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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Boston

As the largest city in New England and the capital of Massachusetts, Boston has been fundamental to the history of the United States of America since it was founded by English Puritans in 1630. Now a world leader in the fields of academia and finance–adjacent Cambridge hosts both MIT and Harvard–its gravitas is combined with enough culture and entertainment to attract more than 16 million yearly visitors.Known as 'The Walking City,' a stroll through the Freedom Trail downtown reveals 16 historical sites in just two and a half miles (four kilometers), including the old State House and Faneuil Hall, one of the city's oldest marketplaces. Guides can help bring history to life at these sites, especially for kids or those not overly familiar with American history. For baseball enthusiasts, tours of Fenway Park – the home of the Boston Red Sox and the oldest major league stadium still in use – give visitors a peek in to the past and present of the game. Beantown’s waterways provide both commercial transportation and leisure scenery, making a harbor, river, or whale-watching tour an essential part of getting to know the city. Back on dry land, trolley tours are a popular way to get around, while the city’s small size makes biking or walking an easy way to cover plenty of ground—especially at night, when the city buzzes, thanks to its abundance of breweries, pubs with varied beer selections, and live music.
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Boston North End
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Boston’s oldest residential neighborhood, the North End has been inhabited since the 1630s. Here you’ll find a large variety of historical and culturally attractions. There’s the Paul Revere House, the oldest building in downtown Boston built around 1680 and the place from which he left for his famous “midnight ride” in 1775. Some other historic stops in the North End include Old North Church, Copp’s Hill Burial Ground, Union Wharf, Ozias Goodwin House and Mariner’s House, allowing you to explore the city’s rich heritage as well as old world architecture.

Walking around the area, you’ll notice the smell of fresh baked bread and biscotti permeates the air. Because it has a large community of Italian Americans, the North End is also known as Boston’s Little Italy. Visitors are transported to Italy as they walk the neighbourhood’s narrow streets, full of attached brick buildings housing small shops, delis, butchers, salumerias, bakers, and wine bars.

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Faneuil Hall Marketplace
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The heart and soul of downtown Boston, Faneuil Hall Marketplace is a bustling complex of restaurants, food stalls, shops, bars, and public spaces. Since it opened in 1976, this festive market and eating center draws both visitors and locals to its cobblestone plaza, teaming with shoppers, street performers, and people-watchers.

Faneuil Hall Marketplace itself if comprised of three historic 19th century buildings. Quincy Market, a three-level Greek revival-style building, sits in the center behind Faneuil Hall. Next to it is the North Market building and the South Market building.

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USS Constitution
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The USS Constitution is a fascinating example of United States and military history. The 44-gun, Boston-built vessel hearkens back to 1797 when President George Washington ordered that six frigates be constructed at naval yards along the east coast.

“Old Ironsides," as it’s known today, is officially “America’s Ship of State” and one of the most popular and well respected military attractions in the country. Before entering, visit the onsite museum, which provides insight into US military history, including the War of 1812 and the general timeline of the USS Constitution. Once aboard the ship, free guided tours are offered year-round by knowledgeable navy personnel. Visitors are also invited to explore and photograph a large portion of the ship, including the main deck and the level below deck. Select summer visitors are invited to join in a special Constitution Experience.

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Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum
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Few historical events are as synonymous with Boston as the Boston Tea Party. It was during this 1773 demonstration that revolutionaries threw entire cases of British tea into Boston harbor in protest of the Tea Act, quickly evolving into the American Revolution.

Today, this iconic act of defiance has come to symbolize not only the resolve and persistence of the American people as a whole, but of Boston in particular. Nowhere is it more celebrated or better explained than at the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum. This floating museum prides itself on stepping well beyond the typical, staid museum experience. Visitors are treated to a fully engaging display, complete with live actors, ship restoration displays and interactive exhibits.

Visitors can even join in a mock "tea dumping" protest if they like. The goal is to accurately transport visitors back in time to fully experience the Tea Party as it happened more than 230 years ago.

