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Best Way To Explore the Free Museums in Boston

boston museum of african american History

Boston, the beacon of rich history and culture, offers a myriad of museums that you can explore without spending a dime. Embarking on this journey not only enriches your knowledge but also provides a unique perspective on the art, history, and science that Boston has to offer. These free museums are a must in your vacation itinerary, presenting an unmatched blend of education and entertainment that caters to all ages and interests. Hence, your Boston trip won’t be complete without immersing yourself in these incredible repositories of knowledge and creativity.

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Old Town Trolley outside the famous Cheers bar in Boston, MAOld Town Trolley is one of the best ways to explore the free museums in Boston. Our iconic trolleys offer a hop-on, hop-off service, allowing you to explore at your own pace. Each stop is conveniently located near a major museum or landmark, reducing the hassle of navigating through Boston’s complex city layout. Plus, the trolleys offer a guided tour experience, with conductors providing entertaining narration and historical insights about Boston’s museums and other attractions, enriching your exploration and deepening your understanding of this historic city. Touring with Old Town Trolley isn’t just transportation — it’s “Transportainment®.”

Stop 1

The Museum of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company

The Museum of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery CompanyThe Museum of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company holds a hallowed position in Boston’s rich tapestry of history. The headquarters of this venerable organization are housed within the monumental Faneuil Hall, continuing a tradition that has been in place since 1746. The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts holds the distinctive honor of being the oldest chartered military organization in North America and the third oldest in the world. Its storied legacy began in March 1638 when its charter was granted by the Great and General Court of Massachusetts Bay and was signed by Governor John Winthrop. This charter established the organization as a volunteer militia company dedicated to training officers enrolled in local militia companies across Massachusetts. This free museum in Boston is indeed a must-visit attraction, offering a captivating journey through time that enriches your understanding of American military history and the deep-rooted traditions of this ancient organization.

What To See

The Museum of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company offers an unforgettable exploration of military history. Located on the top floor of the historic Faneuil Hall, the museum houses an impressive Military Museum and Armory. As you navigate its exhibit halls, you’ll encounter a detailed collection of uniforms that span several centuries, reflecting the evolution of military attire through various eras. The display of medals showcases the valor and bravery of the members of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, each medal bearing a testament to their heroic deeds.

The museum also boasts an array of weaponry, from ancient to modern, showcasing the development of military technology over the centuries. While exploring, pay close attention to the collection of artillery, as this company was primarily an artillery unit. You will find a range of canons and other artillery pieces, many of which have been meticulously restored to preserve their original attributes.

Among the must-see exhibits, the “Hall of Flags” stands out. This hall proudly displays the flags carried by the Massachusetts regiments through various wars, a vibrant and poignant tribute to those who served. Another captivating feature is the glass case containing artifacts from Major Thomas Melville, Boston’s last “Tea Party” participant. These artifacts offer a personal perspective on a pivotal event in American history.

Your visit to the Museum of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company is an opportunity to delve into the depths of military history, offering insights into the courage, discipline, and dedication of those who have served in defense of their nation. Each artifact housed in this museum tells a story, and by visiting, you become a part of this ongoing narrative.

Stop 3

USS Constitution Museum

USS Constitution MuseumThe USS Constitution Museum is an absolute must-see for any visitor to Boston. This museum is home to the USS Constitution, the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat, which played a pivotal role in America’s early naval history. Located in the Charlestown Navy Yard, just a stone’s throw from the ship itself, the museum offers a deep dive into the rich history of “Old Ironsides.” Constructed in 1797, the vessel was instrumental in America’s early battles at sea, notably during the War of 1812. Through interactive exhibits, detailed replicas, and a wealth of historical artifacts, the museum brings alive the stories of the ship’s crew, their lives, and their experiences at sea. So, if you’re looking to enrich your Boston vacation with a hearty dose of American history, then a visit to the USS Constitution Museum is non-negotiable. Its vibrant portrayal of naval history and immersive exhibits ensure a memorable experience that infuses your trip with a sense of historical significance and exhilarating discovery.

What To See

The USS Constitution Museum offers an array of fascinating sights for history aficionados. The centerpiece, undoubtedly, is the USS Constitution itself. You can explore this historic warship, marveling at the craftsmanship that has stood the test of time. Don’t miss out on the “Old Ironsides” exhibit, which details the ship’s storied past, including its instrumental role in the War of 1812.

Equally engrossing is the “All Hands On Deck” exhibit, which is a full-scale replica of the ship’s berthing area, transporting you back in time to the life of the 19th-century sailors. Here, you can experience firsthand the cramped conditions in which the crew lived, adding a deeply personal perspective to your understanding of naval history.

The “Fouled Anchors: The Constellation Question” exhibit is another must-see. It offers an intriguing exploration of the mystery surrounding the USS Constitution and its sister ship, the USS Constellation. The museum’s “Ready, Aim, Fire!” exhibit provides you the chance to load and fire a cannon, providing a hands-on understanding of the difficulties faced by the ship’s artillery crew.

Finally, don’t forget to explore the “Forest to Frigate” exhibit, detailing the process of building ships like the USS Constitution from the selection of trees to the final construction. With its life-sized displays and interactive features, this exhibit offers an engaging insight into shipbuilding techniques of the bygone era. Additionally, make sure to visit the Samuel Eliot Morison Memorial Library, enhancing your experience with a comprehensive archival repository of records related to the ship’s history. This library provides deeper insights into the historical significance of the USS Constitution.

