Boston. Home to Old North Church, Bunker Hill and the Liberty Tree, the city that hosted the world's most famous tea party is one of our nation's oldest and most historic cities.
Hard-earned freedom doesn't extend to your wallet, however. Overall cost of living is 60 percent above the national average, with real estate nearly 2.5 times the average. Spaces are smaller, and buildings are often older. While everything costs more, some careful planning can help.
This GET.com travel guide will help you enjoy Boston on a budget.
Image source: Spirit Airlines
Finding the cheapest flights requires flexibility, as pointed out in our GET.com guide to finding cheap flights. Depending on where you travel from, getting to Boston doesn't have to be expensive.
The top 10 destinations from Boston's Logan International are Chicago, New York, Denver, Atlanta, San Francisco, Miami, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Houston and Newark. Internationally, the top destination is London, so we began looking for round-trip flights about 6 weeks in advance that would let us spend a week in Beantown.
From London's Heathrow, Sunday flights with layovers were our cheapest option, starting at $570. Mondays were close behind at $10 more while Tuesdays crept to $661. Wednesdays jumped to $924 for a baseline, and Thursdays were $1,080, Fridays $1,163 and Saturdays $1,087. The worst combination was Saturday to Friday, starting at $1,224. Nonstop flights began at $667 on British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Delta for Monday and Tuesday flights. Sunday-Sunday itineraries were only a few dollars more, but any schedule using Wednesday through Saturday doubled fares.
Domestically, we could fly from Chicago's O'Hare on Tuesdays or Wednesdays for as little as $117 on Spirit. Overall, Sunday departures raised fares to $200, topping out on a Friday return for $284. After Spirit, the next-most competitive airline was American, with an early morning departure and return using Thursdays for $165; those seats averaged about $270 for Choice, $330 for Choice Essential and $530 for first class.
You can easily redeem the points you earn with an airline credit card for flights on different US airlines. Many offer huge welcome offers, and if you apply well ahead of your trip, the bonus alone could get you to Boston and back.
For Denver, fares started at $342 using Tuesdays but incorporated layovers, stretching times to 7 and 8 hours or more each way. Nonstop, we could fly on Tuesdays or Wednesdays on United for $457, with a morning departure and an early evening return; incorporating Friday in the itinerary raised baseline prices above $500. Flying economy, our $457 seats could approach $600; flexible economy averaged $1,900 while first class varied from $1,070 to $1,300.
With Atlanta's O'Hare as home base, nonstop fares started at $197 for Tuesdays or Wednesdays on Spirit; Sundays and Fridays were our most expensive days, costing $275 and up. For Delta flyers, nonstop evening fares were $237 while early afternoon flights were $265. On Delta's website, the airline was charging $316 for early morning basic economy nonstop fares, $300 to $350 for main cabin fares, $350 to $400 for Delta Comfort and $460 to $515 for first class.
Finding Cheap Hotels
Image Source: Choice Hotels International, Inc
Downtown hotels easily average at least $300 to $350 a night. After some diligent searching, we did find some deals; wherever you stay, check listings carefully for surcharges and package options:
- Downtown, Boston Park Plaza had a "cozy queen room" – 145 to 200 square feet – for $195 a night. Including a hot buffet breakfast would have made it $272 a night. In-room Wi-Fi was $18 a day. A week at the nonrefundable $195 a night totaled $1,680.
- Also downtown, the Milner Hotel Boston Common on Charles Street had rooms starting at $200 a night for a double bed. A queen bed was $217, and a queen room with a sofa bed cost $258. The last option was a nonrefundable $2,063 for the week. The hotel provided free breakfast and Wi-Fi in public areas.
- Embassy Suites by Hilton at Logan Airport caught our eye with a nice deal for families. A 2-room suite with 1 king bed and 1 sofa bed, complimentary hot breakfast, Wi-Fi and 2 TVs was $279 a night – $259 for Hilton Honors members. Additional package deals like daily gas cards and parking were also available.
- In contrast, the Rodeway Inn north of the airport offered free parking, hourly airport shuttle services, breakfast and Wi-Fi. 1 king bed or 2 double beds at a nonrefundable $135 a night stayed under $1,050 for the week.
A hotel credit card could be your ticket to free stays and great extras at big-name chain hotels. But don't forget that the rewards you earn with some travel credit cards can be redeemed towards the cost of any travel purchases charged to the card. That means you can redeem your rewards for stays at any hotel you choose.
Airbnb rentals are more proof that space comes at a premium. A studio apartment in the Theater District next to Boston Common was neat and clean, totaled $1,226 for the week and slept 3. For comparison, a private room with 1 double bed nearby was a few dollars more a night.
Another Boston Common studio apartment had huge bay-facing windows and an ornate marble fireplace, slept 4 and was $250 a night – $1,700 a week. Most downtown apartment rentals averaged between $300 and $450 a night, however, while a 3-bedroom, 2-bath home by Boston Common was $500.
Learn all the basics of finding cheap accommodation in our GET.com guide to finding cheap hotels.
Family feuds have resulted from debates over who prepares the best "chowdah" in Boston. Names frequently include pricey restaurants like the Atlantic Fish Market on Boylston Street, Neptune Oyster on Salem Street and Island Creek Oyster Bar on Commonwealth Avenue. Luke's Lobster on Exeter Street and Pauli's on Salem Street are also worthy mentions.
