Get us in your inbox

Search
Freedom Trail, Sights and attractions, Boston
Photograph: ShutterstockFreedom Trail

The best free things to do in Boston

Tour the best museums, parks, breweries and nature walks the city has to offer—no money needed

Written by
Tanya Edwards
Written by
Eric Grossman
Advertising

Boston is without a doubt an expensive city, but if you’re on a budget (or just love a bargain), you can still manage to find plenty of fantastic free things to do. With deep local history, charming architecture, world-class museums and peaceful green space, Boston boasts a number of wallet-friendly offerings. After having some fun for free, you can take those savings and use them towards a meal at one of the best restaurants in Boston—or continue to keep it frugal with the best cheap eats around town or the best cheap things to do in Boston.

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

Best free things to do in Boston

Visit the city’s best museums
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. Visit the city’s best museums

Yes, you can gaze upon world class art collections for free, with a little effort. On Thursdays from 5pm to 9pm, the Institute of Contemporary Art is free, but get there early during nicer weather. Everyone gets a free pass into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on their birthday, and anyone with the name Isabella gets in for free, now and forever. Every Wednesday from 3pm, the venerated Museum of Fine Arts allows guests to enter for $5 per person. Not quite free, but still a good deal.

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Boston Common

The crown jewel of Boston’s parks, the Public Garden is a fantastic, free place to enjoy any time of year. America’s first botanical garden, the Victorian-era garden attracts visitors from all over the world who want to see the famous Make Way for Ducklings statues. Across Beacon Street is the Common, where, depending on the season, you can ice-skate on the Frog Pond, toss around a frisbee or simply lounge on a bench with a book.

Advertising
Tour galleries during SoWa’s First Fridays
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/SoWa Sundays

3. Tour galleries during SoWa’s First Fridays

After the past few years, you may be craving a little visual art and design, and we’re here to tell you how to see it for free! Every first Friday of the month, the SoWa Art + Design District in the South End opens its doors to the public from 5pm to 9pm. With more than 200 artists, galleries, shops and showrooms to see, there’s a wide variety of art to appreciate. Be sure to mind occupancy limits and masking rules, as some of the artist spaces can be cozy.

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Downtown

This mile-long winding ribbon of grassy parks, outdoor spaces and public art is one of the most celebrated results of the Big Dig. Free to stroll, this verdant strip provides plenty of resting places, a perfect option for a cheap date. Keep an eye out for the periodic festivals, events and art displays located on or near the park.

Advertising

One of the most fun things to do when you have friends and family in town, the Freedom Trail provides a useful starting point for showing off some local history before diving deeper into the best attractions in Boston. The two-and-a-half-mile trail is easy to follow, allowing you to take a free, self-guided tour anytime you want. It’ll lead you from the Common all the way to Charlestown, letting you see all of the city’s most iconic sites—like the Paul Revere House, the USS Constitution and so much more—along the way.

  • Attractions
  • Zoo and aquariums
  • Waterfront

Located right outside the main entrance, the New England Aquarium's huge 42,000-gallon harbor seal exhibit is free to view and a favorite of kids and adults alike. With a little luck, you may even catch these animals during feeding time or as they participate in an activity—like painting—with their handlers. Yes, the seals can paint!

Advertising
Gaze at the stars and planets
Photograph: Shutterstock

7. Gaze at the stars and planets

Almost every Wednesday night, Boston University’s Department of Astronomy hosts public open nights at the Coit Observatory. You’ll need to grab a ticket in advance, but you’ll be able to use telescopes and binoculars to gaze at the stars and planets. The program starts at 7:30pm in fall and winter, and 8:30pm in spring and summer.

As Boston’s largest park—527 acres spanning Jamaica Plain, Roxbury and Dorchester—Franklin Park offers the perfect blend of rural scenery, woodland preserve and many spots to toss around a ball or a frisbee. Head to the Long Crouch Woods section of the park for a real treat. While the Old Bear Dens no longer house any ursine animals these days, there are still beautiful stone carvings of bears to be found there, as well as a broad staircase leading up to a pavilion and the former pens.

Advertising

Part of Boston’s glorious Emerald Necklace, a series of over 1,100 acres linked throughout the city, this pond is actually a glacial kettle hole and the perfect place for an afternoon stroll. A 1.5-mile path completely encompasses the pond, offering reflecting views, a peek at the boathouse and, oftentimes, the opportunity to pet strangers’ dogs. Head to the Pinebank Promontory during the warmer months for the Summer Sundays in the Park series, which features free evening concerts and movies.

