As a former Colonial city, Boston’s layout still accounts for many public spaces. These were very fashionable in an era that pre-dated modern forms of transportation or communication when the citizenry would have to gather outside a public house or square in order to be informed of the news of the day, socialize or form a mob and run someone out of town. Thankfully, those chaotic days of revolution are behind this magnificent city but its residents still enjoy being out and about in the city’s many plazas, squares, and green spaces. The following are some of the best places in Boston to enjoy the outdoors.
Established in 1634, the 50-acre Boston Common is the oldest public recreation area in the country. Colloquially known as “the Common,” the park is one of the gems in the Emerald Necklace, a series of parks, urban open spaces and greenways that meander through several Boston neighborhoods and stretch to Roxbury. Boston Common, situated across from the Massachusetts State House, forms the southern base of Beacon Hill and is delineated by Beacon, Park, Tremont, Boylston and Charles streets.
One of Boston’s oldest neighborhoods, Beacon Hill is known for its charming, narrow cobblestone streets, federal style row houses and gaslit streetlamps. It’s also considered to be one of Boston’s most desirable and expensive residential areas in the city. A visit to Boston isn’t complete without a stop here. Whether to shop, dine or wander about admiring the architecture and numerous historic sites, there are so many things to do in Beacon Hill.
Built in 1742 at the site of the old town dock, Faneuil Hall was the location of town meetings in colonial Boston. It is often referred to as “the Cradle of Liberty” because it was here that Samuel Adams, James Otis and other leaders in the American Revolution made speeches against British oppression.
Many visitors are interested in seeing all the colonial sites and taking an Old Town Trolley Tour is the most efficient way to accomplish that goal. This guide will help you plan your vacation around the oldest attractions in Boston and give you insights on which trolley stops are most important to visit.
One of Boston’s oldest neighborhoods, Beacon Hill is known for its charming, narrow cobblestone streets, federal style row houses and gaslit street lamps. It’s also considered to be one of Boston’s most desirable and expensive residential areas in the city. A visit to Boston isn’t complete without a stop here. Whether to shop, dine or wander about admiring the architecture and numerous historic sites, there are so many things to do in Beacon Hill.
The Old State House, built in 1713 on the site of the first Town House, is the oldest surviving public building in Boston. The building served as a meeting place for the exchange of economic and local news and was said to be the center of politics in the colonies. The Declaration of Independence was read from the balcony on the east side of the building, and just below it is the spot where the Boston Massacre took place. The Old State House is one of the most important public buildings in the U.S.
Welcome to Boston’s Little Italy. The North End is famous for the many authentic Italian restaurants, cafés, espresso bars, and sandwich shops that dot the neighborhood. The area features nearly 100 restaurants, ranging from the authentic Italian and Italian-American family style to Chinese, Thai, and local seafood. After dinner, stop by one of the world famous pastry shops. Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry each have their own unique twist on classic desserts. Get there early to avoid the lines!
The Bunker Hill Monument was the first public obelisk in the United States designed to commemorate the Battle of Bunker Hill. The battle was actually misnamed because the majority of the action took place on Breed’s Hill and that is where the monument sits. The monument was begun in 1827 but construction had to be halted and it wasn’t completed until 1843. The architect, Solomon Willard, had the granite for the 221 ft structure brought in from Quincy, Massachusetts.
Founded in 1660, the Granary Burying Ground is the third oldest burying ground in Boston. During the Revolution, the area where the Park Street Church now stands had been used to hold grain, which is the reason for the burying ground’s name. Located on Tremont Street, the following famous individuals are buried in the Granary Burying Grounds: Peter Faneuil, Sam Adams, Crispus Attacks, John Hancock, James Otis, Robert Treat Paine, Paul Revere, and members of Ben Franklin’s family.
