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144 free things to do

Plus, 1 for $1

(Greg Klee/Globe Staff)
By Elizabeth Gehrman
Globe Correspondent / April 22, 2012
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FOOTLOOSE AND FREE
Get your blood pumping with yoga, tango, and more.

> Workout on the Esplanade for free every weeknight from 6 to 7, July 9 till August 31, with the Healthy, Fit, and Fun program. Some of the offerings: yoga on Wednesdays and boot camp on Thursdays, both at Arthur Fiedler Field, plus Zumba on Tuesdays at the Hatch Shell. 617-227-0365, ext. 101, esplanadeassociation.org.

> Feel like kicking something at the end of the workweek? Check out the World Adult Kickball Association's free pickup kickball game April 28 at 8 p.m. at Conway Park in Somerville. boston.kickball.com

> Balance your meridians at the Boston Public Library's Adams Street branch in Dorchester during Monday Qigong practice, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. 617-436-6900, bpl.org

> It takes two, but the Tango Society of Boston's Tango by Moonlight event, now in its 16th season, welcomes singles as well. It's held on the footbridge between Harvard's Dunster House in Cambridge and Harvard Business School in Boston on weekend evenings during the academic year and close to a full moon. Half-hour lessons start at 7:30, and open dancing goes till 11. 617-413-2981, bostontango.org

> Why weight? Many health clubs offer free open houses and trial passes, of course, but the YMCA of Greater Boston trumps most with a free three-day gym pass. ymcaboston.org

FREE DRINKS
Not that we’d encourage you to try without buying ...

> The Wine Gallery Brookline offers a gratis six-samples-per-person tasting of the 48 wines in its self-service machines any time during business hours. 617-277-5522

> Craft-brew pioneer Samuel Adams offers free tours and tastings at its Jamaica Plain brewery between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, plus Saturdays (the tours leave every 45 minutes or so). On Fridays, tours continue through 5:30 p.m. 617-368-5080, samueladams.com

> Harpoon Brewery, maker of the popular Harpoon IPA, offers tastings in its South Boston Waterfront brewery weekdays at 4 p.m.; there is an additional tasting at 2 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. 888-427-7666, harpoonbrewery.com

FREE TUNES
Open the curtain on musical performances

> April 28 is Boston Lyric Opera’s open house at the Shubert Theatre, with free performances between 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. 617-542-4912, blo.org

 > Bach cantatas are part of the worship service at Emmanuel Church on Newbury Street Sundays at 10 a.m. through May 13. 617-536-3356, emmanuelmusic.org

> Prefer your worship jazzier? Hear The Willie Sordillo Trio at the Old South Church on Boylston Street, Thursdays at 6 p.m. 617-536-1970, oldsouth.org 

 > Free concerts at the Hatch Shell last year included The Pointer Sisters, KC and the Sunshine Band, and, of course, the Boston Pops on July 4th. Look for the 2012 schedule in May at mass.gov/dcr/hatch_events.htm

> Boston’s commander in chief offers Mayor Menino’s Wednesday Night Concert Series on City Hall Plaza. Motown on July 18, Latin music on July 28, disco on August 1, and a United States Air Force band on August 8, all starting at 7 p.m.; Gospelfest on July 15 at 5 p.m.

> Berklee College of Music’s seniors perform recitals in the Red Room at Cafe 939, 939 Boylston Street, at 1 p.m. usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the school year. 617-747-6042, cafe939.com

> You can also catch Berklee folks performing outside during the ICA’s Harborwalk Sounds Thursday evening concert series, 6:30 to 8:30, July 12 through August 30. 617-478-3100, icaboston.org

> The New England Conservatory offers (usually) free faculty and student concerts when school is in session Sunday through Thursday evenings at Jordan Hall, and most afternoons and evenings at Pierce, Williams, and Brown halls. Check the schedule online. 617-585-1100, necmusic.edu

> There are more than 200 concerts a year, most of them free, at the Longy School of Music. 617-876-0956, longy.edu/concerts/concerts_calendar.htm

> The Boston Landmarks Orchestra, founded in 2001 to provide “free concerts for all,” generally gives about a dozen classical performances a year. 617-987-2000, landmarksorchestra.org

FREE MOVIES FOR LIFE
In just 5 easy steps.

