Boston is a historic city, with old colonial buildings, a long history, and a strong link to the country’s founding. Bostonians are very proud of their city and show their Boston pride any chance they can. I grew up in this city and, even with all my world travels, it has remained one of my favorites.
Though one of the biggest cities in the country, it has more of a large town feel to it than that of a metropolis. In this college town, you’ll find friendly locals, die-hard sports fans, great bars, good restaurants, and a ton of American history.
This travel guide to Boston can help you plan a wonderful trip here without spending a lot of money.
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Boston
1. Walk Boston’s Freedom Trail
2. See the Museum of Fine Arts
3. Visit the Museum of Science
4. Take in a game at Fenway Park
5. See the Boston Public Gardens
Other Things to See and Do in Boston
1. Visit Coit Observatory at Boston University
You can pick out your favorite constellation at the Coit Observatory at Harvard University. They offer free stargazing Wednesdays after 8:30 pm throughout the spring and the summer (pending clear skies, of course).
2. Climb the Bunker Hill Monument
The Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775 was one of the first major battles during the American Revolutionary War. While the British eventually took the field, the American’s wore the British forces down much more than was expected. After the battle, the British were much more cautious in their advance, which gave the American forces much more time to prepare for the coming war. The monument stands 221-feet, and you can climb to the top free of charge. There is also a nearby museum which is also free. I’m certain that this is the best view of the Boston skyline, so don’t miss it. It’s at the end of the Freedom Trail, so you can do one and knock out both!
3. Enjoy a picnic at Boston Common
One of the nation’s oldest existing parks, the Boston Common is nearly 50 acres and was once used as pasture land by Puritan settlers. The Boston Common sees plenty of people on warm summer days. There are lots of paths to take, as well as the Frog Pond, where kids and adults can cool off. During the winter, there’s skating on the pond. Boston Common is a great place to go people-watching and get pictures of the skyline.
4. Hang out at Faneuil Hall
Faneuil Hall is a popular place for locals to hang out. During the day, a lot of people go shopping. At night, the restaurants fill with people, and the spot is one of the biggest bar destinations in the city. The cheap Irish pubs that fill the area are widely popular! The hall has been a meeting place in the city since the 1740s, and many speeches were given here about American independence before the Revolutionary War. After you’re done eating, walk around and spend an afternoon here people-watching.
5. Check out Beacon Hill
This is one of Boston’s most picturesque and historic neighborhoods, once home to the likes of John Adams and John Hancock. Its winding, steep streets are lined with Victorian brick row houses and old-fashioned lanterns, making for a fun afternoon of wandering around. You can also find the statehouse building here.
6. Visit Castle Island
Castle Island is located in South Boston, and is famous for Fort Independence (it was actually the first state prison). The island extends into the harbor and has excellent beaches as well as running trails that are popular with the locals. There is a picnic area here, and you can explore the old fort for free. There are also free tours in the summer.
8. Hang out in Copley Square
Copley Square is a great little park where you can buy discount theater tickets, listen to musicians, and admire Hancock Tower. You can also go into Boston’s Trinity Church, which is one of the city’s oldest and most beautiful. It was built in the 1870s after the original building burned down in the Great Fire of 1872. The style is known as Richardsonian Romanesque, which embraces the use of clay roofing, rough stones, and a massive tower. The style actually influenced churches all across the country upon its completion because it was so beautiful.
9. Visit Harvard University
Harvard University is the first and oldest university in the country (pre-dating even the founding of the United States). The campus offers free one-hour tours through the grounds and buildings. Afterward, grab a coffee and people-watch in the alternative and arty Harvard Square.
10. Walk around Back Bay
Boston’s Back Bay is like a version of New York’s SoHo and West Village. This is where Boston’s elite and wealthy live, and nearby Newbury Street is our Madison Avenue, with lots of expensive shopping and high-end eateries. It’s a beautiful space to stroll around, with pretty brownstones and tree-lined streets. You can still see plenty of old Victorian homes in this neighborhood that date back to the 19th century.
11. Drink at Sam Adams Brewery
Sam Adams is a major brewer in Boston, and locals drink it widely and frequently. Tours and tastings take place Monday-Saturday from 10am until 3pm, with extended hours on Friday afternoon. There are several different tours ranging between $20-35, and you’ll get some generous beer tastings in the process!
12. Visit the New England Aquarium
Boston’s aquarium is one of the better ones I’ve been to. It’s really well done, the fish aren’t all clustered into a few small tanks, and there’s a lot of information about how to protect the oceans. You’ll see everything from northern fur seals, to giant octopus and penguins! Admission costs $31.
