One of the oldest cities in the United States, Boston has a European charm that is hard to find in other American cities. Whether you're visiting or a longtime local looking for something new to do, Boston offers an endless supply fun activities for all ages and a great public transit system (aka "the T") to explore it all. From excellent restaurants and shopping to countless historic and cultural destinations, here are our favorite things to do in Beantown.
Boston Common dates back to 1634 and served as both a Revolutionary War muster location for the colonial militia and the site of an eight-year British camp. Today the park, one of the best urban parks in the country, continues its prominent role as gathering place for locals and visitors. It has ball fields, a "tot lot," and a neighboring Public Garden with swan boat rides.
In addition to beautiful landscaping and paths for strolling, Boston Common also has tons of modern, kid-friendly features, including the Frog Pond Spray Pool. One of the best spray parks in the country, the free park also features an expansive wading pool and a 30-foot spray flume -- perfect for warm summer days. The pool is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. until Labor Day.
Boston's North End is known for being the city's oldest residential community and for its concentration of authentic Italian-American eateries, perhaps none more distinguished than Giacomo's. While some might consider it a tourist trap, locals still love it. Since they don't take reservations, there's usually a line to get in, but the prompt service makes it easy to enjoy their unparalleled seafood pastas without feeling rushed.
The New England Aquarium, located at Boston Harbor, features a four-story tank, a shark and ray touch tank, an interactive sea turtle hospital, a harbor seals exhibit, and a seadragon exhibit that holds the only two known species of seadragons in the world. One of the country's best aquariums, standard ticket prices are $26.95 for adults, $24.95 for seniors (60 and older), and $18.95 for children (3 to 11). Between September and June, members of the Boston Public Library can reserve up to four free tickets online, and New England teachers get free admission year-round. For groups of 10 or more, the aquarium ticket price drops to $20.95 for adults, $18.95 for seniors (60 and older) and college students, and $13.95 for children (up to 17). Plan ahead -- group tickets (with express entrance) must be reserved at least two weeks in advance.
Adjacent to famous Boston Common, America's first public botanical garden is as flowery and gorgeous as ever. While it's fun for families, the park is also considered one of the most romantic places in the country. There are numerous statues and sculptures to spy on a summertime stroll, but the highlight for any couple has to be a ride on the iconic swan boats, which float effortlessly across the park's lagoon.
Boston is jam-packed with historical sites, but visitors who want to really immerse themselves in history should check out the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, which lets them rub elbows with costumed colonial interpreters and, of course, dump some "tea" overboard.
Cost: Starting at $25.20 for ages 13 and up; $16.20 for ages 4 to 12
On the waterfront in Charlestown, Pier 6 is a nautically themed three-floor restaurant and bar with floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors and a roof deck. Grab a drink or snack and enjoy the view after visiting the U.S.S. Constitution next door. Beers start at $7, several salads are $10, and fried pickles or French fries are $5 each.
The Union Oyster House is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the U.S. -- open since 1826 -- and a must-visit just for the atmosphere and the top-notch seafood. While many people come for the namesake oysters, it's the thick, creamy clam chowder (also known as "chowda" in Boston) that receives near-unanimous praise.
No trip to Boston is complete without heading over to Cambridge and taking a free walking tour of Harvard. One of our favorite free activities in the U.S. tours are led by current Harvard students and include Harvard Yard and the university's history. And for the record, no, you can't "pahk the cah on Hahvahd Yahd" unless you'removing in as a Harvard freshman. Afterward, you can explore Harvard Square for plenty of excellent dining and shopping options.
Beantown is one of the first cities to come to mind when Americans think about celebrating St. Patrick's Day -- and for good reason. More than 100,000 residents with Irish heritage call Boston home. So it's no wonder the city goes all out for its St. Paddy's Day parade. The annual parade features food, music, and, of course, many Irish-themed floats.
Prefer sweets with a kick? Check out the Fiery Hot Chocolate at Flour Bakery & Café in Boston, one of the top bakeries in the nation. Joanna Chang, the founder and pastry chef, had to meet the demands of customers frequently asking for hot chocolate at the four shop locations. As a solution, she steamed chocolate ganache with milk in an espresso cup, and the bakery's signature hot chocolate was born. The fiery version comes with chili powder and cayenne pepper.
A trip to Boston isn't complete without a stroll along the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail, which connects some of the city's most important historical sights. Stops on thisbucket list experience include Boston Common, Faneuil Hall, the Paul Revere House, Bunker Hill, and the USS Constitution, better known as "Old Ironsides." Visitors can follow the red-brick-marked trail or opt for public tours led by costumed guides, the Freedom Trail Players.
