Free Things to do in Boston

By Nomadic Matt | Published July 10th, 2008

Boston is one of the most-visited cities in America, and people from around the world flock here during the summer months.

Chances are Boston is on your list to see and, as you know, big cities can be hard on the wallet. Boston has a lot to do, meals get expensive, and hotels aren’t cheap. But I grew up in this city, and though it’s no longer my home, I know it like the back of my hand. There’s a lot to do in Boston, and a lot of it is free.

Here are ten activities you can do for free in Boston that will give you the local experience:

Walk the Freedom Trail
freedom trail boston sign
Covering 16 historical sites and stretching 2.5 miles, this red-bricked trail will teach you all you need to know about Boston’s history. All sites along the way are free, and you can even download an audio podcast to accompany your walk or you can go on an organized tour led by one of Boston’s many historic characters.

Eat in Faneuil Hall
Faneuil Hall
Everyone should eat in Quincy Market at least once. Grab your meal from one of the many restaurants in the colonnade, head outside to watch the people go by, and enjoy a street performer’s show. I love spending an afternoon here people-watching. There are also quite a few nice restaurants here, if table service is more your style.

Lie Out in the Commons
Boston commons
On a nice summer day, Boston Common is filled with locals looking to enjoy the nice weather. Lie out, read a book, play some sports, or just relax. Wander around to the Public Gardens, or sit by Frog Pond. It’s a great way to enjoy the city without spending a dime.

Catch a Concert at the Hatch Shell
hatch shell concert
Boston’s Charles River Parkway provides the backdrop for free summer concerts. Relax by the Charles River as artists play shows at the Hatch Shell. It’s here you can see the famous Boston Pops play on July 4th. When the show’s over, rent a sail boat and cruise around the river, or just sit around and catch some sun! Sometimes the Hatch Shell even plays movies at night.

Head to Castle Island

Castle Island is located in South Boston and is famous for the fort located on it. The island extends into the harbor and has excellent beaches as well as running trails that are popular with the locals. There’s a picnic area here, and you can explore the old fort for free. The place gets pretty busy on the weekends during the summer, and you can often see school groups exploring the fort during the spring.

Take a Tour of Harvard

Founded in 1636, Harvard is the oldest university in America. Head to its home in Cambridge (Harvard Square Red Line train stop) and join a free tour. Learn about the university’s history, architecture, programs and myths. When you’re finished, wander around the eclectic offerings of Harvard Square. There are a lot of good street musicians here. (Tracy Chapman, for example, got her start here.)

Hang Out With the Kids

OK, so this one isn’t free. After all that sightseeing, you’ve probably worked up a thirst. Head over to the bars in Allston and Brighton to drink with the post-college crowd. The area is filled with young professionals and offers some of the cheapest beers in town. Places such as Wonderbar, The White Horse, The Kells, The Draft, and Joshua Tree are always packed.

Free Beer Tours

Sam Adams, a major Boston brewery, offers free tours. They occur midafternoon and depart every 45 minutes. You get a few free samples along the way, too. If you’re not over 21, don’t worry—you can still go, you just can’t drink.

Visit the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain
Visit the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain and it's beautiful leaves
Over 260 acres of free public space is open here from sunrise to sunset. There are running trails, gardens, open lawns, and tons of flowers from all over the world. Relax among the plants and take a step back from the fast pace of the city. This place is much quieter than the Public Gardens and offers a bit more variety in plant life. They also have a great Bonsai tree collection.

Boston may be an expensive city, but there are still a lot of things to do for free!

For more information on the United States, visit my country and city guides to US travel.

comments 18 Comments

Your free things to do in Boston list is so much more thorough than mine! I have never been to Best Cellars, but thanks for reminding me, I’ve always wanted to go. And, I’ve never been to the Sam Adams brewery either, when you live somewhere it is easy to push those things to the bottom of the priority list.

Matt- Great post! I’ve been to Boston many times but I didn’t know about Castle Island.

Your Boston series are great!

I think sitting on the steps at Harvard and watching the tours pass is just as interesting as actually taking the tour! There are pushy parents, uncomfortable kids, super enthusiastic tour guides, and an eclectic assortment of others. It makes for good people watching.

Our favorite stop on the Freedom Trail is the cemetery with Sam Adams’ grave. His Summer Ale is tops in our book. I wonder if he ever thought during his lifetime that beer would be what keeps his name alive.

I’ve never been to castle island and I’m FROM boston! Great list Matt!

I’ve always had a strange fascination with Boston. Perhaps its the Irish diaspora.

If I ever get back to North America I will put it at the top of my list.

Great post.

NomadicMatt

@Susan: I know. You always think you can do it later but later never comes and before you know it the chance is gone.

@Christine: Shame on you!!

@Theresa: I often wonder the same thing too.

@Steve: You should visit!

You had to go and put the Sam Adams logo in the photo – I miss that beer so much! :-((

Neha

Hi Matt, chanced upon your blog today and just couldn’t stop reading. You’re doing things I’ve always wanted to do…your list of things u want2do seems so similar to mine. Only difference is you’re actually doing all that while I am still only dreaming.
Adding you to my blogroll and plan to be a regular visitor. Let me know if you ever need help planning a trip to India!!
Take care.

Sally Jackson

For the record, the Samuel Adams Brewery is in Jamaica Plain (take the Orange line to the Stonybrook T stop).. They offer frequent tours, tastings and events.

In South Boston Harpoon Brewery also offers tours and tastings.

kristin

This is cool. Makes me want to go to Boston now :) Can you tell me the free things to do in Atlanta :)

Only 3 more days until the big trip!!

NomadicMatt

@Neha: Good to have you! Thanks for visiting!

When you visit Harvard, just don’t rub the foot of the John Harvard statue (like most tourists do). Take it from a Harvard grad…

Jon

Great List. I grew up just outside of Boston and love the city but often forget some of the most “touristy” stuff that is really a good time, like the hatch shell, public gardens, etc.

The Arnold Arboretum is really a nice find– haven’t been there since my parents dragged me when I was little, but I will be going soon. It is beautiful.

ONE THING YOU MISSED THOUGH: It is free to walk around outside Fenway park and see it. Without a doubt, seeing a game is an amazing experience, especially if you have any baseball knowledge, but with tickets expensive, reading a little and then seeing the park is a great thing to do for someone looking to understand Boston. Fenway Park IS boston.

Great list, I also did not know about Castle Island.

Wow, as a Bostonian I’m impressed by your picks. Most tourists suggest going to all the historical places but obviously we have alot more than just old crap. I’d add window shopping on Newbury Street and free Thursdays at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

What? Free beer? I wasted my time on that Freedom Trail. Damn history lure.

melissa

Great List, The MFA is also free on Wednesday nights.

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