Boston is filled with New England charm, a diverse culture, beautiful parks, and historic legacy. This list of free things to do in Boston includes a wide variety of what the city has to offer. Some attractions are free only on certain days – please check before you go. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
1.Boston's Freedom Trail
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Boston’s Freedom Trail is approximately 2.5 miles long and is a red-lined route leading people to sixteen different sites of historical significance, each one one of the country’s authentic treasures, including burying grounds, churches, meeting houses, museums, landmarks, and more. While guided tours charge a fee, it’s free to do a self-guided tour of the Freedom Trail and learn about the history of the city, the American Revolution, and the brave people who played a role in the founding of the United States of America. The trail was established back in 1951 and takes guests to sites around the entire city.
139 Tremont St, Boston, MA 02111, Phone: 617-357-8300
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The USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship still afloat in the world, as well as the Ship of State of the United States. The ship promotes the naval heritage of American and the U.S. Navy through historic demonstrations, public access, and educational outreach. Located in the Charlestown Navy Yard, inside of the Boston National Historical Park, the USS Constitution is open year-round to visitors with no admission fees. Guests over the age of eighteen will have to show a photo ID to enter. Parking validation for the nearby Nautica Parking Garage is available at the museum and visitor center.
Charlestown Navy Yard, Building 22, Charlestown, MA 02129, Phone: 617-426-1812
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The Boston Esplanade is a stretch of green space in the city that stretches approximately three miles along the banks of the Charles River. The Esplanade Association offers a program of guided tours of the Boston Esplanade. This tour program is designed to share the area’s interesting history, and includes eight different free guided walking tours of the Esplanade during the summer season, between the months of June and September. These guided free walking tours typically last around an hour and thirty minutes, covering around a mile of area and more than 150 year of Boston history.
21 David G Mugar Way, Boston, MA 02114, Phone: 617-227-0365
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The Commonwealth Museum in the city of Boston, Massachusetts offers a place where visitors and locals alike can learn about the history of the area at no charge. The museum is open on weekdays from 9:00am to 5:00pm, and on Saturdays and Sundays, Memorial Day until Labor Day, from 9:00am to 3:00pm. The permanent exhibit at the Commonwealth Museum is The Massachusetts Experiment in Democracy exhibit, which traces the experience of the state through various time periods, including the nineteenth century, federal, revolutionary, and colonial. The exhibit’s sub-them is entitled “Tracing our Roots.”
220 Morrissey Blvd, Boston, MA 02125, Phone: 617-727-9268
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5.Edgar Allan Poe Square
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On the 200th anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday, in 2009, the city renamed a small plaza the Edgar Allan Poe Square, installing a street sign with the name. Edgar Allan Poe was born the nineteenth of January in 1909. The street and house where Poe was born no longer exists, so the square was established to commemorate the site. The Edgar Allan Poe Square is located where Charles Street and Boylston Street meet, close to where the house of Poe once existed, near Boston’s theater district. Visitors will find a number of different references to Poe in the area.
1-5 MA-28, Boston, MA 02116
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6.Massachusetts Historical Society
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The Massachusetts Historical Society, based in Boston, was established back in the year 1791, and is a valuable resource for the culture, life, and history of America. The collection managed by the historical society tells America’s story through millions of unique and rare national treasures, artifacts, and documents. The Massachusetts Historical Society is the first historical society in the country, providing access to a collection of documents and artifacts that would be of particular interest to American history enthusiasts. The collection includes an extensive amount of personal papers from Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, and John Adams, among other historical figures.
1154 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02215, Phone: 617-536-1608
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7.Massachusetts State House
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The Massachusetts State House was established back in 1969 by the legislature. Today, the State House Tours Division leads around ninety thousand guests through its halls every year. This division offers a Legislative Process Tour and a Historical/Architectural Tour, along with several brochures in which the State House’s history is explained, as well as how legislation is passed. The free tours take place Monday through Friday between 10:00am and 3:00pm, last around thirty to forty-five minutes, and provide a historical overview. The Massachusetts State House is open on weekdays from 8:45am until 5:00pm.