1) Hock your e-mail address

Some websites give out free screening passes in exchange for sending you spam; all in all, not a bad deal. Try filmmetro.com, Entertainment Weekly’s ew.com/ew/freescreening, and freemoviescreenings.net.  

2) Join a group

Sign up for a local moviegoers group at meetup.com. Film promoters sometimes send such groups blocks of free tickets to build buzz.  

3) Monitor the online chatter

Try following @MAScreenings and @BostonFreeFilms, where you’re likely to see events ranging from the well known — the Boston Harbor Hotel’s free Movies by Moonlight series featuring classics like Field of Dreams at dusk every Friday — to the indie.

4) Scour college calendars

Some colleges and universities offer screenings open to the larger community. One of the best is the Harvard Film Archive Cinematheque. There is usually an admission fee, but non-students can often find room in screenings assigned for classes about once a week, usually on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Check the calendar on the website. 617-495-4700, hcl.harvard.edu/hfa

5) Visit your local websites

Plenty of communities host outdoor screenings, so watch your town’s website. In Boston, Free Friday Flicks at the Hatch Shell, sponsored by WBZ, is a favorite for screening family-friendly films such as Toy Story 3. 617-626-4970, cbsboston.com/flicks

FREE PLAY
Culture, crafts, and more for kids

> The Boston Children’s Chorus season finale, at 2 p.m. May 19, is a concert at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester. Reserve seats online. 617-778-2242, bostonchildrens-chorus.org

> Forsooth, your kids aren’t into Shakespeare? They will be once they see the Rebel Shakespeare Company. Shows are in public parks around the area from August 22 through August 30. This year, The Tempest. rebelshakespeare.org

> The Boston Children’s Theatre Show Choir will perform pop songs and show tunes at its 316 Huntington Avenue space on May 20 at 2 p.m. 617-424-6634, bostonchildrenstheatre.org 

> Hop over to the TADpole Playground on Boston Common (near the Frog Pond) for educational activities every Thursday, June 28 to August 30, 10 a.m. and noon. The Storymobile has reading events there on Saturdays at 11 a.m., July 7 through August 18. tadpoleplayground.org

> At the Boston Center for the Arts’ Families Connect workshops, kids learn about theater, dance, art, and more. Transform old T-shirts into funky scarves on May 5. To register, 617-426-1119, bcaonline.org

> The John F. Kennedy Library’s Celebrate! series has events for children 5 and up. On May 28, folk music. Reservations required. 617-514-1644, jfklibrary.org 

> Kids build terrariums April 28 at the latest Lowe’s Build and Grow clinic (lowesbuildandgrow.com), and a planter box May 5 at The Home Depot’s Kids Workshops (homedepot.com). Call to check if your local store is participating before getting little hopes up — nails can’t mend broken hearts. 

> Register online and score your kid vouchers for two free bowling games a day, every day, between about Memorial and Labor days. Find participating centers at kidsbowlfree.com.

FREE SPEECH
Get lectured. In a good way.

> The Ford Hall Forum at Suffolk University, the nation’s oldest continuously operating free public lecture series, has given the Boston area more than a century of things to think about, in the arts, sciences, literature, and current events. On April 26, attend an all-star panel on photojournalism. fordhallforum.org 

> Though some events are free to members only, the Old South Meeting House also hosts free ones for nonmembers — including an April 25 talk by journalists Stephanie Schorow and Beverly Ford on their The Boston Mob Guide: Hit Men, Hoodlums & Hideouts. 617-482-6439, oldsouthmeetinghouse.org

 > Literary types can find authors reading from their work somewhere nearly every night. Consult the online calendars at Newtonville Books (newtonvillebooks.com), Harvard Bookstore (harvard.com/events), Porter Square Books (portersquarebooks.com), Brookline Booksmith (brooklinebooksmith.com), and Wellesley Booksmith (wellesleybooks.com).  

