Boston Sightseeing: Top 10 Attractions

boston sightseeing

Boston sightseeing is never a chore, but with so many things to do and see, it can be hard to figure out just where to start. Below are our top 10 attractions to hit when visiting Beantown – not the be-all and end-all of Boston travel – but good places to start depending on your mood (and that finicky New England weather).

Freedom Trail

The Freedom Trail is Boston sightseeing at its finest: history, architecture, exercise, and best of all, it's free if you want to self-guide with one of the trail maps available on the Freedom Trail Foundation's website. Two-and-half miles of walking trail connects 17 historic locations including the Paul Revere House and the site of the Boston Massacre. It's the best way to get the flavor of the city under your feet. Info-packed guided tours are also available for a small fee.
With 450,000 works in collection, you'd need years to see everything at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, one of the biggest and best art museums in the world. Normally, admission is $20 for adults and $7.50 for children 7-17 weekdays before, but budget-conscious travelers will want to go Wednesday afternoons after 4 p.m. when the museum asks only for a "voluntary contribution" for admittance. The heavily-anticipated "Art of the Americas" wing, featuring more than 5,000 pieces from the earliest history of the two continents to the present, opens in November 2010.
Boston sightseeing isn't just about visiting museums. Sometimes a walk in the park is an attraction unto itself. Verdant in the spring and summer, colorful in the fall, and dreamlike in the winter, the Charles River is essential to the city's quaint New England ambiance. With vantage points and public areas on both the Boston and Cambridge sides of the river, this iconic mesh of natural beauty and careful urban planning and restoration is not to be missed.

Founded in 1837, Boston's Public Garden was the first botanical garden of its kind in America. Once derided by the upper crust for its colorful and exotic plant life, the Public Garden now wows and woos Boston sightseers with its spectacular flora. Be sure to visit in the Spring, when everything's in full bloom and you can take a ride on the lagoon in one of the garden's famous swan boats.
Technically in Cambridge (part of "Greater Boston," home to Harvard and M.I.T.), Harvard Square has a host of wonderful Boston attractions, from shops to restaurants to cafes and bars in a refined, bookish atmosphere. Music and theater events go on year-round, but if you're not in the mood, you can always just sit in the center of the square and watch local chessmasters school unsuspecting rubes.

Harbor Islands

Take a ferry from Long Wharf-North to reach Harbor Islands, a perfect Boston sightseeing attraction to get the whole scope of the city as you putter away from port. Hike and walk the mainlands, or kayak and swim off the coast of these little slices of New England idyll just a skip away from the big city.

Go to Central Wharf in South Boston for sightseeing of a more aquatic variety. The New England Aquarium features 20,000 animals – octopi, seadragons, penguins and whales – and other attractions from all over the world. You can also book whale watching trips here which run from April to late November.

Museum of Science

The Boston Museum of Science is the perfect attraction for families: A huge, dazzling, interactive exploration of electricity, kinetics, biology, astronomy, and much more. There's an IMAX theater, simulators, live demonstrations, and a "hands-on" laboratory where visitors can do a little science themselves. Great for those overcast or too-chilly days when you still want to have fun and learn a thing or two in the process.

Faneuil Hall Marketplace and Quincy Market

Faneuil Hall Marketplace and Quincy Market are sort of "the" tourist spots for sightseeing in Boston, which means it will be mobbed on weekends, but it's still worth the crowds for the sheer spectacle. You'll see jugglers, food vendors, and shops full of baubles in a 19th century building that recalls the large indoor market of "old" England (London in particular).

Fenway Park

You don't have to catch a game here (it's next to impossible if you don't want to wait all day long or pay both arm and leg to scalpers), but the nearly-100-year-old ballpark is in many ways the heart and soul of Boston. It's here the "Red Sox Nation" goes to pay its respects, where Ted Williams crushed fastballs over the "Green Monster" and Cy Young retired batters with ease. Tours run 9 to 4 p.m. daily on non-game days, on the hour, and stop 3 1/2 hours prior to game time when the Sox have a home game.

Photo: Rick Harris
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