The Park Street Church was founded in 1809 by 26 locals who were mainly former members of the Old South Meeting House. The church became known as Brimstone Corner, possibly because the area was used for the storage of gunpowder during the War of 1812. In 1816, the Park Street Church joined the Old South Church and formed the City Mission Society, which served Boston’s poor. The church was the site of many firsts, including the nation’s first Sunday School in 1818, first prison aid in 1824, and William Lloyd Garrison’s first public statement against slavery in 1829. Park Street Church can be seen from the various surrounding neighborhoods because of its steeple, rising 217 ft. high. Open to visitors summer time only.
Dedicated in 1806, the African Meeting House is the Oldest African American Church and was the First African Baptist Church in the United States. Over the years it also served as a school and a community meeting place. It was here that William Lloyd Garrison founded the New England Slavery Society, making it the center of the abolitionist movement. In 1972, the building was acquired by the Museum of Afro-American History and it was restored in 1987. Today, the museum commemorates African American history from slavery to the abolitionist movement, with a focus on educational equality.
The Old Corner Bookstore, located on the corner of School and Washington Streets, was built in 1718 as an apothecary shop and residence. During the 19th century, it housed the Ticknor and Fields Publishing House and later became the literary center of Boston. Authors such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau brought manuscripts here to be published. It is now known as the Globe Corner Bookstore and specializes in New England travel books and maps. Before the Old Corner Bookstore was built, the original building was the home of Mrs. Anne Hutchinson, who was condemned for her dissent from Puritan orthodoxy.
Established in 1635, the Boston Latin School was the first public school in America. By inviting boys of any social class to enter, the school set a precedent for tax-supported public education. The Boston Latin School’s curriculum is inspired by the 18th century latin-school movement, which centered on the idea that study of the classics was the basis of an educated mind. Some of the school’s most famous students were Ben Franklin, Samuel Adams, Henry Ward Beecher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Hancock, and Leonard Bernstein. A statue of Benjamin Franklin keeps a watchful eye on the site and a mosaic on the sidewalk behind King’s Chapel marks the spot as well.
The Black Heritage Trail features various homes, memorials, and sites that are significant in the history of Boston’s 19th century African American community. The first slaves arrived in 1638 and by 1705 there were over 400. At this time there were also the beginnings of a free black community in the North End, and by 1790, the time of the first census, Massachusetts reported no slaves. The trail includes the Robert Gould Shaw & the 54th Regiment Memorial, first black regiment, the George Middleton House, the oldest home built by African Americans on Beacon Hill, and the Phillips School, one of Boston’s first schools with an interracial student body.
Kings Chapel is a Christian Unitarian church located on Tremont and School Streets. The church was organized in 1686 as an Anglican Church. In 1785 it became the oldest member of the Unitarian Universalist Association and the first Anglican Church. Beside the church is the Kings Chapel Burying Ground, which was Boston’s only burial ground for 30 years. Many historical figures are buried here, including John Winthrop, the colony governor, William Dawes, who rode with Paul Revere on the Midnight Ride, Mary Chilton, the first woman off the Mayflower, and William Emerson, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s father. The original building was a wooden church built in 1688 and it was replaced by the current stone building in 1754. The bell was hung in 1772 and was recast by Paul Revere in 1814; it still rings at services today.
More than a dozen theaters are clustered in the Boston Theater District. On Warrenton Street or Shear Madness Alley, the Charles Playhouse is home to the Blue Man Group, as well as Shear Madness, the country’s longest running non-musical play. Other theaters include the Colonial, Shubert, Orpheum, Opera, Emerson Majestic & Wilbur, most of which were built in the grand architectural style of early 1900s performance halls. These beautifully restored Boston gems, some intimate, some grand, host critically acclaimed productions.
As the oldest large free-lending library in America, the Boston Public Library was designed as a “palace for the people.” The McKim building includes a children’s room, the first in the country, and a sculpture garden with an arcaded gallery surrounding it. When facing the Copley Square side, the library façade resembles a 16th century Italian palace. Bates Hall is the library’s magnificent reading room, named after the library’s original benefactor Joshua Bates.
In the distinctive gold-domed building atop Beacon Hill, the past meets the present. On weekdays, you can discover Massachusetts’ history on a free tour of the center of the state government. The building, completed in 1798, was designed by Charles Bulfinch to replace the Old State House.
