Boston is a great city to experience very inexpensively. Now to be honest, Nick & I stayed with family when we went, so I have no idea rates for lodging in Boston. But aside from that, I can vouch that you can truly get the true Boston experience without breaking the bank. As long as: a) you love history and b) you don’t mind walking. If both of these apply to you read on about some of the best cheap/free things to do in Beantown!
Follow the Freedom Trail
The absolute highlight of my trip, Freedom Trail really deserves its own entire post (coming soon). If you aren’t familiar with the Freedom Trail, it is a 2 1/2 mile walk that takes you past 16 different sites throughout Boston. All these sites played an important role in America’s history of independence. The trail is a 2 brick-wide path that weaves past each site. Each site/stop is designated by one of these plaques (shown above). You can take an independent tour along the trail, or hire a costumed guide to follow. I recommend you take a self-guided tour, which is free. But to get the most out of the trail, I HIGHLY recommend getting a guide book to follow along with. You will learn so much more about each stop with one. You can buy one of these at the Visitor’s Center at the start of the trail (in Boston Common), or order one online before your trip.
Price: free (no admission fee); the guidebook we bought was $9 (shared among 4 of us); a guided tour is $14 for each adult; Freedom Trail Smartphone App is $4.99
Lounge in Boston Common
Boston Common is not just the start of Boston’s Freedom Trail, it is the oldest city park in the US. It’s also big, covering 50 acres of land. With softball fields, frog pond/ice skating rink, fountain, and various historical monuments, there is no shortage of ways to spend your time in Boston Common. If the weather’s nice, pack a lunch and have a picnic!
Stroll through Boston Public Garden
Bumping right up against Boston Common (the first public park in the US), is Boston Public Garden; the first public botanical garden in the US. Boston hold the titles of a lot of firsts if you haven’t noticed. The garden is immaculately maintained, and provides several pathways to stroll through romantic weeping willows. If you are familiar with the film Good Will Hunting, you will recognize the garden. You can even find the bench Matt Damon and Robin Williams sat on for one of the scenes. It now serves as a sort of memorial to the late Robin Williams, covered in handwritten notes from fans.
Ride a Swan
While you’re in the garden, take a break for a mini cruise on one of the famous swan boats. This tradition dates back to 1877. The cruise lasts 15 minutes while you slowly sail around the garden’s lagoon. You will see the garden’s two resident swans, as well as several other ducks. Be prepared though, the boat won’t depart until there are at least 8 passengers on board. We mistakenly thought we could go at a slow time and get a boat all to ourselves, and ended up having to wait for enough passengers to show up.
Price: $3 per adult; $1.50 per child
One of the first things to impress me about Boston was how CLOSE everything is to each other. The city covers just over 48 square miles, so a lot is packed into a small space. Use your feet to get you from one point to the next because a) it’s free transportation and b) there’s so much to see along the way! Take your time to soak in the architecture and history as you go. Boston is a beautiful city, and this is the best way to see it.
Price: free (just make sure you wear comfortable shoes!)
People/Architecture Watch on Copley Square
I fell in love with this little square on our trip. The mix of old and new architecture is beautiful and there were plenty of people there, no matter what time of day we walked through it. We made several detours just to walk through again and again. It was absolutely magical lit up at night. The most notable buildings on the square include: Trinity Church (pictured), Boston Public Library, Old South Church, John Hancock Building, and the Fairmont Hotel.
Read in the Public Library
I didn’t actually READ at the library when we visited, I mostly just soaked up the architecture and took a million photos. The room pictured above would have been the perfect place if I had though! We strolled throughout the library and courtyard for about an hour. It is conveniently located right across from Copley Square.
Bonus tip: Visit the library during the day when it is open and you can go inside, but go back at night to see it lit up in the dark!
Admire the architecture of Old South Church
Catty-corner from Copley Square, Old South Church is beautiful inside and out. The stained glass windows are incredible, and amazing attention to detail everywhere you turn. The church also boasts some famous congregants including Sam Adams and Benjamin Franklin. Unlike some other historical churches in Boston, Old South Church accepts donations, but does not require an admission charge.
Price: open and free to the public, donations are accepted
Transport back in time in the North End
If you follow the Freedom Trail, you will weave through the North End, but it is really worth coming back and exploring in its own right. Some of the architecture, and especially the cobblestone streets, will make you really feel like you have been transported back to Colonial times. The North End neighborhood was settled in 1630 and has been continuously inhabited ever since. This makes it the oldest residential community in the city of Boston. Today, the North End is Boston’s “Little Italy”. One third of the residents of the North End are Italian or of Italian decent. You will find plenty of authentic Italian restaurants to satisfy all of your cravings.
Price: free to explore, but make sure you pop into a bakery for an authentic Cannoli! (Cannoli prices vary by bakery)
Any other cheap/free suggestions you have for me on my next trip to Boston??