Boston on a Budget: The Best Free Things to See and Do in Boston

Want to experience Boston affordably? We feel you. Looking for the best free things to see and do in the city? We got you.

Thankfully, not all great adventures have to cost big bucks. Boston has plenty of wallet-friendly things to do and places to explore, especially during warmer months.

Boats floating in the water of Boston Harbor with the skyline in the background
There are tons of wicked awesome things to do in Boston. Photo credit: Ozzie Stern

Boston is known for its quintessential outdoor spaces that are a dream to walk through and picnic within. Many museums offer free admission during specific hours and a great deal of iconic historical sites are free to the public. Not to mention that we know how to see stunning skyline views of the city for no cost.

The opportunities are truly endless in good old Beantown! Read on to find out the best free things to do in Boston and begin planning your low-cost visit.

Outdoor Activities

The Boston Commons

The Boston Commons is the oldest city park in the United States and is the perfect place for a stroll or picnic. Centrally located within downtown Boston, The Commons are always full of life. During warmer months, you’ll find people basking in the sun, picnicking in the shade beneath tall trees, and gathered around street performers.

Keep your eye out for Nick Shea, the ‘one dollar portrait guy,’ who is often seen with a line of people queued to get a mini portrait drawn of themselves for a mere $1. Spending time in The Commons is an absolute must-do for travelers visiting Boston.

People sit on benches underneath flowering trees in a park
Cool your heels in America’s oldest park. Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

The Boston Public Garden

Directly adjacent to The Commons is the Boston Public Garden. No matter what time of the year you find yourself in Boston, the Public Gardens is always a good idea.

In the summer, you’ll find people floating on the Swan Boats and admiring the array of brightly colored flowers. In the winter, ice skating on the Frog Pond beneath the holiday lights is a can’t miss.

Red and purple tulips bend with the wind in front of a statue of George Washington
See the George Washington statue in the Boston Public Garden. Photo credit: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

The Charles River Esplanade

The Charles River Esplanade is Boston’s iconic riverside park that is perfect for walking, biking, sunbathing, and watching the sunset. In the spring, you’ll find the cherry trees along the Esplanade miraculously blooming. Throughout autumn, the Esplanade is glowing with the most stunning hues of orange and red.

Grab a spot to sit on the docks and watch as the sailboats float on by or visit during GroundBeat, the Esplanade’s free riverfront music series that takes place throughout each summer!

Blooming trees line the bank of a pond
The trees blooming are a must-see in Boston in springtime. Photo credit: Lex Zhao

Lawn on D

Lawn on D is a fantastic outdoor space featuring outdoor games, live music, movie nights, and fun glowing swings, all of which are open to the public unless otherwise stated on the online events page.

The glow-in-the-dark swings are always free to access and great for snapping some cool pictures. Don’t forget to check out the events page to try and catch a movie, some live music, or a game night while you’re visiting Boston.

At night a woman sits in a hoop swing that is lit up blue
The swings at Lawn on D are always open and Instagram-ready. Photo credit: Leslee_atFlickr

Observatory Deck on the Harborwalk

The Harborwalk is a public walkway that extends 43 miles along the coast. One of the most picturesque parts of the Harborwalk is in the Seaport District of Boston which offers gorgeous skyline views of the city.

But, there’s nothing like seeing views of a city from above! On the 14th floor of Independence Wharf (470 Atlantic Ave, Boston, MA 02210), there is a free observatory deck that is open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily. From there you can see fantastic views of the harbor, Fort Point, and The Rose Kennedy Greenway. Public access is granted as part of the Boston Harborwalk but don’t forget to bring your ID or passport for entry.

Seaport Sweat

If you’re visiting Boston in the warmer months and hoping to get a good workout in, Seaport Sweat offers various free fitness classes that take place on Seaport Common from May through September each year. Check out their online calendar to see if any classes fit into your visit!

Classes offered include yoga, zumba, pilates, conditioning, and more. This is a great way to meet locals and truly feel like a part of the community.