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New England Aquarium
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Teeming with more than 15,000 sea creatures of all sizes, shapes, and colors, the New England Aquarium is a giant fishbowl of sea-life wonder. Harbor seals and sea otters frolic in a large observation tank at the entrance, but the main attraction is the awesome four-story, 200,000 gallon (760,000 liter) Giant Ocean Tank, which swirls with more than 600 creatures great and small, including turtles, sharks, and eels. At the base of the tank the penguin pool is home to three species of fun-loving penguins. Countless side exhibits explore the lives and habitats of other underwater oddities, including the two-floor Amazing Jellies exhibit, home to hundreds of ethereal jellyfish, and the Edge of the Sea exhibit, with its sea stars, horseshoe crabs, and sea dragons. Other attractions include displays on denizens of the Amazon, marine life in the Gulf of Maine, and the ecology of Boston Harbor.
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Charlestown Navy Yard
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Dating back to 1800, Charlestown Navy Yard was among the most prolific, historic, and vital navy yards in U.S. history. It served as the home of many of the nation's elite warships for the purposes of resupply, maintenance, retrofitting, and service.

The navy yard's most critical role was during America's two largest wars before it closed for good in 1974. From the beginning, Charlestown Navy Yard remained a pioneer of shipbuilding technology and served as a center for electronics and missile conversions. During its almost 175-year history, its staff constructed, christened, and launched over 200 ships and serviced thousands more. After its closing, thirty acres of the yard were earmarked as part of Boston National Historical Park. Today, the U.S. National Park Service oversees this most critical portion of the shipyard.

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Boston Old State House
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As the oldest still-standing building in Boston, the Old State House is arguably the most historically significant structure in the city today. Built more than three centuries ago, it stands as the crown jewel of the city's famous Freedom Trail, and many of the country's greatest political achievements and historical moments happened within its four walls. It is appropriately referred to as the "Heart of Revolutionary Boston," as a number of America's forefathers – including John Adams, James Otis, John Hancock and Samuel Adams–discussed the future of the colonies under British rule here. Steps from its entrance, five men died in the Boston Massacre, and the Declaration of Independence was even declared to the people of Boston from its balcony. In subsequent years, the building grew to become the first state house of the Commonwealth. Over the years that followed, it served many functions, including as city hall, post office, a mercantile exchange and even a shopping arcade.

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Boston Common
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The starting point of the Freedom Trail, Boston Common is the oldest park in the country. At 50 acres/20 hectares, the Common is the anchor for the Emerald Necklace, a system of connected parks that winds through many of Boston’s neighborhoods. The Common has served many purposes over the years, including as a campground for British troops during the Revolutionary War. Today, though, the Common serves picnickers, sunbathers, and people watches. In winter, the Frog Pond attracts ice-skaters, while summer draws theater lovers for Shakespeare on the Common.

Spend a day wandering freely in the Common. Walking paths crisscross its green, which is dotted with such monuments and memorials as the Boston Massacre Monument, the Great Elm Site, and the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial. Nearby sites include the Central Burying Ground and the Boston Athenaeum.

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Quincy Market
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The main hub of the Faneuil Hall Marketplace, bustling Quincy Market has attracted locals and visitors alike for nearly 200 years. This historic food hall, set inside a stately three-level Greek revival-style building, is packed with more than 50 shops, 14 restaurants, and 40 food court stops. There’s even a bar that’s an exact replica of the bar from the popular TV show Cheers.

Inside Quincy Market, the central corridor is lined with full-service restaurants, pushcarts, and New England souvenirs. Choose from chowder, bagels, Indian, Greek, baked good, and ice cream. Then, take a seat at one of the tables in the central rotunda. On warm evenings, tables spill outdoors from restaurants and bars fill up with people, creating a festive mood. The rest of the marketplace is made up of the North Market building, the South Market building, and Faneuil Hall. Along with restaurants, you’ll find an intoxicating mix of chain stores and unique shops.

