From walking the Freedom Trail to strolling through historic cemeteries, visitors are bound to learn something new about our nation's roots. Discover the must-see Boston historical sites so you can get the most out of your trip.
1) The Freedom Trail
The Freedom Trail connects many of the most significant sites of our nation’s history, all within the city of Boston. Featuring a trail of museums, churches, meeting houses, parks, a ship, burying grounds, and historic markers, each site tells its own history regarding the American Revolution and beyond. This 2.5 mile trail features sixteen historic sites from the Boston Common to Paul Revere’s house in the North End. Of course, you don’t need a tour to follow the markers, although tours are available during business hours.
2) Charles River Esplanade
Stroll down the scenic Charles River Esplanade in the Back Bay Area for beautiful views, sun, and exercise. Stretching for 17 miles, visitors can walk, bike, canoe, kayak, rollerblade, and more. There’s even a playground for kids to explore. In addition, visitors can catch free summertime concerts as well as free moving showings at the Hatch Shell. Furthermore, the Hatch Shell features the iconic free Boston Pops concert each July 4th.
3) Boston Common
Founded in 1634, the Boston Common serves as an incredibly historic site with ties to the Revolutionary War, anti-Vietnam War rallies, civil rights rallies, and much more. Now owned by a nonprofit organization, the park contains beautiful walkways, fountains, statues, and play areas. Further, many families go ice-skating in the Frog Pond each year.
In addition, the Boston Common encompasses several historic sites and monuments including:
- The Great Elm
- Brewer Fountain
- John Paul II Placard
- Central Burying Ground
- Soldiers and sailors Monument
- Boston Foundation Monument
4) Faneuil Hall Marketplace
One of the most significant sites along the Freedom Trail, Faneuil Hall has served as a meeting place since the 1740s. Once a hotspot for hearing speeches during the Revolutionary War, it’s now home to Quincy Market where visitors can wander through food stalls and dine at numerous eateries. One of the top Boston historical sites, this is a perfect stop once you get hungry.
5) Bunker Hill Monument & Museum
The Bunker Hill Monument and Museum commemorates one of the first important battles of the Revolutionary War. Standing 221 feet, visitors can obtain a climbing pass from the museum to climb to the top for incredible views. Across the street from the monument, the museum showcases exhibits on the battle, construction of the monument, and the history of Charlestown. One of the most important Boston historical sites, you don't want to skip out.
6) Boston Massacre Site
Along the Freedom Trail lies a marker indicating the site of the Boston Massacre. Located at the intersection of State and Congress Streets outside of the Old State House downtown, the marker lies a few yards away from where the massacre took place on March 5, 1770. Each year, the Bostonian Society hosts reenactments of this significant historical event that led to the rallying of Bostonians against the British Crown and the expulsion of occupying troops.
7) The Paul Revere House
Built in 1680, this iconic Bostonian residence houses three generations of fascinating history. First built and owned by a wealthy merchant, Paul Revere then bought the two-story home in 1770, where he lived with his wife, his children, and his mother. After he sold the home in 1800, the house operated as a boarding house for sailors, immigrant tenement, and various businesses throughout the years. In 1908, the house opened to the public as one of the earliest house museums in the nation after restoration.
Today, the house stands as the oldest building in Downtown Boston and one of the few 17th century buildings in our nation's inner cities. Visitors are welcome to self-tour the period-furnished home of Revere's family and learn about their lives and the real story of the historic Midnight Ride.
8) Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum
With seven distinct sections highlighting Boston Tea Party of 1773, the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum enables guests to travel back in time through interactive exhibits. Guests can experience reenactments of the historic event with full-scale replica 18th century sailing vessels, historic artifacts, live actors, a multi-sensory award-winning film, and much more. Note that you need to purchase a ticket to tour sections 1-5 of the museum.
9) Old North Church
Visit the site that launched the American Revolution and the phrase, "One if by land, two if by sea." Made famous due to Paul Revere's midnight ride to signal the arrival of British troops, the Old North Church lies along the Freedom Trail. Founded in 1723, the church is the oldest standing church in Boston. Visitors are welcome to take a seat in one of the box pews and listen to an eight minute talk on the history of the church and the midnight ride.
Furthermore, guests can relax in out of the church's five gardens, visit the gift shop, or learn about 18th century chocolate through the colonial chocolate program. In addition, visitors can see the Patriots Corner Gallery in the historic Clough House. For a more exclusive, detailed peak into the past, you can take a Behind the Scenes Tour.
