Things to do in Boston

Must-see Boston sights

With budget flights direct from the UK to Boston, it’s a city that’s getting a lot of buzz.

  1. Go back in time at Beacon Hill
  2. See the penguins at New England Aquarium
  3. Go back in time at the Boston Children’s Museum
  4. Catch a baseball game
  5. Visit the modernist Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA)
  6. Walk the Freedom Trail
  7. Take a swan boat around the Public Garden

There’s a good reason why people fall in love with Massachusetts’ liberal state capital. Leafy and walkable, Boston basks in summer sun and cool fresh air, its position on the edge of the Atlantic a reason for its revolutionary history. Home of the Red Sox baseball team, Bostonians love their sports as much as rambles by the attractive harbour and mammoth meals at crab shacks.

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1. Go back in time at Beacon Hill

No visit to Boston would be complete without an afternoon spent strolling around delightful Beacon Hill, Boston’s most exclusive postcode where Victorian brick row houses are lit by antique lanterns and cobblestones. From antique shops to speakeasy cocktail bars, there’s plenty of quirky goings on to make you linger here. If you’re planning one blow-out night, book a table at Barbara Lynch’s flagship restaurant inside a former Beacon Hill mansion, for genius French/Italian-inspired cuisine.

Tip: Get snappy! Acorn Street is one of the most photographed streets in the USA.

2. See the penguins at New England Aquarium

We have just one thing to say: Penguins. Sixty of them, hopping around a huge central enclosure. Listen out for the ‘jackass’ species, so called for their loud call which sounds like a donkey's bray. With its colossal, three-storey glass cylindrical tank, the aquarium is one of the best things to do in Boston. As you walk around you’ll see giant sea turtles, moray eels and sharks as well as a range of other ocean exotica swimming by in proximity. If you can muster the courage, you’re allowed to pat scratchy bonnethead sharks and velvety cownose rays as they swim through a mangrove-themed touch tank.

Tip: Up the experience at the aquarium’s 3-D IMAX theatre or join one of its whale-watching trips.

3. Go back in time at the Boston Children’s Museum

It’s hard to miss the larger-than-life 1930s-era Hood Milk Bottle model, across the Congress Street bridge from downtown. Just behind the bottle, the Boston Children’s Museum comprises three floors of educational exhibits craftily designed to trick kids into learning about different topics, from musicology to the engineering of a huge bubble.

Tip: Travelling with a little one? The toddler room here is an oasis for parents, with a gate so there’s no escape.

4. Catch a baseball game

The city’s devotion to baseball rages to a nearly religious fervour. So when you’re planning what to do in Boston, you’ve got to see a game. Given the reverence with which baseball is treated, it’s appropriate that the city’s team, the Red Sox, plays in Fenway Park, one of the country’s most celebrated ballparks. Tours of the ballpark are fun and deservedly popular, but nothing beats experiencing the roar of the crowd as you bite into your all-American hotdog and wave that foam finger around. The season runs from April to October, and tickets are reasonable, though tough to snag (Sox fans are an exceptionally devoted lot).

Tip: Couldn’t get tickets to the baseball? Patriots football, Bruins ice hockey, or Celtics basketball games are top choices.

5. Visit the modernist Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA)

Resembling a tremendous, glimmering ice cube perched above Boston Harbor, the Institute of Contemporary Art offers a show before you’ve even crossed the threshold. Complementing the museum’s collection of avant-garde artworks is the building’s dramatic cantilever shape, which juts 80ft over the water. From the interior, this extended section functions as the “Founders Gallery”, a meditative ledge where, if you look down, you’ll find yourself standing directly above the water.

Tip: Ages 17 and under go for free; as do families on the last Saturday of the month.

6. Walk the Freedom Trail

New England life during the 17th century was pretty rough. And when America started kicking back against foreign rule, Boston became a hotbed of revolutionary activity. On this trail, each of the 16 sights is a milestone in the evolution of Boston from English colony to independence. Delineated by a 2.5-mile-long red-brick (or paint) stripe in the sidewalk, the Freedom Trail stretches from Boston Common to Charlestown. If you have a guide, the trail is one of the most fascinating things to do in Boston. Take a 90-minute walking tour with Boston's official Freedom Trail tours, or the hop on hop off Old Town Trolley Tours let you explore the sights at your own pace.

Tip: Tours later in the day typically have a smaller group.

7. Take a swan boat around the Public Garden

After you’ve been rushing around for a couple of days, this 24-acre botanical park - Boston’s most beautiful outdoor space - provides a dose of relaxation. If you’re after a cheap holiday to Boston, grab a budget lunch and secure a picnic spot under weeping willows that ring the gorgeous lagoon. Up the romance with a 15-minute ride in a swan boat. These elegant, pedal-powered conveyances have been around since 1877, long enough to have become a Boston institution.

Tip: Walk across Charles Street to Boston Common for a ride on its vintage carousel.

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