Stop 5

Old State House Museum

Old State House MuseumThe Old State House Museum is a crucial piece of Boston’s historical fabric, dating back to 1713. As one of the oldest public buildings in the United States, its significance stems from the integral role it played in the early administration of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This architectural gem served as the seat of the colony’s government, and it was from its east balcony that the Declaration of Independence was first read to Bostonians in 1776.

Today, the Old State House Museum is renowned as a symbol of the American Revolution, with many of its exhibits focusing on this pivotal era, including the infamous Boston Massacre that happened just outside its front steps. As you step into this historic building, you are transported back in time to witness the early stirrings of America’s journey to independence.

What To See

The Old State House Museum hosts a variety of exhibits that are sure to pique the interest of history enthusiasts. One of the main attractions is the Council Chamber, which is where the Colonial government made some of its most critical decisions. The chamber has been meticulously restored to its original condition, giving visitors a glimpse into the past.

Another must-see exhibit is the “This Seat is Taken” display, illustrating the events of the Boston Massacre through the stories of those who were present on the fateful night. This interactive exhibit allows visitors to step into the shoes of the event’s real-life characters, providing an immersive and insightful experience.

The “Voices of Protest” exhibit, showcasing objects and images associated with the protest movements that shaped Boston’s early history, is another significant draw. It explores the city’s long-standing tradition of political activism and how it contributed to the American Revolution.

Finally, make sure to pay a visit to the Old State House’s East Balcony, a historic site from where the Declaration of Independence was first read to the public on July 18, 1776. This spot offers a sense of the profound historical events that took place here.

Stop 6

Boston Athenaeum

boston athenaeumThe Boston Athenaeum, an epitome of grandeur and intellectual stimulation, was conceived in 1807 by the esteemed members of the Anthology Society. These literary visionaries initially envisioned a serene reading room, a haven for minds craving literary and intellectual indulgence. Their first librarian, William Smith Shaw, along with the new trustees, had a vision that transcended the ordinary. Drawing inspiration from the Athenaeum and Lyceum in Liverpool, England, they envisaged the Boston Athenaeum as a hub of intellectual pursuits, a beacon for the literati.

In its nascent stages, the Boston Athenaeum rented various rooms before purchasing a quaint house adjacent to the King’s Chapel Burying Ground in 1809. A significant transformation occurred in 1822 when the Athenaeum moved into an exquisite mansion on Pearl Street. Within four years, this prosperous location was further enhanced by the addition of a lecture hall and gallery space, cementing its place as a cultural hub.

What To See

Among the fascinating rarities at the Boston Athenaeum are its unique collection of books, maps, and manuscripts, which reveal the city’s vibrant history and cultural evolution. As you walk through the quiet, elegant rooms, you can marvel at these rare pieces that form a tangible connection to the past.

The Athenaeum’s art collection is another major draw, boasting a substantial array of paintings, sculptures, prints, photographs, and decorative arts. These artworks span centuries and styles, offering glimpses into different eras and artistic perspectives.

Visitors should not miss the Athenaeum’s Long Room, a grand, cathedral-like space lined with books from floor to ceiling. This room is one of the most photographed spots in the Athenaeum and gives you a sense of the institution’s historical charm and intellectual gravitas. Another must-see is the Sculpture Gallery, which houses an assortment of busts and statues, each one a testament to the Athenaeum’s commitment to the arts.

The fifth-floor Reading Room offers an incredible view of Boston’s Granary Burying Ground, the final resting place of several notable figures from the American Revolution. This serene spot is perfect for contemplation and study, providing a unique blend of history and tranquility.

Museum of African American History

Museum of African American HistoryDeep within the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, the Boston African American National Historic Site narrates a profound story of Boston’s 19th-century African-American community. This site interprets 15 pre-Civil War structures, each a testament to the struggles and triumphs of African Americans in a time of great turmoil. The various buildings are interwoven by the Black Heritage Trail®, guiding visitors on a journey through Boston’s rich African-American history.

The Museum of African American History is the proud steward of these historic sites, along with two additional Black Heritage Trails® in Boston and Nantucket. The museum is committed to preserving, conserving, and accurately interpreting the contributions of African descendants in New England from the Colonial period through the 19th century. It sheds light on those who found common causes with them in the pursuit of freedom and justice, illuminating the unity and resilience that defined this period.

What To See

The Museum of African American History houses numerous exhibitions that provide an in-depth look into the African-American experience in New England. The “African-American Patriots” exhibit is a focal point, showcasing the stories of African-Americans who fought in the Revolutionary War. Another captivating exhibition, “The Robert Gould Shaw 54th Regiment Memorial,” commemorates the first Black regiment from the North that fought in the Civil War. It provides a detailed account of their valor and commitment to freedom.

The museum also offers a range of educational programs designed to enlighten visitors about the rich cultural heritage and contributions of African Americans. Programs such as the African-American Freedom Trail Project and the Black Heritage Junior Ranger Program are interactive educational initiatives meant for both children and adults. These programs provide hands-on learning experiences, encouraging a deeper understanding of African-American history.

When visiting, one must not miss the Abiel Smith School, the first public school for African-American children, nor the African Meeting House, the oldest Black church edifice still standing in the United States.


Does Boston have free museums?

Yes, Boston has several museums that offer free admission at certain times or on specific days. Some examples include the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which offer free admission on certain evenings.

Is the Museum of Fine Arts Boston free for students?

The Museum of Fine Arts Boston offers free admission to students from participating colleges and universities on specific days. It’s recommended to check the museum’s official website or contact them directly for the most up-to-date information on student admissions.

How many museums are in the Boston area?

The Boston area is home to numerous museums showcasing a diverse range of art, history, and culture. While the exact count may vary, there are over 40 museums in the greater Boston area, including renowned institutions such as the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Science, and the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum.

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