Boston, MA
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Boston, MA

A do-it-yourself walking tour of the Freedom Trail -- and other family attractions.

In the Footsteps of Patriots

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Greater Boston Convention and
Visitors Bureau

Looking for big-city family adventure without the wear and tear? Plan a weekend in Boston. The city's quaint neighborhoods are so walkable, your kids won't feel like they're being dragged on an endless marathon. Plus, the stroll never gets boring because historic attractions appear at every turn (but don't forget to point them out).

Thanks to this convenient layout, you can pack a lot into one weekend, including such top family sites as the Freedom Trail, the Swan Boats, the Children's Museum, and Faneuil Hall Marketplace. But you'll need at least four days to explore at a leisurely pace, and make spur-of-the-moment stops at playgrounds, quirky shops, sidewalk cafes, and street performances.

The best way to see Boston is on foot, just like the patriots. When little feet conk out, take advantage of transportation our forefathers never had: the "T," Boston's color-coded public transport train. The sights and sounds "down under" are an especially big thrill for non-city kids. Take them on the "Green Line" route, from Park Street Station to the Boston Museum of Science; the train goes underground, then above ground and across the Charles River.

Let Freedom Ring

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One of Boston's top attractions is the Freedom Trail. This three-mile, do-it-yourself walking tour connects 16 landmarks from revolutionary days. The Trail brings those hazy lessons about Paul Revere and the Boston Tea Party to life. Here are the top five sites:

  • The Old State House
    Here is where the Declaration of Independence was first read in Boston.
  • Faneuil Hall
    Angry colonists decided "no taxation without representation" at this spot.
  • Paul Revere's House
    See where the famous patriot, silversmith, and father of 16 lived for 30 years. It's the oldest house in Boston.
  • The Old North Church
    This is where Robert Newman hung the two lanterns (one if by land, two if by sea) signaling Paul Revere to begin his legendary midnight ride.
  • Bunker Hill Monument
    It was here the phrase "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes" was coined. The panorama from the top is outstanding; that is, if you can climb 294 steps.

The Freedom Trail starts on the Boston Common, winds its way through downtown, into the Italian North End, and onward to the Charlestown neighborhood. You can't get lost. Just follow the red-brick path or red-painted line on the sidewalk. The trail takes two to four hours to complete, depending on how many stops you make along the way. Free maps and guidebooks are available at the Boston Common Visitor's Information Center (Tremont St.).

By the time you reach the North End, everyone will be drooling for lunch. Order a pie at the original Pizzeria Regina (11 Thatcher St.), and dessert at Mike's Pastry Inc. (300 Hanover St.). Then, head to Charlestown for the climb up Bunker Hill Monument. (Tip: Take the "T" or ferry boat from the Charlestown Navy yard back to downtown Boston. You'll be too zonked to walk back.)

If your family balks at lots of walking, try these laid-back tours of Freedom Trail highlights:

  • Boston by Little Feet
    This one-hour walking tour is geared to kids ages 6-12, and covers 10 sites downtown only.
  • Trolley Tours
    Most sightseeing trolleys put you within easy walking distance of the must-see Freedom Trail sites, as well as other points of interest. The best part: You can hop on and off all day.
  • Boston Duck Tours
    This is not really a Freedom Trail tour, but it's the most popular sightseeing excursion in town. An amphibious World War II vehicle ("The Duck") cruises by the major landmarks, then splashes down in nearby Charles River, where kids take turns steering the ship. "Conducktours" are known for their eccentric outfits, personas, and narrative tidbits. Your mission: Quacking at passersby on cue.

Beyond History Lessons

Follow up a busy day of sightseeing with a lazy day at the park. The Boston Public Garden and the nearby Boston Common are havens of green in the middle of the city. Order a few "subs" (that's local lingo for hoagies and grinders) and have a picnic lunch after enjoying these uniquely Boston activities.

At the Public Garden:

  • The Swan Boats
    Take a serene lagoon ride on sculpted swan paddleboats. Bring crackers to feed the ducks -- toddlers and preschoolers love this part. The ride takes just 10 minutes, but you can wait up to 45 on a busy summer weekend.
  • "Make Way for Ducklings" Statues
    What a great photo op -- your little ones sitting on bronze statues commemorating the Mallard family in Robert McCloskey's beloved children's story "Make Way for Ducklings."

At Boston Common:

  • Frog Pond
    There's ice-skating and hot chocolate in winter, and ankle-deep wading in the summer. Okay, it's not really a frog pond, but that's what the locals have always called it.
  • Boston Common Playground
    Located next door to the Frog Pond, this is a perfect place for younger children to stretch their legs and lungs.

Eatfest at Faneuil Hall

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Faneuil Hall Marketplace at dusk
copyright: Greater Boston
Convention and Visitors Bureau

Taste Boston's famous clam chowder, baked beans, and cream pie at Faneuil Hall Marketplace, which includes Quincy Market and its many food stands. Station half the family in the center courtyard to scout for seats while the other half hunts down everyone's favorite snacks. If sit-down dining is more your style, check out the restaurants in the South and North Market buildings. When the eatfest is over, shop the pushcarts, souvenir stores, boutiques, and specialty shops flanking both sides of Quincy Market. On weekends, stake out a bench and enjoy ongoing street performances.

