I’ve lived in Boston for almost a decade now, and one thing I have to preach is the necessity to try to visit Boston on a budget. As a resident, I’m always trying to save cash when working on my Boston bucket list. Coming from the South, the high prices in Boston never cease to amaze me. (Do not get me started on $27 fried chicken.)
Regardless of this sore point, I do still believe Boston is a great place to visit, especially in the summer. And especially if you can learn some of the tips and tricks to visiting Boston on a budget—because it is possible to save money here!
I by no means consider myself a “budget traveler,” but I refuse to spend extra money when doing so is completely unnecessary. So, for your next trip to Boston, check out these 13+ easy ways to save money on your visit.
1. Get the Boston CityPASS
I preach about money- and time-saving sightseeing passes all the time, so I’m happy to report that Boston is one of the cities available on the CityPASS!
The Boston CityPASS is one single pass you buy that includes admission to four of the city’s top attractions at a 47% discount. That’s almost half off—Boston on a budget, here we come!
If you have plans to visit these attractions anyway, you have nothing to lose and almost half your sightseeing budget to keep for cannoli. See their official page for their current list of attractions.
Plus, being a CityPASS user means you get to skip the lines at many attractions—potentially saving you so much time during a busy Boston summer visit. (Plus, who doesn’t love looking like a VIP? *struts past all the school groups at the Aquarium*)
2. Try the Go Boston pass
The Go Boston pass is another money-saving option for visiting Boston on a budget. Similar to the CityPASS, you pay one discounted fee upfront and get admission to a number of popular Boston attractions.
The Go Boston pass has two options:
- One where you choose from 2, 3, 4, or 5 attractions – This is great because you get to choose which attractions you visit.
- Another where you choose how long you’ll be in town–1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 7 days–and you get to visit as many of the attractions as you like in that time.
The Go Boston pass has a long list of the most popular attractions in Boston so you won’t be disappointed by the selection.
I personally don’t have any experience with the Go Boston pass but it is a great deal and the reviews are fantastic, so it’s definitely worth checking out to see if this works best for you!
3. Do not rent a car
Renting a car for a trip to Boston is probably the worst mistake any visitor could make, especially if trying to visit Boston on a budget, so consider yourself warned!
Besides it being completely and utterly unnecessary, dangerous, and a huge pain in the ass, renting a car during your visit would be an absolute time and money-suck.
Rental car shortage
You may have heard, the travel industry has been experiencing an unprecedented rental car shortage since 2021. If you haven’t tried to book a rental car this year (lucky!), prices are through the roof. I mean, just absolutely unfathomable prices. I’ve never seen anything like this in all my years of car-renting.
If you can get away with not renting a car at all for the foreseeable future, I highly recommend it!
2022 update: Rental car prices are slowwwly going down from those record highs of last year. If you’re dead-set on renting a car in Boston, check here to see what the current deals are.
The Boston parking nightmare
All costs of renting the actual car aside, parking in Boston is the stuff of budget nightmares. You can easily expect to pay between $50-$75 PER NIGHT just to park your car at your hotel. Where you’re not even using it. What. a. waste.
Additionally, if you use it to drive into the city, you’re looking at $18 to park at the very least (a freaking steal by the way), and everything in between up to—I literally saw this recently–$40 PER HOUR. *faints onto couch*
And that’s only if you can find a parking spot to being with. Sure, there are free parking spots on the streets and parking meters at many locations. However, that’s mostly only on the weekends or holidays, many have time limits, and I kid you not when I say the parking signage here is deliberately meant to confuse you.
…Says the girl who has contested so many Boston parking tickets they finally told me, “We will waive this one, but you are not allowed to appeal any more parking tickets in the city of Boston.”
I’ve gotten parking tickets here for $40, $75, and, my latest, $90. All at no fault of my own and I will carry that to my grave.
Massachusetts toll roads
Here in Boston we have the Mass Pike (Massachusetts Turnpike)—a road you’ll undoubtedly use on any visit to Boston that is also a toll road.
Now, the toll itself isn’t all that much. However, we have electronic tolls here, meaning there is no toll booth. You can’t simply drive up and pay your toll in pocket change anymore. As a resident, I have an E-ZPass, an electronic transponder stuck to my windshield that charges me automatically as I drive through.
