Boston on a Budget: Free, fun things to do in the city this summer

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from WBUR’s Saturday morning newsletter, The Weekender. If you like what you read and want it in your inbox, sign up here .

I’ve seen firsthand how a day of fun in Boston can quickly become expensive.

It might start with Tatte’s excellent coffee. Next thing you know, you’ve spent $27 to get into the Museum of Fine Arts, another $30 for lunch and a drink at Time Out Market, and $40 for a parking ticket because you forgot to go to the meter. .

Making memories with friends is priceless, but outings that cost over $100 a week weren’t exactly in my budget. Thankfully, with a little planning, there are ways to save some money on a day out on the town without having to sacrifice any fun.

Below, you’ll find details on free fitness classes, art exhibits, and music festivals happening across Boston this summer. For local families, we offer a number of venues with free admission for children over the summer holidays.

Harbor Institute of Contemporary Art.  (WBUR's Hadley Green).
Harbor Institute of Contemporary Art. (WBUR’s Hadley Green).

Art & Music

  • this Harvard Art Museum Free and open to the public Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm. You can peruse the works on display for yourself, or listen to the museum’s gallery talks. Additionally, on the last Thursday of each month, you can mingle and enjoy a meal in the museum’s courtyard during the free Harvard Art Museums Night. (Mark your calendars; the next issue is July 25.)
  • institute of contemporary art Admission to the Harbor is free every Thursday night from 5pm to 9pm (just make sure to buy advance tickets on opening day at 10am). Happily, this coincides with “Harborwalk Sounds,” a free concert series on the ICA Waterfront featuring music by Berklee College’s brightest minds. If Thursday nights aren’t for you, check back on Fridays starting in mid-July. The ICA’s free outdoor Vinyl Nights series returns with music to round out your week, but museum admission is still required. (If you are not a planner, you do not need tickets to any of the music events.)
  • There are many free music festivals These events take place across Boston, including this weekend’s BAMS Music Festival in Franklin Park. BAMS (Boston Arts & Music Soul) aims to highlight black artists and international voices. The lineup for this year’s festival is impressive, including local stars like Lisa Bello and Nay $peaks. There will also be food trucks and vendors throughout the park, so come hungry and be prepared to experience it all. Looking for more? Here, Noah Schaffer rounds up 10 places where you can sing, rock, and swing to live music for free this summer.

A man runs at the Charles River Esplanade in Boston.  (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
A man runs at the Charles River Esplanade in Boston. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

fitness classes

  • Boston City Park Fitness Series Returning this summer, classes are offered daily for locals to try. Now through August 31, you can join a group at one of 16 different parks around Boston for a Zumba, Tai Chi, yoga or HIIT workout with a fitness instructor. If an hour of dancing is more your style, you’re in luck: You’ll also have the chance to try Afrobeat or salsa, or even low-intensity line dancing. Classes are held every day of the week. See the full schedule here.
  • River fitness is a series of free fitness classes created by the Esplanade Association in partnership with DCR. Every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday starting from July 15th, They will host running, walking, aerobics and sunset yoga events at the Hatch Memorial Shell and Fielder Field on the banks of the Charles River. River Fit’s four circuit classes start after 5pm – perfect for those with a 9-to-5 job. Please be sure to register and reserve your seat in advance.
  • harbor sweatis a summer workout series at Seaport Common, offering Pilates, barre, conditioning and body sculpting classes designed to get you sweating. And you should definitely be able to find something that suits your program, as there are different classes available from Monday to Saturday. No equipment is provided on the course other than a mat (which you can bring your own).

Artwork at the zebra entrance to Boston's Franklin Park Zoo.  (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Artwork at the zebra entrance to Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Free activities for families

PS — Keeping with the theme of free fun, we want to know: What local delicacies are in your picnic basket? Maybe some chocolate chunk cookies from Sofra or creamy brie from MA France. Please email to tell us what foods, snacks and drinks you bring to your summer picnics and we may include your recommendations in a future newsletter.

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