On the Cheap: Freebies and Discounts

Entertaining your family is a lot less expensive when you have some advance planning and insider knowledge. Visit some of Boston’s top spots at discounted rates or absolutely free! Be sure to take advantage of the following great deals and discounts.


Visting the Arnold Arboretum is always free, and it’s open sunrise to sunset every day of the year. Check out the Tree of the Month letterbox activity or borrow a free backpack that contains materials for touring the grounds. 125 Arborway, Boston; 617-524-1718; arboretum.harvard.edu.


At Boston Children’s Museum, admission is just $1 from 5-9 p.m. every Friday. Several other discounts exist for teachers, military personnel, library patrons and more. 308 Congress St., Boston; 617-426-6500; bostonchildrensmuseum.org.


Cambridge Science Festival is a 10-day festival of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), held April 15-24, at various locations, that makes science accessible and fun for kids. Many of the events are free. cambridgesciencefestival.org.


At deCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, individual visitors get in free on the first Wednesday of the month. Lincoln residents, military families and children 12 and under can also visit for free. 51 Sandy Pond Road, Lincoln; 781-259-8355; decordova.org.


The Discovery Museums, which include the Children’s Discovery Museum and the Science Discovery Museum, are free on the first Friday of the month from 4:30-8:30 p.m. during the school year and every Friday night during the summer. More than 20 free evenings are also available to audiences with special needs. Check website for details. 177 Main St., Acton; 978-264-4200; discoverymuseums.org.


Faneuil Hall Marketplace – Street performers entertain here year-round, and you’ll find free concerts and performances in the summer and during the holidays. 1 Faneuil Hall Square, Boston; 617-523-1300; faneuilhallmarketplace.com.


Franklin Park Zoo and Stone Zoo – Everyone is admitted at children’s rates ($11.95 at Franklin Park/$10.95 at Stone Zoo) on the first Saturday of each month from September through March. Admission is half price on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Children under age 2 are always free; military families and school teachers always receive half-price admission. 1 Franklin Park Road, Boston, and 149 Pond St., Stoneham; 617-541-5466; zoonewengland.com.


Free Friday Night Flicks and Concerts at the Hatch Memorial Shell screens kid-friendly films at sundown on Friday nights and offers free concerts throughout the summer. For more information, go to the mass.gov website and type “Hatch Shell events” into search bar. Hatch Memorial Shell, 47 David G. Mugar Way, Boston; 617-626-4970; mass.gov.


Free Fun Fridays grant free admission to various museums and attractions each Friday throughout the summer months. Visit highlandstreet.org/freefunfridays.html for participating locations each week.


At the Harvard Museum of Natural History, Massachusetts residents (with proof of residency like a driver’s license or utility bill) get in free on Sundays from 9 a.m. to noon and on Wednesdays from 3-5 p.m. from September to May. 26 Oxford St., Cambridge; 617-495-3045; hmnh.harvard.edu.


Institute of Contemporary Art – Families (up to two adults accompanied by children ages 12 and under) get in free on the last Saturday of each month, excluding December. Children under age 17 are always free. 100 Northern Ave., Boston; 617-478-3100; icaboston.org.


At the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, if your name is “Isabella” you’ll get free admission forever to this museum. Children under age 18 and military families also get in free, and there’s free admission to the museum if you show ID proving it’s your birthday. (Adjustments are made if your birthday falls on a day the museum is closed.) 25 Evans Way, Boston; 617-566-1401; gardnermuseum.org.


John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum – Admission is always free for kids ages 12 and under. Columbia Point, Boston; 617-514-1600; jfklibrary.org.


Massachusetts State House – Free tours are available with an advance reservation on weekdays from 10 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. 24 Beacon St., Boston; 617-727-3676; www.sec.state.ma.us/trs/trsidx.htm.


MIT Museum – Free admission is offered to everyone on the last Sunday of the month, September through June. Cambridge public library card holders enjoy free admission in July and August. Kids under age 5 are always free. The Hart Gallery, open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., at 55 Massachusetts Ave., is always free. 265 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge; 617-253-5927; web.mit.edu/museum.


At the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston admission is free for kids under age 6. Kids ages 7-17 get in free on weekends, public school holidays and after 3 p.m. on weekdays. Admission on Wednesday nights after 4 p.m. is by voluntary contribution. 465 Huntington Ave., 617-267-9300; mfa.org.


