Settled by Puritans in the 1600s, Boston has been defined and shaped by its history for nearly 400 years. The spirit of American independence was born in the city, and the sights that commemorate the vital role that the Sons of Liberty played in the Revolutionary War attract visitors from around the world.
While many tourist attractions in Boston revolve around its fascinating past, the city is equally renowned for its prestigious institutes of higher education and its fervent sports fans and pro teams. Add in its thriving arts and culture scenes, delicious local seafood and scenic harbourfront setting and it is no surprise that the ‘Athens of America’ attracts so many visitors each and every year.
In this post, we'll cover:
25. The Mapparium
Lying just ten minutes’ drive west of downtown you can find the Mary Baker Eddy Library and its amazing main exhibit, The Mapparium. Strolling through the three-storey stained-glass globe really is a very unique experience due to the interesting view it offers up of the world from the inside, its prettily colored countries and incredible acoustics.
As it was built in 1935, the massive map depicts the world of yesteryear with former countries such as Siam and Italian East Africa featuring alongside the Soviet Union. Aside from taking in all the fine details of its more than 600 stained-glass panels, guests can also experiment with its acoustics as the huge historic sphere forms a remarkable whispering gallery.
24. New England Holocaust Memorial
Another of the city’s many monuments is the moving New England Holocaust Memorial which can be found right in front of Boston City Hall. Erected in 1995, its six glass towers make for a striking sight with each symbolizing a different major extermination camp.
While the exteriors are engraved with numbers that represent the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, the inside of the towers feature quotes from the survivors of the camps. In addition, the plumes of steam that rise through them are a haunting reminder of the horrific atrocities committed by Nazi Germany with the sombre ‘First They Came…’ poem by Martin Niemoller also being etched on a nearby plaque.
While it is renowned for being home to both MIT and Harvard University, there is much more to Cambridge than just the two prestigious institutes of higher education. Set just fifteen minutes’ drive northwest of the center, the major suburb has lots of lovely neighborhoods for you to explore with attractive architecture, interesting museums and countless cultural attractions all dotted about.
Known as the ‘City of Squares’ due to its unique layout, Cambridge lies just across the Charles River from downtown and has long been regarded as an academic and intellectual centre. While pockets of great bars and restaurants can be found around Central and Kendall square, historic colonial sites and contemporary buildings also abound.
The city’s main appeal however is undoubtedly its college campuses which contain world-class sites such as the Harvard Art Museums and Peabody Museum of Archaeology.
22. Old North Church
One of the most popular places to visit in Boston is the atmospheric Old North Church which lies in the historic North End neighborhood of the city. The oldest standing church in town, it was built in 1723 and exhibits some exquisite architecture with its tall steeple rising up dramatically above its surroundings.
Now a National Historic Landmark, the church contains a brilliant bust of George Washington with influential figures from the city’s past like Major John Pitcairn and Captain Samuel Nicholson being buried in its crypt. Immortalized in Longfellow’s famous poem ‘Paul Revere’s Ride’ which tells the tale of how he alerted the townspeople about the advancing British troops, the Old North Church is certainly well worth visiting for its intriguing history, architecture and ambience.
21. Bunker Hill Monument
Set on the opposite side of the river to the Old North Church you can find the massive and majestic Bunker Hill Monument. Actually perched atop of the prominent Breed’s Hill, the enormous obelisk commemorates the Battle of Bunker Hill which was fought between British and Patriot forces on June 17, 1775 during the American Revolutionary War.
Towering to a huge 220 feet in height, the sparkling granite monument looms above Charlestown, the oldest neighborhood in the city, with green grounds lying all around it. After traipsing up its 294 steps to the top, visitors can enjoy breath-taking panoramas over both Boston’s skyline and the glittering Charles River.
20. Museum of Science
A fun, fascinating and family-friendly place to visit, the Museum of Science is home to a staggering array of interactive exhibits. Located in Science Park, a plot of land that spans the Charles River, it has everything from hands-on activities and live science demonstrations to a small zoo, planetarium and IMAX theater for guests to enjoy.
Since being founded in 1830, it has expanded considerably and now remarkably has more than 700 interactive exhibits for you to peruse. While some sections focus on human biology and the natural world, others transport you to the outer reaches of the cosmos with life-size dinosaur skeletons, mechanical models and machines all also on display.
19. Beacon Hill
Widely considered to be Boston’s most beautiful neighborhood, Beacon Hill is packed with quaint, cobbled streets lined by elegant townhouses. Set in the center of the city, its attractive architecture and appealing ambience make it a treat to amble about with the gold-domed Massachusetts State House being one of its standout sights.
Now one of the city’s most desirable and expensive districts to live in, it was founded in 1795 with fine Federal style rowhouses and free-standing mansions set alongside its atmospheric gaslit streets. Aside from snapping photo after photo of its charming houses, streets and gardens, visitors can also explore the various historic sights and monuments that are dotted along the Black Heritage Trail.
18. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Itself a work of art, the splendid Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum occupies a magnificent building that is modeled on a fifteenth-century Venetian palace. Complete with a gorgeous courtyard garden, the arresting edifice now hosts an impressive collection of American, Asian and European artworks.
