By Kara Williams, on June 26, 2014

Free things to do in Boston

Pack good walking shoes for your summer trip to Boston, as this compact East Coast city offers visitors plenty of free ways to enjoy the sights—especially if you’re game to explore historic cobblestone streets and pretty public parks by foot. Here are four things to do in Boston that won’t cost you a dime:

Follow the Freedom Trail. Sixteen of Boston’s most historically significant sites—including Paul Revere’s House and the oldest public school in America—are preserved along a 2.5-mile walking path through the city, designated by a red painted line or red bricks on the ground. This is called the “Freedom Trail.” Print out this map and make your way at your own pace along the trail, whether you want to just mark parts of it or complete the whole thing. Some of the sites, such as the U.S.S. Constitution, Fanueil Hall, and Boston Common (all free, see below), are worthy of longer exploration, so you might break up the trail into sightseeing over a couple of days.

Take a tour of the U.S.S. Constitution. “Old Ironsides,” docked in Charlestown Navy Yard, is the world’s oldest commissioned warship still afloat. It was first launched in 1797 and earned its nickname during the War of 1812, when its thick wooden hull withstood an onslaught of cannon fire from a British ship. Active duty U.S. Navy sailors man the ship’s decks, offering brief guided tours. What’s more, an associated museum delivers presents a comprehensive history of the ship for a suggested donation.

Boats on the Charles River

Watch street performers at Faneuil Hall. Dating back to 1742, Faneuil Hall originally was a bustling marketplace for local fisherman and produce sellers, as well as a public spot for impassioned orators. Today, it remains a lively spot for retail shopping and take-out dining, with its Quincy Market Colonnade, dubbed the largest food hall in New England. Most entertaining are the plethora of street performers who sing, juggle, and otherwise delight crowds with magic, music, acrobatics, and dance. They set up shop on the cobblestone promenades for free shows (though throwing a couple bucks in their tip buckets is always a nice gesture).

Stroll through a city park. Boston Common, the country’s oldest (there are lots of “oldest” designations in Boston!) public park, was established in 1634. The site once was used for cattle grazing; later it was used for public hangings. Today it’s a bucolic setting for rest and repose on one of its many park benches. Kids love the free water sprays and wading pool at Frog Pond, where you’ll also find an inexpensive carousel.

Viewfinder Tip: Two blocks from Boston Common is the Boston Omni Parker House Hotel, America’s oldest continually operating hotel. Its Parker’s Restaurant is the birthplace of Boston cream pie.

See the Garden. Another pretty spot in the middle of the city is the Boston Public Garden. Founded in 1837, the garden is a relative newcomer to the Boston scene, and still is the country’s oldest botanical garden. Overflowing with colorful flowerbeds in the summertime, the Victorian-era park is also home to bronze statues of mallards that commemorate the beloved 1947 children’s book, Make Way for Ducklings (the story of the book is set in the Garden). Keep an eye out for the pair of real swans who make their home in the park, and for the full experience, take a brief, inexpensive swan boat ride around the lagoon—a Boston tradition since 1877.

Explore the Espanade. Finally, the Charles River Esplanade stretches for three miles from the Museum of Science to the Boston University Bridge. Joggers and cyclists descend upon the riverfront running trails and bike paths, while the grassy areas are popular spots for picnics. White sailboats against a backdrop of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus across the river make for scenic photographs. Boston’s world-famous Independence Day celebration takes place here, with the Boston Pops Orchestra concert in the Hatch Memorial Shell outdoor venue, followed by the best fireworks extravaganza I’ve ever seen. In warm-weather months, the hatch shell is the site of other free outdoor concerts, as well as fitness classes, dance parties, and evening movies.

What sorts of free things do you like to do when you travel?