Boston's history recalls revolution and transformation, and today the city is still among the country’s most forward-thinking and barrier-breaking cities.
Art & Music
The arts have thrived in Boston ever since the 19th century, when this cultural capital was dubbed the Athens of America. Certainly, the intellectual elite appreciated their fine paintings and classical music, but they were also dedicated to spreading the cultural wealth, establishing museums, libraries and symphony orchestras for all to enjoy. Today the lucky residents of (and visitors to) Boston benefit from their largesse. These venerable institutions play an integral role on Boston's cultural stage, which has significantly expanded to include dynamic contemporary art, music and theater scenes.
'Fanatic' is no idle word here. Boston fans are passionate about sports. And with the five-time world-champion Patriots, the long-overdue World Series–winning Red Sox, the winningest basketball team in history, the Celtics, and the highly successful and historic hockey team, the Bruins, there is a lot to be passionate about. Boston's college teams also inspire fierce loyalties and staunch rivalries. No less spirited is the country's oldest and most celebrated running event, the world-famous Boston Marathon, and the world's largest two-day rowing event, the Head of the Charles Regatta.
A word of advice: when in Boston, eat as much seafood as possible. Local specialties include the 'sacred cod,' fresh steamed lobster, oysters on the half-shell and thick, creamy chowder. You can eat seafood around the city, but especially in the fish-centered Seaport District, where it's accompanied by spectacular harbor views. The creatures of the sea are your top priority, but don't miss the chance to devour delectable pasta in the North End and to sample diverse Asian dishes in Chinatown. Trendy fusion restaurants draw on all of these eclectic influences to present contemporary cuisine that is uniquely Boston.
For all intents and purposes, Boston is the oldest city in America. And you can hardly walk a step over its cobblestone streets without running into some historic site. The Freedom Trail winds its way around the city center, connecting 16 historically significant sites, from the country's oldest public park to a Revolutionary War battle site. These are the very places where history unfolded, especially the events leading to the American fight for independence from Britain. Other sites remember the city's role in the abolition movement, its cultural contributions and more. In effect, Boston is one fantastic outdoor history museum.
The best city parks in Boston
7 min read — Published May 14th, 2022
Lonely Planet EditorsWriter
Take a break from the crowded downtown streets and discover another side of Boston. Here are some of our favorite Boston city parks.
Discover some of the most unique and fulfilling experiences your next destination has to offer.
Tips & Travel trends to help you pick the perfect time to visit this destination.
Add visiting these must-see local hot spots and culture centers to your next travel itinerary.
Plan a day trip full of local flavor and get back in time with these same-day options.
Browse the various transportation options to make your trip that much easier when you arrive.
Ways to maximize the fun without spending a dime on your next great adventure.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Boston.
Home of the Boston Red Sox since 1912, Fenway Park is the oldest operating baseball park in the country. As such, the park has many quirks that make for a unique experience. See them all on a ballpark tour of this Boston landmark, or come see the Sox playing in their natural habitat. The Green Monster The 37ft-high left-field wall is only 310ft away from home plate (compared to the standard 325ft), so it's popular among right-handed hitters, who can score an easy home run with a high hit to left. However, batters can just as easily be deprived of a home run when a powerful but low line drive bounces off the Monster for an off-the-wall double. As all Red Sox fans know, "the wall giveth and the wall taketh away." The Green Monster was painted green in 1947 and since then it has become a patented part of the Fenway experience. Literally. The color is officially known as "Fence Green" and the supplier will not share the formula. At the base of the Green Monster is the original scoreboard, still updated manually from behind the wall. The Pesky Pole The Pesky Pole, Fenway's right-field foul pole, is named for former shortstop Johnny Pesky. Johnny "Mr Red Sox" Pesky was associated with the team for 15 years as a player and 46 as a manager, coach and special instructor, until his death in 2012. The Triangle Many a double has turned into a triple when the ball has flown into the deepest, darkest corner of center field (where the walls form a triangle). At 425ft, it's the furthest distance from home plate. The Red Seat The bleachers at Fenway Park are green, except for one lone red seat: seat 21 at section 42, row 37. This is supposedly the longest home run ever hit at Fenway Park – officially 502ft, hit by Red Sox left fielder Ted Williams in 1946. Yawkey Way: race and the Red Sox For more than four decades, the road on the west side of Fenway Park was called Yawkey Way, named for the former owner of the Red Sox. In 2018, with the blessing of current Red Sox ownership, city officials changed it back to its original Jersey St. Namesake Tom Yawkey – Red Sox owner from 1933 until his death in 1976 – was revered for the good work of his family foundation. But during Yawkey's tenure, while society and baseball changed, the team and the city did not, sparking allegations of racism. Red Sox management resisted efforts to integrate, and Yawkey passed on the chance to sign baseball greats Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. The Red Sox were the last all-white team in the major leagues, holding out until 1959 to sign their first African American player. The racist legacy of the organization, as well as the city, plagued the franchise well after Yawkey’s death. Even now, this seemingly progressive city has a reputation for overtly racist displays, especially by sports fans. The Boston Globe documented that athletes reported more incidents of being targeted by racial slurs in Boston than in any other city in the past 25 years (including one highly publicized incident in 2017). In an attempt to make Fenway Park more welcoming to all, current Red Sox owner John Henry led the push to revert the street name, telling local newspapers that he was "haunted" by the club's history. The Red Sox are also involved in the Take the Lead Campaign, an initiative to end hate speech and to promote diversity and inclusion on the fields. Incidentally, the former Yawkey Way Ext is now known as David Ortiz Dr, after the Dominican-born slugger, who led the Sox to three World Series victories before retiring a hero in 2016. Fenway Park tours Tours operate year-round. Hour-long tours depart at the top of the hour, but there are short 15-minute tours for those in a hurry. All tours are fully accessible. Tickets can be bought online in advance. There's also the option of a virtual guided drone tour of Fenway Park. Boston Red Sox tickets If you want to see a game, it's best to buy tickets well in advance. Limited game-day tickets go on sale (one per person) at Gate E, 90 minutes before the game, but people start lining up five hours ahead of time.
