Best Things To Do in Boston
Boston's nearly four centuries of history are showcased by the city's must-see sights. Start your tour on the Freedom Trail, which will lead you to landmarks like the Paul Revere House and Boston Common. Or, discover Beantown's artsy side at the Museum of Fine Arts and its fashion sense along Newbury Street. If you're a fan of baseball, you can't miss catching a game at Fenway Park, home to the beloved Red Sox. Though blowing through your travel fund is a cinch in Boston, there are also plenty of things to do that won't cost you a penny; the lovely Boston Public Garden and the lively Faneuil Hall Marketplace can be experienced without opening your wallet.
Updated August 23, 2019
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Four buildings – Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, North Market and South Market – constitute Faneuil Hall Marketplace, with the oldest being Faneuil Hall. Built in 1742 and now located on the Freedom Trail, Faneuil Hall has had a long and important history in Massachusetts politics. Samuel Adams once stood here to push for resistance against the British, and abolitionists and suffragists have stood on their soapboxes here. In fact, this is where Jonathan Mayhew famously challenged the Sugar Act of 1764 by proclaiming, "no taxation without representation." Since Mayhew's declaration, the marketplace has expanded to include more than 100 shops and restaurants.
Some former visitors caution that the items sold at Faneuil Hall Marketplace are a bit overpriced. However, if you're looking to kill some time or snap some great photos, consider strolling through the market's halls. You'll also find various cuisines served in Quincy Market if you're in need of a quick bite. Keep in mind that this market gets crowded quickly (especially on weekends and in the summer), so it's best to visit during a weekday if you don't want to encounter hordes of people.
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After Isabella Stewart Gardner's husband died in 1898, the art enthusiast bought land in Boston's Fenway area to open a museum to display her impressive collection of Italian art. The museum, which was fashioned after the Palazzo Barbaro in Venice, was completed in 1902, at which point Gardner moved in to the fourth floor and began installing her collection. Today, you can visit this Boston museum to get your fill of the Italian masters, such as Raphael and Titian. The building also showcases a cache of beautiful furniture, photographs, sculpture and rare books straight from Europe. In 2012, the museum unveiled a new wing designed by acclaimed Italian architect Renzo Piano. The most recent addition includes a glass atrium, greenhouses and landscaped gardens.
Recent museumgoers said the collection captures Gardner's penchant for art, architecture and horticulture through its diverse displays. Though some previous visitors described the museum as a bit of a hodgepodge rather than a cohesive layout, many praised the property's vast collection of artifacts and intimate atmosphere. Also, remember to turn off your camera flash before entering since flash photography is not permitted inside.
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The grounds of Boston Common started as a cow pasture in the mid-1600s. After a few years, overgrazing became a problem and the area was transformed into a British camp. After the Revolutionary War, the park became a popular locale for public speeches and rallies. Now, the Common is best known because of its status as the oldest public park in the country. You'll also find a variety of activities and events, including theater and musical performances, hosted here throughout the year. If you plan to traverse the Freedom Trail, you'll start the walk here at Boston Common.
Though some visitors said you won't find much to do in this park, Boston Common is great for picnics or a leisurely stroll. Recent travelers also noted that this site is a wonderful spot to take young children. In addition to ample running room on the park's green space, kids can play at the Tadpole Playground or Frog Pond. Frog Pond offers a spray pool during the warmer months and an ice skating rink in the winter.
- #4View all Photos#4 in BostonToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
Though Boston's food scene used to lag behind other popular vacation locales like New York City and Charleston, the city's sizable immigrant population and influx of new chefs (including "Top Chef" alum Carl Dooley and James Beard Award finalist Cassie Piuma, among others) has helped it blossom into a respectable foodie destination. Seafood (especially oysters, clams and lobster) continues to be one of the main staples of Boston cuisine, but if you're interested in learning more about Bean Town's ethnic fare and specialty products, reserve a spot on one of the city's food tours. Available in neighborhoods such as the South End, Chinatown, Back Bay and the North End, Boston's foodie excursions offer samples of everything from homemade pasta to dim sum to plant-based ice cream. The following are some of the most popular food tours from traveler-approved tour companies:
Off The Eaten Path Tours: For foodies who want to get a tasty overview of Boston's iconic Italian district, there's Off The Eaten Path Tours' North End outing. Visitors love the company's knowledgeable, enthusiastic host, who guides participants through the North End's cobblestone streets, explaining the area's history between food tastings. The three-hour tour includes bites of Italian classics like arancini, gelato and cannoli, plus sips of Italian wines (for those 21 and older) and a pasta-making demonstration. It starts and ends in the neighborhood's North Square and costs $69 per person.
- #5View all Photos#5 in BostonMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
A must for any history buffs or fans of our nation's 35th president, this excellent library and museum details the life and times of President John F. Kennedy. Exhibits include his presidential papers; masses of Kennedy memorabilia, including re-creations of his desk in the Oval Office and of the television studio in which he debated Richard M. Nixon in the 1960 election; and even his 26-foot sailboat. In addition, there's also a permanent display on the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; a re-creation of the office Robert Kennedy occupied as attorney general from 1961 to 1964; and exhibits detailing the space program, gifts from heads of state and more. The building itself is quite striking and was designed by architect I. M. Pei.
