Give your wallet a break with our picks for the best free activities for kids around Boston! We've gathered our favorite places where you can enjoy family fun together - all without spending a penny. You might be surprised what else comes without a price tag like kids eat free or a free museum day.
Nashua River Rail Trail
Tracy Snyder Molina: This peaceful rural rail-trail starts in Ayer and continues through the communities of Groton, Pepperell and Dunstable before heading over the border and ending just south of Nashua. It's a nice wide paved trail with plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing and there is even a parallel gravel equestrian path between Groton and Dunstable. The tree-lined trail makes for spectacular foliage viewing in autumn and on a hot summer day be sure to make a stop for ice cream in Pepperell before continuing on your way! Parking access to the trail is available in Ayer, Groton and Dunstable lots.
Elm Bank Reservation
Tracy Snyder Molina: Visit the Elm Bank Reservation for a traffic-free, contained loop which makes for an easy bike ride and way to explore the gorgeous grounds. On the way, be sure to make a pit stop at Weezie's Garden. This whimsical area contains captivating sculptures and lots of beautiful flowers to enjoy. Parking at the horticultural center is plentiful.
Walden Pond State Reservation
Tracy Snyder Molina: Walden Pond was made famous by Henry David Thoreau and is considered the birthplace of the conservation movement. The Reservation encompasses 400 acres surrounding the pond and includes several walking trails. Take in the beauty of the woods and the variety of wildlife as well as a replica of Thoreau's house to visit. Restrooms are available.
Battle Road Trail
Amanda Banta: Mix in fitness and a history lesson with a bike trip down Battle Road Trail, which runs from Concord to Lexington within Minute Man National Historical Park. Much of the five-mile trail passes sites critical to the start of the American Revolution. The path is suitable for bikers of all levels, making it a great spot for families to explore. Parking is available at several spots along Rt. 2A and Lexington Road.
Tracy Snyder Molina: Millennium Park is a great biking destination for families. With 6 miles of paved bike trails there is plenty of area to explore as well as access to the Charles River. Even better, there is a great playground for the kiddos to enjoy before or after the bike ride. Be sure to check out the great views of the city and the Blue Hills from the top of the park and as a bonus, there is plenty of nearby parking.
Sherburne Nature Center
Tracy Snyder Molina: The Sherburne Nature Center and surrounding trail system is surrounded by many diverse habitats including forests, meadows, vernal pools and wetland areas with plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities. Beavers, fishers, turtles, mink, foxes, and deer all make this area home. The nature center houses nature exhibits and a learning center.
Tracy Snyder Molina: The Minuteman Bikeway is an 11-mile bike path that runs through Bedford, Lexington, Arlington and Cambridge. The flat trail passes through the historical area where the American Revolution first started in 1775 so you can even make a history lesson out of your ride. Along the way, make a stop at the Bedford Freight House to learn about the railroad history, enjoy a snack or purchase some historical merchandise. Access to the bikeway is available by car at Depot Park in Bedford, municipal lots in Arlington and Lexington Center or at the Alewife T Station.
Rock Meadow Conservation Area
Tracy Snyder Molina: Rock Meadow is a part of the Western Greenway, a corridor of undeveloped green spaces that connects the towns of Belmont, Waltham, and Lexington public conservation land. More than 70 acres of meadow, wetlands, streams, and woods and easy terrain trails makes this a great place for a quick hike with the kids. The Waltham Land Trust offers trail guides on its website as a free resource.
Carly Follett: Fallon Field offers plenty of space for your family to enjoy a perfect day of sledding. There are a few different hills providing different slopes and speeds, something for all ages. Kids will appreciate the wide open spaces and lighter crowds as they glide across the open fields!
Houghton's Pond Recreation Area
Lifeguards on duty July-August
Tracy Snyder Molina: Situated in the Blue Hills Reservation, this spring-fed kettle hole pond was formed by receding glaciers approximately 10,000 years ago. The recreation area has a playground, concession area, restrooms, first aid station, picnic tables, pavilion, accessible beach, and a visitor center. The swimming area is monitored by DCR lifeguards during the summer season. Follow trails for biking, hiking, or horseback riding.
