Known to be the capital of Massachusetts, and also its largest city, Boston is famous for playing a crucial role in the American Revolution.
But it also goes beyond history.
The city is filled with diverse gastronomical hotspots, a thriving sports scene, flourishing neighborhoods, vibrant nightlife, world-class museums, and fun outdoor attractions.
Visiting Boston will give you all the benefits of being in a large metropolis minus the intensity and fast-paced way of living of New York City. It should definitely be on your list if you’re traveling to the northeastern United States.
This ultimate Boston travel guide will help you plan your next trip.
Things to do
The New England Aquarium
The New England Aquarium is one of the top tourist attractions in Boston that you can visit all year round. It’s suitable for the whole family, including children and grandparents.
Not only is it home to thousands of aquatic animals and a wide range of exhibits, but the Aquarium also has a theatre where they screen IMAX films about marine life.
They have also partnered with Boston Harbor Cruises to give visitors a chance to see whales up close and personal.
The building is fully wheelchair accessible and the theatre has provisions in which wheelchairs can be parked.
The Freedom Trail has 16 historic sites that are vital to American freedom and civil liberties.
This 2.5-mile walk will take you through important monuments and sites that are related to the Revolutionary War, as well as the country’s fight for independence.
Travelers can take a guided tour at the visitor’s center. These usually start at the Boston Common and end at the Bunker Hill Monument.
Harvard University is known to be one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Taking a tour of the campus is a must if you’re in the Boston area.
You’ll see people rubbing the John Harvard statue, as it’s meant to bring good luck. As tempting as it might be, we advise you to not rub the statue.
The students pee on it.
Other notable places to tour are the Harvard University Art Museums (the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, and the Fogg Museum,) which house both historical and modern exhibitions.
There’s also the Harvard Museum of Natural History, a museum that features animals, dinosaurs, and minerals (and that includes meteorites!).
There’s plenty of informative content in the facility for both adults and kids alike.
Brattle Book Shop
Looking for a more unique experience when searching for the best things to do in Boston?
Drop by the Brattle Book Shop, a family run-bookstore that first opened its doors way back in 1825! It’s one of the country’s oldest surviving bookstores.
Browse over 250,000 books, postcards, maps, and other unique items. Apart from selling second-hand books, the bookshop also houses an impressive collection of antique books, and limited edition books.
Known as the “Little Italy,” the North End is considered as the very heart of the Italian community in Boston.
Visiting the North End will almost feel as if you’re in Italy, and the hardest decision that you have to make when you’re here is where to eat!
The aroma of freshly cooked pasta and pizza will waft through your nose as you stroll through its narrow streets.
Every storefront in the neighborhood seems to have either a cafe, gelateria, restaurant, bakery, or food store.
If you’re craving sweets, you’ll find the best gelato outside Italy here as well.
Where to stay
Boston is well-known for being a city that’s filled with a rich, fascinating history, and beautiful parks. Its Museum of Fine Arts is also one of the best museums in the country.
But it’s more than just a city with a rich history. It also has a thriving art scene, unique food culture, and a string of quaint campuses around the area.
Ideally, the area (or neighborhood) that you should stay in depends on what you’re looking for in a trip.
You could stay in a modern apartment overlooking skyscrapers, in a posh neighborhood filled with stately Victorian homes, or a centrally located accommodation that has easy access to everything.
If you’re wondering where to stay in Boston, we’ll explore some of the popular neighborhoods in the city to help you decide where you want to stay on your trip.
To experience the city’s vibrant nightlife: Fenway
If you’re searching for the best neighborhood in Boston for partying, then Fenway should be at the top of your list.
Although known to be one of the city’s cultural and academic districts, over the last couple of years, it became the yuppie capital of the city as restaurants and other establishments started to open up.
Today, it has become Boston’s mecca of nightlife, with bars and clubs lining along Lansdowne Street.
