It’s nice to have free activities planned to keep your budget in check — and in the case of Massachusetts, some of the free activities are some of the best activities around.
USS Constitution Tour
The Charlestown Navy Yard is the oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat in the world — and it’s open for tours. Christened in 1797, the USS Constitution is a wooden hulled, three-mast frigate that saw action in the War of 1812. Nicknamed “Old Ironsides,” the ship is open for tours and the active military staff can tell you much about the ship’s history, and about the role of the Navy in both war and peace. While the nearby museum does charge an entrance fee, tours of the ship herself are free. Also, don’t miss nearby Bunker Hill.
Location: 24 Fifth St., Charlestown, Massachusetts
Massachusetts State House Tour
The gold dome of the Massachusetts State House stands atop Beacon Hill and is visible from many areas of the city and from across the Charles River in Cambridge. It’s not just a beautiful, historic building, but it is from here that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is governed. The free tour (though a reservation is required) takes you through the building’s history, the history of the Commonwealth and how laws are proposed and enacted in Massachusetts. Don’t miss the statues of notable figures that surround the statehouse — quiet Mary Dyer is particularly interesting.
Location: 24 Beacon St., Boston, Massachusetts
Rates: Free, but a reservation is required
Central Massachusetts Rail Trail
Abandoned rail lines were an eyesore in communities across Massachusetts, until some forward thinking folks thought to convert them to recreation paths. Now you can walk or ride on many miles of recreational paths that have been converted from these rail lines — eventually you’ll be able to go from Boston all the way to Northampton! The Norwottuck and Wachusett sections in central and western Massachusetts can be part of interesting day trips on foot (or on bike wheels). In eastern Massachusetts, the Sommerville Communitiy Path will link in, and you can also access the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway. No matter which section you choose, rail trails are a great way to see Massachusetts at the community level.
Location: Boston to Northampton
The Freedom Trail is a two-and-a-half-mile walk through downtown Boston that highlights some significant historical sites about the founding of our country. Starting at Boston Common, follow the brick path around downtown to sites such as the Granary Burying Ground and Old North Church. Although walking the trail itself is free, you can choose to pay for a tour.
Location: Downtown Boston
Arnold Arboretum is 265 acres of essentially a plant museum. Run by Harvard University, it’s one of the links in Frederick Law Olmstead’s “Emerald Necklace,” a planned series of parkways and waterways around Boston. The arboretum is gorgeous every time of the year, but in spring it really shines. The bursting new green on the trees and the flowers — oh my. Try to get there on Lilac Sunday, a day in early May when many of the lilac bushes are likely to be in bloom. It smells divine.
Location: 125 Arborway, Boston, Massachusetts
Rates: Free, though donations are appreciated
Blackstone River Valley National Historic Corridor
What’s so interesting about a bunch of old mill towns? The American Industrial Revolution started here, that’s what! More than 20 communities along the Blackstone River are more than quaint towns, they are our industrial history. Meander through the towns, stopping to learn about the development of the mills and the people who worked in them, and you’re sure to have a new appreciation for the development of a key element of our nation’s economy. A rail trail is planned, but until then, the locals are friendly and inviting and the historic sites are worth your time and effort.
Location: Worcester, Massachusetts into Rhode Island
Rates: Free, though partner organizations may have some fees.
Dinosaur Footprints is just what the name implies: a place where you can go and see actual dinosaur footprints in the wild! The 130 tracks of fossilized footprints along what was once mudflats are from three related species of carnivorous dinosaurs, and you can also see fossils from plants. It’s an easy walk to the footprints — and the rest of the scenery isn’t bad either.
Location: Route 5, Holyoke, Massachusetts