A Walking Tour of Boston's Architectural Landmarks

Copley Square | © Alan Light / Flickr
Copley Square | © Alan Light / Flickr
Photo of Ashley Kane
Freelance Writer25 February 2017

Boston is home to numerous historical landmarks and beautiful architecture spread throughout the city. The famous Freedom Trail takes visitors on a 2.5-mile (four-kilometer) walk past 16 significant sites. But what about the lesser-known landmarks? While many visitors do stop by Copley Square, they may not realize how many architectural wonders are located nearby, so Culture Trip put together a short walking tour of the stunning buildings and landmarks around this downtown area.

Old South Church

Start your walking tour at the Old South Church, just outside the Green Line T subway stop for Copley Square. Look up to see a stunning Gothic Revival church. The congregation here, United Church of Christ, started in 1669. They then moved to this church, built in 1873. The style was by Charles Amos Cummings and Willard T. Sears. Later, architects Allen & Collens further expanded the intricate details of the structure. Resting on the historic Back Bay section of Boston, which was once all underwater, this beautiful place of worship is now a National Historic Landmark.

Old South Church | © Josh / Flickr

Boston Public Library

The next stop on your tour is the Boston Public Library, also known as the BPL. This gorgeous library is an architectural landmark and happens to be located right across the street from the Old South Church. Go inside the McKim building, built in 1895, and see Bates Hall, a stunning reading room with coffered ceilings. The building has lavish details and displays rare work and holds the library’s research collection. A gallery, which is representative of a Renaissance cloister, surrounds its courtyard, which is very similar to the Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome. Designed by Charles McKim and influenced by Henri Labrouste and Leon Battista Alberti’s work, this National Historic Landmark is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

Boston Public Library | © Yuefeng D / Flickr

Trinity Church

Located on the opposite side of Copley Square is Trinity Church, opened in 1877 and built for the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts congregation, which started in 1733. After a fire at their previous Summer Street location, the renowned Rector Phillips Brooks issued the construction of Trinity Church. Designed by Henry Hobson Richardson, Trinity Church is the birthplace of his Richardsonian Romanesque style, characterized by a clay roof, rough stone, and arches. Listed as one of the “Ten Most Significant Buildings in the United States” by the American Institute of Architects, the building is in the shape of a modified Greek cross with a central tower. Walk inside and see the many brightly colored murals that cover over 20,000 square feet (1,858 square meters) of space. The interior also features beautiful stained glass.

Hungry? Take a pit stop for a bite to eat before finishing the tour. There are plenty of eateries on Boylston Street. Try out the fast and healthy Sweetgreen or Dig Inn for salads and grain bowls, or sit down at MET Back Bay or Parish Cafe for a delicious meal.

Trinity Church exterior | © Bill Damon / Flickr

Copley Square

Take a moment to enjoy the central space of historic Copley Square. Named after the painter John Singleton Copley in 1883, which was the year the city officially recognized the area as a public square, it is currently a pending Boston Landmark. During the following years, the city had competitions to improve the space. Sasaki Dawson won the contest in 1965 and added benches, trees, and a cascading pool. Another competition took place during the 100th year anniversary, and Dean Abbot won, adding more greenery to the square. Wander through this green space, and grab a bite to eat at one of the farmer’s market vendors during the spring, summer, and fall. See the historic Tortoise and Hare statue, the statue of John Singleton Copley, and the Copley Square fountain. Copley Square is also right near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Copley Square | © Alan Light / Flickr

The Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel

First opened in 1912, the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel is located on another side of Copley Square, on James Avenue. Recognized as one of the Historic Hotels of America, it is under consideration for Boston Landmark status. This hotel was built on the original site of the Museum of Fine Arts and named after John Singleton Copley. Architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh designed the seven-floor hotel in the Beaux-Arts style, complete with limestone and brick. Walk inside and view the lobby and Peacock Alley, with its stunning Italian marble columns and crystal chandeliers. Much of the design and decorations have been preserved over the years.

The Fairmont Copley Square Plaza | © Alan Light / Flickr

Boston Public Garden

A few blocks up Boylston Street is where you’ll find the glorious Boston Public Garden. This garden was established in 1837 by the philanthropist Horace Gray, to create the first public botanical garden in the United States. This 24-acre garden is a Boston Landmark and a National Historic Landmark, and it was designed by George Meacham. View the intricate suspension bridge and see the bronze statue of George Washington as well as the Make Way for Ducklings landmark.

Boston Public Garden | © Bill Ilot / Flickr

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