Historical Sites

Visit the Boston Public Library

Established in 1848, the Boston Public Library is more than just a library; it’s a walk back in time. The stunning architecture, rounded ceilings, and grand staircases will be sure to make you reach for your camera. Known as one of the most gorgeous libraries in America, you won’t want to miss this quiet, intimate experience.

Located in Copley Square, it is open to the public with free printed booklets available on-site for self-guided visitors. If you visit on a Tuesday or Friday during summer, browse the Copley Square Farmers Market that takes place right outside!

lion statue at the grand staircase of Boston public library
Step back in time at the Boston Public Library. Photo credit: Sasha Prasastika

Climb Aboard the USS Constitution

The USS Constitution, also known as ‘Old Ironsides,’ was constructed between the years of 1794 and 1797 and is now known as the world’s oldest warship still afloat. Located on Pier 1 in the Charleston Navy Yard, it is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

On a first-come-first-serve basis, you can climb aboard the massive USS Constitution for free. This is truly a one-of-a-kind experience that takes you back in time.

the USS Consistitution looms over Boston harbor
Test your sea legs on Old Ironsides. Photo credit: Joe Passe

Visit the Bunker Hill Monument

Located in Charlestown and officially opened to the public on June 17, 1943, the Bunker Hill Monument symbolizes the Revolution’s first major battle, the Battle of Bunker Hill. Visitors are able to visit the foot of the monument as well as climb the 294 steps to reach the top for a well worth it view of the Boston skyline.

It’s tradition to keep your eye out for the famously rare albino squirrel that lives in the vicinity as well! Rumor has it that it’s good luck if you spot him.

tall grey obelisk looms over a statue
Remember the American Revolution at the Bunker Hill Monument. Photo credit: Allie_Caulfield

Walk the Freedom Trail

Craving the full historical Boston experience? You can walk the Freedom Trail without paying for a guided tour.

The 2.5 mile long trail is well marked and begins in the Boston Commons. Download a free map online and lace up your walking shoes to fully immerse yourself in some of the most iconic historical sites in United States history including: The Massachusetts State House, Paul Revere House, site of the Boston Massacre, Faneuil Hall, and much more.

Art Museums

Institute of Contemporary Art

The Institute of Contemporary Art, located in the Seaport District, offers free admission on Thursdays from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. In addition to displaying mind-blowing, contemporary art, this museum is also located right on the harbor offering gorgeous views of the ocean from inside its floor-to-ceiling glass windows.

During the summer months, check the ICA website for updates on their Summer Sessions free music events to jam out by the ocean.

contemporary art installation of colorful reflective windows covering a wall
Come for the art, stay for the waterfront views. Photo credit: wsifrancis

Museum of Fine Art

Located on Huntington Avenue, the Museum of Fine Arts offers optional donation based entry on Wednesday evenings from 4:00 p.m. to closing at 9:45 p.m.

The Museum of Fine Arts is one of the most diverse and expansive art museums in the world. The collection holds nearly 500,000 works of art including art from ancient Egyptian to contemporary as well as frequently changing special exhibitions. The MFA is perfect to do on a rainy or cold day!

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

On the first Thursday of each month or on the day of your birthday (with ID proof) the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum offers free admission.

Isabella Stewart Gardner, born in 1840, was a leading art collector who founded the museum in 1903 to showcase her collection of American, Egyptian, and Asian art within a museum which surrounds a gorgeous, horticultural garden. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is arguably one of the most picturesque places in Boston, immediately transporting you to what feels like another world within its walls.

lush courtyard at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
There’s as much to see outside as there is to see inside at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Photo credit: ctj71081

There are plenty of ways to experience the city of Boston for free while still getting a ‘wicked’ full experience. Whether you’re traveling on a budget or want to save a few dollars here and there, we hope this list of free things to do in Boston helps you to do just that as you plan your visit. Your affordable Beantown adventure awaits!