Here are 20 fun activities in the city of Boston and its surrounding areas that won’t cost you a thing.
With its rich history, quaint New England architecture and friendly residents, Boston is a fantastic place for families to visit. Although many of the city’s popular destinations—like the shops along Newbury Street or the North End’s Italian restaurants—can easily break the bank, there’s still plenty for budget-conscious travelers to do in Beantown. Here, 20 fun activities in the city of Boston (and its surrounding neighborhoods) that won’t cost you a thing.
Free Parks and Public Spaces in Boston:
- Arnold Arboretum: Part of Harvard University, Arnold Arboretum (the oldest public arboretum in the country) contains 281 acres of trees, shrubs and plants. The arboretum is open every day of the year, and tours are always free. For more information, visit arboretum.harvard.edu.
- Boston Common: Considered America’s oldest park, Boston Common boasts an impressive 350-year history that includes appearances by George Washington, John Adams and the British Redcoats. For more information, visit cityofboston.gov.
- The Esplanade: This public park meanders for three miles along the Charles River between the Museum of Science and the Boston University Bridge. Take the kiddos to Stoneman Playground or the Esplanade Playscape, which was designed specifically for older children. For more information, visit esplanadeassociation.org.
- Public Garden: The first botanical garden in America, Public Garden is home to beautiful plants, fountains and a gorgeous lagoon. For more information, visit cityofboston.gov.
Free Museums and Historical Attractions in Boston:
- Boston Children’s Museum: Admission to this kid-friendly museum is regularly $16 for adults and children. But if you’re in the city on a Friday night, don’t miss “Target Fridays” – when admission is discounted to just $1 from 5pm to 9pm. For more information, visit bostonchildrensmuseum.org.
- Boston Fire Museum: Visit this museum, which is in an old firehouse and displays fire-fighting memorabilia, for free on Saturdays from 11am to 6pm. For more information, visit bostonfiremuseum.com.
- Boston Public Library: Book a museum pass ahead of time for free admission (you will need a valid library card). Make a reservations online up to 60 days in advance. For more information, visit bpl.org.
- Commonwealth Museum: The long and storied history of Massachusetts is on full display in this museum, which always has free admission. For more information, visit sec.state.ma.us.
- Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: Standard admission to this art museum is $15 for adults and $5 for college students. However, you can get in for free if you are named Isabella, are a U.S. military family or are under 18 years old. For more information, visit gardnermuseum.org.
- Museum of Fine Arts: On Wednesday nights after 4 p.m., the Boston MFA grants visitors access to the museum’s 450+ works of art (with a suggested donation). Bank of America cardholders also get free admission on the first weekend of every month, and the museum’s is always free for children under 17 years old. For more information, visit mfa.org.
- Museum of African American History: With a 1.6 mile Black Heritage Trail and exhibits that showcase the stories of African American communities from the Colonial Period through the 19th century, this museum is a must-visit. Admission is always free. For more information, visit afroammuseum.org.
- Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology at Harvard University: Massachusetts residents can gain free admission to the museum on Sundays from 9am-noon by presenting a valid state ID. For more information, visit peabody.harvard.edu.
- State House: Admission is always free at the State House, the state capitol of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Tours run from 10am to 3:30pm and last roughly 30 minutes. For more information, visit sec.state.ma.us.
- USS Constitution: The oldest commissioned warship still in the water has free tours of the ship itself and an accompanying museum. Tours begin every half hour Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 3:30pm. For more information, visit ussconstitutionmuseum.org.
Free Activities in Boston:
- The Back Bay: Take a stroll through charming cobblestone streets in the Back Bay and admire the neighborhood’s many historic brownstone houses. For more information, visit cityofboston.gov/neighborhoods/backbay.
- Colt Observatory: Boston University's observatory has Public Open Nights on Wednesday evenings (7:30pm during the fall and winter, 8:30pm during the spring and summer), where visitors can look at the stars through the observatory telescopes. For more information, visit bu.edu.
- The Hatch Shell: This 40-foot tall, 110-foot wide outdoor venue near the Charles River hosts a free concert series in the summer, plus “Friday Flicks” movie screenings on the massive lawn. For more information, visit hatchshell.com.
- Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market: While the shops and restaurants here aren’t free, there are almost always live street performers (not to mention great people-watching!) in this famous marketplace. If you were a fan of Cheers, stop for a photo-op at the restaurant’s Faneuil Hall location, which was recreated to resemble the set of the hit TV show. For more information, visit faneuilhallmarketplace.com.
- Samuel Adams Brewery: If you’re visiting the city with a 21-and-older crew, take a tour of the Samuel Adams Brewery, which is free with a suggested $2 donation. Tours begin every 45 minutes and last for one hour. For more information, visit samueladams.com.
- The South End Farmers Market at SOWA: This busy market is open every Saturday from May 3 through October 25, 10am–4pm. The bazaar includes over 60 specialty food stands, from produce to dairy products to local meats. For more information, visit newenglandopenmarkets.com.