Guide To the Best Landmarks and Attractions in Boston
Looking for the best things to do and see in Boston? Here's my guide to the must visit historic landmarks and cultural attractions in Boston, for your bucket list.
The country's oldest city, Boston is steeped in American history. Boston played a pivotal role in the Revolutionary War. Boston's sometimes called the "hub of the world" or the "cradle of liberty" because it was the source and inspiration for key ideas that shaped America.
Boston is a dream destination, especially for history buffs and culture vultures. This Boston travel guide takes you on a tour of Boston's most famous sites and monuments. From the historic Freedom Trail to its world class museums and charming neighborhoods, you'll discover the best destinations in beautiful Boston.
Boston is easy to get around and compact, making it perfect for travelers. The subway will take you wherever you need to go. And Boston's very walkable.
35 Must See Landmarks and Attractions in Boston
Let's tour Boston, taking in all its must see sites and some hidden gems. There's so many amazing things to do in Boston that you could be busy for a month. But here are the 35 places and destinations to put on your Boston itinerary:
1. Acorn Street: Prettiest Street in the United States
Acorn Street is America's most photographed street. Just south of Louisburg Square, Acorn Street is often called the most beautiful street in America. The narrow short lane just screams "Beacon Hill." You'll might feel like you're in an 18th century romance novel.
Do the obligatory selfie amid its cobblestones and townhouses. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes to brave the cobblestones and uneven sidewalks.
2. Ayer Mansion: Tiffany Decorations
Ayer Mansion is a registered historic landmark in the back Bay. The 1902 mansion is a rare surviving home created and decorated entirely by Louis Comfort Tiffany.
His trademark stained glass windows shine above the front door. Inside, you'll find beautiful glass mosaics, intricate woodwork, and a jaw dropping chandelier. The piece de resistance, though, is the mosaic staircase in the entrance hall.
Tours of the Ayer Mansion are offered at least one Saturday and one Wednesday per month. Though the museum is house is closed to the public for maintenance during August, a tour schedule is regularly available on ayermansion.org.
Address: 95 Commonwealth Avenue
3. Back Bay: Brick & Brownstones
Boston’s Back Bay is New England's version of New York’s SoHo and West Village. You'll want to stroll down Beacon, Marlborough, Commonwealth, Newbury, and Boylston streets.
Back Bay is a beautiful space to meander aimlessly, with pretty brownstones and tree-lined streets. There are plenty of old Victorian mansions and churches in this neighborhood that date back to the 19th century. If you want to tour a brownstone, pop into Gibson House Museum at 137 Beacon Street.
Back Bay's churches are adorned with heavenly stained glass, perhaps the neighborhood's greatest architectural asset. The most notable glass is in Arlington Street Church. It boasts 16 stunning stained glass windows created by Louis Comfort Tiffany.
More Tiffany stained glass decorates the Church of the Covenant on Newbury Street. This church also houses the Gallery NAGA, featuring New England artists.
4. Back Bay Fens: Roses Galore
Boston's Back Bay Fens are located in the Fenway neighborhood. It's a beautiful green space in Boston filled with formal and community gardens and some historic landmarks and war memorials.
The fens were founded in 1879 by Frederick Law Olmsted. At the time, the fens were a stagnate waterway. Olmsted transformed the marsh into a beautiful urban landscape.
The most beautiful part of the fens is the Kelleher Rose Garden. It was planted in 1941. It's a community garden spanning 7.5 acres. So beautiful is the garden, that it's a popular spot for weddings.
Address: 100 Park Avenue
5. Beacon Hill: Bostons' Oldest Neighborhood
Beacon Hill is an extremely pretty and exclusive neighborhood of gaslit streets and brick sidewalks. The homes, many designed by the ubiquitous Bulfinch, were built for Boston's Protestant merchant elite, known as the Boston Brahmins.
Start your tour of Beacon Hill at Louisberg Square. The smart bow front homes date from the 1830s. Drop down nearby Willow Street and take in the cobblestoned Acorn Street, America's most photographed street. For the grandest homes, head back up Mount Vernon Street. The home of famed Boston architect Charles Bulfinch is on Chestnut Street.
End your walk on Beacon Street. The bow front William Hickling Prescott home (#55) is a Bulfinch masterpiece open to the public.
