Headed to the Bay State for a weekend getaway or searching for a daytrip that won’t cost too much? There are plenty of attractions and activities in the area that will keep you entertained, active and cultured without having to spend any dough. Whether you’re the outdoorsy type, a history buff or a science enthusiast, you’re sure to find something that appeals to you on our list of things to do for free in Massachusetts.
Concord, Lincoln and Lexington
The Minute Man National Historical Park honors the first battles of the Revolutionary War at the sites where they occurred on April 19, 1775.
Start off at the Minute Man Visitor Center where you can get acquainted with the park and history of that momentous day with a quick multimedia presentation. Then, head out to the park’s other notable landscapes and attractions.
You can walk the Battle Road following in the footsteps of the Minute Men or head to the North Bridge where the famous “shot heard around the world” was fired. Park rangers are on hand at some locations to answer questions. There are also various guided programs and presentations with the park staff in the warmer months.
A haven for plant and animal lovers, Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University is spread across 281 acres, throughout which you can explore and learn about 15,000 types of plants. The arboretum offers both self- and docent-guided walking tours of varying levels of difficulty and time. The 120-minute, 2 1/2-mile director’s tour provides a glimpse of flora and fauna through Director Ned Friedman’s viewpoint. There are plenty of kids’ activities, including wildlife bingo and story walks, featuring illustrated children’s books displayed throughout the arboretum.
In the Berkshire Mountains on the western side of the state, you’ll find Mount Greylock State Park, which includes the highest point in Massachusetts at 3,491 feet.
There are a variety of activities to enjoy, depending on the season, including hiking, mountain biking and snowmobiling. Visiting in the fall? Be sure to check out one of the fall foliage driving routes and additional free activities like a farmers market and weekly community potluck dinner.
When it comes to one of the most popular things to do for free in Massachusetts – hiking – you’ll find a variety of trails based on different durations and abilities, including paths along former ski trails and ones that explore waterfalls. If you’re not up for the hike, you can also drive to the top of the mountain.
While some stops on the Freedom Trail, including the Old South Meeting House, Old State House, Paul Revere Home and Old North Church do have admission fees, others are free. Plus, it costs nothing to walk the trail.
Start at the downtown visitor center at Faneuil Hall, where you can plan your walk with the help of rangers. Then, head upstairs to see the great hall where protests, political rallies and debates have been held for the past 275 years. Visit the Bunker Hill Museum and climb the 294 steps to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument, commemorating an important Revolutionary War battle. Next up is the Charlestown Navy Yard, where you’ll find the USS Constitution, aka “Old Ironsides,” one of the oldest ships in the world still afloat, and the USS Cassin Young, an important ship from World War II. You can board and tour both.
Are you an astronomy lover or big fan of the great beyond? Judson B. Coit Observatory, located on the Boston University campus, offers public open nights on Wednesday evenings year-round, weather permitting. You can look through multiple Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes and binoculars with the guidance of the observatory manager, who helps point out planets and constellations.
Admission to this evening event is free, but tickets are required, and they go quickly, so be sure to grab them online.
The Great Falls Discovery Center is housed in a series of old mills and features diorama exhibits celebrating the history of the Connecticut River. They present information about the environments surrounding the longest river in New England and the impact of human settlement.
Interested in learning more? Check out the museum’s self-guided activity sheets. The property is also home to four acres of gardens and lawns for exploring and relaxing. The great hall features art exhibits, and special events are held for adults and children.
Some of the best free things to do in Massachusetts are in the great outdoors.
The Cape Cod Rail Trail brings runs for 25 miles through scenic Cape Cod, across six towns – Dennis, Harwich, Brewster, Eastham, Wellfleet and Orleans – and through state and national parks.
You’ll find the trail filled with mostly bikers during the warmer months, thanks to the flat and easy-to-navigate terrain. The trail is also used for running and walking, horseback riding and, in winter, cross-country skiing. Be sure to stop at some of the kettle ponds, formed by glaciers and featuring crystal clear water.
The Massachusetts Historical Society was founded in 1791 and claims to be the “oldest organization in the United States devoted to collecting materials for the study of American history.”
Collections are vast and shared with the public in exhibits, which have included past displays on the Boston Massacre, women’s voting rights and Boston abolitionists. Items in the collections include belongings of notable historical figures, newspapers and posters, letters between Revolutionists, tea leaves from the Boston Tea Party and even copies of the Declaration of Independence handwritten by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
Interested in doing some in-depth research? Make an appointment to visit the library.
What are some of your favorite free things to do in Massachusetts? Share them in the comments below.Chris Devers / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)