For visitors, this usually means you have to pay extra when renting a car to rent their transponder as well. This also usually means you’re paying a lot more for each toll you drive through than you would otherwise. (One time, in Florida, I was charged an extra $25 fee every time I drove through the $0.75 toll.)
All rental car companies and policies are different, but I have yet to encounter an easy way to rent a car in a city with toll roads.
As you can see, Boston on a budget is damn near impossible when all the fees and charges add up. Renting a car in Boston is never just the cost of the car; it’s also hotel parking, city parking, parking violations which you are almost certain to receive, tolls, and beyond. So not worth it.
How to get around Boston on a budget
Instead, take advantage of our subway system—the T as it’s called. For just $2.40 you can get just about anywhere you want in the city. Here’s the T map so you can plan your trip.
And for just a little bit more, you can hop on the Commuter Rail to head further out into the ‘burbs. You can even catch the Amtrak to places like New York City, the Berkshires, and up into Maine if you have some day or weekend trips in mind.
Also check out my post on all the Hocus Pocus filming locations you can visit in Salem – almost all of them are free to visit! (The one that requires admission costs just $5.)
4. Don’t take an Uber from the airport
Look, I know it’s so easy to just pull out your phone and request a personal driver to pick you up after arriving and take you to your hotel. But that’s not very Boston on a budget, now is it? (In addition to Boston’s high Uber costs, you also have to pay a $3.25 “airport facility charge.”)
Instead, know that Boston provides free transportation from Logan Airport into the city via:
The T, Silver Line
The Silver Line (bus) picks up at all airport terminals and drops you off at South Station where you can transfer to the Red Line (subway) for free and use that to get everywhere else in the city.
The Massport Shuttle
Also picks up at all terminals and connects to the Blue Line at Airport Station. (But you’ll have to pay to ride the Blue Line here, and it probably doesn’t go where you will be staying anyway. Besides, you can always take the Red Line to the Blue Line for free, see above.)
You can also take Massport Shuttle Bus Route 66 from Logan Airport to the Logan Dock, then take the water taxi into Long Wharf (where the New England Aquarium is located).
At about $9.75 each way (or $19.50) round trip, this isn’t the most economical of all your Boston on a budget airport transportation options, but it’s much cheaper than taking an Uber with the added bonus of being SO FUN!
Get a ride and beautiful skyline views at the same time. How often do you get to take a water taxi from an airport?
Hotel airport shuttles
Another option for arriving to Boston on a budget is to check with your hotel to see if they offer a free or reduced fare airport shuttle or other transportation options. Some Boston hotels I know offer free airport shuttles include:
5. Opt for a VRBO instead of a hotel
Hotels in Boston can be pricey, especially if you visit in the peak summer season. But there’s always the option of renting a VRBO instead. Get that “living like a local” feeling while visiting Boston on a budget at the same time.
Start here with these vacation rental options, or do your own search of Boston VRBO properties here:
South End Condo for 4
This condo that sleeps four is also in a great location in the South End and even includes its own patio. It has a main bedroom and another 2-person loft as well as a full equipped kitchen, living room, outdoor grill, and laundry in the unit.
4-bedroom loft in Downtown Crossing
If you’re visiting with a large group or family, this incredible 4-bedroom (8-person) loft is a great option! You’ve got 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, and laundry on site (this is huge!).
This loft is so hip and is in such a great location for all the things on your Boston bucket list. This would be such a fun place to stay with a group.
Stay on a houseboat
Yes, there are even some great houseboat rentals in Boston! What a fun, unique, and budget-friendly option for your Boston trip. Maybe I’ll rent one of these for myself one weekend just for the hell of it…
The Houseboat Sweet Caroline sleeps 6 in two bedrooms and a sleeper couch in the “salon.” You’ve got full heat and A/C, a full kitchen, and lounge furniture on the deck. All in an awesome North End, Boston Harbor location. Plus, it has so many great reviews! People love staying on this boat.
6. Stay at a hostel
Hostels aren’t just for backpackers in Europe—Boston has its fair share of hostels too. Maybe they aren’t the 10€ a night you’re used to, but they are still an option for staying in Boston on a budget.
If you do fancy yourself a budget traveler, check out these Boston hostels for less-expensive overnight stays:
HI Boston Hostel
Hi Boston is the most popular hostel in Boston, conveniently located in Chinatown—close to Boston Common and the Public Gardens, the Freedom Trail, multiple T stops, etc. Easily walkable to much of downtown Boston, and close to the train for all the other spots you want to visit.
