My goal in life is to live in Boston. I only spent a couple of days in the city, but it quickly became one of my favorite places. First of all, I am a huge history nerd, and Boston is FULL of interesting locations and monuments of United States history. I learned so much about my own country during my visit, it’s like your old US history classes come to life, but in the best possible way. Also, the city itself is beautiful. It is a unique mix of modern and historic, while still maintaining a cohesive colonial aesthetic. I want to go back now, like right now, and I hope to be walking along the Freedom Trail again very soon. Until then, I’ll be living vicariously through my past experiences and I am so excited to share with you my favorite things that I did during my trip to Boston, Massachusetts.
Walk the Freedom Trail
Remember the red brick road from the Wizard of Oz? It was spiraled with the beginning of the famous yellow brick road, but it was never explained where exactly the red brick road led! Turns out, it leads to the most famous historic sights of Boston! If you travel to Boston, and especially if it is your first time, you must tour the Freedom Trail. It is a 2.5-mile-long red brick trail that takes you along 16 historic sites, from the Massachusetts State House to the Bunker Hill Monument. It is free to walk along the trail by yourself, and there are a variety of free maps, brochures, and directions available online to easily do it alone. Or, if you don’t want to be glued to a map or your phone, the clearly marked red bricks lead the way! When I visited, I went alone instead of with a tour group and had a great time, plus it gave me more freedom to stop and visit additional sites I saw along the way. But, if you want a fun experience, the Freedom Trail Foundation offers tours led by informed guides dressed in 18th century style. It was always fun to see these guides, who stay in character the entire time, walking with groups of tourists! If you want more info on the tours, here is a link to the Freedom Trail Foundation website.
Pro Tip: The Freedom Trail is 2.5 miles long, but keep in mind that it is 2.5 miles long ONE WAY. Unless you are taking a tour, or have a lot of time and are prepared to walk several miles, I would recommend spreading the trail attractions across a couple of days. On my first day, I went from Boston Common to the Faneuil Hall Marketplace (about 1 mile and passing 11/16 of the trail sites) and then visited the rest on later days.
My Favorite Parts of the Freedom Trail
16 different sites take up a lot of time, and if you can only hit the highlights, here are my favorites!
Boston Common/Boston Public Garden/Central Burying Ground
Although Boston Common is the only one of these parks technically on the Freedom Trial, they are all next to one another and I felt that they should all be acknowledged. The Boston Common is the start of the Freedom Trail and is America’s oldest public park. It has been the location of celebrations, protests, criminal punishments, and more. Many were hanged from “The Great Elm” for crimes of murder, sorcery, or religious practices. Although no longer in the park, there is still a plaque to commemorate “The Great Elm”. The neighboring Public Garden is a meticulously kept park with the pond for tourists to ride in the always entertaining Swan Boats. It also is home to the Make Way for Ducklings statues, a cute tribute to the famous children’s book with the same title. If you’re traveling with little ones, they will be sure to love this delightful statue. The Central Burying Ground is a small plot of land on the edge of Boston Common and is the final resting place of famous artists and poets such as Gilbert Stuart (who painted the portraits of George and Martha Washington) and Charles Sprague.
Pro Tip: Its official name is “Boston Common”, NOT the “Boston Commons”. Saying “Commons” makes it obvious that you’re a tourist, knowing the proper term makes you sound like a real Bostonian.
Granary Burying Ground
This beautifully preserved cemetery contains the remains of many famous Americans who made their homes in Boston. These include the graves of John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin’s parents, Paul Revere, James Otis, Samuel Adams, and the Boston Massacre victims. Before entering, we were given a booklet with a map showing the locations of the famous inhabitants, making it easy to find the more famous headstones without trouble. However, if you have the time, many of the tombstones are creatively unique, and it is interesting to try to make out the faded names and inscriptions.
Old South Meeting House
This meeting house looks like a church, but was officially an area for the community to meet. It became the site where the colonists famously decided to throw the English tea in the harbor at the Boston Tea Party. Today, it is a museum and open to the public.
Old State House/Site of Boston Massacre
I combined these two stops because the site of the Boston Massacre is right in front of the Old State House. The building looks out of place among towering, modern skyscrapers, but the Old State House still commands attention. It holds its place in history as the location where the American Revolution started. Today, it is a museum detailing the steps taken towards American independence. When you enter the museum, you will be given a card on a lanyard, which describes the biography of a unique person who lived during the time of the revolution. I was given Joseph Shed, “a carpenter whose politics are shaped by the events of the American Revolution”. Having a real person’s biography is a special addition that helped me to connect with the lives of the patriots during that time. The Boston Massacre is commemorated by a ring of stones on the ground and is famous for being the spark that encouraged the rebellion against British forces.