America's oldest college, Harvard University is one of the country's most prestigious universities. It was originally founded in Harvard Yard in 1636 by the General Court of Massachusetts with donations from Reverend John Harvard, and was intended to educate men for the ministry. Harvard University's notable alumni Alumni of the original Ivy League school include eight US presidents, and dozens of Nobel Laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners. Barack Obama graduated from Harvard Law School in 1991. Founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, went to Harvard as did actress Natalie Portman and actor Tommy Lee Jones. Tours of Harvard University campus At the time of writing, only virtual tours are available. When visitors are once again welcome on campus, they should contact Smith Campus Center for information on historical tours. Self-guided tours are also available – start with the historic buildings clustered around Harvard Yard. Harvard Yard While the university now occupies vast areas in Cambridge, Allston and further afield, its geographic and historic heart remains at Harvard Yard. This is where red-brick buildings and leaf-covered lawns exude academia, where students congregate to study and socialize, and where graduates proudly receive their degrees. Flanked by its oldest buildings, the yard's main entrance at Johnston Gate opens up to wide lawns, gracious architecture and a buzzy academic atmosphere. John Harvard Statue The focal point of the yard is the John Harvard Statue, where every Harvard hopeful has a photo taken (and touches the statue’s shiny shoe for good luck). Daniel Chester French’s sculpture, inscribed "John Harvard, Founder of Harvard College, 1638", is known as the "statue of three lies": it does not actually depict Harvard (since no image of him exists), but a random student; John Harvard was not the founder of the college, but its first benefactor in 1638; and the college was actually founded two years earlier in 1636. The Harvard symbol hardly lives up to the university’s motto, Veritas, or "truth." Massachusetts Hall and Harvard Hall Flanking Johnston Gate are the two oldest buildings on campus. South of the gate, Massachusetts Hall (1720) houses the offices of the President of the University. It is the oldest building at Harvard and one of the oldest academic buildings in the country. North is Harvard Hall (1766), which originally housed the library. Memorial Hall North of Harvard Yard, just outside Bradstreet Gates and across the Plaza, this massive Victorian Gothic building was built to honor Harvard's Civil War heroes. The impressive Memorial Transept is usually open for visitors to admire the stained-glass windows and stenciled walls. Most of the building's artistic treasures are contained in Annenburg Hall, which is not open to the public.
The educational playground that is the Museum of Science has more than 600 interactive exhibits. Favorites include the world’s largest lightning-bolt generator, a full-scale space capsule, a world population meter and an impressive dinosaur exhibit. Kids go wild exploring computers and technology, maps and models, birds and bees, and human evolution. Exhibitions and presentations frequently change, but here are some of the permanent highlights. Hall of Human Life The Hall of Human Life takes visitors on an interactive journey into the human body. You'll explore biology, consider aspects of what makes you you, and look at how well you manage your health. Live presentations See bolts fly around in the world's largest Van der Graaff generator in Lightning! and see science brought to life in a rotating schedule of presentations in Science Live! Live Animal Care Center More than 120 furry, feathered and scaly creatures feature in daily live animal presentations at the museum. Go behind the scenes at the Live Animal Care Center to see how they live and how they're cared for when they're not taking part in a demonstration. Charles Hayden Planetarium The Charles Hayden Planetarium boasts a state-of-the-art projection system that casts a heavenly star show, as well as programs about black holes and other astronomical mysteries. Mugar Omni Theater For total IMAX immersion, check out the space-themed and natural-science-oriented flicks at the Mugar Omni Theater. A sweet sound system will have you believing you’re actually roving around Mars or being attacked by sharks. Dinosaurs: Modeling the Mesozoic With life-size models, fossils, bones, footprints, and dino dung, see how paleontologists piece together information to form our understanding of pre-historic beasts today. Discovery Center The Discovery Center (temporarily closed) is a hands-on play area for kids under the age of eight. Tickets and other practicalities Timed-entry tickets must be booked in advance. There is an additional charge for the Planetarium, Omni Films and 4D films. There are accessible features throughout the museum including wheelchairs, assistive listening devices, and ASL interpreters. The Riverview Cafe is a food court–style cafeteria on-site; food must not be consumed in the Exhibit Halls.