24 Beacon St, Boston, MA 02133, Phone: 617-727-3676
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8.Boston Public Library
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The Boston Public Library provides more than books for visitors, guests can also join one of the daily tours that highlight the architecture of the famed buildings of the Central Library by Philip Johnson and Charles Follen McKim. This is in addition to the art treasures located inside of the library, which include works by John Singer Sargent and Daniel Chester French. The free tours are available to everyone and are led by trained volunteers. Guided tours last around sixty minutes in duration and start at the vestibule in the McKim Building, just inside of the library entrance on Dartmouth Street.
700 Boylston St, Boston MA 02116, Phone: 617-536-5400
9.The Bunker Hill Monument
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The Battle of Bunker Hill took place on June 17 of 1775. It was the first time New England soldiers fought against the British army in a pitched battle. The bloody battle took place on a hilly land of pastures across the river from Boston. The Marquis De Lafayette, fifty years later, set the cornerstone of the Bunker Hill Monument, a tribute to the battle. Visitors can now make the somewhat challenging climb up to the top of the monument for outstanding views of the surrounding city. Anyone wanting to climb the monument can enter through the Bunker Hill Lodge.
Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston, MA 02129, Phone: 617-242-5601
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The Boston HarborWalk is a legendary waterfront in the city that offers amazing views over the water and the surrounding architecture. Running along the edge of the water, the HarborWalk is a welcoming pathway following the shoreline, wharves, beaches, and piers around the Boston Harbor. Visitors strolling along the relaxing walk will discover beautiful scenery, historical exhibitions, public art, unique shops, and more through a lovely urban setting. The non-motorized HarborWalk also connects to several inland parks and trails, such as the Charles River Esplanade, the Freedom Trail, the Emerald Necklace, the South Bay Trail, greenways, and more.
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The Emerald Necklace is a historic park system in the heart of the city of Boston that extends to Brookline. The park acts as a backyard for residents of the city, as well as a relaxing attraction for visitors. Guided free bike and walking tours are offered by the Emerald Necklace Conservancy between the months of May and October. Activities and amenities available at the park system include shaded benches, a zoo, an arboretum, softball, golf, hiking, sailing among much more. The expansive green space created by Frederick Law Olmsted over 100 years ago, designed to connect people with nature.
125 The Fenway Boston, MA 02115, Phone: 617-522-2700
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12.Forest Hills Cemetery
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The Forest Hill Cemetery in Boston, Massachusetts is a Victorian-era cemetery with beautiful scenery and a miniature village. It is located in the neighborhood of Jamaica Plain, at the MBTA’s orange line’s last stop. The grounds encompass approximately 275 acres with a tranquil lake at the center, showcasing both man-made and natural beauty. Several of the graves in the Forest Hills Cemetery are adorned by beautiful sculptures, and mausoleums dotting the hillside feature interesting architectural details. A number of more contemporary sculptures bring a touch of playfulness to the property, including the miniature village and a family of trees dressed up.
165-A Block St, Boston, MA 02130, Phone: 617-524-0128
13.Black Heritage Trail
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The Black Heritage Trail in the city explores the nineteenth century history of the African American community in Boston, which was centered around Beacon Hill. This trail is made up of fourteen different sites, starting at the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial situated on Boston’s Beacon Street. Visitors can discover the sites on the trail as part of a self-guided tour during any day and time. Site brochures and trail maps can be found at the Abiel Smith School. Ranger-led walking tours of the Black Heritage Trail are also available during specific days and times, mostly during the summer season.
14 Beacon St, Boston, MA 02108, Phone: 617-742-5415
14.Boston University's Coit Observatory
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The Coit Observatory at Boston University offers a Public Open Night for both visitors and locals in the city. It is an opportunity for the community to come and see the beautiful night sky through binoculars and telescopes, and observe things they may not otherwise have a chance to see. The Public Open Night also share some knowledge about astronomy. These special nights are on most Wednesdays year-round, weather permitting, and begin at 8:30pm during the summer and spring seasons and at 7:30pm during the winter and fall seasons. Ticketed guests are admitted first, non-ticketed if there is space.