> The always stellar Lowell Lecture Series at the Boston Public Library presents talks on everything from the arts to business. The Author Talk series features a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction writers. bpl.org, news & events tab

> The MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technology lecture series brings together scholars from different disciplines to discuss the intersection of technology and the arts. Hear them use words like “semiocapitalism” and “discursivity” on Monday nights during the school year. 617-253-5229, act.mit.edu

> Ask what you can do for your country at two stops on the Red Line. You should register for the popular Kennedy Library Forums, but even if you’re too late to sign up, you can still catch the live webcast of speakers such as Madeleine Albright and David McCullough (617-514-1643, jfklibrary.org). Also streamed live is the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum run by Harvard’s Institute of Politics (617-495-1380, www.iop.harvard.edu) during the academic year.

> The Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Askwith Forum presents big names like Oprah Winfrey and Colin Powell. Events, during the school year, are free and open to the public unless otherwise noted. 617-384-9968, gse.harvard.edu

> The Cambridge Forum at First Parish in Cambridge has presented live public forums since 1967 on a range of topics from arts to international relations. They run during the school year, and most are free — even when they’re not, they are streamed on demand. 617-495-2727, cambridgeforum.org

FREE GUIDE TO FREE TOURS
An expert can make historic attractions come to life.

> Arnold Arboretum Saturdays at 10:30, Sundays at 1 p.m., and Wednesdays at 12:15 p.m. through November. Meet at Hunnewell Visitor Center, 125 Arborway, Jamaica Plain; 60 to 90 minutes. 617-524-1718

> Boston Athenaeum Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3 p.m. Reservations required. Meet at the circulation desk; one hour. 617-227-0270, ext. 279, bostonathenaeum.org

> Black Heritage Trail Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m. (make reservations); Sundays after Memorial Day. Meet at Shaw Memorial on Boston Common; up to 90 minutes. 617-742-5415, afroammuseum.org/trail.htm

> Boston Public Library Sundays at 2 p.m., Mondays at 2:30, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 11 a.m. Meet inside the Dartmouth Street entrance; one hour. 617-536-5400, bpl.org

> Castle Island and Fort Independence Starting Memorial Day weekend, Saturdays and Sundays between noon and 3:30 p.m.; Mondays of Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Columbus Day weekends. Meet at fort entrance; 45 minutes. 617-268-8870, bostonfortindependence.com 

> The Emerald Necklace Sundays, 1 to 2:30 p.m., through October. Plus, same times on May 6, 13, 20, and 27. Meet at the Shattuck Visitor Center, 125 The Fenway, across from the Museum of Fine Arts; 90 minutes. 617-522-2700, emeraldnecklace.org

> The Freedom Trail Until June 28, 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily. June 29 to August 31, 10 a.m., 11 a.m., and 2 p.m. daily. First come, first served. Until May 24, meets at the 15 State Street visitor center, then at Faneuil Hall; 90 minutes. 617-242-5642, nps.gov/bost

> Mount Auburn Cemetery April 27, May 11 and 25, and June 8, 7 a.m. Meet at the Egyptian Revival Gateway on Elm Avenue; one hour. 617-547-7105, mountauburn.org

> State House Weekdays between 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Make a reservation. Check in at the information desk in Doric Hall, on the second floor. About an hour. 617-727-3676, www.sec.state.ma.us/trs/trsidx.htm

> USS Constitution Tuesday through Sunday on the half-hour, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., until October 31; 30 minutes. 617-242-5671, history.navy.mil/ussconstitution

Plus: 3 free self-guided tours

Download free tours to your phone or iPod at audisseyguides.com/category/tours/boston. Choose from Downtown Boston, Fort Point Channel, and Boston Public Garden.