Teeming with sea creatures of all sizes, shapes and colors, this giant fishbowl is the centerpiece of downtown Boston's waterfront. There are countless exhibits here exploring the lives and habitats of underwater oddities, as well as penguins and marine mammals. Here are some of the highlights. Giant Ocean Tank The main attraction at the aquarium is the four-story Giant Ocean Tank, which swirls with thousands of tropical creatures great and small, including turtles, sharks and eels. The vast tank holds 200,000 gallons of water, and is so huge that the rest of the aquarium was built around it. Seals and sea lions Harbor seals hang out in an observation tank near the aquarium entrance, while the open-air Marine Mammal Center is home to northern fur seals and California sea lions. Visitors can watch training sessions where the pinnipeds show off their intelligence and athleticism. Note that some animal rights groups make a strong case that marine mammals should not be kept in captivity, no matter how classy their quarters. Penguins Most of the aquarium's 1st floor is dedicated to an enormous penguin colony, home to more than 60 birds representing two different species: rockhoppers and African (or jackass) penguins. Shark and Ray Touch Tank The Shark and Ray Touch Tank recreates a mangrove swamp full of Atlantic rays, cownose rays and five species of sharks. Currently it's open for viewing only (no touching), but you can still learn about the importance of protecting ocean habitats and see plenty of activity through the crystal-clear water. Amazon Rainforest Upstairs, six different tanks showcase the flora and fauna of the Amazon rain forest, one of the most diverse habitats in the world. Look out for poison dart frogs, piranhas and anacondas. Olympic Coast exhibit Ever wanted to see a giant Pacific octopus, the largest of its species? This is where you could spot them, stretching their tentacles among other Pacific ocean creatures, including sea cucumbers, hermit crabs, and many different types of fish. Simons Theatre The Simons Theatre features short films with aquatic themes. Follow a pod of humpback whales on their migration, or get to know more about the incredible hunting skills of great white sharks. Closed captioning devices are available for all films. Whale watching The whale-watching cruises run by the aquarium in partnership with Boston Harbor Cruises (March to November) head out to Stellwagen Bank where whale sightings are guaranteed. You may also see sea birds, dolphins and other marine life. Tickets and other practicalities Timed-tickets to the aquarium should be bought online in advance. There is an additional charge for screenings at the Simons Theatre. Children under 3 may visit for free. Wheelchair-users may enter the aquarium free of charge. Whale-watching tickets should be booked through Boston Harbor Cruises, and can be combined with entry to the aquarium at a small discount.
Tucked into Franklin Park, the zoo features a half-dozen different habitats, as well as special exhibits devoted to birds and butterflies. The highlight is the well-designed Tropical Forest pavilion, complete with lush vegetation, waterfalls, lowland gorillas and over 30 species of free-flight birds. The Australian Outback Trail allows visitors to walk among red kangaroos and wallabies. Several exhibits are devoted to life on the savannah, showcasing an African lion, as well as giraffes, zebras and wildebeests. The Franklin Farm lets kids get up close and personal with sheep and goats. In addition to the many animal exhibits, the zoo has a wild and wonderful 10,000-sq-ft playground. Tickets and other practical information Timed-entry tickets should be bought in advance, although some day tickets are released intermittently. The zoo closes for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, but is otherwise open year-round. Take bus 22, 28, 29 or 45 from Ruggles station. It's free to park at the zoo. Boston Lights at the Zoo Franklin Park Zoo plays host to Boston Lights: A Lantern Experience where the night sky is lit by many different hand-crafted lanterns. The displays show illuminated sunflowers and cherry blossoms, as well as a huge Tyrannosaurs Rex. The event runs every evening from July through to October, and tickets must be bought in advance.
Harvard University was originally founded here in 1636, and Harvard Yard remains the historic and geographic heart of the university campus. Flanked by its oldest buildings, the yard's main entrance at Johnston Gate opens up to wide lawns, gracious architecture and a buzzy academic atmosphere. Free historical tours depart from the Smith Campus Center, or you can take a self-guided tour.
'Boston Harbor a teapot tonight!' To protest against unfair taxes, a gang of rebellious colonists dumped 342 chests of tea into the water. The 1773 protest – the Boston Tea Party – set into motion the events leading to the Revolutionary War. Nowadays, replica Tea Party Ships are moored at Griffin's Wharf, alongside an excellent experiential museum dedicated to the catalytic event. Using re-enactments, multimedia and fun exhibits, the museum addresses all aspects of the Boston Tea Party and subsequent events.
Boston has become a focal point for contemporary art in the 21st century, with the Institute of Contemporary Art leading the way. The building is a work of art in itself: a glass structure cantilevered over a waterside plaza. The vast light-filled interior allows for multimedia presentations, educational programs and studio space, as well as the development of the permanent collection.
Founded in 1852, the esteemed Boston Public Library lends credence to Boston’s reputation as the 'Athens of America.' The old McKim building is notable for its magnificent facade and exquisite interior art. Pick up a free brochure and take a self-guided tour; alternatively, free guided tours depart from the entrance hall (times vary; see the website for the current schedule).