Free Things to Do in Boston, May
Art shows, concerts, bootcamps, and more ways to enjoy May in Boston for free.
Spring has sprung, and the weather is finally here to prove it. As summer is on its way, Boston has plenty of events to get you outdoors and soaking up the long-awaited sunshine. From festivals and fairs to art extravaganzas, enjoying spring doesn’t have to cost you a thing.
Harvard Square Mayfair
Welcoming the arrival of many outdoor fairs this summer, Harvard Square’s annual Mayfair attracts Boston residents to the heart of Cambridge with six stages of live entertainment and a varied sampling of restaurant and street vendors, including tents selling jewelry, art, vintage clothing, and more. Peruse these offerings for a nice Sunday in Harvard Square, or take a look at the drawings at your feet thanks to the Rotary Club of Cambridge’s annual Chalk on the Walk.
Sunday, May 5, noon-6 p.m., Harvard Square, Cambridge, 617-491-3434, harvardsquare.com
Return of the Swans
Lazing around on the grass, watching the swan boats swim by, and simply watching Bostonians finally smile after months of winter gloom brings enough joy to Boston Common. But two special friends will also be returning to the park this month. Each year, Romeo and Juliet, the Public Garden’s resident swans winter at the Franklin Park Zoo, and in spring, they make their way back to the lagoon. With a brass band, face painters, readings of Make Way for Ducklings, and tasty treats to nibble on, this year marks the 25th anniversary of the swans’ return to the park. Join the parade at 11 a.m., starting at the corner of Beacon and Charles Streets, or meet the celebration at the lagoon, where Mayor Menino will preside over this Boston tradition.
Tuesday, May 7, 11 a.m., Boston Public Garden Lagoon, 51 Beacon St., 617-635-4505, cityofboston.gov
Open Night at the BU Observatory
While Boston University holds Open Observatory Nights all year long, there is certainly the caveat of “weather permitting.” And let’s face it, looking at the stars just isn’t as much fun when you’re freezing. Now that the nights aren’t quite as chilly, take a trip to Coit Observatory to see the stars through BU’s telescopes and binoculars, learning facts about astronomy that you wouldn’t get by laying out in your backyard.
Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m., Coit Observatory, Boston University, 725 Commonwealth Ave., 617-353-2630, bu.edu
Faneuil Hall Marketplace
Spending the day at Faneuil Hall is always fun, but come May, free street performances liven up the area. From a yo-yo master to dangerous comedy and musical performances in between, various performances go on every day, so park yourself on the cobblestone and enjoy these one-of-a-kind acts. From May 3-19, you can also take a look at the Flash-Forward Photography Festival in the marketplace with pieces from some of the most brilliant faculty members in New England’s universities.
Beginning May 1, Faneuil Hall Marketplace, 4 South Market St., 617- 523-1300, faneuilhallmarketplace.com
Somerville Open Studios Opening Day
Experiencing art in the hushed silence of a museum is one thing, but learning about the process of art-making while being surrounded by other art lovers at Somerville Open Studios is another world completely. For the 15th annual Opening Day of Somerville Open Studios, more than 400 studios will open their doors completely free of charge to art enthusiasts from all around Boston. Stroll through the streets of Somerville to get an inside look at the workshops of local artists, and see their process firsthand. You can even get a sneak peek in some locations from 6-9 p.m. on May 3.
Saturday-Sunday, May 4-5, Somerville, 617-398-0346, somervilleopenstudios.org
Boston Lyric Opera Open House
The Boston Lyric Opera, one of the premier opera organizations in Boston, will give you an all-access pass this May. Rather than having to shell out for a ticket and only being able to watch from your seat, this event gives you the opportunity to experience opera from a different perspective. With backstage and dressing-room tours, workshops, an aria contest for teens, and more, opera lovers and newcomers alike will be able to get something out of this free event.
Saturday, May 4, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Shubert Theatre, 265 Tremont St., 617-542-4912, blo.org
SoWa Open Market Opening Day
The SoWa district in Boston, the area South of Washington Street named as homage to New York’s SoHo, is the hub of much of the amazing local art going on in the city. Each summer, SoWa Sundays invite hundreds to the district’s Open Market, showing off trendy and unique items from local vendors. With more than 100 indie artists joined by food trucks and a farmers market, SoWa gives you ample opportunity to pick up some original, local items or just enjoy the atmosphere with a lazy Sunday afternoon in the uplifting environment. This year’s Opening Day also brings the 9th Annual Art Walk where 300 local artists will open their doors to visitors. It’s an arts extravaganza you won’t want to miss.
Free, Sundays, May 5-October 10, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., 460 Harrison Ave., sowaopenmarket.com
The Hatch Shell is back, people, and it’s time to celebrate. Every summer, the Esplanade fills with people heading to outdoor concerts at Hatch Memorial Shell for a chance to enjoy the weather and music, for free. Rock out with Vertical Horizon, Cracker, Fastball, and more, or bring your kids to dance along to the “Kindie Rock” group, Josh and the Jamtones, on the Kid’s Planet Stage.
Saturday, May 18, 11:30 a.m., Hatch Shell, 47 David G Mugar Way, 617-626-1250, myradio929.com
Getting a good workout can take a toll on your wallet when it comes to gym fees, personal trainers, and other expenses, but these free Pilates classes are the perfect chance to break a sweat without breaking the bank. As another bonus, these two free classes are held outdoors, allowing you to breathe in the fresh air while you stretch. Open to Pilates-pros and first-timer’s alike, make sure to bring your own mat for this 45-minute bootcamp with one of Boston’s best Pilates instructors, Jennifer Phelan.
Saturday, May 4 & Saturday, May 18, 9:15-10 a.m., Faneuil Hall Marketplace, 4 South Market St., 617- 523-1300, faneuilhallmarketplace.com
Take part in one of these May charity walks to take advantage of the weather while also helping a good cause. Though some walks have fees to enter, many have volunteer opportunities or chances to run for free. At the Project Bread “Walk for Hunger” on Sunday, May 5, you can walk the 20 miles for free or sign up to volunteer at the event. And after the Boston Marathon bombing last month, Boston police mean more to the city than ever. You can honor them by participating in the Run to Remember, which celebrates the lives of our fallen heroes in law enforcement. Though the race is fully booked for runners, you can volunteer at the half-marathon on May 26 or the expo the day before as a way to give back.
If you need a fun way to enjoy Boston for free without having to commit to a schedule, you can try one of the many walking tours in the city on free guided tours. Explore the harbors of Boston with the Downtown Harbor Walk and the Fort Point Harbor Walk audio tours that you can download right to your phone or iPod. The Freedom Trail is one of the most historic aspects of the city, but only offers guided tours for a fee. With Free Tours by Foot though, you can walk the whole Freedom Trail with a guide without having to pay, as long as you reserve your spot. Also via Free Tours by Foot, check out the Women of the Freedom Trail and the Beacon Hill Crime Tour.