Boston Nature Center & Wildlife Sanctuary
Tracy Snyder Molina: Located just outside of downtown Boston on the former grounds of the Boston State Hospital, this community-based urban sanctuary features two miles of trails including a one mile universally accessible trail that crosses meadows and wetlands. The kids will also love to stop at the Nature Nook play area which includes a giant xylophone, wild grass maze and a stream bed for children to experiment with water, sand and sticks.
Brookline Village - The Public Library of Brookline
Erynn: Tons of inclusive kids' events like literacy for immigrant families, cultural performances, and science/technology activities make the Brookline Village location a sweet spot for families. Ongoing programs for toddlers to tweens include S.T.E.A.M. for Pre-K's, lapsit programs, drop-in stories and crafts, and Friday movies for the younger crowd.
Artesani Playground Wading Pool & Spray Deck
Phillips Auditorium at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Erin P.: The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics hosts a variety of free events for the public. Events take place in both the Phillips Auditorium and on the observatory roof, if weather permits. In addition to Monthly Observatory Nights, they feature a variety of special events throughout the year. Seating is offered on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Alexander W. Kemp Playground at Cambridge Common
Tracy Snyder Molina: This fun playground inspires imaginative play with slides built into hills, wooden branches and stumps, a water play station, expansive sand area, a large dish swing and a merry-go-round with wheelchair access.
Coit Observatory at Boston University
Erin P.: The Coit Observatory at Boston University is located on the roof of the College of Arts & Sciences. The Observatory is used for undergraduate and graduate courses, public open nights, and observing projects of the Boston University Astronomical Society.
The Public Open Night at the Observatory is a fantastic chance for people to view the night sky through telescopes and binoculars. Although the event is free, they do offer tickets. Ticketed guests will be given priority in entering the Observatory.
Harvard University Tour
Kristy Pepping: Although some of your children may not be college-bound yet, a trip to Harvard for a historical tour is a great stop when you are in Boston. It is only a short trip via The Red Line of the MBTA which lets out across the street from the University.
The tour departs from the Harvard Information Center, in the Smith Campus Center. The tour is student-led and comprises an outdoor walk through Harvard Yard, giving a history of the university and general information.
Cost: The tour is free, but space is limited. Here is a calendar of dates available.
Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East
Always free admission
Tracy Snyder Molina: The Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East always offers free admission. This Museum explores the rich history of cultures connected by the family of Semitic languages. Exhibitions include a full-scale replica of an ancient Israelite home, life sized casts of famous Mesopotamian monuments, authentic mummy coffins, and tablets containing the earliest forms of writing.
Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East
Tracy Snyder Molina: The Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East houses more than 40,000 Near Eastern artifacts including a full-scale replica of an ancient Israelite home and famous Mesopotamian monuments, mummy coffins, and tablets containing some of the earliest forms of writing. Other artifacts include pottery, coins and sculptures procured on many museum excavations which help explore the vibrant history of cultures bound together by the family of Semitic languages.
James P. Kelleher Rose Garden
Erynn: The garden's luxurious roses give it its name, but it also features plenty of greenery, small sculptures, and a water feature. This small park beckons to picnickers and those looking for beautiful botanical photography opportunities.
Parts and Crafts - Open Shop
Saturdays; 12 - 2 pm
Tracy Snyder Molina: Parts and Crafts is a unique makerspace that offers "open shop" every Saturday afternoon for kids and families to brainstorm, work on projects, or just poke around and explore. Sometimes it's nice to take a break from the schedules and just tinker together!
Cost: Free, donations welcome.
Central Library in Copley Square - Boston Public Library
Erynn: The colorful and imaginative children's section of the Boston Public Library's Central Library is home to regular programs for kids and their parents, with program offerings for babies through teens. Story time in the courtyard, open-ended early education programs, science exploration activities, summer movies for teens, sing-alongs, family story times, and live-action games are just a few offerings currently scheduled!
Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path
Amanda Banta: The 13.6 paved miles of Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path loops through the Charles River Reservation and runs on both sides of the river. With ends at the Museum of Science and in Watertown, the path offers a plethora of sightseeing opportunities, including several of Boston's largest colleges. Parking is available at some points in Cambridge and Brighton. The MBTA allows bikes on most lines.
