Boston has become a popular hub for millennials over the past several years. Sadly, the cost of living in Boston has risen as well. Actually, it’s the 4th priciest city in the United States, following New York, San Francisco, and San José. If you — like me — are working an entry-level job and paying up the nose in rent and expenses while also managing your student loan debt, you’re probably on a pretty tight budget.
I’m not proud to say this, but I’ve definitely gone to meetings and events primarily for the benefit of a free meal many times throughout my life. Allow me to paraphrase the famous Kate Moss quote, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” Nothing tastes as good as free.
Local budgeters and cheapskates, I’ve done some research so you won’t have to! I’ve found 15 free things to do in the 4th most expensive city in the nation.
Disclaimer: A lot of these types of lists exist for Boston, but so many of them have made me roll my eyes. If I see someone else post “Walk the Freedom Trail” or “Go to Boston Common” as free activities, I’m going to… well, I probably won’t do anything. Of course they’re free! They’re public parks and walking trails! That’s why I decided to dig a little deeper. Lifelong Bostonians and tourists alike, I promise you’ll find at least one free activity you didn’t know existed.
Improv Asylum graduation shows
If you live in Boston and haven’t seen an Improv Asylum show, you’re truly missing out. However, this is one of the most hush-hush deals in the whole city. Improv Asylum, which offers improv and scriptwriting classes, usually offers pretty cheap prices on their shows. But every once in a while, they will hold a Graduation Show for the Level 6 Improv students to showcase their talents in one last hurrah that is open to the public and… free! The tickets for these shows usually sell super quickly, as priority is given to the students’ families and friends, so you’ll need to act quickly! Trust me, very few people know about this hidden gem; the only reason I know it exists is because I’m currently taking improv classes with IA.
Shakespeare on the Common
Every year, the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company puts on a Shakespeare play in the Boston Common that is free to the public. What’s on the schedule for this year? You’re going to get some flashbacks of high school English class with the CSC’s performance of Romeo & Juliet, which will run every day (except Mondays!) from July 19 to August 6. The cast and crew is extremely talented, coming from all over the country to perform in this multi-week residency. It’s comparable with all of the incredible performances at the Opera House and Wang, but it’s completely free!
Watch movies for free
A few locations in the city offer free movie nights, in which the public is invited to watch a film together, oftentimes under the stars. The Harbor Hotel and Hatch Shell are the two most popular free movie night spots in Boston, but you can find free movie showings all around the city!
On Mondays and Tuesdays in the summer, McGreevy’s — a bar in Back Bay — holds free stand-up comedy nights starting at 8:00 PM. They’ve even had some huge comics drop in unexpectedly, like Louis C.K. and Jeff Ross. If you check it out on a Tuesday, you’ll make it for $1 burger night. While the burger will cost you a whole dollar — not quite making it a free night — $1 for dinner and a show is a steal!
Check out some art exhibits on Newbury Street
Newbury Street is often not synonymous with “free” or “cheap.” However, multiple galleries along the luxurious street allow visitors free entry to view the exhibits of local artists. The Barbara Krakow Gallery and Robert Klein Gallery are just two places that showcase free art.
Boston University’s Coit Observatory is open to the public on Wednesday nights. You can bring your own binoculars — a very different BYOB than I’m used to — or use the facility’s telescopes. During the summer, it begins at 8:30 PM, just after dark; be aware that they’re very strict about the start time, as they don’t allow entrance after the set start time. So don’t go strolling in at 8:31 PM.
Are you a secret or open history geek? You’ll love a visit to the Commonwealth Museum, which will immerse you in the history of one of the original colonies. The museum has a permanent exhibition, which focuses on the broad history and heritage of Massachusetts, as well as various traveling and alternating exhibitions, focusing on specific topics. Right now, there are exhibitions on the Underground Railroad, Massachusetts African Americans during the Civil War, cartography and map-making, and the origins of Massachusetts food.
Though this building is called the New State House, it’s anything but new, as it was completed in 1798. On weekdays, you can tour the State House, learning about the history and understanding the architecture of this gorgeous building. If you don’t want to spend 30-45 minutes on a tour, you can even take a brochure and do a self-guided tour of the Capitol. In order to reserve a tour time, you’ll need to call the Massachusetts State House.
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Visit one of the most prestigious colleges in the world for free, either through a self-guided walking tour or by hopping onto a free tour. Don’t worry, you won’t be rubbing noses with prospective students; the campus has a different type of tour for visiting tourists. You’ll be learning less about cafeteria food and dorms and more about the history of John Harvard and each of the campus’s most prominent buildings. You’ll walk the same grounds as some of the college’s most famous alumni, including Mark Zuckerberg, John F. Kennedy, Barack and Michelle Obama, and Natalie Portman.
One of the most beautiful and iconic buildings in Boston, the Public Library, offers free tours to visitors. The walking tour through the building highlights the ornate architecture and breathtaking art that decorates its walls. You don’t need to make a reservation if you have a small group — of less than 8 people — and plan to be on the tour for about an hour.
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Take the Blue Line to Maverick and head over to the Downeast Cider House over in East Boston. You have the option to schedule a tour or just stroll right in and to the bar. If you go the former route, you’ll receive a free flight at the end of the (also free) tour, featuring some of their most popular blends. If you just want to go in there to drink, you’ll receive 5 tickets to redeem free samples at the bar of anything on tap. These samples aren’t too stingy either, as the 5 samples are about equal to a pint! If you’re lucky — like I was — a stranger might offer you their extra tickets. Who could turn down free cider?!
The tour at Samuel Adams is pretty long, coming in at about an hour, but for one of the most famous American-made beers, this hour is worth it. The first 30 minutes walk you through the brewing process and the history, while the second 30 minutes occur in the taproom, in which you will taste 3 different styles of beer. Unlike Downeast, Sam Adams allows people under 21 to tour the brewery, but of course they can’t participate in the tasting portion. Also unlike Downeast, you don’t need to make a reservation for a tour; it’s first come first served, literally. As a huge fan of the Summer Ale, I definitely need to check out the brewery this summer.
Climb Bunker Hill Monument
Want a good aerial view of the city without having to pay astronomical prices for the Top of the Hub? Put on some comfortable shoes and climb Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown for free! Your glutes will be screaming, but it’ll be worth it when you get to the top. Bonus points if you strike the Rocky pose!
Free fitness classes
Are you in gym limbo? For a schedule of the weekly free classes that are offered 7 days a week, click here. Some of the most popular free classes are offered by the Norman B. Leventhal Park, the Seaport, the Boston Public Health Commission, and the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. What’s extra great about these free classes is that a majority of them are outdoors; you’ll be able to get your sweat on while enjoying the gorgeous weather! Before you sign on for a July and August membership at your local gym, check out some of these free classes to see if you want to substitute your summer membership for these free opportunities.
Every Thursday from 6:00 to 7:15, there’s a free yoga class on the Common. You’re recommended to bring your own mat, but a lot of people just work out on the grass. It gets pretty crowded and with outside noise, it’s pretty hard to hear the instructor if you’re not close to her, but you’ll still be able to follow along by watching other people. These free sessions last until August 31st, so take advantage while you can!
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