In addition to housing the state government, the State House also displays various portraits of governors, murals depicting the state’s heritage, and statues inside and on its grounds. The building is recognizable because of its dome sheathed in copper and covered by 23 karat gold, as seen in the film The Departed.
Boston’s Trinity Church was founded in 1733 and was originally located in downtown Boston. After the Great Boston Fire of 1872, the church complex moved to its current location and construction was completed in 1877. The impressive church was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson and is the first instance of the Richardsonian Romanesque style. Trinity Church is a Boston landmark and a cultural center for the city.
Boston Common was established in 1634 and is on the List of National Historic Landmarks. Today, this expansive green space is the starting point of the Freedom Trail and the anchor of the Emerald Necklace, a system of connected parks that winds through various Boston neighborhoods. Its long history includes being used as a campgrounds for British Troops, the site of public executions and the place where several notable visionaries and leaders gave legendary speeches including Martin Luther King Jr., Pope John Paul II and Gloria Steinem. Today, Boston Common is still a place for many public gatherings, festivals, events, concerts and sports as well as a pleasant place to jog, bike and walk while enjoying the pretty scenery. Located at the foot of Beacon Hill.
One of the oldest libraries in the United States, the Athenaeum was founded in 1807 and is an exclusive club of sorts in which a membership is required to use the many magnificent resources of this institution. But feel free to visit the first floor of this historic building that is open to the public and is home to an art gallery with a variety of rotating exhibits. Marble busts, porcelain vases, oil paintings, books and more are a delight to browse through and view. There’s also a children’s room with cozy reading nooks that overlook the Granary Burying Ground.
One of the most photographed streets in the city, Acorn Street offers visitors a reminiscent ride back to colonial Boston. It was on this lovely street that 19th century artisans and trades people lived and today the row houses are considered to be a prestigious address in Beacon Hill.
Louisburg Square was designed as a model for town house development in the 1840’s but the square was not replicated because of space restrictions. Today, the area is one of the most prestigious addresses in Boston. The homeowners, not the city, own the square and the oval park. Statues of Columbus and Aristides can be seen on the north and south ends, donated by a Greek merchant in 1850. Residents in the square have included author and critic William Dean Howells, the Alcotts, including author Louisa May Alcott, and currently Secretary of State, John Kerry.
The Charles Street Meeting House in Beacon Hill is a historic church that was built in 1807. Its first congregation was the Third Baptist Church, which baptized its members in the Charles River. Before the Civil War, the church was an important site for the anti-slavery movement, used for speeches by Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth. The building is currently used for commercial purposes.
The Christian Science Plaza is the location of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, one of the largest churches in New England. The plaza consists of 14 spacious and serene acres, paved in brick and granite, with orderly rows of trees, buildings, stone benches, a large reflecting pool and a circular fountain. The Mother Church, built in 1894, consists of a Romanesque Church Edifice with a bell tower and stained glass windows, and the larger Church Extension, added in 1906, is a mix of Renaissance and Byzantine architecture.
Named for Captain Cassin Young who was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism during the attack on Pearl Harbor, the USS Cassin Young (DD – 793) is docked adjacent to Old Ironsides. Built in 1943, she was. The ship served during World War II and the Korean War. The destroyer saw action off Tinian, the island the Enola Gay took off from to drop the first atomic bomb, as well as Okinawa and Iwo Jima. One of only four Fletcher-class destroyers still afloat, she was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
The landscaped, 24-acre Boston Public Garden, established in 1837, was the first public botanical garden in the U.S. The Public Garden contains lovely manicured paths, the famous “Make Way for Ducklings” statues, a 4-acre pond with swans and a variety of other birds, and several memorable statues throughout. You can enjoy a leisurely ride aboard the Swan Boats, pedal-powered gondolas which have been in operation during the summer months since 1877.
