Day Tours and Guides
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 upward of $25. Many companies offer whale watches, and sunset or evening cruises with entertainment.
Fees and Schedules
Boston Duck Tours. This popular tour outfit gives witty narrated land-and-water tours on World War II amphibious vehicles. After going by historic sights, the vehicle then dips into the Charles River to offer views of the Boston skyline. These tours, costing $39.50 per adult, run through late November (there may also be weekend tours in December). Departures are from the Prudential Center; Huntington Avenue, in front of Shaw's Supermarket; New England Aquarium; and the Museum of Science. 617/267–3825; www.bostonducktours.com. From $40.
Boston Harbor Cruises. Choose from numerous tours of Boston's best sights including cruises by the USS Constitution, tours of the harbor, brunch cruises, sunset and fireworks cruises, and more. 1 Long Wharf, Boston, Massachusetts, 02110. 877/733–9425; 617/227–4321; www.bostonharborcruises.com. From $23.
Charles Riverboat Company. This company offers sightseeing and 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. 100 Cambridge Pl., Suite 320, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02141. 617/621–3001; www.charlesriverboat.com. From $18.
Liberty Clipper. 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. 67 Long Wharf, Boston, Massachusetts, 02110. 617/742–0333; www.libertyfleet.com. From $30.
Massachusetts Bay Lines. Enjoy historical sightseeing tours, sunset cruises, and various themed outings such as wine tasting, comedy, and even burlesque. 60 Rowes Wharf, Boston, Massachusetts, 02110. 617/542–8000; 617/934--2610; www.massbaylines.com. From $20.
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.
Fees and Schedules
Boston Private Tours. Customized tours including architecture, literary, and foliage-themed outings and are offered in vans or limosines. 707 Main St., Boston, Massachusetts, 01740. 978/771–4471; www.bostonprivatetours.com. prices vary.
Brush Hill Tours. Here you'll find 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. Transportation Bldg., 16 Charles St. S, Boston, Massachusetts, 02116. 800/343–1328; www.graylineboston.com. From $40.
See how the beer's made, get the deep dope on literary Boston and its architectural marvels, or stroll through the gorgeous greenspace of Boston's parks with one of these themed tours. Some organizations have special restrictions, such as an age minimum for children. Many tours are free, but require a reservation at least a few days in advance. It's always a good idea to call ahead to confirm schedules.
Boston Brew Tours. Suds enthusiasts may opt for a true micro-brewery crawl with Boston Brew Tours. 617/453--8687; bostonbrewtours.com. From $65.
Harpoon Brewery. Get the behind-the-scenes scoop on Harpoon's brewing process with a tour; be sure to stop in the beer hall for an expertly poured pint and a fresh pretzel. 306 Northern Ave., Waterfront, Boston, Massachusetts, 02210. 617/456–2322; www.harpoonbrewery.com. $5.
Samuel Adams Brewery. Explore the beer-making process in depth at Samuel Adams and enjoy a few samples along the way. Boston Beer Company, 30 Germania St., Jamaica Plain, Boston, Massachusetts, 02130. 617/368–5080; www.samueladams.com. Free with $2 donation to local charity.
Boston by Little Feet. Specifically designed for children ages 6–12, this tour explains the history of Boston's Freedom Trail from a child's perspective. Kids must be accompanied by an adult. Meet at Samuel Adams statue in front of Faneuil Hall, Boston, Massachusetts. 617/367–2345; www.bostonbyfoot.com/tours/Boston_By_Little_Feet. $12 on-site ($10 online), free for children 6 and under.
Garden, Parks, and Architecture Tours
Boston Athenaeum. To capture the true flavor of Boston's intelligentsia, make a reservation for an art and architecture tour of the Boston Athenæum, the grande dame of Boston's private libraries. 10½ Beacon St., Beacon Hill, Boston, Massachusetts, 02108. 617/227–0270; www.bostonathenaeum.org. Free.
Boston Park Tours. Stop by the kiosk in Boston Common for information on walking tours of the Freedom Trail, parks, and more. Parks and Recreation Dept. kiosk in Boston Common, 148 Tremont St., Boston, Massachusetts. 617/635–4505; www.cityofboston.gov/parks.
Narrated trolley tours, which usually cost $38 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, with narrated historical details, 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.
Beantown Trolley. This two-hour narrated tour, with two photo stops, takes visitors past major sights in town such as Fanueil Hall, Boston Common, and Fenway Park. Ticket also includes a harbor cruise or ticket to the Mapparium at the Mary Baker Eddy Library. 781/985--6100; www.graylineboston.com. From $40.
Old Town Trolley. This trolley has popular one-, two-, and three-day hop-on, hop-off tours that cover all the city highlights. 380 Dorchester Ave., South Boston, Boston, Massachusetts, 02127. 855/396–7433; www.trolleytours.com/boston. From $38.
