Things to do in Boston with Kids

categories: USA Travel

Boston. Beantown. The City of Notions. That Shining City Upon a Hill. Home of Benjamin Franklin, Edgar Allen Poe, The Kennedys, John Krasinski, and the Black Dahlia Murderess in real life, as well as to fictional luminaries like Spenser, Hester Prynne, and the entire cast of “Cheers.”

Boston is one of the great cities of the world, and never visiting her in your life would be a missed opportunity. My family of 6 traveled to Boston last Summer and these are some of the best things to do in Boston with kids in my opinion.

Boston - Old State House

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Why You Should You Visit Boston

Boston appeals to people of all stripes, especially because it’s one of those middle-ground cities big enough to offer a little of everything but not so big it becomes overwhelming, overcrowded, or dangerous. Everybody can have a great time in Boston. That said, it has a particular appeal to the following:

  • History Buffs. Those who like history can walk the Freedom Trail and enjoy spending time at one of the epicenters of the American Experiment. The buildings are as old as North American architecture gets, and you can walk in the literal footsteps of Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Hancock.

Boston - Granary Burial Ground

  • Sports Fans. Boston has more sports venues for its size than any other city in the U.S. Fenway Park is the jewel in this crown, but there’s also TD Garden, Gillette Stadium, Harvard Stadium, and much more.
  • Foodies. Food lovers will discover seafood offerings second to none in generations-old restaurants specializing in New England cuisine. Meanwhile, the rich Italian heritage and more recent immigrant history create a hard-to-beat ethnic food offering.
  • Families. Boston has educational, entertainment, and cultural offerings that make both parents and kids happy. There are so many spots to create lifelong memories, including kid-themed museums, The Franklin Park Zoo, New England Aquarium, and swan boat rides on the lake.

What to Do in Boston

You could just show up in Boston and see what happens — there’s more than enough to keep you busy. However, you can get the most out of your time by planning an itinerary including some of the highlights this city has to offer.

Boston Public Gardens Swan Boats

Walk the Public Garden

Created in 1634, the Public Gardens was redesigned in the 19th century and improved in the past 50 years. It includes rolling greens, exotic trees and plants, and picturesque swan boats. The meandering central lake has been featured in just about every Boston-based TV show and movie, making it a cultural icon you’ll be glad you experienced.

The neighborhoods surrounding the garden offer plenty in the way of shopping and restaurants, so make a half-day or full day of the excursion and make the most of it.

Catch a Sox Game at Fenway Park

Fenway Park is the oldest Major League Baseball field and a mecca for any true sports fan. If you’re lucky enough to be in town when the Red Sox are playing, you owe it to yourself to experience a game.

If they’re not playing, guided tours of the stadium and its museum occur frequently. You’ll walk through the working parts of Fenway’s stadium, viewing areas, and press box under the eye and instruction of highly trained sports buffs and Boston history aficionados. During the season, it can be smart to get reservations at the higher-end restaurants near Fenway for dinner.

Granary Burial Ground

Go Deep on History

As mentioned earlier, Boston is one of the most history-rich cities in the U.S, as the center of the American Revolution. Entire books have been written on this topic alone, but here’s a list of just a few of the high points:

  • Granary Burial Ground – with the graves of Paul Revere, John Hancock, and the woman who wrote as “Mother Goose”
  • The Bunker Hill Monument – Site of the Battle of Bunker Hill… although, oddly enough, not on Bunker Hill
  • The 250-year-old Old North Church – Of “One if by land and two if by sea” fame
  • Plimoth Plantation, an hour outside Boston in Plymouth, Mass – A living history museum about the Pilgrims
  • The USS Constitution – “Old Ironsides”, the oldest commissioned navy ship in the world that is still afloat
  • Paul Revere’s house
  • The Boston Tea Party Museum

You can visit many of these on the Freedom Trail walk, a free and iconic walk of Boston. The walk is a simple line of bricks colored differently from the rest of the sidewalk. It meanders through or past many of Boston’s historical hotspots, offering a self-paced and self-guided tour of the heart of Boston’s heritage.

The Freedom Trail is one of 6 National Parks in Massachusetts Near Boston that are worth a visit. If you have a car you can get out to Lexington and Concord, the birthplace of the industrial revolution in America or a replica of the first Iron Works in New England.

Get Beery in Boston

OK, this one is not so much for the kids!

Although it’s not a microbrew mecca like Fort Collins, Colorado, or Portland, Oregon, Boston boasts some of the oldest brewers in America and a respectable craft brew culture of its own. Tours of the nationally famous Samuel Adams brewery and of local favorites like Somerville, Dorchester, and Harpoon are inexpensive and feature tastes of up to 20 award-winning potables. You can opt to tour them individually or to participate in a guided, transportation-included tour of several breweries over the course of an afternoon.

If you love beer and television, consider a stop at Cheers, the bar which inspired the classic 1980s sitcom. Be warned: The exterior is recognizable, but the interior looks nothing like the set of the show. However, it is chock-full of Cheers memorabilia that both casual and diehard fans will enjoy.

Boston's North End

Take a Yummy Walk

Boston Yummy Walks is a four-hour, family-friendly walking tour through the North End of Boston, where you nibble and sip on foods from local eateries ranging from charcuterie to pasta to pizza to cannoli. The concept is simple to explain but hard to forget.

Given how long the tour is, we recommend scheduling it for a late afternoon running into the evening. That way, it covers a late lunch and early dinner, while still leaving you the morning and night of that day for other excursions.

Boston - Beacon Hill

Stroll Beacon Hill

The homes in this opulent neighborhood are old to the point of being historical and set in winding, narrow, brick-paved streets that call to mind images of the Boston you read about in history class. Period lamp-posts and picturesque wrought-iron front fences complete the picture. If you like to really experience the feel of a city when you travel, this seemingly simple option is not to be missed.

