Let's talk about Boston.
Boston is one of the largest cities on the east coast- and a wildly popular tourist destination. Large buildings, old buildings, museums, parks, food, more food, coffee, and lots of history make up this geographically small city. However, what it lacks in size, it makes up for in brains and beauty. The city itself has 29 colleges and universities, with another 26 in the immediate surrounding metropolitan area. If you expand that search outward to include the Greater Boston area, that grand total skyrockets to more than 100 higher education institutions! Boston, and Massachusetts in general, has some of the oldest buildings in the country. The brownstones on Newbury Street and in Beacon Hill are picturesque and the parks and harbor are great places to wander and take in some nature (whilst scarfing down a lobsta roll).
One big hurdle travelers encounter when planning their trips to Boston are the prices. This is a beautiful, but expensive city for sure. However, the savviest adventurers know that with a few edits, even the most expensive locations are doable! Lets talk about how to see Boston on $250.
[Full disclosure: I live and work in the Boston area. I had friends in town, and stayed with them in a local hostel. All costs are calculated from the moves I made during that stay]
Boston is a tough spot for accommodations; it's maybe the biggest financial hurdle you'll encounter. With a 14.45% accommodation tax (yes, even in hostels). The low season (winter from November - February) is your best bet.
Cheapest accommodation will be:
For 2 nights, I spent: $82
(Including that pesky 14.45% tax)
Boston is a little sneaky with their metro passes. Most major cities have an option labeled "Single Ride," Well, not in BOS. The main screen of the purchase kiosks offer either a "Charlie Card" or a "Charlie Ticket"-- you'll want the "Charlie Ticket" - the card is a hard plastic card mostly used by commuters and locals. For your ticket, you see $5/10/20 options on the main screen, and if you're not paying attention, its easy to miss the "Other Options" button. A single ride is $2.65, with a return ticket costing $5.30. Taking the extra 5 seconds to put in the exact amount can save you a few dollars over the course of your stay.
Day Pass = $12
Lasts 24 hours from first use.
Week Pass = $19
Lasts a full week from first use.
**Even if you're not in town for a week, if you plan to use public transit more than 7 times over your stay, then absolutely spring or the week pass.
These tickets are good for the bus, subway, and Charlestown Ferry.
For the 4 rides, it cost: $10.60
Food can get a little pricey if you're not paying attention. Free hostel breakfasts definitely help offset costs, but if you're not keeping up with the budget-mindset, finances can drain quickly.
--MY Cautionary Tale:--
Lunch for 2 days: $30
Dinner for 2 nights: $65
It doesn't have to be that dramatic. I was with a massive group of friends, some of whom I hadn't seen in years. Realizing that I had gone temporarily insane, I spent the 2 days after their departure purchasing lunches and dinners downtown (all meals). The results were MUCH more manageable. A sandwich, a massive slice of pizza, some Naked Juice thrown in for nutrients, and a couple interesting salads.
Lunch for 2 days: $17
Dinner for 2 days: $44
...and it would have been MUCH less than that had I chosen to purchase food and prepare meals at the hostel!
Boston has a ton of things going on; it can get a little overwhelming picking and choosing which tours and sites to experience. Most major cities offer "free nights" at museums or discounts for your specific hotel/accommodation. ALSO, a huge plus of researching your accommodation beforehand is that many hostels offer free tours and activities. Lastly, never write-off just wandering the city-- because that is FREE.
So, what did we do?
FREE: Walked through Boston Common Park and Public Garden
Great spots for just meandering and getting some cool views of the city skyline. The little duck pond in the Public Garden is really nice (and offers great reflections of the tall buildings if you find the right angle). If you're into window shopping, the east entrance of the Public Garden empties out onto the gorgeous Newbury Street.
FREE: Harvard Walking Tour
The hostel we stayed at offered a nice Harvard walking tour. Harvard also a more intensive walking tour for roughly $20. It's also worth nothing that MIT offers a free tour as well.
FREE: More wandering
We walked around the Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market area (and grabbed lunch at one of the vendors inside the food court). Really pretty, good for pictures and souvenir shopping.... or if you like the challenge of walking on cobblestone in heels.
FREE(ish): Boston Public Market
Boston Public Market is one of my favorite places in Boston. It has loads of local vendors with products ranging from homemade fudge (the maple walnut is UNREAL-- c/o Red Apple Farms) to specialty cheese grilled cheeses. They've got juices, ice cream, seafood, fresh pasta.... I'm guna stop: just go!
$5 Brewery Tour: Harpoon Brewery
Harpoon has loads of tours going off all day, Your $5 gets you both an interesting tour AND a 15 minute all-you-can-drink tasting.
(If you're near Harpoon, you need to stop into Yankee Lobster for a lobster roll. Stopping here was part of the reason I went over budget with food during my friend's actual stay: my delicious $20 sandwich #sorrynotsorry)
$8: Jaho Coffee Roasters
Not exactly an attraction, but the weather was dreary so we ducked into a local coffee shop for some lattes and pastries. Jaho is on the pricier end, but they offer a quality product and relaxing, modern atmosphere (...and libations)
FREE: Downtown Wandering
Poked around the Downtown Crossing, Theatre District, and Bay Village areas. There was a lot of popping into shops and window shopping. Brattle Book Shop is a cool, historic book store to browse (and grab a souvenir).
$15: Freedom Trail Tour
The hostel offered a Freedom Trail tour during the week, and apparently they get a small discount. It was an interesting 90 minute tour led by a guide in period-attire. The tour covers only about 1/2 of the Freedom Trail and cuts off before crossing the Charles River. Participants are encouraged to continue on into Charlestown on their own.
Paid activities cost me: $28
TRIP TOTAL: $205
Though Boston is an expensive city, its do-able on a tight budget!
Museum of Fine Arts is a great spot. They have a few free days each year and are free each Wednesday after 4pm!
Institute of Contemporary Art is free each Thursday from 5pm - 9pm!
Boston Eventbrite has a great calendar of events in the city.
Paul's Picks is a GREAT weekly calendar with all the events in Boston and surrounding areas.
Boston on a Budget has some good free places to wander into (or add to your rough "wandering the city" map itinerary)
Boston Public Library is free and is a gorgeous spot to wander into on rainy day or a snowy day... or any day!
Lonely Planet: Boston - I popped into a bookstore and thumbed through this edition.... and as a Bostonian, I can say it's pretty legit. If you want a history of the area and itinerary ideas, grab a copy of the guide!
- What are your Boston must-sees?
- What is your favorite quintessentially Bostonian food?
- What funny or interesting things have you heard about Boston (or Bostonians!)?
Just a heads up that this post contains affiliate links. Affiliate links are great in that you can grab the product at no extra cost to you, but I get a teeny-tiny percentage of that sale (its like getting recognition for advertising products I already love!)