5 Free Boston Attractions

Spend time without spending a lot of money to get to know Boston with these free (or nearly free) things to do and see.


The city of Boston offers more bargains than travelers might suspect. Some of its oldest and most important institutions bend over backwards to make sure they’re accessible to everyone. You can glimpse into the past at the Boston Public Central Library, stroll through the country’s oldest arboretum, sample local brews and get out on Boston Harbor, all for little to nothing. Here are five free (or nearly free) Boston attractions.

1. Take a free Art and Architecture tour of the Boston Public Central Library, opened to the public in 1854 as the first large free municipal library in the United States, and relocated to its current Copley Square location in 1895. Volunteers take visitors on a one-hour tour and describe the gorgeous sculptures and paintings you find everywhere you look. Of particular interest is the Sargent Gallery, home to American painter John Singer Sargent’s mural sequence “The Triumph of Religion,” painted from 1890 to 1919. Tours are offered daily except Wednesday, October through May. You can also download excellent self-guided tour documents on the library Web site.

Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston St., Copley Square. Tour schedule Oct. through May: Sun. 2 p.m., Mon. 2:30 p.m., Tue. 6 p.m., Thur. 6 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m., Sat. 11 a.m. For tours by special appointment, call 617-536-5400, ext. 2216.

2. The Museum of Fine Arts is free to visitors on Wednesdays after 4 p.m. For Boston travelers on a budget, this is especially welcome as museum admission is usually $17 for adults. Considering the museum has more than 450,000 items in its collection, from Egyptian mummies to contemporary art, make sure you arrive at 4 p.m. sharp to take in as much as possible. And if you want to visit other Boston museums, almost all of them offer free or discounted admission at various times.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Avenue of the Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., tel. 617-267-9300. Free admission Wed. 4 to 9:45 p.m.

3. Nature lovers should head to the Arnold Arboretum, part of Boston’s Emerald Necklace (a series of green spaces designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed New York’s Central Park). The 250-acre park, the oldest public arboretum in North America, is a National Historic Landmark and part of Harvard University. While it is always free to wander through the grounds, special guided tours are offered periodically. Topics range from flowers to fruits to, of course, trees.

The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, 125 Arborway, tel. 617-524-1718. Grounds open sunrise to sunset every day. Visitor Center open weekdays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sun. noon to 4 p.m. Tour schedule April through Nov.: Sat. 10:30 a.m., Sun. 1 p.m., Wed. 12:15 p.m., Fri. 6 p.m. on select dates. Check the Web site for details,

4. It’s easy enough to see Boston’s famous harbor from the land, but to really appreciate it, you need to get out on the water. Take an Inner Harbor Ferry, a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority commuter boat that is operated by Boston Harbor Cruises from Long Wharf to the Charlestown Navy Yard, for a mere $1.70 (children under 11 ride free with a paying adult). Disembark at the Navy Yard and visit the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, and learn more about “Old Ironsides” at the nearby museum. Bunker Hill Monument, a 221-foot granite obelisk, pays tribute to those American colonists who fought overwhelming British forces in the famous “Battle of Bunker Hill” on June 17, 1775, the first major battle of the American Revolution (the Battle of Bunker Hill Museum is located across the street). Each historic attraction and museum is free of charge.

Visit for ferry schedules and to purchase tickets. USS Constitution, 1 Constitution Road, Charlestown, tel. 617-242-5670. Open Nov. 1 to March 31, Thu. through Sun. 10 a.m. to 3:50 p.m.; April 1 to Oct. 31, Tue. through Sun. 10 a.m. to 5:50 p.m. Bunker Hill Museum and Monument, 43 Monument Square, Charlestown, tel. 617-242-5641. Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

5. If all your touring has made you thirsty, a trip to the Samuel Adams Brewery might be in order. Learn how the popular brew is made, then taste the goods on a one-hour tour! The $2 requested donation goes to a local charity. All ages are welcome, but you must be 21 to sample the beer. Get there early to avoid waiting—it’s first come, first served.

The Samuel Adams Brewery, 30 Germania St., tel. 617-368-5080. Tour schedule: Mon. to Thu. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Fri. 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. All tours depart approximately every 45 minutes.

Destinations: Boston

Themes: Art and Museums, Urban Endeavors

Activities: Arts and Entertainment, Museums, Sightseeing

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