Boston is one of the most historically significant cities in the United States. It is a visitor-friendly city and very much loved by the locals. Some of the top Boston attractions are the historic walking tours, beautiful city parks, and world-class museums.
Boston’s Historical Significance
Boston is a perfect spot for history buffs and there is no shortage of interesting corners to discover. Not only is it one of the oldest cities in the US, but also a nation that has played a significant role in the development of the country.
The city has been a settlement in America since the 1630s after the Puritans first settled in the nearby Plymouth Colony. However, Boston later became the headquarters of the colonial government.
Perhaps the most well-known Boston attractions connect to the American Revolutionary War. Likewise, Boston was the epicentre of many events leading to the American Revolution that shaped the country.
Many of the founding fathers called Boston their home and tourists are able to visit the birthplaces and final resting places of many key characters in American history.
Boston Harbor was the main trade port between England and the new colony. This was the main reason why several problems first surfaced in this city. As tensions increased, many of the earliest movements against British rule happened in Boston, including the ‘no taxation without representation’ demand and the Boston Tea Party.
It was later in Boston, that Paul Revere took his famous ride. Also, outside the Boston city, the first battles of the American Revolution took place.
In addition to all this history in the air, it’s not a wonder that many of the top things to do in Boston centre around historical events.
Walking around the city truly brings the stories and characters to life. Moreover, while deciding what to see in Boston, the most important question will be how to fit it all into your schedule!
Walk the Boston Freedom Trail
Arguably one of the top things to do in Boston is to walk through the Freedom Trail. It is best if you do this at the beginning of your trip, since it will take you past most of the historic sites. Also, it is one of the great ways to get your bearings.
The Freedom Trail is a route through central Boston which goes past places where the seeds of the American nation were sown.
The Freedom Trail start is at Boston Common and the end is at Bunker Hill which is on the opposite side of the river.
The trail is 2.5 miles long and brings you to 16 historically significant Freedom Trail stops. Red bricks mark the path and bronze plaques signal the locations of historical sites.
Walking through the Boston Freedom Trail will certainly take one full day since it includes sightseeing at many historical landmarks. Once you reach the end of the Freedom Trail, you can either walk back or take the Charlestown Water Shuttle to get back to downtown Boston.
You can walk the Freedom Trail by yourself or take one of the Freedom Trail tours. Your tour guide might even wear the traditional 18th-century outfits to help you with background information and lesser-known stories.
The Boston Freedom Trail stops
There are 16 monuments on the Freedom Trail. We recommend finishing the trail in one day and then going back to spend more time at some of the larger Boston attractions like Boston Common and Faneuil Hall.
Boston Common – The Freedom Trail start is at the oldest park in America which features a rich history and is a popular modern-day hangout.
Massachusetts State House – The Governor of Massachusetts still sits in this historic building. Paul Revere built its copper dome which was later covered in gold.
Park Street Church – Founded in 1809 by orthodox Trinitarians, this landmark is still an active Boston church.
Granary Burying Ground – This historic cemetery is the final resting place of Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, and Mary Goose (Mother Goose).
King’s Chapel and Burying Ground – The first Anglican church that was built in the colonies.
Benjamin Franklin Statue and the former site of Boston Latin School – A great photo opportunity with Mr Franklin and the first public school in the United States.
Old Corner Bookstore – Literary figures such as Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow used to gather here.
There’s much more!
Old South Meeting House – Many of the revolutionary leaders attended religious services here, however, it’s best known as the place where they planned the Boston Tea Party.
Old State House – One of the oldest buildings in America, built in 1713. The balcony of this historic building is where the Declaration of Independence was read to a citizen crowd for the first time.
Site of the Boston Massacre – 5 unarmed colonists were killed here by British troops during a confrontation. This was a key event leading up to the American Revolution.
Faneuil Hall – One of the top Boston attractions, Faneuil Hall is a public marketplace known for food, boutiques, and street performers.
Paul Revere’s House – Visit the colonial home of the significant figure of the American Revolution.
Old North Church – The site where the lanterns signalling ‘one if by land, two if by sea’ were hung to warn the colonists.
Copp’s Hill Burying Ground – The final resting place for many of Boston’s first settlers.
USS Constitution – A historic naval ship which can be visited and explored today. The ship saw battle in the War of 1812 on both American and British shores.
Bunker Hill Monument – The site of a major American Revolution battle on June 17, 1775.
An Afternoon at Historic Faneuil Hall Marketplace
Faneuil Hall Marketplace is a group of buildings which include Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, North Market, and South Market.
It’s the perfect place to sample traditional food found in a buzzing Boston market. Therefore, throughout Faneuil Hall, you’ll find top restaurants and smaller stalls along the Quincy Market Colonnade. The area is a beloved gathering point for locals and tourists alike. Likewise, it is one of the best venues for street performances in the world.
Faneuil Hall is called ‘The Cradle of Liberty’ because of how many significant speeches took place here. It was in Faneuil Hall that James Otis declared ‘no taxation without representation’ against British rulers. You can also take a walking tour to learn more about Faneuil Hall history.
