The bustling capital of Massachusetts… a cultural, gastronomic, and academic epicenter…the unofficial capital of New England.
In addition to playing a pivotal role during the American Revolution, Boston has grown into a true wonder of the Northeast. Boston has also been recognized as American’s walking city, and no matter where you find yourself, the city’s best is never too far away. Upscale shopping, first-class cuisine, verdant parks, art museums, historical relics, energetic sporting events, and kid-friendly activities are waiting to be discovered.
Take the inexpensive “T” around the city to maximize your time or take it slow along Boston Harbor as you see off the ferryboats. This guide cannot possibly cover all there is to see and do in this vibrant city, but it will describe several of the “musts” for anyone planning to visit.
The nearby towns of Gloucester, New Bedford, Plymouth, Rockport, and Salem are ideal day trips that make for unforgettable stops on your New England adventure. Exploring these towns will be easier than ever with the information provided in this guide. Whether you’re a Paul Revere buff, a lover of French fashion, or a seafood aficionado, Boston will never cease to amaze you. Pack a comfortable pair of shoes, bring a bear’s appetite, and get ready to discover one of the oldest cities in the United States. Here are our top 12 places to see in Boston!
Eight blocks of chic, upscale, and designer venues that span a total of 2 miles in length comprise Boston’s finest: Newbury Street. The “Rodeo Drive of the East” actually began underwater. As Boston Harbor was filled in order to create the modern day Back Bay neighborhood, the city expanded and in 1882 the entire area was officially converted into dry land.
Newbury Street was formerly the most sought-after address in the city, and its once-residential buildings now serve as homes to the best salons, cafés, boutiques, and galleries in Boston. At any time of the day or night you can find people strolling Newbury’s ample sidewalks, admiring its handsome storefront displays. Stop into a coffee shop for a latte, purchase some of your favorite stationery, or meander Newbury and admire its classic New England architecture.
For a true taste of Bostonian culture that the entire family can appreciate, visit the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Do not let the name throw you off. It is not just one market, but a complex made up of Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, North Market, and South Market. Gifted to the city of Boston in 1742 by wealthy merchant Peter Faneuil, it has become known as the “Cradle of Liberty.” Here is where Samuel Adams helped to rally Bostonians against Great Britain’s authority and where George Washington cheered to America on her first official birthday.
Boasting 18 million visitors every year, Faneuil Hall has grown into an urban hub of the city with a little something for everyone. Grab seared scallops or crab cakes on the go at one of Quincy Market’s 35 food vendors, or head upstairs for a history lesson on the area. Faneuil Hall is situated close by the Freedom Trail and the Boston waterfront. It is open Monday through Saturday 10:00am to 9:00pm and Sundays from 11:00am to 6:00pm.
Apart from playing center stage to the 1773 Boston Tea Party, a rebellion by Boston colonists against Britain and the East India Company during which 3 shiploads of tea were thrown overboard, Boston Harbor remains a major shipping terminal of the city. The planked walkway along the harbor is scenic and quite popular among joggers, artists, dog walkers, and cyclists. A short walk east from downtown Boston will bring you to Long Wharf and Central Wharf, both of which are pedestrian-only and allow for visitors to take in the unobstructed view of the passing ferryboats and charters. Find a bench in the shade and read your favorite book or snap photos of the seagulls in action.
There are plenty of dining options along Boston Harbor as well as boat rentals, whale watching tours, and boat tours around the Boston Harbor Islands. There are 34 islands in total, most of which are accessible like the Georges, Grape, and Spectacle Islands. Visitors can arrange lighthouse visits, wildlife watching, hiking, kayaking, swimming, camping, and more on and around these protected islands.
To satisfy the animal lover in you take the “T” via the orange, green, or red lines to the blue line Aquarium stop. The New England Aquarium is a magical stop on anyone’s Boston adventure. What’s not to love about the aquarium’s enchanting residents? Visitors begin their aquarium adventure with greetings from over 80 African, Blue, and Rockhopper penguins. I learned that Blue Penguins are the smallest species of penguin in the world!
If you get there early you can watch the aquarium’s biologists feeding the hungry birds in their exhibit. The winding walkway will take you to visit hundreds of fish, seahorses, sea turtles, sharks, rays, and more in the aquarium’s giant ocean tank. There are 2 levels of galleries with sea creatures, amphibians, and reptiles from all over the world. Head outside to the marine mammal center to watch the goofy sea lions, experience the Edge of the Sea touch tank with starfish and hermit crabs, and bravely pet sharks and rays in the largest touch tank on the East Coast.
