A red path—in some stretches brick, in other stretches paint—winds through the streets of old Boston past historic sites of the city’s Colonial past. Walking the trail provides a wonderful introduction to the city and its history. It’s a 2 1/2-mile self-guided tour that begins at Boston Common, although you can certainly join in at any spot. Freedom Trail tours with costumed guides ($12 adults, $6.50 kids 6–12) are an option and last 90 minutes.
The Freedom Trail has a website and a Twitter feed. If you follow the full route, plan for 4 hours to allow for walking, reading plaques, spending time inside some of the sights, and taking a serendipitous detour or two.
- Boston Common. The Common is the oldest public park in the country (founded in 1634) and a welcome splash of green in redbrick Boston. Over the years, these 45 acres have held pasture, barracks, parade grounds, ball fields, and more. In the wintertime, trees throughout the park are lit with twinkly colored lights. The park visitor center (139 Tremont St.) is next to the fountain adjacent to the Park Street subway stop.
- Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment Memorial. At the highest point of the Common, up the hill and near to the State House, is a magnificent bronze sculpture that honors the first American army unit composed of free black soldiers, who fought in the Civil War. The plaque on the back provides rich historical detail. The story of the 54th was told in the 1989 movie Glory.
- Massachusetts State House (tel. 617/727-3676). The gracious golden-dome-topped state capitol is a signature work of the great Federal-era architect Charles Bulfinch. Note the symmetry, a hallmark of Federal style, in details as large as doors and as small as moldings. Visitors can take self-guided tours or, by prior arrangement, guided tours. Allow time to find the statues and monuments that dot the grounds, including one of President John F. Kennedy captured in midstride.
- Park Street Church, 1 Park St. (tel. 617/523-3383). Most Bostonians know this redbrick church for its 217-foot clock tower and steeple, which chimes on the quarter-hour. “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” was sung on the church’s steps for the first time on July 4, 1831. It’s open to the public July through August, Tuesday to Saturday, as well as Sundays year-round.
- Granary Burying Ground, Tremont Street at Bromfield Street. Colonial Boston’s residents worked, worshipped, and buried their dead in this area of the city. Established in 1660, this cemetery got its name from the granary, or grain-storage building, that once stood next to it. Wander the walkways to take in the diversity of markers and ornamental carvings, including the “Soul Effigy,” a skull or “death’s head” with wings on each side. A map near the entrance shows the locations of the graves of Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, Crispus Attucks and the other victims of the Boston Massacre, and John Hancock, whose monument is almost as florid as his signature. Also here: Elizabeth “Mother” Goose, who may or may not be “the” Mother Goose of nursery rhyme fame. It’s open daily from 10am to 5pm.
- King’s Chapel and Burying Ground, 58 Tremont St. (tel. 617/523-1749). Established as an Anglican church in 1686, King’s Chapel became Unitarian after the Revolution. The current chapel (1749) is the country’s oldest church in continuous use as well as its oldest major stone building. The church hosts lunchtime concerts on Tuesdays. The chapel is open year-round Monday to Saturday from 10am, Sunday from 1:30pm, with tours several times a day; check the website for tour schedules and closing times. The burying ground is open daily 9am to 5pm, with shorter hours in winter.
- Site of the First Public School, 45 School St. A colorful mosaic in the sidewalk marks the original site of the first public school in the United States, Boston Latin, founded in 1634. (The school has moved but is still in operation today, and highly regarded.) Just adjacent is Old City Hall. Inside the fence there is an 1856 statue of Benjamin Franklin—publisher, statesman, postmaster, scientist—who was born a block away.
- Old Corner Bookstore Building, 3 School St. The structure here, which today has a restaurant on the ground floor, dates to 1718, making it 300 years old in 2018. In the mid-1800s the building was the center of U.S. publishing and home of publisher Ticknor & Fields, whose authors included Harriet Beecher Stowe, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., and Louisa May Alcott.
- Old South Meeting House, 310 Washington St. (tel. 617/482-6439). The Boston Tea Party, a pivotal political demonstration of the pre-Revolutionary era, started here in 1773. Displays and exhibits in the former house of worship tell the story in a compelling fashion. It’s open daily 9:30am to 5pm, with shorter hours in winter. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, and $1 for children 5 to 17.
- Old State House Museum, 206 Washington St. (tel. 617/720-1713). Like a William Morris flower in a forest of redwoods, this fancy little brick building sits amid towering skyscrapers. On the exterior are vestigial traces of British rule—a lion and a unicorn, both royal symbols that predate the Revolution (when the State House opened in 1713, today’s State Street was named King Street). In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was first read to Bostonians from the balcony. Today it houses a history museum (with John Hancock’s coat) and a multimedia presentation about the Boston Massacre. Tours are included with admission. The museum is open daily from 9am to 5pm (until 6pm May–early Sept). Admission is $10 adults, $8.50 seniors and students, free for kids 18 and under.
- Site of the Boston Massacre. A circle of cobblestones underneath the Old State House balcony honors the five men killed by British troops on March 5, 1770. The event fueled the already simmering discontent with British authority; Paul Revere created an engraved image that helped publicize the incident and galvanize rebellion.
