The 10 Best Free Things to Do in Boston When Your Kids Say, ‘I’m Bored’
With a cold winter and a rainy spring behind us (hopefully!), there’s no doubt that everyone — including the kids — is feeling a little housebound. That often leads to a chorus of little voices repeating (ad nauseum) any parent or babysitter's most dreaded phrase: “I’m bored!”
(And, as any child worth his salt knows, it’s a refrain best delivered in a drawn-out, whiny tone.)
Fear not, all ye parents and professional child-wranglers! Boston is full of great free activities for you to do with your kids. From outdoor activities to cultural events, these free things are bound to keep the kiddos entertained -- and your wallet happy. You won’t feel like you have to spend all day at the museum to make up for that shocking ticket price, and if a little one has a meltdown, you can just pack up and try again next week. After all, admission was free!
Next time that you or your kid reach the point where spending one more moment at home feels about as exciting as watching paint dry, it’s time to check out one of Boston’s many free activities for kids. Here are 10 of our favorites to get you started.
Address: Museum of Science, 1 Science Park, Boston, MA 02114
"Astronomy After Hours" Hours: Fridays, 8:30 p.m. - 10 p.m. | Event doesn’t run in bad weather.
It’s no secret that the Museum of Science is a great destination for kids and adults alike. However, by this point in the year, you’ve probably visited quite a few times. That’s why Astronomy After Hours is the perfect option to see the museum in a whole new way — for free!
Astronomy After Hours takes place on Friday nights from 8:30 to 10 p.m. (which makes this best for older kids who are used to staying up a bit later). On clear nights, the public can visit the Gilliland Observatory on the roof of the Museum’s parking garage to spot planets and stars. Even cloudy nights are a blast as the staff show you around inside the observatory and run some stellar activities. The event gets cancelled when there’s bad weather, so if you’re ever in doubt, call the museum ahead of time to make sure it’s still on.
Address: 25 Evans Way, Boston, MA 02115
Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday - Sunday, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. | Thursday, 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. | Closed Tuesdays
Taking kids to an art museum may not be the first thing that crosses your mind when you hear them whine, “I’m bored,” but the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum aims to make art accessible to the whole family. That’s why admission is always free for kids under 18.
The museum is full of a variety of art, and is a work of art in and of itself. Even kids who are too little to appreciate paintings and sculptures will love exploring the building, which was built to mimic a 15th-century Venetian palace, complete with an extraordinary courtyard perfect for adventures. Older kids will enjoy hearing about the 27-year-old mystery surrounding the theft of 13 pieces of art worth $500 million. It’s the biggest art heist ever completed, and the artwork is still missing.
Address: State Street at John Fitzgerald Surface Rd., Boston, MA 02111
- General Hours: Open daily, dawn to dusk
- Carousel Hours: Sunday - Thursday, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. | Saturday & Sunday, 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.
If it’s nice out, a great free activity (and boredom antidote) is a walk along the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Running through Boston where Interstate 93 used to bisect the city, this series of parks is the crowning achievement of the Big Dig. With public art displays, splash pads, playgrounds, and more, the Greenway will keep the whole family entertained for hours. In fact, there’s even a kid’s scavenger hunt that you can download before your visit. On weekends the Greenway Open Market (held every Saturday, as well as the 1st and 3rd Sundays through October) infuses the Greenway with an artsy vibe.
Our favorite section of the Greenway is sandwiched right between Faneuil Hall and Long Wharf (just near the aquarium). There, you’ll find the Mother’s Walk and the Greenway Carousel, which is full of Boston animals (complete with a squirrel and a lobster) that kids will love riding (and the $3 charge won’t offend most parents). This busy area is also the perfect spot to enjoy the talent of local street performers.
Address: 200 Massachusetts Ave., Boston, MA 02115
Hours: Tuesday - Sunday, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. (tours of the Mapparium every 20 minutes)
Mary Baker Eddy, who lived from 1821 to 1910, was a woman ahead of her time -- she was the founder of the Christian Science Church and the Christian Science Monitor newspaper. The library named for her and devoted to her love of knowledge opened in 2002 on the grounds of the global headquarters of the Christian Science Church. The Mary Baker Eddy Library is most well-known for the Mapparium, the three-story stained-glass globe that visitors can walk right through. This brightly lit attraction is perfect for holding the attention of little ones, and kids under 6 are always admitted for free. Kids and adults will love playing with the acoustics in the Mapparium, thanks to the Mapparium's nearly spherical shape. As a result, visitors standing on one side of the bridge can hear a whisper from the other side perfectly, while the sound passes over someone standing in the center.
However, the library also has other great free attractions for kids, meaning that you can make it a destination and spend the day there. Kids' story time (perfect for the 5 and under crowd) takes place on the first and third Tuesdays of each month from 10:30 to 11:15 a.m. The nearby Christian Science Center, with its massive reflecting pool, gardens, and sculptures, is also the perfect place to bring little ones who love to explore -- and maybe even splash around, weather permitting!
Address: 4 Charles St., Boston, MA 02116
Hours: Open daily, 7 a.m. - 9 p.m.
The Public Garden is the perfect place for kids to romp around while Mom and Dad (or even Babysitter or Nanny) get in a little exercise. The well-paved paths are great for pushing strollers, a rare-find in the city of Boston. The Garden is a bit quieter and less populated than the nearby Boston Common, making it perfect for little ones.