They have standard and premium dorms, male/female/mixed dorm rooms, private rooms, fun common areas, laundry facilities, 24-hour staff, luggage storage, and they are about as inexpensive as you can get in such a great location.
The Farrington Inn
The Farrington Inn is actually a guesthouse just outside downtown in Allston between Harvard and Boston Universities. They pride themselves on being clean and affordable while offering simple rooms in a fun, active neighborhood.
Stay 5 or more days and you can get a room with a kitchenette. Plus, you still have easy access to downtown Boston on the T’s green line.
Tall Ship Overnight Stays
Boston’s waterfront location means you even get the chance to stay at a hostel… on a historic tall ship. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to sail the seas in the 1800s (no? just me?), now’s your chance!
The Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships, who typically offers sailing excursions in Boston Harbor, also opens up their ships for sleeping at night. They offer simple shipboard cabins right there in downtown Boston’s harbor.
*Not currently available due to the virus that shall not be named, but check back for changes!
7. Visit off-season
Look, I would never advocate for someone wanting to visit Boston in the winter. Or even the “spring” which is really just Winter 2.0. It’s just… horrible. And unpredictable. Nor’easters abound and cancelled flights are the norm.
However, if your dream of coming to Boston involves museums and dining more than it does outdoor activities, you could actually save a ton of money by visiting in the off-season.
Summer is the busiest and least budget-friendly time to visit Boston, with fall right behind. Hotels, airfare, and just about everything else is marked up out the wazoo. If you truly want to visit Boston on a budget, you can get great deals on just about everything by visiting when no one else wants to. (I will not sugarcoat this.)
There are still many awesome things to do in Boston in the winter. And there are still many fabulous restaurants at which to dine and many, many beers to consume.
Pack warm and waterproof clothing. Then pack more because you’ve vastly underestimated what you need. And be sure your flights and hotel rooms are flexible with cancellations and changes. Use the buttons below to do a little seasonal comparison shopping.
8. Book the right tours
There are many ways booking a sightseeing tour can actually save you money in the long run. For instance, dining out in Boston’s North End is a must, but it can turn pricey real fast. Instead, opt for a North End food tour.
North End Food Tour
You can sample many amazing foods from some of the North End’s popular restaurants as well as get a tour of this historic neighborhood, all for less than you’d pay for a dinner.
Fenway Park Tour
If you’re not all that into baseball but still want to visit this historic ballpark, you don’t need to drop loads of cash on tickets to a Red Sox game (and all the costs that go along with that, hotdog emoji).
Instead, book a behind-the-scenes tour of Fenway Park for way, way less.
Boston Old Town Trolley Tour
The Boston Old Town Trolley Tour is the best way to get a fully-guided tour of the city but it also doubles as your transportation.
The Old Town Trolley also includes hop on/hop off capabilities meaning you can take these trolleys all over the city and never have to pay for parking, the T, Uber after Uber, etc. You can get to all the sites you want to visit, as well as getting a (hilarious and informational) tour of Boston at the same time.
Free Tours by Foot
If walking is more your speed, you can take one of these free walking tours of Boston. Some are guided, some are GPS-led audio tours and many themes and locations are available.
Free Tours by Foot offers popular tours on a “pay-what-you-like” model, and where you pay after the tour is over (so you get to decide how much the tour was worth). This is Boston on a budget… where you get to decide the budget.
I personally haven’t taken one of these tours but I know they are quite popular and all reviews are great ones!
9. Download the Freedom Trail app
The Freedom Trail is the famously free top attraction in Boston – a walking trail through the city that stops at tons of historically significant locations.
To walk the trail and to visit most of the sites is completely free. But for those who want more of the historical information so you know exactly what it is you’re looking at and why it’s important, you can book fun guided tours of the Freedom Trail as well.
The Freedom Trail used to have an official, free app that would walk you through the trail and give you all the details at each stop. It was pretty great but, for reasons unknown to me, they did away with it.
Instead, you can download the Freedom Trail Boston Guide, another app that does much the same thing. The app is “free” to download, but once in you’ll still have to purchase the Freedom Trail guided tour.
And though it’s not technically free, at just $6.99 for the full Freedom Trail tour, it’s much less than booking a guided tour. If you’re willing to be your own tour guide, this is a more wallet-friendly way to learn the history of Boston on a budget. However, do know that the Freedom Trail is always still completely free to do on your own–just have Wikipedia ready.
