Best things to do in Boston

July 18, 2016
The spectacular shiny gold dome of the Massachusetts State House

Boston has a special place in my heart. I lived there for 3 years as a student doing my undergraduate university degree. Most of my time was focused around campus in the suburb of Cambridge so I didn’t spend a lot of time in the heart of this historic town. So it was a real treat to visit Boston as a tourist even for a few days over the northern summer.

Boston is one of the oldest cities in the US. It was founded in 1630 and played a key role in America’s war of independence. It’s a beautiful harbourside city, a popular tourist destination, and I’d recommend spending 4-5 days here to soak up its natural charm and history.

Here’s our list of some of the best things to do in Boston to make the most of your time in the city.

1. The Freedom Trail

The number one thing that most people do in Boston is an organised tour of the Freedom Trail. There are hundreds of people doing this every day in summer. My advice, get up and out early (before 9am) and walk it yourself. Don’t just follow the marked trail on the pavement, use this as a guide and explore a little further. You’ll miss the crowds and discover a whole lot more especially in the beautiful old North End and in Charlestown around Bunker Hill.

The Copp's Hill burying ground on Boston's Freedom Trail.

The Copp’s Hill Burying Ground is part of Boston’s Freedom Trail.

2. Boston Harbour Islands – Spectacle island

Catch a ferry out to one of the 34 islands that make up Boston Harbour Islands National Park, a protected recreation area. We took the 25-minute trip to Spectacle island where you can wander round the 5 miles of walking trails to explore this island which was once a rubbish dump for the city’s waste. Inside the visitor centre they have collected bits of debris that have been washed up onshore or found on the island, like scraps of old china, cutlery and kitchenware. We took a dip in the water and it was very refreshing, not nearly as chilly as you might expect.

View of the Boston city skyline from Spectacle Island

View of the Boston city skyline from Spectacle Island.

3. Cycle along the Charles River to visit Harvard University

No trip to Boston is complete without visiting Harvard University which dates back to 1636. John Harvard was its first benefactor and in 2015 donations to the university topped $1billion for the second year running. Wow.

Riding along the river from the city you’ll pass Boston University and the legendary Harvard Business School before heading up to Harvard Yard to see the famous Widener Library, the beautiful Memorial Church and the freshmen year dorms.

Kayakers in the Charles River Boston

The Charles river with the red dome of a Harvard residential House in the background.

4. Boston Public Garden and Newbury Street

Stroll through Boston Common and into the Boston Public Garden. The gardens are beautifully kept and very peaceful if you need a little R&R. Keep walking onto Newbury Street where you’ll discover some of the best shops and galleries in Boston in beautiful old brownstone buildings.

Boston Public Garden with a bronze statue of George Washington

Boston Public Garden with a bronze statue of George Washington and a view to the financial district.

5. South Boston – the Flour Bakery

We walked for what seem like miles to find the Flour Bakery in South Boston. As a dedicated sweet tooth, I was determined to try it but the further we walked the more I thought we would be disappointed. Sometimes though things are just meant to be and so it was with the Flour Bakery. It was totally deliciously awesome and I could have eaten one of everything! Instead we settled on a sticky, sticky bun and a Boston cream pie.

Delicious treats at the Flour Bakery in South Boston

Delicious treats at the Flour Bakery in South Boston. Try the sticky, sticky bun.

6. Institute of Contemporary Art

To walk off our cream pie we then trekked down through the revitalised Fort Channel district to the Institute of Contemporary Art which is a stunning building in a stunning harbourside location. There are lots of new restaurants, bars and office buildings in the Fort Channel area – it’s not part of the typical tourist trail at all – and on a sunny, summer Friday night, the place was pumping with locals winding down after a busy workweek.

Institute of Contemporary Art Boston

Institute of Contemporary Art Boston.

7. Wander through Charles St and Beacon Hill

Beacon Hill sits above Boston Common and beside the Massachusetts State House (pictured at the top of the page) with some of the most beautiful and expensive real estate in Boston. Football superstar Tom Brady and his supermodel wife, Gisele, live in the ‘hood. It’s a very old and charming part of town. Amble down Charles Street which is lined with boutiques, restaurants, cafes and corner shop wine stores, something you don’t see much in my hometown these days.

Old homes in the suburb of Beacon Hill in Boston.

8. Go to a game

If you want to mix it with the locals, go to a game. Any game. Baseball, ice hockey, football, basketball. Even if you have no interest in any of the sports. Just go. It’s an entertaining cultural experience and you just might have fun.

What else?

One thing we didn’t have time to do is visit Cape Cod, a popular summer escape, and home to the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port, and also Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the Cape which has been recommended by a number of friends. We’re saving that for next time.

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