Travel

21 Completely Free Things to Do in Boston

Taste wine or go stargazing-and leave your wallet at home.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

We don’t need to tell you that this city is as expensive AF. In fact, a recent study ranked Boston as the fourth most expensive city for renters-ahead of Miami, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC.

So we’re down to save where we can. Luckily, Boston more than makes up for its pricey cost of living with plenty cool things to do that are entirely free. That’s right, you can leave your wallet at home and spend the day visiting new museum exhibits, taking in striking views of the city, or tasting top-notch bottles of wine. So here are all the best ways to spend your days-completely free of charge.

The Urban Grape
The Urban Grape
The Urban Grape

Find your new favorite bottle

You’re an oenophile at heart-you just can’t (yet) afford to drink like one. No need to fret: shops like Brix, Social Wines, and Urban Grape regularly offer free after-work and weekend tastings. Sip your way around lesser-known varietals and learn a thing or two while taking notes for a future party time.

Take time to smell the roses, lilacs, or tulips at Arnold Arboretum

Spring, of course, is the money season when the lilacs are in full effect, but with 15,000 plants and 4,000 trees blooming throughout the year, you’re hardly ever wanting for scenic vistas at the Arnold Arboretum. The sprawling sanctuary is completely free, so you can hike Hemlock Hill, then spread a blanket under a tree for some seasonally specific picnicking without pulling out your wallet.

The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston
The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston
The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston

Museum-hop on freebie days

Some of our city’s most esteemed galleries are hoping to draw guests with free admission. Every Thursday night from 5 to 9 pm, admission at the Institute of Contemporary Art is free (tickets required), and we all get in free to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on our birthdays. Alas, the MFA has not yet brought back its free Wednesday evenings, but hope springs eternal.

Stargaze with the smarties

Every Wednesday night, weather permitting, the BU Coit Observatory opens its doors for a public viewing night. Free tickets go live the Thursday morning before and go quickly, so queue up your laptop. The team will show off stars and other celestial sights via their top-notch telescopes and viewings last about an hour after the sun has fully set.

f11photo/Shutterstock
f11photo/Shutterstock
f11photo/Shutterstock

Check out some creepy-cool graveyards

If you’ve spent any time downtown, you’ve probably walked by Granary Burying Ground and not even thought much of it. Big mistake. Where else can you visit the graves of Paul Revere, John Hancock, and Sam Adams? And stare at gothic headstones the likes of which they never make anymore? Then there’s good old Kings Chapel Burying Ground, one of the oldest in the country and the final resting place of John Winthrop and Mary Chilton, the first woman to step off the Mayflower.

Pedal the Minuteman Bikeway

It’s like Peloton, except outdoors, free, and not at all cultish. The 11-mile Minuteman trail, built on a former railway, takes you through the most historical and charming parts of Cambridge, Arlington, and Lexington. The trail is open not only to biking, but also rollerblading, jogging, and walking, so the whole gang can join in on the fun.

2p2play/Shutterstock
2p2play/Shutterstock
2p2play/Shutterstock

Climb a historical monument for epic views

Got 294 steps in you? Then head over Charlestown to mount the city’s most famous obelisk. It took 17 years to build the granite Bunker Hill Monument in tribute to the Battle of Bunker Hill. And today, the top of the 221-foot-tall monument affords you a terrific view of the city.

November Project Boston
November Project Boston
November Project Boston

Workout without sweating the price tag

Save money on those expensive workout classes. The November Project, which began here in Boston, hosts early-morning, large-scale group workouts throughout the city. The Harvard Stadium steps are the signature workout, but you can also meet up with folks in Brookline, Southie, and other spots around the city to sweat it out.

Say hello to the seals

When you’re feeling stressed or melancholy, saddle up next to some adorable sea creatures for the afternoon. The New England Aquarium does charge admission, but if you head to the outdoor seal tank you can watch those cheeky harbor creatures do laps, bob up and down, and show off their spotted bellies to your heart’s desire. You’ll continue your stroll of the Harborwalk with a spring in your step.

SoWa Boston
SoWa Boston
SoWa Boston

Get inside SoWa’s studios

Time to get an inside look at the city’s creative scene. Every first Friday of the month, the SoWa arts district opens its doors to the public. Talk to the artists inside their workspaces, linger in galleries that have stayed open late for the occasion, and nurture your frugal soul with complimentary drinks and snacks.

