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Following Boston’s Freedom Trail

Get local expert tips on how to make the most of your tour to these 16 historic sites that trace America’s colonial roots.

 

The absolutely best way to tour Boston’s major historical sites is to follow the Freedom Trail. This red-painted (or sometimes brick-paved) line runs about 2.5 miles and leads you on a tour of 16 sites from the colonial and revolutionary eras. Most sites are free, but a few do charge an admission.

Tips for Touring the Freedom Trail

Start off at the Boston Common Visitor Information Center (148 Tremont St.), near the Park Street T stop, where you can pick up a copy of the trail sites and any other information you might need. Visit www.thefreedomtrail.org to take a virtual tour and learn more, or call 617-357-8300.

Some of the sites can get packed on weekends and during school vacations, but many of them have ample space you for you to explore, such as the burying grounds and Boston Common. As you walk the trail, don’t forget to look where you’re going—the trail crosses busy streets and intersections!

Choosing Sites to Visit

Although you can visit all the sites in one day, you can’t really do justice to each place, not unless all you want to do is mark them off your to-do list. And really, you’d be exhausted if you tried. Some sites are just a quick stop, such as the Old Corner Bookstore building—the home of leading American publisher Ticknor & Fields—which you can’t even enter, while others, such as the USS Constitution will take a lot more of your time.

To help plan your Freedom Trail tour, we’ve divided the 16 sites on the following pages into two categories: key historic Boston sites for half-day tours, and those to also include if you have a full day or more for sightseeing. Make a list of what is really a priority to you, then see how much time you have.

Guided Walking Tour

For a great overview and for those with limited time, the 90-minute Walk Into History tours led by costumed guides from the Freedom Trail Foundation are a bargain. The $12 tour gives you a sense of place and history in a brief amount of time. This is an outdoor walking tour, so if you want to explore any of the sites at length, you have to go back later and purchase tickets. Tel. 617-357-8300. Tour times: 11 a.m., 12 p.m. daily; and 1:30 p.m. Mon. to Fri. www.thefreedomtrail.org

If your Boston sightseeing time of the Freedom Trail is limited to about a half a day, below are the key sites to make sure you visit.

Boston Common

You won’t see any cows on this former pasture, but you will see plenty of people roaming around the almost 50-acre green space. The country’s oldest park, dating back to 1634, was used for grazing livestock, then for hanging criminals, and now hosts the occasional outdoor concert, and offers great place to escape to from the city sidewalks. The Frog Pond (wading pool in summer/ice-skating rink in winter) is located here, a big draw for young and old alike. Admission: free. Boston Common is bordered by Tremont, Charles, Park, Boylston and Beacon streets. www.cityofboston.gov

Granary Burying Ground

The Granary Burying Ground, next to the church, holds the remains of Samuel Adams, Paul Revere and John Hancock, among many other famous revolutionaries. Elizabeth Vergoose—also known as “Mother Goose”—is also buried here. The burying ground is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (in winter, it closes at 3 p.m.). I confess I find the Granary Burying Ground of more interest than the church. It amazes me to think of the people buried here who helped shape our country. Park and Tremont streets, next to the Park Street Church; tel. 617-635-4505. www.cityofboston.gov

King’s Chapel and Burying Ground

No colonists would sell land to the Royal Governor to build a Church of England chapel in 1688, so he ordered one be built on the already existing burying ground. The church was too small for the congregation by 1749, so a new one—the King’s Chapel—was designed by Peter Harrison, one of the first architects in the United States, in 1754. This was your last stop if you were to be hanged in Boston Common. The burying ground is the oldest in the city of Boston. 64 Beacon St., tel. 617-227-2155. Admission: Donation of $3 per person. www.kings-chapel.org

First Public School Site and Ben Franklin Statue

The eight-foot-tall statue of Ben Franklin was erected in 1856 and was Boston’s first public portrait statue. Supposedly, one side of Franklin’s face is serious, the other jovial. See if you can spot which is which. Near the statue is a sidewalk mosaic called the “City Carpet” marking where Boston Latin School—the first public school in the United States—opened in 1635. Look for Franklin’s name, as well as those of other famous people, such as John Hancock, spelled out in glass and ceramic pieces. One ironic note here is that Franklin, who attended Latin, never graduated! 78 Avenue Louis Pasteur, tel. 617-357-8300.

Old South Meeting House

This is where it all began. At least, this is where the famous Boston Tea Party began. In 1773, 5,000 colonialists, angry over taxes and the Boston Massacre, raced out of the meeting hall down to the harbor and dumped three shiploads of tea into the water. Of course, it took a couple more years and acts of defiance before the British attempted to put these upstart colonialists in their place. The Meeting House was built in 1729 and was the largest building in Boston at the time. 310 Washington St., tel. 617-482-6439. Admission: $5 for adults, $1 for kids 6 to 18, free for children under 6. www.oldsouthmeetinghouse.org

Faneuil Hall

Faneuil Hall (FAN-yul) was built in 1742 as a public meeting and marketplace. Quincy Market was built next door in the 1800s, as more space was needed. Boston picked up its “Cradle of Liberty” nickname from the goings-on here because of the many important speeches about freedom that occurred in the Colonial era. Today, the area is a major tourist draw, packed with stores and restaurants. Two stories of eateries and shops entice young and old alike into Quincy Market. You can easily spend an afternoon here shopping, eating and people-watching, and it’s a good idea to end your tour here. Congress St., tel. 617-523-1300. www.faneuilhallmarketplace.com