FREE-TIME CHEAT SHEET
Is the MFA free on Wednesday nights, or is that the ICA? Never be confused again.

Wednesdays

> With more than 450,000 works, the Museum of Fine Arts can keep you busy for a lifetime of Wednesdays. From 4 to 9:45 p.m. 617-267-9300, mfa.org

> (Tele)scope out astronomy in an hourlong program at Boston University’s Coit Observatory. The viewings start at 8:30 p.m. in spring and summer, 7:30 in fall and winter, weather permitting. 617-353-2630, bu.edu/astronomy/astronomydepartmentfacilities/judson-b-coit-observatory

First Wednesdays

> Lincoln’s famed deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum opens its doors and grounds to everyone for free, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., on the first Wednesday of every month. 781-259-8355, decordova.org

Thursdays

> Haven’t visited the Institute of Contemporary Art? Free admission from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursdays is an added incentive. On the last Saturday of each month (except December), it’s also free for up to two adults accompanied by children 12 and under. 617-478-3100, icaboston.org

> Brockton’s Fuller Craft Museum celebrates the talent and ingenuity of artists and artisans every day. But you can see it all for free on Thursdays, 5 to 9 p.m. 508-588-6000, fullercraft.org

Fridays

> OK, this one’s not free — but $1 is pretty close. A buck-a-person gets you into the Boston Children’s Museum from 5 to 9 p.m. Fridays. 617-426-6500, bostonkids.org

First Fridays

> In Acton, the Science Discovery Museum and the Children’s Discovery Museum are both free from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. on the first Friday of the month throughout the year, and every Friday between June 22 and August 24, and free all day August 31. 978-264-4200, discoverymuseums.org

Second Fridays

> From 5 to 8 p.m. on the second Friday of every month, study holograms and robots for free at the Cambridge temple to nerdiness that is the MIT Museum. (The museum is also free on Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon.) 617-253-5927, web.mit.edu/museum

Saturdays

> You don’t have to go to Harvard — just have a Massachusetts resident ID — to check out the university’s > Fogg, Arthur M. Sackler, and Busch-Reisinger art collections, between 10 a.m. and noon Saturdays. They are all gathered under one roof at the Sackler while “starchitect” Renzo Piano toils on a new home for them. 617-495-9400, harvardartmuseums.org

First Saturdays

> The 35,000-work collection at the Worcester Art Museum includes pieces by Gaugin, Sargent, and Whistler. See them all for free, 10 a.m. to noon, on the first Saturday of every month. 508-799 4406, worcesterart.org

Sundays

> You’ll dig the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (617-496-1027, peabody.harvard.edu) and the Harvard Museum of Natural History (617-495-3045, hmnh.harvard.edu), free every Sunday from 9 a.m. to noon (as well as on Wednesdays from 3 to 5 p.m. September through May). Bring your Massachusetts student or resident ID.

HOME FREE
Handy info whether you own a place or in the market for one.

> A home energy assessment shows you how to lower your utility costs. In Boston, sign up through Renew Boston (renewboston.org); in Cambridge, through Cambridge Energy Alliance (cambridgeenergyalliance.org); and elsewhere in the state, through Mass Save (masssave.com).

> Several courses on how to buy a house or condo — including a fixer-upper or a foreclosed property — are available from the Boston Home Center. Sign up early; classes fill up fast. 617-635-4663, cityofboston.gov/dnd/bhc

> Learn about condo associations, landlord/tenant relationships, maintenance, and more — better yet, get a discount on your property insurance — by taking a class through the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance. 617-822-9100, mahahome.org

> This spring, Home Depot workshops cover power tools and herb gardening (homedepot.com), and Lowe’s workshops get into home safety and more (lowes.com). Call your local store for specifics.

