145 Best Sights in Boston, Massachusetts

Acorn Street

Beacon Hill Fodor's choice

Often called the city's most photographed passageway, Acorn Street offers its visitors an iconic image of "historic Boston." Short, steep, and narrow, the cobblestone street may be Boston's roughest ride, so leave your car behind. Brick row houses—once the homes of 19th-century artisans and tradespeople—line one side, and on the other, doors lead to Mt. Vernon's hidden gardens. Find American flags, creative door knockers, window boxes, and gas lights aplenty.

Boston Children's Museum

Fort Point Channel Fodor's choice

The country's second-oldest children's museum has always been ahead of the curve with creative hands-on exhibits, cultural diversity, and problem-solving. Some of the most popular stops are also the simplest, like the bubble-making machinery and the two-story climbing maze. At the Japanese House, you're invited to take off your shoes and step inside a Kyoto silk merchant's home. Children can dig, climb, and build at the Construction Zone, and in the toddler PlaySpace, children under three can run free in a safe environment. There's also a full schedule of special exhibits, festivals, and performances.

Boston Common

Beacon Hill Fodor's choice

Nothing is more central to the city than Boston Common, the oldest public park in the United States and undoubtedly the largest and most famous of the town commons around which New England settlements were traditionally arranged. Dating from 1634, the Common started as 50 acres where freemen could graze their cattle. (Cows were banned in 1830.) Don't confuse the Common with its sister park, the Public Garden, where the Swan Boats glide and flowers bloom three seasons of the year.

On its Tremont Street side, State House employees, downtown professionals, and tourists gather to take a break and enjoy lunch at one of food trucks parked (April through October) at the Brewer Fountain Plaza. A few steps away, the Freedom Trail starts in front of the Boston Common Visitor Information Center. The Common's highest point, near the Parkman Bandstand, was once called Flagstaff Hill and is now surmounted by the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, honoring Civil War troops. The Common's only body of water is the Frog Pond, a tame and frog-free concrete depression used as a wading pool and spray fountain during summer and for ice-skating in winter.

Central Burying Ground lends the park an eerie vibe at its site on Boylston Street; in fact, the Common boasts a fair amount of haunted history. Across from the State House, on the Beacon Street side, sits the splendidly restored Robert Gould Shaw 54th Regiment Memorial, executed in deep-relief bronze by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1897. In addition, this is Freedom Trail stop 1.

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Boston Public Garden

Back Bay Fodor's choice
Boston Public Garden
Marcio Jose Bastos Silva / Shutterstock

America's oldest botanical garden is replete with gorgeous formal plantings, a 4-acre lagoon famous since 1877 for its foot-pedal–powered (by a captain) Swan Boats ( swanboats.com), and the Make Way for Ducklings bronzes sculpted by Nancy Schön, a tribute to the 1941 classic children's story by Robert McCloskey.

Keep in mind that Boston Public Garden and Boston Common are two separate entities with different histories and purposes and a distinct boundary between them at Charles Street. The Common has been public land since Boston was founded in 1630, whereas the Public Garden belongs to a newer Boston, occupying what had been salt marshes on the edge of the Common. By 1837 the tract was covered with an abundance of ornamental plantings donated by a group of private citizens. Near the Swan Boat dock is what has been described as the world's smallest suspension bridge, designed in 1867 to cross the pond at its narrowest point. The beds along the main walkways are replanted every spring. The tulips during the first two weeks of May are especially colorful, and there's a sampling of native and European tree species.

Boston Public Library

Back Bay Fodor's choice

This venerable institution is a handsome temple to reading and a valuable research library, as well as an art gallery of sorts, and you don't need a library card to enjoy it. At the main entrance hall of the 1895 Renaissance Revival building, take in the immense stone lions by Louis St. Gaudens, the vaulted ceiling, and the marble staircase. The corridor at the top of the stairs leads to Bates Hall, one of Boston's most sumptuous interior spaces. This is the main reading room, 218 feet long with a barrel vault ceiling 50 feet high. The murals at the head of the staircase, depicting the nine muses, are the work of the French artist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes; those in the room to the right are Edwin Austin Abbey's interpretations of the Holy Grail legend. Upstairs, in the public areas, is John Singer Sargent's mural series Triumph of Religion. The library offers free art and architecture tours. The McKim building contains a Renaissance-style courtyard inspired by Rome's Palazzo della Cancelleria. A covered arcade furnished with chairs rings a fountain; you can bring books or lunch into the peaceful courtyard.

