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People walking in Boston Common in the fall

Free for All: Boston

Know before you go: Want to visit the places recommended in this article? With local regulations changing frequently, it’s a good idea to check the web site of any attraction or business to make sure it’s open before you go. 

Boston might be known for A-listers like Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and the Kennedys, but you don’t even need a dollar to experience its heart and soul. Here’s how you can get to know this historic New England city and while saving your pennies.


Every Wednesday after 4:00 p.m., admission to the Museum of Fine Arts is pay-what-you-wish (donations are suggested but not mandatory), and on Thursdays after 5:00 p.m. admission to the Institute of Contemporary Art is free. HI Boston hostel leads tours to both museums on just the right day and time, so you can make friends while you gaze at priceless works of art.

Observation deck at Independence Wharf

On the edge of downtown along the Inner Harbor, 470 Atlantic Ave offers free access to the observation deck on the 14th floor. Borrow a pair of complimentary binoculars to take in sweeping views of Logan Airport,the Harbor Islands, Boston’s Innovation District, and the Blue Hills Reservation. The observation deck is open seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Massachusetts State House

The State House, constructed in 1798, offers free tours of the building, reflecting the history of Massachusetts since colonial times. Tours are offered Monday-Friday, 10:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Advance registration is required –just call (617) 727-3676.

The North End

Also known as Little Italy, here you’ll find historical sites from the American Revolution, endless Italian restaurants and bakeries, and part of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, a gorgeous new park full of green spaces and art installations. As you walk down the neighborhood’s narrow streets and take in the wafting aroma of dozens of Italian restaurants, you’ll understand how this area earned its name.

Bunker Hill Monument

If you’re not up for the full 2.5-mile (4 km) Freedom Trail walk around Boston, skip ahead to the Bunker Hill Monument. A 221-foot-tall obelisk, the Bunker Hill Monument commemorates the first battle of the American Revolution. Visitors can climb 294 steps to the top of this landmark for an amazing view of Boston.

Window shopping

If you enjoy checking out the latest fashions and trendy art galleries, make your way to Newbury Street for a charming stretch of nonstop shops.

Harvard University campus

Founded in 1636, Harvard is the oldest and arguably the most prestigious university in the U.S. Students lead a free tours of the historic Harvard Yard throughout the week. Or, head there with your new friends from HI Boston hostel on Wednesdays and Saturdays for the Unofficial Harvard Tour.Click hereto see hostel tours and activities.

Arnold Arboretum

Occupying 281 acres and boasting 11,156 plantings, the Arnold Arboretum’s living collection of trees, shrubs, and woody vines is recognized as one of the most comprehensive and best documented of its kind in the world. Founded in 1872, the Arboretum is a partnership between the City of Boston and Harvard University.

Samuel Adams brewery

If Boston had an official beer, it would be Sam Adams. The brewery offers free tours (and samples!) Monday-Saturday, 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. A $2 donation to benefit local charities is suggested.

Boston Public Library free tours

Located in Boston’s Copley Square, the Boston Public Library has something for everyone. BPL is filled with beautiful sculptures and paintings, and the entire building features an amazing architectural design. BPL frequently hosts concerts, lectures, and free tours for visitors. Please check the Boston Public Library’s website for tour times.

Hostel activities

For even more free activities, check the HI Boston activities board or talk to the staff. Chances are, there’s a free neighborhood tour, community dinner, or group outing that you can join so you can also meet other travelers staying at the hostel.