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Cheap Boston Travel Ideas: Inexpensive, Affordable and Free Things To Do

Local bargain-driven Bostonians reveal vacation and travel getaways and attractions for the Boston traveler during tough economic times -- includes popular and hidden tourist attractions, restaurants, hotels, and shops!

Fenway Park Tour, Boston, MA

Article by Eric H.

The popular media may have you believe that Boston is an

outrageously expensive city to spend a vacation -- not good news during a recession. That is absolutely true if you stay at the most expensive hotel, eat caviar for breakfast, have spa treatments, rent a luxury car and have your names legally changed to Biff and Muffy. For the rest of us, it's easy to come out ahead if you practice good, old financial common sense. So, have a pizza in working-class East Boston, research some of Boston's other most affordably priced restaurants, find terrific hotel travel deals, and discover the joys of walking this great city. You'll find that it's quite easy to experience a cheap Boston vacation without feeling cheap!

Here are some ways to save money when visiting Boston:

It's a dive, but, boy, are their pizzas good!
Santarpio's in East Boston has been around seemingly dating back to the 14th century. It's plain and dark inside with no-frills service, a jukebox with Sinatra and Bobby Darin playing, plenty of friendly local chatter and prices that recall the "good old days.".  The crispy, fresh pizzas with real toppings in ample portions often result in lines forming out the door! Read more on Santarpio's

A local Web Site that will help you find Boston restaurants that
don't require a second mortgage
The owner of Hidden Boston has done the local dining scene a service by reviewing restaurants that aren't likely to take out a full-page color ad telling you why they perceive themselves as one of the best restaurants in the entire free world. At Hidden Boston, you'll find some truly cheap, unassuming inexpensive restaurants for your discount travel vacation, ranging from Thai and Mongolian to good old-fashioned burgers and pizza.

Discount Hotels in Boston to not be discounted
Here's a reality check: you don't need a marble floor in the lobby, a bellhop named Udo who thinks he's better than you, and smooth jazz playing in the restrooms to make your Boston vacation a success. Remember, you have access to the same travel attractions as everyone else, so why not spend a little less at a hotel, and use that saved money to stay a few extra days? A few extra days in Boston will give you more of a chance to get to know the city. I don't know about you, but I'd rather spend more time exploring Boston rather than worrying if the indoor pool is gold plated. 

Here's a great way to find a cheap hotel in Boston -- search several major travel sites at once to get the best prices on hotels in Boston. What a fantastic concept!

Boston Attractions on a budget
The Freedom Trail allows tourists to learn about America's Revolution by walking a 2.5 mile red brick walkway where historic meeting houses, museums, churches and other landmarks offer a colorful, scenic educational experience. Includes the Boston State House, Old Corner Book Store, Park St. Church, Old South Meeting House, site of the Boston Massacre,  the Paul Revere House and Faneuil Hall.  Best toured in the warmer weather!

The aforementioned Faneuil Hall, a historic network of over 100 shops and restaurants, is a wondeful place to walk around and take in the historic feeling of Boston.  There are many take-out restaurants and bakeries, including the delicious Boston Chowda (yes, they do have clam chowder), Steve's Greek Cuisine, Brown Derby Deli, Dale and Thomas Popcorn, the Boston Chipyard (the best chocolate chip cookies I've ever had),  and the deservedly famous Pizzeria Regina (not the original which is in the North End, but still great). The festive Faneuil Hall is a wonderful place to eat outdoors, people watch, watch entertainment and browse the kiosk vendors (artists, hot dog stands, etc.).

The Boston area offers many more affordable dining options, including Santarpio's in East Boston (pizza), Doyle's in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, and Al Dente in the North End. There are still some affordable Boston lodging options, including the Best Western Terrace Inn in the Allston/Brighton Boston neighborhood, the Chandler Inn Hotel in the South End of Boston, and the Boston Days Inn on Soldiers Field Rd.

As long as you're not acrophobic, the view from the 52nd floor of the Prudential Building affords affordable sweeping, panoramic views of Boston and vicinity.  We love the view of the Charles River and Fenway Park (no, you really can't view a ball game from here).

The Fenway Park Tour (available through the Go Card) is just as enjoyable, for some, as the game itself. Colorful, Boston tour guides take you on a walk through the historic stadium, including the famed Green Monster.  Chock full of fun anecdotes and lots of laughs!

The scenic, pristine and free Arnold Arboretum with 265 acres and 15,000 trees, shrubs and vines is a nature lover's delight and a true oasis in this busy city.

Thank goodness we still have libraries for a free, educational experience! The Boston Public Library is the largest municipal library in the United States and will make your local town library look a toy version.