Nearby, you’ll also find Kenmore Square, home to one of the city’s greatest museums ‒ the Museum of Fine Arts and Symphony Hall.
For foodies: South End
If you’re a foodie, then we recommend that you stay in the South End.
Hands down, this is one of the best foodie neighborhoods in the area, housing some of the best restaurants the city has to offer.
Nestled just south of Back Bay, this is one of the city’s best residential neighborhoods. It’s surrounded by beautiful boutique hotels and quirky shops that you won’t find anywhere else.
For a central location: Back Bay
Whether it’s your first or eighth time visiting the city, Back Bay is one of the best neighborhoods to stay in Boston.
It’s beautiful, centrally located, and well-connected to public transportation. It offers quick access to gorgeous parks, nightlife and trendy shops in the area.
You’re also steps away from top attractions like the Public Garden, Boston Public Library, and the Boston Marathon finish line in Copley Square.
How to get around
Downtown Boston is fairly easy to navigate.
Everything’s walkable, with an abundance of taxis, and a public transportation system that allows you to navigate smoothly, from Harvard to Harbor.
Use this section to figure out the best transportation option for your trip.
If you’re wondering how to get around in Boston, the city’s public transportation system is a great way to navigate Boston quickly and easily.
The subway, also known as the T, runs throughout Boston, Cambridge, and nearby suburbs. It also provides you access to all the top attractions inside the city.
You can buy Charlie Tickets for single and multiple subway rides at the vending machines of the majority of the stations.
A single one-way fare would usually cost $2.75, but if you use a Charlie Card (a plastic card that looks like a credit card) the fares would go as low as $2.25, one-way. You can load your card with the amount that you choose.
Overall, using a Charlie Card is a more cost-efficient way to explore the city than buying single tickets.
You can also take buses to get around Boston. If you want to travel to areas located outside of Boston, the Commuter Rail is a quick and easy way to get around.
The T’s Link Pass offers one-day passes ($12.75) and seven-day passes ($22.50). These give you unlimited travel via subway, local bus, Commuter Rail Zone 1A, and the Inner Harbor Ferry.
Renting a car
If you’re planning on exploring beyond the city, it’s an excellent idea to rent a car.
At Boston Logan Airport, after you’ve picked up your things from the baggage claim, go straight to the Rental Car Center Bus Stop.
From there, you can ride a blue and white shuttle, which usually runs every 5 minutes. This will take you directly to the Rental Car Center.
If you’re undecided on which service to use, check out this list of car rental companies available at Logan Airport.
If you’re driving, you have to remember that the city’s road patterns can be quite confusing. Using apps like Google Maps and Waze can significantly help you with navigation.
Moreover, finding a parking space can be challenging in some parts of the city.
If you’re going to an attraction or a restaurant, it’s best to check if there’s a parking lot or a valet service beforehand.
Several taxi services are available throughout the city. A cab ride from Logan International Airport Coming to most hotels in the city center will usually range between $25-$35, one way.
Similarly, you can also download ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft to get to your destination. Rides from the airport to centrally located hotels start around $20.
While public transportation will get you to most places you want to go, sometimes you want a faster or more comfortable option.
Either taxis or ridesharing services are excellent options to get around the city.
Getting to the city from the airport
There are several ways you can get from the city center to the airport. You can hop a taxi, use a ridesharing service, ride a GO Boston Shuttle, or take public transportation. To get a cab, all you need to do is to just follow the signs that lead to ground transportation.
Plan accordingly, as rush hour traffic can eat up a significant amount of your time.
For a more budget-friendly alternative, take public transportation to and from the airport. The options available include the Silver Line and the Blue Line.
Make sure to look up directions before your arrival so you know which route to take.
The Silver Line connects with the Red Line as well as with the Commuter Rail at South Station. The Blue Line connects to the Orange Line, Green Line, and the Commuter Rail at North Station. Riding the Silver Line from the airport is free.