Museums for Rainy Days

Winter weather, rainy days, and summer scorchers can put a damper on outdoor activities. But Boston's child-friendly museums are the ultimate back-up plan. Two of the best are:

  • The Children's Museum
    Kids love making gigantic bubbles in the Bubble Room and racing build-your-own boats in the Boats Afloat exhibit. Oh, and don't forget the multi-level crawling structure, which has children begging, "One more time, please?"
  • Boston Museum of Science
    Kids go gaga over the gargantuan T-Rex, an indoor playground teaching the laws of physics, and an awesome laser light show set to rock music.

Hey There, Sports Fans!

With plans for a new Fenway Park underway, now's the time to see a Red Sox game in the country's most authentic baseball stadium. Behind-the-scenes tours of "old-fashioned" Fenway are held weekdays in season (April to October).

By late October, sports action moves to the FleetCenter, where the Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins play basketball and hockey, respectively. But be sure to order tickets for all Boston sports events way in advance of your visit.

Dashboard

Type of trip: Educational sightseeing and urban fun

Best ages: 7 and up

Ideal trip length: Four to five days

Distance: Providence (49 miles); Hartford (108 miles); Albany (193 miles); New York City (240 miles)

Best time to go: April through October

Weather: Dress in layers and pack an umbrella. 62/45 degrees in April/May; 79/62 in summer; 68/52 in September/October

Squirm factor: Some

If You Go...

Favorite local spot:
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Joe's American Bar and Grill 100 Atlantic Ave. on the Waterfront Phone: 617-367-8700 Why It's a Favorite: Boston-area families love it for the big menu, harbor views, casual atmosphere, and consistent service. Plus, there's a playground just outside the front door.

Local foods: Boston cream pie, clam chowder, cornbread, and baked beans.

Best souvenir: A "quacker" from the Boston Duck Tour. Even if you don't take the tour, pick up this noisemaker at the kiosk in the Prudential Center.

Annual events: Unless otherwise noted, contact the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-888-SEE-BOSTON for dates and locations for the following:

  • Kid's Week
    February. Special events and activities in and around the city during Massachusetts school vacation week.
  • Boston Marathon
    April.
  • Faneuil Hall Street Performers Festival
    Phone: 617-523-1300

  • Harborfest
    Phone: 617-227-1528
    Expect: A weeklong celebration late June through 4th of July holiday weekend

 

  • First Night
    Phone: 617-542-1399
    December 31

 

Traffic alert: Leave your car in the hotel garage. Bostonians have earned their reputation for crazy driving. And the city's narrow, haphazard streets are too challenging for the uninitiated. Even worse, the "Big Dig," a billion-dollar highway project, is underway and won't be finished until after 2005. Our advice: Take the "T" or walk.

The Inside Scoop

Freedom Trail Boston National Historical Park 15 State St. Phone: 617-242-5642 Note: Ranger tours spring, summer and fall, weather permitting. Most sites are free.

 

Old State House Museum 206 Washington St. Phone: 617-720-1713

 

The Paul Revere House 19 North Square in Boston's North End Phone: 617-523-2338

 

Old North Church 193 Salem St. Phone: 617-523-6676

 

Bunker Hill Monument Monument Square, Charlestown Phone: 617-242-5641

Freedom Trail Tours:

  • Boston By Little Feet
    Phone: 617-367-2345
    Note: Meet at the Sam Adams statue at historic Faneuil Hall.
  • Trolley Tours
    Beantown Trolley Tours
    Phone: 617-720-6342

    Old Town Trolley Tours
    Phone: 617-269-7150

    Minuteman Trolley Tours
    Phone: 617-269-3626
    Note: Boarding at various points throughout town.
  • Boston Duck Tours
    Phone: 617-723-DUCK
    Note: Tours leave from outside the Prudential Center. Tickets must be purchased in advance at the kiosk in the Center.

The Swan Boats Located in the Boston Public Garden Phone: 617-522-1966

 
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Swan Boats at the Public Garden
Photo copyright: Greater Boston
Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Frog Pond At Boston Common Phone: 617-635-2197

Faneuil Hall Marketplace Downtown Boston next to Historic Faneuil Hall. Phone: 617-523-1300

 

Children's Museum, Boston 300 Congress St. Phone: 617-426-8855

 

Museum of Science Science Park Phone: 617-723-2500 Note: Planetarium, laser shows and Omni Theater are an additional charge.

 

Boston Red Sox, Major League Baseball Fenway Park, 4 Yawkey Way Phone: 617-267-1700 (for tickets); 617-236-6666 (for tours)

 

Boston Celtics, National Basketball Association The FleetCenter, Causeway St. Phone: 617-931-2222

 

Boston Bruins, National Hockey League The FleetCenter, Causeway St. Phone: 617-931-2222

 
Contact:

Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau Phone: 1-888-SEE-BOSTON

Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism Phone: 800-227-6277 Note: Visitor centers located at 800 Boylston St.

 

Side Trips

Teen Heaven at Harvard

Just across the Charles River from Boston, Cambridge is a funky place -- one that teenagers love. Its heart and soul is Harvard Square, where students and faculty from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) hang out at bookstores, record shops, used clothing stores, and coffeehouses. It's the place to people-watch and browse.

Going there with kids of all ages? The best way to do Cambridge is to split up. One parent takes the young and restless to Cambridge Common Playground while the other keeps track of the teens. Meet up in an hour at Bartley's Burger Cottage (617-354-6559), known for huge hamburgers and low prices.

Take the Red Line "T" to Harvard Square; or, from Back Bay hotels, walk across the Massachusetts Ave. Bridge into Cambridge and then continue up Mass. Ave. past MIT and into Harvard Square (about 45 minutes). For more information, call the Cambridge Office for Tourism. Cambridge Office for Tourism Phone: 800-862-5678

Reviewed April 2004.

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