10. Check out a Museum Pass
If you live locally or know someone who does, you (or they) can check out a “museum pass” from the Boston-area network of local libraries.
These passes are available for many of Boston’s best museums and attractions, are good for more than just one person, and all offer either free or reduced admission.
For instance, currently the library’s museum pass offers:
- free admission to the USS Constitution Museum for up to 9 people
- ½ off admission to the New England Aquarium for up to 4 people
- $10 admission for 2 people to the Museum of Fine Arts (typically $25 per person)
- $5 admission for up to 4 people to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (typically $20 per person)
And this is just a sampling of the many ways you can visit Boston’s attractions for less than full price. These passes can be “checked out” from your local library via the website with just a standard library card.
11. Know all the ways you can visit attractions for free
The Museum Pass is not the only way to get discounted admission to Boston’s museums. Here are a few more to look into:
Free Fun Fridays
Free Fun Fridays is a special program hosted by the Highland Street Foundation that offers free admissions to selected attractions in Boston on Fridays. Normally. However, due to our “situation” the past two summers and the need for such attractions to limit capacity, the Free Fun Fridays program is on hold for the time being.
But, they’ve developed a new program called Free August Adventures for 2022 where you can get free admission to select attractions each day in August. Check out the information in that link.
Check each museum’s admissions page, thoroughly
This seems so obvious, but this is something I always forget to do. Not all Boston museums offer special discounts, but many do—for things like k-12 students and teachers, college students, veterans or active duty military, and more. Even being a Bank of America cardholder can get you free admission to participating attractions.
Make note that the discounts may not always be obvious. See how the Museum of Fine Arts hides their discounts on another page?
Each museum may even have their own criteria for discounts. For instance, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum offers free admission on your birthday, and on every other day of the year if your name is Isabella.
And it never hurts to ask otherwise. When purchasing your admission, don’t forget to ask if they have any special discounts.
Know your options
Likewise, many museums/attractions are free or reduced price on certain days or at certain times. For instance, you can get:
- $5 admission to the Museum of Fine Arts every Wednesday beginning at 3 pm (they close at 4:30)
- Free admission to the Institute of Contemporary Art every Thursday from 5-9 pm
- $1 admission to the Boston Children’s Museum every Friday night from 5-9 pm and half price admission during the last hour of the day every other day of the week *both currently on pause
But be sure to check each attraction individually to be sure. Try searching for: “[name of attraction or museum] free days”
12. Become a AAA member
I’ve been a AAA member basically since I learned to drive. While I’ve only had to call them a couple of times (damn headlights I keep forgetting to turn off), I do use my AAA discount on almost all my trips!
Being a AAA member has saved me so much on hotel rooms, rental cars, and especially attraction tickets. And AAA memberships are super cheap—I pay $4 a month right now and definitely save way more than that just by having it. (Plus all the roadside assistance stuff!)
13. Download the free Honey app
If you don’t have the Honey browser extension downloaded yet, you are in for a treat! (And if you do… am I right!) Honey is a free browser app that automatically applies every known promo code to all purchases you make online.
Yes, automatically. You no longer have to scour the darkest pits of the internet to find yourself a working discount code anymore. It really is that easy. I’ve been using Honey for a couple of years now and I rarely pay full price for anything.
I bring this up because this is yet another way you can save money to visit Boston on a budget. Since Honey can get you discounts on online purchases, that means hotel rooms, attraction passes, and everything else is fair game–luggage, clothing, whatever else you buy for your Boston trip online. It is free to install and always worth a try.
You honestly may be surprised at how much money you can save. And if you can’t save money, you can still collect Honey “points” that they will literally give you back in the form of actual gift cards with actual money on them. This is not a drill. (I didn’t even know this until I bought my new MacBook Pro and Honey sent me a $40 gift card back as a reward!)
Here’s hoping you have a great, less-expensive time in Boston!
More info for your visit to Boston on a budget
- Shipping up to Boston? Read hotel reviews on Tripadvisor then book your room here.
- Book a rental car here if you absolutely have to.
- Check out my other New England posts.
- Pick up a Boston or New England guidebook for the rest of your visit. (Save money by getting the e-book!)
- Like this post? Have questions? Reach out on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
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