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Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum

Fodor's choice

Situated at the Congress Street Bridge near the site of Griffin's Wharf, this lively museum offers an interactive look at the past in a place as close as possible to the actual spot where the Boston Tea Party took place on December 16, 1773. Actors in period costumes greet patrons, assign them real-life Colonial personas, and then ask a few people to heave boxes of tea into the water from aboard historical reproductions of the ships forcibly boarded and unloaded the night Boston Harbor became a teapot. There are 3-D holograms, talking portraits, and even the Robinson Half Tea Chest, one of two original tea chests known to exist. Abigail's Tea Room (you don't need a museum ticket for entry) features a tea tasting of five tea blends that would have been aboard the ships.

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Bunker Hill Monument

Charlestown Fodor's choice

Two misunderstandings surround this famous monument. First, the Battle of Bunker Hill was actually fought on Breed's Hill, which is where the monument sits today. (The real Bunker Hill is about ½ mile to the north of the monument.) In truth, Bunker was the originally planned locale for the battle, and for that reason its name stuck. Second, although the battle is generally considered a Colonial success, the Americans lost. It was a Pyrrhic victory for the British Redcoats, who sacrificed nearly half of their 2,200 men; American casualties numbered 400 to 600. One thing is true: the Battle of Bunker Hill put the British on notice that they were up against a formidable opponent. According to history books, this is also the location of the famous war cry, "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes," uttered by American colonel William Prescott or General Israel Putnam (there's still debate on who gave the actual command). This was a shout out to an 18th-century Prussian warning to soldiers that lack of ammunition and notorious musket inaccuracy meant every shot needed to count. The Americans did employ a deadly delayed-action strategy on June 17, 1775, and conclusively proved themselves capable of defeating the forces of the British Empire.

Among the dead were the brilliant young American doctor and political activist Joseph Warren, recently commissioned as a major general but fighting as a private, and the British major John Pitcairn, who two months prior had led the Redcoats into Lexington. Pitcairn is believed to be buried in the crypt of Old North Church.

In 1823 the committee formed to construct a monument on the site of the battle chose the form of an Egyptian obelisk. Architect Solomon Willard designed a 221-foot-tall granite obelisk, a tremendous feat of engineering for its day. The Marquis de Lafayette laid the cornerstone of the monument in 1825, but because of a lack of funds, it wasn't dedicated until 1843. Daniel Webster's stirring words at the ceremony commemorating the laying of its cornerstone have gone down in history: "Let it rise! Let it rise, till it meets the sun in his coming. Let the earliest light of the morning gild it, and parting day linger and play upon its summit."

The monument's zenith is reached by a flight of 294 tightly spiraled steps, a space that's unfortunately still undergoing renovation and is closed to climbers. With an opening day on the horizon, take note: there's no elevator, but the views from the observatory are worth the effort of the arduous climb. Due to high numbers, all visitors who wish to climb must first obtain a pass from the Bunker Hill Museum at 43 Monument Square. Climbing passes are free, but limited in number and can be either reserved up to two weeks in advance or on a first-come, first-served basis. The museum's artifacts and exhibits tell the story of the battle, while a detailed diorama shows the action in miniature. This is Freedom Trail stop 16.

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Charles Street

Beacon Hill Fodor's choice

You won't see any glaring neon signs, in keeping with the historic character of the area, but Charles Street more than makes up for the general lack of commercial development on Beacon Hill with a plethora of clothing, antiques, and gift boutiques, plus cafés. Once the home of Oliver Wendell Holmes and the publisher James T. Fields (of the famed Bostonian firm of Ticknor and Fields), Charles Street sparkles at dusk from gas-fueled lamps, making it a romantic place for an evening stroll.