6. Boston Athenaeum: A Library Built By Brahmins
At the foot of Beacon Hill lies Boston's oldest library and one of its oldest museums, the Boston Athenaeum. When you pass through its red leather doors, you'll discover one of Boston’s most beloved hidden gems. An athenaeum is a studious sanctuary, named after the Greek goddess Athena, devoted to research and learning.
A designated National Historic Landmark, the Boston Athenaeum is one of the oldest and most esteemed private membership libraries in the United States. And it's the most beautiful library-haven you've never heard of, with Colonial decor and Louis Comfort Tiffany painted ceilings.
Opened in 1849, the Boston Athenaeum is in the heart of the city, adjacent to Boston Common. Past library members include luminaries and patriots such as John Quincy Adams, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Amy Lowell, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Daniel Webster.
Today, the collection boasts over a half million volumes, beautiful paintings, sculptures, rare books, and manuscripts. There's a special emphasis on the history of Boston and New England, English and American literature, and fine and decorative arts. If you're a culture vulture or bookworm, the Athenaeum is a must see site in Boston.
Address: 10 1/2 Beacon Street
7. Boston Common: Boston's Oldest Green Space
Boston Common is the oldest city park in the United States, dating back to 1634. In Boston's early days, the park was used for cattle grazing and as a training field for the British militia. Much like the green in the Tower of London, the Common was center stage in American history. It was used for hangings, duels, and spirited oratory.
Today, the Common's historic green lawn is used as a playground. The Common hosts public celebrations, concerts, Shakespeare plays, and holiday festivals. Speakers like Barack Obama and Martin Luther King Jr. have used the Common to rally New Englanders.
Boston Common is also the first stop on the Freedom Trail, a historic 2.5 mile marked walking trail. Boston Common is adjacent to Boston Public Garden.
8. Boston Museum of Fine Art: World Class Collections
The Boston Museum of Fine Arts is a world class museum that can be daunting to visit because it's so massive. Established in 1870, it's the fourth largest museum in the United States. Founded in 1876 and housed in a Beaux Art building, the museum was later expanded by architect I.M. Pei.
The collection has everything from Egyptian mummies to minimalist Mondrians. The museum's collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist work is among the world's finest, second in the United States only to Philadelphia's Barnes Foundation.
Some of the must see masterpieces in the museum include Van Gogh's Postman Joseph Roulin, Monet's Poppy Field in a Hollow Near Giverny, Goya's Seated Giant, and Rembrandt's Portrait of a 62 Year Old Woman,
If viewing fatigue sets in, head to the peaceful Shapiro Rotunda on Level 2 with classical murals by John Singer Sargent.
Address: 465 Huntington Avenue
9. Boston Public Garden: Make Way For Ducklings and Swans
Boston Public Garden is a lush oasis of 24 acres located right next to Boston Common. The park is the prettiest place of natural beauty in Boston. It's famous for its bronze Make Way or Ducklings statue, a landmark designed by Boston native Nancy Schon.
In the spring, the garden is a spectacular sea of tulips. In the summer months, you can take a swan boat ride on the lagoon. In the fall, you'll find fiery autumn foliage.
The garden also has some magnificent statues. Near the Arlington Street entrance, there's a statue of George Washington that's considered one of the best equestrian statues in the United States.
Address: 4 Charles Street
10. Boston Public Library: Elegant Reading Room
Boston Public Library is the third largest library in the country. Opened in 1848, it’s one of the largest municipal libraries in the country -- home to 24 million items and welcoming almost 4 million visitors annually. The library was the first free public library in the United States and first to lend books.
The historic library is designed in a palatial Renaissance Revival style. It's housed in two buildings.
The historic McKin building was designed by architect Charles Follen McKim. It boasts art work by Daniel Chester French and John Singer Sargent. The highlight is the Bates Hall Reading Room (shown above). The modern Johnson building was designed by Philip Johnson.
The library is famous for its murals. The most beautiful one is upstairs in the dimly lit Sargent Hall. You can take a free art and architecture tour of the library from its Dartmouth Street entrance.
Address: 700 Boylston Street
11. Boston Symphony Hall: For Music Lovers
The Boston Symphony Orchestra is one of the five major orchestras in the United States. They're referred to as the "Big Five."