Old State House Museum – Admission is always free for kids under 18, veterans and visitors with disabilities. 206 Washington St., Boston; 617-720-1713; bostonhistory.org.


Providence Children’s Museum – Visit for free on select Fridays of every month after 5 p.m. Children under age 1 are always free. 100 South St., Providence, R.I.; 401-273-5437; childrenmuseum.org.


The Paul Revere House – Admission is free for children under age 5 and only $1 for kids ages 5-17. 19 North Square, Boston; 617-523-2338; paulreverehouse.org.


The Peabody Essex Museum – Admission is free for Salem residents and $10 after 5 p.m. 161 Essex St., Salem; 978-745-9500; pem.org.


The Sports Museum – Admission is always free for kids ages 10 and under. TD Garden, 100 Legends Way, Boston; 617-624-1234;  sportsmuseum.org.


Stone Zoo. See the Franklin Park Zoo listing.


Summer in the City is a free, family-friendly outdoor performance series held each summer in Cambridge. Area parks host concerts, puppetry, arts and crafts, storytellers and more. cambridgema.gov/arts/Programs/summerinthecity.aspx.


USS Constitution Museum – Admission to the museum, which is dedicated to the world’s oldest commissioned warship still afloat, is by donation. Visits and guided tours of Old Ironsides are free to all. Charlestown Navy Yard, Building 22, Charlestown; 617-426-1812; ussconstitutionmuseum.org.


Wheelock Family Theatre – Boston Parents Paper sponsors a Buy One Get One program: Show a Massachusetts library card and you’ll receive one free evening performance ticket for each ticket purchased at regular price. Reserve in advance and present your library card at the box office on the day of attendance. 180 Riverway, Boston; 617-879-2300; wheelockfamilytheatre.org.


Discount Tickets and Passes


ArtsBoston/Bostix – ArtsBoston is a nonprofit arts promotion organization that offers special deals and discounts for Boston-area performances. Snag day-of-show tickets for half-price at the BosTix kiosks in Copley Square or at Faneuil Hall. 617-262-8632; artsboston.org.


Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) Reciprocal Program – When you support your local children’s museum by purchasing a premium family membership, you get 50 percent off general admission for up to six people at participating museums. Nearly 200 museums across the U.S. and Canada participate in the program. Membership card holder must be present to receive the discount. childrensmuseums.org/index.php/family-reciprocal-membership.html.


Bank of America Museums on Us – Get free general admission to 150 museums nationwide on the first full weekend of every month by presenting your Bank of America Card. museums.bankofamerica.com.


Blue Star Museums is a partnership of Blue Star Families, the National Endowment for the Arts and more than 1,000 museums nationwide that offers free admission to active military personnel and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Numerous Massachusetts venues participate in the program, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House and The Discovery Museums. arts.gov/national/blue-star-museums.


Boston CityPASS – Get a booklet of tickets to four of Boston’s top attractions. It’s good for nine consecutive days, making it great for vacation weeks. Purchase the pass online to these attractions: New England Aquarium, Museum of Science, Museum of Fine Arts, or Boston Harbor Cruises. Adults, $55; children ages 3-11, $42. 888-330-5008; citypass.com/boston.


CharlieCard Discount Book – Use your MBTA CharlieCard for special discounts at Boston-area attractions, retailers and restaurants. Check out the current discount book at mbta.com/riding_the_t/CharlieCard_Discount_Book.


Family-Friendly Value Pass – Print out a free pass and list of attractions from the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau for discounts and deals at dozens of the city’s museums, attractions, tours, shops and restaurants. You must have both the pass and the list to get discounts. Go to the website and click on tabs “Visit Boston,” “Boston Everyday” and “Great Deals Family-Friendly Value Pass” to access the pass and information. 888-733-2678; bostonusa.com.


Go Boston Card – If you’re looking to visit several attractions over the course of a few days, the Go Boston Card grants you multi-attraction passes to more than 50 venues, including New England Aquarium, Boston Duck Tours, Museum of Science, Fenway Park and more, allowing you to pay one price, save up to 55 percent and even skip ticket lines. Each order includes a guidebook with maps and information, as well as additional shopping and dining discounts. The card can be printed at home or downloaded to your cell phone. To purchase, visit gobostoncard.com.


Your Public Library – Many local libraries offer passes for patrons to sign out that offer significant savings on admission prices at many area museums and attractions. Visit your local library to see if it participates in the program and to find out if passes are available for a specific date. 

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