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Bully Boy Distillers
Photograph: Courtesy Bully Boy Distillers

The best cheap things to do in Boston

In a city as expensive as ours, you can always opt for these affordable activities

Olivia Vanni
Written by
Olivia Vanni
Written by
Gerrish Lopez
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Between the ever-rising rent prices and overall cost of living here, Boston is by no means a cheap city. While you'll struggle to find a cocktail under $13 and paying for parking here is just plain painful, there are still a number of ways to enjoy our little piece of New England paradise while sticking to a budget. Believe it or not, there are many free things to do in Boston, as well as plenty of activities and outings that will usually cost less than $12. When you want to save your dough, stick to our list of the best cheap things to do in Boston—from cheap eats to cheap activities—and then splurge on the best fine dining in Boston or Boston’s best shopping with all of that extra cash.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Boston

Best cheap things to do in Boston

  • Restaurants

Boston's proximity to the ocean means we always have a steady stream of fresh fish at our fingertips—and sometimes, for a steal. Our New England waters have some of the tastiest oysters in the country, and they're not reserved purely for a fancy night out. Fortunately, many of the best oyster bars and restaurants in town have happy hour specials, where you can sample these shellfish for a fraction of their normal cost. Check out some of these deals, many of which are even sweeter on off-peak nights or hours.  

2. Go old school at the arcade

Do you love playing those nostalgic games of your youth (or prior) but don’t want to drop a ton of money on tokens? Versus is an arcade and bar that features Free Play Fridays, offering free entry and unlimited playing for anyone who arrives between 5—6pm. This Downtown Crossing hotspot, which normally has only a $5 cover fee, has classic throwbacks like Frogger and Ms. Pacman, as well as video game favorites like Mario Kart and SuperSmash Bros., and analog amusements like Giant Jenga and shuffleboard. If you’ve got the funds to spare, buy a drink and a bite to eat at the bar. 

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Whether you're looking for a peaceful afternoon on the water or planning a romantic outdoor date, renting a rowboat on Jamaica Pond is an affordable (and just plain cute) option. The nature-filled scenery borders on idyllic, letting you completely forget that you're still within the city limits. Rentals vary depending on what kind of watercraft you seek, but all are reasonably priced, ranging from $10—20 an hour.

  • Bars
  • Breweries

Boston's craft beer scene is booming, with dozens of smaller upstarts holding their own against standbys like Sam Adams and Harpoon. Enthusiasts can visit the breweries and try beers straight from the source. Even better, many of the best breweries give tours of their facilities (usually with a taste or two) for a very small fee or donation.

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  • Restaurants

Spanning practically every cuisine imaginable, Boston offers up a smorgasbord of affordable—and still satisfying—eats. Find super-cheap Sicilian slices at Galleria Umberto, a steaming bowl of ramen at Sapporo Ramen or a giant, filling burrito at El Pelón Taqueria—all for a great price. Many of Boston's cheapest eats are international in flavor, but you'll find some all-American bites on our list too too, like sub-$3 hot dogs and massive servings of brunch favorites.

Visit a museum for less
Photograph: Courtesy Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum/Nic Lehoux

6. Visit a museum for less

Boston is abound with world-renowned art, and you can gaze upon a number of priceless collections for little to no cost. Every Wednesday from 3pm, the celebrated Museum of Fine Arts allows guests to enter for only $5 per person, which is quite the deal. Better yet for your budget, the Institute of Contemporary Art is free on Thursdays from 5pm to 9pm. Meanwhile, everyone gets a free pass to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on their birthday, and anyone with the name Isabella always gets to visit the museum without charge, as per Gardner’s request.

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  • Bars

With Boston's notable absence of happy hours and infamously high cost of living, finding cheap booze around town can be a real struggle—but not entirely impossible. Our city is home to a bevy of dive bars that keep a loyal customer base, thanks to their consistently cheap pours. They may be a little messy, with cranky bartenders and questionable bathrooms, but for a wallet-friendly night out, these diamonds in the rough are your best bet. P.S. We hope you like PBR straight from the tap.

