Our ultimate guide to the best things to do in Boston, Massachusetts!
Boston has as much history within its city limits as most states, and the city has long been on the bucket list of all those who have a fascination with the past.
It’s here you can venture to the birthplace of modern America and explore the nation’s first university. But beyond the landmarks and enchanting trails is a place of rich sporting roots, culture, and art.
Boston isn’t a tourist destination. Bold call, I know. It’s a city that needs to be lived in, and thus travellers should take every opportunity to explore as if they were a local.
Beyond the Freedom Trail, you’ll find a city that’s a joy to discover on foot. By doing so, you’ll explore streets and neighbourhoods that don’t end up in many travel guides.
Also check out this awesome 3 Days in Boston Itinerary before your trip!
Table of Contents
- The Best Things to Do in Boston
- 1) The Freedom Trail
- 2) Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
- 3) Boston Public Garden
- 4) Franklin Park Zoo
- 5) Fenway Park
- 6) Faneuil Hall Marketplace
- 7) Boston Museum of Fine Arts
- 8) The Boston Common
- 9) Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum
- 10) The Boston Harbor
- 11) USS Constitution and Bunker Hill Monument
- 12) Harvard University
- 13) The North End
- 14) Boston Public Library
- 15) New England Aquarium
- 16) Duck Tour
- 17) Boston Public Market
- 18) John F. Kennedy Presidential Library
- 19) The Back Bay
- 20) The Boston Harborwalk
- 21) Beacon Hill
- Where to Stay in Boston
The Best Things to Do in Boston
Boston is an open-air reminder of the past. But what you’ll soon discover is there’s no shortage of gorgeous parks, excellent food, art and family fun.
Before we dive too deep though, we want to share a little budget tip we have to save some money while exploring Boston!
Pick yourself up a Boston CityPASS, which is essentially a discounted ticket that gets you entrance into many of the best attractions and activities in the city.
By buying the pass you’ll save 47% on the usual ticket prices, so it’s a big discount.
Let’s get started.
1) The Freedom Trail
The Freedom Trail showcases the immense history of Boston Harbor, the site of the Boston Tea Party, the home of Paul Revere, the State House, and ancient ships.
The concentration of historic sites has few rivals in the United States, and you can see it all along the Freedom Trail.
The 2.5-mile path takes you through the heart of Boston, not only showcasing the city’s rich history but helping newcomers get their bearings.
With no elevation gain, it’s a breeze to walk along and could easily take under an hour. But with so many sites to see along the way, you’ll be taking regular breaks.
Begin at the Boston Common where you can pick up a map.
Your first stop will be the State House and the Old Granary Burying Ground, the resting place of John Hancock, Paul Revere, and Samuel Adams. You’ll continue on, passing Paul Revere’s house towards the Bunker Hill Monument.
2) Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is one of those rare places where the art is matched by the building’s beauty.
The gorgeous garden, impeccable architecture and eye-catching art are what make the museum one of the best things to do in Boston.
The museum was first developed by art aficionado Isabella Stewart in the 19th century.
The interior courtyard is something out of a fairytale with bright greens, blues, reds and oranges.
It’s a veritable palace with textiles, archways and, yes, incredible art. The mix makes it a must-see, even if you aren’t a big fan of art galleries.
As for the art itself, you’ll find 2,500 works, from sculptures and tapestries to furnishing and historic paintings.
- Location: 25 Evans Way, Boston, MA 02115
- Opening hours: 11am to 5pm (W-F) 10am to 5pm (S-S)
- Price: $20
- Site: https://www.gardnermuseum.org/
Read Next: Be sure to check out some of the best day trips from Boston!
3) Boston Public Garden
Created towards the beginning of the 17th century, the Boston Public Garden has long been a fixture in local life.
Its old-time charm can still be seen today, despite receiving many facelifts through the decades.
The public garden is a pleasant place to go and escape the bustle of the Boston area.
Over the years, it has developed into a beautiful space, complete with almost 100 different plant species and ornate gardens that burst with colour from spring to fall.
If you’re looking for a romantic experience, the Boston Public Garden features a gorgeous lake.
Jump on board a swan boat and explore the waters alongside your skipper.
4) Franklin Park Zoo
At the forefront of the Franklin Park Zoo’s mission is to inspire a love of nature and conserve our wild planet.
This helps separate the zoo from the run-of-the-mill zoos by allowing guests to learn more about the animals they see along the way.
There are several sections of the zoo to explore each separate into distinct habitats.