13. Explore the North End
The historic North End is the heart of Boston’s Italian community. You’ll hear just as much Italian as you will the Boston accent. In the morning, you’ll see little Italian grandmas shopping while the grandpas have their morning espresso. It’s almost like being in Italy. You’ll find the best gelato outside of Italy here.
14. Visit the Arnold Arboretum
Over 260 acres of free public space are open 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 wider variety of plant life. They also have a great bonsai tree collection.
15. Take a walking tour
Boston has a plethora of walking tours. Bites of Boston offers three different food tours around town, each in a distinct neighborhood, starting from $65 per person. You can even do a wine tour with City Wine Tours from $75, or something more historical like Cambridge Historical Tours from $20. If you’re on a tight budget, both Free Tours by Foot and Strawberry Tours offer daily free walking tours around town. They’re a great way to get oriented and see the major sights without breaking the bank. Just be sure to tip your guides!
16. Visit Forest Hills Cemetery
This serene Victorian cemetery sits on almost 300 acres of land. It is the resting place of a few noteworthy individuals, such as the playwright Eugene O’Neill and the poet E.E Cummings. In 2006, as part of an exhibition, sculptures, including miniature buildings, were added to the cemetery.
Boston Travel Costs
Hostel prices – During peak season, a bed in a four-six bed room will cost from about $50 USD. For a room with eight beds or more, expect to pay around $40 USD. During the off-season, a bed in a room with eight beds or more will cost from about $26 USD each night, while smaller rooms will cost about $40 USD.
A basic private room for two with a shared bathroom costs from $115 USD per night during peak season. Prices are about $70 USD in the off-season.
Budget hotel prices – Nightly rates for a budget two-star hotel room start at about $170 USD in peak season. In the off-season, budget rooms start from $95 USD.
There are lots of Airbnb options in Boston. A shared room (like a bed in a dorm) averages about $40 USD per night, while a private room is about $65 USD per night. A full apartment averages about $149 USD per night.
Food – Boston has tons of cheap food options, including street food. Since Boston is a big college town, you’ll find cheap restaurants and to-go places throughout the city. You can find hot dogs with all the toppings for as little as $2, or a slice of pizza for $3 (or even a whole pizza for $10!). Sandwiches (including bahn mi) will cost about $4, while a McMeal will cost about $8.
Burgers or a bowl of clam chowder at a restaurant will cost you about $10, while a classic Boston lobster roll is from $20. Otherwise, expect to pay up to $35 at a mid-range restaurant, with an appetizer included. A pint of beer to go with it will cost about $7.
High-end dining will cost you between $50-70 for a full meal. A prime cut of rib-eye will go for about $50, while seafood starts from about $40 per course. A soup or salad appetizer will start from about $12, while vegetarian and pasta dishes are from $20. A glass of wine to go with it is about $9.
If you cook your own food, expect to pay $60-70 per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other essential foods. Some of my favorite places to eat /go out are Zaftigs, Fugakyu, Back Bay Social Club, Row 34, Trillion Brewing Company, Legal’s, Kelly’s Roast Beef, the rooftop of the Envoy Hotel, and Park to name just a few!
Backpacking Boston Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Boston, expect to spend about $70 per day. This budget will cover a hostel dorm, using the public bike-sharing program, street food, cooking your own meals, and free attractions. If you come during the off-season, you can reduce your accommodation budget by at least $15 each day.
A mid-range budget of about $193 per day will cover staying in a private hostel room, eating out for all of your meals, a few attractions per day, and public transit.
On a luxury budget of about $465 USD or more per day, you can get a four-star hotel in the center of town, any meal you want, drinks, tours, unlimited public transit, and a few Uber rides. If you want to spread out your budget, you can take a tour every other day and reduce your daily spend by about $50 USD. (But book your hotel far in advance — the $300 4-star property quoted here is at the lower end of the scale.)
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Boston Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Boston is super expensive, even for those who live here. You can go through money really, really quickly if you aren’t careful. But Boston is also very much of a university town, so there plenty of cheap options if you know where to look! Here are some ways to save money in Boston:
- Eat at Quincy Market – The Quincy market food colonnade in Faneuil Hall offers a wide range of food stalls at low prices. It’s a hugely popular place to eat, especially during lunch.
- Take the walking tours – Because Boston is such a historical area, you are able to take advantage of plenty of free walking tours including the most famous, The Freedom Trail. Free Tours by Foot in Boston offers a number of different free walking tours.
- Drink outside downtown – Experience Boston nightlife in Brighton or Allston for cheaper drinks and a more relaxed (and younger) environment.