  • Attractions
  • Libraries, archives and foundations
  • Back Bay

The main branch of the Boston Public Library (BPL) is open to visitors, however, at this time, guided tours are suspended. Don’t let that stop you from picking up a brochure and taking a stroll around the half 19th-century McKim masterpiece, half modern marvel. Check the official website, and schedule a visit to coincide with an author talk, book reading or an intimate musical performance.

Advertising
  • Attractions
  • Monuments and memorials
  • Charlestown

In Charlestown stands a 221-foot granite obelisk commemorating the first major battle of the American Revolution, and visitors can climb up inside the monument at no cost! It’s just 294 steps for a breathtaking view of the harbor and city. You can also hear a free historical talk from park rangers.

  • Bars
  • Breweries
  • Roxbury
  • price 1 of 4

One of the earliest brewers in the new craft brewing movement, Samuel Adams is named for the Revolutionary and “maltster,” who famously made his own beer. While tours of the Samuel Adams Brewery in Jamaica Plain aren’t technically totally free, you can probably scare up the $2 suggested donation for a friendly, entertaining tour that includes learning all about the brewing process, smelling some hops and enjoying samples at the end. At this time, tours are limited, so we recommended getting advance tickets at the brewery’s website.

Advertising
  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • East Boston

The East Boston annex of the ICA, aka the Watershed, has truly transformed the Eastie waterfront into a stunning venue for the kind of large-scale art that you don’t normally have get in a crowded city. Each summer, the ICA invites one artist to create a site-specific work or installation for the space. You can also peruse the Watershed’s gallery highlighting the history of the shipyard where it’s located and East Boston as a whole. Please note that timed tickets are required for entry, masks are required and the Watershed is open seasonally from May through October.

Advertising
Conquer the Minuteman Bikeway
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Madeleine Ball

15. Conquer the Minuteman Bikeway

Starting in Cambridge near the Alewife T station and stretching 11 miles up to Bedford, the Minuteman Bikeway is a great, zero-cost way to get out of the city and enjoy some of Massachusetts’ prettiest towns. You can bike, rollerblade, walk or run—you just can’t drive on it. Be sure to keep to the right and take a breather at Arlington’s Spy Pond.

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Jamaica Plain

A jewel in the heart of the city, the 281-acre arboretum was planned and designed in collaboration with Frederick Law Olmsted. Open to the public every day, the arboretum isn’t just a park; it’s a botanical research institute with thousands of trees, shrubs and other flora. Take a stroll on your own, or try a free guided tour. Just call or check their website for details.

Advertising
  • Things to do
  • Event spaces
  • The Esplanade

From early spring through fall, Boston’s famous Hatch Shell hosts free outdoor events for just about everyone. Built in 1939–1940, it is one of the city's prominent examples of Art Deco architecture, and its annual line-up of shows includes live music (like classical or jazz), dance performances and family-friendly movies. Bring a picnic and a blanket, and enjoy the fresh air after a stroll through town to the waterfront. Performances can get crowded, so best arrive early.

  • Shopping
  • Markets and fairs
  • South End

There’s a lot happening at the SoWa Open Market, which runs every Sunday from May through October. Think street festival meets farmers market, with roughly 200 vendors selling (and sampling) their crafts, snacks and more. Grab an inexpensive bite from a food truck or sip a cold local brew at the beer hall. It’s kid and pet friendly, so brace yourself for crowds on nice days.

Advertising
  • Travel

If you can’t make it out to The Cape, or don’t want to sit in traffic all day, Boston’s North and South Shores have gorgeous beaches that are often located less than an hour’s drive from the city (though we make no promises during peak summer traffic). Even closer are spots like Quincy’s Wollaston Beach, Southie’s Castle Island and Revere Beach, all of which you can get to via the T and a little walking. Some have a fee, especially if you’re driving in and need to park, but most are free.

More wallet-friendly thrills

  • Restaurants

Yes, Boston is a notoriously expensive place to live and dine. But there are a few spots where you can get a cheap, tasty meal. The best cheap eats in Boston offer satisfying fare that’s actually delicious. Here are some of our favorites that clock in at $10 or less.

Recommended
    You may also like
      Advertising