Photograph by Eliot Cohen
As any Red Sox fan knows, Boston is a baseball town. But it's more than that. As a hub for revolutionary thinking during the colonial period, Boston has a rich history that is easily accessible without having to purchase any museum tickets. The city offers contemporary cost free attractions as well, such as outdoor concerts, which can be enjoyed in numerous public parks. Many of the area's distinguished institutions can be free as well, if you plan your visit with these deals in mind. Whatever type of diversion you're seeking, chances are, you can find it for free in Boston.
The Museum of Fine Arts is home to nearly 450,000 pieces, from secret Egyptian tombs to avant-garde Mexican artwork, offering one of the most comprehensive exhibitions in the world. Access to this extraordinary collection is usually pricey, but admission is free Wednesdays after 4 p.m. with a suggested donation of $10. Also, youth ages 7-17 are free on weekdays after 3 p.m., on weekends, and on public school holidays. The museum also offers Free Community days throughout the year, posted on their website.
The pet project of eccentric Bostonian Isabella Stewart Gardner, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum showcases a collection of fine and decorative art while serving as a venue for contemporary artists, musicians, and scholars. Admission is free if it is your birthday or if your name is Isabella.
The Institute of Contemporary Art was founded in 1936 as the Boston Museum of Modern Art. Today ICA showcases contemporary art in all media and offers programs geared towards developing context and meaning for contemporary art and culture. The Institute is always free for youth under 17. Admission is also waived for everyone every Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m., as well as on the last Saturday of each month for families (except December).
UMass Boston features a student run space called the Harbor Gallery, which is dedicated to representing emerging and under-recognized artists locally, nationally, and internationally. The gallery is always free and open Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
The Boston Landmarks Orchestra presents performances in significant architectural, historical, and geographical settings throughout the Boston area, always free to the public. Since the program began in 2001, more than 160,000 people have attended over 125 concerts. The orchestra also performs neighborhood concerts (intended for children) in parks and other community settings.
The Copley Square Concert Series is put on by the city each Thursday during the summer. Locals and visitors alike gather at 5:30 p.m. in this bustling Back Bay neighborhood hub.
The State House was erected in 1798 on land that once belonged to Massachusetts' first governor, John Hancock. The chamber of the House of Representatives features the "sacred cod." Admission and guided tours are free weekdays 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m., but tours must be scheduled in advance.
Climb the 295 stone steps to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument, which commemorates the Battle of Bunker Hill. Learn about the June 17th, 1775, battle in the site's museum, and the famous command by Colonel William Prescott, "don't fire till you see the whites of their eyes." The museum and monument are open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, with climbs up the monument ending at 4:30.
Discover how the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, earned its nickname "Old Ironsides." If you happen to be in Boston on the 4th of July, you'll see the ship is taken out to the harbor and turned around to ensure even weathering on its hull. Both the ship and its accompanying museum are open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3:50 pm. Free tours begin every half hour, with the last starting at 3:30.
Boston's Museum of African American History is New England's largest museum dedicated to preserving the contributions of African Americans and tells the story of organized black communities from the colonial period through the present. The museum has also preserved a 1.6-mile Black Heritage Trail. This walking tour is guided Memorial Day through Labor Day, but is accessible to be self guided all year. Admission to the Museum is free with a suggested donation.
Opened to the public in 1854 and moved to its current location in 1895, the Boston Public Library is the first free municipal library in the United States. Volunteers lead tours that highlight art, architecture, and the history of Boston. Of particular interest is the Sargent Gallery, home to American painter John Singer Sargent's mural sequence "The Triumph of Religion." Tours are offered daily, October through May. You can also download self-guided tour documents on the library website and check there for library hours.
The Boston Fire Museum is part of the Boston Sparks Association. One of the oldest fire departments in the United States, it displays antique firefighting apparatus while educating visitors about contemporary safety issues. The museum, always free, is open Saturday 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
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