The New England Aquarium is a place the whole family can enjoy. The highlight of my visit was most certainly the penguins. Each has its own personality and you can literally hear their squawks throughout the entire place.
Forget what you learned in school. Experience the history of the American Revolution for yourself by walking the red line of the Freedom Trail. With 16 stops spanning from the Boston Common, through Beacon Hill, the North End, and into Charlestown, visitors walking the Freedom Trail have the opportunity to visit the most important historical sites of Boston. Walk through the eerie King’s Chapel Burying Ground and read the cryptic tombstones.
Lookout for Mary Chilton’s grave. She was the first woman to step off the Mayflower. Other stops include Faneuil Hall and the Paul Revere House, which is downtown Boston’s oldest building dating back to 1680. It is where patriot Paul Revere was living the night he made his famous “midnight ride” to Lexington on April 7, 1775 to warn of the approaching British forces.
Finally, follow the trail across the Charlestown Bridge to the Bunker Hill Monument that commemorates the bravery shown by Colonial forces during the Battle of Bunker Hill against the Redcoats. The Freedom Trail features museums, gift shops, and restrooms along the way and I think it is the best way to see the city on foot.
Whether you make the trek on foot across the Harvard Bridge into Cambridge or take the “T” to the Harvard Square Station on the red line, you will unmistakably find yourself in historic Harvard Square. Steps from the square is Harvard Yard, a 25-acre grassy area on Harvard University’s campus. When the weather is warm there are countless students and visitors relaxing underneath the monstrous canopies of apple, beech, elm, chestnut, maple, and oak trees.
After you leave the green haven, head back towards the urban jungle. Harvard Square is packed with restaurants, shops, theatres, and is constantly playing host to tons of Boston’s cultural events. The Square features an annual Oktoberfest, Bastille Day celebration, chocolate festival, flower fair, and numerous other events throughout the year. You don’t need a perfect SAT score stroll around America’s oldest institution of higher learning.
Get high in Boston the legal way and experience stunning 360-degree views of the city from the 50th floor of the Prudential Tower. The Skywalk Observatory not only gives you the best vantage point in the city, it also provides the opportunity to get an acoustic handset guide of the surroundings below. Admission also covers the Dreams of Freedom Museum, which is an educational and interactive exhibit about Boston’s immigrants’ unique story and influence.
I had the opportunity to visit the observatory just before sunset and it was a spectacular view of the sun going down on one of America’s most important cities. The observatory is a great place for kids to learn about the city, its people, and about how Boston grew into the metropolis it is today. When you are done, take the elevator down to the Prudential Center shops for some retail therapy, or head on over to Top of the Hub for an early romantic dinner for two.
Make the short trip to the Sam Adams Brewery to learn about and sample beers brewed by one of America’s most popular craft beer producers. Named after one of Boston’s revolutionary thinkers, Samuel Adams, the beer’s original recipe can be traced back to the Koch family tradition. In 1985, using his great-grandfather Louis Koch’s recipe, Jim Koch took his brew door to door to see who wanted to sell it. Over 25 years and millions of twelve packs later, Samuel Adams is one of the world’s most successful stories of tradition in beer.
Meet the brew crew, get a first-hand look at the brewing process, learn about the ingredients of the beer, and taste some of the most popular Samuel Adams brews during your guided tour. Take the “T” to Stony Brook station. Tours last 45 minutes to 1 hour. Reservations are not permitted, and so the earlier you arrive the better. It’s never too early for a cold one.
Fenway Park is the oldest Major League Baseball Stadium in use today. It opened on April 20, 1912 and has since been the home field of the Boston Red Sox. Fans of the acclaimed baseball team have sold out the stadium hundreds of times to cheer their home team on. 2012 will mark Fenway’s 100th birthday. Some of the greatest baseball legends called Fenway Park home field: Babe Ruth, Roger Clemens, and Ted Williams.
Hated by many, but adored at home, the Boston Red Sox are an infamous bunch. Visitors not lucky enough to score tickets to a home game can still take a tour of historic Fenway Park. Tickets cost $12 for adults and $10 for children ages 3-15. You can pick them up at the Red Sox Ticket Office on a first-come, first-served basis.