Tracy Snyder Molina: Located along the Charles River, this Boston playground is designed to challenge upper body strength with a zipline, disk swing, enormous climbing net and more.
Latta Brothers Memorial Swimming and Wading Pool
Erynn: This pool is located inside Foss Park, which also features baseball diamonds, tennis courts, and plenty of picturesque picnicking spots and playground. Young kids will especially enjoy the wading pool and spray deck.
Boston Public Garden
Erynn: Boston's Public Garden was the first botanical garden in America and is still an ideal spot to take a family stroll and soak in nature. Unusual plants, water features, and Swan Boats offer plenty of outdoor enjoyment. Whimsical bridges cross the small river, a duck pond attracts feathery friends, and nature lovers will appreciate tree labels that denote each variety.
Grimmons Park Splash Pad
Erynn: Paths for tot bike riding, a circular spray pad for cooling off, and a variety of climbing features make this playground a good spot for all ages. The enclosed park area lets you see kids from the picnic seating and ensure that little ones can't take off.
North Point Park Playground
Tracy Snyder Molina: This playground right on the Charles River by the Museum of Science remains somewhat of a hidden gem. The park itself has shaded picnic tables, gorgeous weeping willows, an amazing view of the Zakim Bridge, walking/biking paths and you can watch the Duck Boats entering and exiting the river. The large playground is comprised of a bright and colorful toddler section as well as an area for bigger kids and a spray deck is offered in the summer months.
The Freedom Trail
Amanda Banta: The red line of the Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile path that connects historical sites critical to Boston's role in the American Revolution. Spots on the trail include Paul Revere's house, the Massachusetts State House and Boston Common. Take a paid guided tour or walk the trail at your own pace.
Tracy Snyder Molina: Tadpole Playground in Boston Common offers climbing structures, slides for toddlers and bigger kids, monkey bars, rubber flooring, and whimsical frog statues. In the summer months, there’s a sprinkler in the corner of the playground.
Erynn: This library features a preschool room with board and picture books, along with a delightful aquarium and cozy window seats. For older kids, there's a separate area with reading and study spaces. The Children's Library offers regular weekly programs and special monthly events as well as events and activities for teens. Also, family tours let you explore the entire building, including the movable basement bookshelves and the Drum Stack with its glass floors.
Free tours every Thursday at 12 pm, first Saturday of the month 1-2 pm
Amanda Banta: Boston's South Station is one of the busiest spots in town. On a daily basis thousands of commuters, travelers and visitors weave in, out and through of the train terminal, which is home to Amtrak, the subway and the commuter rail. Take a free tour and learn about the architecture of the building, the history of the station and the railroad system, and what's ahead in the future. Grab lunch at one of the station's eateries and sit among the bustle of the travelers, which my boys love to do whenever we take the train into Boston!
Amanda Banta: Families can explore the historical warship affectionately known at Old Ironsides in the Charlestown Navy Yard. Crew members of the USS Constitution will be on hand to present the ship's history. While at the Navy Yard, families also can check out the USS Constitution Museum, which operates separately from the ship.
Boston Fire Museum
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Fountains
Erynn: Spend the whole day exploring the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway! Enjoy one of the Greenway's fountains, ride the carousel, grab lunch from one of the delicious food trucks and more.
The Greenway features seven water features. Dip your feet in the canal, race the jet sprays at the Rings Fountain, cool off in the Harbor Fog Scuplture's mist or splash in the Chinatown Stream!
Take a spin on an animal native to Boston on the Greenway Carousel. Rides are available daily throughout the year.
Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park
Tracy Snyder Molina: The park’s playground offers a climbing structure, monkey bars and large sandbox. During the summer months, run through the sprinklers or spread out and have a picnic in the open green space.
Bunker Hill Monument and Museum
Amanda Banta: Climb 294 stairs to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument to get a bird's eye view of the Boston skyline alongside your history fix. The granite structure, towering more than 200 feet high, is a tribute to one of the first battles of the American Revolution. If you aren't ready for that climb, you can enjoy the green area around the structure and explore the Bunker Hill museum across the street, which is an old branch of the Boston Public Library.
