Not only is Boston a great “college town,” given the 150,000 or so students who attend its 50-plus colleges and universities each year, but it’s also a great city for children. World-class kid-centric museums cater to a range of interests, and there are engaging outdoor options both on land and on sea.
Children 9 and younger will be engaged by the Boston Children’s Museum, Museum of Science, the New England Aquarium, the Harvard Museum of Natural History, and the parks, carousel, and splash fountains along the Rose Kennedy Greenway. While some will enjoy the land-and-sea Duck Boat tours, others may be just as happy on the more sedate Swan Boat rides (p. ###) in the Public Garden. At the Museum of Fine Arts (p. ###), family offerings include 2-hour in-gallery drawing for kids ages 5 to 8 every Saturday morning and a $4 audio/video mobile tour specially designed for ages 6 to 10.
Children 10 and older will also like whale watches, sightseeing cruises, and a ferry ride to the Boston Harbor Islands. Kids who love history should beeline to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, the Paul Revere House, or a walk along the Freedom Trail. Boston by Foot (tel. 617/367-2345) offers a 60-minute guided tour of the Freedom Trail designed especially for kids 6 to 12 years old (called “Boston by Little Feet”); check the website for prices, days, and times.
If you have time for a day trip, kid-centric destinations include the living villages of Plimoth Plantation (in Plymouth, a 45-min. drive from Boston) Old Sturbridge Village (in Sturbridge, a 60-min. drive); and the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum (in Springfield, a 90-min. drive). There’s also swimming at Walden Pond (in Concord, a 30-min. drive from Boston); and, in season, apple picking in Nashoba Valley (a 60-min. drive).
The following attractions are covered extensively elsewhere on the site; here's the boiled-down version for busy parents.
Destinations that offer something for every member of the family include Faneuil Hall Marketplace (tel. 617/338-2323); the Museum of Fine Arts (tel. 617/267-9300), which offers special weekend and after-school programs; and the USS Constitution Museum (tel. 617/426-1812).
Hands-on exhibits and large-format films are the headliners at the New England Aquarium (tel. 617/973-5200), where you'll find the Simons IMAX Theatre, and at the Museum of Science (tel. 617/723-2500), home to the Mugar Omni Theater as well as the Hayden Planetarium.
You might get your hands on a baseball at a Red Sox game or the Sports Museum of New England (tel. 617/624-1234).
The allure of seeing people the size of ants draws young visitors to the Prudential Center Skywalk Observatory (tel. 617/859-0648). And they can see actual ants -- although they might prefer the dinosaurs -- at the Harvard Museum of Natural History (tel. 617/495-3045).
Older children who have studied modern American history will enjoy a visit to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum (tel. 617/929-4523). Middle-schoolers who enjoyed Esther Forbes's Johnny Tremain will probably get a kick out of the Paul Revere House (tel. 617/523-2338). Young visitors who have read Robert McCloskey's classic Make Way for Ducklings will relish a visit to the Public Garden, and fans of E. B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan certainly will want to ride on the Swan Boats (tel. 617/522-1966). Considerably less tame (and much longer) are whale watches.
Boston Harbor Cruises, 1 Long Wharf (tel. 877/733-9425 or 617/227-4321; www.bostonharborcruises.com), offers a cruise called Codzilla, which it bills as a "high-speed thrill boat ride." It leaves Long Wharf daily from mid-May through early October; from the shore, you may be able to hear delighted screaming. Tickets cost $25 for adults, $23 for seniors, and $21 for children 4 to 12; reservations are recommended.
Note: As of this writing, the Boston Tea Party Ship & Museum (tel. 617/269-7150; www.bostonteapartyship.com) was under renovation and scheduled to reopen in 2012 as the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum. The expanded institution will comprise full-size replicas of all three merchant ships that were raided during the colonial uprising in December 1773 (not just the one that was here originally). I've updated some version of this paragraph at least once a year since a devastating fire shuttered the attraction in 2001, so definitely check ahead before heading out.
The walking-tour company Boston By Foot (tel. 617/367-2345; www.bostonbyfoot.org) offers "Boston By Little Feet" for children 6 to 12 years old. The 1-hour walk gives a child's-eye view of the architecture along the Freedom Trail and of Boston's role in the American Revolution. Children must be accompanied by an adult, and a map is provided. Tours run from May through October and begin at the statue of Samuel Adams on the Congress Street side of Faneuil Hall. They begin Friday and Saturday at 10am and Sunday at 2pm, rain or shine. The cost is $8 per person.
More Kid Stuff
Before night falls (and sometimes afterward), the whole family can have a great time at the Hard Rock Cafe (food and music), Club Passim (folk music), Shear Madness (audience-participation theater), Blue Man Group (performance art), and the Puppet Showplace Theater.
The Boston Bead Company, the CambridgeSide Galleria mall, Curious George & Friends, and the area's numerous college bookstores can be almost as fun as all-toy stores.
Fun destinations include Salem, Plymouth, and (for Little Women fans) Concord.
When Your Child Needs to Run
If you’re traveling with young children, you know that sometimes they just need open space to run or a good playground to spend a couple hours. In addition to the Boston Children’s Museum, which is essentially a three-story playground, and the Rose Kennedy Greenway, which has expanses of nice grass, there’s also a small playground at the harbor in Christopher Columbus Park and a small playground on the northern end of the Boston Common. The Common also has Frog Pond, which is a spray pool in summer and ice skating rink in winter. If you have a car, the good-sized (and free) Artesani Playground, Spray Deck & Wading Pool, 1255 Soldiers Field Rd., along the Charles River in Boston’s Allston neighborhood, is a popular option, especially in summer. It’s run by the state (www.mass.gov) and has a large, free parking lot.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.