Foreign travellers often skip Boston for New York City, the largest and most popular visitor stop on America’s east coast. But the Massachusetts capital is a wonderful destination for a city break or combined with a longer visit exploring the countryside and shore. It can be an expensive place, though, so check out some of these free and low cost things to do in Boston.
This is without a doubt my favourite, and it is an outdoor walking trail, so the fresh air comes at no extra charge! The Freedom Trail is perfect to get your bearings and orientation with the city as well as see some of the more important historic sights along the way. You can spend from a couple hours to an entire day exploring the stops en route, which include the USS Constitution, both the old and new state houses, and Boston Common, a gorgeous city park. There’s also a wee extension to the route which will take you through Beacon Hill, which I also highly recommend.
On Wednesdays after 4PM, the Museum of Fine Arts allows for ‘voluntary contribution’ admission. You’ll have plenty of time as they’re open until 9:45PM on Wednesdays. Please do leave a small donation – the exhibits are fantastic and well worth supporting. The museum has been here on this site for over a hundred years, and during that time they’ve amassed over 400 thousand pieces in their collection. From more traditional exhibits, such as their Impressionist collection, to more offbeat exhibits in rotation, you’ll definitely be glad you stopped by.
Jazz has a long history with the city of Boston. One of the first clubs to open here was a jazz venue, and now with two well-respected music schools in the city (specifically, Berklee College of Music and Emerson College), it seems that the Saturday jazz night has become a ritual tradition. There usually is no cover charge for jazz night, just a few drinks that you’d probably be enjoying anyway. One of the most famous of these clubs is Wally’s Café founded in 1947 and every night they feature some of the city’s hottest talent. The guy or girl on stage might be famous tomorrow – you can say you knew them when!
If you’ve had enough of the city life and want to escape, your best bet is to head to the Blue Hills Reservation just outside the city. The park is a staggering 7,000 acres – that’s plenty of room to stretch your legs. During summer there’s rock climbing, horseback riding, mountain biking, and of course hiking. Winter brings its own set of sports, including downhill and cross country skiing. Great Blue Hill is the highest point in the park, offering a fantastic view of Boston and the surrounding area.
Quincy Market is the place to be for cheap eats – vendor stalls offer a huge array of choice, which can be dangerous if you’re hungry, as it is far easy to be tempted to order one of everything. Everything is local, and it’s nice as most things you choose will be prepared-to-order. There is occasionally a ‘taste of the quincy’ where you can take up free samples of the vendors best. It’s all totally free, but you can’t pass up buying a few favourites after sampling.
Every city has those slightly cheesy attractions that, despite their tawdry first impressions, make everyone smile and are a lot of fun. Boston’s hat tip to the tourist trade are the swan boats, which paddle their way around Boston Public Gardens. Even the photo makes me laugh – it’s a must do, regardless of your age, if you haven’t swan’ed your way across Boston. The gardens are free to tour around, and the swans are very inexpensive – though they are closed a few months in winter.
Historic sights, free music, tasty food, and swan boats: Boston has a little bit of everything for a budget visitor.
Posted : Wednesday, August 4th, 2010 at 12:51
Andy Hayes is a travel journalist currently based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not criss-crossing the world to have his next travel adventures, he is spending time hanging out on his own website, Sharing Travel Experiences.