Woods Hole Science Aquarium
Carly Follett: Looking for a great daytime activity to do with kids in Cape Cod? Check out the Woods Hole Science Aquarium. It is a small public aquarium that displays approximately 100 species of marine animals found in Northeast and Middle-Atlantic U.S. waters. Children really enjoy the two touch tanks where they can gently touch marine animals. Additionally, they will love to watch the playful seals in the outdoor exhibit.
Stoneham Town Common Ice Skating Rink
Lifeguards on duty Memorial Day-Labor Day
Tracy Snyder Molina: This 22-acre urban park is connected to the mainland by both pedestrian and vehicular causeways. Pleasure Bay, the M Street Beach and Carson Beach form a three mile segment of parkland and beach to explore. Amenities include a snack bar, restrooms, large playground, walkways from Castle Island to the Kennedy Library and Fort Independence - a granite fort that played many roles in colonial and revolutionary times. Free Fort tours run on weekends. Watch the airplanes land across the harbor, too. Parking is free near Fort Independence and there is metered street parking along the beach, too.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Swimming & Wading Pool
Erynn: A standard pool plus beach-like wading pool complete with spray structures make this pool a super summer destination. This community pool is a top spot for families with young kids since the wading pool is so shallow, letting kids ease in at their own pace!
Tracy Snyder Molina: Located in East Boston, this popular swimming beach offers unique views of Boston Harbor and Logan Airport. Amenities include a bathhouse, concession stand, seasonal lifeguards, playground, basketball and tennis courts. A pedestrian overpass offers access from the Orient Heights MBTA station.
Hidden Pond at Derby Street Shoppes
Wompatuck State Park
Amanda Banta: When I was a kid my best friend lived near a small entrance to Wompatuck State Park and we would spend hours exploring the trails, usually making our way to the reservoir within the park. Now that I'm a parent, I love sharing this park with my adventurous kids. My boys love to explore the wooded trails and there are plenty that are easy for their little feet to maneuver.
There are plenty of paved paths if you have a stroller or little ones who want to walk by themselves but aren't ready for the uneven terrain of the park. See here for a list of highlighted hikes and bike rides.
Nantasket Beach Reservation
$15 parking in summer
Amanda Banta: The playground at Nantasket Beach has become one of my favorites in the last few years. It has slides, big kid and infant swings, climbing structures and more in its location right on the boardwalk. It is enclosed on three sides, which helps parents to keep track of multiple kids and little escape artists, and there are benches on the fourth side, creating a barrier between the park and the boardwalk. The playground is steps away from the bathhouse and is close to food, ice cream and kid-friendly activities in the area.
Nelson Memorial Playground & Splash Pad
Amanda Banta: The splash pad at Nelson Memorial Park sits just steps away from the waters of Plymouth Bay, giving a beautiful background when snapping pics at the park. The pad has standard sprayers perfect to cool down on a hot summer day. Though simple, families can spend hours at Nelson Park, with its access to a small beach area, concession stand, playground and field surrounding the splash pad. Downtown Plymouth, with its numerous restaurants, shops and sightseeing spots, is just minutes away as well.
Harbor Sweets Chocolate Factory
Tuesdays & Thursdays, 11am
Erynn: Traditional handmade chocolates will delight kids and, of course, grown-up chocolate lovers as well. Tours are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but call ahead for availability. Harbor Sweets are well-known for many varieties of chocolate, but kids will love the Sweet Sloops best- they're shaped like sailboats!
Lyons Park - Dane Street Beach
Amanda Banta: Commonly known as Dane Street Beach, Lyons Park is a great beach for young kids. After a small rocky incline, the land is flat and has soft sand for a long way, creating quite a stretch of shallow water when the tide is going out. The kids can venture far from the shore and still only be up to their knees. There is a bathhouse with restrooms just off the beach. As if the beach isn't enough fun, there also is a good-sized playground right there as well. There is a very small parking lot at the beach and street parking along Lothrop Street.
Chatham Railroad Museum
Mid June - Mid September; Tuesdays - Saturdays
Erin P.: The Chatham Railroad Museum is located in a restored 1887 train depot. The museum features hundreds of exhibits, including model locomotives from the 1939 New York World's Fair. Kids will love exploring the fully-restored (including an audio system that features real sounds of a train rolling down the tracks and whistles blowing!) red caboose!
Cost: Free; Donations appreciated.
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