An Insider’s Guide to Boston’s Top 10 Attractions
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I grew up in Boston, and have visited just about every touristy and not-so-touristy site the historic city has to offer. From field trips to the Children’s Museum to treks along the Freedom Trail with my parents to working a part-time job at the Mugar Omni Theater at the Museum of Science, I’ve seen and done it all.
Despite its size, there’s so much to do in this small, walkable city that figuring out a sightseeing plan can overwhelm first-time visitors. So, rather than trying to do it all, start with these top attractions instead. Some illustrate the important role Boston played in our country’s development, while others are meant to stretch your brain or help you discover the city’s great green spaces.
No matter where your interests lie, you will find plenty to keep you busy in Boston. Here’s where to start.
Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum
Boston Children’s Museum
USS Constitution Museum
Public Garden and the Swan Boats
Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park
Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum (Photo courtesy of The Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum)
Many of Boston’s most beloved attractions shine a light on the city’s storied past. The Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum (306 Congress Street) focuses on the time when residents sought change and kicked off the movement that would lead to the Revolutionary War and, ultimately, the founding of the United States of America. A trip to this museum is especially fun for kids since costumed actors reenact the Boston Tea Party of 1773 aboard replica 18th-century ships with great zeal. Tickets are about $28 for adults and $21 for kids ages 5 to12 when purchased online. The Boston Children’s Museum is just a 2-minute walk away. Boston Children’s Museum
The Boston Children’s Museum (Photo by Education Images/Getty Images)
If you’re traveling as a family, it’s almost a requirement that you check out the Boston Children’s Museum. Founded in 1913 by the Science Teachers’ Bureau, the museum has provided engaging and educational experiences to children for more than 100 years. It is the second-oldest children’s museum in the world and is recognized for pioneering the first hands-on museum exhibit and more. Current exhibits include Art Lab, Construction Zone, Explore-a-Saurus, Our Green Trail, The Japanese House and many more. Admission is $18 for adults and children up to 15 years old, and is free for children under 12 months. During COVID, capacity is limited and visitors must reserve a timed entry slot. USS Constitution Museum
USS Constitution (Photo by Zack Frank/Shutterstock)
Sitting across the Charlestown Navy Yard, where the ship is docked, the USS Constitution Museum houses almost 2,000 artifacts and more than 10,000 archival records, including various collections, research and online activities, which tell the story of the USS Constitution.
Never defeated in battle, the ship was built in 1794 as one of the first half-dozen warships of the newly formed nation. In its lifetime, it engaged with the French, Barbary pirates and the British. Its nickname, Old Ironsides, comes from the fact that her oak hull remained intact despite the cannon fire that enemy ships aimed at her. After more than two centuries, the USS Constitution remains one of the oldest commissioned ships in the United States Navy, with a dedicated Navy detachment tasked to maintain, repair and restore this piece of U.S. history.
Reserve and purchase your tickets for the USS Constitution Museum online ($10 for adults; $5 for children), and make sure to arrive within the 30 minute-period indicated on your ticket. A museum ticket doesn’t include entry to the ship, but as the USS Constitution is part of the Boston National Historical Park, entry is free. Freedom Trail
Old State House (Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau)
Boston is the seat of American history, and even if you don’t know all the details of how this country was founded, you should check out the Freedom Trail. Traversing Downtown Boston, starting at Boston Common and ending at Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown, the 2.5-mile trail connects 16 important historic sites. Along the way, you’ll explore churches, burial grounds, meeting houses, museums, parks and more. Some of the highlights include the Paul Revere House, Old State House, Old South Meeting House, Faneuil Hall, Old North Church and the USS Constitution.
You can walk the trail on your own or book one of several guided tours ($14 for adults; $12 for seniors and students; $8 for kids ages 6 to 12 and free for children younger than 6). Faneuil Hall
Faneuil Hall (Photo by Jorge Salcedo/Shutterstock)
Visitors of Faneuil Hall come for its history and also for the dining, shopping and entertainment. Originally built as a market, Faneuil Hall quickly became a meeting place where Bostonians would discuss key issues of the day. Many well-respected figures, including Samuel Adams and George Washington, made speeches here. Today, it’s a historic but urban marketplace filled with shops, restaurants, pubs and pushcarts. Live performers and buskers, who have been entertaining people in the open-air square since the early 1970s, provide free outdoor entertainment for the whole family.
