As a Bostonian I can’t really encourage you to spend JUST ONE DAY in Boston, but if that’s the time you have, then make the most of it! Boston boasts history, culture, great food, and gorgeous gardens. Downtown Boston is also the perfect place for walking, which is a great way to see the historic sites and have fun! We’ve put together a self guided tour of Boston landmarks to help you get the most from your day.
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Boston is a very walkable city and that’s how you’ll best enjoy it. But the best way to see the city in just one day is to combine walking and public transportation.
Buy a CharlieTicket or Card – you’ll use this pass for the subway (the T), buses, and the Charlestown Ferry.
Long Wharf and the Waterfront
Begin the day early. Grab a coffee from Dunkin Donuts and head to Long Wharf where you can catch the MBTA ferry to the Charlestown Navy Yard. For a minimum fare you sail through the inner harbor, enjoying views of the city of Boston from the water. Disembark the ferry a short walk from the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides”, the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world. Enjoy this national treasure before catching the ferry back to Long Wharf.
The USS Constitution was launched in 1797 but earned its nickname during the War of 1812 when sailors noted cannonballs bouncing off her wooden hull. Entrance to the ship is free, but not handicapped accessible.
If not interested in the navy yard, you can stay on the ferry for a round trip tour of Boston harbor. A cheap harbor tour! Many people who work in Boston take lunch on the ferry for a peaceful break in the day.
Return on the ferry to Long Wharf. You could spend your whole day in this area. The New England Aquarium is here as are some of Boston’s best restaurants. But we suggest you walk across the street and the green space (the Rose Kennedy Greenway) to Quincy Market, a tourist’s dream of shopping, food stalls, and street entertainers. Break here for lobster rolls or a cup of clam chowder.
If you’re visiting with children, you might want to take a spin on the Greenway carousel before enjoying Quincy Market.
Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall Marketplace
History buffs should focus on Faneuil Hall, the site where the seeds for the American Revolution were planted. (Note the grasshopper weathervane atop Faneuil Hall. The question – ‘what’s on top of Faneuil Hall?’ was used to identify spies during the war of 1812)
When you’ve had enough of the tourist scene, use your MBTA pass to jump on the subway. You can walk up the stairs to Government Center T station or take the Blue line to Government Center. Transfer to any of the Green line Outbound trains.
Copley Square to the Boston Public Garden
Get off at Copley station to enjoy Copley Square, home of the Boston Public Library, the first free library in the US, and the Romanesque Trinity Church. You’re now standing where the famous Boston Marathon ends.
The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest marathon, and one of the oldest consecutively run sporting events in the world. It was first held in 1897, and continues to be run every year on Patriots’ Day, a Massachusetts holiday.
Head one block north to Newbury Street, Boston’s high-end shopping street. There are lots of excellent cafés where you can people watch while you eat. Newbury street ends at the Public Garden.
Turn left to enter the garden across from Commonwealth Avenue. Before entering the Garden, take a moment to look down Commonwealth Avenue, the broad avenue of stately brownstones, noting that this area, the Back Bay, is filled land. The land, originally a tidal bay, was built up by razing most of the original five hills of Boston.
Public Garden and the Boston Common
Now enter the Public Garden. Here you are greeted by the magnificent statue of George Washington on horseback, designed and built by Thomas Ball, a sculptor from Charlestown.
If time is tight, or you’re not much on walking, get off at the Arlington T stop. This brings you to the corner of the Public Garden. You can enter the garden diagonally from the station, but I suggest you walk up a few blocks to enter across from Commonwealth Ave.
Stroll through the Public Garden, enjoying the gorgeous flowers and massive shade tress. If you’ve time, take a ride on Boston’s famous Swanboats. Follow the children from the boats to the duckling statues, Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings, immortalized forever by sculptor Nancy Schön.
This is the time for you Cheers fans to make a stop at the Cheers bar at 84 Beacon St.
Everyone else, will cross the street to the Common. The Common is the oldest public park in the U.S. and is the site of many political and social rallies. There isn’t too much to see in the Common so I’d suggest walking along Beacon Street towards the State House. You are ascending Beacon Hill, the last of Boston’s hills. This neighborhood is still the most prestigious in town. To your right, on the Common, you can see the Frog Pond, where kids splash in the summer and skate in the winter.
Boston Africa American National Historic Site
When you reach the top of the hill and the Massachusetts State House, turn to your right and take a minute to reflect on the Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial a commemoration of the Massachusetts 54th regiment, one of the first regiments of African Americans to fight in the United States Civil War. This is part of the Boston African American National Historic Site. You can learn more and take a virtual tour of the Black Heritage Trail on the NPS website.
Boston’s Historic Freedom Trail
Turn right and follow the park downhill to the Corner of Tremont and Park. Here you’ll find the narrow red brick line for Boston’s Freedom Trail, the original walking tour of Boston landmarks. Follow the trail past:
- Park Street Church (the tallest building in the U.S. for 36 years)
- Granary Burial Ground (find John Hancock, Paul Revere, and Mother Goose’s headstones!),
- Kings Chapel, established in 1686 as the first Anglican church in New England
- Old State House, and next to this…
- Marker for the site of the Boston Massacre, commemorating the 1770 conflict where five people were killed by British troops
You will arrive back at Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, close to where we started the day. Break for ice cream or a lobster roll.
The North End – an optional extension to our Walking Tour of Boston
The Freedom Trail continues into the North End. This is one of the first neighborhoods in Boston and still maintains its community feel.
Still not tired? Tour the North End’s National Historical Park sites – the Paul Revere house, the Old North Church and climb to the top of Copp’s Hill where you’ll see the historic burial ground AND the narrowest house in Boston.
For most of us, that’s more than enough touring for one day so head to any of the fabulous restaurants in the North End. Our favorite is Mamma Maria’s, right next to the Revere house. Pick up a pastry at Mike’s before calling it a day.
Another option for exploring the North End of Boston is to book a small group tour which would include food tastings! We love doing this and highly recommend:
Walking Map and Another Way to Enjoy the City
If someone in your party isn’t able to walk the city, we recommend Old Town Trolley Hop On Hop Off tours.
We hope you have enjoyed this walking tour of Boston landmarks, and hope it encourages you to return to Boston for a more in-depth tour!
Enjoyed this tour? Try one of the Walking Plymouth History tours at Plymouth at 400: a local’s guide to the perfect weekend.
Visiting from out of state? Consider a day trip to Salem, just 30 minutes north of Boston but a world away!
|NONFICTION||Bunker Hill: a city, a siege, a revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick|
The bestselling author of In the Heart of the Sea, Valiant Ambition, and In the Hurricane’s Eye tells the story of the Boston battle that ignited the American Revolution, in this “masterpiece of narrative and perspective.” –Boston Globe
|CHILDRENS||Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey|
The children’s classic of mallards in Boston’s Public Garden.
For more ideas, visit Books for Travelers: New England
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