Boston's Best Free Things to Do
By Jessica Polizzotti
Boston Local Expert
Boston is a bustling city with lots to do, but not every attraction requires big spending, many of the city's best attractions are free. Some year round, others for select hours and some on certain days. Make your time in Boston a bit less expensive by using 10best's list of Free Attractions as your guide.
Art enthusiasts are in luck because the Boston Public Library, located in Copley Square offers more than just great reads, but art and architecture that is well worth exploring. Those seeking something a bit more contemporary should plan a Thursday night at the ICA and if you prefer something more interactive, the ever changing exhibits on the HarborWalk are for you.
For those looking to enjoy nature without straying far from the city the Blue Hills Reservation is for you, here you can hike, bike, or ski the scenic trails of Blue Hills. If you'd prefer a city view over that of trees, stroll along the banks of the Charles along the Esplanade where you can watch sailboats float past and enjoy an amazing view of the Cambridge skyline.
You can even get a sense of Boston's Colonial connections without shelling out for a tour. Explore the Freedom Trail, climb to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument, enter the Old North Church or board the USS Constitution.
10 Boston Fire Museum
The Boston Fire Museum allows visitors a look into fire fighting's past in an historically significant structure, and former fully-functioning fire house. Enter the Fire Museum to see the antique fire trucks, uniforms, equipment, fire alarms and photo displays that now call this museum home. Exhibits include hand drawn pumper and ladder trucks (including what is said to be the oldest engine constructed), photo displays from fires of the past, and retired fire equipment including uniforms with everything from helmets to boots.This building is an architectural buff's dream, built in 1891, it broke the rules by suspending the second floor from above rather than supporting it by use of columns or poles from below. This National Landmark is free (donations are gladly accepted) and open only on Saturdays. Fire fighters are around to tell you about the sights and even give helmets to little tykes. (617-338-9700)
9 Blue Hills Reservation
Minutes outside of downtown Boston, is the Blue Hills Reservation. Here nature enthusiasts can hike, bike, ski, swim, and even enjoy a zoo experience at the Trailside Museum. Spanning over 7,000 acres along Boston's closest suburbs, this is a true green oasis for city dwellers. Plan to spend a day exploring this area because you'll want to wander for hours. Kids get a kick out of the animals at the museum and winter skiing is offered for those who want to take a few runs without going far from the city. Great Blue Hill peaks at 635 feet, the highest of the 22 hills in the Blue Hills chain. This summit provides visitors with a view of the entire metropolitan area. ((617) 698-1802)
8 Old North Church
Set in among the landscape of Boston's North End, the Old North Church draws visitors from far and wide. This is the spot where Robert Newman signaled Cambridge residents of the British approach by sea with two of Paul Revere's lanterns on the night of April 18, 1775. The oldest church building in Boston and still an active Episcopal church, it was designed by William Price from a study of Christopher Wren's London churches. Private benches boxed in with family names helps paint a picture of the past. An excellent museum is hidden in the back of the gift shop next door. (617-523-6676, 617-523-4848)
7 Boston Esplanade
Famous for being the site of Boston's annual Fourth of July gala, the Esplanade runs along the banks of the Charles River. Here you'll find a delightful landscape that skirts the shoreline consisting of a paved pathway for exercising, manicured lawns, gardens, and children's playgrounds. Boston's impressive skyline provides a backdrop on one side, while the stunning Cambridge skyline allows for city view across the River. Joggers, walkers, and cyclists flock to the park to enjoy a little outdoor activity. Free concerts and a wide range of public festivals are all the rage in the summer months. you'll always find families enjoying the outdoors with a picnic or playtime at the Esplanade.
6 Institute of Contemporary Art
Roam the galleries or watch a show in this waterfront building that is structurally as beautiful as what is housed inside. The modern art is an eclectic mix of what may sometimes seem to be mayhem. Funky, fun displays rule the roost at this cutting edge art museum. Complete with a performance hall that is as stunning to set foot in as the show you will see, the ICA offers more than just the art on display. Enjoy it free on Thursday evenings when the ICA opens its doors to the public for a few hours of perusing without paying. (617-266-5152)
5 Bunker Hill Monument
Charlestown is rich in US history. The Bunker Hill Monument is a free stop for visitors seeking to commemorate our past. This 221-foot granite obelisk remembers the Battle of Bunker Hill. Rangers provide details about the history of the crucial battle, and seasonal musket-firings add a note of authenticity. Make the 294-step climb to the top of the monument for breathtaking views of Boston. Two little-known facts: the Battle of Bunker Hill was actually fought on Breed's Hill, and the Bunker Hill Monument is actually located atop Breed's Hill. The true Bunker Hill is actually a quarter-mile from the monument. (617-242-5601)
4 USS Constitution
Climb aboard Old Ironsides and see why this ship was able to live through its time at war. Constructed in the North End using bolts, spikes and other fittings from Paul Revere's foundry, "Old Ironsides" is steeped with Boston history. One of the US Navy's six original frigates, the USS Constitution did not lose any of the 40 battles in which it participated. Currently the world's oldest commissioned warship afloat, this impressive craft is open for free guided tours, which are narrated by the USS Constitution's active-duty sailors themselves.Turning annually, on the fourth of July, Old Ironsides remains a marvel on Boston Harbor. (617-242-7511)
3 Boston Public Library
The first public library in the United States, this Boston institution not only houses a wide variety of literary works (over 6 million), but also displays the creations of visual artists. Many works remain permanently in the library while others are part of a constantly changing exhibit of sculpture and paintings. The books may draw you through their doors, but the beauty of the building itself will have you exploring for hours. When you're done, enjoy lunch in their restaurant or flip through your latest find in the cafe. In nice weather, go enjoy the peace and serenity of the newly restored courtyard. Rare books and manuscripts are also available at this awe inspiring facility. (617-536-5400)
2 Boston's Freedom Trail
The best way to see Boston. Starting at the Boston Common, but easily picked up at any point along the way, the Freedom Trail offers historical insight into the city and its surroundings. Easy to "hop on and off", the Freedom Trail weaves throughout the city and highlights some of Boston's most special places. Enjoy all or part of this "map" clearly marked by a well defined red line that meanders throughout the city's neighborhoods. Guided tours are available for a fee, but the best way to explore is on your own because you can create the tour that fits your pace. (617-357-8300)
The HarborWalk winds through the city's waterfront, passing through many neighborhoods along the way. Stretching from Chelsea Creek to the Neponset River, the HarborWalk makes its way through East Boston, Charlestown, North End, Downtown, South Boston and Dorchester. The varied beauty of the HarborWalk is a direct reflection of each community it connects. The HarborWalk allows for a vast selection of activities that are both active and passive in nature. Connecting the public to a spruced up Boston Harbor it links the water's edge to the city creating open space to be enjoyed. Communities embrace the HarborWalk and work to ensure it stays a beautiful aspect of its landscape. Lining the pathways are many restaurants and bars (especially on the South Boston side like in the Seaport and Fort point area), and displays of public art. (617-482-1722)
About Jessica Polizzotti
Born and raised in Boston, Jessica knows her city like the back of her hand. Always looking to uncover something new, Jessica keeps up on the latest and greatest Boston offerings. Although Jessica has been a world traveler since her teens, her favorite trip may always be her Italian honeymoon. Living in a city that allows her to experience a change in seasons equals an opportunity to enjoy a shift in activities. As the old New England cliché says, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute.”
Read more about Jessica Polizzotti here.