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Boston is a fantastic city that’s easy to love. While it may be a major metropolis, it’s not so big that it’s overwhelming yet large enough that it offers a wealth of attractions. Some say that it feels like a city, yet has a heart of a small town. Though you could easily spend lots of cash if you wanted to, it’s really not necessary, with so many free things to see and do.
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The most popular attraction in Boston is totally free. The 2.5-mile Freedom Trail is marked with a red stripe, traversing through the most historic neighborhoods in the city, including 16 important sites related to the Revolutionary War along the way. It begins at Boston Common, stretching through Historic Downtown Boston, the North End, culminating at the Charlestown waterfront. Be sure to stop at the home of Paul Revere where you’ll get a great sense of how people lived during the Revolutionary War years. The Old State House Museum is a must for exploring fascinating memorabilia like the vial of tea that was salvaged from the original Tea Party crowd. The Old North Church is the very site where Paul Revered warned that the British were coming in 1775, sparking the American Revolution.
The city is home to some rather enticing “secret gardens,” hidden throughout among concrete, on observation decks, in community rooms and more. Check out the Cambridge Roof Garden which sits atop the roof of a parking garage showcasing 30,000 square feet of spectacularly maintained gardens, with benches and picnic tables. It also boasts an impressive view of the Boston skyline. The public atrium located at 101 Merrimac Street is a veritable jungle, complete with exotic wildlife, a fountain and lush vegetation. The sprawling Massachusetts General Hospital complex includes a healing garden on the eighth floor that’s open to everyone, with private nooks comfy chairs, a well-manicured garden and fantastic views of Longfellow Bridge and the sailboats that glide along the Charles River in one direction, and Beacon Hill on the other.
The Custom House downtown hosts an open-air observation deck where you can soak up more incredible vistas, including panoramic views of the harbor and the city from the 26th floor. For many years, this stunning neoclassical landmark sat empty and inaccessible in the heart of the Financial District, but in the 1990s, it reopened as a Marriott time-share hotel. A short climb up a staircase will bring you to the vast grand rotunda, which is now a maritime-themed exhibition space.
The Sam Adams Brewery Tour is free, and you’ll even get a free beer and the chance to sample some of the ingredients, although a $2 donation is suggested. The tour of this popular Boston brewer offers an excellent and entertaining overview of the craft brewing process, including the chance to learn all about the history of the brand while smelling the Hallertau hops used to brew Sam Adams. Tours depart every 45 minutes, but you’ll want to arrive early in the day if you hope to avoid a long wait.
The Observatory at Boston University, which sits on the roof of the College of Arts & Sciences building, offers a Public Open Night where visitors can view the night sky through telescopes and binoculars. You’re likely to see at least a few things you might not otherwise glimpse with the naked eye, and learn a bit about astronomy too. Hosted most Wednesday evenings throughout the year, weather permitting, everyone is welcome to come, and the program lasts about an hour.
While you probably wouldn’t think about visiting a library while you’re on vacation, the Boston Public Library is decidedly different. This is the oldest and largest free-lending library in the entire country, designed as a “palace for the people.” One of its highlights is the impressive Bates Hall with its stunning reading room. It’s also the only library to host a Presidential Library, that of John Adams, America’s second president. Other prominent features include a number an extensive number of murals by noted artists, like a series by John Singer Sargent, as well as the Italian Renaissance-style interior courtyard, complete bubbling fountains and arched pathways.
Bunker Hill Monument stands 221 feet tall at Breed’s Hill as the site of the first major battle of the American Revolution fought on June 17, 1775. This nationally recognized historic landmark also offers some of the best views in Boston. There’s no elevator to bring you to the top, instead you’ll need to climb the 294 steps to get there, though the effort is well worth the reward, and admission is free. Due to high visitation and for safety requirements, all visitors who wish to climb the monument do need to obtain a free climbing pass from the Bunker Hill Museum, situated at the base of the hill at 43 Monument Square.
Established in 1660, some of America’s most notable citizens rest here. Named for the 12,000-bushel grain storage building that was once next door, the historic cemetery has 2,300 markers. Despite that number of headstones, there are many more buried here. In fact, it’s been estimated there are over 5,000 Bostonians who have made the Granary their final resting place, including the graves of Samuel Adams and Paul Revere.
Quincy Market is the place to go for lunch. Wait, free lunch you say? There are hundreds of food stalls, and if you go on a Wednesday, you can sample a variety of cuisine in the stalls marked “The Taste of Quincy Market” for free. While you won’t be getting a full meal it’s often more than enough to fuel your activities and keep you going for a while.