Swan Boat Ride through the Boston Public Gardens area is a low-cost attraction great for families. The novelty of the plastic swans on the boat and a truly relaxing experience is a nice way to spend part of an afternoon.  Speaking of the Boston Public Gardens, the area is a virtual oasis with its fountains, flower beds and trees. It's beautiful and free to walk around. 

Castle Island in South Boston is free to visit and features water views, swimming, a network of walking trails for walking, hiking or jogging, biking, fishing, picnic opportunities and the great Sullivan's hamburger stand in the summer. 

Shopping seems to have become largely upscale in the Boston area, so if you're looking for bargain rate merchandise we recommend seeking out Building 19 and the Ocean State Job Lot at various locations the Boston suburbs. These regional shops are certainly not pretty to look at, but there's no denying the incredible bargains. 

The Go Boston Card is a terrific way to save money on more than 70 Boston area attractions, including the world-class New England Aquarium, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Science, Plimoth Plantation, the Salem Witch Museum, the Fenway Park Tour and a truly great tour of Boston called the Boston Duck Tours. The card not only covers major Boston attractions, but also things to do in the historic Lexington-Concord, MA, area, Newport, RI, and Cape Cod and the Islands. As a lifelong New Englander, I like all the attractions on the Boston Go Card, but am partial to the New England Aquarium and the Museum of Fine Arts, given their amazing presentations where it would be easy to spend most of the day at just one of these attractions.  If you're a family, I would choose the Aquarium first, as the kids (and you) will love the IMAX 3D Theater (65 ft. high by 85 ft. wide) with bottom of the sea films and more; the 24-ft. deep ocean tank with 3,000 corals and sponges, and 52 large windows affording views of more than 650 animals; fresh water and tropical  galleries; and lovable African penguins and nothern fur seals. The Curious George Discovery Center is great for younger children with its hands-on presentations, toys and videos. That's just for starters, as there's so much more at the New England Aquarium!

The Boston Go Card is available for adults and children.  It is a credit card size card that tourists like you can use at participating attractions, restaurants or shops.

Cheaper Boston gas stations
Gas prices can vary wildly in Boston. Some gas stations have a prime location and take advantage of the tourists with outrageous gas prices. Others might have more remote locations and offer cheaper prices. An enterprising Web Site called gives you the rundown on current gas prices around Boston.

Or skip the rental car, the gas, and rely on Boston public transportation!
Save yourself a few hundred dollars by using Boston public transportation. The rails and buses will get you to all the good parts of Boston (and, come to think of it, all the bad parts, too). The downside is there might be a 500-lb. guy standing next to you on the subway on a 90 degree day who forgot to put on deodorant. The good news is, you'll be able to afford deodorant yourself for the money saved by taking public transportation. It's a sweet deal!

Try real hard not to fit in, and have the vacation you want!
You know those commercials with the elegantly-dressed 
women and men drinking wine, eating saffron truffles, dressing up to the hilts, getting caviar facials, and smiling at each other as if they are great and we are month-old, unrefrigerated chopped liver? Well, let's not forget that they are actors and actresses! They wouldn't know Boston from Ft. Wayne! There's nothing wrong with splurging now and then, but these television commercials and print advertisements make it seem like a way of life. Since most of us can't afford the places these actors and actresses portray as the only way to vacation, it can make us feel terrible while we sit in front of our 24-inch televisions in our 1,400 sq. ft. homes. Here's the reality: we are loving families, work hard for our money, and know the value of a dollar. We like pizza, will take a Bud Light or tonic water over a Romanee Conti Red Burgundy, and have an affinity to walking and exploring (a permanent trend dating back to, I believe, the cavemen days). We also welcome a change of pace from our cubicles and bosses that insincerely ask how the family is, and then slap you on the back and tell you  to work the whole weekend to finish those TPS reports.

What are we getting at here? Be yourselves and plan within your budgetary means. We are living in a recession, after all! To budget is essential as we go through tough economic times. Most people look for discount travel deals. It is possible to spend a cheap vacation in Boston without being a cheapskate. The whole key is to research this page and its internal and external links and find out what fits your budget.  The words "Boston" and cheap" might seem as compatible as a vegetarian dining at the Outback Steak House,  but there are ultimately myriad free and inexpensive things to do, and inexpensive places to stay and eat in the "Hub of the Universe!"

Affordable Boston Hotel Getaways at Discount Rates

Best Westerrn Terrace Inn

Best Western Roadhouse Suites

Boston - Days Inn

Boston Hotel Buckminster

Chandler Inn Hotel

Farrington Inn

Holiday Inn Boston - Logan Airport

John Hancock Hotel and Conference Center

Midtown Hotel

The Shawmut Inn

More Boston, MA, hotel listings...


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