The symphony orchestra performs in Boston's stately concert hall in the Back Bay during the fall, winter, and spring seasons. Built in 1900, the hall is considered one of the best concert halls in the world. There are statue-filled niches along the three sides, with replicas of Greco-Roman statues related to the arts.
In the summer, the company moves to Tanglewood, a beautiful destination in the Berkshires.
Address: 301 Massachusetts Avenue
12. Bunker Hill Monument
The Bunker Hill Monument is a massive granite obelisk marking the spot of the bloody Battle of Bunker Hill. Taking place on June 17, 1775, it was the first pitched battle of the American Revolution.
Although the British won the battle, the provincial soldiers killed or wounded 1,000 British soldiers. According to lore, patriots shouted "Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes!"
You can climb 294 steps up the gigantic granite obelisk for decent views over the city. Across the street from the monument grounds, is the Bunker Hill Museum, housing exhibits about the famous battle.
Address: Monument Square, Boston National Historical Park
13. Faneuil Hall Marketplace: Get Your Lobster Roll
Built in 1742, Faneuil Hall was a gift from the wealthy merchant and slave trader Peter Faneuil. It served as an open air market and Boston's first town meeting hall.
Faneuil Hall was a political hotbed, where patriots protested British authority and taxation. Here, Samuel Adams and James Otis gave impassioned speeches. Citizens rallied against the British taxation statutes. Faneuil Hall earned the nickname the "Cradle of Liberty."
In 1806, America's first professional architect Charles Bulfinch enlarged the building. After the revolution, citizens gathered for anti-slavery speeches. Advocates of women rights also gave speeches there.
As a result, Faneuil Hall is the most visited destination in New England. It has an open ground floor serving as a market, a covered assembly room above (the Great Hall), and a grasshopper weathervane atop the roof. In the Revolutionary era, town meetings and ceremonies were once held in the assembly room.
Address: 4 South Market Street
14. Fenway Park: America's Oldest Baseball Field
Boston's Fenway neighborhood is known for its iconic ballpark, Fenway Park. Opened in 1912, it's the oldest baseball stadium in the United States. History is alive in Fenway Park.
The stadium is prized for its eccentricities. Like many classic ballparks, Fenway was built on a asymmetrical block, causing unusual field dimensions. A corner is center field is 420 feet away from home plate, the longest one in baseball. In contrast, the "Green Monster" is only 310 feet from home plate and is a popular target for right-handed hitters.
The most famous legend associated with Fenway is the Curse of the Bambino. Babe Ruth played with the Red Sox at the beginning of his career from 1914-19.
When he was traded to the Yankees in 1919, the Red Sox had won three world series in four years. Without Ruth, the Red Sox fortunes crashed and Ruth went on to become the great hitters in baseball history.
Address: 24 Beacon Street
15. Freedom Trail: Footsteps of History
The Freedom Trail is a beloved 2.5 mile walk through historic Boston. It leads you through the major sites and monuments relating to the city’s founding and the Revolutionary War. You follow a red brick road, with signs and historic markers along the way.
The trail begins in the Boston Common and ends at Bunker Hill. You can pick up a map and free guide at Faneuil Hall or the Boston Common Visitor Center at the beginning of the trail at 139 Tremont Street. Some stops are free and some charge admission.
Along the way, you’ll visit 16 historic Boston locations and landmarks, many of which are on this list of must see landmarks in Boston.
16. Harvard Art Museums: World Class Art
The Harvard Art Museums are a conglomerate of three separate museums -- the Fogg Museum, the Biusch-Reisinger Museum, and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum. After renovations by Renzo Piano from 2008-14, the museums were recently combined under a single glorious glass roof and renamed the Harvard Art Museums.
The Harvard Museums contain a range of collections from antiquity to the present day. The 250,000 exhibits are spread out over 7 levels. There's also a theater and cafe.
The Fogg Museum houses a very good collection of Western art and Italian Renaissance paintings, including works by Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, and Bernini.
You'll also find paintings by a roster of French Impressionist luminaries in the Maurice Wertheim Collection -- Van Gogh, Picasso, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Manet.
Founded in 1901, the Busch-Reisinger Museum is dedicated to the art of Central and Northern Europe. The works cover the Austrian Secession, German Expressionism, and the Bauhaus design school. The Bauhaus works resulted from a partnership with Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius, a former chair of Harvard's Department of Architecture.