Lincoln Tavern & Restaurant in South Boston -- aka "Southie" -- offers an excellent brunch option with a short rib poutine that's not to be missed. The dish, one of the craziest french fry dishes in the country, starts out with rosemary truffle fries, then coats them in rich bone marrow gravy, smoked short ribs, mozzarella cheese, a sunny-side-up egg, crumbled bacon, and shaved truffle to gild the lily. It's a real treat for Sunday brunch.
Visitors here can explore the worldwide African diaspora through the visual arts. Paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, photography, and graphics make up just some of the exhibitions at the museum. Educational programs are available for children and adults. Current exhibits include "Black Gods Live: Work of Stephen Hamilton" and "Aspelta -- A Nubian King's Burial Chamber." Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for children.
If you can get past the irreverent name, you'll find a decidedly fine-dining experience waiting at Mooo -- one of the country's top steakhouses -- in Boston's XV Beacon hotel. Though pricey in typical steakhouse fashion ($54 for a 12-ounce filet mignon), Fodor's Travel Guide notes that "portions are as exaggerated as the prices." Reviewers recommend the Wagyu dumplings to start, beef wellington for an entrée, and bananas foster to cap a decadent meal.
Visit Taza Chocolate to watch the making of stone-ground chocolate and sample the goods. One of the best chocolate tours in the nation, the company uses Mexican stone mills to grind the cacao, leaving the finished chocolate with a gritty and bold flavor that chocolate connoisseurs appreciate. Tours run seven days a week and cost $8 a person. There’s also a kid-centric tour offered on weekends for $6. Online reservations are required.
In historic company, the Lawn on D is very much the new kid on the block. But the first-of-its-kind, award-winning space by the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center has become a popular retreat in the South Boston Waterfront District and another of the top urban parks in the U.S. It includes pavilions with picnic seating; colorful Adirondack lounge chairs; free Wi-Fi; and seasonal outdoor games including bocce, table tennis, and cornhole.
Don't Miss: Swing Time -- swings outfitted with solar-powered LEDs that change color depending on speed and height.
The mission at Roxy's is to elevate grilled cheese to unimagined and sophisticated heights. Head to the Allston location for its namesake creation ($6.50), which can be paired with some of the site's craft beer offerings. This mature take on a childhood favorite combines herbed goat cheese, peppery arugula, sweet caramelized onions, and fig jam. A food truck serves four versions of updated grilled cheeses starting at $5.
A city steeped in history, Boston is also a pet lover's paradise. There are more than 100 pet-friendly activities in the city ranging from parks and beaches to stores and water taxis. Top-rated parks include Peter's Park, where there's 13,000 square feet of play space, and South Boston Dog Park, which features tunnels and a water fountain for dogs. Among the top tourist attractions, the Boston Public Garden is also dog friendly. As for stores, don't miss Pawsh Dog Boutique or Polka Dog Bakery.
Pet-Friendly Hotel: Kimpton has Boston covered with pet-friendly properties, among the choices here are Nine Zero and also Onyx.
With its shining golden dome visible throughout the city and its picturesque perch on Beacon Hill, the Massachusetts State House is hard to overlook. From the outside it's a sight to behold, and the interior is equally stunning. Details include marble floors, corridors lined by portraits of governors, and murals depicting the state's heritage. Also not to be missed is the Hall of Flags, says David O'Donnell of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau. Completed in 1798, the room honors Massachusetts soldiers and includes striking murals such as "The Return of the Colors," which depicts a return of flags that took place during the Civil War era.
Pets aren't always welcome on public transportation, but dog-friendly Boston is an exception. The subway system, known as "the T," permits dogs on leashes during off-peak hours so long as they don't annoy others or use seats. During peak hours, animals must be in containers. Dog-friendly sailing tours and charter-boat rides are available from the city. Many restaurants and bars feature "yappy" hours, and some allow dogs inside. Check out the Behan Irish Pub in Jamaica Plain, the Kinsale Irish Pub Restaurant, and the Tremont 647, which features $2 tacos on Tuesdays.
Established in 1848, the Boston Public Library houses more than 23 million books, maps, musical scores, and rare manuscripts such as first-edition Shakespeare folios. Free daily tours at this legendary library highlight the architecture of the Central Library in Copley Square as well as artworks by Daniel Chester French and John Singer Sargent. A recently restored courtyard has hosted free summer concerts and includes a restaurant for lunch or tea.