It took over 30 years for Isabella Stewart Gardner, one of America’s foremost patrons of the arts, to amass an impressive and privileged art collection with pieces spanning 30 centuries. But it will only take you an afternoon to enjoy it all. Gardner led an exuberant life traveling, writing, hosting, sponsoring, and attending music concerts, sporting events, theatre shows, and parties. She left her privy art collection to the city when she died in 1924.
The museum’s collection includes: Ancient Roman sculptures and mosaics, portraits by American artists John Singer Sargent and James Whistler, works by Boticelli, tapestries, furniture, statues, wood carvings, stained glass, manuscripts and much more. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is most certainly not the only art museum in Boston, but it is inarguably one of the most meaningful and intimate art collections in North America. Admission is $12 for adults and $5 for college students with current I.D. Visitors under 18 enter free. The museum hours are Tuesday through Sunday 11am to 5pm.
The first stop on the Freedom Trail…50 acres of lush public space… the oldest park in the country. The origin of the Boston Common dates back to 1634, when it was used mainly as a pastureland for cows. The Common was also used as a campsite and base by British forces before the Revolutionary War. Public hangings of accused witches, the treasonous, and criminals were carried out in the Common until 1817. Nowadays the Common is a peaceful public space dedicated to the city of Boston and used for concerts, speeches, sporting games, and family outings.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Pope John Paul II, and Gloria Steinem all chose the Boston Common as the site to deliver powerful speeches. When the weather is warm the Common is alive with children, businessmen, joggers, and people just passing through. The Common is a great place to have a picnic, meet up with friends, or relax in the shade. During winter the Common’s Frog Pond becomes an ice rink and skating school.
The popular NBC show that ran from 1982 to 1993 captivated America with a catchy theme song and famous cast. The inspiration for the bar in Cheers came from Beacon Hill’s very own Bull & Finch Pub. The screenwriting couple that wrote Cheers decided to use Bull & Finch’s neighborhood charm and some of its architectural elements on Paramount Studios’ Stage 25 set. Many people think the show was filmed in Boston, but only images of the exterior were shot in Boston.
When you arrive at 84 Beacon Street head down the stairs to the left. Inside you will be transported to the set of Cheers, well… kind of. The bar and other aspects of the interior may not look exactly as you remember them, but they bear a strong resemblance to the original movie set. Pick up a t-shirt and a shot glass from the souvenir shop, sit back and enjoy a Lager with your burger, or snap away some pictures for nostalgia sake. True Cheers fans don’t usually mind that the Beacon Hill Cheers is not as good of a spin-off as Frasier. Cheers Boston opens daily at 11am. The closest “T” stations are Arlington Street, Park Street, and Charles Street/MGH.
Boston is one of my favorite cities in the U.S. for so many reasons. The city’s history, culture, and food are its best qualities, and I know you will agree once you get there. The Copley Square Hotel is a great choice because of its location (a few minutes walk to “T” stations, Newbury Street, Prudential Center, etc.) and because they pay attention to the small stuff. After a long day of sight seeing, guests are welcomed back “home” with complimentary wine service. And with turn down service and short bedtime stories to take with you, bedtime is also a treat. If you are lucky enough to travel to Boston or any of the surrounding towns during whale watching season, do not miss out!
The food in Boston is incredible, and there are infinite options! Charles Street in Beacon Hill begins at the Boston Common, and is one of those charming strolls that stay with you forever. After dining at The Paramount, I discovered that Charles Street was an attraction in itself with its old New England charm and lively atmosphere. The USS Constitution is docked in Charlestown as of 2011. She was moved from the harbor, but can still be seen and toured. Charlestown would be your last stop on the Freedom Trail. “Old Ironsides,” as she is often referred to, is the oldest warship still afloat in the world. She was commissioned by George Washington in 1797, and still gets taken out to sail every few years. I strongly recommend renting a car to leave the city and explore other towns in the area. Rockport is where I got engaged and so it will always hold a place in my heart, but Gloucester, New Bedford, Plymouth, and Salem are all worthwhile places to experience. Wherever you decide to stay, eat, and play, Boston has something for everyone.
What are your recommendations for the best places to see in Boston? We would love to hear from you! Leave us a question or comment below.