Boston, the largest city in New England, is located on a hilly peninsula in Massachusetts Bay. The region had been inhabited since at least 2400 B.C. by the Massachusetts tribe of Native Americans, who called the peninsula Shawmut.
Captain John Smith in 1614 explored the coastline of what he christened “New England”, to make the area sound more attractive to settlers. Within a few years, more than half the Native Americans in the region had died of smallpox introduced by European explorers.
A fleet of ships helmed by Puritans left England in 1630, settling in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Led by John Winthrop, the group soon merged with the Pilgrims’ Plymouth Colony, located about 40 miles to the south in Cape Cod Bay.
Originally called Tremontaine for the three hills in the area, the Puritans later changed the settlement’s name to Boston, after the town in Lincolnshire, England, from which many Puritans originated. In the 1630s, Boston Latin School, where Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and Samuel Adams studied and Harvard University were founded.
Despite the premium placed on education and religion, Boston’s Puritans were not keen on tolerance: The “crime” of being a Quaker (historically of Christian denomination) was punishable by imprisonment or death, celebrating Christmas was banned, and in 1643 the city welcomed the first slave ship into Boston Harbor.
As Boston grew and prospered, tensions between colonists and English governors increased, especially after the British Parliament passed the Molasses Act of 1733, which levied a tax on molasses, a critical import for Boston rum makers. Soon, the city’s politicians and clergymen were crying out for, “No taxation without representation!”
After the 1770 Boston Massacre, during which British troops fired upon a mob of colonists, killing five, anti-British sentiment reached a fever pitch. When the 1773 Tea Act levied taxes on imported tea, the Sons of Liberty staged the Boston Tea Party, dumping some 45 tons of tea into Boston Harbour on December 16, 1773. This incident in which 342 chests of tea belonging to the British East India Company were thrown from ships into Boston Harbour by American patriots disguised as Mohawk Indians. The Americans were protesting both a tax on tea and the perceived monopoly of the East India Company.
Many of the key events of the Revolutionary War occurred in or near Boston, including the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Paul Revere’s ride and the Battle of Bunker Hill. The city finally celebrated when the British evacuated the city in 1776, ending the Siege of Boston.
Boston continued to grow in the 1800s, and Massachusetts, home of William Lloyd Garrison and a longtime center of the abolitionist movement, was the first state in the Union to abolish slavery. Fleeing the Potato Famine, Irish immigrants flooded into Boston, and were later joined by Italian, Eastern European, Chinese and other nationalities. In 1897, the first Boston Marathon was held.
In the mid 20th century Boston's economy declined, as older factories were abandoned for modern manufacturing facilities, as people migrated away from the city center. The “Curse of the Bambino”, occurring after Babe Ruth was traded to the New York Yankees in 1918, and the Boston Red Sox failed to win the World Series for 86 years, seemed to haunt the city. However in the late 20th century it revived thanks to finance, hi-tech industries and tourism. New England Aquarium was built in 1969. The John F. Kennedy Library and Museum opened in 1993. Paul Revere House where the famous man lived from 1770 to 1800 is also open to the public. So is the USS Constitution, which was launched in Boston in 1797. It gained the nickname 'old ironsides' because it resisted British cannon fire during the war of 1812.
21st century Boston continues to thrive and has emerged as a prosperous and cosmopolitan center of technology, education and medical research, with a population of about 4.7 million in the greater Boston area.
Nearly four centuries of history are showcased by the city's must see sights. Start your tour on the Freedom Trail, which will lead you to landmarks like the Paul Revere House and Boston Common. Or discover Beantown's artsy side at the Museum of Fine Arts and its fashion sense along Newbury Street. If you are a fan of baseball, you can't miss catching a game at Fenway Park, home to the beloved Red Sox. Though blowing through your travel fund is a cinch in Boston, there are also plenty of things to do that will not cost you a penny; the lovely Boston Public Garden and the lively Faneuil Hall Marketplace can be experienced without opening your wallet.
1. New England Aquarium
Located on the Central Wharf within walking distance of the Rose Kennedy Greenway, the New England Aquarium showcases numerous exhibits of sea life, from exotic jellyfish and stingrays to playful seals and penguins. Opened in 1969, the aquarium’s standout feature is a 200,000 gallon Giant Ocean Tank situated in the main building’s atrium that replicates a coral reef environment. A spiral walkway around the tank gives onlookers a close-up view of sharks, barracuda, sea turtles and schools of small fish. The facility is also home to an IMAX theater that shows movies with aquatic themes. Whale watching tours are available too, and visitors can combine a cruise ticket with the aquarium’s price of admission.