Crane Beach on the Crane Estate

Fodor's choice

The 1,200-acre Crane Beach on the Crane Estate, an hour's drive to the north of Boston in the 17th-century village of Ipswich, has 4 miles of sparkling white sand that serve as a nesting ground for the threatened piping plover, a small shorebird. It's one of the most stunning beaches in the state. From Route 128 North, take Exit 20A and follow Route 1A North for 8 miles. Turn right on Route 133 East and follow for 1½ miles. Turn left on Northgate Road and in ½ mile, turn right on Argilla Road and follow for 2½ miles to the entrance. Arrive early or come later in the afternoon as the parking lot does fill up and you could be turned away. Admission fees range from $2 to $30, depending on the time of year, day of the week, and whether you arrive on foot, by bike, or by car. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (fee); showers; toilets. Best for: swimming; walking; sunset.

Emerald Necklace Conservancy

Fodor's choice

The six large public parks known as Boston's Emerald Necklace stretch seven miles from the Back Bay Fens to Franklin Park in Dorchester, and include Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Pond, Olmsted Park, and the Riverway. The linear parks, designed by master landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted more than 100 years ago, remain a well-groomed urban masterpiece.

Faneuil Hall Marketplace

Government Center Fodor's choice

Faneuil Hall (pronounced Fan-yoo'uhl or Fan-yuhl) was erected in 1742, the gift of wealthy merchant Peter Faneuil, who wanted the hall to serve as both a place for town meetings and a public market. It burned in 1761 and was immediately reconstructed according to the original plan of its designer, the Scottish portrait painter John Smibert (who lies in the Granary Burying Ground). In 1763 the political leader James Otis helped inaugurate the era that culminated in American independence when he dedicated the rebuilt hall to the cause of liberty.

In 1772 Samuel Adams stood here and first suggested that Massachusetts and the other colonies organize a Committee of Correspondence to maintain semiclandestine lines of communication in the face of hardening British repression. In later years the hall again lived up to Otis's dedication when the abolitionists Wendell Phillips and Charles Sumner pleaded for support from its podium. The tradition continues to this day: in presidential-election years the hall is the site of debates between contenders in the Massachusetts primary.

Faneuil Hall was substantially enlarged and remodeled in 1805 according to a Greek Revival design of the noted architect Charles Bulfinch; this is the building you see today. Its purposes remain the same: the balconied Great Hall is available to citizens' groups on presentation of a request signed by a required number of responsible parties; it also plays host to regular concerts.

Inside Faneuil Hall are dozens of paintings of famous Americans, including the mural Webster's Reply to Hayne and Gilbert Stuart's portrait of Washington at Dorchester Heights. Park rangers give informational talks about the history and importance of Faneuil Hall every half hour. There are interactive displays about Boston sights, and National Park Service rangers at the visitor center on the first floor can provide maps and other information.

On the building's top floors are the headquarters and museum and library of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, which is free to visit (but a donation is welcome). Founded in 1638, it's the oldest militia in the Western Hemisphere, and the third-oldest in the world, after the Swiss Guard and the Honourable Artillery Company of London. The museum is open Wednesday through Friday from 11 am to 3 pm.

When such men as Andrew Jackson and Daniel Webster debated the future of the Republic here, the fragrances of bacon and snuff—sold by merchants in Quincy Market across the road—greeted their noses. Today the aroma of coffee wafts through the hall from a snack bar. The shops at ground level sell New England bric-a-brac. This is Freedom Trail stop 11.

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Fenway Park

Fodor's choice

Fenway Park is Major League Baseball's oldest ballpark and has seen some stuff since its 1912 opening. For one, it's the home field for the Boston Red Sox, which overcame the "Curse of the Bambino" to win World Series championships in 2004, 2007, 2013, and 2018. Ticket-holding Sox fans can browse display cases mounted inside Fenway Park before and during a ballgame; these shed light on and show off memorabilia from particular players and eras of the club team's history. Fenway offers hour-long behind-the-scenes guided walking tours of the park; there are also specialized tour options.

