Boston, founded in 1630, is Massachusetts’ capital and also its largest city and, as of 2020, has approximately 684,000 residents. It is famed for the key role it played in the American Revolution as well as being home to many prestigious universities and technical colleges such as Harvard Medical and Business Schools, MIT, Boston University, Berklee College of Music, Tuffs University and University of Massachusetts Amherst to name just a few.
One of the best ways to get a real feel for this interesting city is to explore it by foot, and I have suggested a few walking tours within this guide. Let’s explore some of the best things to do and see in Boston.
1. Museum of Fine Arts
Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts is one of North America’s largest, and home to more than 450,000 works of art. The museum is huge, so make sure the family have on their comfortable walking shoes.
The museum’s collection is spectacular, and includes a wonderful array of French Impressionist paintings as well as a magnificent Classical collection, where you can enjoy taking in the plentiful amount of frescos and sculptures from the Villa of the Contrado Bottaro in Pompeii.
There are regular special exhibits too and certainly something for the whole family to enjoy. Plan on making a whole day of it.
2. Boston Public Garden
These charming public gardens were created in 1634 and modified in the Victorian Age, with the assistance of the then newly formed Boston Parks and Recreation Department, introducing over 80 species of plants from both local and varied locations around the city.
Vibrant floral patterns were created using the very new techniques of hybridizing and propagating, eventually leading to the importing of exotic trees and plants. A popular attraction for all the family as you stroll past the famous Swan Boats operated and created over 100 years ago, the lovely lake and fountains, and variety of trees. There are plenty of benches on which to relax, too.
3. Fenway Park Tour
Take the family on a tour of Fenway Park, home to the famous Boston Red Sox. It will make attending future games even more fun. Fenway Park is the oldest ball park in Major League Baseball history and, though relatively small and only able to seat 40,000 spectators, has certain seen plenty of exciting baseball, soccer and hockey action, not to mention political and religious campaigns.
Fenway has hosted the World Series ten times, its inaugural season starting from the 1912 World Series. You will tour the stadium, visitors’ club house, press room, and the seats above the ‘Green Monster’, nickname for the 37’2” high left field wall, popular because it is only 310 feet away from home plate.
4. Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum
A completely new type of museum, this is where the family can view not only artifacts of historical importance but also enjoy a multi sensory experience.
This floating museum is made up of high tech interactive exhibits, restored tea ships, absorbing documentaries all about this famous event and knowledgeable actors bringing you a sense of how it all happened, with a perfect sense of flair and drama! There is also the opportunity of throwing the tea overboard. A very interesting and enlightening time for all, rounded off with a visit to the café and well stocked gift shop.
Recommended tour: Boston Tea Party: Ships & Museum Interactive Tour
5. John F. Kennedy Presidential Museum & Library
Dedicated to the tragically brief life of John F. Kennedy, this museum and library depicts the famous man’s leadership and legacy, while at the same time illustrating the nature of a President’s office.
The beautiful building was constructed to overlook the President’s beloved Boston, offering a wonderful view of the city skyline as well as an outdoor walkway along the Dorchester Bay.
The museum is full of fascinating artifacts, photos and videos which also include interesting items such as a number of his spouse Jackie’s dresses.
6. Old North Church
This is Boston’s oldest surviving church. Founded in 1722, Old North Church is also the city’s most visited historical site being the location from which the phrase “One if by land, and two if by sea” signal is thought to have been sent, which relates to Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride of April 18, 1775 preceding the American Revolution battles of Lexington and Concord.
Within the church is also a bust of George Washington. A small but interesting historical church which the whole family will enjoy visiting.
7. Boston Brewery Tours
These fun tours offer both a day and evening option, and consist of a super time for the visiting adults of the family. The tours focus on the city’s popular brew/pub scene with the chance to learn all about the mechanics and history of brewing beer, as well as visiting four different Boston breweries.
Enjoy learning all about the making of beer, talk with some brewery owners, participate in either a lunch or dinner (dependent on which tour you have chosen) and the opportunity to sample between 15 to 20 award-winning pilsners, stouts and other beers.
There will be a small amount of walking involved. The tours are also wheelchair accessible.
Related tour: Craft Brewery Beer Tour
8. Yummy Walks
How does a culinary walking tour for all the family that includes plenty of mouth watering goodies sound?