2. Boston Harbour Islands
The 34 islands that lie off the coast of Boston offer visitors endless opportunities for fun in the sun and sea. Thirteen of the islands are included in the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. Must see attractions include the Civil War Fort Warren on Georges Island and the public beach on Spectacle Island, which is only a 15 minute ferry ride away from the city’s Long Wharf. Georges Island is home to the nation’s oldest lighthouse as well. With trails that wander past dunes and forested areas as well as a swimming beach, Lovells Island is a popular spot for camping.
3. Cheers Beacon Hill
Fans of the television show “Cheers” who want to visit the bar that inspired the hit series may need to travel to two separate locations to fulfill their wish. Renamed Cheers Beacon Hill in 2002, the Bull & Finch Pub located on Beacon Street served as the exterior shot of the bar featured in the opening credits, but the pub’s interior was never used for the show. A replica of the show’s set, however, is on display at the historic Faneuil Hall market building downtown, and tourists asking for the location of Cheers are likely to be directed there. Both destinations sell souvenirs commemorating the show.
4. Fenway Park
Fenway Park has been home to the Boston Red Sox baseball team since 1912, and for the city’s inhabitants, it is one of Boston’s most beloved landmarks. As America’s oldest major league stadium in continuous use, the park is a must see attraction for fans of the sport as well. Fenway is also one of the few old style parks remaining in the United States, and the park’s smaller than average field and infamous left field wall known as the “Green Monster” makes the outcome of games played here hard to predict. Although games usually sell out quickly, visitors can often snag same day tickets at the park’s box office. Tours of the park are available as well.
5. USS Constitution
Berthed at Pier 1 on the Harborwalk, the USS Constitution is the world’s oldest commissioned navel vessel afloat, and still sets sail every Fourth of July to commemorate America’s independence. Launched in 1797, the three masted Constitution was named by President George Washington in honor of the Constitution of the United States. The thick, durable hull on the wooden frigate earned the ship its nickname “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812 when the ship gained fame for defeating five British warships. The ship is open to the public year round with free tours provided by US Navy personnel.
6. Faneuil Hall
Located in Boston’s downtown district, Faneuil Hall is best known for the role that the brick building played during the American Revolution. Although built as a marketplace in 1742 with funds that donor Peter Faneuil acquired in the slave trade, the second story assembly rooms became a gathering spot for patriots yearning for freedom. Among them was the lawyer James Otis, who not only gave the building its nickname, the “Cradle of Liberty,” but coined the rallying cry “no taxation without representation” as well. The building is still used as both a marketplace and as a place for political debates and among the most popular tourist attractions in Boston.
7. Boston Common
America’s oldest public park, Boston Common was acquired by the city’s Puritan founders in 1634. First used as a cow pasture, the park is also the site of many historic events. The British used the area as a camp at the start of the Revolutionary War. A plaque in the park marks the spot where public hangings were held. A kiosk hosted by Boston’s Freedom Trail Foundation offers visitors information about the park’s monuments. Landscaped with shady trees, fountains and a pond, Boston Common is a pleasant place to take a break from sightseeing excursions as well.
8. Back Bay
Bordered by the Charles River, the Back Bay neighborhood was so named because it was built on what once were stagnant pools of water. Today, the late19th century neighborhood is an upscale, fashionable district with picturesque streets lined with Victorian homes, trendy restaurants and chic boutiques. The neighborhood is also home to the Boston Public Garden, the oldest and largest botanical garden in the nation. The Old South Church in Copley is worth a visit too. Built in 1874 in the Gothic Revival style, the church features an interior redecorated by Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1905.
9. Quincy Market
Designed by architect Alexander Parris and completed in 1826, Quincy Market is as well known for its architectural style as it is for the food that offered inside its more than 20 restaurants and 40 stalls. Named after Boston mayor Josiah Quincy, the rectangular shaped edifice was built in the Greek Revival style that Thomas Jefferson introduced to America as break from the Georgian architecture. Constructed with granite, the building’s heavy materials provide a striking contrast to its delicate design, which includes a grand and ornate domed pavilion. It is a good place one can grab a quick bite on the cheap.
10. Freedom Trail
America’s first historic walking tour, the Freedom Trail is a path that includes 16 of Boston’s most important Revolutionary War sites. Marked by a line of red paint, the 2.5 mile (4 km) trail starts at the Boston Common, the oldest park in the United States. The tour leads visitors past the Old State House, the site of the Boston Massacre, where British troops fired into a crowd of protesting citizens. It passes by Paul Revere House and the Old North Church where two lanterns were hung in the steeple to warn that the British would approach by sea. The end of the path connects with the Harborwalk, leading visitors to the USS Constitution.
11. Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum
Located on the Congress Street Bridge, the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum is an interactive, high tech, floating museum. Unlike anything you have ever experienced before, this unique museum sits on a barge in the water, includes tours on restored tea ships and a stunning, interactive documentary that immerses you into the events that led up to the American Revolution. Touch, feel, see and hear what the patriots felt when their passions and angers flared at the injustice of taxation without representation. Participate in multi-sensory exhibits, witness dramatic reenactments by professional actors and historians and discover the true story behind the Boston Tea Party.
12. Paul Revere House
No trip to Boston would be complete without visiting the home of the famous patriot, craftsman, businessman and entrepreneur Paul Revere. Built around 1680, the Paul Revere House, owned by the legendary patriot from 1770-1800, is the oldest remaining structure in downtown Boston and also the only official Freedom Trail historic site that is a home. Tour his home and hear about 18th-century family life. In the new education and visitor center, enjoy displays of silver and evocative artifacts related to Revere’s many business ventures, and learn the real story of his midnight ride presented in his own words. View the Paul Revere House event schedule and plan a trip to experience special living history programs in the site's courtyard and period gardens.
New England Aquarium
Boston Harbour Islands
Massachusetts State House (the state capitol and seat of government)
Cheers Beacon Hill
Cheers Beacon Hill (replica of the show’s set)
American television series Cheers (the highest rated episode of the 1992–1993 television season in the United States)
Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum
Paul Revere House
8 Signature Boston Dishes:
1. Clam Chowder
Clam chowder has been around for centuries, thanks to a handful of settlers, presumed to be either British, French or Nova Scotian, who ushered the thick soup into New England in the early 18th century. Although there are a couple of different styles, Boston has become a haven for the New England variety, a white chowder crafted out of clams, onions, milk or cream, potatoes and thickened with oyster crackers.
2. Lobster Rolls
While Boston’s northern neighbor may scoff at the idea of eating a lobster roll outside of Maine, Boston has certainly become a destination for the summertime meal. The sandwich, often served on a griddled, buttered roll, arrives flush with pink lobster meat and showered with warm melted butter or mayo.
There is a bit of a cannoli rivalry in Boston. Where to get the flaky Italian pastry, hollow pastry tubes piped with sweet ricotta cheese and peppered with chocolate, nuts or fruit, is a frequent argument among Bostonians. Do you head to the North End to Mike’s Pastry, a family run bakery that has been making cannolis presented in white boxes tied with string since 1946? Or do you hit Modern Pastry down the street, where three generations of bakers are hand filling shells? You may simply have to try both.
4. Fish and Chips
Although it’s believed that the first fish and chips shop was opened in the mid-19th century in London, Boston has welcomed the British favorite as one of its own. White fish, usually cod, pollock or haddock, is battered in flour and deep fried until golden and crackly, and paired with a platter of oil slicked fries. Bostonians flock to The Barking Crab, a harborside shack that plops fish and chips, plus a side of house-made tartar sauce, in a red plastic basket. Others swear by Matt Murphy’s Pub’s version, crispy cod presented in newspaper.
5. Boston Cream Pie
There is perhaps nothing more Boston than the very dessert that is named after the city itself. Boston cream pie has long been a staple in Boston, ever since 1856 when it was first created at the Parker House Hotel, now the Omni Parker House Hotel. Baked by French chef Augustine Francois Anezin, the pie was referred to originally as a chocolate cream pie, with two rounds of sponge cake bathed in custard, painted with rum syrup and finished with shiny chocolate fondant. The cake is still available at the hotel, but there are plenty of great versions in both cake and doughnut form at Flour Bakery, Union Square Donuts and Magnolia Bakery.
Briny oysters pulled from the sea are aplenty in Boston, especially during the city’s self proclaimed oyster hours. Few are as wonderfully fresh as the ones Island Creek Oyster Bar serves, sourced from the nearby Massachusetts coastal towns of Duxbury, Plymouth, Barnstable and Wellfleet. Shoot them back straight, or squeeze a fistful of lemon juice on top. Stop by La Brasa, Russell House Tavern or Boston Public Market for their $1 oyster hours.
7. Fenway Frank
Let us be frank: Red Sox fans are just as eager to watch America’s favorite pastime in action as they are to double down on franks and a beer at the game. The hotdogs have been a mainstay at the park since it opened over a hundred years ago. These are both boiled and grilled, slipped into a split top bun and crowned with a mountain of relish or squeeze of mustard. Sure, you can get a hotdog in any city, but this long standing tradition feels purely Boston.
8. Baked Beans
Boston was not nicknamed Beantown by chance; the name stems from the city’s beloved baked beans. Contrary to its name, baked beans are not baked; they are actually stewed, sweetened with syrup or molasses and swirled with bacon or salt pork. The old fashioned, slow-cooked recipe is often carved into at a range of pubs, like Beantown Pub, The Fours, and Marliave, a French restaurant that delivers a pile of smoky beans in a cast iron dish.