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More Things to Do in Boston

Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park

Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park

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Boston Harbor Islands National Park is comprised of 34 islands, sprinkled throughout the Boston Harbor. These islands – many of which are open for trail walking, bird-watching, fishing, and swimming – offer a range of ecosystems. On a visit to this park, you’ll encounter sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, fresh and saltwater marsh, and forested trails. Best of all, the islands are only 45 minutes from downtown Boston.

Georges Island is not only one of the transportation hubs for the islands, it is also the site of the 19th century Fort Warren. Spectacle Island, another transportation hub, has walking trails and hosts many special events like live jazz concerts and festivals. Lovells Island draws boaters, swimmers, and sunbathers to its lovely rocky beaches. Here you can catch an afternoon shuttle to Grape Island, where you can pick raspberries, bayberries, and elderberries, all growing wild amid the island’s scrubby wooded trails.

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Castle Island

Castle Island

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Boston Light

Boston Light

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Not surprisingly, Boston boasts the nation's oldest continually operating lighthouse. Boston Light on Little Brewster Island dates back to 1716 and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964.

The original lighthouse was virtually obliterated by British forces near the end of the Revolutionary War. The tower was resurrected in 1783 and in 1859 was raised 14 additional feet to its current height of 102 feet. The beacon is still in use by the Coast Guard today and is capable of shining its light up to 27 miles across the Atlantic. By decree, the Coast Guard had automated all lighthouses throughout the country by 1990. A handful of preservation groups petitioned to keep Boston Light in its original state and eventually Congress relented. Today it is staffed by only a few Coast Guard workers who perform geological surveys, meteorological studies, and other data collection.

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Waterfront

Waterfront

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Boston Massacre Site

Boston Massacre Site

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Copley Square

Copley Square

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Located in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston, Copley Square is among the most beautiful public parks in the city. For more than 100 years, it has been a hub of downtown activity and historical significance for the sheer number of institutions built here since the 1800s. Many still stand today, including the stunning Boston Public Library, Trinity Church, Old South Church, the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel and New England's tallest skyscraper, John Hancock Tower.

The square is best known as the site of the finish line for the annual Boston Marathon, and there is a 1996 memorial here celebrating the race's 100th anniversary. It is also well known as a downtown commercial hub with a variety of upscale restaurants and shopping options. The onsite Copley Place mall includes high-end stores such as Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors, Porsche Design and Tiffany & Co.

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Freedom Trail

Freedom Trail

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The Freedom Trail is a great way to explore Boston’s most popular sites. The 2 ½-mile/4-km trail itself links a number of historic sites, many associated with colonial United States history. The route is marked with a line of red paint or red brick on the sidewalk; markers identify stops and plaques point the way from one sight to the next. The Freedom Trail starts on the Boston Common and visits sights on Beacon Hill, in Downtown, near the Waterfront, and in the North End, before crossing the bridge and ending in Charlestown. As such, it provides an introduction to some of Boston’s distinct neighborhoods, as well as its rich history. Along the way, you’ll see the King’s Chapel, Old City Hall, and the Old Corner Bookstore. You’ll visit Faneuil Hall, which is a choice spot to stop for a lunch from the food court in Quincy Market. More sites include Old North Church, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground (with its grand views across the river to Charlestown) and the USS Constitution Museum, home
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Bunker Hill Monument

Bunker Hill Monument

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The Bunker Hill Memorial is a granite monument built in memory of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the first real battle of the American Revolutionary War.

The Battle of Bunker Hill took place in June 1775 in Charlestown, Massachusetts, when American Revolutionary forces met the British Army during one of the earliest battles of the war. The British ultimately won that battle – although, of course, they would go on to lose the war. The battle itself took place on nearby Breed's Hill, but Bunker Hill was the main objective of both armies – so that's where the Bunker Hill Monument was built. The first monument was built in 1794, made of wood, and stood 18 feet tall. From 1827-1842, the current granite memorial was built. The obelisk resembles the Washington Monument in Washington D.C., towering over the surrounding landscape.