Take in the best view of the city

The Custom House Tower was one of the very first skyscrapers to grace our skyline, as it was the tallest building in town until the Pru appeared. Enough history-what you really need to know is that the 26th floor observation deck is free and open to the public every day of the week (except Fridays) from 2 to 6 pm. Just call 617-310-6300 at least 48 hours in advance to book your spot, and get ready to take in amazing views of the city from 496 feet up.

Jorge Salcedo/Shutterstock
Jorge Salcedo/Shutterstock
Jorge Salcedo/Shutterstock

Get off the beaten path

The Freedom Trail isn’t the only historical walk in town. The Black Heritage Trail traces the history of the African-American community in Boston in the late 18th and 19th centuries, the Women’s Heritage Trail comprises 10 separate, self-guided walking tours flung across various neighborhoods, and the Irish Heritage Trail takes in museums, statues, and memorials celebrating everyone from “poet, patriot, prisoner, sportsman and orator” John Boyle O’Reilly to (who else?) JFK.

Look out at the nearby islands

From Castle Island, a three-mile stretch of South Boston, you can enjoy outdoor activities, peer out at Dorchester Bay, and have a great (totally free!) afternoon. Explore 22 acres of beach, bike paths, fishing grounds, and harbor views. The area is also located across from Logan International Airport, so watching planes take off and land can entertain for hours. Oh, and if you’re actually curious about history stuff, you can take a free tour of Independence Fort.

Hike the Blue Hills

Boston is not Denver, but there are still a couple of mountains to climb. Just a few minutes outside of the city proper is a 7,000-acre reservation with 125 miles of resplendent hiking trails, which are open year round. Aim for an off-hour climb of Great Blue Hill to earn an unmatched view of the city skyline without the crazy crowds.

eskystudio/Shutterstock
eskystudio/Shutterstock
eskystudio/Shutterstock

Explore the Boston Public Library in a new way

Sure, you could just hop in to check out a book, but when’s the last time you truly immersed yourself in this iconic building? Free art and architecture tours have resumed and take place every Friday and Saturday. You’ll learn about how the stunning center courtyard was inspired by the Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome, among other artistic and architectural wonders.

Take an elusive beach walk

You have to love a nature hike that’s entirely dependent on the tides. Here’s the gist: When the Boston Harbor levels are low, a wide sandbar appears in the Boston Harbor that allows you to walk from Quincy’s Squaw Rock to Thompson Island-yes, you’re actually walking to a harbor island. Go it alone or seek out a guided tour (probably the safer bet).

Signature Boston
Signature Boston
Signature Boston

Hit the adult swings

The Lawn on D is the free adult playground we didn’t know we needed. Besides the iconic and over-Instagrammed swings, there’s also free ping pong, cornhole, and bocce, free wifi, regular art installations, and live music on the weekends.

Explore a secret garden

Time to channel your inner Mary Lennox. Atop a parking garage in Cambridge’s Kendall Square-who knew?-you’ll find a surprisingly large and astonishingly beautiful strolling garden. These days there’s a sign to show you the way, but it’s still the perfect clandestine spot for when you need to hit pause.

Chris Rycroft/Flickr
Chris Rycroft/Flickr
Chris Rycroft/Flickr

Find art underneath a highway

Is it a park, museum, or playground? All we know is that the Underground at Ink Block has spun gold from a forgotten underpass. The eight-acre park connects the South End and South Boston and includes bike paths, a dog park, live performances, and more than 150,000 square feet of mural work.

Do a deep dive into women’s history

Julia Child’s cookbook drafts and Amelia Earhart’s letters are just the start of the treasures you’ll find at the Radcliffe College’s Schlesinger Library. About one-fifth of the library’s collection is food and drink-related (cookbooks, food journals), including the first cookbook written by a woman, in 1679. It also houses Helen Keller’s papers, the Black Women Oral History Project, and many more collections, some of them digitized.

Stare at a kidney stone collection

Remember the story of Phineas Gage? He was the 19th century dude who somehow survived being impaled by an iron rod. Today his skull sits at the Warren Anatomical Museum, where you can learn about Civil War-era surgery, the rise of homeopathy, and the god-awful history of bloodletting, to name just three deeply weird highlights. Right now the museum is only available to view by tour, but it will soon fully reopen to the public after an extensive renovation.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat!

Meaghan Agnew is a contributor to Thrillist. 

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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