Considering Boston’s large student population and extensive green spaces, it’s no surprise to see urban outdoorsy people running along the Esplanade and cycling the Emerald Necklace. For water bugs, the Charles River and the Boston Harbor offer opportunities for kayaking, sailing and even swimming, if you don't mind the frigid temperatures.
Cruises & Whale Watching
You don't have to commandeer your own boat to experience Boston from the water. Tour boats cruise the Inner Harbor and the Charles River, as well as journey out to the Harbor Islands. These tours generally run from April to October, though the season is shorter for the Harbor Islands.
The most rewarding boat trip from Boston is a whale-watching tour, which cruises out to Stellwagen Bank, a rich feeding ground for marine life. Eagle-eyed passengers usually see several species of whales, including humpback, fin and minke, as well as white-sided dolphins and many kinds of seabirds. There are naturalists on board to help spot and answer questions. Whale-watch cruises run from April to October.
Boston is becoming an excellent cycling city, as each year sees more bicycles to rent or share, more bicycle lanes, more bicycle parking and more bicycle safety awareness. For those not comfortable riding on the crowded city streets, there are several scenic off-road cycling trails.
Boston is a city by the sea, and on a river. These two waterfronts offer lots of chances for watery fun, including canoeing, kayaking, sailing and swimming. The season is relatively short (April to October; July to September for swimming) and the water is cold (average 68°F in summer), but the air is salty and the breeze is sweet.
In Boston, there's plenty of winter to go around. Outdoor ice-skating rinks offer an easy way to embrace winter in the city, and there are also ski facilities (downhill and cross-country) just a few miles from the city center, including the Blue Hills Ski Area (www.ski-bluehills.com) and the Weston Cross-Country Ski Track (www.skiboston.com).
Walking the Freedom Trail
Summon your inner Paul Revere and follow the red-brick road of the Freedom Trail, from the Boston Common to the Bunker Hill Monument. This 2.5-mile walking trail is the best introduction to revolutionary Boston, tracing the locations of the events that earned this town its status as the 'Cradle of Liberty.'
Even though it's called the Freedom Trail, it covers more than revolutionary history. You'll find some of Boston's oldest landmarks, as well as the sites where Boston prospered in the postrevolutionary period.
- 1635 The Puritans establish the first public school in the home of the schoolmaster. Now the Boston Latin School, it still operates in Fenway.
- 1688 Amid much wrangling with the local leadership, King's Chapel is founded as an Anglican congregation in Puritan Boston.
- March 5, 1770 The Boston Massacre is the first violent conflict leading up to the War for Independence.
- December 16, 1773 Angry protesters have a Tea Party, storming out of the Old South Meeting House, raiding a merchant ship docked nearby and dumping crates of tea overboard.
- April 18, 1775 The sexton hangs two lanterns in the Old North Church to signal the Redcoats' route to Concord. Paul Revere rides from his home on North Sq to warn the patriots of the Redcoats' approach.
- June 17, 1775 The Battle of Bunker Hill inflicts significant damage to British troops both physically and psychologically.
- July 18, 1776 The Declaration of Independence is read for the first time in Boston, from the balcony of the Old State House.
- October 21, 1797 The 44-gun USS Constitution is launched from a Boston shipyard, just in time for victorious battles in the new nation's first naval wars.
- 1798 Symbolic of the new state, the new Massachusetts State House becomes the seat of government for the Commonwealth.
1 Boston Common
The Freedom Trail kicks off at the Boston Common, America's oldest public park and a centerpiece of the city. The 50-acre green is crisscrossed with walking paths and dotted with monuments. Don't miss the powerful memorial to the victims of the Boston Massacre, erected in 1888.
2 Massachusetts State House
Overlooking the Boston Common from the northeast corner, the Massachusetts State House occupies a proud spot atop the city's last remaining hill – land that was previously part of John Hancock’s cow pasture. Other members of the Sons of Liberty (a clandestine network of patriots during the American Revolution) also had a hand in building the new capitol, literally: Samuel Adams and Paul Revere laid the cornerstones on July 4, 1795.
3 Park St Church
Just south of the State House, the soaring spire of Park St Church has been an unmistakable landmark since 1809. The church earned the moniker 'Brimstone Corner' both for its usage as a gunpowder storage place during the War of 1812 and for its fiery preaching.
4 Granary Burying Ground
Walk north on Tremont St, where you will pass the Egyptian Revival gates of the Granary Burying Ground. Steeped in history, the serene cemetery is the final resting place of many of the Sons of Liberty, as well as the victims of the Boston Massacre and other historical figures.
5 King's Chapel & Burying Ground
Continue north to School St, where the Georgian King's Chapel overlooks its adjacent burying ground. It is perhaps an odd choice for inclusion on the Freedom Trail, since it was founded as an Anglican church in 1688. It does, however, contain a large bell crafted by Paul Revere, and the prestigious Governor's pew, once occupied by George Washington.