10) Old State House Museum
Built in 1713, the Old State House once served as a seat of British power before transforming to a meeting hall for crucial debates that sparked the American Revolution. Today, visitors can connect to our nation's roots through interactive, hands-on exhibits suitable for all ages. Explore the Revolutionary story of Massachusetts, experience the Council Chamber as it once appeared in the 18th century, learn about the Boston Massacre, and much more.
11) The Black Heritage Trail & Museum of African American History
The Black Heritage Trail walking tour in Beacon Hill guides visitors through 14 significant ships that played a role in sharing African American history. You can stop by the Abiel Smith School for a helpful, free map.
Moreover, the Museum of African American History, located in the former Abiel Smith School, takes visitors on a journey through Boston's Black history. The museum is the largest museum dedicated to preserving and interpreting the contributions of African Americans in New England with one site in Boston and another on the Island of Nantucket.
12) USS Constitution
Fun fact: The USS Constitution is the oldest ship in the world still afloat. Better yet, the public is welcome to visit this historic ship, which is permanently locked in the Charleston Navy Yard. Explore what life at sea was like over 200 years ago with a free tour. Note that tours are available every 30 minutes days from 10 am – 4 pm (extended hours offered during summer).
13) Old South Meeting House
The Old South Meeting House has served as an active center for free speech and civic dialogue since the 18th century. Built in 1729 as a Puritan congregational church, the meeting house eventually served as the organizing point for the Boston Tea Party of 1773. Since 1877, Old South has operated as museum, historic site, education institution, and center for public forums and performances.
14) JFK Presidential Library & Museum
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum commemorates the 35th president's life, leadership and legacy. Located on a ten-acre park, the library features an extensive collection of historic materials that detail President Kennedy's administration and the politics of his time.
15) Irish Heritage Trail
Did you know that the largest ethnic group in Boston is Irish (almost 16% of the population)? You can walk the free Irish Heritage Trail to learn about some of the most noteworthy contributions made by the Irish community. Overall, visitors can see 16 sites along the 3-mile trail.
16) Boston Public Library
A beautiful work of architecture, The Boston Public Library contains more than 1.7 million rare books and manuscripts as well as a major art collection. Further, because of its vast collection of works, the Boston Public Library is considered one of the five most important libraries in the nation. Guests are welcome to take a free tour to learn more about the library’s history and collections, which is offered multiple times a day.
17) Historic Burial Grounds
Because Boston is almost 400 years old, the city’s graveyards boast fascinating characters and historical significance around every corner. For instance, the Granary Burying Ground houses many notable historical figures such as John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, Crispus Attucks, and Robert Treat Paine. One of the top Boston historical sites, visiting the burial grounds is more fascinating than creepy.
With three active graveyards and sixteen historic burial grounds, those interested in the macabre won’t be bored.
18) Boston Athenaeum
The Boston Athenaeum is one of the oldest and most prestigious independent libraries and cultural establishments in the nation. Formed in 1805, the Athenaeum has informed the masses on works of literature, the arts, history, sciences, and more, now containing over half a million volumes. In addition, the institution houses an impressive art gallery and presents exhibitions and sponsors concerts, lectures, and community discussions.
Further, guests can find the infamous human skin book in the first floor reading room. Included in the admission fee, you’ll find the memoirs of criminal James Allen (aka George Walton), which are bound in his skin.
19) Boston Garden
The oldest public garden in the U.S., the Boston Public Garden was established in 1837 and presents many lovely meandering walkways, species of flowers and plants, and bird species that populate the area. Guests can ride the Swan Boats, picnic, play sports, and much more.
20) Boston Harbor Islands
The Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area presents 34 islands and peninsulas that enable visitors to see historic lighthouses, hike, camp, fish, swim, and more. Further, Fort Warren on Goerges Island offers tours and fun, educational special events. Visitors can take a short car, ferry, and boat ride away from downtown to reach the islands.
21) Castle Island
Castle Island has housed several forts since 1643, with Fort Independence serving as the most notable. Built in the mid-19th century, Fort Independence was under federal control and used by the military during WWI and WWII. Today, this 22-acre urban park is open to the public, weather permitting, from Memorial Day to Columbus Day.
Visit the Most Historic Sites in Boston
Now that you know the best Boston historic sites, where will you venture to first?