725 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215, Phone: 617-353-2625
15.Blue Hills Reservation
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The Blue Hills Reservation offers visitors a chance to explore some of the natural beauty Massachusetts has to offer right outside of the City of Boston. The grounds stretch out more than seven thousand acres and features approximately 125 miles of hiking trails up hills, through wetlands and forest, and other landscapes. There are many different activities available in the Blue Hills Reservation, including hiking, swimming, mountain biking, camping, horseback riding, skiing, kayaking, canoeing, and more. The park entrance has information and maps available, with parking offered in the Houghton’s Pond lot or across the street from the entrance.
695 Hillside St, Milton, MA 02186, Phone: 617-698-1802
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16.Boston Common and Public Gardens
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The Public Gardens are the first public botanical gardens to be established in the United States, back in the year 1837. The Boston Common is even older, having been created in 1634 as the first public park in America. Visitors can view unusual and rich plants, fountains and monuments, the Lagoon, and Swan Boats that have been operated and even created by the Paget family for more than one hundred years. The Boston Parks Department strives to maintain the Victorian traditions of the garden as best as they can, preserving the traditional beauty of the garden for guests.
4 Charles St, Boston, MA 02116
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The Boston Harborfest event has been a city tradition for more than thirty-five years and celebrates the history and harbor of Boston. The event is a five-day, family-friendly festival for the Fourth of July, highlighting the area’s colonial history. Hundreds of different activities take place at several of the landmarks throughout the city, including Faneuil Hall’s annual opening ceremony, walks along the Freedom Trail, historical reenactments, live entertainment, boat tours, tours of historical sites, displays of artwork, a huge firework display, and more. The massive Fourth of July festival is one of the largest in the country.
One Design Center Pl, Boston, MA 02210, Phone: 617-439-7700
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18.Irish Heritage Trail
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The Irish Heritage Trail around the Boston area and in other parts of the state is a guide to several landmarks of the Irish-American heroes and artists in Massachusetts from 1700’s to present-day. This historic trail is separated into three different sections, with twenty sites in the downtown area of Boston, Back Bay, and more than fifty landmarks in the neighborhoods of Boston, as well as other towns and cities throughout Massachusetts. The Boston area along the Irish Heritage Trail offers a self-guided tour through Back Bay and downtown Boston. Maps can be found at the Prudential Center and the Boston Common.
139 Tremont St, Boston, MA 02115
19.Sam Adams Brewery
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The Sam Adams Brewery offers a free Classic Tour of the brewery, during which visitors can learn about their brewing process and the ingredients that go into the beers produced by Sam Adams. All visitors twenty-one years of age or more are given a free tasting glass and samples of three different beers. Tickets cannot be acquired in advanced. The Classic Tour is a first-come, first-serve tour. These tours are offered around every thirty minutes, more often during the weekend. Hours for tours are 10:00am to 3:00pm Monday through Thursday and Saturdays, and 10:00am to 5:30pm on Fridays.
30 Germania St, Boston, MA 02130, Phone: 617-368-5080
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20.St. Anthony’s Feast
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The St. Anthony’s Feast is an annual event that takes place in North End in the City of Boston. The event occurs in August on the weekend of the last Sunday and honors the patrons Saint Lucy and Saint Anthony with religious services, colorful parades, abundant American and Italian food, live entertainment, and strolling singers. The St. Anthony’s Feast’s highlight is its ten-hour procession through the streets of North End of the Saint Anthony statue. The statue is accompanied by floats, marching bands, and devotees. The Statue of Saint Anthony is returned to the chapel as streamers and confetti descend from rooftops.
201 – 203 Endicott St, Boston, MA 02113, Phone: 617-723-8669
21.St. Patrick's Day Parade
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The St. Patrick’s Day Parade takes place in South Boston on the Sunday closest to St. Patrick’s Day. The parade route starts at the city’s Broadway MBTA stop, travels through the streets of Boston, ending at Andrew Square. The massive parade draws thousands of spectators every year. Spectators can watch as colorful floats and American and Irish pipe and drum groups go by to the cheers of enthusiastic crowds. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade consists of a mix of brass marching bands, bagpipes, military units, elaborate floats, dancers, entertainers, historic Minutemen groups, and other societies and organizations.