6 Site of the First Public School
Turn east on School St, and take note of the bronze statue of Benjamin Franklin outside Old City Hall. A plaque commemorates this spot as the site of the country's first public school. Enter the courtyard to discover some of the school's distinguished alumni and some quirky artwork.
7 Old Corner Bookstore
Continue east to the intersection of School St and Washington St. The little brick building on your left is known as the Old Corner Bookstore, a literary and intellectual hot spot for 75 years. Strangely, it is now a Mexican fast-food joint.
8 Old South Meeting House
Diagonally opposite across Washington St, the Old South Meeting House saw the beginnings of one of the American Revolution's most vociferous protests, the Boston Tea Party. Come off the street and listen to a reenactment of what went down that day.
9 Old State House
Before the revolution, the seat of the Massachusetts government was the Old State House, a redbrick colonial edifice that is now surrounded by modern buildings and busy streets. Inside, you can peruse historic artifacts and listen to firsthand accounts of revolutionary events. Outside, gaze up at the balcony, where the Declaration of Independence was first read to Bostonians in 1776.
10 Boston Massacre Site
In front of the Old State House, the cobblestone circle marks the site of the Boston Massacre, the revolution's first violent conflict, in 1770. On March 5, an angry crowd of protesters was throwing snowballs and rocks at the British soldiers, who eventually fired into the crowd, killing five.
11 Faneuil Hall
Nearly every visitor to Boston stops at Quincy Market to grab a beer or shop for souvenirs, but most bypass historic Faneuil Hall, the original market and public meeting place that was built in 1740. Pause to admire the bronze statue of Samuel Adams, who sits astride his horse in Dock Sq. Then ascend to the 2nd-floor hall, where Adams was one of the many orators to speak out against British rule.
12 Paul Revere House
From Faneuil Hall, cross the Rose Kennedy Greenway and head up Hanover St into the heart of the North End. A zigzag right on to Richmond St and left on North St brings you to charming North Sq, once home to Paul Revere. The weathered clapboard house here – Paul Revere House – is the oldest example in Boston, as most other wooden construction was destroyed by the fires that ravaged the city. This is likely where Paul Revere commenced his famous midnight ride.
13 Old North Church
Back on Hanover St, walk two blocks north to Paul Revere Mall. Besides a dramatic statue of the patriot himself, this park also provides a lovely vantage point to view your next destination, the Old North Church. Boston's oldest house of worship, the 1723 church played a crucial role in revolutionary events. Take a breather in the delightful gardens behind the church.
14 Copp's Hill Burying Ground
From the church, head west on Hull St to Copp's Hill Burying Ground. This quiet corner contains some of the city's oldest gravestones and offers grand views across the river to Charlestown. Find the headstone of Daniel Malcolm, which is littered with bullet holes from British troops who apparently took offense at his epitaph. Incidentally, little is known about Malcolm's actual role in protests or revolution; historical records only show that he was arrested for failing to pay duty on 60 casks of wine.
15 USS Constitution
Continue west on Hull St to its end. Turn left on Commercial St and walk across the Charlestown Bridge. Turning right on Constitution Rd brings you to the Charlestown Navy Yard, home of the world's oldest commissioned warship, the USS Constitution. Board the ship for a tour of the upper decks, where you will learn about its exploits in America's earliest naval battles.
16 Bunker Hill Monument
Walk through the winding cobblestone streets up to the 220ft granite obelisk that is the Bunker Hill Monument. Check out the dioramas in the museum to better understand what transpired on that fateful day in June 1775, when the Battle of Bunker Hill took place. Then climb 294 steps to the top of the monument to enjoy the panorama of the city, the harbor and the North Shore.
Although the Freedom Trail is easy enough to follow on your own, there are also plenty of guided tours. Let the professionals show you around Boston's revolutionary sites.
National Park Service Partial tours (not including Charlestown) depart from Faneuil Hall. Bonus: it's free!
Freedom Trail Foundation Guides in period costume lead 'A Walk into History' (from the Boston Common to Faneuil Hall), as well as tours of the North End.
Boston by Foot Offers two versions of the Freedom Trail tour, 'Boston by Little Feet' for kids aged six to 12, and the more comprehensive 'Road to Revolution.'
Photo Walks See the historic sites and learn how to photograph them.
Free Tours By Foot Guests decide how good this 90-minute tour is and how much they want to pay.
Need to Know
Start Boston Common (T – Park St)
Finish Bunker Hill (T – Community College)
Distance 2.5 miles
Freedom Trail Foundation (www.thefreedomtrail.org) Includes extensive information about all 16 sites.
Consider purchasing a Freedom Trail Ticket (adult/child $11/1), which covers admission to the Old South Meeting House and Paul Revere House.