Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in New Bedford, MA

  • Published 2023/01/04

New Bedford was first settled in 1652, incorporated as a town in 1787, and became a city in 1847.

Nicknamed “The Whaling City” and the “City that Lit the World,” New Bedford was one of the world’s most important whaling ports during the 19th century.

More than a dozen city blocks are part of a national park to safeguard its whaling history.

New Bedford is also America’s number 1 fishing port, with a huge fishing fleet.

This beautiful coastal city in Bristol County, Massachusetts, offers a lengthy list of tourist attractions you should check out.

If you’re on a tight budget but still want to enjoy this place, there are many free things to do here.

These include viewing museum exhibits, visiting historical sites, attending annual events, admiring striking waterfront views, and strolling the historic downtown.

Bring your loved ones and try these free things to do in New Bedford, Massachusetts, to make your getaway even more worthwhile!

Join the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament

Carnival games at the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament

Mystic Stock Photography /

Flock to New Bedford’s Madeira Field with your whole family and friends for the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament.

This traditional annual event is the world’s largest Portuguese feast and New England’s largest ethnic festival.

Four Madeiran immigrants founded it in 1915 to recreate the religious festivals of their home island and celebrate their safe arrival in the United States.

Wine at the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament

Mystic Stock Photography /

This four-day mid-summer event draws hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world.

The Feast of the Blessed Sacrament features a large parade, a Madeiran wine, folk dancing, live music, carnival rides, kids’ activities, food and drink, and exhibits.

Food stalls at the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament

Mystic Stock Photography /

Celebrate the City’s Art Culture at AHA!

Head over to downtown New Bedford every second Thursday of the month for Art, History, Architecture, or AHA! on Union Street.

You’ll see the creative community of New Bedford through its arts, culture, and artistic expression everywhere.

Opened in 1999, AHA! is popular in New Bedford and across the United States for its stellar representation of the city’s art, history, and architecture.

Its collaboration with more than 60 partners is committed to invigorating New Bedford through a thriving creative economy.

This festival is more enticing because it’s free and has a unique monthly theme, igniting your artistic side.

Don’t miss out on AHA! Night, the fascinating exhibits, entertaining performances, and more.

Read a Book and View Exhibits at the New Bedford Free Public Library

For book lovers and those who want a peaceful atmosphere, visit the New Bedford Free Public Library.

Established in 1852, it’s one of the earliest free municipal libraries in the United States.

New Bedford takes pride in having five library branches, including the Main Library situated along Pleasant Street, plus a Bookmobile.

If you want to study, read books, do some quick research, or kill some time and engage your mind, this spot would be a great stop.

Don’t forget to admire the art collection inside with changing exhibits and the historic building itself.

In addition, the New Bedford Free Public Library has a lot of free events open to the public.

Travel Back in Time at the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park

Aerial view of New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park

Wangkun Jia /

The best way to learn about the city’s rich whaling history in the 19th century is by visiting the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park.

Established in 1996, the historical park spans 34 acres over 13 city blocks along the New Bedford waterfront.

There’s a visitor center here, historic buildings, and other attractions that preserve the history of the whaling industry, art, architecture, the Underground Railroad, and more.

Visitor center at New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park

Rolf Müller, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Marvel at the architectural styles, take photographs, join a ranged-guided walking tour of the historic district, and explore the city’s old-time whaling life.

Admission to the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park is free.

However, some attractions inside the park have a small fee, like the Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum and the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Rotch-Jones-Duff Garden at New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park

Rolf Müller, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Take a Stroll at The Blue Lane

Visit The Blue Lane to experience the beauty of New Bedford.

This collection of waterfront trails offers not just a relaxing afternoon hike but also striking seaside views that skirt the edge of New Bedford.

It consists of three hiking trails: the HarborWalk, the CoveWalk, and the RiverWalk, that’s coming soon.

The 2.6-mile HarborWalk offers an out-and-back flat and paved path running along the city’s southeastern perimeter and takes you to Fort Taber Park.

Meanwhile, atop the western side of the city’s hurricane barrier lies the 5,550-foot CoveWalk which overlooks Clark’s Cove.

The HarborWalk and the CoveWalk are lit at night, featuring a relaxing atmosphere and lovely bay views, perfect for a romantic evening walk with your date.

On the other hand, watch out for the 17,000 recreational waterfront called RiverWalk that’s coming soon, which is as scenic as the two existing trails.

See Fascinating Memorabilia at the Museum of Madeiran Heritage

If you want to know the story of Madeiran immigration to the United States, visit the Museum of Madeiran Heritage at Funchal Place.

The museum houses an extensive collection of artwork, photographs, and artifacts from the Island of Madeira.

The displays include embroidery, linens, lace, pottery, weaving, traditional costumes of Folkloric dancers, an authentic ‘corca’ or sled, and more.

When you go to the north portion of the museum, you’ll see the lovely Madeira Garden featuring a grape arbor, a fountain, and plantings.

Likewise, check out the huge brick patio, where numerous names of members and friends are engraved in brick and placed on the walkways.

The Museum of Madeiran Heritage is admissions-free and open by appointment only from May through October; tours can also be arranged.

You can also visit here at the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament and see their love of their native island and their love of their new home in the United States.

Visit Seamen’s Bethel

Exterior of Seamen’s Bethel

Heidi Besen /

Stop by Seamen’s Bethel, an essential site in the city that has served the maritime community for over 175 years.

This renowned historical attraction is also a site for weddings, memorial services, and christenings.

