. During normal times, they are open from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm. It is completely free to enter their public events. (FAQs) Check out their website to find out when they will reopen.
19. Experience Shakespeare in Boston Common
Every July and August, you can watch free theatre productions by the Parkman Bandstand in Boston Common. This year’s production will be The Tempest. The dates are still to be determined due to COVID but they are still aiming for July/August. You can stay updated by visiting their website.
20. Cheer at the Head of the Charles Regatta
While this year’s event was held remotely, in the future you will be able to cheer on the crew teams every 3rd weekend in October. This upcoming year’s event will be held October 23-24, 2021. The event attracts 2,000 boats from all over the world. The race itself begins at Boston University’s DeWolfe Boathouse near the Boston University Bridge and finishes at Eliot Bridge in Brighton. The boat houses even host open houses which is a big perk if you are looking to save on attractions. Check out this post for some tips on the best places to watch the race for free. Event Website
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