What? Is it even possible to find things to do in Boston on a budget? I heard a lobster roll costs $25. (Well, not if you go to McDonald’s*, but I digress). Here’s the thing: Boston can be expensive, but just like most cities, your experience is what you make of it. The good news is as long as you aren’t here buying real estate, there are definitely budget friendly options to take in this bustling city. *Some years McDonald’s in New England has a lobster roll on their seasonal menu for about $9.
Things to do in Boston on a Budget
Here’s the other thing: Boston is extremely accessible. You can visit many of my suggestions by foot and all by public transportation. No Ubers or Lyfts required! Now lace up those sneakers and let’s get started.
While many of these activities are open and take place outdoors, some have been affected by COVID-19. I have marked those with restrictions or temporary closures with **. Let’s all continue to stay safe to get through this together.
Harpoon Brewery Tour**
Am I starting with beer to grab your attention? Maybe…Brewery tours are all the rage. But what is a brewery tour without a sampling of the product? Well…I guess it is just a brewery tour. Lucky for you, right before the end of the tour, Harpoon will bring you into a private tasting room, hand you a glass, and start the countdown. Basically, for 20 minutes you can have as many samples as you can stomach. I recommend being strategic about this and planting yourself near the taps in order to get the most bang for your buck, well 5 bucks, which is quite a steal considering how much beer you can actually consume if you are good at this. Side note: I am good at this. 306 Northern Ave, Boston
Boston on a Budget: Sam Adams Brewery Tour**
And the theme emerges…But this time the tour and tasting are free, along with the cute Sam Adams tasting glass that you get to keep (I literally don’t own any other glasses). This is one of my favorite brewery tours I have been on because the guides are so funny, personable, and consistent (I know, because I’ve been like 8 times). Did you know Sam Adams was also a lumberjack? A real Boston logger (lager). LOL, thank you to one of the tour guides for that gem. A pro tip (once restrictions have settled) is to sit in the back during the tasting. They pass pitchers of beer around starting in the front of the room. They end up with the people in the back and there is usually more than one glass left in the pitcher, just sayin’. 30 Germania St, Boston
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GrandTen Distilling Tour and Tasting**
Ok, so at this point I may appear to have a drinking problem. Alas, it’s not beer and I promise it is my last alcohol related suggestion. Get in the spirit for spirits. GrandTen Distilling offers a free tour of the distillery and mini shots for $1 a pop to try out some of your favorites. I definitely recommend the Fire Puncher Black vodka for a unique flavor profile. They also offer fancy cocktails if you feel like splurging. 383 Dorchester Ave, Boston
Read More: The Oldest Restaurants and Bars in Boston
Boston Common and Public Garden
Time to detox. Fun fact: all residents of Boston live within a 10 minute walk of a public park! Boston Public Garden and Boston Common are two of the most popular examples and they are worth a visit. The Public Garden is home to the famous “Make Way for Ducklings” statues and numerous plants and flowers. Get some snacks, takeout lunch, or some local offerings from Boston Public Market and have yourself a scenic, relaxing picnic. 4 Charles St, Boston
Brattle Book Shop
If you are a reader and would love to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, I recommend combining Brattle Book Shop with Boston Common! This is the cutest bookshop tucked away on a side street that also has an outdoor set up. The books are extremely discounted. Why not pick up a new read and have a relaxing afternoon in the park? 9 West Street, Boston
Boston on a Budget: Free Walking Tours**
Who doesn’t love learning for free? I noticed free walking tours were very popular in my time spent abroad, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn they existed in my own city. My preferred company, Free Tours by Foot, has a number of tours that cover different neighborhoods, but my absolute favorite is the Beacon Hill Crime Tour that takes place on Saturday evenings. OoOoOoOo. The tour is free, but don’t forget to tip your guide for the experience. And be sure to book online!
