Top Ten FREE (or Cheap) Ways to Get to Know Boston

The Boston State House. Photo by Nicole Cousins.

Welcome to Boston University! One of the many perks of being a Terrier is the easy access BU’s campus provides to the big city. However, if you’ve spent any time in Beantown you know that things don’t come cheap here; it’s hard to go out for an afternoon or evening without emptying your wallet. For those of you who aren’t willing to take out a bank loan just to acclimate, here are a few ways to get to know your new stomping ground while spending little cash. Worthy of a visit are some historic landmarks, as well as events and locations geared toward college students – there are, after all, over 400,000 of us in the greater Boston area! Each item listed is free – or dirt-cheap – and easily accessible by walking or taking the T, which costs just a couple of dollars per ride.

Must-See Sights

Boston Common

As the oldest park in America, the Boston Common is a perfect spot to begin your tour of the city. Frog Pond, sculptures, park benches shaded by maples, and free summer theater performances provide an oasis in the surrounding concrete and red brick buildings of downtown. At the visitor’s center – located on Tremont Street near the Park Street T station – you can pick up a free map of the Boston Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile walking tour of national history. Follow the red-brick road as it winds its way through 16 historical sites including the Massachusetts State House, Faneuil Hall, Granary Burying Ground and the Old South Meeting House where the Boston Tea Party episode began. Allow at least 2-3 hours to visit all the sites. The Public Gardens are a short walk across Charles Street and feature formal flower displays, plenty of deciduous trees, and a beautiful lake in the center. Here, for only $2.75, take a spin in the famous Swan Boats, in operation since 1877.

How to get there:

147 Tremont Street

Boston, MA 02111

A scenic, 45-minute walk from the center of campus down Commonwealth Avenue. If you prefer the T, take the Green line Inbound to Park Street station.

Boston Public Library

Located in gorgeous Copley Square across from Trinity Church, the Boston Public Library is much more than just a collection of books – although if you measured it purely by its number of rare volumes it would stand out as one of the greatest collections in the world. This historic building also houses pieces of fine art, rare prints, and multimedia exhibits in a museum format. Free hour-long tours are provided on Mondays at 2:30pm, Tuesdays & Thursdays at 6:00pm, and Fridays & Saturdays at 11:00am.

How to get there:

700 Boylston Street

Boston, MA 02116

The walk from BU is a brief 30 minutes passing Prudential Center, or you can detour down the fabulous shopping district of Newbury Street. If you’re not up for walking, take the T – Green Line Inbound to Copley Station.

Harvard Square

Head across the Charles River to one of the most famous and picturesque spots in Massachusetts: Cambridge, home of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Harvard Square, centered on Brattle Street, is a different world of cafés, shops and student meeting places with plenty of atmosphere. For no fee you can browse during the day, and when the sun goes down the street performers come out in force and the shops stay open late. So take a look through the bookstores and gift shops or find a café and check out a local singer/songwriter. Any way you dice it, you can’t beat the price.

How to get there:

18 Brattle Street

Cambridge, MA 80231

To get here, take the Green Line Inbound to Park Street, transfer to the Red Line and head to the Harvard Square stop.

USS Constitution

Take a tour of the famous battleship “Old Ironsides.” Built in Boston and launched in 1797, the USS Constitution is most memorable for her participation in the War of 1812. Today this historical ship is permanently docked at the Charlestown Navy Yard—catch a free tour, offered daily through October 31 from 10:30am to 5:30pm.

How to get there:

Building 22, Charlestown Navy Yard

Boston, MA 02129

From campus, take the Green Line Inbound to North Station. The Navy Yard is about a 15-minute walk from the T station.

Bunker Hill Monument

Of all the historic sites in Boston, this one is by far the most scenic. The giant obelisk stands at 221 feet tall on Breed’s Hill, the famous site of the first major battle of the American Revolution. You can learn all about the history of the site in the Visitor’s Center, which is open daily from 9am to 5pm; however, I’d recommend climbing the 294 steps that lead to the pinnacle of the structure. From here, the amazing vistas of the city are well worth the workout.

