With a long list of historical sites, Boston has worthwhile tourist attractions on almost every street. However, Beantown has plenty to offer to those looking for something outside the box as well. From the Mapparium to a visit with Boston’s most famous corpses, here’s a look at the top unusual things to do in the city.
Inside The Mary Baker Eddy Library, the Mapparium is a three-story, stained-glass globe that gives you a three-dimensional view at how the world looked in 1935. Originally called “The Glass Room,” the work of art was created to show the global reach of The Christian Science Monitor. Today, it illustrates how countries and borders have changed over the past century. Visitors can view a short presentation here, titled A World of Ideas, that features LED lights and tells “how ideas have traversed time and geography and changed the world.” If you’re more interested in the physical globe itself, a separate exhibit gives an inside view of its history and construction.
Scattered throughout Boston are 16 historic burying grounds, including many with graves dating back to the 1630s. Six of the cemeteries are open daily. Visitors can explore the numerous headstones, which have fascinating epitaphs and iconographies that tell the stories and beliefs of different centuries. The burying grounds of King’s Chapel, Granary and Copp’s Hill lie along the Freedom Trail and are among the more popular sites. The Forest Hills Cemetery in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood holds an arboretum, peaceful sculpture gardens and a small lake. Across the river in Cambridge, Mount Auburn Cemetery has a tall lookout tower with amazing views of Boston and the towns beyond. A few of the famous gravesites you can visit include those of John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Mother Goose, Mary Chilton, Anne Sexton and Paul Revere.
Marked across the entire length of the Harvard Bridge, which connects Boston to Cambridge over the Charles River, is a unique set of measurements known as a “smoot.” The measurement started as a prank in 1958 when MIT’s Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity had freshman pledge Oliver Smoot lie down across the entirety of the bridge to measure its length by using his height. The smoot, which measures five feet, seven inches (1.7 meters), has become the unofficially official unit of measurement for the bridge, which runs a total of 364.4 smoots plus one ear. Visitors can walk the full bridge, also commonly known as the Mass Ave Bridge, and see brightly painted measurements on the deck every 10 smoots.
Hidden inside a rundown convenience store in the Back Bay is one of Boston’s most popular streetwear and shoe shops – Bodega. The store doesn’t have any markings or advertisements out front. To get in, walk to the back of the corner store and slide open the old Snapple machine, which is the real entrance to the upscale shop. Several celebrities, including Jamie Foxx, Maya Rudolph, Jason Sudeikis and Kevin Durant, have visited.
The Scarlett O’Hara House, located in the Beacon Hill neighborhood, isn’t a house at all. Instead, it’s an optical illusion. From afar, it’s hard to tell the home isn’t real. The “house” was painted in the 1980s to resemble a Greek Revival-style home, one that you might see in the South, to cover up an unattractive brick wall. On either side of the “front porch” are the entrances to two real historic brownstone homes.
In a private alleyway between Hanover Street and Battery Street in Boston’s North End, this shine pays tribute to almost every saint canonized by the Catholic Church. Long-time North End resident Peter Baldassari created All Saints Way in the 1990s; he still maintains the alleyway. He lets the public stroll through on occasion and tour the memorabilia and decorations. However, it’s worth a look from the entrance, especially when it’s decorated for the holidays.
Learn about the abandoned tunnels running beneath Boston
Underneath Boston’s City Hall Plaza sits the remains of America’s oldest subway tunnel, the Tremont Street Subway, which opened as the country’s first subway line in 1897. Between new lines and better stations popping up, this subway line was eventually abandoned in 1963. Old structures and relics, including signs of the old Scollay Square station, were discovered in the tunnels when the city temporarily opened it for tours during Boston Preservation Month. While no tours are scheduled in the near future, you can still learn about the tunnels and their history through city historians.
For one weekend each summer, the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway transforms into an eccentric art gallery. It brings together theater, music, sculptures, dance, interactive art and much more into one space. During the FIGMENT Boston weekend, artists across any discipline (meaning no experience required) can install a piece of artwork or put on any performance on the Greenway, as long as it “somehow engages audience participation.” In the past, projects have included mazes, a “Silly Walk Zone,” interactive dance routines, motion-detected audio soundscapes, water games and more. The event is free.
Accessible (Wheelchair), Family Friendly, Dog Friendly
Indulge in sweet treats at Captain Jackson's Historic Chocolate Shop
For food and history lovers, Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop gives visitors a chance to taste and experience what chocolate was like in the 18th century. Located on the Old North Church & Historic Site, the shop is named after Captain Newark Jackson, a mariner who operated a colonial chocolate shop in Boston’s North End in the 1740s. The staff dresses up in period costumes and provide an educational experience on how chocolate was made in colonial times as well as its history in the city. Visitors can sample the chocolate through the tour and also take home American Heritage Chocolate made only from ingredients used in the 18th century.