20 BEST Things to do in Boston, MA [2021 UPDATED]
Boston is the capital of Massachusetts and one of the oldest municipalities in the United States. Founded in 1630 by Puritan settlers, Boston has no history shortage, nor does it lack modernity. Home to some of the leading universities in the United States, Boston has an intellectual vibe, coupled with unique neighborhoods that add character to the city.
Whatever your style of travel is, or your interest in the city, there is something for each individual in Boston. Learn more about this city’s deep past, explore various museums, or eat your way through this City on the Hill. Read on to discover this list of things to do in Boston and explore this fascinating Northeastern city.
1) Freedom Trail
The Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile-long pathway that connects 16 historical sights. Some of these sites include the Boston Massacre Site, where British Redcoats and Bostonians battled in the streets in 1770. Just one of the very notable spots along the way, you will discover so much about Boston, as well as the United States of America, when you take this trip. One of the best ways to really experience the Freedom Trail is by booking a walking tour, complete with a guide dressed in traditional Colonial garb.
2) Arnold Arboretum
A stunning 281-acre expanse of trees, the Arnold Arboretum is noteworthy for being designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted, a famous landscape architect from the 1900s. The Arnold Arboretum is part of Harvard University and is open daily and free to explore.
The visitor center is a great place to start to get oriented on the grounds. The collection includes special areas such as a bonsai collection, conifer collection, and an explorers garden for young children.
3) Boston Public Library
The Central Library in Copley Square is worth visiting even if you can’t check out a book. The architecture alone is a stunning tribute to the beauty of Boston’s architecture, and the two-part library has casual architectural tours most days. One of the building highlights is the cloistered courtyard in the center of the building, complete with a fountain. Please do check ahead of time before visiting, as Covid continues to make openings unpredictable.
4) SoWa Open Market
Open in the warmer months of May to October, SoWa Open Market is a wonderful place to walk around and grab a bite to eat. Now in its 17th season, the SoWa Open Market is a “celebration of local makers.” Come check out the artist’s market, buy some local produce, or sip a cold one in the beer garden. SoWa also has a Sunday Vintage Market, and in non-Covid years, has hosted a lovely Winter Festival.
5) Harvard Square
A triangular square, Harvard Square has some of the best eats in the city and being in the environs of Harvard University. Whether you actually want to take a free tour of Harvard University (which you should) is up to you, but this thriving area of the city is also home to independent book stores, coffee houses, and locally-owned stores. Do note; if you can access the area without a car, it is advisable as the streets are narrow and parking is limited.
6) North End Neighborhood
The North End neighborhood is known as “the Italian part of town,” which is a wonderful reason to visit this historic area. Delectable bakeries, restaurants, and delis can be found at every turn, as well as beautiful red brick buildings that really make you part of the northeast landscape.
The North End of Boston is actually Boston’s first neighborhood and is part of the Freedom Trail, including the Paul Revere House. It’s also a great place to take a walk by the harbor if you haven’t yet had a chance to experience the oceanside of Boston.
Chinatown is one of the best neighborhoods to get your eat on, as well as being one of the largest Chinese American neighborhoods. Home to a thriving population, Chinatown often has lively celebrations such as that for the upcoming Chinese New Year.
Initially built on tidal flats during the 1800s, Chinatown has flourished into a mix of restaurants, businesses, and residential areas. Be ready to sample the best of Chinese American culture, including the opportunity to eat dim sum (Chinese dumplings) or head to a lounge at night.
8) Fenway Park
This iconic baseball field was built in 1912 and is home to the Boston Red Sox. The oldest ballpark in the majors, Fenway Park, is also one of the smallest, which results in harder-to-get tickets. If you can’t attend a game, take a tour of the field, which is available daily. The Fenway neighborhood is also a fun place to explore, with various eateries and bars that cater to Red Sox fans.
9) Sam Adams Brewery
This well-known brewery is a great stop to make for the beer enthusiast. Founded in the 1980s, Sam Adams Brewery isn’t quite as old as the name may lead you to believe. However, it’s made its place among American staples.
Hop into a brewery tour, which is still running amidst Covid, and learn more about the unique process that Sam Adams beer undergoes. The brewery also has a winter beer garden for the adventurous, complete with firepits to keep warm.
