22 Fascinating Historic Places to Visit in Boston
Founded in 1630, Boston is one of the oldest cities in the United States of America. With this, it comes as no surprise to find some of the country’s most fascinating and revered historic sites scattered across the city, accompanied by an impressive collection of museums showcasing the city’s preserved presidential, art, naval and war history.
Bostonians have never lost their identity, whether that means tossing tea overboard or cheering for the Red Sox, win or lose. From Boston Harbor and Paul Revere House to Fenway Park and Trinity Church, Boston delights with its rich history and diverse neighbourhoods. With over 400 million annual visitors to HotelsCombined, we’ve highlighted 22 of the most famous historic sights in Boston.
1. Freedom Trail
The Freedom Trail is usually the first port of call for history lovers when visiting Boston. Consider it a four-kilometre-long introduction through 16 of the city’s notable landmarks including museums, churches, burial grounds and parks, many of which appear on this list. Forget Doc’s DeLorean, the Freedom Trail is a real-life time machine.
Travellers can begin their trek through history at any section of the Freedom Trail, but the official starting point is the Visitor Centre in Boston Common. From here, they’ll encounter such historic sites such as Old South Meeting House, Granary Burying Ground, Paul Revere House and Bunker Hill Monument. The Freedom Trail can be walked independently or as part of a group tour, which is usually run by costumed guides highlighting unforgettable tales from the city’s past.
2. Boston Common
Boston Common is America’s oldest city park, dating back to 1634. Located in downtown Boston, it spans across 20 hectares and is part of the city’s Emerald Necklace, a collection of lush parklands. Boston Common is home to a range of historic attractions including the Boston Massacre Memorial, Brewer Fountain and Parkman Bandstand.
Travellers can visit Central Burying Ground, the resting place of many local poets, artists and composers. During winter, Frog Pond becomes a beautiful public ice-skating rink, and it’s possible to see the annual lighting of the Christmas tree. Other events include Shakespeare on the Common and the Outdoor Opera Series.
3. Fenway Park
Few stadiums are more revered than Fenway Park. Home of the Boston Red Sox since 1912, it has set the stage for numerous memorable sporting moments including ten World Series. Considered a “shrine” by many baseball legends and fans, but maybe not by those who’ve lost there, Fenway Park has many favoured features such as a lone red seat signifying the longest home run ever hit at Fenway.
Fenway isn’t just known for its baseball action. The hallowed sporting field has hosted ice hockey, soccer and American football games, along with concerts by The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Ray Charles and other music superstars. Fenway Park was also a prominent filming location for the movie Fever Pitch. However, perhaps one of the greatest moments ever at Fenway was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s last speech of the 1944 US presidential campaign, which also featured Frank Sinatra and Orson Wells. Talk about a team of heavy hitters.
4. Public Garden
America’s first public botanical garden, Public Garden was built in 1837 and has since been immortalised in literature and films including Good Will Hunting. The garden is home to several statues including “Bagheera” from The Jungle Book, but none are more prominent than Thomas Ball’s “Equestrian Statue of George Washington,” constructed in 1869.
Public Garden is awash with vibrant colours during spring each year with prized tulips and roses. Those who visit Public Garden between April and September can also experience one of its main attractions, the Swan Boats. These quaint pedal-powered vessels let visitors sit back and glide around the serpentine while the driver commentates on significant landmarks.
5. Faneuil Hall
Built in 1742, Faneuil Hall is one of Boston’s oldest landmarks and is rich in fascinating history. The marketplace and meeting hall has been the site of numerous independence speeches by prominent Americans such as Samuel Adams, with a bronze portrait statue standing outside. Known as “the Cradle of Liberty,” Faneuil Hall is nowadays part of a greater marketplace.
Open every day of the week, Faneuil Hall Marketplace treats visitors to local stalls selling delicious food, artisan goods, clothing, toys and more. There’s also regular entertainment each day such as live music and street performers. Less than a 10-minute walk from Faneuil Hall, The Langham Boston retains its own charming history dating back to Victorian England with elegant guest rooms draped in yesteryear opulence.
