The weekend before last we went to the Boston Local Food Festival on the Greenway in Boston. While we used the opportunity as our one fancy “nom out” for the month (see this post for details on our monthly adventures), there were loads of free samples, a cooking competition, and demonstrations all for free. We even got free parking using Spot Hero**).
There are so many great, free activities in any city, and this post is a guide to what’s available in our own neck of the woods. However, most of the tips are valid across the country. This doesn’t cover the most touristy things you can do for free in Boston (freedom trail, etc), but Boston on Budget has a great article covering that base for your reference.
The Boston Calendar
The Boston Calendar (TBC) is hands down the best guide for what is going on in the Greater Boston Area, with a special filter for FREE events. This is how we found out about the Boston Local Food Festival, and honestly how we find out about most events outside of suggestions from friends.
If you live in the area, I highly recommend signing up for their email list, where you get events for the upcoming weekend once a week. You can never again say you don’t know what to do or complain about being bored.
If not for The Boston Calendar, we would not have had delicious King Rock oysters, or the mouth-watering arepa, or the fresh sugarcane juice, or the toffee popcorn that is no joking making my mouth water just thinking about it again.
We’ve also been to Le Laboratoire multiple times thanks to TBC, a really cool always-free little gallery that is a mixture between art and science. The last exhibition we saw was 150 Milliseconds, that largely covered our perception of the human form and how we personify objects. Here is one video they played that can give you a taste of the exhibit, as long as you’re okay developing feelings for a nondescript circle.
Thanks to my weekly “Events That Don’t Suck” email from Jim Martinho, I can let you know there is an opening reception for their next exhibit 10° by Chuck Hoberman. Interactive kinetic sculptures? Yes, please!
Other events going on – ten days of mostly free events with ArtWeek Boston starting today, overlapping with HubWeek, a celebration of innovation and creativity. Basically an explosion of possibilities this weekend.
As the options can sometimes seem overwhelming, TBC lets you easily filter results by category, including free!
Free Museum or Park Entry
Your local library has tons of passes available to residents for museums or even parks. Most parks are free, but Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) parks usually have Day Use Parking Fees. At least at our local library, you can pick up a pass for free day use parking on the day you reserve it.
You can also grab free or discounted museum passes from the library. Typically the passes for smaller museums are free admission, but the passes for larger ones like the Museum of Fine Arts or the Museum of Science only give discounted admission. For example, the Acquarium is typically $27 for adult admission, but the library pass means you can get four people in for only $10 per person.
I’m not a huge fan of Bank of America, but their Museums on Us program is a nice perk to their credit card. On the first full weekend of each month, you can visit a select number of museums for free as a cardholder. Their full roster is here, where you can see all the museums in all the states.
In Massachusetts for 2016, you can see the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of African American History (In Boston or Nantucket), the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, the MIT Museum, the Worcester Art Museum, or the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield. If interested, you can get a text or email each month reminding you of the perk just in time to schedule something.
Free Comedy Shows
It can pay to be on your favorite comedians’ list servs. You know those comedy specials you used to see on TV when you had cable? Or comedy records in the days when people used “Compact Discs”? They still happen, and they still need enthusiastic audiences. We were able to get tickets to see Myq Kaplan for free, just by reserving a spot online.
“Free” Movie Tickets
It’s not completely free, as you need to fill out surveys and/or write reviews, but this one’s valid even for people outside of Boston. You can even see the films before they hit theaters! The Balance has a great write-up on which sites to use for “free” tickets.
Again, not completely free, and not completely limited to Boston, but you can eat out at restaurants and be compensated after filling out reviews. This falls under the realm of mystery shopping, where you anonymously review your experience, with specific questions relevant to the brand. In our case, we went to a local Mexican chain restaurant, had to sit at the bar, order two mains, and had to speak to the manager about how they schedule groups. Afterwards, we were asked if people were smiling when they greeted us, who served us at the bar, what did we order & how did we like it, etc.
Let me be clear, these are not Michelin starred restaurants. These are chain restaurants making sure each individual restaurant is fitting brand standards. Plus, there is a limit to how much they will compensate. Still, it’s at least free-ish. We’ve personally done this once (using BestMark <- referral link), about a year ago, and have not been compelled to sign up again. The Penny Hoarder has a great article detailing her experiences, including which companies to trust and how to avoid mystery shopping scams.
So many options! Maybe we should take a challenge to actual go out and explore somewhere new once a week for a month, just to be better examples…heck, we might do that. Just for you readers. Because we care, not for any fun or enjoyment on our part, of course.
We do have to confess to not always taking advantage of opportunities to save money, which I don’t think is a bad thing. For the case of park fees or small museums, it makes sense to support conservation efforts or art funds if you can. There are many things more important than money.
*For Spot Hero, there are referral codes you can use when signing up to get $5 off your first booking, and the Boston Local Food Festival also had a promo code for $5 (“local” in case it’s still valid), so our usually $10 worth of parking was completely free. Our own referral codes are ire9uy and xdgrk9 that you can use to get $5 (we also get $5 credit). Promo codes are much easier to find online, though some are only valid for new users.