A favourite curiosity in Boston is the Faneuil Hall Weathervane with its famed Golden Grasshopper. This little guy has stood watch atop the Boston market since 1742 and has witnessed the birth of the nation and centuries of American history. There is even a time capsule in the grasshopper’s body which contains historic newspaper clippings, coins, and letters.
Relaxing in Boston Common
Boston Common is a huge city park and certainly one of the best Boston attractions where the locals love to hang out. In addition to it, Boston Common is America’s oldest public park founded in the year 1634.
Back in the early days, it served as a training ground for colonial troops, until the British troops took it over in 1768. Therefore, so many historic protests and celebrations have taken place at Boston Common over the course of US history.
A central attraction in Boston Common is the Frog Pool. In summer it becomes a spray fountain. Hence it is a great place where kids splash around to keep their cool. Also, when it freezes in winter, it’s one of Boston’s best ice skating ponds.
Art and Culture at the Museum of Fine Arts
Boston’s world-class Museum of Fine Arts is home to a huge collection, ranging from Egyptian artefacts to Modern Art. A visit here is one of the best cultural things to do in Boston.
They have an impressive collection of French impressionist paintings as well as classical paintings and frescoes. The most famous fresco on display at the Museum of Fine Arts was salvaged from the Villa of the Contrado Bottaro in Pompeii, Italy.
You can even see some of Paul Revere’s silver work. Afterall, before he was an integral historical figure, he was a silversmith by trade.
The museum is huge, but luckily a ticket to the museum gives you a full day of entry and exit access. In addition to all these, there is also a free entrance for another visit within 10 days. The museum also opens its doors for free during Wednesday nights, after 4 pm and also on certain holidays.
5. Stroll in Boston Public Garden
The Public Boston Garden is America’s first public botanical garden and also borders the Boston Common. The garden has a Victorian flair with lagoons and winding pathways.
Many locals consider the Boston Garden as their favourite part of the city.
The Boston Garden is home to over 80 plant species. It also includes a 4-acre lagoon.
A quintessential Boston activity is to take a ride on the Swan Boats, which have been in use for over 100 years. Their slow pace helps you to take in the natural beauty of the gardens.
The Boston garden parking situation can be difficult. So it’s always best to take public transportation, walk or rent a bike to visit this beautiful garden.
6. Walk to the Waterfront at Boston Harbor
Surrounded by water, Boston has a great seafront and lots of opportunities for water-based tours.
You can take a tour at the floating museum dedicated to the Boston Tea Party. The museum does a great job bringing these historical events and characters to life. There are many well-preserved tea boats and interactive exhibits which make it one of the best activities to do with kids in Boston. You can even throw (fake) tea overboard and join the ranks of the revolutionaries.
Another special activity would be to take one of the Boston harbour cruises or a Duck Boat tour. From the water, you’ll get a completely different perspective of Boston.
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Museum and Library
Located right on the shoreline opposite Boston, this museum has an incredible view of downtown. This was a deliberate choice because of how much Kennedy loved his hometown, Boston.
The museum is dedicated to John F. Kennedy and includes research, collections, and exhibits about the late president’s life. The building itself is an attraction in itself and was designed by the renowned architect I. M. Pei.
Those who are interested in fashion will also love seeing some of Jacqueline Kennedy’s dresses on display.
Immerse Yourself in History at the Old North Church
The Old North Church is the oldest of all the Boston churches. The famous lanterns signalling ‘one if by land, two if by sea’ are hung in the bell tower of this historic Boston church.
You can take a tour of the church and hear all about the story from a historian. It’s one of the free things to do in Boston, but donations are always welcome to help with the maintenance of this historical building.
9. Take a Tour of Fenway Park (or Catch a Game!)
Synonymous with Boston is its historic Fenway Park. The stadium is actually the oldest baseball stadium in the Major Leagues.
If you plan ahead, you can either catch a baseball game or see a concert in Fenway. You can even take a tour of the historic arena and visit the Bleacher Bar on the field level.
During game days, there are tours starting 3 hours before the game and you might be able to see the players warming up. On non-game days you can catch a one-hour tour anytime from 9 am to 5 pm.
10. Do a Brewery Tour and Beer Tasting
One of the fun things to do in Boston is to take a tour of a local brewery. Boston’s beer brewing culture is a big part of the city and the breweries range from historic landmarks to massive production like Sam Adams, to modern microbreweries.
How to Travel Around Boston
Luckily the historic downtown is very small and very walkable. In fact, most of ‘what to see in Boston’ is located just 20 minutes away from the centre of the town.
Public transport is easy to figure out so a car is not necessary. The public transit system is called MBTA and is very well-run with good connections throughout the city.
Boston also has a public bike-sharing program, called Blue Bikes, which is a great way to get around the city. To use a bike or car sharing service, you’ll just have to sign up for an account ahead of time. Once you have an account, it’s very straightforward and easy to use.
As you can see, there is no shortage of things to do in Boston. Enjoy your time in the vibrant epicentre of American History!