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What Are The Best Free Activities and Attractions in Boston MA?

sunset beach outdoor free activities in Boston MA

June 22, 2013 
by Pamela Lawson

Fun things, as we will soon show you, can cost you zero dollars when you’re touring the city of Boston on the cheap. You’re not a miser, but it would be just you trying to make every cent count and stretching every buck you spend on the trip as much as you can. By saving money on some of these things, the extra money can go towards more meaningful and practical things. So, the first thing you do before your trip to Boston, MA, to strategize and budget for it.

Simple activities like movies in a park, a walking tour around sights you’ve never seen in Boston, MA, iconic landmarks of Manchester, the seas of Portsmouth or breathtaking views along Charles River, a trip to the famed Old North Church in the North End Neighborhood, or a visit to the dwarfed-by-structure but magnified-by-history The Custom House along the Boston Harbor Waterfront. It’s not even a problem at all if you have young children with you, just bring them along and they’ll have plenty of fun too! A trip to the New England Aquarium along Central Wharf, free lunch, and ice-cream at Quincy Market, or stargazing at Coit Observatory will keep them enchanted and entranced from start to the end.

Places like the Museum of Science, Harvard Museum of Natural History and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem offer free admission days for everyone and if you call them ahead of time, they'll even help you put together a field or educational trip for students and small kids. You can also window-shop to your heart’s content at Harvard Square Entertainment where street performers would tickle your fancy or take the rented charter bus to Boston Public Library where stories of famous past civil rights politicians, activists, and public figures pour out in a multitude of forms like art songs, dances, and opera. If you feel like putting a couple of extra steps into your Fitbit, go for a jog or roll out your yoga mat along Boston Commons for a Yoga session panned out by the Boston Health Commission as a part of their Summer Fitness Series. Be free and #BeTheFrogi with the rest of the neighborhood!

1. Old North Church

35 Washington St, Marblehead, MA 01945
Marblehead was settled by fishermen and mariners of a time gone by around 1630, and legally, the city was a part of Salem during its significant past. The barn-like meeting house, constructed over a small hill but overlooking the ocean, was the first Puritan worship place. It's been through so much more than your history books can ever tell you and a tour around the site is the only way to truly feel every whisper, tale, personal account and culture in the Georgian structure. The church’s pristine, well-maintained venue is not only used for rites of passage, weddings, baptism, and funerals, it is one of the major points along The Freedom Trail! The traditional New England-style meeting house depicts everything to its finest and most elegant detail and you'll certainly appreciate the friendly guides' welcoming nature.

old north church - original website source

2. The Custom House

3, McKinley Square, Boston, Massachusetts
To say that the construction of the building, and its following (various) renovations and revamps took a long time and a lot of money is an understatement. Designing and constructing the building and tower may have started off in the mid-19th century, but the building has come a long way as the 17th tallest building in Boston MA today. The tower is a part of the Custom House District, therefore, placed under the National Register of Historic Places. What the modern-day Marriott Customs House Hotel is today is thanks, in part, to the Jung Brannen team who went all out to maximize the size of the building. Illuminating the Boston night sky, the hotel presents tourists and visitors will 22 floors of one-bedroom suites, fitness area, lounge, game room and a beautifully refurbished observation deck. To a photographer, it is a dream backdrop.

3. New England Aquarium

1 Central Wharf, Boston, MA 02110
(617) 973-5200
How can you go wrong with thousands of raving reviews online from visitors from all around the world, positive uptakes from travel writers in renowned magazines and thumbs up from the best in the travel industry? The answer is - you can’t.

The New England Aquarium starts you off with on the right footing with a meeting with cute little penguins. They never fail to capture your heart. Taking the spotlight at the aquarium, however, is so much more than ‘Happy Feet’. The encircling staircase goes from top to bottom, one end to the other, to both your left and to your right. Different floors showcase animals of varying kinds. At the small theatre outside, watch as the seals put on a rib-tickling show for you, and after that, enjoy a meet-and-greet session with Myrtle the Green Sea Turtle and unbelievably intelligent Harbor Seals.

All dressed up and ready for the weekend! #lionfish #fancy #newenglandaquarium

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4. Quincy Market

Faneuil Hall
4, S Market St, Boston, MA 02109
(617) 523-1300
You know how you walk into Toys R Us (oh, the memories...) to find yourself freaking out because there’s just so much you want to play with and buy all at once? If you’re a foodie, stepping up to the cobblestone brick pathways of Quincy Market is a lot like that. As outdoor merchants and vendors tantalize you with the aromas of their freshly-made food, it also serves as a shopping center and an important landmark, comprising 3 market buildings and a promenade. Footfall here is heavy regardless of the time of day, so, be ready to rub shoulders with locals, entertainers, kids, tourists and even the wandering vendors themselves! Because it is such an epic landmark in Boston, MA, you have to pop by at least once in your lifetime. All your senses will be precariously overwhelmed by the smell of food, music, noise from traffic and people talking, freshly-brewed coffee, tea, and cupcakes...all mingled together. Coming in highly recommended are food like lobster rolls, clam chowder, pizza, all kinds of Indian cuisine, pastries, sausages and many other Boston delicacies. It takes 'food haven' to a whole new level. If you’re in town this June 28th, make time for the Boston Harborfest, a multi-day festival celebrating American culture, traditions independence, and heritage.

