Free is great, but at some point, your time is worth more. The best part of the experiences below? You get the benefit of both. These are some of the most scenic and historic places in Boston, but they’ll cost you little-to-nothing to see. If you spend a day, seeing some awesome, free sights, you’ll feel better about staying in that fancy hotel room or splurging on lobster dinner.
1. Boston Public Library
From the moment your feet hit the first steps leading to the Boston Public Library, you know it’s a special place. The arched windows and red tiled roof with green copper cresting are just a glimpse of what awaits you in the McKim Building.
Once inside, you’re surrounded by beauty, from the floor to the ceiling. This library is home to an impressive collection of tomes, but also fantastic works of art.
The marble staircase is guarded by two marble lions. Murals decorate the second-floor hall. The arches and detailed ceiling are simply gorgeous.
The McKim Building’s biggest surprise is possibly its peaceful interior courtyard. The arches and walkway are almost an exact replica of the Cancelleria Palace in Rome.
Free, one-hour tours are offered at various times throughout the week. Check the schedule when planning your trip.
2. The Public Garden
From the indoors, to the beautiful outdoors. Boston is home to the oldest public botanical garden in the country. Surrounded by tall buildings and adjacent to Boston Common, you can stroll the paths of this city oasis.
The Public Garden is home to some very important and permanent visitors. Near the corner of Beacon and Charles Streets, you’ll find Mrs. Mallard and her eight ducklings, from Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings.
From mid-April through mid-September, you can take a peaceful spin in a Swan Boat on the lagoon. This experience isn’t free, but it’s close enough at less than four bucks a person. The boats are seasonal, operating from mid-April through early September.
3. Hatch Shell
The Hatch Shell, on the Charles River Esplanade, hosts free outdoor concerts and movies in the summer.
The location is best known for its 4th of July celebration, when the Boston Pops rolls out real cannons for Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. But, there are other events throughout the summer with far fewer people.
Free Wednesday night concerts at the Hatch Shell are performed by the Boston Landmarks Orchestra. Free movies are shown on Friday nights in June, July, and August.
There are also other performances throughout the summer and the events schedule is usually released in mid-to-late spring. Just bring a blanket, something to eat and drink, and enjoy a free night under the stars along the beautiful Charles River.
4. Shakespeare on the Common
This free event is also limited to the summer, usually mid-July through early August. As you can tell by its name, the great works of William Shakespeare are performed on Boston Common in the heart of the city.
The performances are presented by the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company and take place at the Parkman Bandstand. They begin at 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 7 p.m. on Sundays.
5. The Freedom Trail
This is the ultimate in free things in Boston because not only is the self-guided walking tour free, but so are several of the stops along the 2.5-mile trail.
6. Boston Common
The route starts here in is the oldest public park in the country, and of course, it’s free. Frog Pond, which is in the park, is known for ice skating in the winter. While the skating will cost you about $20 for admission and rentals, watching others glide around the pond is always free.
7. Massachusetts State House
Free tours of the Massachusetts State House are offered on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. throughout the year. The tours last between 30-45 minutes. You’ll see the House and Senate Chambers, learn about the buildings architecture, and discover the meaning behind the Sacred Cod. Even though it’s free, you do need to reserve your spot.
8. Park Street Church
This is the church where William Lloyd Garrison delivered his first major antislavery address in 1829. It’s also where America or My Country ‘Tis of Thee was performed for the first time. The song was written by the church’s organist. You can take a look inside from mid-June through late August, Tuesday-Saturday from 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. The church is also open for Sunday services.
9. King’s Chapel
This is the site of New England’s first Anglican Church. The bell, still used today, was recast by Paul Revere in 1816. Guided tours are offered several times of day, starting at the top of the hour, but the days of the week do vary depending on the season.
Every Tuesday, King’s Chapel hosts a free recital starting at 12:15 p.m. The recitals last between 30 and 40 minutes and feature a variety of performing artists. While the tours and recitals are free, there is a suggested donation for each. All donations from each recital go to the performers.
10. Faneuil Hall
This is the site of the country’s first town meeting and where Americans first protested the Sugar and Stamp Acts. The National Parks Service operates Faneuil Hall today, which still hosts political and civic events. The visitor’s center is open year-round. Ranger-guided talks take place several times a day when the Great Hall is open.
11. Old North Church
“One if by land, two if by sea.” This is the church where lanterns were hung to signal how the British were advancing in 1775. The actual steeple has been rebuilt because of damage from two hurricanes. You can start your tour with a short presentation about the church and then look around at your leisure. It’s free, but a donation is suggested. There are also daily guided tours from March-December, which cost $6 per person.
12. Bunker Hill Monument
This is the site of the first major battle of the Revolutionary War. Today, you can climb the 294 stairs to the top of the monument, which is dedicated to the Battle of Bunker Hill. A museum, located across the street from the monument grounds, displays artifacts from the actual battle. Both the monument and museum are free. The site is part of the Boston National Historical Park and is located in Charlestown.