Like any major American city, visiting Boston isn’t cheap. A nice hotel room in a great neighborhood can easily cost you $500 a night. Then you add up museums, attractions, meals, and transportation and the beans start adding up. But don’t despair; you can do Boston on a budget. We recently headed into the city for a rare overnight visit to prove it was possible.
Do More for Less with Boston CityPass
If you are new to a city and plan to pack in a lot of the city’s top attractions on your visit, CityPass can be a cost-effective way to stretch your dollar. The Boston CityPass (affiliate link) covers a few ways to view the city and some of its top attractions. For $56 per adult and $44 per child (a savings of 45%, if you maximize your pass), you can visit:
- Boston Museum of Science
- New England Aquarium
- Skywalk Observatory
- Boston Harbor Cruise or Harvard Museum of Natural History
We found that you really need to visit three attractions to make it a deal, but that isn’t hard to do. I’ll show you how to pack it all into one weekend.
Sample Boston on a Budget Weekend Itinerary
Even though you have seven days to visit all the attractions in the CityPass, you can fit them into just one weekend. To make the most of your weekend in Boston without crisscrossing the city a million times, try this:
Day One in Boston
Start off at Copley Square and cross the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Next, head over to the Prudential building and use your CityPass to head up to the Observatory to see Boston from above, including a view of Fenway and the famous Green Monster.
If you are hungry and looking for cheap eats, there is always the food court at the bottom of the Prudential Center. Or, if you are looking for a splurge, stroll along the shops of chic Newbury Street and stop for brunch at Stephanie’s on Newbury.
Continue along to the Boston Public Gardens and watch the ducks and swans at the pond (the real swan and the Swan boats.) Don’t forget to stop for a photo opp with the “Make Way for Ducklings” sculpture.
Cross over to the Boston Common and begin to brush up on your American Revolution history by following the Freedom Trail. You can always buy a ticket for a guided tour, but save your beans and download the Freedom Trail app for a DIY tour along this 2.5 mile trail. (Tip: for a great introduction to Revolutionary history, pay a visit to the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum – especially if you have younger kids.)
You may not make it to the end of the Freedom Trail, but at least continue on to Faneuil Hall. At Quincy Market you can find plenty of shops and places to eat, but at least spend some time enjoying the street performers.
Your last stop of the day should be the New England Aquarium. This is included in your CityPass and there is even a bonus discount if you want to add on an IMAX show. The large center aquarium tank features Myrtle the Turtle (who is about 90 years old!) and plenty of other sea creatures. Don’t miss the outdoor exhibits in the back, where the fur seals and sea lions hang out, especially if it is feeding time!
Day Two in Boston
Start your day with a 90-minute historic sightseeing cruise with Boston Harbor Cruises (also part of your CityPass.)
When you return, take some time to enjoy the Rose Kennedy Greenway, with its food trucks, market, fountains, carousel and street performers. You can also walk a few more blocks and have lunch in the Boston Public Market.
From there, catch the T to the Boston Science Museum and spend the afternoon learning about everything from electricity to dinosaurs.
Free Attractions in Boston
Of course, there are many other things to do in Boston. If you need even more to do in Boston on a budget, be sure to check out these free events and attractions.
- Lawn on D – featuring community events like outdoor movies, corn hole, events and glow swings!
- Boston Public Library — the free public library also offers art and architecture tours and an impressive collection of works from Daniel Chester French and John Singer Sargent.
Institute of Contemporary Art — is free on Thursdays and has good views of the harbor
- Boston Children’s Museum — $1 on Fridays from 5-9 pm
Where to Stay in Boston on a Budget
As I mentioned earlier, real estate in Boston is at a premium so you are going to pay big bucks to stay in the Back Bay or Harbor neighborhoods. If you are willing to schlep a little, the up-and-coming Seaport / South Boston district is where you will find the deals. We stayed at the family-friendly Element Boston Seaport and loved what it had to offer families.
It was a little out there, across from the convention center and a good 30-minute walk to the Aquarium. But we didn’t mind shelling out a few dollars for an Uber to get to where we were going and then walking from there. Plus, some cool restaurants are just a 10-minute walk and it is also right across from the Lawn on D where you may find free events like outdoor movies and other goings-on.
The hotel is new, hip and fresh – with a focus on eco-friendliness. Hannah loved the color scheme (lime green and gray, her favorites) and I loved the setup for families. Built as an extended stay hotel, the suites have full kitchenettes, huge bathrooms, and a separate living room with a pull-out couch. Awesome for families!
They also offer complimentary breakfast and WiFi, an indoor pool and workout room, an outdoor courtyard, and even bikes to borrow. For those staying during the week, there is also a complimentary happy hour with drinks and snacks.
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Note: I was provided with two complimentary CityPass booklets for purposes of this review. My family was hosted at the Element Seaport Boston. All opinions are my own.