Boston on the Cheap
December 18, 2012 7:45 AM   Subscribe

Know how to have a fun weekend in Boston on a budget? Details within.

About a month down the line, a friend and I will spending a weekend in Boston. We've never been to the city, so we're looking forward to exploring.

Caveats: We're both students who don't have a ton of money to throw around, and we're not too fond of the bar scene. She's a musician; I'm a writer. (They fight crime!)

Does anyone have recommendations for things to see/do in Boston that are kind of artsy/offbeat/geeky--or just cool in general--and cheap? Free's good too, of course.

Thanks in advance!
posted by xenization to Travel & Transportation around Boston, MA (14 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
If you haven't been to the city before, we're all about the Revolutionary War and colonial stuff here. Start with The Freedom Trail, which you can walk on your own and send historical pictures to your friends.

Fort Point has a bunch of artists there. See if you can see some studios. Great area, as well.

Not cheap, but you don't have to buy anything, Newbury St. has shops and art galleries and The Society of Arts and Crafts, which I love to browse around in.

Very close to Newbury St. is the Boston Public Library, which is gorgeous inside and fun to walk around.

While at the library, step outside and check out the BostTix booth for deals on local theater.

If you're geeky, the MIT Museum may be a place you'd like. That's in Cambridge, but the two cities are across a river from one another (and about three T stops), so it's easy to get to.

If you want more traditional art, visit the Museum of Fine Arts, or the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (a favorite of everyone I've ever taken there) for some spectacular stuff.
posted by xingcat at 7:57 AM on December 18, 2012

Berklee College of Music has performances all the time. Their January schedule is linked.

There's also Club Passim in Harvard Square. They usually have something interesting playing.

I'm not sure how fun the Freedom Trail will be in January. Could be a wintery slog, could just be 'brisk.'
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:08 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

For music, the Middle East has some, as does Club Passim. Passim is in Harvard Square, which is in Cambridge, but is a fun place to wander around. (It's much more corporate-retail than it used to be, but can still be funky).

While in Cambridge, check out The Garment District, which houses a whole lot of used clothing. There's a movie theater right there, the Kendall Square Cinema, that shows a more arty selection of films.

For writers, the Brattle Book Shop is worth a look.

Nothing more iconic for Boston than a tour of Fenway Park. That's not free, but even walking by it and checking out the gift shops are fun.
posted by xingcat at 8:09 AM on December 18, 2012

The MFA has some Free Days
Wednesday nights after 4 pm, admission is by voluntary contribution (suggested donation $25) But no one will know if you palm your "donation"
posted by Gungho at 8:18 AM on December 18, 2012

One last thing (sorry, but I love my home city!) here's a list of 25 Free Things To Do in Boston.
posted by xingcat at 8:25 AM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

When are you coming? Check out these lists of events in Boston. You might just enjoy some window-shopping on Newbury St, there's a lot of cute boutiques to ogle. There's the Museum of Science, I have friends who go on a regular basis it's so fun. The Institute of Contemporary Art - Boston is free on Thursday nights. You could wander around Harvard or Davis Squares, full of more shops and artists and live music. Also Geeks Who Drink pub trivia. Pandemonium Books and Games in Central Sq has open board game nights.
posted by Sayuri. at 8:26 AM on December 18, 2012

I've spent whole afternoons in the Boston library in Copley square. It's a huge old building and half of it has art and other displays and there's a sunny courtyard with fountains and stuff in the middle. I'm not describing it very well, but you should really check it out. It's totally free.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 8:32 AM on December 18, 2012

As folks above have noted, Boston is a great walking city, as long as the weather isn't awful. Even if it's nice, though, you may want to invest in one of the trolley tours or a Charlie Card (for the T) - it's easy to walk your feet off just going between the most interesting areas.

For tasty, not terribly expensive food, I'd recommend Chinatown (near the Common), the North End (Italian restaurants on the Freedom Trail), or Falafel King or Chacarero (Chilean sandwiches) in Downtown Crossing. And although it'll be cold, I recommend getting down to see the harbor, if not also the Charles River Esplanade.