First opened to the public in 1903, it is named after Isabella Stewart Gardner – a keen patron of the arts – with fantastic paintings and prints on show alongside ceramics, silverwork and sculptures. On top of seeing masterpieces by Rembrandt, Titian and Botticelli among others, guests can peruse its grand galleries full of furniture and textiles with an extensive old book collection also displayed next to Medieval, Islamic and Renaissance art.
17. Samuel Adams Brewery
If instead of art and architecture it is ales and IPAs that you are after, then you’ll certainly want to stop by the Samuel Adams Brewery. The flagship brand of the Boston Beer Company, its facility lies just twenty minutes’ drive southwest of the center with terrific tours and tastings being on offer.
Named after the Founding Father of the United States, the lovely little brewery is very interesting to tour around as you get to see the brewing, bottling and branding process. After having seen its state-of-the-art production line, visitors can sample some of its tasty brews in its tap room or beer garden with its Boston Lager and Wicked Hazy being particularly popular.
16. Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum
A must-visit for anyone interested in the history of the States, the brilliant Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum can be found just south of downtown. While its bright red buildings, educational exhibits and engaging activities are located on Congress Street Bridge, its two replica eighteenth century vessels bob about Griffin’s Wharf.
Through immersive experiences, re-enactments and excellent use of multimedia, the museum tells the story of the 1773 protest – the Boston Tea Party – and the events that led to the Revolutionary War. Besides watching short clips, touring its exhibits and dumping tea in the harbour yourself, you can also explore the Eleanor and Beaver to see what life was like aboard the historic ships.
15. JFK Presidential Library & Museum
Perched at the end of Columbia Point, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum is set in a stunning spot overlooking Boston Harbour. Dedicated to the memory of the 35th President of the US, it is home to lots of amazing artifacts and exhibits on his life and legacy with three theaters that show educational films also located on-site.
First opened to the public in 1979, it occupies a marvelous modern building made out of marble that was specially designed by renowned architect I.M. Pei. Aside from exploring its light and airy galleries full of personal memorabilia, photos and press clippings, you can also learn about his time in the Oval Office and important issues and moments that shaped his presidency.
14. Old State House
Impressively the oldest surviving public building in the whole of Boston, the Old State House lies right in the historic heart of the city. Built all the way back in 1713, it now serves as a museum and is one of the most popular places to stop off at along the fantastic Freedom Trail.
Once the seat of the Massachusetts Assembly, the beautiful red brick building is best known for its balcony from which the Declaration of Independence was first read out to the townspeople in 1776. In addition to exploring its interior and taking in its fine architecture and exhibits, visitors can learn about the tragic events of the Boston Massacre which occurred right in front of the historic building.
13. North End
Yet another of Boston’s delightful historic neighborhoods for you to explore is North End which has remarkably been home to Europeans ever since the city was first settled in 1630. Now known for its Italian American community, the district’s scenic, centuries-old streets are lined by countless historic sites, attractions and dining establishments.
Besides seeing sights such as the Old North Church and Paul Revere House, visitors can stop off for a bite to eat or drink at any one of its cosy cafes or wonderful Italian restaurants and pizzerias. On top of all its attractive architecture and public artworks, the neighborhood also hosts innumerable community events and festivals over the course of the year that celebrate Italian culture.
12. Boston Public Garden
A very peaceful and picturesque place to wander around, Boston Public Garden can be found just to the southwest of the center, right next to the popular Boston Common. Home to pretty paths and ponds, plants and flowerbeds, the large park is a treat to visit at any time of year as its aesthetic and colors change so dramatically from one season to the next.
The first public botanical garden in the country, it was established in 1837 atop of what once used to be mudflats. Now immaculately manicured and landscaped, the garden’s gorgeous green grounds contain lush plants, flowers, trees and shrubs from all around the globe. Aside from taking a ride on its iconic Swan Boat pedalos, guests will come across numerous monuments dotted about with its statue of George Washington being the most famous of the lot.
11. Museum of Fine Arts
One of Boston’s top tourist attractions, the Museum of Fine Arts boasts an incredible collection of artifacts and artworks from all around world. Founded in 1870, it now occupies a grand neoclassical building in the Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood, overlooking the stupendous scenery and nature of the Back Bay Fens park.
One of the most visited museums in the world, it is particularly renowned for its amazing Art of the Americas wing which covers everything from pre-Columbian and colonial-era art to contemporary pieces too. In addition, its gigantic galleries also house fabulous Asian and Persian fine arts, ancient Egyptian mummies, masterpieces by European artists and much, much more.
With so many phenomenal paintings, carvings and sculptures to see and astonishing artworks by Goya, Rembrandt and Monet among others to enjoy, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts is definitely not to be missed when in town.
10. New England Aquarium
Located on the Central Wharf within walking distance of the Rose Kennedy Greenway, the New England Aquarium showcases numerous exhibits of sea life, from exotic jellyfish and stingrays to playful seals and penguins.