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.
Fees and Schedules
Black Heritage Trail. Join up with a free, National Park Ranger-led tour in the spring and summer or conduct your own self-guided tour. Audio accompaniment and maps are available online. 44 Joy St., Beacon Hill, Boston, Massachusetts. 617/742--5415; www.maah.org. Free.
Boston by Foot. Explore the neighborhoods of Boston with walking tours of the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Freedom Trail, and other themed walks. They even have dog-friendly tours. 290 Congress St., Suite 100, Boston, Massachusetts, 02110. 617/367–2345; www.bostonbyfoot.com. From $15 ($13 online).
Boston Center for Adult Education. Neighborhood walking tours are offered regularly through the BCAE. The two-hour walks might take you through Copley Square, the Bay Village, or the Theater District. 122 Arlington St., Boston, Massachusetts, 02116. 617/267–4430; www.bcae.org. From $20.
Boston Common Visitor Information Center. Stop here for maps of the Freedom Trail, and just follow the redbrick trail marked on the sidewalk to see some of Boston's most historic sights. 888/733–2678; www.bostonusa.com.
Boston Segway Tours. See the sights of Boston while riding a Segway. Train for 30 minutes then your are off on an hour-long tour of the city. 199 State St., Government Center, Boston, Massachusetts, 02109. 617/421--1234; www.bostonsegwaytoursinc.com. From $60.
Cambridge Center for Adult Education. Take one of the in-depth educational tours; they cover various topics, most of them centered on art, architecture, and literature. 42 Brattle St., Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02138. 617/547–6789; www.ccae.org. From $25.
Freedom Trail. Guided tours are offered through the Freedom Trail Foundation or the National Parks Service. Download a map of the sights to do a self-guided tour. 617/357–8300; www.thefreedomtrail.org. From $12.
Harvard Campus Tours. Harvard Square is the starting point for free student-led campus tours of Harvard University and its famous Yard. Harvard Information Center, 1350 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02138. 617/495–1573; www.harvard.edu/visitors.
Historic New England. Tours of various properties are offered here. Start at the Otis House and take an hour-long tour that includes a walk through Beacon Hill. 141 Cambridge St., Boston, Massachusetts, 02114. 617/227–3956; www.historicnewengland.org. From $9.
National Parks Service Visitor Center. Tours of the Freedom Trail are offered April through October; see website for dates and times. "Cradle of History" talk is offered on a daily basis at Fanueil Hall. 617/242–5642; www.nps.gov/bost.
North End Market Tour. This tour is a foodie's dream. For three hours you'll tour the North End's finest Italian marketplaces and get inside info on how to shop for the best quality meats, cheeses, olive oils, and more. 6 Charter St., Boston, Massachusetts, 02113. 617/523–6032; bostonfoodtours.com. From $57.
Women's Heritage Trail. 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 many specialized tours with rangers as guides. 617/945--5639; www.bwht.org.
Ships depart regularly for whale-watching excursions from April or May through October, from coastal towns all along the bay. Humpbacks, finbacks, and minkes feed locally in season, so you’re sure to see a few—and on a good day you may see dozens. Bring warm clothing, as the ocean breezes can be brisk; rubber-soled shoes are also a good idea.
Boston Harbor Cruises. The high-speed catamarans of Boston Harbor Cruises glide to the whaling banks in half the time of some other cruises, allowing nearly as much whale time in only a three-hour tour. Tours are operated from March to November; call for schedule and reservations. Discounted and validated parking is available in two locations: The Harbor Garage and the Rowes Wharf Garage. Be sure to check the website for specific instructions. 1 Long Wharf, next to aquarium, Boston, Massachusetts, 02110. 617/227–4321; 877/733–9425; www.bostonharborcruises.com.
Cape Ann Whale Watch. Board the Hurricane 2, the largest and fastest whale-watch vessel in northern Massachusetts, for a guaranteed whale sighting. Be sure to make a reservation first. Another bonus: free parking. Rose's Wharf, 415 Main St., Gloucester, Massachusetts, 01930. 800/877–5110; www.seethewhales.com. $48. Closed Nov.--Apr..
Captain Bill's Deep Sea Fishing/Whale Watch. Hop aboard the Miss Cape Ann for a tour with Captain Bill's Deep Sea Fishing/Whale Watch team, staffed with knowledgeable naturalists from the Whale Center of New England. Tours run May to October, and sightings are guaranteed. 24 Harbor Loop, Gloucester, Massachusetts, 01930. 978/283–6995; 800/339–4253; www.captbillandsons.com.
Capt. John Boats. Several daily whale-watch cruises leave from Plymouth Town Wharf, and head into Cape Cod Bay and Stellwagen Bank. 10 Town Wharf, Plymouth, Massachusetts, 02360. 508/746–2643; www.captjohn.com. $49.