As one of the United States’ oldest cities, Boston has long led the way — from the nation’s first public park, to its first university.
The city also led the charge in the American Revolution, making the capital of Massachusetts a hotspot for history lovers. However, there’s so much more to enjoy. Whether you love major-league sport, art old and new, New England comfort food, or shopping for top American brands, the best of ‘Beantown’ — also referred to as America’s Walking City — is usually just a short stroll away.
Enjoy this Boston travel guide.
Boston for history lovers
Established as the capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630, Boston was a shining light among Britain’s American colonies.
That’s until its citizens started shouting ‘no taxation without representation’ and threw imported tea into the harbour — the infamous Boston Tea Party.
The city’s central role in the American Revolution, and other aspects of its rich colonial history, can be easily discovered on foot along The Freedom Trail. It starts at America’s oldest public park, Boston Common, and ends at the Bunker Hill Monument — site of the first battle of the Revolutionary War. Climb this towering obelisk’s 294 steps for epic views!
In between are another 14 historical highlights, including centuries-old burial grounds with time-worn tombstones, the home of Paul Revere (famous for his midnight ride to warn fellow patriots that the British were coming), and the USS Constitution — the warship dubbed Old Ironsides during the revolution.
The visitor centre in Boston Common can help with Freedom Trail maps, apps and tours led by costumed guides. National Park Service rangers also lead tours for free, as the trail and much of central Boston is part of the Boston National Historical Park. There are plenty of other walking tours that explore the city’s history, including its thriving Irish and Italian heritage.
As one of the USA’s oldest cities, Boston has more than a few skeletons in its closet. Battles, revolts, treachery, witchcraft trials and much more have given rise to plenty of tales of ghostly goings-on. To learn more, book a spot on the popular Ghosts and Gravestones evening trolley tour — guided by a 17thcentury grave digger! You’ll hear about the city’s most infamous characters and take a guided walk through two heritage graveyards.
Top cultural experiences in Boston
Culture vultures will love exploring the city’s beautiful heritage buildings.
Start at Copley Square — bordered by the ornate Trinity Church and Boston Public Library. Step inside America’s first municipal library to see wonders like legendary American artist John Singer Sargent’s murals.
Nearby is the lovely old Symphony Hall, renowned for its acoustics and home to the celebrated Boston Symphony Orchestra. A little further along Massachusetts Avenue is the Museum of Fine Arts, one of the nation’s largest art galleries. Its enormous collection is particularly noted for American, French Impressionist and Japanese works.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is smaller, but every bit as eye-popping. A private museum styled after Renaissance Venetian palaces, it’s filled with treasures dating from ancient Rome to 19thcentury America, including paintings by Rembrandt and Titian, sculptures, furniture and ceramics.
Take the subway to Harvard and admire the heritage architecture of America’s oldest university. Over the centuries, this wealthy institution has amassed astonishing art and science collections, which are displayed in numerous museums. The museum at fellow educational heavyweight the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is stuffed with cool tech, like robots and holograms.
Great places to eat in Boston
Boston’s dining scene has taken a while to blossom, but today it’s one of the most innovative and diverse in the USA’s northeast.
Mediterranean, Japanese and French-style cuisine all thrive in this city, and local dining precincts can best be explored on the city’s plethora of guided food tours.
For a taste of history, stop by the Bell in Hand, which was established back in 1795. The menu at America’s oldest tavern includes local favourites like lobster rolls, Boston cream pie and Sam Adams ales.
Quincy Market’s many food stalls and pushcarts are great on-the-go options, and there’s also a replica of the bar from TV’s Cheers. Fans of the 80s sitcom take note: the original is on Beacon Street.
Boston’s great wave of 20thcentury Italian migrants washed up in North End, so it’s crammed with trattorias, ristorantes and cafes. Best bets include Regina Pizzeria, which has been serving exceptional thin-crust pizza since 1926, and Mamma Maria for northern Italian fine dining in a romantic townhouse.
For those looking to get a bit fancy, try the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel’s Oak Long Bar + Kitchen.
Where to shop in Boston
The Freedom Trail’s 18thcentury Faneuil Hall, together with the adjacent Quincy, South and North markets, form the charmingly historic Faneuil Hall Marketplace.
It’s a top option for quality, often heritage-inspired souvenirs, from shops like 1630 and the Revolutionary Boston Museum Store.
Take a stroll along Newbury Street, from its well-heeled east end (think Cartier and Goorin Bros’ stylish hats) to more quirky and practical shops like Trident Booksellers & Cafe in the west.
If the weather’s unkind, head for the nearby shopping malls in Back Bay. American favourites at the Prudential Center include Saks Fifth Avenue and Ralph Lauren, while Copley Place is home to Coach and Victoria’s Secret.
A bunch of neglected warehouses has been transformed into one of America’s coolest art and design districts — SoWa (south of Washington Street). Browse contemporary art galleries, design showrooms and unique boutiques any day of the week, but try to visit at its lively best during monthly First Friday evenings or the Vintage Market and Open Market on Sundays.
Ways to relax in Boston
When it comes to kicking back, Bostonians adore the water and their sport.
Watching the Red Sox at legendary Fenway Park is a Boston essential during the baseball season. However, this city roars for sport year round, being home to basketball’s Celtics, ice-hockey’s Bruins and the New England Patriots — who have appeared in more Super Bowls than any other NFL team. Want to watch or even participate in the region’s most widely viewed sporting event? Be there in April for the famous Boston Marathon, which attracts 500,000 spectators.
For a whacky way to see the city’s sights and enjoy the water, climb on board one of the hugely popular Boston Duck Tours’ WWII amphibious vehicles, which trundle along the streets before splashing into the Charles River for a sightseeing cruise.
Boston is famous as a whale watching hub, and many whales return to the New England coast year after year (so much so that they have names!). The season runs from March through to November. A whale watching trip by high-speed catamaran will ensure you get maximum time on the water in the company of these majestic giants of the deep.
Green thumbs will love a relaxing meander in the Public Garden next to Boston Common. This was America’s first public botanical garden, and is a lovely spot for picnics, for wandering among formal plantings and statues, and for being ferried around the lake in an eye-catching Swan Boat.
You’ve heard the name; now visit the picturesque island retreat known as Martha’s Vineyard. A guided tour is an easy and relaxed way to do it. Enjoy selected Boston hotel pick-up, air-conditioned transport, your ferry transfer to and from the island, and discounts at local attractions. Once on the island, explore at your own pace or take part in an optional three-hour tour.
Do you have any tips to add to our Boston travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
For more information, please visit www.bostonusa.com.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Patricia Maunder has been a media professional for more than 20 years, and has worked in print, online and radio. Currently based in Melbourne, she considers the Canadian city of Montreal to be her ‘other’ hometown — having lived there from 2012 to 2016. Patricia has travelled in every continent except the one that’s beckoned since she was a child — Antarctica. A travel writer as well as an arts journalist, she enjoys culturally themed journeys and nature-based adventures.