Although the neighborhood is largely residential, it has plenty of smaller cafes and restaurants to explore between excursions. You can give this experience as little as an hour or as much as half a day.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Take a Museum Day (or Days)

Boston offers an impressive array of museums for almost any interest. A complete list would be nigh-impossible to collate and even harder to maintain, but here are some of the highlights:

  • Museum of Science of Boston (Included in Boston CityPASS)
  • Museum of Fine Arts
  • John F. Kennedy Presidential Museum & Library (or place he was born at the John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site)
  • Printing Office of Edes & Gill
  • Boston Children’s Museum
  • Rand McNally Mapparium
  • Harvard Art Museum
  • Metropolitan Waterworks Museum
  • Boston Common

Check for hours and tour information for each museum so you can plan your time to get the most out of each site.

Pro tip: The guides and docents at the museums are also great sources of tips for where to eat and what else to see. They’re local, they’re interested, and proud of their city and eager to help.

Charles River and the John Hancock Building

Enjoy the Observatory and Stroll the Harbor

This pair of activities will give you the sense of modern Boston better than anything else you can do there. The Skywalk Observatory (Included in Boston CityPASS) is located at the top of the Prudential Tower, offering a 360-degree view of the city. Bring your guidebook and itinerary, and see how many of your destinations you can spot from the air.

At ground level, you can walk the perimeter of Boston Harbor to get a feel for the city’s heart. You’ll follow the well-developed Waterfront Trail to pass along beaches, wharves, piers, and famous views. When you don’t want to walk anymore, a water taxi will take you back to your starting point.

Taken together, preferably at the beginning of your visit, these two jaunts can orient you to the city and give you a sense of its layout that will make all your other activities more enjoyable. You’ll have a better sense of Boston as a whole and the location of everything you do within it.

Visit the Zoo and Aquarium

The Franklin Park Zoo and New England Aquarium are must-visits for any family with animal lovers.

Franklin Park is a 72-acre zoo that’s smaller than others, like the San Diego Zoo, but built from the ground up with a mission to inspire and educate. You don’t just look at animals in cages, but rather participate in experiences about those animals that will wow even the most jaded tween. The zoo is easy to navigate and kept scrupulously clean by American zoo standards.

The New England Aquarium (Included in Boston CityPASS) is one of the oldest in the country and the biggest on the northern Eastern Seaboard. Like the zoo, it’s primary mission is education, so it’s as attractive for its exhibits as it is for the amazing sea life inside. The place draws more than 1.3 million annual visitors, many of whom come almost exclusively for the famous and popular penguin exhibit.


Shop Quincy Market and Bow Market

Quincy Market is one of the oldest market buildings in the United States and still operates today. On the lower floor, you’ll find food stalls with everything from pizza and ice cream to deli sandwiches and clam chowder. The upper floors boast shops, mostly national and international chains, but the shops surrounding the building offer more local and boutique fare.

Bow market is younger and trendier, with all the advantages that has to offer. You’ll find art and comedy, local food, and over 30 shops for clothes, jewelry, handicrafts, toys, and more in a walkable, roofed outdoor space. Dedicated shoppers can spend a full day enjoying this site, and even casual souvenir-seekers should devote an afternoon.

Take the Trolley

Boston’s hop-on/hop-off trolley offers a guided tour of the city’s Old Town, including many of the stops on the Freedom Trail. It runs all day, though definitions of “day” vary according to the season and weather. You can ride the whole tour, resting in the comfort of the trolley bus, or step off whenever you see a site you want to explore more deeply. Once you finish with the site, another trolley will be along in an hour or less to continue your tour.

This is another great option to do early in your trip, since it can help you explore the city and orient yourself, grounding the rest of your experiences in the larger context.

Boston Public Gardens

Where to Stay in Boston

In terms of where to stay, Boston offers something for every level from budget to truly luxurious. All the major chains have at least one option in the city, but if you want something a little more local and colorful, consider the following:

  • Boston Four Seasons Hotel, situated on the Public Garden with a great view (and a bar frequented by famed literary detective Spenser)
  • Verb Hotel, a hip, music-themed hotel near Fenway Park with free vinyl players in every room and an extensive collection of LPs
  • The Liberty, a chic upscale lodging option built into a former jail (the cells have been redone into surprisingly cozy and enjoyable rooms)
  • W Boston, which has commanding views of the city’s business district and a style so hip it’s almost futuristic.
  • The Revere, which combines modern style with natural woods for a simultaneously retro, historical, and ultra-chic feel.



Booking.com

Podcasts

Learn more about Boston in the two episodes of Amateur Traveler we have on the city:

Travel to Boston, Massachusetts – Episode 630

Travel to Boston, Massachusetts – Episode 112

Final Thoughts

Although the realities of modern air travel make the old saw of “getting there is half the fun” suspect, getting to Boston truly is half the job of planning any expedition to Beantown.

Most travelers visiting will want to fly into Boston’s Logan International Airport. If you have the extra time, though, consider flying into Laguardia or JFK in New York (or even Newark) and enjoy a picturesque drive through New England to Boston itself.

Once you’ve arrived, most people will want to ditch the rental car. Boston driving is notoriously difficult, even by New York and Los Angeles standards. Opt for an Uber instead or get a hotel within walking distance of the city’s strong public transit options.

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by Stephen Monroe

Stephen Monroe lives on the West Coast with his family, where he writes travel pieces. He and his family of six traveled to Boston last summer and saw the Red Sox play, walked the Freedom Trail, and ate delicious Italian food.

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