6. Boston Harbor
Boston Harbor has been featured prominently in American history, most notably as the site of the world-famous Boston Tea Party political protest in 1773. It has been consistently used as a shipping port since its discovery in 1614 and is now home to the Port of Boston, where visitors can embark on various sightseeing and whale-watching cruises.
It’s possible to simply stroll along the Boston Harborwalk using the designated pedestrian walkway, which hugs the water’s edge and offers excellent city skyline views. Beyond the Boston Harborwalk, the harbour also includes 34 islands, such as Georges Island, Castle Island and Hangman Island, which are all historically significant. Peddocks Island was even used in the filming of Shutter Island.
7. Museum of Fine Arts
The past becomes present at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, home to more than 450,000 works of art. The building alone is worth the visit, built in 1909, but is merely a taste of the history and culture that awaits inside. The fourth-largest museum in the United States, the collection deals with cultures in America and around the world.
Highlights include 18th-century American artwork, Egyptian sculptures and sarcophagi, Chinese calligraphy, and paintings by Monet, Van Gogh and Renoir. These regular displays are joined by guest collections throughout the year. The museum also hosts programs for all ages covering film, music, performance art and studio art. Visitors can learn painting, drawing, printmaking and more alongside professional artists.
8. Museum of Science
Nestled on the Charles River, the Museum of Science is considered by many to be America’s first all-encompassing science museum. It has over 700 interactive exhibits covering nature, optics, maths, electricity, nanotechnology, space and more, along with live presentations and an on-site zoo. Some of the most interesting historical exhibits include a 65-million-year-old triceratops fossil, early navigational instruments and some of the museum’s first-ever displays.
Mixing past with the present, the Museum of Science features IMAX and 4-D films, 3D simulation rides, planetarium shows, and live presentations in animation, lightning and energy. Those interested in wildlife can visit the Butterfly Garden or the Live Animal Care Center, where they can meet more than 50 species of animals.
9. Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum
The Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum is considered one of the city’s best museums. Visitors are transported back in time with the help of multi-sensory exhibits, costumed actors, hi-tech displays and two restored tea ships, the Eleanor and the Beaver. Visitors can explore the ships and even relive the night of the Boston Tea Party in 1773 by dumping tea overboard just like the Sons of Liberty.
The museum also includes 3D re-enactments from that fateful night and the Robinson Tea Chest, which has been preserved since 1773. The Minutemen Theatre hosts an award-winning documentary about the American Revolution on an enormous wrap-around screen, while Abigail’s Tea Room serves five different teas on the tranquil waterfront. Visitors can also save money on parking when they park at the Farnsworth Street Garage, only a short walk from the museum.
10. Paul Revere House
The Paul Revere House is the oldest house in downtown Boston and the former home of American patriot Paul Revere, who served as an officer in the American Revolution. Built in 1680, Paul Revere House is a treasured example of early Massachusetts Bay timber architecture, but also showcases the Georgian architectural phase from the 18th century.
A visit to this historic home can be self-guided or experienced as part of a tour. The latter includes walking tours, family-friendly storytelling, role play and a deeper immersion in Boston’s history. The official museum also includes exhibits on Paul Revere’s business ventures and famous midnight ride, a shop selling books and gifts, and three centuries of historic buildings including Lathrop Place and Pierce/Hichborn House.
11. Boston Children’s Museum
Established in 1913, the Boston Children’s Museum is the second-oldest children’s museum in the United States and has a firm focus on educating and entertaining kids. Every experience at the Boston Children’s Museum is designed to be innovative and engaging, many of which have delighted entire generations of young minds.
Permanent exhibits include the Art Studio, Construction Zone, Japanese House, Explore-a-Saurus and the New Balance Foundation Climb, a three-storey climbing fort. It is also one of the few children’s museums in the world that houses a collection of historical artefacts. History lovers can see exhibits on Native Americans, Japan, the ancient world, Americana, Pacific Northwest and nature.