If you’re traveling to the airport, you can transfer to the Silver Line for free from the Red Line.
With a lot of international influences and an interesting seaside locale, Boston has morphed over the years from simple, local flavors, to universally loved classics and internationally recognized dishes.
So, when looking for where to eat in Boston, you shouldn’t leave unless you try out at least one of these three iconic dishes the city has to offer.
Boston Cream Pie
Boston has shared one of its greatest gifts to the culinary world, the Boston Cream Pie.
Officially, this is Massachusetts’ state dessert. It was created in 1856 at the Omni Parker House, the oldest operating hotel in the US.
To this day, the historic Parker’s Restaurant is still operating inside the property. You can enjoy eating this delectable dessert in the same Brahmin-inspired dining room where President Kennedy proposed to his wife, Jacky.
The Boston Cream Pie, known to be a Parker House original, is chocolate-covered, cream-filled goodness that always hits the right notes.
If you’ve never had one, don’t expect an actual pie. The Boston Cream Pie definitely identifies more as a cake.
This one is a no-brainer.
This half-pound patty is made with a variety of choice cut plus suet and bone marrow. Combined, you get one unforgettable burger. Certainly, this leaves a big enough impression to be already considered a classic.
To grab one, head to Craigie on Main and make a reservation for the bar. These burgers are in limited supply, with only about 18 served per night.
Make sure to show up early to get your fix.
You shouldn’t leave Boston without trying a bowl of New England Clam Chowder.
This soup is said to have originated in the early 18th century brought by French, British, and Nova Scotian settlers.
Clam Chowder eventually became a staple, and you can find it anywhere in the city. This classic New England recipe is made up of onions, potatoes, milk or cream, clams, and oyster crackers to thicken it up a little bit more.
And while we’re not huge fans of Legal Sea Foods, we have to admit that their clam chowder is on point.
Boston, being one of the oldest cities in the US, is rich with history and culture.
Situated in Massachusetts, it’s only a stone’s throw away from the East Coast’s impressive scenery and other historic attractions.
After you’re done exploring Boston’s busy streets, there are several day trips that you can take from this Massachusetts capital that will fuel your wanderlust.
Salem is the most vital port other than Boston, and the main hub of the US’ China Trade.
It kept most of its 18th- and 19th-century architecture with neighborhoods filled with towering homes. These were originally built for successful sea captains and merchants.
Some of the largest and finest homes are free to tour, finished with high-quality antiques and other decor from the Far East.
Of course, there’s one thing that often comes to mind when people think about Salem: witches.
You can learn about Salem’s grim witch trials from a guide as you tour the Salem Witch Museum, House of the Seven Gables, and other notable landmarks in the area.
Nestled south of Cape Cod is Martha’s Vineyard, a New England summer colony with lots to explore.
It’s usually accessed via boat, and the ferry from Falmouth going here takes approximately 30 minutes. Once you reach land, you can drop by the beautiful gorgeous gingerbread cottages found in Oak Bluffs.
Another must-visit town is Edgartown, popular for its whaling captain homes, the Edgartown Lighthouse and of course, lots of gift shops. Make sure to visit Aquinnah, and the Gay Head Cliffs as well.
Cape Cod is a well-known vacation destination for local and international tourists alike. It’s filled with charming Massachusetts villages, seaside cafes, as well as a stunning coastline.
A real gem in this place is Sandwich, the oldest village in the area.
Dropping by The Heritage Museum and Gardens will make a wonderful addition to your day trip coming from Boston, especially during summer when the flowers are in full bloom.
The Cape is especially popular during the summertime, but visiting in the winter makes for a quiet and picturesque day trip.
Weather and best times to visit
Do you want to experience a true New England fall? Or do you prefer to see flowers in bloom? Are you the type of traveler that likes snowy destinations?
The best time to visit Boston will depend on your preferences and what kind of trip you want to have.
Below you’ll find information on what kind of weather to expect as well as some special events that you might want to consider planning your trip around.