Recent visitors said that while the museum is off the beaten path (it sits on Columbia Point in the city's Dorchester neighborhood), it is well worth the trek thanks to the exhibits and staff.
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If you want to make the most out of the Museum of Fine Arts, one of the oldest art institutions in the country, then you'll need to spend a good chunk of your day here. The museum is home to one of the best art collections in the world, including the celebrated Art of the Americas wing. Inside this sprawling collection, which debuted in 2010, you'll encounter 53 galleries showcasing iconic pieces from pre-Columbian times to the 20th century. John Singer Sargent's dazzling pieces are one standout here, and as you delve deeper into the collection, you'll see his paintings sharing wall space with those by masters like John Singleton Copley and Edward Hopper.
You'll also find an impressive collection of Asian art here, plus works from Monet, Renoir, Manet and Rembrandt on display in the European collection. And in special temporary exhibits, you can admire masterpieces from the likes of Georgia O'Keeffe and Picasso.
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Stretching 2½ miles, the Freedom Trail weaves past 16 of the city's most historic sites, including Faneuil Hall Marketplace, the Paul Revere House and Old North Church. Taking in all of the trail's attractions requires at least half a day (and some comfortable walking shoes), but you can easily plot points of interest before you begin your jaunt from Boston Common.
Though most recent visitors agreed the trail is easy to navigate on your own, some culture hounds said joining one of the walking tours with the 18th-century costumed Freedom Trail Player tour guides offers an informative, 90-minute introduction to Boston's revolutionary roots. If you have a Go Boston Card, standard guided tours are covered by your pass.
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Though the Boston Public Garden sits right next to Boston Common, the two are actually quite different. The public garden is newer (established in 1837) and holds the distinction of being America's first public botanical garden. Flowers and trees are beautifully organized and kept in quality condition throughout. You can see the colorful arrangements and exotic trees from the 4-acre pond in the center of the garden before taking in the lagoon by Swan Boat. Additionally, the park houses two of Boston's most iconic statues: "Make Way for Ducklings" (a bronze sculpture of a duck and her eight ducklings) and the George Washington Statue (which shows America's first president riding on a horse).
Visitors looking to relax after sightseeing will enjoy Boston Public Garden. Recent travelers said you'll find plenty of shade beneath the park's trees, which comes in handy on hot summer days. Plus, you'll likely spot some ducks and geese swimming around the Public Garden's lagoon. And if you have a few dollars, past visitors recommended taking a 15-minute ride on a Swan Boat. The large paddle boats cost $4 to ride (or $2.50 for kids ages 2 to 15); travelers with Go Boston Cards ride for free. Swan Boats are available between mid-April and mid-September.
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Chances are you’ll end up in the North End at least once during your visit to Boston. It's steeped in the city's rich history as it holds the title of Boston's oldest neighborhood and houses three attractions on the Freedom Trail. What makes this neighborhood a top point of interest, however, is its Italian culture: The North End is considered Boston’s Little Italy.
While Italians weren’t the first to settle in this area (English settlers arrived first then Jewish Germans and Irish), their cultural influence on the North End withstood the test of time. Today, you’ll find all kinds of Italian food from classic pizza pies served at the popular Regina Pizzeria to Sicilian-style seafood, such as black linguine (made with squid ink) and calamari meatballs at The Daily Catch. For dinner, try Mamma Maria for fine dining, Giacomo's for its affordable, made-in-house pasta or Bricco, which sources its meats and bread from its own meat and bread shop, located right next door. If you’re only interested in pizza, hit up Galleria Umberto for delectable solo slices or Antico Forno for its full-size, wood-fired pies. Prezza is known for its extensive wine list, boasting more than 600 wine labels to choose from. If you’re looking to veer away from traditional Italian fare, venture to Taranta, which plates up Peruvian-Italian fusion dishes. For dessert, make sure to pick up a cannoli at Mike’s Pastry or Modern Pastry, or tiramisu at the 24-hour Bova’s Bakery.
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A library isn't always all about books. The main branch of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square, which opened in 1895, is so much more, according to recent visitors who call the architecture "beautiful." Walking into the Renaissance Revival building is akin to visiting a museum. On Dartmouth Street, two immense stone lions sculpted by Louis Saint-Gaudens stand guard by the main entrance. Inside, Bates Hall, the library's main reference reading room, is a 218-foot-long room with a barrel-arch ceiling soaring 50 feet high.
Visitors can take a free tour and learn all about the murals found throughout the library, including John Singer Sargent's series on the "Triumph of Religion," which was returned to its original brilliance after a cleaning and restoration in 2003. Other murals include works by French artist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, who depicted the nine muses in "The Muses of Inspiration," and Edwin Austin Abbey's "The Quest and Achievement of the Holy Grail."