And even if shopping isn't your thing (it's not mine), sometimes just going in to the galleries on Newbury Street can make for fun (free!) art. If you're there, be sure to stop by the Trident Book Store and Cafe up near Mass Ave.
posted by ldthomps at 8:48 AM on December 18, 2012

There's always the Boston CityPass, which is $46 and gets you admission to the Aquarium, Museum of Science, MFA, the top of the Prudential Building and the Harvard Museum of Natural History. It's a pretty good deal if you like all of the attractions and if the weather is uncooperative.
posted by FreezBoy at 10:00 AM on December 18, 2012

Weather permitting you could always walk some or all of the Freedom Trail, which goes past a lot of historical sites.

I believe that tours of The Grand Lodge of Masons at Boylston and Tremont are still free (and open to the public), although you might want to contact them for hours & availability. (Or of you're already in the vicinity of the common or Downtown Crossing, just duck in and inquire with the concierge.)
posted by usonian at 10:04 AM on December 18, 2012

Like ldthomps says, it's a very walkable town. Make sure to pick up a 3-day T (subway) pass. That way you can walk a bit and then jump on the T/bus if you get tired.

I live in the Fenway and love to walk through the Back Bay, switching between Newbury (window and people watching), Commonwealth (grassy mall), and Marlborough (residential with great 1870s brownstones). Cross the Public Gardens and the Boston Common, and go by the Capitol building. Then cross the Brutalist mall with the inverted ziggurat of City Hall. Swing through Faneuil Hall, a historic building converted to tourist trap with about 30 different food stalls that have some good food. Then cross the Rose Kennedy Greenway to the North End, the historic Italian nbhd. Walk around there, share a (huge, cheap, delicious) slice from Ernesto's (I recommend the Ranch with chicken, bacon, and onions). You can also get some canolli from Mike's Pastry for later. (Though Mikes' is usually wicked crowded, so go to any of the other dozen bakeries instead.) Go to the shore, peep the bay, then walk back in up the mouth of the Charles river, looking across to East Boston, Charlestown, and Cambridge.

It's not really arty/offbeat, but you could do it in about 3-4 hours if you're wearing sensible shoes, and would give you a really good slice of the City. But it is a pretty standard slice, and you could just as well spend the time bopping between more funky spots around the greater city.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:38 AM on December 18, 2012

FYI the MIT Museum is free on Sundays if you enter before noon.
posted by oceano at 11:10 AM on December 18, 2012

If you like Japanese sweets/junk food at all, you can check out the Japonaise Bakery. Best anpan ever. Their onigiri is really good too.

I saw a show at the Middle East Downstairs on the 7th, and it's really nice. The best view is slightly to the left of the stage (it's raised slightly above the crowd and you get to see the band members and support people walking backstage and stuff). Emily Hope Price leaned on the railing right in front of me and I kind of fangirled a little.
posted by topoisomerase at 11:27 AM on December 18, 2012

Boston is a great, great, great place for free/cheap entertainment and events.

To find events, I like Cheap Thrills Boston (things that cost $10 or less). Boston Events Insider is another place to find quirky and inexpensive things to do.

The colleges are another place to find cheap/interesting events. I had a friend visit for a month once and spend much of the trip going to free, open-to-the-public talks at Harvard (many of which even included free food). Here's Harvard's event calendar. MIT tends to be very open to the public, and also has an event calendar.

Here's a (probably incomplete) listing of which museums are free when.

In terms of cheap interesting food, food trucks are starting to be a thing here.

If markets are your thing, you might like SoWa Vintage Market or Haymarket (absurdly cheap produce).

The Arnold Arboretum is one of my favorite free places (though a bit off the tourist track). If the weather's not bad, it'll probably be lovely to walk through in winter.
posted by teditrix at 6:08 PM on December 18, 2012

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