  • Restaurants

Diners are believed to be a beloved product of New England (word is, the first one opened in Rhode Island in 1872). Today, they’re a source of nostalgia, as well as a sure thing for a filling meal at nearly retro prices. While there are a few glammed-up diners around town, most spots have retained their greasy spoon charm we've all come to love—and some are even 24-hour joints. All offer friendly service, reasonable prices and casual atmospheres.

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9. Grab cannoli in the North End

While you might not have the budget for a full feast in Boston’s North End, grabbing cannoli is always a decent—and cheap—compromise. The historically Italian-American neighborhood is filled with longstanding institutions that sell these Sicilian sweets alongside other delicious baked goods for under $10. Wait in line at the landmark establishments like Mike’s or Modern Pastry, then make your way to the waterfront or Rose Kennedy Greenway, so you can sit back, relax and eat your treat with a stunning view. If you happen to have a late-night craving, you can always get your cannoli fix from Bova’s, which is open 24 hours. 

  • Things to do

Part of Boston's undeniable charm is the fact that we have access to a wealth of green spaces to enjoy. Whether you're looking to dine alone, with friends or with a special someone as a romantic date, a picnic is always an affordable option. Pick up what you need at a local market and find a spot in one of Boston's great parks, like the Boston Common, the Public Garden or the Rose Kennedy Fitzgerald Greenway. No reservations required, no tipping necessary and the bill will only be as high as the snacks you bring with you.

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  • Restaurants

While bars and restaurants in Boston are notoriously unable to offer discounted deals on alcohol (thanks, government), there are plenty of dining deals to be had during off-hours. If you’re looking for an after-work pick-me-up that won’t break the bank, you can easily find a spot with reasonable bar bites... that you can then pair with a cheap draft beer to get the full happy hour effect. From neighborhood joints to high-end restaurants, check out these places to find food for a bargain in Boston.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Roxbury
  • price 2 of 4

Bully Boy produces handcrafted rum, gin, whiskey and more in its distillery in Roxbury. Head there for drinks at their intimate cocktail bar,if you have extra cash on hand—but if you want to keep it cheap, take a 45-minute tour for $10. You'll get a behind the scenes look at how they makes these local spirits, plus you'll get the opportunity to sample a few house-made pours afterwards in the tasting room.

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  • Shopping
  • Chocolate and candy
  • Somerville
  • price 1 of 4

Taza makes stone-ground chocolate with hand-carved granite millstones, right in Somerville. Stop by the store to sample some sweets and shop for a wide variety of delicious chocolates—all while watching these confections being made in the manufacturing area. Tours are available Wednesday through Sunday each week, giving you the chance to enjoy a delicious and informative activity that costs just $12.

Explore local markets
Photograph: Courtesy SoWa Open Market

14. Explore local markets

Boston is brimming with bustling markets, all of which offer the perfect setting for enjoying a leisurely and affordable afternoon out. Peruse local goods year-round at the Boston Public Market. During the colder months, the Somerville Winter Farmers Market takes over the Center for Arts at the Armory, where you can explore and sample everything from mead to freshly baked bread to produce. Every spring through fall, you can check out en-plein-air options like the Copley Square Farmers Market or the SoWa Open Market—the latter of which also features inexpensive bites from food trucks and cold local brews at the beer hall.

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  • Restaurants

Want a picnic with a little more oomph, a little less effort and just as much savings? You're in luck because many of Boston's best food trucks camp out right near the best parks in the city, most notably the Rose Kennedy Greenway. All you need to do is choose between all the delicious options and you're ready to go. In general, these mobile eateries provide cheap options for lunch and dinner, so grab some of their affordable eats and make it an outing.

  • Travel

While the New England weather here makes beach culture a purely seasonal option, Boston and coastal Massachusetts still boast many nearby stretches of sand for seasonal—and afforable—day trips. Whether it's within the city limits or within an hour's drive outside, you can find a number of beautiful beaches that won't cost you much to visit. Some might require an entrance fee or paying for your T fare, but you can pack your own snacks and easily keep the rest of your spend at a budget-friendly level.

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  • Travel

When you're looking for a cheap activity and a major dose of nature, consider taking a hike. The best hikes near Boston are not far from downtown and will require only the cost of gas and park entry fees, which are nominal. Honestly, spending an afternoon in the great outdoors and getting just far away enough from the city lights will seem positively priceless. 

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