For more diverse – and cheaper – options, Boston has a plentiful supply:
- Al's State Street Café on State Street near Faneuil Hall, Al's South Street Café on Essex and Al's Harvard Square Café at Holyoke Center turn out hot and cold subs and salads.
- Galleria Umberto on Hanover Street is cash-only, serving Sicilian-style pizza, calzones and specialties like panzerotti and arancini.
- Casa Razdora on Water Street in the Financial District has serious authentic Italian, from fresh antipasti and insalate to scratch-made pastas, pizza, panini, stuffed piadina and rotoli.
- Mike and Patty's on Church Street repeatedly rates for breakfast. "Wild clover honey whipped ricotta, crispy pancetta and a soft egg on griddled Iggy's brioche" is just 1 of many fantastic choices.
- Piperi Mediterranean Grill on Beacon Street lets you design your own meal. Choose a gozi signature flatbread sandwich, salad or mezze rice plate; then, pick your ingredients, sauces, toppings and sides.
- Zo creates gyros "worthy of Zeus," Greek salads, spanakopita and more at both Center Plaza at Government Center and State Street by Faneuil Hall.
- Avana Sushi is on both Franklin and Beach Streets. Try the $1 miso soup or $9 spicy salmon entrée salad, or order your maki, sushi and sashimi online.
- Tenoch Mexican on the North End on Lewis Street offers fresh authentic Mexican food like tortas con pollo, chorizo burritos and pescado tacos.
- Shawarma Falafel serves authentic Lebanese from its storefront on Province Street, by Downtown Crossing. Get your fill of kabobs, marinated meats, sides like hummus and tabbouleh, or breakfast mankouchis.
Image source: New England Aquarium
Both Boston CityPASS and Boston Go Card are available to help you save on attraction admissions. Compare websites carefully for listed participating attractions' age limits and discounts before buying:
- Boston City. PASS is valid for 9 days after your first use and provides free admission to 4 attractions: the New England Aquarium, the Museum of Science, the Skywalk Observatory, and either the Museum of Fine Arts Boston or Boston Harbor Cruises. Passes cost $55 per adult and $42 per child.
- The Boston Go Card has 3 options. The All-Inclusive Pass covers unlimited attractions for 1, 2, 3, 5 or 7 days. The Explorer Pass covers 3 or 5 attractions while the Build Your Own Pass varies. Savings are up to 55 percent, 35 percent and 20 percent, respectively.
Things To Do
The Cradle of Liberty is rich in history, quite a bit of it free, but the first resource you might want to add to your phone is the City of Boston's Wicked Free Wi-Fi; data is not unlimited, but access is open, free and mapped.
Boston is also known as "The Walking City," so your second resource is WalkBoston.org; the site has interactive walking route maps for the entire metropolitan area, including the Freedom Trail and Boston's many neighborhoods. You can save on guided tour fees and appreciate the city at your own pace.
A third resource for Boston is FreeMuseumDay.org, with its comprehensive list of Boston museums offering free, pay-as-you-wish or discounted admissions and links to their sites.
If you have a Bank of America credit card or debit card, you can get into Boston Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate and the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston) for free on the first full weekend of every month.
In the meantime, some other freebies include:
- Massachusetts State House. Docents conduct 45-minute tours highlighting the building's architecture and historical collections from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
- USS Constitution Museum. The ship has been undergoing restoration in dry dock since 2015 but remains open for first-come tours; bring a photo ID.
- Bunker Hill Monument and Museum. If you want to climb all 295 steps during peak tourist season, you may need a museum-issued climbing pass.
- Boston Public Library. 1-hour Art and Architecture Tours leave from the McKim Building vestibule once a day, but you can also visit on your own. Check the website for guided tour times and party-size restrictions.
- Museum of African American History. Picturing Frederick Douglass will open in July of 2016, celebrating the most-photographed individual of the 19th century.
- Boston Fire Museum. The Boston Sparks Association has restored the historic building on Congress Street and operates an "ever developing museum."
- The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. Explore 281 acres and the Emerald Necklace incorporating "Boston Common, The Public Garden, Commonwealth Avenue Mall, The Back Bay Fens, Riverway, Olmsted Park, Jamaica Pond Park, Arnold Arboretum, and Franklin Park."
- Universities. Boston is home to a number of universities. Walk the campus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or spend a Wednesday evening at "Public Open Night" stargazing at Boston University's Judson B. Coit Observatory.
As with any big East Coast city, Boston has plenty to see and do and even more ways to watch your money disappear.
Newbury Street, Faneuil Hall, Copley Place, Prudential Center and the Mall at Chestnut Hill provide high-end shopping and plenty of designer labels you might not see at home, but they're just the start of the purchasing frenzy.
Salem Street peddles all things vintage and antique. All along the Freedom Trail (and at every other venue) you'll have the opportunity to take a little bit of Boston with you for a price.
Do you want to stand in long lines to hand over your hard-earned dollars to cross a pond in a swan boat, tour the city quacking like a duck or call a cab rather than walk? Underneath the tourism, a real city is home to real people and places where – yes – "everybody knows your name."