The Best Things to Do in Boston

On a perfect spring day, Boston turns into a giant walking tour. The city’s top attractions tend to spill over from one to the other, inviting visitors to just keep going. On other days? Well, luckily there’s the T. For one of America’s most celebrated walking tours, walk the Freedom Trail, which takes you to 16 sites central to American history, including the Massachusetts State House and the Paul Revere House and so much more. Here are some of the best things to do in Boston.

1 Science Park, Boston, MA 02114, USA
Home to some 35 colleges and universities, Boston is a wicked-smaht city, and you’ll feel like a genius if you take your kids to the always entertaining Boston Museum of Science. For sheer thrills, nothing beats the museum’s Van de Graaff generator: This electrifying device creates crackling bolts of indoor lightning, and the one here is the largest in the world. It’s strictly look-don’t-touch, but much of the museum is comprised of hands-on exhibits that inform and entertain—including experiments in engineering, scientific methods, model building, and math where your kids can once again prove how much brighter they are than you. The museum’s butterfly garden, fossil exhibit, and quirky Colby Trophy Room appeal to all ages, and the Mugar IMAX Theater and Charles Hayden Planetarium provide immersive entertainment about the earth and stars when you’re done exploring the three floors of exhibit halls.

25 Evans Way, Boston, MA 02115, USA
Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Degas, where art thou? That’s a question the staff has been asking at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum since 1990, when thieves made off with 13 of the museum’s most valuable pieces, worth an estimated half a billion dollars. Rather than sulk, however, museum officials left empty frames on display both to educate visitors and to serve as hopeful placeholders awaiting the artworks’ eventual return. Meanwhile, you can visit the museum’s lovely courtyard and vast collection of historic and contemporary art at Fenway Court, built to resemble a Venetian palazzo and packed with paintings, sculpture, furniture, and textiles gathered by Gardner, an avid art collector and philanthropist, during her lifetime. Pro tip: Wear a Red Sox hat or shirt to get a $2 discount on admission—as stipulated by Gardner after her beloved Sox won the 1912 World Series (also, you get in free if your name is Isabella).
4 Yawkey Way, Boston, MA 02215, USA
Nothing defines Boston quite as much as the town’s devotion to sports (10 championships since the turn of the century doesn’t hurt), and with all due respect to the five-time-Super-Bowl-champion Patriots, it’s Fenway Park, not Gillette Stadium, that’s the temple of sports fandom. Opened in 1912, the quirky green bandbox between Lansdowne Street and Yawkey Way is almost as famous for its obstructed-view seats as it is for its fabled Green Monster wall in left field, but that’s a price Sox fans gladly pay in exchange for maintaining Fenway’s historic layout. It’s both intimate and loud on game day even in years when the Sox aren’t contenders (tickets are often hard to come by, so plan ahead); the old ballpark also is open for one-hour, behind-the-scenes tours that take you inside and atop the Green Monster. You’ll be able to stroll around the field (the warning track, not the grass), and visit the press box, the Pesky Pole, and (on days with no games) the dugouts and bull pens.

