Boston's Freedom Trail
The Freedom Trail is more than a collection of historic sites related to the American Revolution or a suggested itinerary connecting Boston’s unique neighborhoods. It’s a chance to walk in the footsteps of our forefathers—literally, by following a crimson path on public sidewalks—and pay tribute to the figures all school kids know, like Paul Revere, John Hancock, and Ben Franklin. In history-proud Boston, past and present intersect before your eyes not as a re-creation but as living history accessible to all.
Boston played a key role in the dramatic events leading up to the American Revolution. Many of the founding fathers called the city home, and many of the initial meetings and actions that sparked the fight against the British took place here. In one day, you can visit Faneuil Hall—the "Cradle of Liberty"—where outraged colonial radicals met to oppose British authority; the site of the incendiary Boston Massacre; and the Old North Church, where lanterns hung to signal Paul Revere on his thrilling midnight ride. Colonists may have originally landed in Jamestown and Plymouth, but if you really want to see where America began, come to Boston.
PLANNING YOUR TRAIL TRIP
The 2½-mile Freedom Trail begins at Boston Common, winds through Downtown, Government Center, and the North End, and ends in Charlestown at the USS Constitution. The entire Freedom Trail is marked by a red line on the sidewalk; it’s made of paint or brick at various points on the Trail.
Getting Here and Back: The route starts near the Park Street T stop. When you’ve completed the Freedom Trail, head for the nearby Charlestown water shuttle, which goes directly to the Downtown area. For schedules and maps, visit www.mbta.com.
If you’re stopping at a few (or all) of the 16 sites, it takes a full day to complete the route comfortably. If you have children in tow, you may want to split the trail into two or more days.
There are Freedom Trail information centers in Boston Common (Tremont Street), at Faneuil Hall, and at the Charlestown Navy Yard Visitor Center (in Building 5).
The National Park Service offers free 60-minute themed Freedom Trail walking tours from its Faneuil Hall Visitor Center. The "Meetings, Mobs & Martyrs" tour visits the Hall, Old State House, and Old South Meeting House; the "Allegiance to Revolution" tour starts at Faneuil Hall and goes to the Paul Revere House and Old North Church. Check online (www.nps.gov/bost/planyourvisit/guidedtours.htm) for times and other options; it’s a good idea to show up at least 30 minutes early, as the popular tours are limited to 30 people. Another ranger-led tour leaves from the Charlestown Navy Yard and goes to the Bunker Hill Monument on the hour. Half-hour tours of the USS Constitution are offered Tuesday through Sunday. Note that visitors to the ship must go through security screening.
The trail winds through the heart of Downtown Boston, so finding a quick bite or a nice sit-down meal isn’t difficult. Quincy Market, near Faneuil Hall, is packed with cafés and eateries. Another good lunch choice is one of the North End’s wonderful Italian restaurants.
For a short break from Revolutionary history, be sure to check out the major attractions nearby, including the Boston Public Garden, New England Aquarium, and Union Oyster House.
Old North Church
Bunker Hill Monument
Benjamin Franklin Statue
The Granary Burial Ground
Park Street Church
From Boston Common to Faneuil Hall
Begin at Boston Common, then head for the State House, Boston’s finest example of Federal architecture. Several blocks away is the Park Street Church, whose 217-foot steeple is considered to be the most beautiful in New England. The church was actually founded in 1809, and it played a key role in the movement to abolish slavery.
Reposing in the church’s shadows is the Granary Burying Ground, final resting place of Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere. A short stroll to Downtown brings you to King’s Chapel, founded in 1686 by King James II for the Church of England.
Follow the trail past the Benjamin Franklin statue to the Old Corner Bookstore site, where Hawthorne, Emerson, and Longfellow were published. Nearby is the Old South Meeting House, where arguments in 1773 led to the Boston Tea Party. Overlooking the site of the Boston Massacre is the city’s oldest public building, the Old State House, a Georgian beauty. In 1770 the Boston Massacre occurred directly in front of here—look for the commemorative stone circle.
Cross the plaza to Faneuil Hall and explore where Samuel Adams railed against "taxation without representation." A good mid-trail break is the shops and eateries of Faneuil Hall Marketplace, which includes Quincy Market.
DISTANCE: Many of the Freedom Trail sites between Boston Common and the North End are close together. Walking this 1-mile segment of the trail makes for a pleasant morning.
The North End to Charleston
When you depart Faneuil Hall, follow the red stripe to the North End, Boston’s Little Italy. The Paul Revere House takes you back 200 years—here are the hero’s own saddlebags, a toddy warmer, and a pine cradle made from a molasses cask. It’s also air-conditioned in the summer, so try to stop here in mid-afternoon to escape the heat. Next to the Paul Revere House is one of the city’s oldest brick buildings, the Pierce-Hichborn House. Next, peek inside a place guaranteed to trigger a wave of patriotism: the Old North Church of "One if by land, two if by sea" fame.
Then head toward Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, where you can view graves from the late 17th century through the early 19th century. Afterward, cross the bridge over the Charles and check out that revered icon, the USS Constitution, "Old Ironsides." It’s open until 6 pm (4 pm November through March), and you’ll need about an hour for a visit, so plan accordingly.
The perfect ending to the trail? A walk to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument for the incomparable vistas. The hill was the site of one of the first battles of the Revolutionary War. Though the colonial rebels actually lost, they inflicted large casualties on the better-trained British, proving themselves against the empire.
DISTANCE: Freedom Trail sites between Faneuil Hall and Charlestown are more spread out along 1½ miles. The sites here, though more difficult to reach, are certainly worth the walk.
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