- Enjoy the free parks – You can experience nature for free at the Arnold Arboretum. Here you can find more than 260 acres of free public space, open from sunrise to sunset. There are running trails, gardens, open lawns, and lots of flowers from all over the world. Relax among the plants and take a step back from the fast pace of the city.
- Enjoy free concerts – During the summer, there are a lot of free concerts on the Charles River.
- Consider the Boston City Pass – This pass allows you to nearly 50% off admission at a number of attractions. A pass is $64 per person and gets you entrance to the Museum of Science, New England Aquarium, Skywalk Observatory, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and Boston Harbor Cruises or Harvard Museum of Natural History.
- Couchsurf – You’ll find plenty of hosts in the city who will show you around their town and let you stay for free. I’ve used it plenty of times and have really enjoyed it as a way to meet people.
- Get free water or free refills – If you order a drink, most restaurants allow free refills while you eat your meal or refills at a low cost. And, for my non-American friends, water is free!
- Save money on rideshares – Uber and Lyft (my preferred company) are way cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to take a bus or pay for a taxi. The shared/pool option (where you share a ride with other people) offers even better savings. You can save money off your first rides with the following codes: Lyft (MATTHEW999 to save $10) and Uber (jlx6v to save $15).
- Get a Charlie Card – You’ll probably be taking the train a lot and fares can add up. The Charlie Card keeps the cost of your journeys slightly lower than with a regular ticket.
Where To Stay in Boston
Boston is a small city, so fortunately you’re never too far from all the main attractions (no matter in what neighborhood you stay). Here are my recommended places to stay in Boston:
- Hostelling International Boston
- Found Hotel Boston Commons
- The Farrington Inn
- Backpackers Hostel & Pub
For more hostel suggestions, here’s a list of my 6 favorite hostels in Boston!
And to find out exactly where in the city you should stay, here’s a post that breakdowns the best neighborhoods in Boston.
How to Get Around Boston
Subway – Boston’s public transportation system is known as the MBTA, and it’s your easiest and cheapest way to get around. The subway will get you everywhere you need to go, including into Cambridge. You can buy tickets for single or multiple rides at vending machines located in most stations.
A single basic fare is $2.90, but if you get a Charlie Card, the fare is $2.40 each way (the cards are free, and you can load them with however much money you like).
You can also get a daily pass for unlimited travel for $12.75 or a weekly pass for $22.50, which covers the subway, bus, and water shuttle networks.
Bus – The bus goes everywhere the subway doesn’t. It’s $2 per ride or $2 per ride with a Charlie Card.
Water Shuttle – You’re probably not going to use the water shuttle service very often — only if you’re visiting the Boston Harbor Island and Charlestown, or some stops along the waterfront. Fares range from $3.70-9.75 each way.
Bicycle – Boston’s has a bike-sharing program known as Blue Bikes, with stations all around Boston, Cambridge, Brookline, and Somerville. It costs $2.50 per 30-minute interval of using the bike, or you can get a day pass for an unlimited number of bike rides for $10. However, this pass is only suitable for two-hour intervals — any longer than that, and you’ll have to pay $2.50 per each extra 30-minute interval.
Taxis – Taxis are not cheap here, but they’re plentiful. You’ll pay about $15-20 for a ride between most tourist spots in the city core, but more if traffic is heavy.
Ride-Sharing – Uber, Lyft, and Via are way cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to take a bus or pay for a taxi. The shared/pool option (where you share a ride with other people) offers even better savings. Via is the cheapest option. You can save money off your first rides with the following codes: Lyft (MATTHEW999 to save $10) and Uber (jlx6v to save $15).
When to Go to Boston
From June to October is the best time to visit Boston for warm, pleasant temperatures and a mild autumn season. Summer is definitely peak tourist season, with accommodating rates spiking in prices; however, you get all the good stuff like outdoor dining, baseball games, and free outdoor concerts.
In the summer months, temperatures are as high as 81.3°F (27°C). Even in October, the average daily high temperature is 61°F (16°C) — just pack a sweater and take advantage of shoulder season prices and fewer crowds of tourists.
Winter can be cold and snowy, but it’s the best time to visit if you want to see Beantown on an ultra-tight budget.
How to Stay Safe in Boston
Boston is a safe place to backpack and travel – even if you’re traveling solo, and even as a solo female traveler. Violent attacks are rare, but like all big cities, practice caution wherever you go. Don’t walk alone at night in unlit places, and keep your valuables secure at all times.
Chinatown and parts of Downtown Crossing can be a little seedy at night, so avoid them if possible.
You should always watch people pour your drinks, keep an eye out for pickpockets, and stay vigilant if you’re using the subway late at night, but this is true for every major city.