- January is usually the coldest month in Boston, temperatures ranging between 22°F and 37°F (-5.5°C to 2.7°C). July is the warmest, with an average high of 82°F, or 28°C.
- Usually, April and May are the most stunning months because of spring blooms in most of the city’s parks and green spaces.
- October and November will show you an authentic New England autumn. You’ll see trees with a beautiful array of colors, ranging from red to gold and orange.
- Rain usually comes during May and tapers off in August.
- Because of the number of colleges and universities in the area, prices spike during graduation season. Make sure to plan your trip accordingly if you decide to visit in the summer months.
- Hotel and other accommodation prices are at their highest between May and September. If you’re traveling during these months, you should make a reservation in advance.
- If you don’t mind the cold so much, you can try visiting in January or February. You’ll find that everything will be less crowded, and it’s highly likely that you could also snag a great hotel deal online as prices are much more reasonable during off-peak season.
The Boston Marathon is one of the largest annual marathons in the world. Except for this year, it’s always held during Patriot’s Day, every third Monday of April.
As one of the most well-known racing events in the world, the marathon attracts approximately 500,000 spectators yearly, making it New England’s most viewed sporting event.
Back In 1897, the marathon first started with only 15 participants. Now, there are about 30,000 participants who register, though the amount varies every year.
Because of the recent pandemic, the 124th Boston Marathon will be held as a virtual race event on September 14, 2020.
Boston Calling is a three-day multi-stage festival that features the best acts in live music, visual arts, and comedy.
The event also offers easy access to amazing concessions, indoor performances, and performance areas. All ages are welcome, and kids under 10 are admitted for free.
Boston Harborfest is the best birthday bash of the country! What better way to celebrate Independence Day than on the actual streets where it happened?
This week-long event is the largest Fourth of July festival in the country.
There are colonial-era reenactments, a traditional cake cutting, and, of course, fireworks. Guests and visitors can also enjoy live performances by local musicians and view the stunning works of local visual artists.
The Independence Day Commemoration is held on July 4, with a flag-raising ceremony at the City Hall Plaza, followed by a wreath-laying on the Granary Burial Ground and a parade.
The rest of the day’s events continue at the Old State House for the annual reading of the Declaration of Independence.
Watch out for the return of Chowderfest as well. Spectators can taste free samples from restaurants and cast their votes on who has the best chowder in Boston.
Tips for traveling with limited mobility
Boston has over the years earned a reputation of being a “walking city.” Although it might seem like a struggle for people with limited mobility, don’t let this deter you.
The city has a great public transportation system, and is very wheelchair accessible.
You can also make arrangements beforehand if you want to utilize The Ride, a shared-van paratransit service that offers door-to-door transport for only $2, one way.
Note: you need to be ADA certified in your area to access this service.
Here are some helpful travel tips if you have limited mobility and you’re traveling the city:
The internet is your friend
Research extensively the places you want to visit. While many facilities and attractions in Boston are accessible, some require advance notice to ensure that you have a safe and enjoyable visit.
Because it’s a city full of historical buildings, be aware that some of these buildings can’t accommodate wheelchairs.
Have a plan B just in case things don’t turn out as planned
Maybe you couldn’t drop by the hottest restaurant or architectural marvel due to your restriction.
Or you have to dine at the restaurant next door because the host seems unreceptive or flustered by your needs.
Be flexible and open in your travel plans, and don’t hesitate to ask questions. It’s possible that someone’s view of what’s “accessible” won’t match up with your expectations.
Always have a plan B in mind and remember your rights.
Parties You’ll Never Forget
Boston has a thriving nightlife scene with its clubs, pubs, and bars. If you want a lovely night out look no further.
This section will shed some light on the best things and places that you can go to in Boston at night.