Opened in 1969, the aquarium’s standout feature is a 200,000-gallon Giant Ocean Tank situated in the main building’s atrium that replicates a coral reef environment. A spiral walkway around the tank gives onlookers a close-up view of sharks, barracuda, sea turtles and schools of small fish.
The facility is also home to an IMAX theater that shows movies with aquatic themes. Whale-watching tours are available too, and visitors can combine a cruise ticket with the aquarium’s price of admission.
9. Boston Harbor Islands
The 34 islands that lie off the coast of Boston offer visitors endless opportunities for fun in the sun and sea. Thirteen of the islands are included in the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. Must-see attractions include the Civil War Fort Warren on Georges Island and the public beach on Spectacle Island, which is only a 15-minute ferry ride away from the city’s Long Wharf.
Georges Island is home to the nation’s oldest lighthouse as well. With trails that wander past dunes and forested areas as well as a swimming beach, Lovells Island is a popular spot for camping.
8. Cheers Beacon Hill
Fans of the television show “Cheers” who want to visit the bar that inspired the hit series may need to travel to two separate locations to fulfill their wish. Renamed Cheers Beacon Hill in 2002, the Bull & Finch Pub located on Beacon Street served as the exterior shot of the bar featured in the opening credits, but the pub’s interior was never used for the show.
A replica of the show’s set, however, is on display at the historic Faneuil Hall market building downtown, and tourists asking for the location of Cheers are likely to be directed there. Both destinations sell souvenirs commemorating the show.
7. Fenway Park
Fenway Park has been home to the Boston Red Sox baseball team since 1912, and for the city’s inhabitants, it’s one of Boston’s most beloved landmarks. As America’s oldest major-league stadium in continuous use, the park is a must-see attraction for fans of the sport as well.
Fenway is also one of the few old-style parks remaining in the United States, and the park’s smaller-than-average field and infamous left-field wall known as the “Green Monster” makes the outcome of games played here hard to predict. Although games usually sell out quickly, visitors can often snag same-day tickets at the park’s box office. Tours of the park are available as well.
6. USS Constitution
Berthed at Pier 1 on the Harborwalk, the USS Constitution is the world’s oldest commissioned navel vessel afloat, and still sets sail every Fourth of July to commemorate America’s independence. Launched in 1797, the three-masted Constitution was named by President George Washington in honor of the Constitution of the United States.
The thick, durable hull on the wooden frigate earned the ship its nickname “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812 when the ship gained fame for defeating five British warships. The ship is open to the public year round with free tours provided by US Navy personnel.
5. Faneuil Hall
Located in Boston’s downtown district, Faneuil Hall is best known for the role that the brick building played during the American Revolution. Although built as a marketplace in 1742 with funds that donor Peter Faneuil acquired in the slave trade, the second-story assembly rooms became a gathering spot for patriots yearning for freedom.
Among them was the lawyer James Otis, who not only gave the building its nickname, the “Cradle of Liberty,” but coined the rallying cry “no taxation without representation” as well. The building is still used as both a marketplace and as a place for political debates and among the most popular tourist attractions in Boston.
4. Boston Common
America’s oldest public park, Boston Common was acquired by the city’s Puritan founders in 1634. First used as a cow pasture, the park is also the site of many historic events. The British used the area as a camp at the start of the Revolutionary War.
A plaque in the park marks the spot where public hangings were held. A kiosk hosted by Boston’s Freedom Trail Foundation offers visitors information about the park’s monuments. Landscaped with shady trees, fountains and a pond, Boston Common is a pleasant place to take a break from sightseeing excursions as well.
3. Back Bay
Bordered by the Charles River, the Back Bay neighborhood was so named because it was built on what once were stagnant pools of water. Today, the late-19th-century neighborhood is an upscale, fashionable district with picturesque streets lined with Victorian homes, trendy restaurants and chic boutiques.
The neighborhood is also home to the Boston Public Garden, the oldest and largest botanical garden in the nation. The Old South Church in Copley is worth a visit too. Built in 1874 in the Gothic Revival style, the church features an interior redecorated by Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1905.
2. Quincy Market
Designed by architect Alexander Parris and completed in 1826, Quincy Market is as well known for its architectural style as it is for the food that offered inside its more than 20 restaurants and 40 stalls.
Named after Boston mayor Josiah Quincy, the rectangular-shaped edifice was built in the Greek Revival style that Thomas Jefferson introduced to America as break from the Georgian architecture.
Constructed with granite, the building’s heavy materials provide a striking contrast to its delicate design, which includes a grand and ornate domed pavilion. Today, the market is known as a family-friendly spot where tourists and locals can grab a quick bite on the cheap.
1. Freedom Trail
America’s first historic walking tour, the Freedom Trail is a path that includes 16 of Boston’s most important Revolutionary War sites. Marked by a line of red paint, the 2.5-mile (4 km) trail starts at the Boston Common, the oldest park in the United States.
The tour leads visitors past the Old State House, the site of the Boston Massacre, where British troops fired into a crowd of protesting citizens. It passes by Paul Revere’s House and the Old North Church where two lanterns were hung in the steeple to warn that the British would approach by sea. The end of the path connects with the Harborwalk, leading visitors to the USS Constitution.