The fastest way to get the full lay of the land is to take a tour of the city. The orange-and-green Old Town Trolley Tours (tel. 855/396-7433) cover a lot of ground and allow visitors to hop off and then reboard throughout the day. If you buy tickets online they cost $40 (13 and older) and $20 (kids 4–12), and you can just hop on at any of 19 stops in the city. Tickets are also sold at 200 Atlantic Ave. (at the end of the Marriott Long Wharf Hotel, across the street from Faneuil Hall Marketplace), but if you buy tickets in person they cost significantly more—$77 adults, $41 for kids 4 to 12. (Children 3 and under travel free.) This is one case where it really pays to buy in advance.
]In addition to walking the Freedom Trail or the Black Heritage Trail, you have many other options for guided walking tours in Boston. Some focus on food, others focus on taverns, and of course many focus on history. From May to October, the nonprofit Boston by Foot (tel. 617/367-2345) conducts excellent historical and architectural tours that focus on neighborhoods or themes. The rigorously trained volunteer guides encourage questions. Tickets are $15 adults, $10 children 6 to 12; online purchases are discounted $2 per ticket. The popular PhotoWalks (tel. 617/851-2273) builds tours around the aesthetic beauty of the city, including Beacon Hill, Back Bay, the North End, and the waterfront. Guide Saba Alhadi helps visitors find new angles on old subjects and get the best Instagrammable shots.
Note: All excursions from Faneuil Hall start at the statue of Samuel Adams on Congress Street.
The Heart of the Freedom Trail tour starts at Faneuil Hall daily at 10am and Friday through Monday at 2pm. Tours of Beacon Hill begin at the foot of the State House steps on Beacon Street weekdays at 5:30pm, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. Other tours and meeting places are Victorian Back Bay, on the front steps of Trinity Church, Monday at 5:30pm, Friday at 2pm, and Sunday at 10am; the North End, at Faneuil Hall, Friday through Sunday at 1pm; Literary Landmarks, School and Washington streets, Saturday at 10am; and the Dark Side of Boston, Hanover and Cross streets, North End, Saturday at 5:30pm.
Unofficial Tours (tel. 617/674-7788; www.unofficialtours.com), the brainchild of some entrepreneurial Harvard grads, offer an insider's perspective on Harvard Square and a separate tour of the Freedom Trail. Two guides lead each of the tours, which cost $10 for adults, $9 for seniors and students, and $6 for children.
Behind the Scenes at the BSO -- From October through early May, free volunteer-led tours of Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Ave. (tel. 617/638-9390; www.bso.org), take visitors all around the landmark building and relate the Boston Symphony Orchestra's fascinating history. The 1-hour tours start on Wednesday at 4pm and on the second Saturday of each month at 2pm, subject to change (always check ahead). E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to request a slot, then meet in the lobby at the Massachusetts Avenue entrance.
Urban AdvenTours, 103 Atlantic Ave. (tel. 617/670-0637) offers a half-dozen 2- to 4-hour bike tours including a City View Tour, a Sunset Tour, and Funway to Fenway, which includes a tour of Fenway Park baseball stadium. Some of the tours run primarily on bike paths so are okay for beginning riders and children; others are recommended only for people who are comfortable cycling on city streets. Most tours are $55 per person; the Fenway Park tour is $119. Tours include bike rentals. Tours run rain or shine unless the company decides the weather conditions are too dangerous.
The most unusual and enjoyable way to see Boston is with Boston Duck Tours (tel. 800/226-7442 or 617/267-3825; www.bostonducktours.com). The tours, offered from late March through November and on the first 3 weekends of December, are pricey but great fun. Sightseers board a "duck," a reconditioned World War II amphibious landing craft, behind the Prudential Center on Huntington Avenue or at the Museum of Science. The 80-minute narrated tour begins with a quick but comprehensive jaunt around the city. Then the duck lumbers down a ramp, splashes into the Charles River, and goes for a spin around the basin. Fun!
Tickets, available at the Prudential Center, Museum of Science, and New England Aquarium, are $42 for adults, $34 for seniors, $28 for children 3 to 11, and $11 for children 2 and under. Tours run every 30 or 60 minutes from 9am to 1 hour before sunset, and they usually sell out. Discounted (by $2-$4) 55-minute tours leave from the New England Aquarium starting at 3pm daily from June through August and on weekends in April, May, September, and October. Timed tickets go on sale 30 days ahead online, in person, and by phone; same-day in-person sales start at 8:30am (9am at the aquarium). Reservations are accepted only for groups of 20 or more. No tours late December through mid-March.
Moon River, Moon Harbor
Fire up the camera as you approach the water. Every bridge that crosses the river between Boston and Cambridge affords an excellent perspective. If your travels take you to the area around the Esplanade or Kendall Square (T: Red Line to Charles/MGH or Kendall/MIT), wander out onto the Longfellow Bridge, especially at twilight -- the views of the river are splendid, and if you hit it just right, the moon appears to shine out of the Hancock Tower.
In warm weather, check the time of moonrise and stroll down to the plaza at the end of Long Wharf (T: Blue Line to Aquarium). The full moon seems to rise out of the Boston Harbor Islands, and because it's so close to the horizon, it looks huge. For astronomical reasons, this only works in the summer, but boy, is it cool.
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.