With 4.5 million people in the greater-Boston area, it’s nearly impossible to pick the “best” sightseeing attractions since the city’s not exactly small.
Everyone obviously has different tastes and preferences, so what might appeal to one person, another might not find interesting.
But, if I had to choose the top sights in Boston for a first-time visitor, these would be my picks.
1. Freedom Trail
Being only a few centuries old, the United States is short on true historical sites.
Luckily, Boston is one of the oldest cities in the country and there’s no shortage of interesting attractions for both history buffs and those who may not normally find historical sites all that exciting.
The Freedom Trail is a must see in Boston. The 2.5-mile walking trail lumps together the majority of the well-known sites and can be done in a few hours to half a day. Highlights of the trail include:
- Massachusetts State House (capitol building)
- Granary Burying Ground (where Paul Revere, Sam Adams & John Hancock are buried, among other notables)
- Site of the First Public School
- Site of the Boston Massacre
- Paul Revere’s House
- Old State House (where the Declaration of Independence was read in 1776)
For more information, visit http://www.thefreedomtrail.org/.
Being that Boston is on the ocean, you’d be remiss if you didn’t partake in some seafood while you’re there (so long as seafood is your thing, of course).
New England Clam Chowder, or “chowdah” as locals say, is top of the list, along with lobster, fish & chips and clams.
3. Boston Commons & Public Garden
I think it’s important for residents of any city to have access to lots of well-designed green spaces, and one thing I almost always do is visit a park or two.
Boston’s most famous parks are Boston Common and the Boston Public Garden.
Boston Common is the oldest park in the country, in fact, and was established in 1634. While it was a meeting ground for numerous events over the centuries, there’s not a lot to it, and it mostly boasts a few walking paths and expansive green lawns. It’s also the start of the Freedom Trail.
Just over two centuries later, the adjacent Public Garden was created in 1837 and was the first botanical garden in the country. It’s quite different from the Commons in that there’s more emphasis on pure enjoyment of the surroundings with wandering paths, colorful flora and picturesque ponds.
4. Museum of Science
If you love hands-on exhibits, then you should absolutely visit Boston’s Museum of Science.
The massive museum has a wide array of interesting and informative displays, most of which are very interactive and appeal to both young and old visitors.
I easily spent a few hours there just exploring the exhibits, and with kids, I can imagine you may stay even longer. They also have an IMAX and Planetarium, so if you’re into that, be sure to budget plenty of time.
Adult admission is $22, but if you plan to do a fair bit of sightseeing around the city, I’d highly recommend looking into the City Pass which will save you a good amount of money.
For more information, visit http://www.mos.org/.
5. Fenway Park Tour or Game
What’s funny is I’m not a big sports fan, but I’m really glad we decided to tour Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. It is, after all, one of Boston’s most well-known attractions, and even I was a bit curious to see the Green Monster in person.
The baseball season was wrapping up, so we couldn’t attend a game (though tickets are pricey and a bit hard to come by, I hear, so that might not’ve been possible, anyway). But luckily they did have a few tours going on.
In addition to getting a bunch of fun facts about the stadium, players and fans, the 1-hour tour leads you past filming locations used in The Town, into the old wooden seats, up onto the Green Monster – excuse me, Monstah – and into the media box area. Definitely a well-spent $16 (at time of writing in September 2012).
For more information, visit http://boston.redsox.mlb.com/bos/ballpark/tour.jsp.
6. Beacon Hill & Back Bay Neighborhoods
One of the things I love about Boston is the older architecture and winding streets. You don’t find much of that out West where everything seems bland, far too new and a bit boring.
Beacon Hill and its neighbor, Back Bay, are good places to wander the streets and be thrown back in time.
The old-school gas-lit lights coupled with the brick sidewalks might have you wondering what century you’re in until you see modern-day vehicles in lieu of horse-drawn carriages.
The mainly federal-style rowhouses line the streets, and Commonwealth Avenue has been likened to the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Strolling the narrow lanes of these neighborhoods is a fun way to see more of the city.
7. Museum of Fine Arts
Now this is one massive museum with an impressive collection.
There are two main floors with smaller sections on two additional floors. And there’s a good range of art on display, too, so whether you’re a fan of contemporary or ancient art, there’s bound to be something for you.
This museum is also part of Boston’s City Pass, so it’s worth looking into if you want to save on the $25 adult admission.
For more information, visit http://www.mfa.org/.
8. Harvard & Museums
When you think of Boston, you may also think of Harvard. While not technically in Boston (Harvard actually resides in Cambridge, the town to the north), Harvard is easy to get to and is a stop I’d recommended on your Boston tour.
The campus is certainly pretty and there are lots of fun shops and restaurants to explore nearby.
If you’re an art lover, Harvard also has its own art museums, though most people could probably skip them if they’re already planning to visit the Museum of Fine Arts.
I did particularly enjoy Harvard’s Museum of Natural History, though, and would definitely recommend popping in there. They have a huge minerals, gems and meteorites collection that’s bigger than any I’ve ever seen, along with an arthropods, dinosaur and mammals, birds and fishes gallery.
9. Charles River Esplanade or Harbor Walk
Being from a landlocked state (Colorado), I tend to gravitate towards activities that revolve around the water in some way.
Boston has no shortage of walking and biking paths, and I think one of the best ways to take in the city is by strolling one of them.
The Boston HarborWalk canvases the city’s eastern and northern wharfs, all the way north into Charlestown and East Boston.
The Charles River Esplanade is another fantastic option, and is a perfect reprieve from museum-hopping or visiting tourist-filled sites.
10. Water Shuttle
If you walk the entire Freedom Trail, you’ll end up at Bunker Hill in Charlestown, the neighborhood to the north of Boston across the Charles River.
To get back to Boston, you can of course walk back or perhaps splurge on a cab, but I’d recommend taking the ferry, instead. You get great views of the city from the boat.
And if you bought an MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) ticket for the subways or buses, there’s a good chance you can also use it on the boats (check the mbta.com site for details).
If you don’t have the time or money to go on a “proper” cruise, this option of hopping on the ferry is a good – and cheap – alternative.
11. Dunkin’ Donuts
Perhaps it’s not exactly an “honorable” mention, seeing as I’m talking about fattening donuts of all things, but Dunkin’ Donuts is such an establishment in New England that I feel like it should at least be mentioned.
In New England, Dunkin’ Donuts are like Starbucks. Or McDonald’s. It seems like you’ll find one just around every corner.
I don’t think their donuts are anything special and their coffee isn’t quite as good as some claim it is, but in a pinch it’ll do. And they are just a bit famous so if you’re feeling a bit peckish, you could try one and decide for yourself if it’s worth the hype.