Another reason to visit Boston Common -- this time in winter -- the Frog Pond exists through a partnership with both the city itself and the Skating Club of Boston. The price of admission to the iconic outdoor rink is based on the height of the skater. For skaters 58 inches or taller, admission is $6. For those under 58 inches, admission is free.
Boston's most famous New Year's Eve bash is known as First Night, and it's one of the best celebrations in the country. This massive event has been taking place since 1975 and includes a variety of entertainment and attractions in the city's Copley Square and Back Bay neighborhoods. Highlights include musical performances, remarkable ice sculptures, and light displays. There's also fireworks earlier in the evening for the little ones. Celebrations here also spill over into First Day, during which there's more live entertainment until about 4 p.m.
Regarded as not only the best of Boston, but one of the country's best, O-Ya is the place to go for sushi aficionados (and big spenders). Inside the sleek restaurant (a former firehouse), you'll find incredibly creative offerings, including signatures like "Legs and Eggs" (Maine lobster legs with osetra caviar), kumamoto oysters with watermelon pearls, and the garlic chive blossom omelet with wagyu schmaltz. Dishes can be ordered a la carte, or go big with the tasting menus for $185 to $285 per person.
One of the best-known brewers in the world and one of the oldest breweries in the U.S., Samuel Adams gives a tour every 40 minutes. The hourlong tours are free, although a $2 donation for charity is suggested. The brewery is a lab of experimentation where every beer in the line was created -- except the original (and one seasonal batch), which was concocted in the founder's kitchen even further back, in 1984.
Blackbird Doughnuts, one of the best gourmet doughnut shops, made headlines a little while back when Adele raved about its Boston Cream Bismarck doughnut. A more unconventional tribute to the area is the Cran-Grape Jam Bismarck, which starts with buttery brioche and includes homemade jam made from fresh grapes and tart cranberries -- a staple of New England.
Boston Harbor Cruises operates fast ferry trips from Boston to Salem, Massachusetts, on the passenger-only catamaran Nathanial Bowditch. Weekend and holiday prices for the fun and short boat trip (just under an hour) can be pricey, at $45 round-trip for adults and $35 round-trip for children 3 to 11. Visitors can save more than 60 percent by taking advantage of weekday commuter rates. Monday through Friday sailings between 7 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. are only $16 round-trip for adults and $8 round-trip for kids 3 to 11. While in Salem, visit Nathanial Hawthorne's House of Seven Gables and tour the Peabody Essex or Salem Witch Museums.
The Hatch Shell at Boston's Esplanade along the Charles River makes a perfect venue for WBZ Radio's annual summer film screenings. The free screenings occur at 8 p.m. each Friday from June through August. This year's schedule includes family-friendly movies such as "Sing" and "The Secret Life of Pets."
Rock Spot Climbing in Boston is one of New England's largest indoor bouldering facilities, and happens to be one of our favorite indoor attractions. It offers 9,000 square feet of climbing surfaces with up to 100 "boulder problems," and 35 top-rope walls. Before and after the climb, use the cardio machines for warm-ups and cool downs. The facility is open seven days a week, as are sister locations in South Boston and Rhode Island.
Open 24/7, South Street Diner has been around since 1947 and is the place for people of all walks of life to grab some comfort food. One of the nation's best diners, the ambience of the classic Worcester Dining Car can't be beat either. The Monte Cristo is the way to go for breakfast, according to Thrillist. The site also recommends the banana bread and grilled cinnamon rolls.
Appropriately housed in what was once the drunk tank of an old jail, this Boston bar in Beacon Hill has a maximum security feel to it. At this unique watering hole, the décor features iron bars and the original brick walls along with framed celebrity mug shots. A haunting air about the place makes it a fun destination for late-night cocktails.
One of the most famous symphony orchestras in the country, the Boston Symphony Orchestra is definitely worth hearing, either at Symphony Hall or in the summer at Tanglewood in western Massachusetts. College students can purchase a Boston Symphony Orchestra College Card and see as many eligible shows as they like throughout the season. The price was $25 last season, but, at deadline, it had not yet been set for the coming season.
The Boston Marathon may be the most famous road race in Massachusetts, but it’s certainly not the only one. The Narragansett Summer Running Festival, hosted by Stonehill College, is being held July 16-17 and consists of a 5K, 10K, and half-marathon. Registration costs are $25, $30, and $59 respectively. And because it’s a festival, music, beer, and food are featured following each race.