12. Bunker Hill Monument
On June 17, 1775, British and American Patriot forces met in the American Revolution’s first pitched battle on Bunker Hill. The Patriots were defeated and 50 years later in 1827, the first stone of Bunker Hill Monument was laid. Completed in 1843, this 67-metre-high granite obelisk will forever commemorate the “Battle of Bunker Hill”.
The monument and accompanying museum are free to visit. Travellers can climb to the top of the monument for spectacular views of Boston and surrounding landmarks. The museum displays exhibit the famed battle, the construction of the Monument and Charlestown, including photographs and old machinery. A favourite among HotelsCombined visitors, Residence Inn Boston Harbor on Tudor Wharf provides self-contained guest rooms and complimentary breakfast near Bunker Hill Monument.
13. USS Constitution Museum
Housed in a restored shipyard building at the Charlestown Navy Yard, the USS Constitution Museum showcases Boston’s maritime history and the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat. This naval vessel, the USS Constitution, is arguably the highlight of any visit, named by former President George Washington and launched in 1797. The historic vessel served during the War of 1812, defeating five British warships and capturing numerous merchant ships.
Today, visitors can witness the USS Constitution in all her glory and talk with sailors serving aboard America’s oldest warship. Other exhibits teach visitors about life at sea in the 19th century and the War of 1812, including the epic battle between USS Constitution and HMS Java.
14. Old North Church
The Old North Church is located in Boston’s North End and featured prominently in the American Revolution. It is said to be the place where Robert Newman signalled the British army’s advance to fellow Patriots, lighting two lanterns in the steeple to signify the British were advancing via the river.
An official National Historic Landmark, Old North Church was built in 1723 and houses a sculpture of former President George Washington. The church is also home to a crypt, the resting place of many soldiers killed in the Battle of Bunker Hill, and a bell-ringing chamber with eight bells cast in England. Visitors can see these areas on a guided behind-the-scenes tour.
15. Old State House
Surrounded by towering skyscrapers, the Old State House stands out as one of America’s oldest public buildings. It was built in 1713 and served as the Massachusetts General Court until 1798. Both a National Historic Landmark and Boston Landmark, it is now a museum housing Revolution-era artefacts including Paul Revere’s print of the Boston Massacre, John Hancock’s velvet coat and actual tea from the Boston Tea Party.
The Old State House is itself a cherished monument, home to fascinating 300-year-old architecture such as a grand spiral staircase. Daily tours give visitors even greater knowledge of the Old State House and American Revolution. The “Blood on the Snow” show is an immersive theatrical performance, which takes place inside the very room where Boston’s leaders saved the town after the Boston Massacre.
16. Old South Meeting House
Known as the organising point for the Boston Tea Party, the Old South Meeting House is a famous historic landmark in downtown Boston. Completed in 1729, it has a 56-metre-high steeple and was almost destroyed in the Great Boston Fire of 1872. It is now a museum and still serves as a meeting place for people to express and discuss ideas, though fortunately there hasn’t been any talk of revolution for almost 300 years.
Visitors can use their smartphones to access audio tours about the varied history of Old South Meeting House. There are also regular scavenger hunts and the Voices of Protest exhibit, which showcases a 3D model of colonial Boston, John Hancock’s writing desk and tea leaves from the Boston Tea Party.
17. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
John F. Kennedy (JFK) was born in Massachusetts and served as the 35th President of the United States from 1961 until 1963. There is no better collection of JFK’s life than the John. F Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. Family photographs, political memorabilia and video documentaries help visitors discover more about this beloved leader.
As they wander through the museum’s halls, visitors can learn about JFK’s presidential campaign, his notable speeches, the American Civil Rights Movement, the Space Race and the Kennedy family. There are numerous artefacts from Kennedy’s presidency including his Oval Office furniture, along with a bonus exhibit on Ernest Hemingway, which holds the writer’s manuscripts, photographs and letters.