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Harvard Art Museums

Harvard Square Fodor's choice

This is Harvard University's oldest museum, and in late 2014, it became the combined collections of the Busch-Reisinger, Fogg, and Arthur M. Sackler Museums. All three were united under one glorious, mostly glass roof, under the umbrella name Harvard Art Museums. Housed in a facility designed by award-winning architect Renzo Piano, the 204,000-square-foot museum is spread over seven levels, allowing more of Harvard’s 250,000-piece art collection, featuring European and American art from the Middle Ages to the present day, to be seen in one place. Highlights include American and European paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts from the Fogg Museum; Asian art, Buddhist cave-temple sculptures, and Chinese bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler collection; and works by German expressionists, materials related to the Bauhaus, and postwar contemporary art from German-speaking Europe from the Busch-Reisinger Museum.

In addition to the gallery spaces, there's a 300-seat theater, Jenny's Cafe, a museum shop, and the Calderwood Courtyard, plus conservation and research labs.

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Harvard Museum of Natural History

Harvard Square Fodor's choice

The Harvard Museum of Natural History (which exhibits specimens from the Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Harvard University Herbaria, and the Mineralogical and Geological Museum) reminds us nature is the original masterpiece. Cases are packed with zoological specimens, from tiny hummingbirds and deer mice to rare Indian rhinoceroses and one of the largest Amazon pirarucu ever caught. View fossils and skeletons alongside marvelous minerals, including a 1,600-pound amethyst geode. Harvard's world-famous Blaschka Glass Flowers collection is a creative approach to flora, with more than 4,300 hand-blown glass plant models. The museum combines historic exhibits drawn from the university's vast collections with new and changing multimedia exhibitions, such as In Search of Thoreau’s Flowers: An Exploration of Change and Loss and Lily Simonson: Painting the Deep, plus a renovated Earth & Planetary Sciences gallery.

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Harvard Square

Harvard Square Fodor's choice

Tides of students, tourists, and politically charged proponents are all part of the nonstop pedestrian flow at this most celebrated of Cambridge crossroads. Harvard Square is where Massachusetts Avenue, coming from Boston, turns and widens into a triangle broad enough to accommodate a brick peninsula (above the T station). The restored 1928 kiosk in the center of the square once served as the entrance to the MBTA station, and is now home to lively street musicians and artists selling their paintings and photos on blankets. Harvard Yard, with its lecture halls, residential houses, libraries, and museums, is one long border of the square; the other three are composed of clusters of banks, retailers, and restaurants.

Time in the Square raises people-watching to a high art form. On an average afternoon you'll hear earnest conversations in dozens of foreign languages; see every kind of youthful uniform from slouchy sweats to impeccable prep; wander by street musicians playing guitars and flutes; and wonder at how students reading textbooks out in the sunshine can get any work done among the commotion.

The historic buildings are worth noting. It's a thrill to walk though the big brick-and-wrought-iron gates to Harvard Yard on up to Widener Library, the University's flagship library. More than 50 miles of bookshelves snake around this imposing neoclassical structure, designed by one of the nation's first major African American architects, Julian Abele. It holds more than 3.5 million volumes in 450 languages, but is unfortunately not open to the public.

Across Garden Street, through an ornamental arch, is Cambridge Common, decreed a public pasture in 1631. It's said that under a large tree that once stood in this meadow George Washington took command of the Continental Army on July 3, 1775. A stone memorial now marks the site of the "Washington Elm." Also on the Common is the Irish Famine Memorial by Derry artist Maurice Harron, unveiled in 1997 to coincide with the 150th anniversary of "Black ’47," the deadliest year of the potato famine. At the center of the Common a large memorial commemorates the Union soldiers who lost their lives in the Civil War. On the far side of the Common is a fantastic park and newly renovated playground.

Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston

Fodor's choice

The ICA mounts temporary exhibits by the contemporary art world's brightest talents, as well as curated pieces from its permanent collection, all of which are as cutting edge as the breathtaking, cantilevered edifice jutting out over Boston Harbor that houses them. The ICA's fourth floor is where most happens: incredible art and stunning water views. The Poss Family Mediatheque serves as a great resting spot for families. Live programming, from film festivals to outdoor live music concerts take place regularly. Don't miss the ICA Store on the ground level, where you can pick up an inventive trinket of your own.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

The Fenway Fodor's choice

A spirited society woman, Isabella Stewart came in 1860 from New York to marry John Lowell Gardner, one of Boston's leading citizens. "Mrs. Jack" promptly set about becoming the most un-Bostonian of the Proper Bostonians. She built a Venetian palazzo to hold her collected art. Her will stipulated that the building remain exactly as she left it—paintings, furniture, down to the smallest object in a hall cabinet—and so it has remained.