How to get there:

43 Monument Square

Charlestown, MA 02129

Allow at least 45 minutes to get here. From campus, take the Green Line Inbound to the Boylston Station, where you can transfer to the Orange Line towards Oak Grove. Get off the Orange Line at the Community College stop, and walk about 12 minutes to the Monument. Trust me, it’s worth it!

Quincy Market

With just about every type of food you can imagine from around the world, Quincy Market is certainly worthwhile, if albeit touristy. In one long building are dozens of food stalls ranging from gourmet macaroni and cheese to New England clam chowder to curry. If you don’t want to drop any cash, most stalls typically give out generous samples. Every Wednesday, Quincy Market hosts the International Food Festival, where you can sample foods at stalls bearing “The Taste of Quincy Market” sign, all for free! You can load up on plenty of good eats, at least to tide you over until dinner time. Plus, street performers provide entertainment throughout the day and into the night. Enjoy world-class jugglers, clowns, magicians, musicians and more!

How to get there:

4 South Market Street

Boston, MA 02109

Catch the Green Line Inbound to the Government Center Stop. Walk about 5 minutes through downtown to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market.

Just for College Kids

Museum of Fine Arts

College students get in free with their student ID at the MFA, located near Northeastern University and just a short walk from BU. Browse breathtaking permanent exhibits from around the world as well as the touring exhibitions on display. MFA also holds College Night, a once-a-year special event that allows students to become acquainted with each other and with the Museum. This year the event will be on Thursday, September 23, and will feature tons of live music and food – all for free!

How to get there:

465 Huntington Avenue

Avenue of the Arts

Boston, MA 02115

A scenic 15-minute walk from Kenmore Square.

Coit Observatory

Looking for a way to wind down on a Wednesday night? Boston University’s Coit Observatory allows free stargazing for the public through their telescopes and binoculars. Weather permitting, stare into the skies and learn about astronomy with your friends from 7:30 to 8:30pm in the fall months.

How to get there:

725 Commonwealth Avenue

Boston, MA 02215

Luckily, a long trek is unnecessary for this activity; the observatory is only minutes from the George Sherman Union!

College Night at New England Aquarium

Normally, admission to the coveted New England Aquarium is a whopping $19.95 for students. However, once a year this venue hosts a free college night where students can enjoy the aquarium’s exhibits, including the massive ocean tank where the sharks and giant turtles swim together, free goodies from local vendors and an IMAX film. Your college ID is your ticket in. The event will be held this year on October 6 from 5:30 to 9:30. Don’t miss out!

How to get there:

1 Central Warf

Boston, MA 02110

The aquarium is about a 30-minute journey from campus. Take the Green Line Inbound to the Government Center station; from there either take a 10-minute stroll through downtown or transfer to the Blue Line and get off at the convenient Aquarium station.

Boston Pops Orchestra

Looking to enjoy some great music in a stunning atmosphere? Every year, the renowned Boston Pops Orchestra, conducted by Keith Lockhart, holds a free concert series open to the public. The series will conclude on September 26, with “Pops in the Park,” a full orchestra concert held in Boston Common. The event will begin at 3pm, celebrating the orchestra’s 125-year history. Also, check out the great deals available through the Boston Symphony Orchestra College Card. Discounted tickets to most shows are available on a first-come, first-serve basis and can be picked up on the same day as the show. For more information visit

How to get there:

Symphony Hall

301 Massachusetts Avenue

Boston, MA 02115

For Pops in the Park, refer to the Boston Common entry for directions. Symphony Hall is about a 25-minute walk down Mass. Ave. from campus, or take the Green Line Inbound to Hynes Station and walk the rest of the way to cut down on travel time by about 10 minutes.

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