15 Free Things to Do in Boston with Kids

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I have shared many times that Beantown is my hometown, and I often bring my family “home” to Boston. We have tons of posts on things to do in Boston (our Boston City Guide is a good place to start).  Summer is an especially fun time to explore Boston, as there are so many family friendly attractions near the Harbor waterfront. This week, we’re sharing 15 free things to do throughout the Boston area. Some of these attractions are free all year, but many activities cater to the warmer weather. 

Another good source for all things Boston-related is BostonUSA.com. The site offers up to date calendars, programs, and the latest scoop on restaurants, hotels, and attractions. 

  1. Count the number of cannons aboard the USS Constitution, one of the original six ships of the US Navy.  The massive, 500 crew ship won three battles during the War of 1812. Nicknamed “Old Ironsides” (find out why in the museum),  the ship was in use from 1797 until 1853, and still sets sail throughout the year for special events. Guests can explore three decks of the ship independently, but there are also tours provided.. There are sailors stationed throughout the vessel to answer questions. Children will also want to pretend to steer the ship and check out the sleeping arrangements for various ranks of sailors.  Docked adjacent to the USS Constitution is the USS Cassin Young, which launched in 1943 and was an important part of WWII battles. Visitors can explore the top deck on their own, and guided tours are offered down below deck. Children will enjoy going below deck and seeing the officers’ quarters.
    Read our full post here. A Freedom Trail site.
  1. Climb the 294 stairs to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument, located near the USS Constitution in Charlestown and part of the Boston National Historical Park. The site of a July 1775 battle between New England soldiers and the British army, the 221 foot memorial to the battle was built fifty years later from quarried granite. The complex also includes a National Park office and rangers, and a museum with interactive exhibits about the history of the battle and the Revolutionary War.  Note: The Monument is currently closed for renovations, but the museum is still open. Check here for updates. 
    For the full scoop on the Boston National Historical Park, check here.  A Freedom Trail site.
  1. Find various Wonder Spots throughout the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. Located in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston, the Arnold Arboretum, the oldest public arboretum in North America, is home to over 15,000 plants spread out over 281 acres.  The grounds are open 365 days a year to the public and also offer a variety of family friendly programs and self guided activities, including StoryWalks and Wildlife Bingo.
  1. Check out one of dozens of playgrounds throughout the city. Mommy Poppins Boston has tons of posts featuring playground, including this one, this one, this one, and this one.  Most playgrounds are open from dawn till dusk all year; many offer water features and splash pads during warmer summer months.  This index from BostonUSA.com is also full of great spots.
  1. Follow the 2.5 mile Freedom Trail back in time. Marked by a red line on the ground, the trail features 16 historical sites related to the birth of America, dating back to the late 17th century. Sites include several spots (which are free to explore buildings) on this list and various churches, homes, schools, and burying grounds, some of which do charge entrance fees. The Freedom Trail is one of the most popular things to do in Boston.  A wide variety of themed, guided tours are offered several times a day, but visitors can also follow the trail independently for free. Spend the day walking the Trail and you’ll cover many important parts of the city- a good list of itineraries is here.
  1. Smell some of the flowers planted in the dozens of gardens (dating back to the 1840s) and walk the 24 acres of the Boston Public Garden has 24 acres of the Public Gardens  and is adjacent to the Boston Common, the oldest public park in America. The Common is home to the TADpole playground (with water features open during the summer), the Frog Pond Carousel (open mid April through mid October with a nominal fee to ride), and the Swan boats (open mid April through Labor Day with a nominal fee to ride). The Gardens and the Common offer a wide variety of family oriented programming like free guided tours. Check here for more information. A Freedom Trail site.
  1. Peek inside the state Senate and House chambers as part of the tour of the Massachusetts Capitol. Located on the south side of Beacon Hill and overlooking the Boston Common and Back Bay, the Massachusetts State House was constructed in 1798 and served as the state house until the mid 1880s. The land where the capitol was built was donated by John Hancock, the first elected governor of Massachusetts and the building remains the oldest on Beacon Hill. The complex covers almost seven acres- two city blocks. Free tours are offered multiple times Monday through Friday and self guided tours are also permitted.
    Read our full post here. A Freedom Trail site.
  1. Learn all about the “birthplace of America” Boston National Historical Park, the Boston African American Site, and the Boston Harbor Island National Site. There are various trails and sites to visit throughout the city and visitors can go out their own pace. There are two Visitor Centers located in Faneuil Hall and the Charlestown Navy Yard. Make sure kids grab a Junior Ranger booklet from each spot (NHP, AAS, BHINS) and complete various activities to earn Junior Ranger badges (and collect passport stamps!)
  1. Cool off at Pleasure Bay Beach or Castle Island Beach, located on Castle Island, which actually isn’t an island. A peninsula in South Boston, the complex includes 3 miles of waterfront beach, a HarborWalk with great views of Boston and the Harbor Islands, a playground, and Fort Independence, which visitors can explore. Bring money for fried seafood and snacks from the famous Sullivan’s shack.
  1. Learn about the mid 19th century architecture of the Boston Public Library, the first urban free library in America, on a guided (or independent) tour. The original library moved locations three times before the 1895 McKim Building was built on Boylston Street, with an adjacent building added in the 1970s. Today, visitors can register for a variety of tours including an Art and Architecture Tour and a 30 minute tour of the Gallery at the Norman B. Leventhal Map and Education Center (check for hours here.) The library offered free printed booklets for visitors to explore some of the main spaces. Make sure to rub the lions’ tail in the main staircase for good luck!

Five Bonuses:

  • Museums: Check local museums for free nights or sessions- this list is a good place to start, but always call or check the museum’s website to verify up to date information.
  • Concerts: There are tons of spots throughout the greater Boston area that offer weekly outdoor concerts, including Boston ParkARTS Neighborhood Concerts, The Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s weekly Esplanade concerts, CX Summer Nights at Cambridge Crossing on select Thursday nights, and Concerts in the Courtyard at the Boston Public Library on Friday evenings.
  • Festivals: There are themed festivals offered all summer long, ranking in interest from kites to dragon boats to music and dance parties. The North End section of Boston is well known for its festivals honoring various saints. The festivals usually include a parade and procession of religious relics and statues, music, and tons of delicious Italian food. See the full list here.
  • Shakespeare on the Common, which performs a different Shakespeare play each July and August (usually close to 20 performances) on the Boston Common.
  • Boat rides and cruises: The Boston Harbor Islands offers free cruises to some of the most popular island. Water taxis are readily available all around the harbor area and kids ride free. Getting a view from the water is a “cool” way to see the city.

Looking for other things to do throughout Boston? Check out our additional posts featuring:

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7 Comments

  1. Though we have enjoyed so many of these activities we still have a few we missed. I also have not explored the main Boston Public library to the extent you have obviously and I’m anxious to do that soon. Looking forward to catching that and other activities soon, we did love Massachusetts capital and recommend that highl. Great ideas! Thank you as always.

  2. So many great ideas for families! I would love to visit and enjoy these sites, especially the Freedom Trail. You’ve also got lots of great tips for seeing more expensive attractions for free. Thank you for another helpful post!

  3. We absolutely loved our time in Boston. The city can get expensive really quickly, so these ideas are great! Happy to say that we did several during our trip.

  4. Boston is such a great family-friendly destination! My husband and I visited last year for the first time, and we loved it. I have a feeling we’ll be taking our kids back to walk the Freedom Trail and explore all the historical sites one day!

  5. I would love to walk the Freedom Trail, and I think my kids would really enjoy it, too! I can’t wait to get my kids out east to see a bit of US history!

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