5. Judson B. Coit Observatory

725 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215, USA
(617) 353-2401
This is the perfect place to be if you are looking for fun, free activities with young children. There are guides around to tell you fun facts about the moon as they gaze out at it from the few telescopes on site. On a clear night, the view of the Boston cityscape is gorgeous and you can literally see it all from every direction. Run by Boston University, the Public Open Night at the Observatory offers free admission almost every Wednesday night throughout the year. On a clear night, a view of the stunning starry night sky is something to reckon with. The program starts at 7.30pm (at 8.30pm during spring and summer) sharp and patrons are advised to arrive early, at least 15 minutes before the show because no further admission is permitted once the program is underway. The weather, as with all observatories around the world, is a major factor. To check whether haze, clouds, rain or other types of weather conditions could dampen your experience at the observatory, call (617) 353-2630 two hours before the start of the program to find out the status before going.

6. Museum of Science

1 Science Park, Boston, MA 02114
(617) 723-2500
The didactic establishment is a major pride for the Boston tourism and educational scene. Filled to the brim with interactive, experimental and fun learning activities and exhibits, it also houses an extremely popular indoor zoo. The Science Park, after all, is an unquestionable Boston classic. Don’t make the mistake of thinking the museum was designed only for toddlers and young students, you’ll be surprised at how engrossed even teenagers and adults will be. The museum poured much care into each of the exhibits, from the musical stairs to the lighting show, butterfly room, and realistic spaceship. While exhibits like Defeating Disease and An Out-of-Gravity Experience would appeal to older patrons, they have Dora and Diego Let's Explore and Discovery Center exhibits for younger science fans. Their roster of collaborators is consistently growing and it includes reputable organizations and companies like collaborations with Genzyme Teacher Sabbatical, Living Lab and National Living Lab, QSTORM Biological Imaging Research, Creating Museum Media for Everyone (CMME),, etc. As you can see, it is quite impossible to be bored at a place like this.

7. Harvard Museum of Natural History

26 Oxford St, Cambridge, MA 02138
(617) 495-3045
Comprising 3 major research museums of Massachusetts, namely the Harvard University Herbaria, Museum of Comparative Zoology and Harvard Mineralogical Museum, you can expect a lot of exploring and learning within a single attraction. In fact, Harvard Natural History Museum is located a skip and a walk away from the Peabody Essex Museum. The biggest attraction here is the exhibit designed by a father and son glass-blowing team that will, pardon the pun, will blow your mind - Glass Flowers: The Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants. The sheer detail that went into each piece (and there is a large number of them!) is astounding and it is a much-celebrated exhibit. Adding new hands-on, observation-based exhibits and hosting touring ones is a constant with Harvard, adding new ones every year, making every trip a refreshing one. Other notable exhibits to explore at the museum includes the Great Mammal Hall, Marine Life, Central and South America, Climate Change: Our Global Experiment, Birds of the World, Orb-Weavers, Sea Creatures in Glass and many more. It is no wonder there is an increase in the number of yearly visitors as they bring on presentations from Harvard biologists, International conversationalists, earth activities and popular authors from all around the world.

8. Peabody Essex Museum

161 Essex St, Salem, MA 01970
(978) 745-9500
In Salem, the light, airy and welcoming Peabody Essex Museum is just a short walk from the Natural History Museum. Established in 1799 after taking over from the East India Marine Society, it houses everything belonging to the Peabody Museum of Salem and Essex Institute. Old and new art alike have the same ways of presenting an artist's message to viewers and it can set off strong motivation. The museum, on top of showcasing the best of local and national talents, also brings in touring exhibits for special exhibitions, art programs and festivals in an effort to expand the minds of viewers across all backgrounds. Looking at different cultures through art is moving and transformational. It achieves this through the keen eyes of the museum’s curators and their experiences. It also features a large collection of colonial and maritime-related items from hundreds of years ago. A popular attraction is the Yin Yu Tang: A Chinese House. Walk into the ancestral home of the Huang family from a long time ago, and you’re transported into another world, another era where there are surprising similarities between the East and West.

Other Fun Family Activities that Does Not Cost a Lot of Money

We’ve just officially entered summer months and with warmer weather ahead and the much-anticipated July 4th fireworks to look forward to, it’s time to sit down and sketch out activities to include into your summer schedule. Everyone will get to marvel at the extravagant July 4th fireworks from most parts of Boston which include Museum of Science, Prospect Hill Park, MIT, Peters Hill, Robbins Farm Park, Larz Anderson Park, a rented hotel room or the rooftop of an apartment or a bar.

The constant buzz that is constantly bubbling up around Harvard Square, located at the junction of Massachusetts Avenue and Brattle Street, is intriguing. Surrounded by restaurants, chic art galleries and quaint cafes, the pedestrian space at the entrance of MBTA subway, remains a critical meeting point for the locals. Stop by ‘The Pit’ (a performance space) and some of the most talented dancers, singers, magicians and performers of all kinds that Boston has to offer will gleefully keep you entertained for free. During a slow weekend, bring the kids out to hear stories of legendary historical figures of the past at the bubbling fountain at Boston Public Library or catch some Vitamin D at Boston Common Frog Pond.

Whichever your choice location, the 8 options above will prove themselves to be Free, Fascinating and Fabulous!

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