Boston, a city rife with historical significance, is one of the most expensive cities in the US. High living costs often lead to overpriced hotels, expensive parking lots, such as the one under Boston Commons at a staggering $8 each 30 minutes, and costly tours.
If you are looking to reduce entertainment costs while visiting this wondrous city on the water, you will be happy to learn that Boston also offers some amazing free activities and places to visit. If you want to visit historically significant sites, many of the stops along Boston’s Freedom Trail (marked by a red brick path through the downtown core) are completely free, including Boston Commons, the Old North Church and the site of the Boston Massacre.
Here are five free things to do in Boston that we enjoyed:
We began our self-guided tour of Boston with my mother and Mindy’s mother at Boston Commons, the very beginning of the Freedom Trail. Like a tiny Central Park, Boston Commons is a wonderful green patch in the middle of the city with big trees, a pond and even a carousel.
My favorite part of our Boston Commons visit was seeing the Make Way for Ducklings statues, a tribute to Robert McCloskey’s popular children’s book. My mother used to read this story to me when I was a little girl and so it was great to reminisce about the plot that involved real life places in Boston, like Frog Pond and various street names.
Street performances in front of Fanuiel Hall
There is always some sort of donation-only performance happening at Fanuiel Hall, which is right next to Quincy Market. It’s the perfect place to be entertained while you’re eating your lunch. Performances often include clowns, people on stilts, acrobats, dancers and so much more. On the day we were there we watched a very athletic and energetic dance troupe, replete with break-dancing and gymnastics.
Only a 3 minute walk from Fanuiel Hall is the New England Holocaust Memorial. Constructed in 1995, it consists of 6 glass towers, representing both the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust and the 6 major death camps run by the Nazis. Two of these death camps, Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau, unfortunately play a role in Mindy’s family history, as both her grandmother and great uncle were imprisoned there but luckily survived.
Inscribed on some of the glass panels inside the towers are eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust. Although extremey painful to read, and difficult through the tears in our eyes, it was a bonding moment between Mindy and her mom, as they imagined their immediate family struggling through this atrocity.
Arnold Arboretum walk and tour
One morning we enjoyed a pleasant walk in Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, where they have trees and flowers native to New England as well as species from all over the world, including China, Japan and Mongolia.
The arboretum offers free daily tours of the grounds starting at the Hunnewell Building and last about 40 minutes. All the guides are volunteers who bring something different to the walk so you could easily enjoy the tour more than once. The tour is also not necessary in order to enjoy the beautiful site as every tree is well labeled, but it is nice to meet other nature enthusiasts.
Visiting Arnold Arboretum is also a historical visit as it is the oldest public arboretum in the entire United States naturally lending itself to the home of some very old trees. Most of the trees are labeled with the date they were planted and many date back to the 1800’s.
Black Heritage Trail Tour
Our favorite of the free things to do in Boston was the guided tour through Beacon Hill on the Black Heritage Trail. Our guide, who worked for the US National Parks Service, was an actual historian and taught us so much about the Abolitionist Movement, the Civil War and the plight (and triumphs) of runaway slaves.
Tours appropriately meet right in front of the 54th Regiment relief at the corner of Boston Commons and directly across the street from the State House. Our tour latest about 90 minutes and ended at the Museum of African American History adjacent to the historical African Meeting House. Tours meet three times a day, at 10am, 12pm, and 2pm.
Free activities we plan to do on our next Boston visit
Our trip to Boston was way too short to enjoy all that the city has to offer, but we also believe that it’s good to leave a location not having done or seen at least one thing so that you will come back again. On our next Boston adventure, we plan to include in our itinerary the Sam Adams brewery tour (donation only) and the Coit Observatory, which is located on the Boston University campus. They offer free star-gazing on Wednesdays at 7:30pm or 8:30pm depending on the time of year.