You’ll find grasslands and prairies home to wildebeests, lions and giraffes. There’s a tropical section where you’ll see crocodiles looming below the surface, along with hippos and monkeys.
If you love kangaroos, then you must see the Outback Trail, which also features New Zealand’s iconic kiwi bird.
Afterwards, explore the surrounding park or visit the nearby Arnold Arboretum.
If you have your Boston CityPASS, entrance is included!
- Location: 1 Franklin Park Rd, Boston, MA 02121
- Opening hours: 9am to 5pm (M-F) 9am to 6pm (S-S)
- Web: https://www.zoonewengland.org/franklin-park-zoo/
5) Fenway Park
The home of one of America’s most storied sports franchises, Fenway Park, is a top Boston attraction.
The iconic stadium is renowned for its distinct shape, squished against the side of Lansdowne Street and as the home of the Green Monster.
From March to October, you’ll see fans from Boston and around the country converge on the stadium to watch the ball game.
Prior to the first pitch, street carts fire up and hot dogs are served in droves. Fenway Park quickly fills up, and the atmosphere captures your imagination.
If you can’t make it to a game, then embark on a walking tour of Fenway Park. This tour will showcase the history of the century-old stadium, the Boston Red Sox and even some of the original seats.
6) Faneuil Hall Marketplace
One of the best things to do in Boston when you’re feeling a little peckish is to head to the Faneuil Hall Marketplace.
It’s not just one marketplace either, in fact, it’s home to three markets that all offer something different for travellers.
The Faneuil Hall is along the Freedom Trail and has its own slice of American history. It was built in the 1740s and immediately designated as a public place.
The ground floor of the main hall is a market and once a place where significant figures gathered before the Revolutionary War.
To learn more, walk up to the fourth floor where you’ll find the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Museum.
The highlight of the marketplace, however, is the Quincy Market. Featuring dozens of food vendors enjoy a delicious lunch or stock up on artisan treats.
- Location: 1 S Market St, Boston, MA 02109
- Opening hours: 10am to 7pm (M-T) 10am to 9pm (F-Sat) 12pm to 6pm (Sun)
- Price: Free
Heading to NYC after Boston? Check out our 3 Days in New York City Itinerary!
7) Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts is one of the nation’s most renowned art galleries. It harbors over 450,000 pieces that range from ancient artifacts, to captivating French Impressionist paintings and an impressive collection of historic and contemporary American art.
MOMA is Boston’s largest museum and a place that can easily take a full day to explore. But if you’re short on time, it’s simple to break it up into the eras or genres that take your interest.
These include relics, jewellery and tombs from ancient Egypt, manuscripts from Japan and China, along with your European classics from Van Gogh, Renoir and Monet.
Within the American Wing, you can take a trip back to the pre-Colombian era to see Modernist and Art déco work along the way.
- Location: 465 Huntington Ave, Boston, MA 02115
- Opening hours: 10am to 5pm (Thur, Sat, Sun) 10am to 10pm (Fri)
- Price: Adult $27 Child $10
- Web: https://www.mfa.org/
8) The Boston Common
As the beginning of the Freedom Trail, the Boston Common is a popular starting point for many travellers. But it’s a worthy destination on its own and one worth enjoying for an hour or two.
Surrounded by highrises, the common is a beautiful urban green space and a place of peace among the city sprawl.
It’s one of the oldest public parks in the US and fittingly features a number of historic landmarks. These include the Central Burying Ground of 1756 and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.
With spacious lawns, benches and even a wading pool, it’s a popular place to hang out in the summer. While in the winter, the Boston Common is fitted with an ice skating rink and is a magical spot to skate under the city lights.
9) Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum
It was here, along the Boston Harbor, that angry locals changed the course of history and set the United States on the path to independence.
On the 16th of December, 1773, city residents stormed the docks and threw tea into the water. What began as a protest on tax quickly turned into something much more.
I’ll leave the history lessons to your guides dressed in period costumes at the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum.
Here, you can board replicas of the original ships and, through a variety of fascinating displays and narration, learn all about that night and the months that followed.
The most memorable aspect of the experience, though, is when you can reenact that fateful night and dump your own tea into the harbor.
- Location: 306 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210
- Opening hours: 10am to 5pm (Mon, Thur-Sun)
- Price: Adult $31.95 Child $23.95
Read Next: Looking for more US history? Be sure to check out our post on the best things to do in Washington, DC.
10) The Boston Harbor
After all this time spent on historic ships but not getting out on the water, it’s time to explore the Boston Harbor.
Onboard the Odyssey you can cruise out into the harbor and see the beautiful skyline from a different perspective.