18. Fort Independence
Fort Independence, located on Castle Island just offshore from Boston Harbor, has been known by many names over the years such as “Castle William” and “Fort Adams”. The granite star fort was built in the 1800s and was used primarily during the Civil War, Spanish-American War and both World Wars. Renowned poet Edgar Allen Poe was even stationed there during his army service.
These days, Fort Independence is a state park, where visitors can wander around the numerous battlements and learn more about the lives of soldiers who served within its fortifications. The occasional ceremonial salute is fired from the fort’s still-working cannons. Despite the name, Castle Island is actually connected to the mainland and easy to reach via public transport or car.
19. Trinity Church
Constructed in the 1870s, Trinity Church is a beautiful Romanesque-style church with a clay roof, ornate walls, heavy arches, enormous organs and stained-glass windows. Today it is still a functioning church with multiple services each week and was used in the filming of The Boondock Saints. Visitors can explore the church on a self-guided or guided tour, which unveils the various outstanding artwork and architecture, such as sculptures and the intricate exterior staircase.
Trinity Church hosts the annual Trinity Concert Series and Candlelight Carols, along with visiting choir ensembles from around the world, who can belt out classic hymns better than your auntie after her fourth glass of eggnog. Copley Square Hotel, only 350 metres from Trinity Church, is the second-oldest operating hotel in the country and perfectly combines its historic 1891 facade with luxurious and modern rooms.
20. Symphony Hall
Symphony Hall was built in 1900 and has since been the home of the renowned Boston Symphony Orchestra, one of America’s “Big Five” orchestras. Modelled on the second Gewandhaus concert hall in Leipzig, Germany, the hall is considered by many to be one of the world’s best-sounding classical concert venues.
Along with around 2,625 seats, Symphony Hall also houses a 4,800-pipe organ and 16 replica statues of Greek and Roman historical figures and mythical beings. A night out at Symphony Hall is unforgettable, whether watching concerts, listening to lectures or sitting in on an open rehearsal. Guests can also organise a free tour to understand the hall’s inner workings and history.
21. Boston National Historical Park
The Boston National Historical Park is comprised of eight historic sites, all of which are classified as National Historic Landmarks and encompass more than 350 years of history. These include Bunker Hill Monument, Charlestown Navy Yard, Old State House, Dorchester Heights, Faneuil Hall, Old North Church, Old South Meeting House and Paul Revere House.
However, the Boston National Historical Park is more than just a group of sites. It also provides educational programs, ranger-guided activities and tours. The daily schedule is continually being updated to include informative talks, hands-on exhibits and other immersive experiences. Nestled right among the sites of Boston National Historical Park, the award-winning Kimpton Onyx Hotel offers boutique accommodation and attentive staff who treat guests like family.
22. Harvard Business School Campus
Established in 1908, Harvard Business School is a revered graduate college of Harvard University. Along with offering full-time MBA programs, it is housed in some of Boston’s most memorable buildings. The school’s Baker Library is an architectural masterpiece and one of the city’s most photographed structures, thanks to its dramatic white pillars and tower.
Visitors can buy Harvard attire, but they’ll need more than a ‘H’ on their clothes to enter most buildings. Fortunately, simply walking around the campus gives visitors a greater perspective of Boston’s architectural and college history while exploring one of the highest-ranked business schools in the world. Located just around the corner, Doubletree Suites by Hilton Hotel Boston Cambridge boasts its own on-site nightclub, Scullers Jazz Club, and an impressive rooftop terrace with a Jacuzzi and uninterrupted city views.
Remember the Past in Boston
The past is never forgotten in Boston, but preserved for generations to come. This iconic American city is a treasure trove of notable moments in history including the American Revolution, Boston Tea Party and Civil War. The city can teach visitors much more about American history than a monthly subscription to Netflix.
From the famous Freedom Trail and Bunker Hill Monument to the wealth of world-renowned museums, Boston facilitates learning with interactive exhibits, learned historians and immersive environments. Even the city’s luxurious hotels possess their own fascinating history rich in local and international heritage.
What’s your favourite historic landmark in Boston? Let us know in the comments below.