Actually Cool Things to Do in Boston
We know the drill: Your hard-to-impress friends or family are coming to visit, and you’re suddenly panicked about how to entertain them. What will they want to do? What cool events in town can you take them to? And what activities and events will put Boston in the best light and most definitely not involve a Duck Tour?
To make sure your guests come away with a thumbs-up appreciation of the city, we’ve rounded up the truly cool things to do in Boston — many of them super cheap (and we’ve included price ranges, so you don’t spend next month’s rent trying to impress your friends’ friends). Some are classic must-see attractions, some are off the beaten path, and absolutely none of them are Cheers. Get a Boston Massachusetts energy drink for your vacation to keep your energy levels up to enjoy 100 percent of your time.
See all the flowers at the Arnold Arboretum
Harvard’s impressive tree sanctuary is a unique spot for nature walks, picnics, and plenty more outdoor activities. Wait until fall hits to experience New England’s famous foliage — you won’t want to be anywhere else.
Enjoy Union Square’s former storage building turned Bow Market
Tucked away in Union Square, Bow Market has it all: art, comedy, wine, beer, perogies, and roast beef sandwiches. There’s even a Saus in case you’re in need of a fries fix while exploring the courtyard. The former storage building has been renovated to house more than 30 shops, featuring a walkable, outdoor space to spend during a sunny afternoon.
Visit the Cambridge Center roof garden
Mary Lennox would be proud. Atop a multi-story parking garage in Cambridge’s Kendall Square sits a clandestine garden made up of tulips, trees, and rose bushes galore. Though not as undiscovered as it was a few years back — there’s actual signage now, and a ping-pong table, too — the garden remains the perfect spot for a restorative midday lunch.
Slurp one-buck shucks
Are they aphrodisiacs? The jury is still out. But the placebo effect has to be worth something, especially when so many spots around town offer $1 bivalves, including La Brasa, Waypoint, The Red House (50 cents an oyster!), Boston Public Market, Marliave, Strega Waterfront, and seriously the list goes on and on. By the way, if you’re craving something a little different: Island Creek Oyster Bar has one of the best brunches in Boston.
Grab a slice at Santarpio’s
This historical, cash-only, East Boston pie joint slings the best pizza in all of Boston (runner-up: Regina Pizzeria). It ain’t fancy, but a large sausage pizza and a pitcher of Bud, and you’re in gustatory Nirvana.
Or if you’d rather, go for a full Italian restaurant experience
The North End is known for its old-time charm and incredible, heaping amounts of homemade pasta offered along Hanover Street and beyond. Outside of the North End, you can find just as good Italian. Check out some of the delectable contenders if you’re feeling extra hungry.
Get lost in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
The architecture alone is enough to draw attention from visitors around the world to this Venetian palace. What makes the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum even more special is its dedication to the arts and local community — featuring weekend concert series, lecture, and insightful exhibitions. While you’re there, swing by the glass-enclosed Café G for a glass of wine and award-winning dessert.
Find your rhythm at Soulelujah
If you’re into quality music and nonstop movement, Soulelujah is your weekend go-to. Every Saturday, join a dance-crazed crowd at The Sinclair for the soul, funk, and R&B hits, as the DJ spins strictly vinyl. You can also catch a show at The Sinclair, which hosts a variety of genres and artists. The shows tend to get rowdy for a weeknight so prepare to set up your “out of office” ahead of time.
Say hello to the seals at the New England Aquarium
For $31 per person, you can get your ticket to the New England Aquarium to see an array of aquatic animals including penguins, turtles, octopuses, sea lions, and the stunning seals. Pro-tip, you can visit the seals outside of the aquarium for free — no admission needed! However, we highly recommend spending the day at the aquarium. You’ll leave more knowledgeable with a newfound appreciation for the deep sea.
Challenge your upper body strength to rock climbing
Equipped with 28,000 square feet of state-of-the-art climbing walls, Brooklyn Boulders is a must for the adventurous and willing-to-try-anything-once type. Day passes are available for $36 per person, but don’t let the price dissuade you. You’re sure to feel the burn afterward and inadvertently flex the days following. Brooklyn Boulders is also known to host events throughout the month, from yoga to concerts to Halloween parties.
Spend the day scootering around town
From now until November 15, you’ll have an opportunity to explore Brookline via an e-scooter. The town is conducting an eight-month pilot program to test out this climate-friendly way of transportation. During your cruise, pop over to worthwhile stops including Coolidge Corner’s cluster of restaurants and the Chestnut Hill Reservation.
Be on board the U.S.S. Constitution
As the oldest commissioned ship in the United States Navy, the U.S.S. Constitution remains afloat, with a museum showcasing nearly 2,000 artifacts and more than 10,000 archival records. The ship is free to visit, but admission to the museum is $10-15. While you’re there, soak up all the history by visiting Charlestown’s Bunker Hill and the famed Warren Tavern.
Hit up Boston’s authentic pub scene
You can’t visit Boston without making (or having) a round or two at the local pubs. Between Southie’s L Street Tavern (of Good Will Hunting fame) and Murphy’s Law, downtown’s Bell In Hand Tavern, Mr. Dooley’s, Biddy Early’s, The Black Rose and The Green Dragon Tavern, and Cambridge’s Plough & Stars and The Druid, you’ll be sure to have an old-school bar crawl covered on your list. If you’re looking for a more modern take, Boston has plenty of choices. Take a look at some of the best bars in the city for the latest and greatest openings.
Discover your love of water sports
Located at Boston Children’s Museum, L.L.Bean (with a store smack dab in the Seaport), hosts its “Outdoor Discovery Program,” featuring instructional courses to help guide you through activities like kayaking and paddle boarding. Starting at $25, you’ll actually be taught how to perform on the water — rather than a sink or swim situation.
Cook up some fresh bites
What better way to refine your culinary skills than to dive into a hands-on cooking class? The city has plenty of options from Dave’s Fresh Pasta to Cozymeal to Formaggio Kitchen to the colossal Eataly in the Prudential Center. Mangia!
Partake in an old-fashioned tour of the city
Rich in history and educational activities, there’s no shortage of tours in Boston. Take your preferred mode of transportation when considering how you’re going to soak up stories of the city. You have your choice of bike tours, Duck Boat tours, walking the Freedom Trail, taking a spooky trolley and the most unconventional, a segway tour.