The Arthur M. Sackler Museum is the newest of the trio, opening in 1985. It's dedicated to Asian, Indian, Islamic, and Byzantine art. Highlights include beautiful Greek vases, carved jade from India, and a limestone Buddha.
Address: 32 Quincy Street
17. Harvard Square: Buzzing Enclave
Harvard Square is the iconic center of Cambridge. It's a triangular plaza located at the intersection of Battle Street, John F. Kennedy Street, and Massachusetts Avenue. You'll find all manner of humanity -- students, tourists, political activists, buskers, chess players, and other street creatures.
Wander around and experience the mix of life and small businesses. Stroll into used book stores, coffee shops, and chocolate shops. Watch artists, vagabonds, locals, and college students mingle. There are some cool little shops in the mini-mall called the The Garage.
There are plenty of eclectic boutiques in Harvard Square too. If you want to grab some Ivy league merchandise, head into the Harvard Coop. If you're interested in unique clothing, try Boutique Fabulous, Susanna, or Mint Julep.
Harvard Square becomes very lively at night. Students gather to watch street performers. You can catch an independent movie at Brattle Theatre, take in a show at the American Repertory Theater, or enjoy a stand up show at Comedy Studio.
Address: Brattle Street Cambridge
18. Harvard Yard: Beautiful Harvard Architecture
As Harvard Square is the center of Cambridge, Harvard Yard is the nucleus of Harvard University. Founded in 1636, Harvard is the oldest university in America. You can take a free 70 minute walking tour with a student guide or just do a DIY stroll.
Start at the Johnston Gate on Massachusetts Avenue. You'll be greeted by a statue of John Harvard, Harvard's founder, carved by Daniel Chester French (of Lincoln Memorial fame) in 1884.
Ranged around the John Harvard statue are tree lined footpaths, trim lawns, scholarly libraries, and elegant Georgian and Federal architecture.
Massachusetts Hall is a Georgian gem, and the oldest surviving building at Harvard. But the building pales in comparison to the massive Gothic style Matthews Hall. Built in 1872, Matthews Hall is situated in the heart of Harvard Yard. It serves as a freshman dorm.
Behind the John Harvard statue is the graceful University Hall, dating from 1815. This granite building was designed by Bulfinch. It was the first building to veer away from Harvard's trademark red bricks.
The New Yard is dominated by the colonnaded facade of Harvard's flagship Widener Library. The library is an imposing building, whose entrance is graced with 12 Roman pillars and stands atop a 27 step granite staircase.
Address: 2 Kirkland Street
19. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: Paintings in a Palace
Housed in a Venetian-style palace, the exquisite Gardner Museum holds the in situ private collection of an eccentric heiress and premiere American collector. The museum has a real wow factor, with a skylit interior courtyard filled with sculptures and mosaics.
It's one of the most unique museums in the United States. The sky-lit interior courtyard has Roman, Venetian, and medieval architectural elements and sculpture. It can be seen from every level of the museum.
Inside, the museum has three floors of gallery spaces. It boasts works from the Italian Renaissance and Dutch Golden Age. The works by artistic luminaries such as Rembrandt, Raphael, John Singer Sargent, Titian, Piero della Francesca, and Veronese.
On the first floor, highlights include the Spanish Cloister with its enormous Moorish framed piece by John Singer Sargent, the Blue Room, and the Yellow Room. On the second floor, there is the Dutch Room, the Raphael Room, the Early Italian Room, and the Tapestry Room. On the third floor, there is the Gothic Room, the Veronese Room, and the Titian Room.
Click here for my complete guide to this wonderful museum.
Address: 25 Evans Way
20. King’s Chapel & King's Chapel Burying Ground
King James II seized the land for this granite church in 1686. He established the first Anglican church in New England. In 1749, the Georgian style chapel was constructed around the original church.
The interior is considered one of the best examples of Georgian architecture in all of the united States. The church houses the oldest pulpit still in use and a Paul Revere designed church bell from 1816.
Next to the chapel on Tremont Street lies the King's Chapel Burying Ground, used by the Loyalists. You'll find the graves of John Winthrop, Massachusetts first governor, and Mary Chilton, believed to be the first women to step off the Mayflower. The grave of Elizabeth Pain has a headstone said to inspire Hawthorne's character Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter.
Address: 58 Tremont Street