When you think of Boston, you probably think of museums commemorating the nation’s past and historical sites showcasing significant moments in American history.
However, while the city is packed full of history, that’s not all it has to offer. With loads of parks, tours, outdoors adventures, entertainment and sporting venues, and world class restaurants, you’ll never be short of things to do in Boston, no matter what your interest.
1. Take a Free Tour by Foot on the Freedom Trail
Perhaps one of the best ways to see the city and take in some of its more famous sites is to walk along the Freedom Trail.
Boston’s Freedom Trail, its 2.5-mile course marked by a red line, meanders its way along sidewalks through the city and past 16 significant sites. Many of these sites have historical importance: you’ll be able to see the USS Constitution, Paul Revere House, Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Old South Meeting House, and Granary Burial Ground, among others, along your walk.
You can begin your journey at the Boston Commons, where maps are available to guide you along your tour. The best part of both the Boston Commons and the Freedom Trail are that they’re free!
2. Visit America’s First Public Botanical Garden, the Boston Public Garden
Established in 1837, the Boston Public Garden differs greatly from its older neighbor, the Boston Commons.
The Public Garden is true to its namesake, offering visitors stunning views of colorful, exotic plants and trees, as well as plenty of shady spots to rest after a day of sightseeing around the city. Two of Boston’s most famous sculptures, the George Washington Statue and “Make Way for Ducklings,” also call the garden home.
While the garden itself is free to enjoy, if you have some spare cash ($3.50 for adults, $2.00 for children), take a ride on a Swan Boat in the garden’s lagoon. You just might catch some ducks, geese, or swans paddling along next to you!
3. Get a Bird’s Eye View from a Swan Boat
The Boston Public Garden is home to one of the city’s most beloved activities and most popular things to do in Boston, the Swan Boats.
Boston’s Swan Boats were originally developed in 1877, when Robert Paget created a catamaran to allow city residents to paddle around the lagoon in the Public Garden. He used a swan to cover the captain’s area of the boat. Today, the Swan Boats are still in operation in the Public Garden and are available for you to enjoy as individual guests or at group rates.
Plan to arrive a few minutes prior to the time you’d like to ride, as the Swan Boats are very popular and wait times can increase in nice weather. Visit the Swan Boats website for more information on the history of these interesting boats, as well as pricing and other regulations.
4. Take a Trip to Italy in Boston’s North End
Often called Boston’s Little Italy, the North End is the oldest residential neighborhood in the city, having been continuously inhabited by residents since 1630.
The North End itself was established in 1999 and has become a mecca of Italian restaurants and cafes, old world shops, and trendy new boutiques. This neighborhood also encompasses the heart of the Freedom Trail’s sites, making it a hot spot for history buffs and shopaholics alike.
It’s free to walk around the North End and take in its sights, sounds, and smells, but each individual shop, restaurants, and attraction sets its own hours and prices. For more information on destinations in the North End neighborhood, you can visit its website.
5. Examine Dinosaur Fossils at the Museum of Science
Boston’s Museum of Science is a perfect rainy day activity, especially for families with children.
The museum’s engaging shows, mesmerizing displays, and interactive exhibits are mostly geared towards kids, the young at heart will also enjoy an afternoon or day exploring the museum’s attractions and shows. General admission to the museum costs $25 for adults and $20 for kids, although if you have a CityPASS or Go Boston Card, your admission is free.
Keep in mind that other attractions, such as the butterfly garden, planetarium shows, IMAX Theater films, and motion simulator rollercoaster rides have additional admissions fees, though you do have the option to purchase tickets for one of these attractions and skip the museum itself.
6. Touch a Shark at the New England Aquarium
Another family- and kid-friendly attraction, the New England Aquarium houses thousands of marine animals for you and your family to meet and discover.
The centerpiece of the aquarium is its Giant Ocean Tank, a four-story tank with a coral reef habitat housing more than 1000 marine creatures, including eels, barracuda, and green sea turtles.
There are also exhibits showcasing other marine animals, such as penguins and seadragons, in other parts of the museum, as well as a Shark and Ray Touch Tank that allows visitors to graze rays and sharks as they swim by.
While the aquarium is compact in size, visitors appreciate the wide variety of animals that call it home, making it an excellent rainy day activity for your family. General admission to the aquarium is $26.95 for adults and $18.95 for kids; CityPASS or Boston Go Card holders receive free admission.
7. Learn about Landscapes at the Arnold Arboretum
The Arnold Arboretum, housed by Harvard University, was established in 1872 and designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.
This 281 acre living collection of trees, shrubs, and other plant life is one of the largest in the world, and also pays homage to its designer. The arboretum is one of Boston’s most beloved public park spaces and is free to enjoy.
As a university based living collection, the arboretum also offers public outreach and educational programs to help visitors learn more about its purpose and collections.
8. Visit One of the Oldest Art Museums in America, the Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts beckons art lovers and novices alike with its impressive collection of masterpieces from around the world.
Besides works from celebrated Asian and European artists, the museum houses the renowned Art of the Americas wing, which showcases 53 galleries full of American artwork from pre-Columbian times to the 20th century. A visit to this museum is an excellent way to round out all of the knowledge of American history and culture you’ve gained on your trip to Boston.
General admission to the museum is $25, although there are a couple of options to reduce that cost. The museum hosts select open house days, when admission is free, and if you visit after 4pm on Wednesdays you won’t pay an admission fee. In addition, those with CityPass or Boston Go Cards won’t pay a fee to get in.
Learn more about the museum’s free days and special hours, as well as current exhibits and its permanent collections, at the museum’s website.
9. Travel Back in Time at the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum
No trip to Boston is complete without a visit to the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, an entirely new kind of museum dedicated to bringing history to life.
You won’t just look at artifacts in this floating museum: you’ll interact with them in a multi-sensory experience that includes interactive exhibits, live actors, authentically restored artifacts and tea ships, and a moving documentary that highlights the importance of the night of December 16, 1773 in America’s history.
Visitors of all ages will have an engaging and educational experience at this museum, so be sure to plan your visit and buy your tickets online in advance (you’ll receive a discount for doing so).
Your ticket includes an hour-long tour that takes you through the events of the American Revolution as they happened over 230 years ago.
10. Get a Dose of Old World Art at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
The Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum showcases Gardener’s love of art, architecture, and horticulture through its myriad unique displays.
Visitors will be intrigued by the hodgepodge of masterpieces and curiosities available to explore in this museum, whose layout is unique compared to those of other museums.
Here you won’t find straightforward galleries or collections of artwork, but rather an intimate space that houses not just Italian masterpieces and other diverse items like rare books, gorgeous furniture, and acclaimed sculptures, but also the personality and passion of the woman who began installing the collection in 1902.
Tickets cost $15 for adults; children 17 and under enter for free, while students, seniors, and those with recent Museum of Fine Arts ticket stubs get reduced rates. Interestingly, if you have a Boston Go Card, visit on your birthday, or are named Isabella, register on the museum’s website and get in for free.
This iconic American city is an excellent place to learn more about the people, places, and events that led to the country’s independence, but you don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy your stay.
With old world neighborhoods, trendy restaurants and shops, and sprawling public spaces, you’ll find no shortage of things to do in Boston, no matter where or when you’re from.