10) Boston Common
The oldest city park in the United States, Boston Common is a must-see when you visit Boston. With a layered past, Boston Common was once stomping grounds for the American Revolution, the meeting place for antislavery in the 1860s, as well as being home to victory gardens during WWII. Soak up the past as you walk through the grounds with a detailed map of the historic points accessible from the City of Boston’s website.
11) deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum
About a half-hour northwest of Boston, deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum is the former estate of Massachusetts merchant Julian deCordova. On 30 acres of land, the sculpture park and museum is home to a permanent collection of sculptures and rotating indoor exhibits. The park is also a great place to check out other events such as snowshoeing in the winter or yoga on the lawn in the summertime.
12) Newbury Street
Newbury Street is known for being a wonderful place to do some retail therapy, with a mix of high-end stores as well as more affordable vintage and resale shops.
On the South End of Boston, make a morning or day of your visit to Newbury Street and enjoy lunch at one of the eateries, or by grabbing a coffee in a Newbury Street coffee shop. Eight blocks long, Newbury Street runs east-to-west, and the street often hosts a variety of events.
13) Whale Watching
One of the best places to see whales in the Northeast, it’s a great idea to add on an afternoon trip of whale watching to your itinerary. The Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary is the perfect place to see whales, dolphins, and seabirds. Hop on a catamaran for viewing to speed safely out to sea for your nautical adventure. There are many companies to go through, however, we have provided information below for the popular Boston Harbor Cruises.
A wonderful and free thing to do, head to the Waterfront to see where Boston meets water. If you get pleasant weather, it’s a great place to take a stroll before dinner at one of the many water-facing restaurants along the Boston HarborWalk. If you’re in Boston, you really need to taste fresh seafood, and a stop along the Waterfront is just the place to do it.
15) Trinity Church
Trinity Church was built in 1877 and continues to be a place of worship. Renowned architect H.H. Richardson designed a National Historic Landmark, Trinity Church. The building is the only church on the “Ten Most Significant Buildings in the United States” by the American Institute of Architects (AIA). This stunning church is worth visiting while respecting the active congregation that calls Trinity Church home.
16) Public Art Walk
Commissioned by the Boston Art Commission, the Public Art Walk is an impressive display of art and sculpture throughout the city’s neighborhoods. Walkthrough Back Bay, Beacon Hill, the Financial District, and the North End while listening to the free call-in audio guide (number listed below). The first kind of public art installment in Boston, the city hopes to continue the initiative and expand over the coming years. You can also find a map of the installations on the website.
17) Boston Tea Party & Ships Museum
To really get a feel for one of the most important events in the American Revolution, head to the Boston Tea Party & Ship Museum. Enjoy a multi-sensory experience, complete with a full-scale replica of the original boat that would have been at Boston Harbor. Though the museum is only partially running due to Covid restrictions, it is set to reopen fully in early March.
18) Spectacle Island
Open during the summer months, Spectacle Island of Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area is an easy 20-minute ferry from Boston proper. 105 acres in total, take in views of the Boston skyline, or enjoy sandy beaches to spread out with a picnic.
The island is just one of a few different islands within the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, so if you enjoy your time on Spectacle Island, look to another island such as Georges of Grape Island for an easy escape from the city.
19) Plimoth Plantation
Step back in time at Plimoth Plantation, which recreates the Plimoth village of the 17th century. This living museum is a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate and is an incredible way to educate yourself or your children about life for the pilgrim settlers and the Native Wampanoag people. Role-playing interpreters help make the village come alive, and the Craft Center, where traditional crafts are made (then sold in the gift museum), highlights the experience.
20) Beacon Hill
One of the most picturesque areas of Boston, Beacon Hill, is worth taking a stroll through. The stunning gold-domed Massachusetts State House is situated in the Beacon Hill neighborhood, and the hill upon which the neighborhood sits gives perspective to the city.
If you really want to experience the neighborhood, take a tour with Beacon Hill Circle Tour to gain more insight into this historic area. This two-hour walking tour includes tours of three private houses. Additionally, the profits from the tours go to charities for Boston women and children.
It’s clear why locals love living in Boston and why visitors revel in the city’s historical past and ever-changing present. From the American Revolution to now, Boston has been part of America’s unique story, which it continues to write.
From world-class museums to thrilling activities like taking a driving lesson in a Porsche, Boston knows how to live. Surely, you’ll fall in love with Boston and all it has to offer, inspiring maybe not just one, but two visits to this Northeastern city.