Secret Bargains of Boston

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A native Bostonian shows us how to live for under $15

During my time as a college and graduate student, struggling young professional, and long-term denizen of Beantown, I've learned that, indeed, in Boston the best things in life are free (or at least very reasonable). I pass along to you the top Boston secret bargains I've discovered-most free, and none more than $15. But first, for low-cost digs in Beantown, go to the historic Back Bay neighborhood. A good budget B&B called 463 Beacon Street (463 Beacon St., 617/536-1302, 463beacon.com) rents kitchenette-equipped doubles with shared bath starting at $69 a night. And then, tucked into a charming, tree-lined street, the 20-room Copley Inn (19 Garrison St., 617/236-0300, copleyinn.com) offers clean, quiet accommodations with doubles starting at $75 a night. And finally, the bargain MidTown Hotel (220 Huntington Ave., 800/343-1177, midtownhotel.com) is located near Symphony Hall, music schools, and several subway (or "T") stations, and serves up double rooms starting at $79 a night.

Chinese transportation secrets

You can get to Boston for as little as $10 each way from New York City on Chinatown shuttles. Information: fungwahbus.com, sunshineboston.com, and travelpackusa.com. Or you can fly cheaply on Southwest Airlines into Providence, then take the airport shuttle to Providence's railway station ($9), and the commuter rail line to Boston's South Station ($5.75). If you fly instead to Boston's costlier Logan Airport, take the T to many convenient points throughout the greater Boston area for a cool $1; a shuttle bus services the various airport terminals and takes you free to the T station. The Boston three-day Visitor Pass ($11) is your best value for a long-weekend visit. Information: mbta.com.

Very fine art

Founded in 1870, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts (465 Huntington Ave., 617/267-9300, mfa.org) boasts an impressive collection, ranging from the ancient world to American artists and more Monets than you can shake a water lily at. Avoid the $15 admission by going on Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 9:45 p.m., when the contribution is voluntary. If you go to the MFA, you'll get $2 off (within two days of that MFA visit) the $10 admission to the celebrated Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (280 The Fenway, 617/566-1401, gardnermuseum.org), with sculptures, tapestries, and paintings spanning 30 centuries, and all housed in a fifteenth-century, Venetian-style palazzo surrounding a lush courtyard of plants that bloom year-round.

If you prefer more cutting-edge art, the 65-year-old but young-at-heart Institute of Contemporary Art (955 Boylston St., 617/266-5152, icaboston.org) has introduced Boston to many important artists, including Picasso and Warhol. Best of all, it's free Thursdays after 5 p.m. ($7 admission otherwise).

Get into Harvard for pennies

At Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, the Institute of Politics (79 JFK St., 617/495-1360, iop.harvard.edu) offers sensational free lectures, timely, topical, and at times controversial, with speakers like Arianna Huffington, Senator Edward Kennedy, and Angela Davis; check the Web site or call. The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (60 Garden St., Cambridge; 617/495-7461, http://cfa-harvard.edu) sponsors free Observatory Nights for the general public on the third Thursday of every month, featuring a nontechnical lecture and telescope time from the observatory roof (weather permitting). Visit three famous Harvard museums-the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Busch-Reisinger Museum, and Fogg Art Museum-for free on Saturdays before noon. For information, call 617/495-9400 or log on to artmuseums.harvard.edu.

Go to Boston, see Chicago

The much-heralded Commonwealth Shakespeare Company (617/747-4468, commonwealthshakespeare.org) presents summer productions of Shakespeare's plays for free on Boston Common. At BosTix (two locations: Copley Square and Faneuil Hall; artsboston.org), obtain half-price, same-day tickets to performances all over town.

Cheers! Late-night, beer-lovin' freeloaders can grab a brew at Sunset Grill & Tap (130 Brighton Ave., Allston; 617/254-1331), which offers more than 100 beers on tap, and enjoy a free buffet on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights starting at midnight. Harpoon Brewery (306 Northern Ave., 888/427-7666, harpoonbrewery.com) offers complimentary tours and tastings Tuesday through Saturday. Do some good while chugging a brew at the Samuel Adams Brewery (30 Germania St., 617/368-5080, samadams.com), which charges just $2 for a tour of the brewery (Thursday through Saturday; Wednesdays, too, in summer) and donates 100 percent of the money collected to a local charity.

Boston put the "free" in "Freedom"

Travel back in time to Revolutionary Boston by marching along the Freedom Trail (nps.gov/bost), a two-and-a-half-mile walking tour of 16 sites and structures of historical significance in and around downtown Boston. All but three of the sites are free to visit. Free, 90-minute tours led by knowledgeable, enthusiastic guides begin at the Visitor Center (15 State St., 617/242-5642).

In addition to the Old North Church and the USS Constitution, many lesser-known, thought-provoking sites are located near the Freedom Trail, including the 1806 African Meeting House (46 Joy St., 617/725-0022, afroammuseum.org), the oldest black-church edifice standing in the United States; the New England Holocaust Memorial (Carmen Park on Congress St., nehm.com), featuring six luminous glass towers; and the Vilna Shul (18 Phillips St., 617/233-5001,vilnashul.com), an historic synagogue. None charge admission.

Flip, Sip, and slam Independent bookselling is alive and well at Brattle Book Shop (9 West St., 800/447-9595, brattlebookshop.com), Boston's oldest and largest used bookstore, where you'll find rare, used, and out-of-print books at rock-bottom prices. Check out the $1 books by the thousands on the shelves outside. You can combine both page flipping and coffee sipping in one convenient venue at the Trident Booksellers and Cafe (338 Newbury St., 617/267-8688). It serves cheap food and wine till midnight, which is late for Boston.

(Free) music to my ears

The New England Conservatory of Music (290 Huntington Ave., 617/585-1100, newenglandconservatory.edu) offers high-quality concerts by faculty, students, and guest artists practically every day of the year, many of them free. If your tastes swing more to jazz, pop, or rock, boogie over to the Berklee College of Music (1140 Boylston St., 617/747-8820, berklee.edu), which features free performances in numerous venues. In Cambridge, the Longy School of Music (1 Follen St., 617/876-0956, longy.edu), a world-class conservatory, offers more than 250 events and concerts annually, most free. Little known to visitors, the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Ave., 617/266-1492, bso.org) sells rush tickets ($8) for concerts held from early October to the end of April, which normally cost up to $90. Buy them at the Cohen Wing entrance of Symphony Hall on Fridays beginning at 10 a.m., and Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning at 5 p.m.

Cheap eats

Part college town, part ethnic melting pot, Boston boasts diverse and inexpensive dining options-if you know where to find them. In spite of its fishy name, Anchovies (433 Columbus Ave., 617/266-5088) packs in a local crowd of loyal diners who can't seem to get enough of the heaping platters of delicious Italian specialties ($3.50 to $12). The Red Fez (1222 Washington St., 617/338-6060) prepares Middle Eastern and Mediterranean specialties at tasty prices ($4 to $18). Its late-night tapas menu is served till midnight. Johnny D's (17 Holland St., Somerville, 617/776-2004), located in nearby Davis Square (accessible by subway), serves half-price dinners (average $3 to $7) before 6 p.m., Tuesday through Friday.

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