- Rooftop Lookout at the Envoy Hotel: Rooftop Lookout nestled on top of the Envoy Hotel is one of the city’s premier rooftop bars. It offers you a panoramic view of the city’s skyline and waterfront. This rooftop bar typically opens from 5:00 pm to midnight. The dress code is smart casual.
- Big Night Live: Big Night Live is a concert space and music hall that can accommodate up to 2000 guests. Its multiple levels offer guests the best views at the venue.
- Laugh Boston: One of the most hilarious Boston venues if you want to have a good laugh. The comedy bar features both big-time comedians and newbie performers here. Guests can also access a full bar where snacks, sandwiches, and desserts are served.
- Icon: Dance the night away at Icon, a hip and splashy venue in the Theater District. The facility features an impressive lighting and sound system, and they play beats with a mash-up of house, Latin, hip-hop, and Top 40.
- Hojoko: Cap the night off as you head to this Tokyo-style vinyl lounge in Fenway’s Verb Hotel. Modeled after izakayas (drinking taverns in Japan), this themed bar also serves frozen cocktails and craft beers.
Wholesome Kinds of Fun
Nightlife in Boston doesn’t have to be all about clubbing and partying. From evening museum visits, 24-hour bakeries, to breathtaking city lights, Boston has unique selling points. As an alternative, here are some wholesome fun things to do after hours:
- Institute of Contemporary Art: Spend an evening admiring art at a museum! At the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) art-gazing isn’t just a daytime activity. Every Thursday, it opens from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm. And the best thing about it is that admission is free during those hours.
- Boston University Campus: Catch a glimpse of the stars every Wednesday night (assuming that it doesn’t rain) at the Boston University Coit Observatory. The viewing in the facility usually starts at 8:30 pm and lasts for an hour. This leaves you plenty of time to catch dinner afterward.
- Davis Square: There’s probably nothing more romantic than taking your significant other to the library roof during evenings to witness the city’s breathtaking skyline. This is open to anyone willing to climb their outdoor stairs. It’s a pretty cool nighttime activity if you’re up to it, and it’s also free.
- Bova’s Bakery: Want to satisfy your midnight cravings? Bova’s Bakery in the North End has one of the best cannolis in town, and it happens to be open 24/7 as well. There’s also plenty of other desserts to choose from like cream puffs, tiramisu, and red velvet whoopie pies.
- Outdoor movies: During summer until early fall, Boston is full of free second-run movie screenings. Catch newer classics in Boston Harbor Hotel like Toy Story, Back to the Future, and Jaws on a huge outdoor screen. Similarly, the city also features outdoor screenings in smaller parks throughout Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and Brookline.
Things to do with kids
Freedom Trail, Boston Common, and Public Garden
History, statues, and a large expanse of land might not exactly be the ingredients to a peaceful trip with your kids.
But if you have the patience of a saint, visiting these spots in Boston gives you a chance to:
- Teach your kids about the American Revolution.
- Explain why it’s important to learn about tea, and
- Be left with no choice but to bond with your child while riding the iconic Swan Boats.
And the only motivation you need is the promise of pizza, cannolis, and gelato at the Italian-American neighborhoods of the North End.
How to get there: The Freedom Trail begins at the Boston Common, and to get there just take the Red or Green Line to Park Street Station and walk about 100 yards towards the Visitor Information Center down the street.
More information at https://www.thefreedomtrail.org/
Boston Children’s Museum
If you’re looking for a good mix of learning and things to deplete your kid’s HP level, while giving you a bit of a respite, make sure to include this spot in your itinerary.
The Boston Children’s Museum offers a lot of hands-on and multi-sensory exhibits in its STEAM Lab, Japanese House, and Explore-a-Saurus that encourage learning, creativity, and language development among others.
And when you need a little breather, take your kids to the three-story New Balance Foundation Climb.
Watch them make their way through this glorious full-body, vertical 3D maze, as you enjoy your time alone.