Not all hotels are pet-friendly, but those that are often go the extra mile to make sure four-legged companions get royal treatment. At the Loews Boston Hotel, cats and dogs get complimentary treats and a bowls. Plush bedding, a gourmet pet menu, leashes, and other amenities are available, along with dog-walking maps and lists of local pet services.
Tucked alongside scores of other Italian joints in Boston's famed North End, La Famiglia Giorgio still manages to stand out with its heaping portions of Roman cooking, served family-style. Diners say one way to save is by coming at lunch and getting the generously portioned sampler of five different dishes for just $8. Save room for cannoli, they recommend.
Visitors to the Museum of African-American History's twin campuses in Boston and Nantucket can feel the power of standing where Frederick Douglass once stood as the most visible abolitionist in the world. The museum's Freedom Rising education programs celebrate the efforts of 19th-century African-Americans to achieve freedom through education. The "Picturing Frederick Douglass" exhibit is a massive collection of images of one of the 19th century's most-photographed men. A walking tour of the Black Heritage Trail chronicles the Boston community that was the epicenter of the abolition movement. Entry is $5 for adults and $3 for youth and seniors.
You know you have a quality sandwich when there's an entire day devoted to it. This small gourmet sandwich shop just outside of Boston, run by a well-seasoned husband-and-wife duo, celebrates Super Cluckin' Sunday only once a month. On that day, Cutty's ceases making other sandwiches and instead fries up delicious buttermilk-brined chicken coated in 12 herbs and spices. You can opt for the New-School with tangy barbecue sauce and house ranch dressing or the OG with honey mustard and sharp cheddar, both with shaved sweet onions, shredded iceberg lettuce, and a buttered, griddled sesame bread. Be sure to get there early.
Harborfestis a hugely popularfree summer eventthat takes place in Boston's historic downtown and waterfront district. The mayor kicks off the festival with a ceremonial cake cutting, to be followed by days of live performances and educational events. Most of the festival is free, including the opening ceremony, walking tours, art shows, and the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular.
El Sarape has earned accolades from both The Daily Meal and Travel + Leisure as one of the country's best, most authentic Mexican restaurants. The latter publication recommends staples including carnitas and enchiladas verde, or the guisado con chile ancho -- that's chicken or beef casserole with potatoes, onions, and red chile sauce.
Those traveling through Boston with young children will find a small slice of peace visiting the Kidport play areas located Logan International Airport's terminals A, B and C. The play spaces include climbing structures, slides, replicas of the airport's control tower and replicas of vintage planes. Parents can unwind while kids play in a safe space.
This Boston-area golf course offers nine-hole or 18-hole options. For non-resident casual golfers, the fee to play 18 holes of golf at Fresh Pond is $35 on weekdays and $40 on weekends and holidays. These fees are cheaper for residents, and frequent golfers can save even more money by buying a season pass.
Dating to 1660 but still only Boston's third-oldest cemetery, the Granary Burying Ground in the heart of this historically significant city holds the graves of enduring American Revolution heroes and Declaration of Independence signers like Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Crispus Attucks, and Robert Paine. Also look for a granite obelisk made from the same quarry as the Bunker Hill Monument, dedicated to the relatives of Benjamin Franklin.
People don't usually expect to see an animatronic Louis Armstrong while furniture shopping, but Jordan's Furniture in Natick has replicated New Orleans' Bourbon Street outside Boston. There's a Mardi Gras FX show Friday through Sunday nights and a trolley-car-turned-ice-cream-stand dubbed "Streetcar Named Dessert."
Holiday shoppers visiting Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston can enjoy a free light and sound show featuring 350,000 dancing LED lights set to the music of the Holiday Pops. The fifth-annual event kicks off with a tree lighting on Nov. 29 and continues until Jan. 1, with daily performances every half hour beginning at 4:30 p.m.
Head to Normandy Farms in Foxboro for luxe camping less than an hour from Boston. One reviewer describes the compound as its own little village, with activities for campers including yoga classes, arts and crafts, movies, and theme weekends. There are even a few campground rarities such as a bike park, recreation lodge with pool and wellness center, and soccer and baseball fields. Peak-season rates start at $67 for sites with water and electric.
Janji, a Boston-based athletic wear company whose proceeds benefit a great cause is one of our favorite small businesses. In 2012, after running marathons, the founders of Janji began to think critically about the lack of drinkable water in the world. They decided they'd create a sustainable business that would get people excited about running while at the same time helping developing countries to research and implement clean-water initiatives. Today, 10 percent of every sale goes into one of those initiatives.