Things to do in Boston: Take in the Views
Boston is not a very tall city if you take a peep at the skyline. One of the most common (and costly) ways to get a birds eye view of the city was from the Skywalk Observatory in the Prudential Center which has been closed indefinitely. What many don’t know is that the Custom House Hotel also has an open air observation deck at a more wallet friendly price tag ($7). If you are not a hotel guest, the observation deck opens up twice daily. I recommend calling to confirm the times as they may have changed. 3 McKinley Sq, Boston
If you are looking to get some awesome skyline views for free and from the ground, these are some of my favorite spots: Mass Ave bridge and the BU Bridge. I also like getting up close and personal with the Zakim Bridge. There is a park underneath and you can get a unique perspective.
The Freedom Trail
Boston is full of history. Duh. In fact, that may be the reason you were interested in visiting the city in the first place. The elementary school version of myself did not appreciate Boston’s rich history and found all of the historical sights boring when we’d visit them on field trips; however, I now know learning is cool and history is REALLY cool. Heck, they have two whole TV channels for the subject. The Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile brick path (or redline) through downtown Boston and into Charlestown that stops at 16 significant historical locations. It is a self guided history tour. Just follow the red brick road! Starts in the Boston Common, 139 Tremont St, Boston
Boston on a Budget: Sunset on the Esplanade
The esplanade is a beautifully manicured path along the Charles River. It is the perfect place for a walk or a run, a picnic, a visit to the beer garden, a trip to the playground, or a free concert at the Hatch Shell. My favorite thing to do on the Esplanade is take in the sunset.
There are plenty of grassy spots, but I like to sit on the edge of the docks and keep my fingers crossed for some vibrant colors. If you have ever heard the song “Dirty Water” by the Standells, they are singing about the Charles River, so I suggest not putting your feet in!
Wanna pahk ya cah in hahvahd yahd? Just kidding. Harvard is one of the top universities in the country and has that amazing college campus feel. Maybe I’m just a little nostalgic but it is worth checking out. There is something to be said about the historic brick buildings and exploring the alma mater of some truly amazing people. And maybe you want to come home with a bumper sticker because, hey, you did go to Harvard. Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge
Read More: New England Bucket List
Boston on a Budget: Self Guided Movie Tour
You may want to do your homework before coming to Boston and have yourself a little movie marathon. I recommend checking out The Departed, The Town, and Good Will Hunting for films that really give that Boston feel. Not to mention, you will be able to see filming locations for each of these movies on your trip. The famous bench that Robin Williams is sitting on in Good Will Hunting is found in the Boston Public Garden. I can’t look at Boston Sand and Gravel (a real sand and gravel company at 180 Rutherford Ave, Boston) without thinking about The Town. If only Ben Affleck actually worked there…And lastly, you can check out 12 Farnsworth St from The Departed. I don’t want to spoil the movie, but if you’re a fan, you’ll recognize what scene was filmed there!
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Things to do in Boston: Dunkin Donuts
Dunkin Donuts (now known as simply Dunkin’ but I have yet to accept this) was originally founded in Massachusetts. If you are visiting from outside the New England region, you may find it amusing that you can barely go a couple of blocks without spotting another Dunkin Donuts. A fun, budget friendly game would be to count them (I’m kidding), but go ahead, pop inside and grab a cup of coffee. The price is right compared to many boutique cafes in the area, not to mention they are constantly running promos. Right now, you can get a medium coffee for just $1 on any Patriots game day (just order through the app!) If you really want to look like a local, order an iced coffee in the winter! Bonus points if it is actively snowing.
Visit ALL the Museums**
Art, science, history, there are a NUMBER of museums in Boston, but visiting them all can quickly take a toll on your wallet. If museums are your thing, with some strategic planning, you can hit your favorite options on the free or discounted days.