South Boston, Massachusetts, 02127
22.Street Performers Festival
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The Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market is the site of a festival of street performers, weather permitting, each day from the weekend of Memorial Day to the weekend of Labor Day, along with the weekend of other major holidays. Those looking to be entertained by these street performers will find them at Faneuil Hall on a daily basis typically from eleven in the morning until nine at night. Performers include comics, actors, dancer, gymnasts, mimes, magicians, musicians, clowns, jugglers, and more. The summer season kicks off with non-stop, three-day Street Performers Festival during the Memorial Day weekend.
4 S Market St, Boston, MA 02109, Phone: 617-523-1300
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23.The Hatch Shell
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The Hatch Shell in Boston offers a number of different free events to public every year, with its largest event being the Boston Pops Concert on Independence Day, which is followed by a spectacular fireworks shows. In addition to the Fourth of July event, the Hatch Shell hosts a variety of free concerts that range from classical to pop, festivals, shows, celebrations, family-friendly movies.The outdoor performance stage is the most unique stage in the city, overlooking the scenic Charles River on the Esplanade. Most events take place during the year between the months of April and October.
47 David G Mugar Way, Boston, MA 02108
24.The Rose Kennedy Rose Garden
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The Rose Kennedy Rose Garden is situated in the heart of Boston’s Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park and is a shady green space in the area of North End that’s is easily missed. The garden is a particularly beautiful place to visit in the city during the month of June. The memorial garden honors Rose Kennedy, the mother of President John F. Kennedy, and other Gold Star Mothers of America. These are mothers who lost a child during World War II. A wrought-iron and granite fence encloses the rose garden with gates located on the south and north ends.
87 Mount Vernon St, Boston, MA 02108-1330
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WalkBoston strives to make walking easier and safer in the state of Massachusetts, encouraging more vibrant communities, a cleaner environment, and better health. The organization provides walks, publications, and maps of the city of Boston and other communities, enabling people to explore easier on their own. Maps available for the Boston area include Beacon Hill, Avenue of the Arts, North Station/Charles River, the Boston Common and Public Garden, Charlestown, Downtown and City Routes, Connect Historic Boston, Harborwalk, Jamaica Plain, Rose Kennedy Greenway, many themed walks, and more. WalkBoston also has worked in several other ways to create safer walking experiences.
25 Best Free Things to Do in Boston
- Boston's Freedom Trail, Photo: Courtesy of Bokicbo - Fotolia.com
- USS Constitution, Photo: Courtesy of Chris - Fotolia.com
- Boston Esplanade, Photo: Courtesy of jStock - Fotolia.com
- Commonwealth Museum, Photo: Courtesy of Enrico Della Pietra - Fotolia.com
- Edgar Allan Poe Square, Photo: Courtesy of Aleksandrs - Fotolia.com
- Massachusetts Historical Society, Photo: Massachusetts Historical Society
- Massachusetts State House, Photo: Courtesy of skylarkstudio - Fotolia.com
- Boston Public Library, Photo: Courtesy of Papa Bravo - Fotolia.com
- The Bunker Hill Monument, Photo: Courtesy of jStock - Fotolia.com
- The HarborWalk, Photo: Courtesy of Tupungato - Fotolia.com
- Emerald Necklace, Photo: Courtesy of finnegan - Fotolia.com
- Forest Hills Cemetery, Photo: Courtesy of Enrico Della Pietra - Fotolia.com
- Black Heritage Trail, Photo: Courtesy of travelview - Fotolia.com
- Boston University's Coit Observatory, Photo: Courtesy of passmil198216 - Fotolia.com
- Blue Hills Reservation, Photo: Courtesy of k_samurkas - Fotolia.com
- Boston Common and Public Gardens, Photo: Courtesy of Dmitrii - Fotolia.com
- Boston Harborfest, Photo: Courtesy of nd700 - Fotolia.com
- Irish Heritage Trail, Photo: Courtesy of rusty elliott - Fotolia.com
- Sam Adams Brewery, Photo: Sam Adams Brewery
- St. Anthony’s Feast, Photo: Courtesy of Olga - Fotolia.com
- St. Patrick's Day Parade, Photo: Courtesy of Savvapanf Photo - Fotolia.com
- Street Performers Festival, Photo: Courtesy of johnalexandr - Fotolia.com
- The Hatch Shell, Photo: Courtesy of twinsterphoto - Fotolia.com
- The Rose Kennedy Rose Garden, Photo: Courtesy of ket68g - Fotolia.com
- WalkBoston, Photo: Courtesy of EvgeniiAnd - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of f11photo - Fotolia.com
More Ideas: The Emerald Necklace Parks
Boston is a beautiful and historic city with so much to offer. It's home to some of the oldest buildings and most interesting historic sites in America, and many Boston residents and visitors particularly enjoy the city's parks, with the Emerald Necklace standing out among the very best.