As you meander through the bay, you’ll cross paths with George and Castle islands on your way to the Boston Light. While at night, the towering buildings glisten against the water.
If you’re traveling to Boston from March to November, why not trade your cruise for a whale watching experience?
Head out from downtown in search of humpback whales and dolphins with your knowledgeable guide providing ready to answer all your questions.
11) USS Constitution and Bunker Hill Monument
In a different part of the Boston Harbor is another ship-based experience. Near Bunker Hill lies the USS Constitution, which holds the nickname Old Ironsides.
It was built in 1797 and is the oldest commissioned ship in the nation. Today, the naval crew still helm the 2-centuries-old ship and it’s open for you to explore.
Going below deck, exploring Old Ironsides and learning about her experiences is one of the best things to do in Boston with kids.
But it doesn’t end there. On the other end of the pier is the ship’s museum. Enter to discover what life aboard the ship was like in the 18th century.
Finish up by walking to the 221-foot Bunker Hill Monument, which marks the spot of the first battle of the American Revolution.
- Location: Building 22, Charlestown Navy Yard, Charlestown, MA 02129
- Opening hours: 10am to 5pm (Mon -Sun)
- Price: Free, first come, first serve
12) Harvard University
Around 15 minutes from downtown Boston on the Red Line is the famous Harvard University.
Founded in 1636, it was the first university created in the United States. It has developed an international reputation and its hallowed grounds are a joy to explore.
Stepping out of the subway, you’ll find yourself at Harvard Square. Surrounded by shops, bars and restaurants, it harbors a unique atmosphere. There’s a sense of history and purpose among all the comings and goings.
Just a few steps to your right will be a gateway to the university, whose history sweeps you up the moment you enter.
The paths take you by centuries-old halls, past the John Harvard Statue to Harvard Yard on your way to several exceptional Harvard museums.
If you prefer a free guided tour, head to the Harvard Information Center.
Or get an in-depth guided tour with your Boston CityPASS.
13) The North End
Also known as Little Italy, Boston’s North End is a must-see neighborhood. It covers the speck of land that juts out into the harbor with the Charles River on the other side.
If you’ve completed the Freedom Trail, you would have seen the historic highlights of the North End, but be sure to return to experience its culinary brilliance.
The North End is one of the best places to eat in the city. There are almost 100 restaurants to choose between, all with their own flair and tasty treats.
But it isn’t all pizza and delicious pasta, you’ll find mouthwatering pastries at Mike’s Pastries and rows of charming cafes along Hanover Street.
14) Boston Public Library
In the Back Bay, the Boston Public Library is a place for history lovers and architectural aficionados.
The beautiful library was built in 1848 again in 1895. Upon opening, it became the United States’ first public library. You’ll find it on the edge of the green lawns of Copley Square.
After admiring its intricate facade of archways and towers, wander inside to find large paintings strewn across the hallowed walls, interior design inspired by Renaissance Revival and granite medallions placed along the entrance.
Continue on to explore the rest of the library, which also offers fun activities for the little ones.
You can also sign up for a free guided tour to learn all about the Boston Public Library.
- Location: 700 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02116
- Opening hours: 9am to 8pm (Tue to Thur) 9am to 5pm (Fri-Sat)
- Price: Free
15) New England Aquarium
If the little ones are growing restless, then bring them to one of the top Boston attractions. The New England Aquarium first opened in 1969 and is now home to over 550 marine species.
Entrance to the Aquarium is included with your Boston CityPASS, so you’ll save some money here too!
As you and the family wander around the aquarium, you’ll find coral reefs that are replicas of those found in the Caribbean. Floating around the coral are prismatic fish, eels, adorable turtles and fearsome sharks.
For an interactive experience, check out the Edge of the Sea exhibit. This allows you to touch sea creatures like urchins and starfish.
The aquarium is also home to harbor seal and whale watching tours. While you can learn all about nature at the resident IMAX Theater.
- Location: 1 Central Wharf, Boston, MA 02110
- Opening hours: 9am to 5pm (Mon-Fri) 9am to 6pm (Sat-Sun)
- Price: Adult $37 Child $28
16) Duck Tour
The Boston Duck Tour is a quintessential thread in the fabric of the Massachusetts city. However, did you know they didn’t originate here, but instead in the Midwest?
This Boston tour did, though, take the experience to mainstream popularity and now it’s one of the most memorable Boston activities. The tours began in 1994. After starting with four, there are now 28 in service.
