Boston is one of the most popular cities in the northeast. Known for it’s rivalry with New York City, the two cities share a lot of similarities but have drastic differences as well. I love both of them, for very different reasons. Boston has tons of history; you could spend days going on countless tours around the city. Get outside of the city and you’ll get to Salem, which has a rich history all its own.
Because it is such a big city, Boston hosts lots of events and is home to many museums and touristy spots. But it’s all manageable! I don’t get that overwhelming feeling I sometimes do in New York. Between walking and the T, Boston feels cozier. And while some spots can be expensive, I’m here to give you insight on how to explore Boston on a budget. Yes, it’s possible! And unlike the patriots in the 1700s, you don’t need to throw all the tea in the harbor to get yourself a good deal.
One of the highlights of Boston has to be Boston Common. While no Central Park, it’s pretty great! I could spend all day along the banks of the pond, and on a good day there is some fantastic people-watching. Last time I was there we saw at least four different wedding parties. It’s a popular spot! The swan boats in the lagoon have been a tradition since 1877. And at only $4 for adults, it’s a fun experience! After you paddle around, make sure that you visit the famous ducklings! Based on the children’s book “Make Way for Ducklings” by Robert McCloskey, the duckling statues are a hit with children. If you want a photo of them, you’ll have to be patient as children are always climbing and sitting on them. Throughout the rest of the park you’ll find the occasional musician or food vendor to keep you entertained – for free!
The Freedom Trail
The Freedom Trail is a self-guided tour around Boston, highlighting all of the historical landmarks with statues and plaques throughout the city. You can pick up wherever and follow signs to the next landmarks. It’s a great way to learn more about Boston and its history. One of my favorite stops is at Granary Burying Ground, the final resting place for John Hancock, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, and other notable figures. There is also an addition honoring the victims of the Boston Massacre. The Freedom Trail now also has a smartphone app documenting all of the highlights on a map!
Lexington Battle Green
If you make your way a little outside of the city center, you can visit Lexington, known for the Battles of Lexington & Concord. Lexington Battle Green is a small, triangular piece of land in the center of town that marks the site of these battles so many years ago. My cousin and I just happened across the field and thought we would walk around for a few minutes. Luckily for us, we ran into a tour guide dressed in historical clothing who offered us a free tour of the grounds and its history. We learned the details of the night of Paul Revere’s famous ride and the significance of Buckman’s Tavern. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend visiting! Hopefully you’ll find a guide as well. If you’re interested in learning even more, the Minute Man National Historic Park is located nearby.
New England Aquarium
By now you know how much I love aquariums! The New England Aquarium was high on my list to visit for ages. So the first time I went to Boston, my friends and I walked across the city exploring for hours until we got to the aquarium. But by that point we were exhausted and some people changed their minds, so I didn’t get to go! Fast forward a few years and I got to visit again! This time, I went in, but the center tank – the main attraction – was closed for construction. I have the worst luck sometimes! Even still, the aquarium was great. You take the elevator up to the top and circle your way back down around the central tank to the bottom, viewing all the side exhibits along the way. On the first floor you’ll see the big, open pool with sharks and turtles. There are several spots to view the fish from, and you could easily spend a fair amount of time doing so. The aquarium also has several ways to get a bit of a discount on your admission – military, AAA, college ID, and even a monthly MBTA Charlie card (from the metro).
The Prudential Center
Observation decks and the amazing views they offer are a popular choice in any city, and for good reason. But, there is no need to always pay so much or wait so long to get to one! Just like I had a trick for Chicago, I have one for Boston. Head on over to the Prudential Center and take an elevator up to the 52nd floor to Top of the Hub. Proclaiming to have the “best view in New England”, you can sit at the bar and order a drink while enjoying the fabulous views of Boston. You’re welcome!
Right outside of the Prudential Center is the finish line for the Boston Marathon. It’s a great spot to pay your respects for those who were victims of the recent bombings. It’s also eerie to see that some of the nearby shops are still closed with broken glass scarring their windows and doors.
It’s near impossible to talk about Boston without mentioning Harvard. As one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the United States, it goes without saying that you should visit the campus. The area around the university is beautiful, and when I went to visit Harvard in the fall, the campus was stunning. There’s something about walking through one of the gates of Harvard that makes you feel important. Make a quick stroll through Harvard Yard to the statue of John Harvard and rub the top of his shoe for good luck. And if you really want to be a tourist, buy yourself a Harvard shirt and pretend you were a student there. 😉
Faneuil Hall & Quincy Market
THE place to eat and shop in Boston! Beautiful and iconic, Faneuil Hall is the heart of Boston and its shopping and eating! Check out the area for lots of unique stores and restaurants. You’ll also find statues (just like the rest of Boston!) marking historical significance and various performances by musicians and dancers. A must-do, even if you’re just window shopping! Also, for fans of the sitcom Cheers, you’ll find a replica of the bar in one of the many buildings in the marketplace – complete with cardboard cutouts of the characters and souvenirs of all sorts!
Sam Adams Brewery Tour
Another must for us when visiting any city is to visit the breweries! And, of course, Samuel Adams Brewery is the must-visit in Boston. The brewery offers their “classic tour” daily (except Sundays) for free, but ask for a small donation for local charities. The tours are first-come-first-serve, so get there early! With your tour you get a free tasting glass and three samples in the tasting room at the end of the tour. You can read more about the other tours available in my next post!
One more fun fact – if you head on over to Doyle’s Cafe after your brewery tour, you can get a FREE Sam Adams pint glass with your meal to take home as another souvenir!
If you’re looking for an inexpensive activity that is local to the Boston area, you have to check out candlepin bowling. There are several locations around Boston, so just do a quick Yelp search to find one near you. Set up the same way as typical ten-pin bowling, but with skinnier pins and smaller balls, candlepin bowling is both fun and slightly frustrating! Known to be more difficult, but enjoyable just the same! And unlike regular bowling, the pins aren’t removed between balls, so you can use them strategically to help you knock down more pins on your next ball. 😉
Because of its rich history, Boston is crawling with ghosts and haunted tales (should you choose to believe them). Either way, treat yourself to a night tour to learn more about the former residents of the harbor town. I was lucky enough to grab a Groupon tour through Boston Night Tour for a haunted journey through the center of the city. At only $14 for two tickets, it was a steal! (If you don’t have Groupon yet, what are you still doing here?! Sign up now!)
The tour began near Fanneuil Hall and took us all around the major sights. We learned about the cursed figurehead in The Old State House who has survived two shipwrecks and a fire – unscathed. Boston Common is home to a great deal of buried bodies; many of whom are said to haunt the grounds after being dug up for subway lines. Did you know that the Omni Parker House hotel is one of the most haunted buildings in the city? They are not only known for having the best Boston cream pie in town, but also for its haunted rooms and mirrors. It was the inspiration for Stephen King’s book-turned-movie 1408 was based on events that occurred in room 303… You could check it out for yourself – except you can’t reserve that room anymore. Spooky!
Staying in the city limits of Boston can be quite expensive, even with Airbnb. My advice? Stay a little bit outside of the city. Either find a hotel that’s walkable from a train station, or plan to take an Uber from the train station to your hotel. Then, take the T into the city. Easy! Also, keep checking Groupon! Boston is full of tours of all sorts. If you’re lucky, you can snag a good deal on a harbor cruise. Try to get one at sunset if you can; the view is incredible!