How to get there: Take the MBTA Red Line and exit at the South Station. Walk towards Summer Street and keep walking until you reach Dorchester Avenue. Turn right towards Congress Street Bridge and walk across towards the 40-foot milk bottle. You’ll find the museum is behind the milk bottle.
More information at https://bostonchildrenmuseum.org
Sky Zone Trampoline Park
Indoor trampoline park. What more is there to say? If you’re traveling with bigger kids, Sky Zone has facilities where they can literally bounce off the walls.
Here, they can play the ultimate game of dodgeball, jump face-first into a sea of foam, and start practicing to be the next American Ninja Warrior in a safe environment, while you enjoy two hours or more of stress-free fun.
How to get there: Take the Orange Line and exit at Wellington Stop. Take a 15-minute walk towards Norman Street.
More information at https://www.skyzone.com/boston
Things to do for senior visitors
Boston is simply one of the most gorgeous and unique cities to visit.
It’s chock full of art museums and historical sites, delectable food choices, professional sports of all kinds, and the lively entertainment of a big city but with the heart and feel of a small town.
Its compact size makes it easy to walk around, visit renowned attractions, and grab a bite to eat within one day.
But for senior visitors who would like to go about at a more leisurely pace, here are some recommended activities.
Boston DUCK Tours
Seniors will appreciate this 90-minute historical tour of the city of Boston while onboard a refurbished World War II amphibious DUCK vehicle.
The vehicle can take you to popular sites such as Beacon Hill, Prudential Center, Massachusetts State House, Boston Common, to name a few.
The tour commences by driving right into the Charles River where one can enjoy the breathtaking view of the Boston and Cambridge skylines.
The DUCKS are wheelchair accessible and the company also offers senior discounts.
Visit and tour the Paul Revere House
Step into the 2-story house where Paul Revere and his family lived and have fun exploring the decorations and outfitted pieces of the original furniture as it would have been during the time they lived in it.
The house is Boston’s oldest building and is great for those who enjoy historic landmarks. Both floors are fully wheelchair accessible.
Catch a Boston Pops concert
Also known as “America’s Orchestra,” Boston Pops is arguably the most beloved orchestra in the country.
Usually, when not on tour, most performances are held at Symphony Hall in Boston. We promise, you’re bound to have a great time when attending one of their concerts.
The Boston Pops Orchestra usually plays light classical music and popular music. For a more budget-friendly experience, you can purchase a ticket to one of their open rehearsals instead.
Shop, dine and relax at Faneuil Hall Marketplace
After a long day of tours, what better way to spend the rest of the night than some much needed retail therapy, food discoveries, and entertainment.
Located in the heart of downtown Boston, this historic “Cradle of Liberty” meeting place is a good venue to stroll along the cobblestone paths to shop for souvenirs and try delicious meals from local vendors.
You can also enjoy live entertainment from street performers and light shows or, if you’re still up for it, attend the hour-long history tours.
Notes and additional information
Traveling to Boston on a budget
Boston is a pretty expensive city, and you might be spending most of your cash if you’re not too careful with your budget.
But since the city is considered a university town, you could still find cheaper alternatives as long as you know where to look. You can go to free concerts, or just enjoy the free parks.
Similarly, you can save money on rideshares. Uber and Lyft are a lot cheaper than taking taxis.
Although Boston is a pretty safe place to travel and backpack (especially if you’re a solo traveler) you still have to practice caution.
Don’t walk alone during evenings in unlit places and try to keep all your valuables and belongings secure at all times.
Parts of Downtown Crossing and Chinatown can be unsafe, so try to avoid these places late at night if you’re on your own.
We lived in Boston for a few years and we’re happy to answer any questions you may have. If you want more personalized tips, we’re more than willing to share recommendations tailor-made for you. Just leave us a comment and let us know!
Kat is originally from Puerto Rico and is now living in (almost equally) sunny Southern California. She works at a children’s educational company and travels as much as her vacation time will allow. Some of her favorite hobbies include baking, planning Disney trips, and watching too much Netflix.