Maintaining its trend for revolution and transformation, Boston is still one of the most forward-thinking and barrier-breaking destinations in the US.
It might be an expensive place to visit, but follow these tips and you could be doing some of Beantown's top activities without spending a dime at all. Here’s the scoop on the best things to do in Boston for free.
1. 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 and load up for lunch, head to Quincy Market to take your pick from dozens of food stalls.
Planning tip: The Great Hall is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
2. Walk around Boston Common
Take a stroll in Boston Common, the oldest park in the US. In summer, you can picnic or catch a free Shakespeare performance. In winter, there are Christmas festivities, sledding down Flagstaff Hill and ice skaters on Frog Pond.
Planning tip: Admission charges for skaters on Frog Pond are based on height. It costs $8 if you have your own skates, but is free for those under 58 inches tall.
3. Tour Boston Public Library
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.
Planning tip: The guided tours schedule is subject to change so check online in advance. Tours last around an hour.
4. 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 that hangs in the House of Representatives chambers.
Planning tip: Materials for self-guided tours can be collected from the second-floor information desk, but visitors wanting a free guided tour will need to book in advance by phone (617-727-3676).
5. 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. The National Park Service has free audio tours and you can download a map. Many, but not all, of the sites along the trail are free to enter.
6. 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.
7. Get to know 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 take a tour led by a ranger from the National Parks Service.
Planning tip: Ranger-led tours take place in summer months and last around 90 minutes. Register for your free place in advance through Eventbrite.
8. Discover the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments
Science-lovers and history buffs can geek out at the 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.
9. Be shown around Harvard University by a student
Students lead free historical tours of Harvard Yard, sharing their perspectives on student life. The one-hour tours depart from the Smith Campus Center.
10. 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.
Planning tip: Entrance to the house is by guided tour only; check the online schedule before you go.
11. 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'll learn about the ship's exploits in the country's earliest naval battles.
Planning tip: Reservations cannot be made in advance, and all visitors over 18 need a photo ID.
12. Explore Castle Island
Castle Island isn't really an island; it's 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.
13. See a show at the Hatch Memorial Shell
The Charles River Esplanade is Boston’s backyard and 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 movies and Dancing in the Park.
Planning tip: There's no permanent seating so bring a picnic blanket and some food, and join the locals on the lawn.
14. Peek inside artists' studios on SoWa Sundays and 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 every Sunday (11am to 4pm) and on the first Friday of every month (5pm to 9pm). Come examine the art and mingle with the resident creatives.
15. Watch a Fenway Park game from the bar
If you don't want to shell out for tickets to a 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.
16. 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.
Planning tip: Dog walking, Frisbee throwing, bicycling, sledding and general contemplation are encouraged,but picnicking and tree-climbing are not allowed.
17. Check out JFK's birthplace
John F. Kennedy was born and raised in a modest clapboard house in Brookline, now listed as the JFK National Historic Site. Guided tours allow visitors to see furnishings, photographs and mementos that have been preserved since the Kennedys lived here.
Planning tip: The site has been undergoing renovations and is due to reopen in summer 2023. Check online before your visit.