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 May 14, 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.
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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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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.
- #8View all Photos#8 in BostonChurches/Religious Sites, Historic Homes/Mansions, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDChurches/Religious Sites, Historic Homes/Mansions, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDRead More
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.
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Fans of America's favorite pastime won't want to miss a game at Fenway Park. Home to the Boston Red Sox, this stadium has been the site of home runs, stolen bases and grounders since 1912. Regardless of whether you're a diehard Red Sox fan who believes in the legendary 1919 "Curse of the Bambino" or not, you should try to catch a game and admire the ballpark's original architecture. Must-see features of the park include Pesky's Pole – the right field foul pole named after former Red Sox player Johnny Pesky – and the 37-foot-tall "Green Monster" wall in left field.
Many Bostonians are avid Red Sox fans (which is why it's considered one of the Best Cities for Baseball Fans to Visit), so if you plan on making your pilgrimage during baseball season (April to early October) and want to come for a game, book your tickets at least a few weeks in advance. You can also take a one-hour guided tour of the facility, which recent visitors said was informative and interesting, even if you're not a Red Sox or baseball fan. Most tour tickets can be reserved in advance online, although on game days, you'll need to purchase tickets at the ballpark for tours offered three hours before a baseball game.
- #10View all Photos#10 in BostonMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
With a giant milk bottle statue at the front of the building, it's hard to miss the Boston Children's Museum. Here, hands-on exhibits present a fun and engaging way for kids to learn about various sciences, culture, art and health and wellness, among other subjects. Among the museum's standout exhibits are "Construction Zone," where little ones can learn about and play with kid-sized construction equipment, "Explore-a-Saurus," where kids learn about the science of dinosaurs and fossils, and "Japanese House" – a fully-equipped Japanese house reconstructed in Boston by Japanese carpenters.
Recent visitors praised the variety of engaging exhibits tailored to kids within different age groups, but say it can be extremely crowded on weekends and holidays. To save some money on admissions fees, visit an hour before close Saturday through Thursday or between 5 and 9 p.m. on Fridays.
- #11View all Photos#11 in BostonMuseumsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
If you're traveling with young ones in tow, be sure to swing by the Museum of Science. Here, kids can learn about astronomy, earth sciences and anatomy, not to mention participate in some fun interactive exhibits. Budding scientists can examine dinosaur fossils in the "Dinosaurs: Modeling the Mesozoic" exhibit or play on swings to learn about physics in "Science in the Park." The museum also features the Charles Hayden Planetarium, where you can indulge your inner astronaut during light shows. Meanwhile, at the Mugar Omni Theater, you'll feel like you're actually in the IMAX film thanks to its cutting-edge sound technology and five-story-high projection screen.
Although the museum is very kid-focused, past visitors said that young-at-heart adults will get a kick out of the museum's engaging displays and shows. Though most travelers spend about half a day exploring the museum, you could easily allocate an entire day to this attraction. Also, remember that separate tickets (which cost extra) are needed for some museum features, such as IMAX films, planetarium shows, motion simulator roller coaster rides and the butterfly garden exhibit.
- #12View all Photos#12 in BostonEntertainment and NightlifeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDEntertainment and NightlifeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
Even if you're not a classical music aficionado, you can't miss attending one of the Boston Symphony Orchestra's world-renowned performances at Symphony Hall. The BSO began performing in 1881; today, the symphony plays more than 250 shows a year that include everything from Mozart-inspired family shows to traditional concerts and Boston Pops – a lively performance filled with singing and comedy acts from various entertainers. The BSO performs at Symphony Hall from September through May, then heads to Tanglewood (in western Massachusetts) from mid-June to early September.
Recent spectators not only praised the world-class talent, but also noted the impressive acoustics of Symphony Hall as a main selling point for attending future concerts. If you can't score tickets to an orchestra performance, consider taking a free tour of Symphony Hall. Tours, which are offered in the fall, winter and spring, provide information about the property, as well as insight into the orchestra's musicians and conductors.
- #13View all Photos#13 in BostonMonuments and Memorials, Sightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDMonuments and Memorials, Sightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDRead More
Gaze up at the six 54-foot-tall glass towers that comprise the New England Holocaust Memorial, and you're bound to be awestruck. Erected in 1995, each haunting tower is etched with numbers – the 6 million numbers represent the Holocaust's victims, while the towers represent the six major death camps. There is also a granite path covered in quotes from survivors that leads visitors inside the towers.
Recent visitors described walking through the columns as an emotionally charged and unforgettable experience. Plus, the monument's location next to Faneuil Hall Marketplace make it extremely convenient to see.
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For a glimpse of what life was like in the late 1700s, head to Paul Revere's former residence in the North End. The house, which is situated on the Freedom Trail, offers insight into how homes looked in Revere's time (it's even filled with period pieces, including fine silver). Inside, history fans can admire the building's sweeping beams, spacious fireplaces and some original furnishings owned by the Revere family.
If you like American history, former travelers said you'll enjoy seeing the Paul Revere House. This house is small, though, so don't allot more than an hour to tour the property. Also, arrive early if you don't want to deal with crowds.
- #15View all Photos#15 in BostonParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
Boston is packed with cool outdoor spaces, but this nearly 1½-mile-long series of parks and gardens offers more than most. The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway was established to link Boston's diverse neighborhoods through a series of lawns, parks and walkways that occupy a former highway tunnel. Since opening in 2008, visitors have flocked to this sprawling green space to enjoy temporary public art displays, bubbling fountains, numerous food vendors and a carousel. Plus, the park offers free weekly events, including food and art festivals, summer concert performances and seasonal fitness classes.
Many previous visitors said the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway not only offers a much-needed respite from the city, but also an easy way to explore Boston with kids during the warmer months. And, in many sections of the Greenway, you're never more than a few steps away from the Freedom Trail.
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Your kids will find plenty to love at the New England Aquarium, starting with the harbor seals that hang out just beyond the ticket booth. Inside, you'll find thousands of marine critters to study, and at the center: the Giant Ocean Tank. This four-story tank includes a coral reef habitat that houses more than 1,000 underwater creatures. While you're here, you'll spot a myriad of fascinating aquatic species, including green sea turtles, eels and barracuda. In other parts of the aquarium, you'll find exhibits dedicated to penguins, sea jellies and seadragons, plus an IMAX Theater.
While some previous visitors bemoaned the aquarium's compact size, many appreciated the attraction's variety of animals. Several travelers also recommended watching a penguin or seal feeding. Feeding times vary depending on the day and animal, so ask an aquarium employee for the day's schedule. And don't forget to check out the Shark and Ray Touch Tank, which allows visitors to graze sharks and rays as they swim by.
- View all PhotosToursTYPE2 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.
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History lovers, boat enthusiasts and military aficionados alike can't miss the chance to board the USS Constitution. Docked at the Boston National Historical Park in Charlestown, this historic vessel is the world's oldest commissioned warship still operational today. It is helmed by United States Navy sailors, who also serve as the ship's guides.
Previous visitors highly recommend checking out this floating attraction, citing its interesting history and knowledgeable staff as highlights. To make the most of your visit, many suggest perusing the exhibits at the accompanying USS Constitution Museum before or after touring the vessel. If you go to the museum first and buy a flag at the gift shop, make sure to let the ship's crew know: Several past travelers enjoyed watching their flags get raised and lowered on board.
- View all PhotosSightseeing, Tours, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, Tours, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
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."
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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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