Boston may be an expensive big city to visit, but it is possible to experience the best it has to offer without breaking your budget.
Here’s the scoop on the top things to do in Boston for free.
1. Walk around Boston Common
Take a stroll in Boston Common, the oldest park in the US. In summer, you can picnic or catch Shakespeare in the park, while in winter, you'll enjoy Christmas festivities, sledding down Flagstaff Hill and ice skaters on Frog Pond (for a small fee, you can join them).
2. Tour Boston Public Library
The Boston Public Library was built as a "shrine of letters," but it's also a temple of art and architecture. Free guided tours depart from the main entrance, or you can pick up a brochure and guide yourself around the stunning, mural-painted halls. The BPL also hosts author talks, musical performances and other free events.
3. See politics in action at the Massachusetts State House
Visit the Massachusetts State House, the so-called "hub of the solar system" to learn about the state insect (the ladybug) and to pay your respects to the Sacred Cod. Free tours led by the Doric Docents (volunteer tour guides) take place Monday through Friday and visit the ceremonial halls, the legislative chambers and the executive branch.
4. Follow the Freedom Trail
The Freedom Trail is the best introduction to Revolutionary War-era Boston. This 2.5-mile, red-brick path winds its way past 16 sites that earned this town its status as the Cradle of Liberty. Hook up with a free guided tour by the National Park Service. Departing from Faneuil Hall, the tours max out at 30 people, so arrive early in summer to secure your spot.
Download a map for a free self-guided tour. Many of the sites along the trail are free to enter.
5. Visit historic Faneuil Hall
Take a look around the Great Hall and listen to a ranger talk about historic Faneuil Hall and its role as a market and meeting place. To continue the tour of Boston's historic marketplaces, head to Quincy Market to take your pick from dozens of affordable food stalls.
6. Pay your respects at King’s Chapel
The stately Georgian architecture of King's Chapel contains a bell crafted by Paul Revere and the prestigious Governor’s Pew, where George Washington once sat. Admission is free, but a $4 donation is recommended.
7. Understand Boston's Black history along the Black Heritage Trail
On Beacon Hill, the 1.6-mile Black Heritage Trail explores the history of abolitionism and African American settlement in Boston. Download a map for a self-guided walking tour or meet up with the free NPS tour, which departs from the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial.
8. Climb up the Bunker Hill Monument
The landmark obelisk marks the site of the fateful battle in June 1775 that turned the tides of the Revolutionary War. Climb the 294 steps of the Bunker Hill Monument to the top for an impressive panorama of city, sea and sky. You’ll expend nothing but energy.
9. Check out JFK's birthplace
John F. Kennedy was born and raised in this modest clapboard house in Brookline, now listed as the JFK National Historic Site. Listen to Rose Kennedy’s reminiscence as you peruse the furnishings, photographs and mementos that have been preserved since the Kennedys lived here. The site is closed until spring 2023 for renovations.
10. Join in student life at Harvard University
Students lead free historical tours of Harvard Yard, sharing their perspectives on student life. The one-hour tours depart from the Smith Campus Center. Space is limited, so arrive early during busy seasons.
11. Discover the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments
Science-lovers and history buffs can geek out at this small but fascinating Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments. Located inside the Harvard Science Center, it showcases a selection of 20,000 items in the university collection, some of which date to the 15th century. Look for the geometric sector designed by Galileo, and the clocks illustrating the development of modern timekeeping.
12. Find your inner poet at the Longfellow National Historic Site
For 45 years, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow lived and wrote poetry in this stately Georgian manor near Harvard Square. The mansion contains many of the poet’s personal belongings, as well as lush period gardens.
13. Go aboard the USS Constitution
The USS Constitution is the US Navy's oldest commissioned warship, and it is docked in the Charlestown Navy Yard. Navy officers lead free tours of the upper decks, where you will learn about the ship's exploits in the country's earliest naval battles. You don’t need money, but you do need a photo ID.
14. Explore Castle Island
Castle Island isn't really an island but a vast, green waterside park with amazing skyline views. The massive Fort Independence is open for exploration and free tours. Otherwise, you can relax on the beach, fish from the pier or dip your toes into the chilly harbor waters.
15. See a show at Hatch Memorial Shell
The Charles River Esplanade is Boston’s backyard, a fine venue for picnics, bike rides and leisurely strolls. Even better, all summer long, the Hatch Memorial Shell hosts free events like outdoor concerts, family flicks and Dancing in the Park.
16. Peek inside artists' studios on SoWa First Fridays
From the former factories and warehouses in the South End, artists have carved out studios and gallery space. The SoWa Artists Guild hosts an open studio event on the first Friday of every month from 5pm to 9pm. Come examine the art and mingle with the resident creatives.
17. Watch a Fenway Park game from the bar
If you don't want to shell out for tickets to the big game, you can still sneak a peek inside Fenway Park. The Bleacher Bar is accessible from the street, with a window looking onto center field. The bar gets packed during games when there’s usually a waiting list for window seating.
18. Sample beer on the Samuel Adams Brewery tour
Head to Jamaica Plain to see the birthplace of America’s original craft beer. On the Samuel Adams Brewery Classic Tour, learn about the history of the company, witness the brewing process and sample the goods. By "goods," we mean frothy lagers, refreshing pilsners and tasty ales.
Tickets are first come first served. Tours run Monday to Saturday from 11:15am to 5pm and are open to all ages (but of course, you must be 21 to drink). The suggested $2 donation is passed on to local charities.
19. Admire the Arnold Arboretum
The 265-acre Arnold Arboretum is planted with more than 15,000 exotic trees and flowering shrubs. This gem is pleasant year-round, but it’s particularly beautiful in the bloom of spring. Dog walking, Frisbee throwing, bicycling, sledding and general contemplation are encouraged (but picnicking is not allowed).