The Old South Meeting House was the largest building in colonial Boston and stands today as a symbol of the right to free speech and free assembly. The most well known meeting that took place here was held by the Sons of Liberty on December 16, 1773. The discussion in protest of the British tax on tea led directly to the Boston Tea Party, which took place later that very evening. 5,000 colonists gathered in the Old South Meeting House that day, an example of one of the larger crowds that could not have been accommodated by Faneuil Hall.
The gravestones in Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, Boston’s second oldest burying ground, tell the story of the population of the North End in colonial times. Originally known as Windmill Hill, the hill took the name of William Copp, a shoemaker who donated the land for a burying ground in 1659. It is the place of rest for thousands of artisans, craftspeople, and merchants. Some of the well known individuals are Increase and Cotton Mather, of the family of ministers, Robert Newman, sexton of the Old North Church at the time of Paul Revere’s ride, Edmund Hart, shipyard owner and builder of the USS Constitution, and Shem Drowne, the artist who made the weathervane for Faneuil Hall, among others.
Officially called Christ Church, the Old North Church is the oldest church building in Boston, a National Historic Landmark, and a stop on the Freedom Trail. Built in 1723, the Old North Church was inspired by the works of Christopher Wren, a British architect. It is most commonly known as the first stop on Paul Revere’s “Midnight Ride,” where he instructed three Boston Patriots to hang two lanterns in the church’s steeple. The lanterns were used to inform Charlestown Patriots that the British were approaching by sea and not by land.
Built in 1680, the unimposing wooden house at 19 North Square is the oldest house in downtown Boston. The 3-story building was the home of silversmith and Boston Patriot Paul Revere from 1770-1800, previously housing the parsonage of the Second Church of Boston. Revere sold the house in 1800 and it became a tenement with the ground floor used for shops and various businesses over the years. In 1902, Revere’s great-grandson purchased the property and restored it so that it could be opened to the public. In 1908, after restoration by architects and preservationists, the Paul Revere House opened to the public as one of the earliest historic house museums in Boston and the U.S.
On March 5, 1770, the tension from the British military occupation of Boston escalated into the event now referred to as the Boston Massacre. There was heavy military presence in downtown Boston in order to maintain control over civilians and to enforce the Townshend Act. Various brawls between soldiers and civilians had taken place; but the evening of March 5th was the first to result in civilian deaths. Today the site of the massacre is marked by a cobblestone ring on the traffic island at the intersection of Devonshire and State Streets.
For the average Bostonian, life in the New England colonies during the 17th century was, as you might’ve guessed, not exactly one of ease and leisure. Before they were built by stone or brick masonry, homes were small, dank, drafty and made entirely of wood. This building practice was abolished toward the advent of the 1700s due to the susceptibility of fire. Most of the population subsisted as farmers, the drinking water was unsafe, medicine was still in the Dark Ages, and the average lifespan was just shy of 40 years. These were arduous and challenging times and living under the yoke of an oppressive foreign monarchy would eventually prove too much to bear and, thus, a revolution was born.
Comprised of 16 places of interest, each one a milestone in the evolution of Boston from English colony to independence, the Freedom Trail is an essential component of any trip to Boston. This historic attraction literally lays out Boston’s colonial history before you on the very streets where the city’s most transformative events unfolded several hundred years ago.
The thinking behind the design of the Freedom Trail is attributed to William Schofield, a former travel writer for the Boston Herald. He noticed that visitors eager to immerse themselves in the city’s historic past were having trouble finding the landmarks they were looking for. Schofield proposed a solution – Link the most important sites in a numbered sequence along a clearly marked, easy to follow trail that could be walked from end to end without the chance of getting rerouted or lost. There was also the idea that the Freedom Trail would’ve been a typical path to walk for the average colonist back in the day, further enhancing the sensation of traveling back in time.
One of Boston’s most well known historic sites, Faneuil Hall Marketplace was constructed in 1742 and served as a marketplace and meeting hall since it first opened its doors. Named after the wealthy merchant who provided funding for the hall, Peter Faneuil, this significant structure has been the site of many important and inspirational speeches by famed Americans, including Samuel Adams. When visiting Boston, a stop here is definitely a must do.