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Massachusetts State House

Massachusetts State House

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Newcomers to the city of Boston often refer to it as “the city of history” because while walking along the Freedom Trail, you encounter so many important historical points—points that were instrumental in the founding of America. It makes for an incredible walk through time, and one of the highlights on this Freedom Trail is a visit to the Massachusetts State House.

Built in 1788, the “new” Massachusetts State House is built across from the Boston Common on the top of Beacon Hill. Known far and wide for its gilded gold dome (it’s actually made of wood and copper, but topped with 24-karat gold), the State House symbolizes what the founding fathers had envisioned upon landing at Plymouth Rock – to build a city upon a hill. Inside, the working State House houses working government officials, beautiful murals depicting colonial times of war, spacious marble-filled corridors, and other historical items that reflect the heritage of the Boston area.

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Boston Chinatown

Boston Chinatown

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Old South Meeting House

Old South Meeting House

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Erected in 1729, Old South Meeting House is a prime stop on Boston's Freedom Trail and among the country's most vital national historic landmarks. It is best known as the rallying point for the infamous Boston Tea Party; at the time, it was the city's largest building and it was here that more than 5,000 revolutionaries gathered to organize the historic event.

Today, the house is open as an interactive museum that offers visitors an insight into America's colonial past. It features a variety of exhibits, events and activities to interest both children and adults. The Voices of Protest exhibit includes several original Boston Tea Party artifacts, a model of colonial Boston, an original writing desk belonging to John Hancock and an authentic first-edition book by slave and poet Phillips Wheatley.

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Museum of Science, Boston

Museum of Science, Boston

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With more than 600 interactive exhibits, the Boston Museum of Science is an educational playground so engaging and effortless that you can’t help but learn something. The amazing array of exhibits explores computers, technology, complex systems, algae, maps, models, dinosaurs, birds and much more.

Favorites include the world's largest lightning bolt generator, a full-scale space capsule, a world population meter, and a virtual fish tank. At Investigate!, live science demonstrations involve animals and experiments taking place before your eyes. The Science in the Park exhibit uses familiar objects such as skateboards and playground equipment to teach kids the concepts of physics. You can even find out how much you weigh on the moon! The Museum of Science also houses the Hayden Planetarium and Mugar Omni Theater.

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Boston Public Garden

Boston Public Garden

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The Boston Public Garden is a 24 acre (10 hectare) botanical oasis of Victorian flowerbeds, verdant grass, and weeping willow trees shading a tranquil lagoon. At any time of the year, it is an island of loveliness, awash in seasonal blooms, gold-toned leaves, or untrammeled snow.

A statue of George Washington, looking stately atop his horse, greets visitors at the main entrance on Arlington Street. Other pieces of public art in the park, however, are more whimsical. The most endearing is Make Way for Ducklings, always a favorite with tiny tots who can climb and sit on the bronze ducks. But it’s the peaceful lagoon that draws visitors and locals a like to the Public Garden. For it is hear, you should take on the slow-going swan boats, a serene relic of bygone days.

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Back Bay

Back Bay

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One of the most picturesque neighborhoods in Boston, Back Bay is famous for its architecturally significant buildings, including a series of Victorian brownstone homes. Back Bay is considered one of America’s most desirable areas, and it’s not uncommon to spot celebrities along the prime shopping streets. With that, one of the best ways to explore the neighborhood is to book a Back Bay photography tour, which will take you to the most important and significant buildings.

Some of the most exclusive real estate in Boston is located in Back Bay, which was once just a stagnant pool of water behind the Public Garden. Newbury Street, Boylston Street and Commonwealth Avenue are now among the most popular spots in the area. Be sure to visit the Boston Public Garden, the largest and oldest botanical garden in the country, established in 1837. It's where many visitors start their tour of Back Bay.

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