21 Completely Free Things to Do in Boston
Taste wine or go stargazing—and leave your wallet at home.
We don’t need to tell you that this city is as expensive AF. In fact, a recent study ranked Boston as the fourth most expensive city for renters—ahead of Miami, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC.
So we’re down to save where we can. Luckily, Boston more than makes up for its pricey cost of living with plenty cool things to do that are entirely free. That’s right, you can leave your wallet at home and spend the day visiting new museum exhibits, taking in striking views of the city, or tasting top-notch bottles of wine. So here are all the best ways to spend your days—completely free of charge.
Find your new favorite bottle
You’re an oenophile at heart—you just can’t (yet) afford to drink like one. No need to fret: shops like Brix, Social Wines, and Urban Grape regularly offer free after-work and weekend tastings. Sip your way around lesser-known varietals and learn a thing or two while taking notes for a future party time.
Spring, of course, is the money season when the lilacs are in full effect, but with 15,000 plants and 4,000 trees blooming throughout the year, you’re hardly ever wanting for scenic vistas at the Arnold Arboretum. The sprawling sanctuary is completely free, so you can hike Hemlock Hill, then spread a blanket under a tree for some seasonally specific picnicking without pulling out your wallet.
Museum-hop on freebie days
Some of our city’s most esteemed galleries are hoping to draw guests with free admission. Every Thursday night from 5 to 9 pm, admission at the Institute of Contemporary Art is free (tickets required), and we all get in free to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on our birthdays. Alas, the MFA has not yet brought back its free Wednesday evenings, but hope springs eternal.
Every Wednesday night, weather permitting, the BU Coit Observatory opens its doors for a public viewing night. Free tickets go live the Thursday morning before and go quickly, so queue up your laptop. The team will show off stars and other celestial sights via their top-notch telescopes and viewings last about an hour after the sun has fully set.
Check out some creepy-cool graveyards
If you’ve spent any time downtown, you’ve probably walked by Granary Burying Ground and not even thought much of it. Big mistake. Where else can you visit the graves of Paul Revere, John Hancock, and Sam Adams? And stare at gothic headstones the likes of which they never make anymore? Then there’s good old Kings Chapel Burying Ground, one of the oldest in the country and the final resting place of John Winthrop and Mary Chilton, the first woman to step off the Mayflower.
It’s like Peloton, except outdoors, free, and not at all cultish. The 11-mile Minuteman trail, built on a former railway, takes you through the most historical and charming parts of Cambridge, Arlington, and Lexington. The trail is open not only to biking, but also rollerblading, jogging, and walking, so the whole gang can join in on the fun.
Climb a historical monument for epic views
Got 294 steps in you? Then head over Charlestown to mount the city’s most famous obelisk. It took 17 years to build the granite Bunker Hill Monument in tribute to the Battle of Bunker Hill. And today, the top of the 221-foot-tall monument affords you a terrific view of the city.
Workout without sweating the price tag
Save money on those expensive workout classes. The November Project, which began here in Boston, hosts early-morning, large-scale group workouts throughout the city. The Harvard Stadium steps are the signature workout, but you can also meet up with folks in Brookline, Southie, and other spots around the city to sweat it out.
Say hello to the seals
When you’re feeling stressed or melancholy, saddle up next to some adorable sea creatures for the afternoon. The New England Aquarium does charge admission, but if you head to the outdoor seal tank you can watch those cheeky harbor creatures do laps, bob up and down, and show off their spotted bellies to your heart’s desire. You’ll continue your stroll of the Harborwalk with a spring in your step.
Time to get an inside look at the city’s creative scene. Every first Friday of the month, the SoWa arts district opens its doors to the public. Talk to the artists inside their workspaces, linger in galleries that have stayed open late for the occasion, and nurture your frugal soul with complimentary drinks and snacks.
Take in the best view of the city
The Custom House Tower was one of the very first skyscrapers to grace our skyline, as it was the tallest building in town until the Pru appeared. Enough history—what you really need to know is that the 26th floor observation deck is free and open to the public every day of the week (except Fridays) from 2 to 6 pm. Just call 617-310-6300 at least 48 hours in advance to book your spot, and get ready to take in amazing views of the city from 496 feet up.
Get off the beaten path
The Freedom Trail isn’t the only historical walk in town. The Black Heritage Trail traces the history of the African-American community in Boston in the late 18th and 19th centuries, the Women’s Heritage Trail comprises 10 separate, self-guided walking tours flung across various neighborhoods, and the Irish Heritage Trail takes in museums, statues, and memorials celebrating everyone from “poet, patriot, prisoner, sportsman and orator” John Boyle O’Reilly to (who else?) JFK.
Look out at the nearby islands
From Castle Island, a three-mile stretch of South Boston, you can enjoy outdoor activities, peer out at Dorchester Bay, and have a great (totally free!) afternoon. Explore 22 acres of beach, bike paths, fishing grounds, and harbor views. The area is also located across from Logan International Airport, so watching planes take off and land can entertain for hours. Oh, and if you’re actually curious about history stuff, you can take a free tour of Independence Fort.
Boston is not Denver, but there are still a couple of mountains to climb. Just a few minutes outside of the city proper is a 7,000-acre reservation with 125 miles of resplendent hiking trails, which are open year round. Aim for an off-hour climb of Great Blue Hill to earn an unmatched view of the city skyline without the crazy crowds.
Sure, you could just hop in to check out a book, but when’s the last time you truly immersed yourself in this iconic building? Free art and architecture tours have resumed and take place every Friday and Saturday. You’ll learn about how the stunning center courtyard was inspired by the Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome, among other artistic and architectural wonders.
Take an elusive beach walk
You have to love a nature hike that’s entirely dependent on the tides. Here’s the gist: When the Boston Harbor levels are low, a wide sandbar appears in the Boston Harbor that allows you to walk from Quincy’s Squaw Rock to Thompson Island—yes, you’re actually walking to a harbor island. Go it alone or seek out a guided tour (probably the safer bet).
Hit the adult swings
The Lawn on D is the free adult playground we didn’t know we needed. Besides the iconic and over-Instagrammed swings, there’s also free ping pong, cornhole, and bocce, free wifi, regular art installations, and live music on the weekends.
Explore a secret garden
Time to channel your inner Mary Lennox. Atop a parking garage in Cambridge’s Kendall Square—who knew?—you’ll find a surprisingly large and astonishingly beautiful strolling garden. These days there’s a sign to show you the way, but it's still the perfect clandestine spot for when you need to hit pause.
Find art underneath a highway
Is it a park, museum, or playground? All we know is that the Underground at Ink Block has spun gold from a forgotten underpass. The eight-acre park connects the South End and South Boston and includes bike paths, a dog park, live performances, and more than 150,000 square feet of mural work.
Do a deep dive into women’s history
Julia Child’s cookbook drafts and Amelia Earhart’s letters are just the start of the treasures you’ll find at the Radcliffe College’s Schlesinger Library. About one-fifth of the library’s collection is food and drink-related (cookbooks, food journals), including the first cookbook written by a woman, in 1679. It also houses Helen Keller’s papers, the Black Women Oral History Project, and many more collections, some of them digitized.
Stare at a kidney stone collection
Remember the story of Phineas Gage? He was the 19th century dude who somehow survived being impaled by an iron rod. Today his skull sits at the Warren Anatomical Museum, where you can learn about Civil War-era surgery, the rise of homeopathy, and the god-awful history of bloodletting, to name just three deeply weird highlights. Right now the museum is only available to view by tour, but it will soon fully reopen to the public after an extensive renovation.