Hull, MA 02045, USA
The past two decades have seen the dozens of islands scattered across Boston Harbor transformed from barely noticed dots on the horizon to one of the city’s most popular attractions. The Boston Harbor Island National Recreation Area, established in 1996, has propelled them into prominence, with ferries carrying day-trippers and overnight campers from downtown Boston, Hingham, and Hull to eight of the islands (19 more are accessible by private boat or charter excursions). Most visitors head to Georges Island, home of the Civil War–era Fort Warren, or the beaches and hiking trails of Spectacle Island, the one closest to downtown Boston. (Don’t skip the concession stands here: The food is from James Beard Award–winning Boston chef Barbara Lynch.) You can also camp on Peddocks, Grape, and Bumpkin islands, or take a tour to Little Brewster Island to witness the 300-year-old Boston Light, the nation’s oldest lighthouse.
4 S Market St, Boston, MA 02109, USA
Sure, Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market make up the most touristy part of Boston, complete with street performers, a light show, and the obligatory Yankee Candle store and Cheers restaurant; we nonetheless defy you to stay away. This part of the Boston waterfront has thrived on commerce since colonial times: Faneuil Hall was crowded with merchant’s shops as early as 1743, and the larger Quincy Market was added in 1824 to provide more space (it also was the site of speeches by Samuel Adams and other early patriot leaders). If you’re looking for a Red Sox hat or a “Boston Strong” T-shirt, you’ll find it here.
217 Jamaicaway, Boston, MA 02130, USA
Baseball had nothing to do with the naming of Fenway Park: The stadium gets its moniker from the nearby Back Bay Fens, a stretch of saltwater marsh in the heart of Boston that was landscaped into a park by Frederick Law Olmsted. The Fens are among the wilder parts of the Emerald Necklace, 1,100 acres of parklands running from the Charles River to Brookline that include familiar spaces like the Boston Common and Boston Public Garden but also less-traveled (by visitors, anyway) sections like Olmsted Park, Jamaica Pond, the Arnold Arboretum, and Franklin Park. The arboretum, part of Harvard University and established in 1872, is one of Olmsted’s most unaltered terrains, with paths running up and around 261 acres of woodland interspersed with a curated collection of trees, plants, shrubs, and vines native to New England.
1 Central Wharf, Boston, MA 02110, USA
A Caribbean coral reef in Boston? You’ll find it at the New England Aquarium, as part of the aptly named Giant Ocean Tank, which contains 200,000 gallons of water and is swimming with sharks, sea turtles, barracuda, and hundreds of other reef fish. While you can meet a family of harbor seals right outside the front door of the aquarium, it’s well worth your time to head inside to explore the exhibits that focus on habitats from the Amazon rain forest to the Gulf of Maine. The aquarium also boasts an IMAX theater and touch tanks, and if you want to encounter local marine life in their natural environment, you can join one of Boston Harbor Cruises’ whale-watching tours, which depart from the Central Wharf daily between March and November.
Newbury Street
Mile-long Newbury Street, lined with handsome 19th-century brownstone homes, is synonymous with shopping in Boston; it’s also the place to go to get your hair done up nice. Between Arlington Street and Massachusetts Avenue you’ll find an eclectic mix of boutique and designer shops, hair salons, art galleries, and restaurants that generally skews upscale (Tiffany’s, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana) but also includes the original location of the Newbury Comics record store and a T.J. Maxx. Eminently strollable and dotted with sidewalk cafés, Newbury Street is the hip heart of the Back Bay neighborhood, perfectly distilled at eye-candy drinks-and-dining hot spots like Sonsie and Stephanie’s on Newbury.
1 Seaport Ln, Boston, MA 02210, USA
A waterfront icon in the spirit of Sydney’s Opera House, the South Boston home of the Institute of Contemporary Art showcases the work of artists like Shepard Fairey, Tara Donovan, and Nan Goldin wrapped in glass and steel and bathed in copious natural light. With gallery and performance spaces boldly thrust above the Seaport District waterfront, the ICA also presents an ongoing calendar of dance, theater, film, and live music; come on Thursday night and admission and guided tours are free. You can drink in the views along with a Harpoon draft or a glass of chardonnay at the Water Cafe—it’s in the lobby, so you don’t need to pay for entrance to the museum to visit.
465 Huntington Ave, Boston, MA 02115, USA
If you love art in all its many forms, the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston is a ‘must-see’ destination. They have a great collection of Impressionism and Asian art works, from Monet and Van Gogh, to Chinese furniture and Japanese paintings, as well as the Egyptian collections. In addition, their newly opened west wing contains many stunning pieces of American art. Besides the arts, there is a cafe, a restaurant, gift shops of course, and a mini cinema for special shows. To get there: The MFA has its own subway stop called, what else, the MFA. If you drive, there are parking garage options as well. You can easily spend half a day here—or more!
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, Boston, MA 02109, USA
Who wouldn’t trade an ugly elevated highway for a ribbon of new parkland? Boston’s famous Big Dig dismantled the eyesore John F. Kennedy Expressway that long separated downtown from its waterfront and turned most of its former route into a linear park named in honor of JFK’s mother. The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway snakes for a mile and a half from Chinatown to the North End, mostly parallel to Boston Harbor. It’s a pleasant alternative to walking the city’s busy streets to get around, and you can use the park’s free Wi-Fi to plan your visit. Along the way you’ll find seven decorative and interactive fountains; a carousel where lobsters, codfish, harbor seals, and other local animals take the place of horses; and a variety of food trucks for when you need to recharge with a taco, a grilled-cheese sandwich, or a cupcake. The Greenway’s visitor center for the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area has information and ferry tickets.
44 School St #250, Boston, MA 02111, USA
The Freedom Trail is the artery connecting most of Boston’s key Revolutionary War sites, from Boston Common to the USS Constitution—16 stops in all. Besides providing you with some history, following the red stripe around town also delivers an easy self-guided tour of the heart of Boston, including the lively North End and Charlestown. The Common, Old North Church, the Paul Revere House, and the site of the Boston Massacre are obvious and obligatory stops, but the trail also leads to three legendary cemeteries, the 1718 Old Corner Bookstore (now a Chipotle restaurant, of all things), the 1713 Old State House, and the unmissable Bunker Hill Monument, whose cornerstone was laid by Lafayette to mark the 50th anniversary of the bloody battle between British troops and patriot militias in June 1775.
Columbia Point, Boston, MA 02125, USA
The assassination of Boston’s favorite son is burned into the memory of most Americans who lived through that tragic moment in history, but the JFK Presidential Library and Museum is a celebration of John F. Kennedy’s life, not his death. Housed in an I.M. Pei–designed building set on 10 waterfront acres in Dorchester, the museum boasts a collection that includes the unusual (a coconut that Kennedy inscribed with a rescue message for the crew of the PT-109 during World War II), the emblematic (Kennedy’s sailboat Victura), and the trappings of state (everything from Oval Office furniture to a camel saddle gifted by the president of Niger). Jackie Kennedy has her own permanent exhibit (which includes her clothing), and special collections focus on the 1960 presidential campaign and the space race against the Soviet Union. Come on a sunny day and enjoy a picnic and a game of catch on the lawn, or take a stroll on the Columbia Point harbor walk—the fitness-minded JFK would certainly approve.
More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: United States
Journeys: Sports + Adventure