Step back in time on the Freedom Trail, see a movie at Boston Harbor, and make a work of art at the Children's Museum — all for free!Step back in time on the Freedom Trail, see a movie at Boston Harbor, and make a work of art at the Children's Museum — all for free!
Boston may best be celebrated for its rich history, cutting edge art scene, academic achievements, political entanglements and thriving city center. But it's not exactly renowned for its frugal cost of living, low-cost attractions and family-friendly prices. That's why exploring this expensive city for free will make your vacation even more memorable. Come back with bragging rights about all the art, concerts, tours, parks, and sights you saw without spending a dime.
Boston for Free Movies
June through August brings free movie nights under the stars. From late June to the end of August, Free Friday Flicks brings kid-favorite films at The Hatch Shell on Boston’s Esplanade. Due to copyright issues, the event's sponsor WBZ NewsRadio is not permitted to print the names of the films they're showing directly on their website, but oddly, they do give hints. Their unusual predicament makes for a fun family activity — guess which films are playing. How about this one? "When the exhibits at the Museum of Natural History come to life, only a goofy night watchman is left to deal with the havoc." When the kids have had their fill of movie trivia, you can get the list of the movie titles and dates by calling 617/787-7200. Location: MBTA Red line to Charles/MGH stop or Green Line to Arlington stop.
If you're not interested in the movie selection at Boston's Esplanade or are looking for classic flicks, try The Movies by Moonlight series at the Boston Harbor Hotel. From late June until early September, their free Friday night selections have included "To Kill A Mockingbird," "Wizard of Oz" and "Roman Holiday." The famed waterfront hotel entices locals and tourists with live music, movies, and more. The hotels' Intrigue Café sets the stage for the night's entertainment beneath the stars. You can learn more about Boston Harbor events by calling 617/439-7000. Location: 70 Rowes Wharf, Boston, 02110.
Boston Free Winter & Summer Music Events
All year round, The New England Conservatory uses its impressive performance space as its "largest classroom." Students give live performances featuring classical music, chorus, quartets, concerts, and recitals to the public. If their musical prowess wasn't enough to entice you, nearly 600 shows a year are open to the public, free of charge. But the conservatory reaches beyond the traditional youth and adult classes. Kids can start taking classes at NEC as toddlers in order to nurture their innate musical abilities and share the love of music. Visiting families can take in a youth concert to celebrate the conservatory's youngest students. To learn more about their free shows and event dates, call 617/585-1100 for more information. Location: 290 Huntington Ave, Boston, MA 02115. Green Line "E" train to the Symphony stop.
When the weather warms up, City Hall Plaza and Christopher Columbus Park both host free musical events. The mayor sponsors the Boston City Hall music series on Wednesday nights, and there's first-come, first-served seating on the steps. Along the waterfront at Columbus Park in the North End, there's music and dance scheduled less often as part of a city series.
Step Back in Time: Free History Sites in Boston
It shouldn't be too difficult to entice your little one to the Boston Fire Museum with the promise of old-fashioned fire trucks, helmets, authentic gear, and lots of pictures. Also on display: a hand-drawn American LaFrance Ladder Truck from 1860; a hand-drawn, hand-operated Button pumper from 1863, antique steam pumpers, firefighting equipment, documents, and alarms. The museum is open on Saturaday only, and closes for winter from October to April. However, group tours can be arranged anytime by calling 617/482-1344. Regular seasonal hours are noon to 4pm on Saturdays, or by appointment. Location: 344 Congress St Boston, 02210. Red Line to the T stop.
Although the USS Constitution is currently undergoing restoration until 2012, it remains open to the public for free tours. Nicknamed "Old Ironsides," the ship's history dates back over 200 years. This celebrated ship was completed in 1797 and served in the Barbary Wars and War of 1812. Thanks to a poem written by Oliver Wendell Holmes about the ship's majestic history, popular sentiment for the ship soared and money was appropriated for its restoration. To celebrate its 200th birthday in 1997, the ship sailed for the first time in over a century. Military history buffs may be interested in touring the museum of memorabilia and artifacts related to it: The Constitution Museum (617/426-1812). The ship is open for tours Thursday through Sunday from November 1st to March 31st. From April 1st to October 31st on Tuesdays through Sundays there are extended hours. Location: 1 Constitution Rd, Charlestown, 02129. Green Line to North Station.