Gardner's palazzo includes such masterpieces as Titian's Europa, Giotto's Presentation of Christ in the Temple, and John Singer Sargent's El Jaleo. Eight balconies adorn the majestic Venetian courtyard, and themed rooms include Raphael, Spanish Cloister, Gothic, Chinese Loggia, and a magnificent Tapestry Room for concerts, where Gardner entertained Henry James and Edith Wharton.

On March 18, 1990, the Gardner was the target of a sensational art heist. Thieves disguised as police officers stole 12 works, including Vermeer's The Concert. None of the art has been recovered. Because Mrs. Gardner's will prohibited substituting other works for any stolen art, empty expanses of wall identify spots where the paintings once hung. The heist is the subject of a 2021 Netflix documentary, This is a Robbery.

The modern Renzo Piano–designed addition houses a music hall, exhibit space, and conservation labs.

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John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Fodor's choice

The library-museum is both a center for serious scholarship and a focus for Boston's nostalgia for her native son. The stark, white building (another modernist monument designed by I. M. Pei) at this Dorchester Bay–enclosed site pays homage to the life and presidency of John F. Kennedy, as well as to members of his family, including his wife, Jacqueline, and brother Robert.

The library is the official repository of JFK's presidential papers and displays re-creations of his desk in the Oval Office and of the television studio in which he debated Richard Nixon in the 1960 election. Permanent exhibits focus on his life before politics, the 1960 Presidential election, the Peace Corps, and the U.S. space program (currently under renovation). Two theaters show films about JFK's life. There's also a permanent display on the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The facility also includes a store and a small café.

King's Chapel

Downtown Fodor's choice

Both somber and dramatic, King's Chapel looms large. Its distinctive shape wasn't achieved entirely by design; for lack of funds, it was never topped with a steeple. The first chapel on this site was erected in 1688 for the establishment of an Anglican place of worship, and it took five years to build the solid Quincy-granite structure seen today. As construction proceeded, the old church continued to stand within the rising walls of the new, the plan being to remove and carry it away piece by piece when the outer stone chapel was completed. The builders then went to work on the interior, which remains essentially as they finished it in 1754; it's a masterpiece of proportion and Georgian calm (in fact, its acoustics make the use of a microphone unnecessary for Sunday sermons). The pulpit, built in 1717, is the oldest pulpit in continuous use on the same site in the United States. To the right of the main entrance is a special pew once reserved for condemned prisoners, who were trotted in to hear a sermon before being hanged on the Common. The chapel's bell is Paul Revere's largest and, in his judgment, his sweetest sounding. For a behind-the-scenes look at the bell or crypt, take a guided tour. You won’t be disappointed. This is Freedom Trail stop 5.

Museum of Fine Arts

The Fenway Fodor's choice

The MFA's collection of approximately 450,000 objects was built from a core of paintings and sculpture from the Boston Athenæum, historical portraits from the city of Boston, and donations by area universities. The MFA has more than 70 works by John Singleton Copley; major paintings by Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Fitz Henry Lane, and Edward Hopper; and a wealth of American works ranging from native New England folk art and Colonial portraiture to New York abstract expressionism of the 1950s and 1960s.

More than 30 galleries contain the MFA's European painting and sculpture collection, dating from the 11th century to the 20th. Contemporary art has a dynamic home in the MFA's dramatic I. M. Pei–designed building.

The MFA is open until 10 pm on Friday. Save time and purchase your tickets online in advance as lines can get quite long. The museum requires you to check any bag larger than 11 inches by 15 inches (even purses).