Faneuil Hall is easy to find: just follow the paved Freedom Trail path through the historic neighborhoods of Boston. It’s also walking distance from the waterfront and accessible by multiple “T” (subway) stops nearby. If you’re interested in learning more about its history, join a free tour. If you’re here to dine, you’ll have plenty of options, from New England classics to international fare. If you’d prefer to shop, you’ll find artisans hawking handmade wares, brand name stores and local boutiques. Just remember that Faneuil Hall receives millions of visitors annually, so it can get crowded.
Quincy Market (Photo by Kylie Klein/Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau)
Part of the Faneuil Hall Marketplace, which includes Faneuil Hall, North Market and South Market, Quincy Market is a popular spot for both locals and tourists, thanks to its festival-like ambiance (think: pushcarts along buildings selling various wares and lively street performers). Quincy Market, along with the North and South markets, was built to handle the overflow of merchants and shoppers crowding Faneuil Hall since the 1820s. Today, Quincy Market is famous for its Greek Revival architecture and houses numerous specialty shops and restaurants. It’s also listed in the National Register of Historic Places and a National Historic landmark.
Boston Common Frog Pond. (Photo by Dufresne/Getty Images)
For more than 350 years, Boston Common has served not only as a place of relaxation and recreation but also as a place for free speech and public assembly. Founded in 1634, it’s considered America’s oldest park. It’s also been used as community pastureland, a punishment site for Puritans and a site of public discourse and oration. Martin Luther King, Jr. held a civil rights rally here, and Pope John Paul II even celebrated Mass on its grounds in 1979. Today, the park has ball fields, playgrounds, an underground parking garage, tennis courts and the Frog Pond. There are also free yoga classes in the summer, and the Frog Pond transforms into a skating rink in the winter (for a fee). The Boston Common is free to visit, but you’ll need to pay for carousel rides.
The famous Swan Boats in Boston’s Public Garden. (Photo by Kylie Klein/Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau)
The second public park in Boston was established 200 years after the first one (Boston Common), but it would become the first public botanical garden in the U.S. Its creation was intended as a response to New York’s Central Park, and today the 24-acre green space lies at the northern end of the city’s Emerald Necklace park system. The park’s design came from George Meacham and features Victorian cast-iron fencing, curved paths, fountains, statues and formal flowerbeds. There’s also a 6-acre pond, where the famous Swan Boats can be found.
The Swan Boat ride runs from spring to summer and lasts around 12 to 15 minutes. The fleet of 13-foot-long pontoons carries about 25 passengers each. Currently run by the fourth generation of the Paget family, the Swan Boat was designated a Boston landmark in 2011. You can buy tickets at the dock ($4 for adults; $2.50 for children 2 to 15 years; $3.50 for seniors and free for children under 2) but may have to wait 5 to 10 minutes to ride.
Fort Warren on Georges Island in Boston Harbor. (Photo by Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock)
Just minutes away from Downtown Boston is a group of islands that offer relaxation and outdoor fun for everyone. The Boston Harbor Islands National Park covers more than 50 square miles and features a Civil War-era fort and historic lighthouses as well as tide pools and lush trails. It’s the largest recreational space in Eastern Massachusetts and is a hot spot for local wildlife.
Georges and Spectacle islands offer hiking trails, picnic grounds, interpretative walks and other recreational programs. Bumpkin, Grape, Lovells and Peddocks are more suited for camping, while Thomson Island is only open during weekends from Memorial Day to Labor Day. To visit the islands, take the ferry from Long Wharf North in Boston or at Hingham Shipyard. Round-trip tickets cost $24.95 for adults, $17.95 for children (3 to 11 years old), $22.95 for seniors and are free for kids under 3. Tickets include access to visitor amenities and self-guided activities. Fenway Park
Fenway Park (Photo by Travis Lindquist/Getty Images)
If you’re a baseball fan, Fenway Park near Kenmore Square is a can’t-miss attraction. The Boston Red Sox have called the field home since it opened in 1912, and the park has a seating capacity of about 37,000. If you’re planning to visit, it might be useful to download the MLB Ballpark app, which features digital ticketing, mobile check in, exclusive content, rewards and special offers. Or, you could take one of the many tours the ballpark offers year-round. The 1-hour walking tour visits Pesky’s Pole, the Green Monster and more. Tickets are available online or on a limited first come, first served basis at Gate D. Tickets start at $15.