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Traveling to Boston on a package tour makes it quite convenient for those interested only in hitting the highlights or major historic sites such as the Freedom Trail, Faneuil Hall, the Bunker Hill Memorial, Quincy Market, and Harvard Square. If you're interested in exploring more neighborhoods, a tour will likely not give you time to visit them.
Boston has many waterways that offer stunning views of the city skyline. Narrated sightseeing water tours generally run from spring through early fall, usually until Columbus Day weekend. These trips normally last ¾–1½ hours and cost upwards of $25. Many companies offer whale watches, and sunset or evening cruises with entertainment.
Boston Duck Tours, which give witty narrated land-and-water tours on World War II amphibious vehicles, are very popular. After going by historic sights, the vehicle then dips into the Charles River to offer views of the Boston skyline. These tours, costing $34 for an adult, run through late November (there are also a handful of weekend tours in December). There are departures from Prudential Center; from Huntington Avenue, in front of Shaw's supermarket; from New England Aquarium; and from the Museum of Science.
June through September, you can relive the golden age of sail aboard the Liberty Clipper, a replica two-masted gaff-rigged schooner that operates midday harbor tours and romantic sunset cruises from Long Wharf.
Boston Harbor Cruises and Massachusetts Bay Lines have tours around the harbor. Charles Riverboat Company also offers architectural cruises, narrated by experts, that exit the Charles River Basin locks, enter Boston Harbor under the Zakim Bridge, and take in the historic sights of Charlestown as well as the dynamic seaport and waterfront.
Boston Duck Tours (617/267–3825. www.bostonducktours.com.)
Boston Harbor Cruises (1 Long Wharf, Boston, MA, 02110. 877/733–9425 or 617/227–4321. www.bostonharborcruises.com.)
Charles Riverboat Company (100 Cambridge Pl., Suite 320, Cambridge, MA, 02141. 617/621–3001. www.charlesriverboat.com.)
Liberty Clipper (67 Long Wharf, Boston, MA, 02110. 617/742–0333. www.libertyfleet.com.)
Massachusetts Bay Lines (60 Rowes Wharf, Boston, MA, 02110. 617/542–8000. www.massbaylines.com.)
Bus tours, which cost around $25 and run daily from mid-March to early November, cover the main historic neighborhoods in less than four hours. Reserve bus tours at least a day in advance. Boston Private Tours has customized tours in vans or limousines. Brush Hill has more traditional charter bus tours as well as smaller tours, with lots of prepackaged options and add-ons; the 1½-hour narrated tour is popular.
Boston Private Tours (707 Main St., Boston, MA, 01740. 978/771–4471. www.bostonprivatetours.com.)
Brush Hill Tours (Transportation Bldg., 16 Charles St. S, Boston, MA, 02116. 800/343–1328 or 781/986–6100. www.brushhilltours.com.)
See how the beer's made at the Boston Beer Museum & Samuel Adams Brewery or Harpoon Brewery; hear spine-tingling tales about Boston's famous cemeteries; or tour the offices and printing plant of the Boston Globe. Some organizations have special restrictions, such as an age limit for children. To capture the true flavor of Boston's intelligentsia, make a reservation for an art and architecture tour of the Boston Athenaeum, the grande dame of Boston's private libraries. Many tours are free, but you often need to make a reservation at least a few days in advance. It's always a good idea to call ahead to confirm schedules.
Boston Beer Museum & Samuel Adams Brewery (Boston Beer Company, 30 Germania St., Jamaica Plain, Boston, MA, 02130. 617/368–5080 tours. www.samueladams.com.)
Harpoon Brewery (306 Northern Ave., Waterfront, Boston, MA, 02210. 617/456–2322. www.harpoonbrewery.com.)
Boston by Little Feet (Meet at Samuel Adams statue in front of Faneuil Hall, Boston, MA. 617/367–2345. www.bostonbyfoot.com/tours/Boston_By_Little_Feet.)
Beacon Hill Garden Club Tours (Charles and Beacon Sts., Beacon Hill, Boston, MA. 617/227–4392. www.beaconhillgardenclub.org.)
Boston Athenaeum (10½ Beacon St., Beacon Hill, Boston, MA, 02108. 617/227–0270 Ext. 279. www.bostonathenaeum.org.)
Boston Park Rangers (Parks and Recreation Dept. kiosk in Boston Common, Boston, MA. 617/635–4505. www.cityofboston.gov/parks.)
Narrated trolley tours, which usually cost $36 or so, don't require reservations and are more flexible than bus tours; you can hop on and hop off as often as you want. A full trip normally lasts 1½ to 2 hours. All trolleys run daily, though less frequently off-season. Because they're open vehicles, be sure to dress appropriately for the weather.
Old Town Trolley tours, which usually focus on history, includes a tour that's 1½ hours and narrated.
Old Town Trolley (380 Dorchester Ave., South Boston, Boston, MA, 02127. 888/912–8687. www.historictours.com/boston.)
Boston is the perfect city for walking tours, to explore history, literature, the city's ethnic neighborhoods, and other subjects. Most tours cost about $20 and last one to two hours. Guides prefer to keep groups at fewer than 20 people, so always reserve ahead. Several organizations give tours once or twice a day spring through fall and by appointment (if at all) in winter. Others run tours a few days a week, spring through fall. If you'd rather not take a tour using your own two legs, there's also a tour that lets you see the sights on a Segway.
The Women's Heritage Trail, the Freedom Trail, and the Black Heritage Trail can be completed as self-guided tours. Maps for the Women's Heritage Trail are available online and at the Old State House and the National Park Service Visitor Center; the same organization also runs several tours with guides. The Boston Common Visitor Information Center has maps of the Freedom Trail, which is indicated with a red line painted on the ground. The Freedom Trail and the Black Heritage Trail can also be completed with a ranger-led group. The Boston and Cambridge Centers for Adult Education lead in-depth educational tours on many topics, most of them centered on art, architecture, and literature.
Harvard Square is the starting point for free student-led campus tours.
Black Heritage Trail (617/725–0022. www.maah.org.)
Boston by Foot (290 Congress St., Suite 100, Boston, MA, 02110. 617/367–2345. www.bostonbyfoot.com.)
Boston By Segway (420 Commercial St., North End, Boston, MA, 02109. 866/611–9838 or 617/670–4200. bostonbysegway.com.)
Boston Center for Adult Education (122 Arlington St., Boston, MA, 02116. 617/267–4430. www.bcae.org.)
Boston Common Visitor Information Center (888/733–2678. www.bostonusa.com.)
Cambridge Center for Adult Education (42 Brattle St., Cambridge, MA, 02138. 617/547–6789. www.ccae.org.)
Freedom Trail (617/357–8300. www.thefreedomtrail.org.)
Harvard Campus Tours (Harvard Information Center, 1350 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA, 02138. 617/495–1573. www.harvard.edu/visitors.)
Historic New England (141 Cambridge St., Boston, MA, 02114. 617/227–3956. www.historicnewengland.org.)
National Parks Service Visitor Center (617/242–5642. www.nps.gov/bost.)
North End Market Tour (6 Charter St., Boston, MA, 02113. 617/523–6032. bostonfoodtours.com.)
Women's Heritage Trail (www.bwht.org.)