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Museum of Science

Old West End Fodor's choice

From its perch above the Charles River, the Museum of Science sits half in Cambridge and half in Boston. This unique trait is the first of many at this 70-plus-year-old institution that's focused on science, technology, and hands-on learning. Diverse permanent exhibits explore dinosaurs, the electromagnetic spectrum, modern conservation, math, motion, nanotechnology, the natural world, space travel, a garden walk and insect zoo, and more. The Theater of Electricity hosts explosive daily lightening shows. Add-ons to admission include: the multisensory 4-D Theater, the Charles Hayden Planetarium, and the newly renovated Mugar Omni Theater with IMAX programming.

In the Green Wing, "The Hall of Human Life" walks visitors through the inner workings of their own bodies. A barcode bracelet picked up at the entrance tracks personal data gathered at dozens of interactive components and makes comparisons. At "Science in the Park," kids test out physics, motion, and momentum while playing on swings, a seesaw, and other familiar objects.

The Charles Hayden Planetarium, with its sophisticated multimedia system based on a Zeiss planetarium projector, produces exciting programs on astronomical discoveries. Laser light shows, with laser graphics and computer animation, are offered daily. The museum also features the Mugar Omni Theater, a five-story dome screen with 360-degree projection that allows the audience to feel like they're experiencing the action within the IMAX films on-screen.

Theater of Electricity shows are loud, and they can be scary for young children under age seven.

The Riverview Café features a variety of moderately-priced, tasty food by Wolfgang Puck Catering.

Boston Duck Tours tour vehicles depart from the driveway of the museum, from late March through late November. Plan ahead by making a reservation with Boston Duck Tours.

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New England Aquarium

Waterfront Fodor's choice

As interesting and exciting as it is educational, this aquarium is a must for those who are curious about what lives in and around the sea. The building's glass-and-steel exterior is constructed to mimic fish scales, and seals bark and swim in the outdoor tank. Inside the main facility, more than 30,000 animals of 800 different species frolic in simulated habitats.

In the semi-enclosed outdoor space of the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center, visitors can enjoy the antics of northern fur seals and sea lions while gazing out at Boston Harbor.

The real showstopper, though, is the four-story, 200,000-gallon ocean-reef tank. Ramps winding around the tank lead to the top level and allow you to view the inhabitants from many vantage points. Up top, the Yawkey Coral Reef Center features a seven-tank exhibit gallery that gives a close-up look at animals that might not be easily seen on the reef. Don't miss the five-times-a-day feedings; each lasts nearly an hour and takes divers 24 feet into the tank.

Get up close to a variety of species of sharks and rays at the Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank, the largest of its kind on the East Coast.

Add on to the day at the aquarium's IMAX theater, which takes you on virtual journeys from the bottom of the sea to the depths of outer space in 3-D films.  Planning to see an IMAX film or go whale-watching in addition to visiting the New England Aquarium? Ask about combo tickets to save some money.

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Old North Church

North End Fodor's choice

At one end of the Paul Revere Mall is a church famous not only for being the oldest standing church building in Boston (built in 1723) but also for housing the two lanterns that glimmered from its steeple on the night of April 18, 1775. This is Christ (or Old North) Church, where Paul Revere and the young sexton Robert Newman managed that night to signal the departure by water of the British regulars to Lexington and Concord. Newman, carrying the lanterns, ascended the steeple, while Revere began his clandestine trip by boat across the Charles.

Although William Price designed the structure after studying Christopher Wren's London churches, Old North—which still has an active Episcopal congregation (including descendants of the Reveres)—is an impressive building in its own right. Inside, note the gallery and the graceful arrangement of pews; the bust of George Washington, pronounced by the Marquis de Lafayette to be the truest likeness of the general he ever saw; the brass chandeliers, made in Amsterdam in 1700 and installed here in 1724; and the clock, the oldest still running in an American public building. Try to visit when changes are rung on the bells, after the 11 am Sunday service; they bear the inscription, "We are the first ring of bells cast for the British Empire in North America." The steeple itself is not the original—the tower was destroyed in a hurricane in 1804 and was replaced in 1954. On the Sunday closest to April 18, descendants of the patriots reenact the raising of the lanterns in the church belfry during a special ticketed evening service, which also includes readings of Longfellow’s renowned poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” and Revere’s first-person account of that fateful night. Visitors are welcome to drop in for a self-guided tour or a 15-minute guided crypt tour.

