I’ve run Around the World “L” Travel Blog for a decade now, and have lived in Boston nearly my whole life (multiple decades!), but it isn’t until THIS article that I am finally, comprehensively answering the question I get so much…
What are the Best Things to Do in Boston, MA?
So glad you asked! My aim in this compilation is to bring you beyond the cliches of Boston tourism — beyond Fenway Park, the Freedom Trail, Duck Tours, Faneuil Hall, Cheers, and Mike’s Pastry — fun as all those are.
In this article, I will show you some of Boston‘s lesser-discussed attractions — many of them totally FREE — which bring joy. All are easy to walk or take public transport to, which is key, because I do not recommend renting a car or driving in Boston. Now without further ado, I bring you…
Fun Things to Do in Boston
A local travel blogger's advice on what to do in Boston, including free attractions, food, festivals, activities, sightseeing, and things to do with kids.
My #1 favorite FREE thing to do in Boston with visitors (or myself!) during any season is the walk explained in this article, which spans Copley Square and Back Bay, the Boston Public Garden, and the Esplanade. So beautiful! Lots of tasty places to eat along the way, too. This article also contains tips about visiting the city during winter months.
If you're seeking a delightful culinary and cultural activity, Boston Public Market (located near the Haymarket T station, just north of Downtown) is a large gathering of local food and craft producers. Wander, eat, and smile!
If you visit Boston during the warmer months, take a tranquil (and extremely inexpensive) float through the lagoon of the Boston Public Garden on the famed Swan Boats -- in operation since 1877! In the garden, you'll see the romantic bridge where my husband proposed, and the adorable "Make Way for Ducklings statues" (which are strong enough for kids to pose on top of, creating priceless photos).
Just a short walk from Downtown, explore the North End: Home of famed Italian restaurants and shops, and goo-gobs of history. Though Mike's Pastry is one of the best known bakeries, this article details eateries that you might like even more...
Across a scenic bridge from Downtown Boston lies the city of Cambridge, best known for Harvard University. Don't overlook nearby Central Square, however: It's got some of the coolest art installations in the country, including Graffiti Alley, which changes every day, and can provide the backdrop for stunning photos!
The Central Branch of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square (a short walk south of Downtown, easily accessible by public transport, too) is among the most stunning buildings in the world, and you can visit for FREE! Don't miss the soaring marble arches in the green-light Reading Room, and if you're with kids, the Children's Room is good for hours of entertainment. Bonus for fun poses with the stone lion sculptures...
Boston has a powerful Black Heritage Trail, and a long history of African-American contributions and accomplishments. Check out this article's detailed timeline, and follow the trail, yourself, which centers on charming Beacon Hill, right near Downtown.
The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is a world-class collection of art. Special exhibits rotate (as with the quilt show pictured here), and the permanent works range from Ancient Egypt and Greece to modern day. Boston is also home to numerous other excellent museums, including the Museum of Science, the Children's Museum, the ICA, Harvard's museums, the Gardener, the Aquarium, and more! Check each for special discounts, and also know that locals can sign out free passes to them for you.
I've rented kayaks in Boston four different times -- both with and without kids -- from different launching points in and around Boston, and HIGHLY recommend this activity. You get to admire the beauty of our city from such a different vantage point, and it's both relaxing and active. Note that rental companies are stationed all along the river, so pick the spot that best matches with your touring plans.
No discussion of Boston is complete without acknowledging its stunning 7-mile system of parks created by Frederick Law Olmsted: the Emerald Necklace! Wandering this greenspace is one of my favorite things to do in our city. The Arnold Arboretum, featured in this article, is particularly astounding in spring and autumn with its riot of colors.
Looking for Boston's zoo? You'll find it in the largest park in the Emerald Necklace: Franklin Park. There is something for everyone in this green oasis, including a golf course, hiking trails, scenic ruins, and rolling green hills. Just be careful not to get lost in its wide expanse!
Right near the Arboretum lies Jamaica Pond -- a perfect spot for a tranquil stroll, or to take in a sunset before eating at the fabulous nearby restaurants. Both "The Arb" and "The Pond" are in the neighborhood of Jamaica Plain: a flavorful area accessible from Downtown by the Orange Line, or several bus routes.
If you happen to be in Boston in autumn, a wonderful, kid-friendly activity is the two-day Latern Festival around Jamaica Pond. People make their own lanterns from recycled materials, then dress up in Halloween costumes to celebrate with a parade.
Let's now move to the ocean! Boston is a seaport city, so exploring the harbor is glorious. You get sparkling skyline views, can check out the Harbor Islands, see planes taking off over the water from Logan Airport, and even pick a themed boat ride for food, dancing, or whale watching.
If you see a cow logo with a pink background, it's likely a branch of J.P. Licks, the famed local ice cream company. I love the unique rotating monthly flavors! December's Gingersnap Molasses was my favorite, but the Brownie Batter flavor (offered year-round) is a perennial winner.
Love Fluff? The "What the Fluff" festival in Somerville, MA (an easy MBTA jaunt from Boston proper) is... an experience. I will warn you that this celebration of marshmallow goo has grown exponentially over the years, so be prepared for massive crowds!
One of the strangest pieces of architecture in our fair town is City Hall: a "brutalist" building with a massive concrete patio. I bring this up because, first, visitors often wonder what that hulk is, and second, there that concrete expanse of a plaza is often put to good use for festivals and concerts, so look up what's on offer when you're in town. (My favorites are the Scooper Bowl Ice Cream Fundraiser and the Donna Summer Roller Disco Party.)
Boston can be an extremely expensive place for accommodations, so allow me to tip you off to one of the most affordable places to stay right downtown: the New Boston Hostel, run by HIUSA: Hostelling International. They have both shared bunk rooms and private rooms, and plenty of common areas and events to meet fellow travelers and locals alike. The article here shows photos of the hostel, and has my speech when I was the keynote at the building's ribbon-cutting ceremony.
While we're touring, here's an account of the Context Travel guided expedition around Boston's Big Dig area. The layers of history in this city blow my mind, and the architectural and engineering details impress.
This article shows several beautiful locations in the European-feeling neighborhood of Back Bay to catch a glorious sunset. To emphasize: My recommended starting point for any Boston trip is Copley Square.
When in a new city, I always like to explore exercise opportunities (both to stay in shape and to meet people). Boston has a number of free workout opportunities, as well as countless gyms for all levels and budgets. This article explains several options.
What’s YOUR Favorite Boston Activity?
I will be adding to this list as I document more Boston shenanigans, so which spots on this list have you tried and recommend, and what should be added that is missing? Do share!
Day Trips and Short Getaways Near Boston
Enjoyed Boston and ready to explore the surrounding towns and attractions? Click here for a hefty list of getaways in New England within easy reach from the Massachusetts capital. Have fun!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!