This three and a half hour outing will take you through North End, Boston’s Italian district, stopping at various venues to sample amazing balsamic vinegars, olive oil, pancetta and delicious cheeses, before sitting down to a lunch consisting of ample portions of three different pasta dishes, then continuing on to a pizzeria serving huge slices of wood fired pizza.
Next, enjoy several local artisanal caramels and chocolates. And, if you still have room, a final stop to sample one of the best cannolo that you and your family will have ever tasted.
9. Beacon Hill
Beacon Hill, a neighborhood of Federal style row houses, is not only a historic part of Boston but also one of the most desirable areas to live in these days! It is worth having a walk around the area to view its brick sidewalks and narrow streets with their prettily decorated lampposts.
As you and your family explore the district passing through Charles Street and Louisbourg Square, home to some of Boston’s most lavish properties, you will understand why it is such a popular spot. There are also some lovely cafes and shops to explore.
10. The Arnold Arboretum
This is a lovely spot for the whole family to enjoy. Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum was designed by American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and is the second largest “link” in the Emerald Necklace, which consists of a 1,100 acre chain of parks that are linked by waterways ad parkways throughout Boston.
The Arboretum consists of trees and shrubs from all over the globe which are all well marked and described. There is a choice to follow the regular pathways or ones which can take you off the paved roads. A fabulous day out and also a super learning experience for all the family. Easily accessible for wheelchair users.
11. The Museum of Science
Together with over 700 interactive exhibits and various live presentations on show throughout the building, the Museum of Science is a Boston landmark. As well as its presentations, it is also home to the Mugar Omni Theater and Charles Hayden Planetarium.
And if that wasn’t enough to keep the kids interested, the museum is also part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and home to over 100 rescued and rehabilitated animals.
The MOS is a perfect learning arena for both adults and kids, even very little ones. There is also a lovely café serving delicious food (though you are allowed to bring your own refreshments).
Included in: Boston CityPASS
12. Quincy Market
One of Boston’s favorites, Quincy Market is located in a historic area constructed in 1824 and named in remembrance of Mayor Josiah Quincy, who had arranged its construction without any debt or tax.
The colorful, always lively market is made up of interesting knick knacks, souvenirs in which to buy your mementos of Boston and a fabulous food hall that has so many delectable culinary items you really will be spoilt for choice.
And if any members of the family enjoy playing chess and other games, there are even tables set up for this during the day. And for all of you “Cheers” fans out there, there is a replica of the famous bar there too.
13. The Printing Office of Edes & Gill
This printing office is a real hidden gem and could easily be missed as it is so small!
Founded in 1713, the Clough House is one of Boston’s oldest surviving brick residences and, walking into the historic building, you and your family are sure to feel as if you have stepped back in time.
Within the printing office are members dressed in colonial attire, happy to demonstrate the mechanics of the printing press, while at the same time emphasizing the importance of free speech and the necessity of communication distribution.
Nearby are two adjoining townhouses, used for social, civic, administrative, and educational and parish programs.
14. Boston Children’s Museum
In 1909, the idea for a children’s museum in Boston was developed when several local science teachers decided it would be a wonderful idea to create a general learning arena. The museum is popular with both locals and visitors, having earned its reputation for never treating children in a condescending manner or taking them less than seriously.
The exhibits within are appealing to kids of a wide age spectrum, including an enormous sculpture in the middle of the first floor where they can safely climb up 3-4 floors. The museum is well run, clean, and safe and with an abundance of hands on activities to keep kids of all ages happily amused.
15. New England Aquarium
Opened in 1969, this aquarium is now a global leader in marine conservation and ocean exploration. It draws more than 1.3 million visitors a year as well as being a primary public education resource.
Its huge multistory level tank is filled with fascinating sea life, with helpful software that is attached to glass viewing panels that enables you and the family to identify its inhabitants. There is lots of fascinating marine life to see, from stingray touching pools to little sharks and from horseshoe crabs to starfish.
The kids will love the star attraction; the penguins and the great amusement they procure when it’s time for their meal.
Book online: New England Aquarium Entry Ticket
16. Skywalk Observatory
For a magnificent view of Boston, take the family to the Skywalk Observatory which is the city’s only sky high vantage point offering a sweeping 360 degree view.
The Observatory is situated in the Prudential Tower (spoken of locally as ‘The Pru’). You can also learn a lot about Boston’s history by listening to one of the available Acoustiguide tours (available in a variety of languages) which details the history of this great city. The kids will love it simply for the view.
You can visit either in the day or the evening, when you will be able to appreciate the glittering night view.