Boston on a Budget: Boston Public Library**
I come here to pretend I am at Hogwarts. The Boston Public Library is iconic and worth a browse. You can see my favorite room in the library from this picture, but there are gardens and an incredible children’s section. 700 Boylston St, Boston
SoWa Open Market
Who doesn’t love a Sunday farmer’s market. The SOWA market has been growing and evolving for years and definitely worth a poke around. From food trucks, to locally sourced produce and meats, to artisan products, there is something for everyone. Not into shopping? Everyone brings their dog…so maybe you like to pet strange puppies, I know I do! 460 Harrison Ave, Boston
Things to do in Boston: The Lawn on D**
Have you ever gone on Instagram and seen someone sitting in some weird, light-up swing thing in Boston? Well you can do that here. Think live music, lawn games, and weird artsy structures and swings and you have the Lawn on D. As a heads up, the drinks are pricey, but it is definitely a fun place for a summer hangout. 420 D St, Boston
The North End (with one sweet goal in mind)
Holy cannoli, you can’t miss the North End, Boston’s Little Italy. This area is iconic for its amazing Italian food (go figure), but it’s the Italian bakeries that have people abuzz. Now picture this: a cannoli rivalry. There is Mike’s Pastry. It is famous. Everyone says go there for the cannoli. There is typically a line out the door.
Now some people don’t like waiting in line (can you blame them?), so they may have strayed, branched out, tried something different. Enter Modern Pastry. Some people say it’s better than Mike’s. Some don’t. And there is only one way to find out your stance if you see what I am saying…Mike’s: 300 Hanover St, Boston; Modern: 257 Hanover St, Boston
Boston on a Budget: Arnold Arboretum
Another special outdoor space. It was established in 1872 making it the oldest Arboretum in North America and belongs to Harvard University. It is located in Jamaica Plain and easily accessible from the Orange Line (and also close to the Sam Adams Brewery, hey hey!) I am no botanist but they have a number of collections of unique and beautiful species of plants. It is also a great local place for leaf peeping in the fall and lilac viewing in the spring. 125 Arborway, Boston
Take the MBTA Ferry
The Boston Harbor, you know, where they dumped all that tea. They have all sorts of harbor cruises, but hey, we’re saving money here. Instead, use public transportation and hit the water at a fraction of the price. The ferry goes between Long Wharf and Charlestown for just $3.70 each way. If you plan on using public transportation and purchase a day pass, this ferry is already included! Long Wharf South, Boston
Haymarket is one of America’s oldest open air markets offering up fresh produce every Friday and Saturday. It was established in 1820 and as their website notes, that is 40 years older than the Civil War (mindblown emoji). Not only that, their produce prices are phenomenal. Poke around and grab a cheap healthy snack! 100 Hanover St, Boston
Things to do in Boston: Beacon Hill
Beacon Hill is what I think of when I think of Boston. Beautiful brick homes, cobblestone-lined streets, quaint little shops and cafes, and home to the most photographed street in Boston: Acorn St. Acorn St is quintessential Boston. Keep in mind it is a private way, so keep your photos at the beginning of the street.
Boston on a Budget: Visit the Berlin Wall
Wait, what? I thought I was reading an article about Boston! The founder of Education First (EF) received a segment of the Berlin Wall as a symbolic birthday gift which aligns with EF’s mission of breaking down barriers through education. They proudly display this gift in front of their original building to share it with the public. 1 Education St, Cambridge
Bonus Splurge Boda Borg**
What in the world are those words? Guys, you go to this place to go on quests. How cool does that sound? Let me elaborate. Think escape rooms amplified. The objective is to complete each quest; however, you are given no information about the task at hand. Each quest is made up of 2-4 themed rooms.
You and your team of 3-5 people will enter the initial room and will have to try different things to make it to the next room, some physical, some mental, some a combo. If you fail (and you will, over and over and over) you must leave and start over. There are up to 25 quests available and this is the ONLY place in the US you can do such an activity. You can reserve your spot online for 2 hour slots. I included this as a bonus as it is not the most friendly on the wallet, but OMG, the value is there! 90 Pleasant St, Malden
About the Author
Cali of Cali O on the Go is a Boston native, but you can’t find her staying put there for too long. After her first taste of long term travel back in 2015, life has never been the same. You can learn more about her travels in the US and beyond on Instagram: @diagoncali