Local , Arpita Bhattacharya of BagfullofBooks.com fame shares her favourite 10 things to do in Boston & Cambridge on a budget. Take it away Arpi!
The cities of Boston and Cambridge, like non-identical twins have their own distinctive character but due to the origin of their birth are often associated with one another. They are separated by the long and winding Charles River that often freezes during the long, harsh winters and offers recreational purpose during the summer. Cambridge is the seat of two of the worlds most prestigious educational institutions- MIT and Harvard. Boston, on the other hand has the historic charm of a European city. Boston and Cambridge are smaller than New York and therefore it is possible to have a more intimate knowledge of the city within a short visit. Many of the attractions that I mention in the guide can be visited with the help of passes available to Massachusetts residents. If, however, you are visiting Boston as a tourist and do not know any locals, various city passes can be availed that offer free entry to many attractions for a single price. Though the cost of the passes are by no means inexpensive, if you do wish to visit many places these maybe the more budget-friendly option.
1) The Freedom Trail – a walk along the Freedom trail is a means to enter the heart of revolutionary history. The Trail is a 2.5-mile (4 km) long pedestrian route with many historical sites along the way. These stops are all inextricably related to places and events related to the revolutionary war for freedom and colonial history. Important mentions are- the Old North Church, Paul Revere House, Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, Old State House, Park Street Church, Massachusetts State House, Old Granary Burial Ground, King’s Chapel and Old South Meeting House. The Faneuil Hall Visitor Centre has park rangers who distribute maps, brochures and advice for navigating your tour.
A shorter loop starts from the Park Street ‘T’ station, stops at the Old Granary Burial Ground, passes King’s Chapel and the Old South Meeting House and continues past the Old State House and finishes off at Faneuil Hall.
2) The Museum of Fine Arts– this museum is home to more than 450 000 objects of art. Notable are the Art of the Americas collection boasting fifty-three renovated galleries. I particularly enjoy the Winslow Homer paintings in the Art of America wing and the comprehensive collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting of the French gallery. Wednesday nights after 4 pm are open to voluntary contribution. During certain holidays throughout the year the Museum hosts free admission.
3) Boston Commons and Boston Public Garden– Despite the urbanization, Boston does have its swathes of greenery. These exist in the forms of the Emerald Necklace, the Boston Commons and the Boston Public Garden. On a nice summers day it can be the ideal place to enjoy a day out especially on a picnic. Dip your hot feet in the cooling waters of the Frog Pond, take a ride on one of the swan boats or visit the iconic ‘Make Way for Ducklings’ sculpture.
4) New England Aquarium: Want to learn more about aquatic life like the Giant Pacific Octopus, Green Sea Turtle or the Little Blue Penguin? Make sure a visit to the aquarium is on your wish list. Entry fees can be exorbitant but discounted tickets are available from local libraries or through the Boston City Pass. Admission is free with purchase of the Go Boston Card.
5) Revere Beach– One often forgets that Boston is a coastal town when you get caught up in the maze of its old streets. However, Boston does have a 3-mile long expansive beach with clean white sand in the form of Revere Beach. Established in 1896 it was the USA’s first public beach. It is easily accessible from the Blue Line Subway and a wonderful way to escape to the seaside in a relatively short time.
6) Walk encompassing Boston Public Library, Newbury Street, the Charles River leading across to MIT- this is a walk that I have enjoyed on many occasions. Start the 2-mile long walk admiring the art and history of the Boston Public Library. Every day at specific times there are free art and architecture tours. Highlights include the Sargent Gallery and the ornate central courtyard. Handbooks describing the architecture can be downloaded from the library website. Next, amble leisurely along Newbury Street, imbibing the smell of freshly brewed coffee and food emanating from the many coffee shops and eateries that line the street. There are several designer shops and a constant buzz of locals and tourists milling the streets. Pop in to the Trident Booksellers and Cafe for an eclectic selection of books and souvenirs. Newbury Street is just a few streets away from the Charles River Esplanade. If you cross the Harvard Bridge on foot you will find yourself in Cambridge very close to MIT.
The esplanade along Memorial Drive affords gorgeous views of downtown Boston.
Once in the MIT campus the Stata Center designed by Frank Gehry, the Great Dome and the MIT Museum are worthy of visits.
7) Harvard Square – One could easily spend a whole day or half a day exploring Harvard Square. Whether it is exploring the beautiful buildings and grounds of Harvard University, visiting the many arts and science museums or just prowling the local bookstores and cafes. Do take the obligatory picture next to the iconic John Harvard Statue,which ironically is not constructed in his true image because there is no known portrait of John Harvard. I particularly enjoy a trip to the Harvard Museum of Natural History especially the ‘Glass Flowers’ and the Earth and Planetary Sciences’ exhibits (free entry for MA residents on Sunday morning, entry passes from regional libraries and free entry with purchase of the Boston Go Card or Boston City Pass). If you are a book lover then you will love browsing the books at Harvard Bookstore. There is basement of used and remainder books where I have spent many a wonderful hour. The Harvard Coop is an additional ‘bookish’ stop. My favorite places to grab a budget friendly bite or treat in this area are Otto’s Pizza for unusual and delicious single slices of pizza, J.P. Licks for their creamy ice-cream and L.A. Burdick for their decadent hot chocolate. Black Ink is my favorite gift store in the area selling lovely stationery.
8) Sam Adams Brewery-Free tours and free beer sound like a match made in heaven. The tours of the Sam Adams Brewery quickly fill up and it can be quite difficult to gain admission if you arrive at the brewery late in the day. Reservation for a brewery tour is based on a first cum first served basis. They depart every 45 minutes and quickly fill up by midday especially on a Saturday. The suggested entry fee is two dollars.
9) Museum of Science, Boston Children’s Museum- If you are visiting Boston during the winter or on a wet day then a visit to a museum is always a good option. If you have children in your party then the Museum of Science or the Boston Children’s Museum are good choices. The Museum of Science is located in Boston directly on the Charles River. Some of the notable exhibits are the Butterfly Garden, Dinosaurs, Cosmic Light and the Discovery Centre although some of these exhibits have entry charges in addition to the entry fee for the museum. Museum Passes can be obtained for free or discounted rates by members of the Boston Public Library, Cambridge Library or library network of Massachusetts. If you know or are staying with someone in the city these passes can save you a lot of money to many of the museums and attractions in Boston. Alternatively the Boston City Pass offers access to a wide variety of attractions for a single fee. The Boston Children’s Museum has a $1 admission every Friday 5pm to 9pm.
10) Further Afield- if you have access to a car then there are several places worthy of day visits using Boston as a base. Some of these places are accessible by the commuter rail network. Here is a list of just a few:
i) A 3.6 mile Cliff Walk in Newport– overlooking Naragansett Bay and Easton’s Beach.
ii) Plymouth– including Plimoth Plantation and a tour of the Mayflower II (reduced cost passes for Plimoth Plantation available from libraries).
iii) Salem – encompassing witchcraft associated sites like the Witch Museum, the renowned Peabody Essex Museum or Nathaniel Hawthornes’s famous House of Seven Gables.
iv) Daytrips to the seaside-Just some of the beach Towns worth visiting include Gloucester and Rockport of Cape Ann and the many beach towns of Cape Cod. I particularly enjoy visiting Newburyport and Salisbury Beach (in picture). You are just so spoilt for choice when it comes to visiting beaches along the New England coast.