17. Boston Ballet
The Boston Ballet was New England’s first professional repertory ballet company, founded in 1963, and now made up of 69 dancers and 20 nationalities, performing within the historic 2,500 seat Boston Opera House.
Boston Ballet opened the Nervi Festival in Italy in 1979 and was also the first American dance company to perform in the People’s Republic of China.
Famous for its performance of The Nutcracker and voted ‘Best Loved Nutcracker Production in the U.S. in 2009, a visit to one of the ballet’s shows will be a real hit with the ballet lovers of the family.
18. Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop
For a taste of the sweeter side of the Revolution, why not drop into this historic chocolate shop, where you can learn all about the history of chocolate and how it was produced and eater during the American colonial period?
Named after the owner himself, within the shop you and your family will be able to learn all about the chocolate making process by one of the knowledgeable staff, dressed in period clothing, and also have the opportunity to sample either a historically accurate colonial style chocolate drink or a piece of the wonderful confection itself.
19. The Mapparium
This fascinating attraction, built in 1935 by Rand McNally, is made up of a three story tall stained glass globe which is viewed from a 30 foot long bridge through its interior.
The Mapparium was designed so that the countries of the world could be viewed in accurate geographical relationship to each other, hence its design, a mirror image, concave reversal of the Earth, viewed from within.
This is a wonderful learning experience for all the family with the opportunity to view the world as it then was, showing long disused ‘labels’ such as Siam and Italian East Africa.
20. The Paul Revere House
Not only the original colonial home to the American patriot Paul Revere during the time of the American Revolution, but this is also the oldest house in Boston, built about 1680.
Now a museum, this three story house is home to a well preserved interior in which your family will feel as if they were living a piece of famous history itself.
There is plenty of commentary to listen to from the museum’s enthusiast staff and though no pictures are allowed to be taken in the house, there are many mementos to purchase such as Paul Revere reproductions, cards, prints, educational material and books for both adults and kids.
This is a fabulous team building exercise for all family. RoomEscapers offers 60 minutes of interactive fun in which you can put together your individual talents to solve the clues and puzzles you will be presented with, all based on real events in New England, so you will be benefiting from a fun history lesson as well.
With perfectly thought out clues and rooms designed to ensure you get the most out of them, this really makes for an interesting and invigorating time for everyone. And, should you get stuck at any time, proprietor Jeff is on hand to give you some helpful hints.
22. Franklin Park Zoo
Usually careful about encouraging visits to each and every zoo, I have no hesitation in recommending Franklin Park Zoo to everybody.
The 72 acre zoo’s mission is to inspire people to sustain and protect the natural world by creating engaging experiences that help integrate wildlife and conservation programs.
The zoo is clean and easy to navigate with lots of interesting information about its various residents. This is a lovely outing for all the family; just bear in mind however that during the winter months you might not be seeing all the animals as some of them might be tucked up and cosy, waiting for the warmer weather.
Book online: Franklin Park Zoo Entry Ticket
23. Trident Booksellers & Cafe
This surely has to be the perfect venue to satisfy all the readers and foodies in the family.
Since 1984, this busy and friendly bookseller and café has been providing the Boston community with sustenance for both body and mind.
The café offers delicious food, a generous choice of refreshments from aromatic coffees, teas, to smoothies and fruit juices for the youngsters, and thousands of books from which to take your pick.
As if that wasn’t enough, the cafe also offers free Wi-Fi and an eclectic variety of magazines and cards. A perfect venue to spend time and talk about your Boston vacation!
24. The Paint Bar
The Paint Bar is a fun, well run business where the whole family can enjoy some creative time together.
Each session lasts for two and a half hours, which should be enough time to make your artistic mark. The Paint Bar will supply you with a 16’ x 20’ pre-stretched canvas, brushes, acrylic paint, easels, and apron.
You can either bring your own food and drink or purchase it there, and there is even a BYOB option for family members over 21 years of age. The friendly staff will be happy to guide and advise your family from the first moment they are presented with a blank canvas to step by step, creating a respectable piece of art.
25. Boston Harborwalk
Take a family walk along the Harbor by following the Waterfront Trail which passes along the edge of wharves, piers, beaches and shoreline.
You will discover some very quaint areas as you traverse the city’s many different attractions, while at the same time enjoying some fresh air and exercise. And, if you get a little weary, you can always take a water taxi.
Harborwalk is in the process of expanding and, when fully completed, will extend in total to 46.9 miles from Chelsea Creek to Neponset River.