YOUR TICKET TO FREEDOM
The most valuable thing in your wallet isn’t cash. It’s your library card.

The amount and quality of free programming and services at the Boston Public Library’s main location in Copley Square and 25 branches boggle the mind. To name just a few, there are film and lecture series, lunchtime Concerts in the Courtyard, homework assistance for K-8 students (through May 26), ESL conversation groups, even Wii gaming events for the kids (seriously). 617-536-5400, bpl.org, calendar of events link

 In the meantime, the Cambridge Public Library system holds more than 100 free programs a month, from lectures and children’s story times to book clubs and Portuguese singalongs. 617-349-4040, cambridgema.gov/cpl.aspx

 Wherever you live, your card can take you beyond the library walls with passes that provide access to free parking at state-run beaches and parks, as well as free or discounted admission to the Museum of Fine Arts, the New England Aquarium, the Museum of Science, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and more. Just stop by your local branch in advance and ask — quietly.

FREE, NATURALLY
The great outdoors the way it was meant to be. Free.

> The Boston Natural Areas Network hosts free events, programs, and activities throughout the year, from canoeing to walks and workshops. Registration required. 617-542-7696, bostonnatural.org

> On May 19, go fly a kite — bring your own or use one of those provided — at the Franklin Park Kite Festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Circuit Drive entrance off Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester. 617-635-4505

 > On May 12, the Boston Parks and Recreation Department will give away 2,012 tomato plants amid children’s activities, a beekeeper’s talk, and more. From 10 a.m. to noon near the Fenway Community Garden, adjacent to Clemente Field. 617-635-4505

> Boston Parks and Rec will provide rods, reels, and wriggling worms for Jamaica Pond fishing parties on June 2 and July 13, 20, and 27, from 10 a.m. to noon. 617-635-4505

> Mahoney’s eight locations in Eastern Massachusetts offer free gardening seminars all summer. Topics range from pruning to protecting from winter weather. mahoneysgarden.com  

> The Massachusetts Audubon Society’s North River Sanctuary in Marshfield will host an open house (and annual native plant sale) on June 3. There will be popcorn and lemonade, a scavenger hunt, a nature walk, and a tour of the headquarters. 781-837-9400, massaudubon.org

> Mass Audubon’s Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Norfolk has its open house on May 19, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Teachers will be leading a program with small animals like snakes and turtles. 781-259-9500, massaudubon.org

> The Massachusetts Horticultural Society and Massachusetts Master Gardener Association staff a gardening help line. (Check schedule at masshort.org; click on “Garden Help.”) Call 617-933-4929 with questions or e-mail mghelpline@masshort.org

> From 9 a.m. to noon, kayak in West Roxbury at Millennium Park on June 16 and 23 and July 14 and 21. Preregistration required. 617-635-4505

> Kayak or canoe in Andover, courtesy of the Shawsheen River Watershed Association, usually on the first Saturday of every month from April through October. shawsheen.org/events.php

FREE FOR THE TAKING

> The 14th Annual Boston College Arts Festival runs April 26 through 28 and offers many free events, from a performance by the renowned improv group My Mother’s Fleabag to chamber music concerts to ceramics demonstrations. Schedule at bc.edu/offices/artscouncil/festival

> During this year’s Cambridge Science Festival, the MIT Museum will host a daily lunchtime series on Culinary Chemistry. Bring your lunch but also grab some samples as you have fun with food, exploring the science behind chocolate, hummus, carbonated water, and more, April 23 through 27, noon to 1 p.m. 617-253-5927, web.mit.edu/museum

> Become your own Suze Orman with CreditSmart, an eight-hour class offered by the City of Boston that will teach you how to improve your credit score, and with the self-explanatory two-hour seminar How to Live Within Your Means (Step one: Carry with you everywhere the Globe Magazine’s Issue on Free things to do). Schedule and sign-up at cityofboston.gov/dnd/bhc/Free_classes_for_everyone.asp

> Yuk it up with a free and funny double feature on Mondays. Start with a comedy open mike at Somerville’s Sally O’Brien’s Bar and Grill (617-666-3589, sallyobriensbar.com) at 7 p.m., then move to Boston’s Green Dragon Tavern for a battle of the comedians (617-367-0055, somerspubs.com) at 9.