Worried about travel scams? Read about these 14 major travel scams to avoid. There aren’t many here in the states though.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in Boston. Follow that rule and you’ll be fine.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Boston Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
Below are my favorite companies to use when I travel around Boston. They are included here because they consistently turn up the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- Momondo – This is my favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. The big cities have tons of listings! (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Hotwire – This is probably the hotel site I use most. I really enjoy its blind booking process. They essentially say “we have a super rate on a 3-star hotel in Boston’s city center,” and you book it without knowing the hotel name. While that sounds scary, I’ve never ended up in a bad hotel and have saved a ton of money in the process. Highly recommended.
- Priceline – I like this website because it allows you to bid on hotels and save a lot more money than by booking directly. When used in conjunction with the bidding site Better Bidding, you can substantially lower the cost of your hotels — by as much as 60%.
- Take Walks – This day tour company will give you inside access to attractions and places you can’t get elsewhere. Their guides rock too!
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around the United States, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts when you click the link!
- STA Travel – A good company for those under 30 or for students, STA Travel offers discounted airfare as well as travel passes that help you save on attractions.
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Boston Gear and Packing Guide
In this section, I’ll give you my suggestion for the best travel backpack and tips on what to pack.
The Best Backpack for Boston
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for more tips and tricks as well as suggested travel backpacks.
What to Pack for Boston
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 6 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 8 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 7 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Doctor-prescribed antibiotics
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (a water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Boston Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
Written in 1957, Jack Kerouac’s Beat Generation classic is a classic travel novel. Kerouac’s character’s (who he modeled after himself) frustration, desire to see the world, and adventures resonate with all of us who need a little relief from modern life. The story follows his character, Sal, as he leaves Boston and heads west, riding the rails, making friends, and partying the night away. He finds thrills, adventure, love, sex, drugs, poverty, and excitement while moving from a weak character into someone whose life experience brings confidence. It’s a true American classic.
Tip of the Iceberg, by Mark Adams
1899, Edward H. Harriman (a rich railroad magnate) converted a steamship into a luxury cruise for some of America’s best scientists and writers and embarked on a summer voyage around Alaska. Now, author Mark Adams retraces that expedition, traveling over 3,000 miles along the coast of the state. Mark is one of my favorite writers, and this book is very reminiscent of Turn Right at Machu Picchu. Mark brings insight into the people, history, and culture of the state in a way he did with his other book.
Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
Forgetting the hype of the book (and the subsequent movie), I really did like this book. Cheryl Strayed’s book is about her journey along the Pacific Crest Trail when she was 26. She sets off in hopes of finding herself and coming to grips with the death of her mother, break-up of her marriage, and drug use. She’s looking for a fresh start. Along the way, she encounters kindness, happy fellow hikers, and a deep sense of belong. Filled with wonderful prose, I found this book deeply moving. It’s easy to see why the book became such a hit.
Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, by Richard Grant
As a big fan of the state of Mississippi, I was really keen to read this book. The state is an often-overlooked tourist destination with eccentric but wonderful people; beautiful parks, rivers, and swamps; stunning architecture; and a complex and rich history for history buffs like myself. In this book, English writer Richard Grant and his girlfriend move to rural Pluto, Mississippi, to live a better life, escape the big city, lower their cost of living, and try something new. They learn to hunt, garden, fend off wild animals, handle snakes, and befriend interesting characters along the way.
The Not-Quite States of America, by Doug Mack
The United States of America is more than just 50 states. There’s also the non-states of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. In this funny, detailed, fact-rich book, Doug Mack explores these territories largely forgotten by the rest of the country, which play a more important role in our country than we realize. I had the pleasure of listening to Doug talk about his book in NYC, and he’s a wealth of knowledge — just like his book! This one of those travel books that expands your mind about the place you don’t really know.
Blue Highways: A Journey into America, by William Least Heat-Moon
This is a deep dive into America’s unknown tiny towns scattered across the country map, like New Hope (Tennessee), Remote (Oregon), Why (Arizona), and Whynot (Mississippi). Yes, those are real town names! Heat-Moon’s book is considered a masterpiece in American travel writing, and you’ll love his adventures and the incredible people he encounters as he reveals the “real” American experience.
My Must Have Guides for Traveling to Boston
This book shows you how to easily collect and redeem travel points so you can get free airfare and accommodation.
Kristin Addis writes our solo female travel column and her detailed guide gives specific advice and tips for women travelers.
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My best-selling book will teach how to master the art of travel so that you’ll save money and have a more local, richer travel experience.
Boston Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on United States travel and continue planning your trip: