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10 ways to have a free, fun summer around Boston

These area events won’t cost you a penny.
Boston July 4
The Boston Pops play for free on July 4. Photo by Michael Blanchard

It’s summer and the kids are restless—what to do with them? Ah, the eternal question, that is until you can finally send them to college. Well, for at least the summer months, these area attractions have got you covered without breaking the bank.

Free Fun Fridays

Every Friday from the end of June through the end of August, a different set of Massachusetts cultural institutions, mostly museums, will open their doors to the public for free, sponsored by the Highland Street Foundation.

Boston icons like the Museum of Fine Arts, the Boston Children’s Museum, the JFK Library, the Franklin Park Zoo and the U.S.S. Constitution Museum will participate, but Free Fun Fridays isn’t limited to the Boston area. Western and Central Mass. institutions like the EcoTarium, the Eric Carle Museum, Tanglewood, Old Sturbridge Village, Mass MoCA and Jacob’s Pillow Dance are also on the roster, as well as institutions on the North and South Shores, like the Peabody Essex Museum, Maritime Gloucester, and Plimoth Plantation. On the Cape and Islands, you can visit the Nantucket Whaling Museum, the Cape Cod Children’s Museum, the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, and for the kids, the Edward Gorey House.

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So, wherever you live in our fair state, there’s something free close by.

June 23 through August 23, various locations, Mass., highlandstreet.org

Cambridge Arts River Festival

This annual community festival, thrown by the Cambridge Arts Council, features loads of live music on several stages, public art installations commissioned for the festival, roving interactive performances in dance, theater, storytelling, poetry and more, stuff for the kids, dozens of food options and crafts vendors. You can also just hang out by the river, because it’s nice out. Basically a win-win.

June 3, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., DCR Cambridge Parkway, Cambridge, cambridgema.gov/arts

Make Music Day Boston

Part of the International Make Music Day, this festival features a diverse array of musicians mounting free outdoor performances all over the city in venues all over the city. Jazz, rock, classic, soul, Latin, all manner of world music—you name it, it’s here—and there, and there, and there. If you’re walking around outside, chances are you’ll come across someone.

June 21, various locations, Boston area, makemusicboston.org

Boston Harborfest

Only Philadelphia can rival Boston for “clutch” status in the founding of the United States, but, as every New Englander knows, nothing really exists beyond New England, so never mind Philly. Boston Harborfest is the annual celebration of our heritage, with history-related tours, events and activities, clambakes, harbor cruises and duck tours, all to get you wicked stoked for July 4th.

June 30 through July 4, various locations, Boston, bostonharborfest.com

Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular

This Independence Day concert on the Esplanade is a long-running Boston tradition, drawing thousands from around the metro area or even farther afield, and many arriving early to grab a coveted spot on the lawn. There’s also an event space on the Cambridge side of the river where you’ll be able to hear the concert and see the fireworks just fine.

July 4, 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., DCR Memorial Hatch Shell, 47 David. G. Mugar Way, Boston, bostonpopsjuly4.org

Harborwalk Sounds

This annual summer showcase, curated by the world-renowned Berklee College of Music, takes perfect advantage of the Institute of Contemporary Art’s very nice back porch. Each Thursday in July and August, you’ll get a different performance—this year’s lineup includes R&B, soul, pop, Brazilian music, electronic indie, eclectic Latin jazz and much more, from some of Berklee’s best and brightest.

July 6 through August 31, Institute of Contemporary Art, 25 Harbor Shore Dr., Boston, icaboston.org

Cinema Somerville Outdoor Movie Series

Those bored by typical outdoor summer movie fare (“Monsters, Inc.” again?) should peep this one, taking place each Thursday in July, and aiming for a refreshingly random, decidedly old school set of offerings, with 1946’s “Sherlock Holmes: Dressed to Kill”, 1960’s “The Little Shop of Horrors”, 1954’s “The Last Time I Saw Paris” and 1941’s “The Ghost Train”.

July 6 through July 27, The Growing Center, 22 Vinal Ave., Somerville, scatvsomerville.com

"Romeo and Juliet"

Commonwealth Shakespeare’s popular Shakespeare on the Common series returns with one of the Bard’s most famous plays, the one you had to read in high school, barely understanding what anyone was saying and yet crying anyway. Shakespeare’s depiction of young love, in all its idealism and recklessness, just seems to strike a timeless chord.

July 19 through August 6, Parkman Bandstand, Boston Common, Boston, commshakes.org

Boston Landmarks Orchestra Summer Concert Series

The Hatch Shell is most famous for the Boston Pops’ July 4th performances, but the Boston Landmarks Orchestra logs in more time there in the summer, with a free concert every Wednesday in July and August. Highlights include the Mercury Orchestra performing Wagner and Strauss (July 26), Beethoven’s immortal Symphony No. 9 (August 2) and the Landmarks Dance Carnival (August 23).

July 19 through August 23, DCR Memorial Hatch Shell, 47 David G. Mugar Way, Boston, landmarksorchestra.org

Boston GreenFest

Now in its 9th year, this celebration of green culture is a great place to learn about the latest in environmentalism and sustainability, and maybe even meet some like-minded folks. It’s three days are loaded with events and entertainment, including a series of “EcoForums”, live music, a wine and beer garden, an ecologically-minded fashion show and a plethora of green exhibitors.[tab]

August 11 through 13, City Hall Plaza, 1 City Hall Plaza, Boston, bostongreenfest.org

 

 
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