If you’re looking for shopping in Boston, be sure to check out Faneuil Hall. The hall itself is a notable meeting place and was the site of many famous patriot speeches, but it has now been combined with the Faneuil Hall Marketplace, a renovated historic building that includes Quincy Market. The marketplace now acts as a mall, food court, and entertainment center. You can always find a variety of creative and talented street performers outside of these buildings.
Paul Revere House
Paul Revere’s House looks out of place, seemingly sharing a wall with modern-looking buildings. It is officially the oldest house in Boston, built in 1680, and renovations through the years have preserved it so it is accessible to view today. Inside you will find exhibits showing what the house may have looked like during the time it was occupied by the Revere family and an explanation of the story of Paul Revere’s midnight ride.
Pro Tip: Right around the corner from the Paul Revere House is Mike’s Pastry, a North End bakery famous for its cannoli, and for good reason. Those cannoli were the best things I ate during my trip to Boston, and if you are in the North End neighborhood, you must try this delicious pastry.
Explore the New England Aquarium
I’m a sucker for a good aquarium, and the New England Aquarium is probably one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen. It is 4 stories tall and houses over 2000 sea creatures! Best of all, they have penguins! Not just a couple, but dozens of fun penguins with the best location so you can see them from any part of the aquarium! The penguins were a definite highlight during my trip, and the entire aquarium is interactive and interesting for all ages. Especially if you visit with children, the aquarium is a must-see attraction!
Visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Boston is home to many incredible museums, from the Museum of Fine Arts to the JFK Presidential Library and Museum to the Mapparium, but I want to share with you a museum that I feel sometimes goes unnoticed. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum first came on my radar four years ago when I wrote a paper about the history of art theft. Turns out, the Gardner Museum is the location of one of the most famously unsolved cases of art theft and is the largest value theft of private property in history! All that is known still about the 1990 theft is that two men were allowed into the museum by posing as police officers and were able to steal 13 pieces of art worth $500 million. There is an ongoing investigation to try and determine where the stolen artworks are, and who was able to pull off the heist. The museum is offering a reward of $10 million to anyone who can provide any leads to the recovery of the 13 missing works, which include paintings by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Degas, and Manet. Despite this tumultuous history, the museum is still open to the public and the remaining pieces are housed in a beautiful Venetian-style building with a peaceful garden courtyard on the ground floor.
Explore Beacon Hill
Remember when I said I wanted to live in Boston? Specifically, I want to live in this neighborhood. I’ll have to become a millionaire first, but hey, you’ve got to dream big, right? I think this is the most charming neighborhood in the United States. With cobblestone streets, beautiful brick facades, delightful boutiques, and a number of Boston attractions nearby, Beacon Hill is the ideal location for a relaxing morning just wandering around these famous homes. Pay attention while you wander for a few purple window panes in the front windows of some of the more prominent homes in Beacon Hill. Those aren’t just a fashion trend, the lavender glass was a chemical mistake caused in the 1800s by sunlight exposure mixing with an extra amount of manganese oxide in the glass. These extremely rare mishaps are now seen as a status symbol that the houses’ owners display with pride.
Pro Tip: While walking through Beacon Hill, be sure to visit Acorn Street (pictured above)! This charming cobblestone street is advertised as one of the most photographed streets in Boston and is the architectural epitome of the beautiful Beacon Hill neighborhood.
Sight see at Boston Harbor
Like all of Boston, the Boston Harbor has a colonial history. It was the location of the famous Boston Tea Party during the American Revolution, and even today it is still a bustling ship hub. If you want to take a fun tour of the city, I went on a Boston Duck Tour and had a great time! It’s unbelievably touristy and cheesy, but the tour “ConDUCKtors” are entertaining and part of the time is spent in the Charles River, so you are able to get unique views of the Boston and Cambridge skylines from the water. The tour takes you by most of the famous Bostonian sights, and with multiple different departure locations, each tour is a little different. Other good views of the Harbor include near the Long Wharf pier next to Christopher Columbus Park.
Have you walked the entire Freedom Trail, explored Beacon Hill from top to bottom, and already checked every museum off your list? If so, here are a few more suggestions for the perfect Boston experience!
· See a baseball game at Fenway Park
· Visit Brattle Book Shop and their outdoor displays
· Get coffee at The Thinking Cup Coffee Shop
· Take a tour of Harvard
· Admire the monumental Boston Public Library
· Shop the boutiques on Newbury Street
· Visit Cheers, the inspiration for the famous sitcom
Anything I missed? Let me know your favorite Boston attraction in the comments!