Pay homage to Boston's diverse history with a visit to the Museum of African American History's Black Heritage Trail. Between 1800 to 1900, most of Boston's African Americans lived in a neighborhood now called the North Slope of Beacon Hill. Although the homes along the trail are private residences, visitors may enter the African Meeting House and the Abiel Smith School. Recent exhibits at the museum include Black Entrepreneurs of the 18th and 19th Centuries. The museum also hosted a Family Concert with Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra, Meet the Abolitionists, and an Author Series with Bill Cosby. To learn more about upcoming events and tours, call 617/725-0022. Open Monday thru Saturday from 10am to 4pm, Location: 46 Joy Street, Boston. 02114. Red or Green Line to Park Street.
For a complete (and free) Bostonian history lesson, take a self-guided expedition down Boston's Freedom Trail (617/357-8300). This indoor/outdoor museum winds through Boston's modern yet historically rich streets and boasts 16 sights including our recommended free attractions: USS Constitution, Boston Common, and Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Stop along the way and give the kids a quick history lesson at The Paul Revere House, Benjamin Franklin Statue, Bunker Hill Monument and Site of the Boston Massacre. For the past few summers in mid-August, over 20 companies of 18th century British army re-enactors set up an exact replica of the original camp on Boston Common’s Trayning Ground during the Siege of Boston in 1776. On any day of the year, The Trail provides plenty of resource to prepare for your journey including educational podcasts and downloadable maps. (Tours led by costumed interpreters have a modest fee, but you dont' have to join one for the kids to enjoy seeing the 18th century re-enactors walking around The Trail.)
Boston No-Cost Art & Culture Attractions
For nearly a century, The Boston Children's Museum has been building innovative, hands-on exhibits to help kids learn through experience and fun. With a focus on science, culture, environmental awareness and the arts, the museum has always been a popular destination for families. Exhibit themes range from "The Berenstain Bears" to "Arthur and Friends" and Boston Black, which teaches families about race and diversity within the Boston community. There's also a Play Space, Johnny's Workbench, Balance Climb, and more. While children under 1 are always free, the rest of the family will have to splurge on the $1 admission on Friday nights from 5pm to 9pm. for 2010, admission is only helf-price ($6 per person) the last hour of the day from 4-5pm Saturday to Thursday. Or you can call 617/426-6500 for ongoing free community promotions throughout the year. Location: Children’s Wharf at 300 Congress Street, Boston, 02210. MBTA to South Station.
The Museum of Fine Arts, set to emerge from a full renovation in November 2010, sponsors a free family night every Wednesday from 4pm to 9:45pm to foster bonding and educational time together. A voluntary donation is suggested, but no one is required to pay an admission fee. Families can learn about art, Egyptian mysteries, Southeast Asian influences, and American paintings. If Wednesdays don't fit your schedule, Martin Luther King Day, Memorial Day, and Columbus Day are also free to the public all day as a special Open House invitation to enjoy the exhibits. You can call 671/369-3300 for more information. Location: 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, 02115. Green Line "E" train to the "Museum of Fine Arts" stop, or the Orange Line train to the "Ruggles" stop.
The Institute of Contemporary Art prides itself on its expansive collection of contemporary art and its mission to foster the imagination and creative process. Many of their exhibits work to blur the lines between art and life, including the recent "World as a Stage." With an eye on family, the museum offers free admission to families (up to two adults accompanied by children 12 and under) on the last Saturday of each month and always free entry to children under 18. Get hands-on by taking everyday materials and turning them into works of art, design your own theater props and join the Rough and Tumble theater group, or call the museum at 617/478-3100 to get a list of upcoming family events. If you can't make it on the last Saturday of the month, receive free admission from 5pm to 9pm every Thursday for Target Free Thursday Nights. Location: 100 Northern Avenue, Boston, 02210. Red Line to South Station and transfer to the Silver Line Waterfront.