The New Bedford Port Society maintains the Seamen’s Bethel, built in the early 1830s to bless whalemen before their whaling voyages.

Here, you can view on the wall the names of New Bedford whalers and fishermen who’ve gone to the sea and did not come back.

Entrance doors of Seamen’s Bethel

Heidi Besen /

One of the fishermen was Herman Melville, who visited the chapel before heading to sea.

Besides his pew marked here, you’ll also see a ship-shaped pulpit featured in the church.

This spot offers free admission, while free two-hour parking is available on Johnny Cake Hill, where it is located.

It’s open from Thursdays to Sundays, but planning your visit is advisable, as it’s closed to outside visitors if there are scheduled events.

Interior of Seamen’s Bethel

Rolf Müller, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Catch the Moby-Dick Marathon

The New Bedford Whaling Museum has celebrated the annual Moby-Dick Marathon every January since 1997.

This exciting readathon in mid-winter is something you shouldn’t miss out on while in New Bedford.

Moby-Dick Marathon features a 25-hour readathon on Saturday and Sunday, complemented by fun events and activities.

Relive this action-packed narrative and look forward to the search for the great white whale with your family and friends.

Admission and all Saturday and Sunday events are free and open to the public, making attending more enticing.

Join the Fun at the Whaling City Festival

The Whaling City Festival is a staple to New Bedford, bringing large crowds every July at Buttonwood Park.

You can always see children, adults, and families from hundreds of thousands of people visiting this lively event every year.

The Whaling City Festival features arts and crafts, circus shows, carnival rides, games, wrestling matches, a car show, music, and other attractions.

The celebration won’t be complete without festival food and many local vendors selling various food and craft items.

To make your family day a blast, bring your loved ones to the Whaling City Festival.

Catch a Free Show at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center

Exterior of the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center

LGagnon, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Zeiterion Performing Arts Center, situated along Purchase Street, is more than just a performing arts center.

It showcases New Bedford’s cultural excellence and gives a glimpse of the city’s history as the last among the original theaters in the downtown area.

Opening its doors in 1923, the center stands until this day.

The Zeiterion Performing Arts Center offers free events that you should check out to enjoy incredible performances.

This place is perfect for those who want to be entertained and inspired by high-quality presentations from talented performing artists.

Enjoy Nature Views at the Richard C. Wheeler Bay Learning Center

If you’re traveling with kids, don’t forget to visit the Buzzards Bay Coalition’s Richard C. Wheeler Bay Learning Center.

One of the main exhibits at this free environmental exploration center is a huge colorful 3D map of Buzzards Bay.

Visitors can view and touch the surface of the map, which gives a magnificent view of the land, sea, underwater ledges, and banks underneath.

You’ll also find a sculpture garden outside with eelgrass, an underwater plant.

This attraction aims to educate visitors about the local waters and how to protect them.

With its humble and meaningful aim, the Richard C. Wheeler Bay Learning Center is a must-visit.

Marvel at the Sculptures and Murals at the Seaport Art Walk

Outstanding artworks abound at the Seaport Art Walk.

Artist Jessica Bregoli founded this outdoor exhibition in 2013, which can be viewed from July through October.

You’ll recognize the talents of the artists through the sculpture and murals strategically placed along the city’s waterfront and Seaport Cultural District.

The best thing about this outdoor public art installation is that the public can enjoy walking by and seeing impressive artwork for free.

View Military Memorabilia at the Fort Taber–Fort Rodman Military Museum

Far view of Fort Taber–Fort Rodman Military Museum

Danita Delimont /

If you’re interested in history and the military, visit the Fort Taber–Fort Rodman Military Museum.

Opened in 2004, the museum is dedicated to preserving and interpreting the city’s rich military history.

As you walk through the museum, you’ll be fascinated by a statue made by a German POW, historical photographs, soldier biographies, weapons, and uniforms.

People at Fort Taber–Fort Rodman Military Museum

Allan Wood Photography /

There are also artifacts recovered from area waters and every major American War.

The Fort Taber–Fort Rodman Military Museum is admissions-free, and you can locate it in Fort Taber Park.

The grounds of Fort Taber–Fort Rodman Military Museum

Schlitzer90, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Check Out Vintage Cars at 50’s Night

Make your summer more fun by attending the Joe Jesus’ 50’s Night with family and friends who are car enthusiasts.

It’s a classic car show showcasing hundreds of hot rods and vintage cars that many can see in the heart of downtown Bedford.

Aside from attractive cars, there are also street food, live music, and family-friendly activities.

Entrance to this annual event is free, but a small fee applies to those showcasing an antique car.

Don’t miss out on this outdoor exhibit and relive the good old days during the ’50s Night with family, friends, and a friendly community.

Enjoy a Jolly Day during the Downtown New Bedford Holiday Stroll

Kicking off the holiday season is the Downtown New Bedford Holiday Stroll.

A bevy of attractions awaits you and your family at this event, including kids’ activities, live holiday music, special events, and more.

There’s a free hot chocolate bar, and kids also get to meet Santa Claus.

Of course, you don’t want to skip the holiday parade and the annual Christmas Tree Lighting and take photographs with your family.

If you’re excited about the Downtown New Bedford Holiday Stroll, mark your December calendar and enjoy the happenings downtown!

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for a stunning place for your next trip, choose New Bedford.

You can enjoy a bevy of attractions here without spending a dime.

Whether you’re a history buff, a festivalgoer, or an art lover, you’ll have tons of fun in this city.

Enjoy these free things to do in New Bedford, Massachusetts, with your whole family!

© All rights reserved.