Behind Old North is the Washington Memorial Garden, where volunteers cultivate a plot devoted to plants and flowers favored in the 18th century.  This is Freedom Trail stop 13.

Old South Meeting House

Downtown Fodor's choice

This is the second-oldest church building in Boston, and were it not for Longfellow's celebration of Old North in "Paul Revere's Ride," it might well be the most famous. Some of the fiercest of the town meetings that led to the Revolution were held here, culminating in the gathering of December 16, 1773, which was called by Samuel Adams to confront the crisis of three ships, laden with dutiable tea, anchored at Griffin's Wharf. The activists wanted the tea returned to England, but the governor would not permit it—and the rest is history. The Voices of Protest exhibit celebrates Old South as a forum for free speech from Revolutionary days to the present.

Old State House

Downtown Fodor's choice

This Colonial-era landmark has one of the most recognizable facades in Boston, with its gable adorned by a brightly gilded lion and silver unicorn, symbols of British imperial power. This was the seat of the Colonial government from 1713 until the Revolution, and after the evacuation of the British from Boston in 1776 it served the independent Commonwealth until its replacement on Beacon Hill was completed in 1798. The Declaration of Independence was first read in public in Boston from its balcony. John Hancock was inaugurated here as the first governor under the new state constitution. Today, it's an interactive museum with exhibits, artifacts, and 18th-century artwork, and tells the stories of Revolutionary Bostonians through costumed guides. This is Freedom Trail stop 9.

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Quincy Market

Government Center Fodor's choice

Quincy Market, also known as Faneuil Hall Marketplace, is not everyone's cup of tea; some people prefer grit to polish, and disdain the shiny cafés and boutiques. But there's no denying that this pioneer effort at urban recycling set the tone for many similar projects throughout the country, and that it has brought tremendous vitality to a once-tired corner of Boston. Quincy Market attracts huge crowds of tourists and locals throughout the year. In the early ’70s, demolition was a distinct possibility for the decrepit buildings. Fortunately, with the participation of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, architect Benjamin Thompson planned a renovation of Quincy Market, and the Rouse Corporation of Baltimore undertook its restoration, which was completed in 1976. Try to look beyond the shop windows to the grand design of the market buildings themselves; they represent a vision of the market as urban centerpiece, an idea whose time has certainly come again.

The market consists of three block-long annexes: Quincy Market, North Market, and South Market, each 535 feet long and across a plaza from Faneuil Hall. The structures were designed in 1826 by Alexander Parris as part of a public-works project instituted by Boston's second mayor, Josiah Quincy, to alleviate the cramped conditions of Faneuil Hall and clean up the refuse that collected in Town Dock, the pond behind it. The central structure, made of granite, with a Doric colonnade at either end and topped by a classical dome and rotunda, has kept its traditional market-stall layout, but the stalls now purvey international and specialty foods: sushi, frozen yogurt, bagels, calzones, sausage-on-a-stick, Chinese noodles, barbecue, and baklava, plus all the boutique chocolate-chip cookies your heart desires.

In between Quincy Market and South Market colonnades, be sure to stop and take a seat next to the sculpture of legendary Boston Celtics coach, Red Auerbach, smoking one of his famous stogies.

Along the arcades on either side of the Central Market are vendors selling sweatshirts, photographs of Boston, and arts and crafts—some schlocky, some not—alongside a couple of patioed bars and restaurants, including the new Sam Adams Brewery (perfectly poised within sight of his famous statue). The North and South markets house a mixture of chain stores and specialty boutiques.

Faneuil Hall provides a splash of color; during the winter holidays, trees along the cobblestone walks are strung with thousands of sparkling lights and the interior Quincy Market rotunda is home to a 20-foot Christmas tree. In summer up to 50,000 people a day descend on the market; the outdoor cafés are an excellent spot to watch the hordes if you can find a seat. Year-round the pedestrian walkways draw street performers, and rings of strollers form around magicians and musicians.