- #11View all PhotosfreeCambridge#11 in BostonMuseums, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDMuseums, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
Cambridge, which sits about 3 miles northwest of Boston's city center, is home to both Harvard University and MIT, but there's more to see in Cambridge than just the schools themselves. The city features an impressive array of cultural institutions that feature collections an exhibitions ranging from fine art to technological innovations.
The Harvard Art Museums, which include the Fogg Museum, Busch-Reisinger Museum and Arthur M. Sackler Museum, house a wide range of periods, styles and mediums within its walls. Here, you’ll find a mix of modern photography, 13th century BCE sculpture, paintings from legends like Georgia O’Keeffe, Picasso and Jackson Pollock, and much more. If you prefer history, head to the MIT Museum or the Peabody Museum of Archaeology. The former offers rotating exhibits of the museum’s vast collection of artifacts, including scientific instruments and thousands of architectural drawings, which are considered to be one of the most important collections of its kind in the field. The Peabody Museum of Archaeology also has an extensive collection (1.2 million objects to be exact). Here, you’ll find items from early inhabitants of the Pacific Islands, Mayan and Mesoamerican treasures and the only surviving collection of Native American objects procured from the Lewis and Clark expedition. If science is more your speed, head to the Harvard Museum of Natural History to view dinosaur fossils, rare minerals and animal specimens from New England to Asia.
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Despite its location outside of the city center, touring the Samuel Adams Brewery is a must for beer lovers. This brewery location is the smallest of the brand's three sites, but acts as Samuel Adams' testing facility for new and specialty brews. It's also the only of the three locales to host public tours and tastings.
Whether you're a local or a tourist, odds are you'll enjoy exploring the Samuel Adams Brewery in Boston. Recent visitors said the tours offer a comprehensive and informative overview of the brewing process that's well worth the trek to get to the brewery. (Fortunately, after the nearly 5-mile "T" ride from downtown, you'll only face a short walk from the Stony Brook station to the brewery.) Another highlight comes at the end of the tour, when tourgoers 21 and older receive a free beer sample and a small keepsake glass. The brewery also has a beer garden, where pints, flights and tasters are served.
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If you’re wanting to get outdoors in the greater Boston area, consider hopping a ferry to the Boston Harbor Islands. This collection of 34 islands located in the Massachusetts Bay boasts plenty of things to do and see including historic sites, hiking trails, beaches, wildlife and much more. Popular islands include Spectacle, Georges and Peddocks, though ferries also go to Lovells, Grape, Bumpkin and Thompson.
The 114-acre Spectacle Island is a great option for those looking to hike. Here, you’ll find 5 miles of trails, including one which leads to the harbor’s highest hill, offering incredible views of Boston’s skyline. If you’re looking for a place where you can sink your toes into the sand, head to Lovells Island. Here, you’ll find secluded shorelines as well as tidepools (when it's low tide, a whopping 71 acres are added to the island’s land mass). Meanwhile, history lovers will enjoy a trip to Georges Island. Georges Island is home to Fort Warren, which the U.S. government used for patrolling and training troops as well as housing Confederate prisoners during Civil War times. Peddocks Island, one of the largest of the Boston Harbor Islands, offers a little bit of everything. This island is considered a prime camping spot and features scenic hiking trails that pass through coastal forests, headlands connected by tombolos and the biggest beach of any island. You’ll also find a little bit of history thanks to Fort Andrews and a restored chapel from World War II.
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Beacon Hill is arguably Boston’s most beautiful neighborhood. Located north of Boston Common, Beacon Hill is awash with quaint, cobblestone-lined alleyways, corners dotted with gas street lamps, stately townhouses affixed with bay view windows and vibrant, flower-filled window boxes. It’s Beacon Hill’s incredible style, a stunning mix of Federal and Greek revival architecture, that make this neighborhood an attraction in and of itself. And recent visitors couldn’t agree more.
Travelers who ventured to Beacon Hill were charmed by its beauty and say that it’s the perfect place to take a long stroll and get lost. While here, make sure to wander to noteworthy spots including the picturesque Louisburg Square and Acorn Street, the latter of which is one of the most photographed places in Boston. After, head down Charles Street, where you’ll find restaurants, shops and bars. Fans of the TV show "Cheers" will want to walk down Beacon Street to find the bar that inspired the program.
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Most people who know anything about American history have heard of Paul Revere's famous midnight ride, when he rode through town to warn people about the arrival of British troops. Before heading off to Lexington, Revere gave orders at Old North Church. Robert Newman – the church's sexton – and Captain John Pulling Jr. – the church's vestryman – then climbed the steeple and held two lanterns as a signal (from Revere) that the British Regulars were indeed coming, but by sea.
The church itself, which is officially named Christ Church, is filled with beautiful relics from the past, including North America's oldest set of change ringing bells and chandeliers brought in from England in the early 1700s. The pews have a long history as well; Pew No. 54 was reserved for the Revere family.