How to Enjoy Boston's History and Culture for Free
In Boston, you can take a journey into America's revolutionary past, listen to beautiful live music, visit internationally acclaimed museums and watch family-friendly movies under the stars, all for free.
Summertime, and the Living Is Easy (and Free)
Summer is a good time to visit Boston, and many of the suggestions listed below are limited to the summer months. This city can be hot in the daytime and cool at night, so if you're planning to attend an outdoor event that lasts into the evening, bring along a sweater or jacket. And always check the weather forecast before solidifying your plans.
Follow the Freedom Trail
A walk along Boston's famous Freedom Trail is a must for anyone interested in American history. Just follow the red brick trail to take a self-guided tour through the city's early history, including many sites relating to the American Revolution and the nation's founders. That's right, there is literally a red line to follow, making it difficult for even a first-time visitor to go astray.
Begin at the Boston Common Visitor's Center (139 Tremont St., Boston, MA) to pick up informational brochures and take a gander at the beautiful surroundings—the Boston Common is America's oldest park and still one of its prettiest. The trail is 2.5 miles long, and by walking steadily you can do it in a few hours, but allow yourself more time to make a few stops along the way. Small children will most likely need a stroller or similar means of conveyance. At the end of the tour is the U.S. Navy's largest ship, the U.S.S. Constitution (Building 22, Charlestown Navy Yard, Charlestown, MA), known as Old Ironsides for its indomitable performance during the War of 1812.
Two of the Boston area's best and most prestigious museums that normally charge admission have free days and/or hours. The Museum of Fine Arts (465 Huntington Ave., Boston, MA) is free on Wednesdays from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., though a voluntary donation is encouraged. The museum's collection consists of 450,000 works of art, and it is considered one of the premier art museums in the U.S.
The Institute of Contemporary Art (25 Harbor Shore Dr., Boston, MA) has a history of displaying cutting-edge art and performance. It is free on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day and Columbus Day, as well as between 5:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. on Free Thursday Nights. The ICA is located in the Seapoint neighborhood along HarborWalk, a popular public walkway along the Boston Harbor waterfront, where you will be sure to enjoy the scenic views.
The Boston Athenaeum (10-1/2 Beacon St., Boston, MA) is a venerable research library, exhibition space and cultural center with extensive holdings in the areas of American history, rare books and ephemera. It's a membership institution, meaning that only members who pay an annual fee have access to all areas. However, the first floor and gallery space are open at no cost to visitors. It's worth a trip just to see the fine detailing of its interior.
Then again, there is The Museum of Bad Art (55 Davis Square, Somerville MA). This small space is internationally acknowledged as one of the most entertaining museums in New England. The museum itself claims that it is the world's only museum dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art in all its forms. Let it be said that the museum is not mocking bad art, but rather, it seems to take pride in its gallery and celebrates the heartfelt sincerity of its artists. Although the museum's collection runs to hundreds of items, it has space to display only 70 to 90 at a time. It's located in the basement of the Somerville Theatre and is free, but open only during showtimes. The Somerville Theatre is easily accessible from downtown Boston on the MBTA public transportation system; it's across the street from the Davis Square, Somerville, T-stop.
A Little Night Music and Free Movies, Too
Some of the most highly anticipated events in Boston are held at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade (47 David G Mugar Way, Boston, MA). To reach the Hatch Shell from downtown Boston you have to cross the multi-lane Storrow Drive; you can walk across safely on the Arthur Fiedler Footbridge.
Free outdoor events at the Hatch Shell include the famous Fourth of July Boston Pops Concert and fireworks display. The Boston Landmarks Orchestra performs free classical music concerts on Wednesday nights in July and August. Especially fun for families is the Free Friday Flicks series during June, July and August. Movies start at sundown. The audience relaxes on the beautiful grass esplanade for these events, so bring along a blanket to sit on. Get there early in order to pick a choice spot, and bring along a picnic if you like, but no alcohol.