The Boston Public Library has a surprising number of historic and architectural tours every day of the week. Volunteers give tours ranging from the library's collection of paintings by Puvis de Chavannes, murals by John Singer Sargent, wall paintings, ceiling decor, and architecture. The library also has special School Rooms for elementary, middle, and high schoolers looking for extra help or a place to do homework on their own. Since most kids are accustomed to being quiet while visiting the library, this is a great stop on your Boston vacation for a little peace and quiet and a brief lesson in art and culture. Check the library's website for free movie screenings, or call 617/536-5400 for detailed tour times and meeting locations. Location: 700 Boylston St., Boston MA 02116. Green Line to Copley Station or Orange Line to Back Bay/South End Station.
Outdoor Fun in Boston
Boston has always been a pedestrian friendly destination with lots of opportunity for free fun outdoors. Try Faneuil Hall Marketplace for a combination history lesson, shopping excursion, dining, and event entertainment. Established in 1742 as a gift to the city from Peter Faneuil, Faneuil Hall was home to merchants, fishermen, and the famous doctrine: "No taxation without representation." George Washington also toasted the nation there on its first birthday. Today, the area houses popular retailers including Godiva Chocolatier, Best of Boston, Urban Outfitters and more, making for an entertaining window shopping excursion. Restaurants and entertainment include the famed Cheers, Comedy Connection, and Sluggers Dugout. The marketplace is also convenient to Boston Duck Tours, New England Holocaust Memorial, and Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau . Location: Take the Blue line to Aquarium/Faneuil Hall, Green Line to Government Center, or Orange line to State.
Like Faneuil Hall, Harvard Square is a pedestrian area that boasts shops, arts, entertainment, dining, and more. Kid-friendly stops include Newbury Comics and Calliope children's boutique. Stop by the Japanese anime store Tokyo Kid on Sundays to take part in their music challenge and win a free pocky for guessing the name of an anime or game song. But if you have little ones, the most important stop on your trip will be Curious George Goes To Wordsworth. In addition to the long line of popular Curious George books, apparel, gifts, and toys, the shop also carries classic children's literature, puzzles, games, and gifts. If you can convince your kids to browse and not buy, Harvard Square might be one of their favorite free attractions. Location: Red Line to the Harvard stop.
From April through November, The Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University offers free tours of its seasonal exhibits lasting approximately 60 to 90-minutes-long. The information is geared towards adults, but kids can still appreciate the lush landscape and decorative grounds. Special themed tours include Signs of Spring, Morning Bird Walk, and Furrows, Cracks, and Gnarls: Celebrating Old Trees. The Hunnewell Visitor Center provides, free interactive activities including a Tree-of-the-Month activity guide especially designed with families in mind. The free tours only run on select days, so please call ahead to inquire about specific dates and themes (617/524.1718). Location: 125 Arborway Boston, 02130. MBTA Orange Line to Forest Hills.
Take a break with a picnic lunch at the Public Gardens, the first public botanical garden in the United States. Once marshland, the 24-acres are now one of the most stunning attractions in Boston. Three lagoons, ornamental design, thousands of plants and flower beds set the back-drop for a relaxing afternoon. Unique to Boston are their historic Swan Boats, dating back to 1870. The driver paddles its passengers around the gardens for fifteen minutes. While your kids are playing and enjoying the sunshine, you can watch the boats leisurely make its way through the lagoon. Location: MBTA Green line to Arlington Station.
For added savings on your no-cost fun trip, don't forget to use Boston's MBTA public transportation system. Children 11 and under ride free when accompanied by a paying adult. You can also learn more about Boston's free, frugal, and not-so-free attractions by visiting The Boston Convention and Visitor's Bureau,or by calling 888/SEE BOSTON.
For places to eat in the Boston area, see Boston Italian Restaurants.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.