- Faneuil Hall and Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Dock Square at Congress Street (tel. 617/242-5601). Faneuil Hall dates to 1742 as a meeting house and site of political activism. The commercial complex behind it—Faneuil Hall Marketplace and Quincy Market—is a popular attraction housed in restored 19th-century buildings. See p. ###.
- Paul Revere House, 19 North Square (tel. 617/523-2338). Built about 1680 and now a national historic landmark, this home is one of the few surviving dwellings of its age in the United States. Revere was a talented silversmith who supported a large family—his first wife, Sarah, died after giving birth to their eighth child, and his second wife, Rachel, also bore eight children. When the family moved in in 1770, there were three adults—Revere, Sarah, and Revere’s mother Deborah—and the first five children. The home was turned into a museum in 1908. It’s open April 15 through October daily from 9:30am to 5:15pm, November through April 14 from 9:30am to 4:15pm (closed Mon Jan–Mar). Admission is $5 for adults, $4.50 for seniors and students, and $1 for children 5 to 17.
- James Rego Square (Paul Revere Mall), off Hanover Street, at Clark Street. This narrow, tree-lined, brick-laid plaza is the site of one of the most photographed tableaus of Boston: a statue of Paul Revere atop a horse, with the Old North Church behind him.
- Old North Church, 193 Salem St. (tel. 617/858-8231). This beautifully proportioned brick church, officially named Christ Church, overflows with historic associations. It was here that sexton Robert Newman briefly hung two lanterns in the steeple on the night of April 18, 1775, signaling Paul Revere to set out on his “midnight ride” to warn the rebellious colonists that British troops were leaving Boston by water, bound for Lexington and Concord. It contains the oldest American church bells (cast in Gloucester, England) and the Revere family’s pew. Somehow, through nearly 300 years of rough New England weather, the original weather vane has survived atop the 191-foot steeple—the tallest in Boston. Tours takes visitors up into the spire and down to the crypt—not for the claustrophobic. It’s open daily April through November 15 from 9am to 6pm, and from 10am to 4pm the rest of the year. Talks (5–7 min.) are available. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and students, and $4 for kids. Special tours (Behind the Scenes and Bones & Burials) have extra fees: $6 for adults, $5 for students/seniors/military, $4 for children (Bones & Burials tour not suitable for children under 13).
- Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, off Hull Street. The highest point in the North End neighborhood affords a panoramic view across the Inner Harbor to the wishbone-shaped Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge and the Charlestown Navy Yard, where the three masts of USS Constitution (next stop on the tour) poke into view. Boston’s first African-American neighborhood was nearby, and an estimated 1,000 of the 10,000 or so people buried in the graveyard at the crest of Copp’s Hill were black. The best-known is Prince Hall, who is believed to have fought at Bunker Hill and later founded the first black Masonic lodge. It’s open daily from 10am to 5pm. (Fun fact: The 10-foot-wide private home at 44 Hull St., across from the graveyard entrance, is the narrowest house in Boston.)
- USS Constitution, Charlestown Navy Yard (tel. 617/242-7511). Built in a Boston shipyard and launched in 1797, this magnificent frigate’s three masts today loom over the navy yard. The Constitution is the oldest commissioned floating warship in the world, and earned its nickname “Old Ironsides” on August 19, 1812, when, during an engagement with HMS Guerriere in the War of 1812, cannonballs bounced off its thick oak hull as if it were metal. Old Ironsides never lost a battle, but narrowly escaped destruction several times in its first 2 centuries. Today it is a museum ship and an active-duty posting for the sailors who lead tours (wearing replica post-war 1813 uniforms). Visitors can board the ship, with tours offered every 30 minutes. It’s open Wednesday through Sunday from 10am to 4pm year round. Admission to the ship is free. Visitors 18 and older must present a valid federal or state-issued photo ID or passport at the ship’s security screening. The adjacent USS Constitution Museum (tel. 617/426-1812) is open daily April through October from 9am to 6pm, and from 10am to 5pm the rest of the year. Suggested donation to the museum is $5–$10 for adults, $3–$5 for kids, or $20–$25 for families. Also at this location is the Charlestown Navy Yard Visitor Center (tel. 617/242-5601), open Tuesday through Sunday from 9am to 5pm year-round. National Park Service rangers are on site for questions.
- Bunker Hill Monument (tel. 617/242-7275), Charlestown. The narrow pedestrian streets of Charlestown all seem to lead to this 221-foot granite obelisk at the center of an elegant grassy square. It commemorates the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775 (June 17 is now Bunker Hill Day, a holiday in Massachusetts’ Suffolk County). The British won that battle, but nearly half of their troops were killed or wounded. Partly as a consequence of the carnage, royal forces abandoned Boston 9 months later. The exhibits in the small but engaging Battle of Bunker Hill Museum across the street from the grass lawn (43 Monument Square) tell the story of the fire fight, and the second floor has a 360-degree painting depicting the combat. Bunker Hill Lodge adjoins the Monument and houses artwork and a Revolutionary War cannon; this is where you enter if you want to climb up. Think hard before attempting to walk the 294 stairs to the top; it’s a tough climb that ends at a small space with tiny windows. National Park Service rangers staff the monument, which is open daily from 9am to 5pm in summer and 1 to 5pm rest of the year. Admission to both the monument and to museum is free.
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.