George Washington Statue at Boston Public Garden, Massachusetts, USA

Boston Public Garden is a popular outdoor venue in any season.

Photograph by Radius Images, Corbis

By Meg Beasley

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.

Arts/Music

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.

Historical Attractions

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.

Culture

The SoWa Open Market offers an ever-changing group of artisans, in an outdoor location. The market offers the opportunity to meet the artists, vendors, and farmers while you browse their offerings of unique works and fresh foods. It is fast becoming part of the South End's well-known artists' community.

The shopping on Newbury Street, Boston's 5th Avenue, is far from free, but people watching won't cost you a dime. The comings and goings in eight blocks of the most chic boutiques, salons, and fine dining are sure to entertain.

Boston has numerous unique ethnic neighborhoods that are well worth visiting. Any summer weekend in the North End, Boston's Little Italy, will find residents enjoying Italian feasts. Other favorite enclaves include Chinatown and the Cape Verde district.

Food/Drink

From Boston baked beans to Boston Cream Pie, the city boasts a wide array of signature dishes and fun places in which to enjoy them.

Many farmers markets all over the city, all throughout the week, showcase local produce, dairy products, baked goods, and meats.

Hang out and take pictures at Cheers on Beacon Hill, one of the most iconic sitcom settings in history. Visit the website for printable coupons.

Tour the Samuel Adams Brewery: Learn about Samuel Adams, brewer and patriot, and experience the entire brewing process from start to finish. Smell the signature hops and taste the special malts used to brew Samuel Adams beers. Tours are open to all ages, but ID is required for tasting. Tours run Monday-Thursday and Saturday 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Fridays 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Both the tour and tasting are free (suggested donation of $2 to charity).

Family

Watch the street performers in downtown Boston at Faneuil Hall Marketplace. In addition to the street performers (magic shows, a cappella performances, and contortionists), activities include everything from British car shows to Howl-o-ween pet parades.

The Coit Observatory at Boston University holds Public Open Nights, giving visitors a chance to observe the night sky through telescopes and binoculars, and learn some astronomy as well. The Open Nights are held on most Wednesday evenings, weather permitting, and are free to the public. Starting times are 7:30 p.m. during the fall and winter, and 8:30 p.m. during the spring and summer. The program lasts about an hour.

Outdoors

A part of Harvard University, the Arnold Arboretum is the oldest public arboretum in North America, supporting research, horticulture, and education programs that focus on the appreciation and preservation of trees. Guided and self-guided tours are free, as well as a variety of family activities.

The Hatch Shell is an outdoor venue next to the Charles River that hosts a wide range of events. The domed arena provides great acoustics for live music while the grassy area in front of it is a perfect place to spread a blanket for a picnic. During the summer, the State Department of Conservation and Recreation offers a free concert series as well as movie screenings, known as Friday Flicks on the Esplanade.

Relax in Boston Common with the ducklings (of Make Way for Ducklings fame). The United States' oldest public park, Boston Common was purchased by its citizens in 1634 for 30 British pounds and officially set aside as public or "common" land by a vote in 1640. The park's original purpose was for military training grounds and a place for grazing cattle. Now its 50 acres provide a retreat for residents and visitors alike.

The sophisticated streets and homes of Back Bay, Boston's most affluent neighborhood, are worth admiring. This area is home to the Public Library, Copley Square, and the Prudential Center.

Stroll along the Esplanade a public park that extends three miles along the Boston side of the Charles River from the Museum of Science to the Boston University Bridge. You'll pass joggers, children on soccer fields and playgrounds, picnicking families, and, on the river, rowers in sleek sculls slicing through the Charles.

Boston offers walking tours for just about anyone looking to see just about anything. Visitors can download different self-guided tours onto their iPods or MP3 players. Explore Harborwalk, a public walkway along the waterfront with parks, public art, seating areas, cafes, exhibit areas, and more. Start the tour at Christopher Columbus Park, and listen to local characters like Mayor Tom Menino and Feather-on-the-Moon, the President of the Massachusett tribe guide you along the wharves of Boston Harbor. Learn about everything from shipwrecks to lobster rolls.

The Fort Point Channel audio tour leads you through one of Boston's most eclectic, energetic neighborhoods. Enjoy the unique architecture found in the artist owned co-op building at 300 Summer Street and see the filming sight of the movie The Departed. Meander through the Boston Public Garden, established in 1837 as the first public botanical garden in the United States. Virtually unchanged since 1858, today the Boston Public Garden is a place where locals and visitors alike enjoy the Lagoon, Swan Boats, fountains, and more. If you're with children, leave time to linger at #10, the duckling statues of Make Way for Ducklings fame.

The most famous of Boston's walking tours is probably the Freedom Trail. Tours by costumed re-enactors are available but costly; the trail is easily navigable sans guide. The 2.5-mile red-brick walking trail takes in 16 nationally significant historic sites. A unique collection of museums, churches, cemeteries, parks, a ship, and historic markers all tell the story of the American Revolution and our nation's early years. Some highlights include the Old North Church, from which Paul Revere gave the lantern signal to alert the minutemen, and the Old South Meeting Hall, where patriots planned the Boston Tea Party.

More Information

Boston Visitors Bureau

The Boston Globe

Boston Online

Boston Magazine

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority

City of Boston.gov

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