Paul Revere House

Paul Revere owned this house from 1770 through 1800, and this is where he departed on the night of his famous Midnight Ride. The house is the oldest remaining building in the downtown area. It was built around 1680 and much of the original building is intact. Occasionally actors portray Revere, his wife, his mother-in-law and many others, and they answer questions about these historical figures’ roles during the Revolutionary War. Check the Web site for current events. It’s neat to see where and how Revere lived, but this is a pretty static museum. You walk in, look at a room and then walk into the next room. If that’s not your thing, then I’d say make sure to visit when there’s a program on. 19 North Square, tel. 617-523-2338. Admission: $3 for adults, $1 for kids 5 to 17. Open daily: April 15 to Oct. 31, 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.; Nov. 1 to April 14, 9:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. www.paulreverehouse.org

USS Constitution

“Old Ironsides,” as the oldest commissioned warship afloat is affectionately called, makes its home at the Charlestown Navy Yard. Crewmembers give tours of the vessel, which was built in 1797, throughout the day. The USS Constitution is most renowned for fighting off five British ships in the War of 1812. The crew is extremely proud of their duty serving here, and it’s great fun to talk to them about the ship and its history. This is a don’t-miss attraction.

After the tour (or before), visit the nearby museum for exhibits, hands-on activities and artifacts detailing the long history of the warship and take a walk around the Navy Yard to see what remains. Charlestown Navy Yard, Building 5; tel. 617-242-5670. Admission: free, but donations are appreciated. www.ussconstitution.navy.mil

While some of these places are easy to also add into a half-day tour of the Freedom Trail, they’re usually better saved for when you have a full day or more to check out Boston’s numerous colonial and Revolutionary War attractions.

Massachusetts State House

Located across from Boston Common, the gold-domed “new” State House was designed by Charles Bulfinch and built in 1798. It’s the oldest building on Beacon Hill and houses the state government. Visitors on the 45-minute tour can see the Hall of Flags and the Senate and House Chambers. (The “old” State House was built in 1713.) Look for the Sacred Cod hanging in the House Gallery, representing the importance of the fishing industry to the city. It’s probably enough for most visitors to just snap a photo outside the State House rather than going in, unless you’re a huge architecture fan. Beacon Street at Park Street, tel. 617-727-3676. Admission: free. Mon. to Fri., 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed weekends. www.sec.state.ma.us/trs

Park Street Church

The Park Street Church, founded in 1809, is still vibrant and well attended even after 200 years. Its 217-foot steeple was long the first landmark seen by travelers to the city. Many anti-slavery speeches took place here in the 1800s. 1 Park St., tel. 617-523-3383. www.parkstreet.org

Old Corner Bookstore

This one-time home and apothecary shop, built in 1712, gave way to a publishing house in 1832. The Scarlet Letter, Walden and the magazine Atlantic Monthly were all published here. Charles Dickens and Ralph Waldo Emerson were frequent visitors. You can’t go into the property, which is home to retail space and offices, but it’s neat to see the restored building, which was rescued by the community when it was in danger of being demolished. 3 School St., tel. 617-227-4679. www.freedomtrail.org

Old State House

The 1713 building was at first home to the British government; later it was the first place the Declaration of Independence was heard in Massachusetts. Every July Fourth, the Declaration is read from the same balcony. The Old State House is Boston’s oldest public building. Now a museum run by the Boston Historical Society, exhibits inside details the state house’s long history. Corner of State and Washington streets, tel. 617-720-1713. Admission: $5 for adults, $4 for students over 18, $1 for kids 6 to 18, free for children under 6. www.bostonhistory.org

Boston Massacre Site

In front of the Old State House, look for a ring of cobblestones marking the spot where five colonists were killed by British soldiers during a fight that got out of hand on March 5, 1770. This incident was the first time blood was shed in the years leading up to the American Revolution. Corner of Devonshire and State streets.

Old North Church

Two lanterns swinging from the belfry in the Old North Church set in motion Paul Revere’s famous ride that prompted the Revolutionary War. The sexton of the church, Robert Newman (who is buried in Copp’s Hill), hung the lanterns on April 18, 1775, to warn that the British were coming up the Charles River, en route to Lexington. The Old North Church is still open for services and welcomes visitors. It was built in 1723 and is quite beautiful. In addition to its Paul Revere fame, the church is home to the oldest church bells in North America. 193 Salem St., tel. 617-523-6676. www.oldnorth.com

Copp’s Hill Burial Ground

The second-oldest burial ground in Boston is Copp’s Hill, founded in 1659 and formerly called Windmill Hill. William Copp was a shoemaker who owned the land at one point. Many of the North End’s artisans and merchants were buried here, along with free black people who lived in what was called the “New Guinea Community.” Robert Newman, the Old North Church sexton who warned Paul Revere that the British were coming, is also buried here. The British took aim from here at Charlestown during the Battle of Bunker Hill. 21 Hull St., tel. 617-357-8300. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. www.cityofboston.gov

Bunker Hill Monument

The 221-foot-tall Bunker Hill Monument honors the first major battle of the American Revolution, which happened on nearby Breed’s Hill. Climb up to the top for spectacular views. Across the street is the Bunker Hill Museum, where you can learn all about this famous battle. 55 Constitution Road, tel. 617-242-5642. Admission: free. Open daily, 9 a.m to 5 p.m. www.nps.gov/bost/historyculture/bhm.htm


Destinations: Boston

Themes: Historical Vacations, Urban Endeavors

Activities: Sightseeing


User Comments

There's a 5k group run through historic Boston every Saturday & Sunday @ 8:30 am. Check-out: www.FreedomTrailRun.com

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