> Free Hairstyling is always a cut above. Supercuts Studio in Everett (617-381-5102, supercuts.com) takes walk-in customers for trainee cuts, and Kenmore Square’s Dellaria Salon (617-262-8750, dellaria.com) gives free student cuts at 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. on Mondays. The schedules change at both places, so call first.

> A massive Boston-wide initiative, PARKARTS offers free concerts, puppet shows, movie nights, painting and crafts workshops, and other events at neighborhood parks throughout the city. 617-635-4505, cityofboston.gov/parks

> On June 2, Historic New England hosts a regionwide open house with free admission to more than 30 historic house museums, including the Otis House on Beacon Hill, Gropius House in Lincoln, Lyman Estate in Waltham, and the Josiah Quincy House in, you guessed it, Quincy. historicnewengland.org

> On Fridays this summer, five different area museums and cultural attractions are opening their doors for free, thanks to the Highland Street Foundation. Free Fun Fridays run June 29 till August 31, and the 50 venues in all include big names like Tanglewood and the Museum of Fine Arts, as well as under-the-radar gems such as the Norman Rockwell Museum, Fruitlands Museum, and the Edward Gorey House. Complete schedule at highlandstreet.org in May.

> Over the course of 16 years, the audience for Shakespeare on the Common has increased 46-fold. See why at performances of Coriolanus, July 25 through August 12, Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7. 617-426-0863, commshakes.org

> Between april 26 and 29, The 20th annual Arts First Festival at Harvard packs in more than 225 mostly free shows in music, theater, dance, and film. This year’s standouts include a ceremony honoring alumnus Tommy Lee Jones and a student performance of works by Harvard-affiliated poets. ofa.fas.harvard.edu/arts

> Two JP outfits want to make the world better through biking with free repair clinics. Bikes not Bombs, 18 Bartlett Square, focuses on fixing flats April 23, 8 to 9 p.m. (617-522-0226, bikesnotbombs.org). Community Spoke!, 10 Boylston Place, takes walk-ins Tuesdays, 6 to 9 p.m., and has outdoor clinics in Cambridge’s Central Square the first Sunday of each month, 3 to 6 p.m. (thecommunityspoke.org).

FREE FOR SOME, FREE FOR ALL
Fit one of these categories? Presto! You’re in free.

> If you’re 2 and under

Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge

Museum of Science, Boston

New England Aquarium, Boston

> If you’re 5 and under

Concord Museum, Concord

Plimoth Plantation, Plymouth

Larz Anderson Auto Museum, Brookline

> If you’re 4 and under

Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History, Weston

> If you’re 6 and under

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation, Cambridge

> If you’re 11 and under

Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester

> If you’re 12 and under

Museum of African American History, Boston

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

deCordova Museum, Lincoln

> If you’re 16 and under

Danforth Museum of Art, Framingham

Peabody Essex Museum, Salem

> If you live in Salem

the PEM is always free

> If you’re 17 and under

Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston

Worcester Art Museum, Worcester

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

> If your name is Isabella

the Gardner is always free

> If you’re 18 and under

Hull Lifesaving Museum, Hull

> If you’re 150 and under*

Ancient and Honorable Military Museum, Boston

Commonwealth Museum, Boston

Boston Fire Museum, Boston

West End Museum, Boston

National Heritage Museum, Lexington

Museum of Bad Art, Dedham

*That’s right: These are always free!

Elizabeth Gehrman is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.

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FREE THINGS TO DO
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FREE THINGS TO DO

Land of the free: we round up the highlights from a guide to Boston's best activities that don't cost a penny.