The Lawn on D

Fodor's choice

Stop, rest awhile, and have some fun. That's the purpose of The Lawn on D, a free-to-all open green space that features a plethora of geometrical swings, games like bocce, corn hole, and ping-pong, and chairs for lounging. In warmer weather, you can often catch a live concert or film screening here, or a public art installation. A concession stand makes sure visitors are well-fed. The only catch? You can't bring Fido.

Trinity Church

Back Bay Fodor's choice

In his 1877 masterpiece, architect Henry Hobson Richardson brought his Romanesque Revival style to maturity; all the aesthetic elements for which he was famous come together magnificently—bold polychromatic masonry, careful arrangement of masses, sumptuously carved interior woodwork—in this crowning centerpiece of Copley Square. A full appreciation of its architecture requires an understanding of the logistical problems of building it here. The Back Bay is a reclaimed wetland with a high water table. Bedrock, or at least stable glacial till, lies far beneath wet clay. Like all older Back Bay buildings, Trinity Church sits on submerged wooden pilings. But its central tower weighs 9,500 tons, and most of the 4,500 pilings beneath the building are under that tremendous central mass. The pilings are checked regularly for sinkage by means of a hatch in the basement.

Richardson engaged some of the best artists of his day—John La Farge, William Morris, and Edward Burne-Jones among them—to execute the paintings and stained glass that make this a monument to everything that was right about the pre-Raphaelite spirit and the nascent aesthetic of Morris's Arts and Crafts movement. Along the north side of the church, note the Augustus Saint-Gaudens statue of Phillips Brooks—the most charismatic rector in New England, who almost single-handedly got Trinity built and furnished. The shining light of Harvard's religious community and lyricist of "O Little Town of Bethlehem," Brooks is shown here with Christ touching his shoulder in approval. For a nice respite, try to catch one of the Friday organ concerts beginning at 12:15. Free drop-in guided tours are held throughout the week.

206 Clarendon St., Boston, Massachusetts, 02116, USA
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Rate Includes: Entrance free, guided and self-guided tours Tues.–Fri., $10, Closed Mon.

USS Constitution

Fodor's choice

Affectionately known as "Old Ironsides," the USS Constitution rides proudly at anchor in her berth at the Charlestown Navy Yard. The oldest commissioned ship in the U.S. fleet is a battlewagon of the old school, of the days of "wooden ships and iron men"—when she and her crew of 200 succeeded at the perilous task of asserting the sovereignty of an improbable new nation. Every July 4, she's towed out for a celebratory turnabout in Boston Harbor, where her keel was laid in 1797.

The venerable craft has narrowly escaped the scrap heap several times in her long history. She was launched on October 21, 1797, as part of the nation's fledgling navy. Her hull was made of live oak, the toughest wood grown in North America; her bottom was sheathed in copper, provided by Paul Revere at a nominal cost. Her principal service was during Thomas Jefferson's campaign against the Barbary pirates, off the coast of North Africa, and in the War of 1812. In 42 engagements her record was 42–0.

The nickname "Old Ironsides" was acquired during the War of 1812, when shots from the British warship Guerrière appeared to bounce off her hull. Talk of scrapping the ship began as early as 1830, but she was saved by a public campaign sparked by Oliver Wendell Holmes's poem "Old Ironsides." She underwent a major restoration in the early 1990s. Today she continues, the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, to be a part of the U.S. Navy. In 2015, she was dry docked for a 26-month restoration that included replacement of select hull planks, the 1995 copper sheathing, and deck beams, returning to the water in 2017.

The navy personnel who look after the Constitution maintain a 24-hour watch. Instead of taking the T, you can get closer to the ship by taking MBTA Bus 93 to Chelsea Street from Haymarket. Or you can take the Boston Harbor Cruise water shuttle from Long Wharf to Pier 4. This is Freedom Trail stop 15.

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USS Constitution Museum

Fodor's choice

With nearly 2,000 artifacts and more than 10,000 archival records pertaining to the USS Constitution on display, exhibits spark excitement about maritime culture and naval service. All ages enjoy “All Hands on Deck: A Sailor’s Life in 1812,” complete with opportunities to scrub decks, scramble aloft to furl a sail, eat a meal of salted meat and ship’s biscuit, and crawl into a hammock. History buffs get a stem-to-stern look at the ship's history, from its creation to battles.