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The Best 5 Free Boston Attractions

Yankee Plus Dec 2015


The Best 5 Free Boston Attractions
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Boston Athenaeum
Photo/Art by courtesy of Boston Athenaeum
Boston Athenaeum

Boston is a pricey place. But Jon Marcus, a lifelong Bostonian and founder of the Web site, makes a personal cause of finding ways to get the most from the city for the least amount of money. “The history and architecture make this town an open-air museum,” Marcus says. “And, as long as you steer clear of Boston drivers, walking around doesn’t cost anything.” Neither do his picks for the 5 best free Boston attractions.

Museum of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts
Faneuil Hall may be the most-visited tourist destination in New England, but few people know that there’s a military museum on the top floor. It’s dedicated to the 1638 Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, oldest in the Western Hemisphere, with weaponry from swords to cannon, muskets to machine guns, a cannonball from the Battle of Bunker Hill, Federal and Confederate bullets, a Turkish flintlock, even the hoof of a horse named Charger, a hero of the Charge of the Light Brigade. Faneuil Hall’s second-best-kept secret? There’s an elevator on the south side. 617-227-1638;

Boston Athenaeum & Boston Public Library
One of America’s oldest private libraries, the Athenaeum’s art collection is so good that it once formed the nucleus of the Museum of Fine Arts; other highlights are portions of George Washington’s personal library and one of the largest collections of documents printed in the Confederacy. Little known is that its first two floors are open to the public and there are free (though reservations are required) weekly tours. The McKim Building of the Boston Public Library is itself a work of art, but inside are also museum-quality artworks by Rembrandt, Goya, Picasso, and others. Other treasures include a memorial to the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti by the sculptor of Mount Rushmore, plus daily free tours, a café, and a courtyard (another of Boston’s best secrets). 617-227-0270,; 617-536-5400,

USS Cassin Young
Photo/Art by National Park Service Photo
USS Cassin Young

New England Aquarium Harbor Seals & USS Cassin Young
Check out the harbor seals cavorting in their tank in front of the New England Aquarium—and up to four daily harbor-seal shows in nice weather—or swing around the back and admire Northern fur seals and California sea lions through the glass wall on the harbor side, all without paying admission. Then jump on the MBTA’s F4 commuter ferry ($3; free for kids ages 11 and under, limit of two kids per adult) for a scenic cruise across the harbor to the Charlestown Navy Yard to take a free tour of the USS Cassin Young, a World War II destroyer hit twice by kamikaze pilots. 617-973-5200,;;

Massachusetts Historical Society

The oldest organization of its kind in America, the Massachusetts Historical Society has the pen with which Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, a copy by Thomas Jefferson of his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, and a table made from pieces of the U.S. Capitol dome, used at the inaugurations of Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, plus extraordinary works of art, some commissioned for Monticello by Jefferson. There’s no charge for the exhibition rooms, and free tours are offered most Saturdays. 617-536-1608;

Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center & the Ernest Hemingway Room

BU’s Gotlieb Center archives are the un­likely repository of one of the largest collections of Hollywood memorabilia, including Fred Astaire’s dancing shoes and Bette Davis’s copy of the All About Eve script, opened to the line “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” All are on free exhibit at Mubar Memorial Library. Want more free 20th-century culture? The Ernest Hem­ingway Collection is at the John F. Kennedy Library & Museum, but you can get in without paying the museum admission. (Hours vary; call ahead to make an appointment.) See a selection of Hemingway’s letters, photos, manuscripts, game animals he killed, the cartridge bag he carried as a World War I ambulance driver—even his wallet. (Tough guy Ernest Hemingway had a AAA card.) 617-353-3696,; 617-514-1629,

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