Boston is one of the oldest cities in the United States, and remnants of its rich history – and role in founding the nation – are still easy to find today while wandering around the city streets.
One of the most wonderful things about Boston is that it is very walkable, making many of these must-visit attractions best seen on foot. Even if you’re only visiting for a few days, you should still be able to fit in lots of the places that have helped shape Boston into one of the most amazing, and beautiful, cities in America.
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Boston Common and Public Garden
The Boston Common and Public Garden lie next to each other and together make one of the largest green spaces in the downtown area. The garden features walking paths, statues, flowers and willow trees dripping over a quaint pond. Feed the ducks, and ride a swan boat. Alternatively, have a picnic near the hundreds of blooming tulips in the spring.
The Freedom Trail
The Freedom Trail is a fun and affordable way to learn about the history of Boston. Follow the red-brick path from the Boston Common through the North End and to Charlestown to see 16 landmarks that are significant to the founding of the United States.
Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts is the fourth-largest museum in the United States, filled with almost 500,000 works of art from around the world. The collection spans from ancient Egyptian jewelry to the art of Asia and beyond. Be sure to check out the rotating exhibits.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Modeled after a Venetian palace, the stunning Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum should be at the top of your list. The courtyard is beautiful with female statues set among a garden setting. Meanwhile, the inside of the museum houses rare books, paintings, drawings, furniture and more from ancient Rome, Medieval Europe, Renaissance Italy, and Asia.
Old North Church
The Old North Church is rumored to be the most visited historic site in Boston. Its claim to fame came in 1775 when Robert Newman (the church sexton) and Vestryman Captain John Pulling, Jr ascended the steeple with two lanterns. These lights were a signal from Paul Revere that the British were coming by sea across the Charles River. “One by land, two by sea.” This event ignited the American Revolution.
Fenway Park is the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball. Catch a Red Sox game, and eat a Fenway Frank. Also, have a drink at the many pubs on Landsdowne Street. In the winter, you can check out Frozen Fenway, which is two weeks of hockey and ice-skating events. Tours of the park operate year-round.
The North End is the oldest residential community in Boston. Wander the narrow streets, and be sure to eat at one of the many Italian restaurants on Hanover Street. Finish up with cannolis from Mike’s Pastry or Modern Pastry, or try both to see which one you like better. (There’s a rivalry between the two bakeries.)
Faneuil Hall has been a marketplace and meeting hall for hundreds of years. Even though it’s touristy, it’s still a gorgeous attraction in Boston worth visiting. Have a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants. Alternatively, dine inside the Quincy Market and imagine where the vendors once stood while selling their goods hundreds of years ago.
New England Aquarium
The New England Aquarium is a top attraction for families and animal lovers. The giant circular tank allows you to watch the marine life while walking around the aquarium. There are over 80 penguins, and you can also learn about and touch stingrays at the Shark and Ray Touch Tank. The aquarium also operates an IMAX theater and offers whale-watching excursions.
The Boston waterfront offers spectacular views of the city skyline, for free! It is protected along the harbor, so take advantage as it is open to the public. The Harborwalk is currently 38 miles (61.1 kilometers), and when complete, it will be 47mi (75.6km), stretching from East Boston to the Neponset River. See the best views by starting near the New England Aquarium and following the walk to the front of the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse.
Charles River Esplanade
Another walk in the city is along the Charles River Esplanade. The approximate 3mi (4.8km) leafy path offers views of Cambridge from the Boston side of the Charles River. Walk, jog or bike along the trails with the locals, or rent kayaks and paddleboats to see the river up close. Also, check out the Hatch Memorial Shell for events.
USS Constitution Museum
Up there with the Freedom Trail and Paul Revere’s House in the North End, ‘Old Ironsides’ is about as Boston as you can get. The USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned ship in the US Navy (launched in 1797) and still has naval officers and crew members onboard. Its famed battles during the War of 1812 earned it the nickname ‘Old Ironsides’ because enemy ships had a difficult time penetrating its strong oak hull with cannon fire. The Navy operates the ship as a historic site alongside the National Park Service in the Charlestown Navy Yard.
Old State House
The Old State House Museum allows you to experience the Revolutionary era through its collection of artefacts and interactive displays. View historical documents, maps and newspapers, and enjoy the Old State House itself. See the floating spiral staircase, John Hancock’s coat and the Council Chamber.
Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum
The Boston Tea Party served as the famous catalyst for the revolutionary movement in Massachusetts. At the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, you’ll be able to learn all about how a few hundred colonists in Boston dumped more than 300 chests of tea into the harbor on December 16, 1773. Meant to be symbolic refutation to “taxation without representation,” the tea party kicked off the push for independence in Boston. When you visit, you’ll be able to step into the past by participating in activities on the three replica ships. You’ll even get to toss some tea overboard.
Boston Public Library
The Boston Public Library was the first large free municipal library in the country, opening in 1854. Stop by Bates Hall – a majestic reading room recognized by many to be one of the most important spaces in the world due to its stunning architectural form.
Beacon Hill is a picturesque historic neighborhood in Boston. Hike up the hills, and admire the streets. For shoppers, stop in a general store or boutique.
Museum of Science
The Museum of Science is a perfect option for children and adults alike. Stay for the electric Lightning! show, or check out the visiting exhibitions. There is also an IMAX theater.
Newbury Street is Boston’s shopping destination. Window-shop as you walk the beautiful tree-lined street, and watch it light up at night. Stop in one of the many salons, or purchase from high-end fashion labels. The street was once part of the Boston Harbor and was slowly filled in with dirt and fill from nearby neighborhoods over time.
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway
The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway was once a highway that ran through the city. After the Big Dig, the 15-acre (six-hectare) area was repurposed to become public space. It now features greenery, walking paths, public art and food trucks. Occasionally, there are concerts or events, so check the calendar.
Samuel Adams Boston Brewery
With intelligent and witty tour guides, the Samuel Adams Boston Brewery tour provides a chance to view the brewery process first-hand. Afterward, you can sample specialty malts and smell whole-leaf noble hops. You’ll also have the opportunity to learn about the Sam Adams: brewer, patriot and cousin of President John Adams.
Massachusetts State House
The state house’s golden dome and brick front are visible from the Boston Common if you look up. Take a guided or self-guided tour of the Massachusetts State House for free on weekdays, and walk the marble-floored corridors with murals and portraits of the state’s important leaders lining the walls. Be sure to wander around the outside perimeter of the building to see the different architectural details.
Looking to see Boston from above? Then the Skywalk Observatory is the place to go. Look out over the city from the 50th floor of the Prudential Center. The views are stunning day or night.
Boston Symphony Orchestra
The Boston Symphony Orchestra is one of the five major American symphony orchestras, referred to as the ‘Big Five.’ The orchestra performs in the stately concert hall during the fall, winter and spring, but during the summer, it moves to Tanglewood in the Berkshires.
If you’re a fan of great beer and pretzels, Harpoon Brewery is a must-visit. Grab a beer on draft in the open beer hall, or take a behind-the-scenes tour of the brewery to learn more about the making of the local brew.
Underground at Ink Block
Home to Boston’s first outdoor mural project, the Underground at Ink Block was created in 2017 in the South End. It is home to more than a dozen large-scale street-art pieces. Working with MassDOT, National Development and Street Theory Gallery, the city transformed the area under the I-91 overpass into a small park and recreational area. It’s open daily and also plays host to several summertime events, including yoga, basketball and food-truck festivals.
Dana Forsythe contributed additional reporting to this article.
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