As one of the oldest cities in America and home to a young collegiate crowd and growing innovative community, Boston has fun and fascinating attractions and experiences on almost every corner.
From historic sites and erudite museums to stunning views, many of Boston’s attractions capture its essence. To narrow down the long list of possibilities and get the best sense of the city, here’s a look at the top 12 things to do in Boston.
Widely considered one of Boston’s most popular tourist activities, the Freedom Trail is a 2.5-mile (four-kilometer) journey around the city’s numerous historic landmarks. The trail, marked by a painted red line on Boston’s sidewalks, takes visitors to 16 different sites – including churches, burying grounds, old meeting houses and more – that were essential in the American Revolution as well as other formative moments in the country’s history. Follow the trail yourself or join one of the several tours led by the Freedom Trail Foundation.
Whether you’re into baseball or not, Fenway Park provides fascinating insights into America’s “National Pastime” and the city’s history. Built in 1912, the ballpark is the oldest Major League Baseball stadium still in use – take one of its one-hour walking tours to learn more. However, if you really want to experience Fenway as a Bostonian, stay for a Red Sox game or stop for a drink at the Bleacher Bar, a pub located under the bleachers in centerfield with an up-close view of the field.
It can be hard to see everything Boston has to offer, so to see as much as possible, participate in one of the city’s famous sightseeing tours. One option is the Boston Duck Tours, an 80-minute ride around the city in a replica World War II-era amphibious landing vehicle. The daily excursion, guided by quirky ConDUCKtours, will take you to a variety of different historic landmarks before taking a 20-minute trip around the Charles River. If you want to have a little more independence on your tour, check out one of Boston’s hop-on, hop-off rides. These trolley tours will lead you around the city and give you the chance to get off or on at a variety of locations. If you get off, you can get back on at any time.
Located over 700-feet (213-meters) above Boston’s Back Bay in the Prudential Tower, the Skywalk is an observatory providing 360-degree views of the city skyline, coastline and more. Also, there is an available audio tour that explains what you’re looking at as well as the history of the sights. There is also a multimedia movie theater (with a variety of educational programming) and The Dreams of Freedom Museum, which celebrates the role of immigrants in the city. End your day at the Top of the Hub, an elegant restaurant on the 52nd floor of the tower, to watch the sunset with a drink in hand.
Similar to the Freedom Trail, Boston’s Black Heritage Trail explores the 19th- and 20th-century history of Boston’s black community. The trail, which extends around 1.5mi (2.4km) and mainly travels through the Beacon Hill neighborhood, hits 14 landmarks, such as the African Meeting House, Abiel Smith School, Robert Gould Shaw Memorial and other parts of the Underground Railroad in Boston. Also, check out the Museum of African American History, located near the Massachusetts State House, or take a tour from the National Park Service.
Visit the Boston Common and Public Garden and ride a Swan Boat
The Boston Common and Public Garden are the heart of the city. Similar to New York’s Central Park (and designed by the same architect), this middlemost garden provides an essential respite from the surrounding commotion. Throughout both parks – separated down the middle by Charles Street – you’ll find picnickers, buskers, performers, pools and ponds, and lots of flowers. In the middle of the Boston Public Garden are the Swan Boats, a staple for tourists and locals alike. A driver, sitting under a swan cover, pedals the pontoon boat, taking you for a short, peaceful ride around the water. The Paget family began the attraction in 1877 and has owned it ever since, making it a part of Boston’s history and a favorite pastime. While you’re riding along, keep an eye out for Romeo and Juliet, two real swans and Boston icons that make their summer home in the lagoon.
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Boston has a total of 34 harbor islands located just off the city’s coastline, and many of them are available for public access. During the warmer months (it varies by island), catch a public ferry to the open islands, where you can walk around, camp, check out one of the historic sites or view local wildlife. For those more interested in a guided tour, Boston Harbor Cruises has various water excursions, including whale-watching, lighthouse tours and much more.
Completed in 1742 and known as “The Cradle of Liberty,” Faneuil Hall is a meeting place and local market right in Downtown Boston. The spot, named after a wealthy colonial merchant who donated the funds to build it, was originally used as a public gathering hall that played host to town meetings, famous speeches (including from Frederick Douglass and Samuel Adams) and political events. Today, you can explore the cobblestone walkways, watch street performers or check out either of the three large marketplaces, which in total hold over 70 retailers and local eateries.
For those looking to unwind and escape the city bustle, the Charles River Esplanade is a 3mi (4.8km) walkway. The green space is open to the public and provides a perfect opportunity for a stroll, run or bike ride alongside the water with views of both Boston and Cambridge. There are also docks and numerous boating houses sprinkled along the river where people can sit and relax or rent sailboats and kayaks. Some organizations even offer free outdoor yoga in the summer. It is also home to the Hatch Shell, an outdoor concert space that hosts a variety of events, including Free Friday Flicks, a summertime movie series.
As one of the most collegiate cities in America, Boston is home to many fascinating museums. The Museum of Science is popular with both children and adults, as is the New England Aquarium, located right on the Boston Harbor. The USS Constitution Museum is perfect for history lovers, as is the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum. The Museum of Fine Arts has a world-class collection of paintings and artefacts from ancient Egypt to the present day. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum – the site of the largest art heist in history – houses some significant paintings from around the world in a Venetian-style palace. The Institute of Contemporary Art is perfect for modern and abstract art lovers. On top of that, Boston is home to the Bunker Hill Museum, the Boston Children’s Museum, the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and many other intriguing spots.
Boston has a total of 47mi (75.6km) of scenic coastline, and you can walk 43mi (69.2km) of it along the Boston Harborwalk. The park stretches from lower Dorchester to East Boston, hitting eight different neighborhoods in total. The walkway – kept up by the City of Boston and Boston Harbor Now – offers a peaceful, broad view of the city’s shoreline while also connecting over 40 parks, numerous museums and nine beaches to guests and residents. The most popular section to walk is down Long Wharf near Downtown and the New England Aquarium, where there are coin-operated binoculars and a lot of activity nearby.
Located in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, Copley Square is a bustling yet charming city center with shopping, sightseeing and beautiful architecture. Some must-see sights include the historic Boston Public Library (Central Branch) as well as the Trinity Church (a grand Episcopal church erected between 1872 and 1877). The finish line for the Boston Marathon sits steps away on Boylston Street while Newbury Street, with high-end dining and shopping, is only a block away. While you’re here, take a picture in front of the famous Tortoise and Hare statue, based on the well-known fable and dedicated to the Boston Marathon.