A highly unique set of parks, the Emerald Necklace measures up at around 1,100 acres in total and is made up of several green spaces that are all linked together by waterways and parkways, extending from Boston around into Brookline.
The Emerald Necklace earned its name from the fact that it almost seems to form a necklace shape, hanging from the neck of the Boston Peninsula. It was designated a Boston Landmark back in 1989, having been originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, a landscape architect and public administrator, back in the late-19th century.
Olmsted hoped to join Boston Common with Franklin Park. Tens of millions of dollars have been invested in the project over the years, and the Emerald Necklace Conservancy works in the modern era to keep Olmsted’s vision alive, preserving the Emerald Necklace parks, as well as acting as their advocates and organizing various events and public programming.
The Emerald Necklace Parks
There's nowhere quite like the Emerald Necklace. Beginning in the heart of Boston and stretching out to Brookline, this park system has been beloved by locals and visitors for years, drawing in over a million people on an annual basis. There are six parks in total, all forming the overall Emerald Necklace, and all under the stewardship of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy.
Visits to the Emerald Necklace should begin at the Shattuck Visitor Center, the main HQ of the Conservancy and the perfect starting point for your journey, introducing you to the history and stories of the Emerald Necklace. From there, you can continue on to explore the six parks: Back Bay Fens, Olmsted Park, The Riverway, Franklin Park, Arnold Arboretum, and Jamaica Pond.
Each park is unique, with benches, walking trails trees, open lawn spaces, waterways, and various additional facilities and features. Each year, the Party in the Park event is held in the parks to celebrate the work of the Conservancy, and there are various tours, guided walks, special events, and more for people of all ages to enjoy throughout the year.
Support the Emerald Necklace Conservancy
The Emerald Necklace Conservancy is helping to preserve and protect some of Boston's prettiest green spaces. If you appreciate the work being done and want to get involved, here are just a few options you can choose from:
- Donations - As a non-profit organization, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy relies on the kindness and generosity of donors to support its work and programming. Without donations, tours and events can't happen and the parks won't get the same levels of support and care. You can make donations to the Emerald Necklace Conservancy online with ease, and you can choose exactly where your money goes. You can put it into the Emerald Fund to offer general support for the Conservancy, the Justine Mee Liff Fund for restoration of the Emerald Necklace lands, or the Olmsted Tree Society, which maintains the trees of the parks.
- The Emerald Partners Program - Those who really want to make a sizeable donation to help support the Emerald Necklace Conservancy could sign up for the Emerald Partners Program. There are various tiers of partnership available, ranging from Parks Patron up to Parks Champion. Each tier comes with unique benefits like sponsor recognition in the Summer on the Emerald Necklace events, a 'Day in the Dirt' private volunteering event, tickets to the biennial Emerald Evening, or even a curated walk with the Conservancy President for you and several guests.
- Volunteer in the Parks - There are around 1,100 acres of lands making up the Emerald Necklace, so the Emerald Necklace Conservancy has a big need for volunteers and budding gardeners to get out there and maintain all that land. If you like the idea of getting outdoors, working with your hands, cleaning up Boston's green spaces, and preserving the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted, becoming a volunteer is a great way to do so.
- Volunteer at the Visitor Center - If you want to volunteer but might prefer to work indoors, you can sign up for a voluntary role at the Shattuck Visitor Center. The main gateway for visitors to the Emerald Necklace parks, the Visitor Center plays a key role in the Emerald Necklace Conservancy's work. Various roles are available from admin to docent training, office support, communications, event planning, and more.
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