The crown jewel of the Public Garden is the collection of Swan Boats that operate throughout the summer. That said, kids will be just as pleased to find the nearby "Make Way for Ducklings" sculptures, where they can climb all over Mrs. Mallard, Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack (just be sure to read the book before you go!). If you want to do a little historical sightseeing while the kids explore, download the self-guided “Freedom Tour” before you set out.
Address: 196 Salem St., Boston, MA 02113
- May: Open daily, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
- June - October: Open daily, 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Unless your kids are older, they’re probably not up for walking all of Boston’s Freedom Trail, which guides visitors to the city’s various historic sites. However, a visit to The Old North Church, made famous by Paul Revere’s "midnight ride," is a perfect pint-sized portion of history that the whole family can enjoy. Built in 1722, the church is Boston’s oldest church building and one of the most famous historic sites in the city. Although admission is technically free, they do encourage that families make a small donation that goes toward the upkeep of the church. A big bonus is that there's a chocolate shop on-site, where the kids can pop in for a sweet treat after the visit.
Speaking of sweet treats, the Old North Church’s central location in The North End, Boston’s Little Italy, makes it the perfect focus for a day-long expedition. Kids will love exploring the winding streets and narrow alley of the North End (although be advised that the ancient cobblestones might do a number on your stroller!). The whole family will enjoy shops brimming with Italian foods like pizza, gelato, and cannoli.
Address: 4 S. Market St., Boston, MA 02109
Hours: Open daily, 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Faneuil Hall is the heart of Boston, a favorite of tourists and locals alike. The best part about the thriving marketplace is that no matter how often you visit, there's always something new going on. The three buildings that make up the marketplace are filled with typical tourist-centric stores and restaurants, as well as food court-like stalls.
Kids will love the "Make Way for Ducklings" pop-up shop, which is located in the North Market building. The shop is full of books and toys for all ages, and more likely than not, your tots will find other little ones to befriend. If you’re there to check out the events, rather than the shopping (after all, you are looking for a free day), be sure to check the events calendar before you go. That said, whether you're there to shop, eat, or enjoy the people-watching and park performers, you can rest assured that the whole family will have a great time at Faneuil Hall.
Address: 38 Beacon St., Boston, MA 02108
Hours: Open daily, 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
The Boston Common may not seem like the most child-friendly place in the city, but Frog Pond is a family oasis. In fact, the slogan for this area of the Common is “four seasons of family fun!”
During the winter, the pond (which is actually a man-made pool) is a well-known ice skating destination. During the summer, it becomes a splash pad that becomes the perfect place to cool down on a hot summer’s day. (It opens for the season on June 29.) During the summer and fall, the pond is a reflecting pool. The nearby Tadpole Playground is open year-round and is the perfect place for kids who need to expel some energy in a self-contained space.
Throughout the year, Frog Pond hosts special events like kid-friendly movie nights and free yoga during the summer. Be sure to check the calendar before planning your visit.
If you’re hoping for an entirely free day, be aware that the kid’s carousel at Frog Pond might prove a big temptation for little ones, but it costs $3 a ride, or a 10-ride card can be purchased for $25.
Address: 465 Huntington Ave., Boston, MA 02115
- Free Day Hours: Wednesday, 4 p.m. - 10 p.m.
- Regular Hours: Open Monday, Tuesday, Saturday & Sunday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. | Wednesday - Friday, 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.
The Museum of Fine Arts may not seem family-friendly at first glance, but exhibits ranging from ancient Egyptian artifacts to masks from Pacific cultures are sure to keep all members of the family entertained. At the MFA kids under 6 are always free, and kids under 17 are free after 3 p.m., on weekends, and on Boston Public School holidays. As for adults, admission is usually $25, but the MFA does host "Free Days" every Wednesday at 4 p.m. when anyone can visit the museum for free. (They just encourage that you make a donation to the museum instead.) If you’re visiting any other day of the week and trying to cut costs, there are many library pass programs available that could cover adult admission, too.
In order to make sure your visit is full of family fun, take advantage of all the kid-friendly programs that the museum has. On Saturdays and Sundays (plus Wednesdays in July and August) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Family Art Cart program puts on child-friendly activities in the galleries. MFA Playdates take place on the first Monday and third Saturday of each month from 10:15 a.m. to 11 a.m. There, kids ages 4 and under can go on themed tours of the museum.
Address: 700 Boylston St., Boston, MA 02116
Hours: Monday - Thursday, 9 a.m. - 9 p.m. | Friday & Saturday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. | Sunday, 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.
The Central Branch of the Boston Public Library, located in Copley Square, is a great place to explore with little ones. Outside the library, there's always something fun -- like markets and performances -- happening in Copley Square. Inside, the library is an architectural wonder with many amazing mural just waiting to be discovered. The library offers daily tours, which are free.
The children’s room at the Central Branch was recently renovated and is now a brightly-colored space twice the size of the previous room. There, kids can explore the library without worrying about disrupting other patrons. Check the calendar to see the myriad of free events hosted in the children’s room, including everything from playdates to preschool films and dance parties for the under-5 crowd.
NEXT UP: "101 Things to Do When Kids Say 'I'm Bored'"
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