Call it what you will – Hub of the Universe, Cradle of Liberty, Athens of America or The City on a Hill – there’s no doubt that Boston has earned its spot as one of America’s best-known student travel destinations. When you’ve been around for 385 years or so, historical and cultural icons tend to accumulate, and they certainly have in this Massachusetts metropolis.
There’s one more way that Boston sets itself apart from the pack: it’s expensive. According to an article published in the Boston Globe, the city ranks sixth in the “world’s most expensive place to visit” list, ahead of longtime A-listers like Dubai, Monte Carlo and Venice. In the United States, only New York City and Miami landed more expensive lodgings. And Airbnb gave Boston the dubious pleasure of leading their price index.
Your group may not be able to sleep in the Cradle of Liberty for the same price as they would in the heart of the Midwest, but don’t despair. If you need to ease your budget, check out some of Boston’s many excellent free attractions.
Our Picks for Boston’s Best Free Attractions
Many of our favorite free activities in Boston are history-oriented. But can you blame us? This is the city that played home to Paul Revere, the Old North Church, Bunker Hill and the Massacre that highlighted the growing tensions between Britain and their overseas colony. However, not all of our activities are actively studious; people watching at Faneuil Market is just as interesting as trekking up to Bunker Hill in our book.
Take a Guided Tour of Boston Public Library
If an hour-long tour of art and architecture is your thing, you’ll love what the Boston Public Library does. Each day, free tours are given of the McKim and Johnson buildings – part and parcel of the library – as well as the works of art they contain. These tours come complete with guides and up to eight people can join in without prior reservations. Check the website (bpl.org) for tour times. Twice a week, free tours of the library’s special exhibition We Are One are also scheduled. Or guide yourself with the coming-soon smartphone tour.
Got a group of more than eight people? You’ll need to schedule a separate, private tour. Check the website for information on this as well.
Walk Boston’s Best Trail
“Boston’s Best” Trail has a different name – it starts with “free” and ends with an “om” – that happens to be registered, and using it without written permission is frowned upon. But, named or not, this is one of Boston’s top attractions – paid or otherwise. It’s a 2.5-mile, red brick pathway that stops by 16 of the best-known historical sites in town. As you cruise along the trail, you’ll see Paul Revere’s House, Boston Common, Massachusetts State House and many other areas of significance.
Note: Walking the trail is free, but if you want to take along a guide, you’ll need to fork out some cash. Some of the stops along the path charge a nominal fee to enter; others, such as the Bunker Hill Museum and Monument, are free.
People Watch at Faneuil Market
Faneuil Hall Marketplace – which encompasses Faneuil Hall itself as well as Quincy Market and North Market – is part shopping center, part history lesson and part street fair. It’s got historical cred, having played its part in fomenting the Revolution in its earlier days. While today’s Bostonians might head to Quincy Hall to eat or to the Great Hall to hear Boston Classical Orchestra, the site is also very popular with visitors. Shopping is always an option, but so are watching street performers and catching one of the many seasonal events that the Marketplace hosts.
See Shakespeare Outdoors (And Listen to Music, too)
Boston Common has come a long way since its days as a cow pasture in the 1830s. Now, it’s one of the Hub’s hubs, a place where people often gather to celebrate, play sports or just relax. In the winter, Boston Common is home to a public ice skating rink; in warmer weather, Parkman Bandstand hosts live music and theatre. Among these, lovers of highbrow culture won’t want to miss Shakespeare on the Common. Other outdoor spaces host summertime music performances, including the Hatch Shell, which hosts the familiar-to-PBS-audiences annual July 4th music and fireworks spectacular, and the Courtyard of the Boston Public Library.
Explore Naval History on the USS Constitution
Finally, take a look at the original Ironsides – the USS Constitution. This battleship was commissioned in 1797 as part of the war against the British; today, it’s still a commissioned ship, complete with crew, although it only leaves its berth in the Charlestown Navy Yard for ceremonial duties. What better way to learn about history or seafaring than to actually tour something that’s been there and done that?
This is just the short-short list of Boston activities that don’t cost you a dime. Your picks could be different: hopping from national park to national park (there are five in the area) or museum to museum is an option. What would you do on a free afternoon in Bean Town? Tell us in the comment section below.