On this 80-minute tour, you’ll travel on the World War Two-style duck through the city’s streets on your to the Charles River. Sights include Bunker Hill, Newbury Street and Quincy Market.
After learning even more about Boston, the amphibious vehicle transitions as you enjoy beautiful views of both downtown and Cambridge from the water.
17) Boston Public Market
Alongside Faneuil Hall, the Boston Public Market is another way to shop for fresh produce. The indoor market operates year-round, every day of the week.
On the inside, you’ll discover around 30 producers and artisans from around New England. They’ll be selling fresh goods, handicrafts, tasty treats and delicious meals. All the products hail from the surrounding regions, with the items changing with the seasons.
Along with the rows of stalls, there are regular events, workshops and cooking classes. You can even join a tour of the market to learn about its humble beginnings and what’s on offer today.
The Boston Public Market, located at 100 Hanover Street, Boston, MA 02108, is open Monday – Saturday, 8:00am – 6:00pm and Sunday 10:00am – 6:00pm.
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18) John F. Kennedy Presidential Library
Celebrating the 35th President of the United States, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is an invaluable insight into the life of one of the most prominent figures in the 20th century.
The museum is a designated memorial of John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963. The museum opened in 1979 and features informative exhibits complete with memorabilia and photographs dedicated to his life and time in power.
Like many other presidential libraries, visitors will be able to relive JFK’s campaign trail, see what the Oval Office was like when he was President while learning more about First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and the rest of his family.
- Location: Columbia Point, Boston, MA 02125
- Opening hours: 10am to 4pm (Thur-Fri)
- Price: Adult $18 Child $10
19) The Back Bay
Along the Charles River, Back Bay is another district that’s worth exploring in detail. On the banks of the Charles River, Back Bay has an old-time charm with a dense concentration of shops and restaurants that are aligned in a picturesque manner.
Back Bay is just west of downtown Boston and its urban planning was inspired by the streets of Paris. It has a sophisticated personality and a sense of beauty with small grass-soaked parks placed across the neighborhood.
Newbury Street runs through the center of Back Bay and presents travelers with some enticing shopping opportunities. Find upscale couturiers and jewelers among the cafe patios that are sent right from the Rue Cler.
Just steps away is the Public Garden, while at night, stick around for a performance at the Symphony Hall.
20) The Boston Harborwalk
If you’re ever left wondering what to do in Boston, this next activity will be one to keep in your back pocket. The Boston Harborwalk is the perfect choice to fill in any gaps in the itinerary, as it is a lovely thing to do, day or night.
The city’s harborfront has seen many iterations since the 1600s. Once a bustling colonial port, the area had to be revitalized after the main port was moved further out into the bay.
Now the waterfront is a beautiful example of urban renewal and your leisurely stroll will bring you along the harbor through parks, by cafes and quiet residential streets.
The best section to walk is the North End. Here you’ll find a number of historic wharves, the Waterfront Park and the happening Seaport District.
21) Beacon Hill
Arguably the most beautiful neighborhood in Boston, Beacon Hill is one you’ll want to explore on foot. Located in South Boston, Beacon Hill has long been the locale of the wealthy, with the opulent brick homes showing just how wealthy.
Along the mossy cobblestone streets that make way for tree-lined brick paths. Above them is Greek Revival architecture. For the best of them, head to Louisburg Square, where the ornate homes all face the leafy gardens.
Visit the Nichols House Museum to learn all about life in Beacon Hill from the 17th to 19th century. The museum tells the stories of the uber-rich residents, complete with period furnishing and art.
Where to Stay in Boston
Well, there you have it, the best things to do in Boston. But before you pack your bags, let’s look at some of the top spots to stay.
The Best Hostel in Boston: HI Boston
At HI Boston, you’ll find yourself just minutes away from downtown and the beginning of the Freedom Trail. The hostel offers clean and modern amenities with all the things you need for a comfortable hostel stay.
The Best Mid-Range Hotel in Boston: Boston Hotel Commonwealth
In Fenway Kenmore, the Boston Hotel Commonwealth is just steps from the iconic stadium and only the Charles River separates you from Cambridge.
Your hotel room comes with a spa service, cable TV and a separate living area to relax. Guests will also have access to onsite dining and a fitness center.
The Best Luxury Hotel in Boston: Boston Harbor Hotel
At Rowes Wharf, the Boston Harbor Hotel is a five star experience with memorable views over the Boston Harbor.
Guest rooms come with a smart TV, coffee machines, mini bar and some offer a separate seating area. You’ll also have award-winning onsite dining and swimming pool.
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