Things to Do in Massachusetts
Set on the 50th floor of Boston’s Prudential Tower, the Skywalk Observatory offers 360-degree views of the city and surrounding landscape. Here you can learn about notable landmarks, visit the onsite Dreams of Freedom Museum, or venture two floors up to enjoy a meal at the Top of the Hub Restaurant and Lounge.
Taking in 16 of Boston’s most famous cultural and historical sites, the 2.5-mile-long (4-kilometer) Freedom Trail winds through downtown Boston, from southerly Boston Common, the nation’s oldest public park, to the Bunker Hill Monument on the north side of the Charles River. The red-brick path and its designated stops, including colonial-era churches, museums, and meeting houses, make for an excellent introduction to Boston and its role in the American Revolution and United States history.
Boston’s oldest residential neighborhood, the North End has been inhabited since the 1630s and is now the city’s Little Italy. Visit to see a variety of historical and cultural attractions, such as the Paul Revere House (the starting place of his famous “midnight ride” in 1775) and enjoy Italian-American fare.
The starting point of the Freedom Trail, Boston Common is the oldest park in the country. At 50 acres (20 hectares), it is the anchor for the Emerald Necklace, a system of connected parks that winds through many of Boston’s neighborhoods. The historic park was once a campground for British troops during the Revolutionary War.
Martha's Vineyard gained national attention as the setting for the movie Jaws in the 1970s, but notable figures were spending their summers soaking up the sun on this picturesque island off the coast of Cape Cod long before the movie. Cozy inns, fine dining, and golden-sand beaches characterize this scenic coastal retreat.
Relive the events of December 16, 1773 at the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum. Located in Boston Harbor, this floating museum provides visitors with an immersive experience, complete with full-scale replica tea ships, live costumed actors, a multi-sensory documentary, interactive exhibits, historic artifacts, and more.
Built in 1797 and named by George Washington, the 3-masted USSConstitution frigate in Boston is the US Navy’s oldest commissioned ship and one of the world’s oldest warships. Visitors can go aboard the ship, docked at Boston’s Charlestown Navy Yard and restored to its original glory, to explore an important slice of US history.
Faneuil Hall is a bustling marketplace best known for its ever-changing lineup of street performers and its central location on Boston’s historic Freedom Trail. Tourists and locals alike flock to the complex’s shops and Quincy Market, featuring 30-plus food stalls selling everything from exotic coffee to fresh seafood and artisanal bread.
Founded in 1848, the Boston Public Library contains over 23 million items, making it the second largest public library in the U.S., after the Library of Congress. Of those millions, about 1.7 million are rare books and works, including medieval manuscripts and incunabula (a book or pamphlet printed prior to 1501 in Europe). Among the rare books are also the personal library of John Adams, early editions of works by William Shakespeare, drawings from Thomas Rowlandson and musical archives from the Handel and Haydn Society.
The McKim Building, with its vast research collection, and the Johnson Building, where you can find the circulating collection, are two of the most important parts of the library. The McKim Building is even a National Historic Landmark. And while the library system technically includes a whopping 24 branches, the original Copley Square location offers plenty to see, including Bates Hall, the Chavannes Gallery, the Abbey Room and the Sargent Gallery.
More Things to Do in Massachusetts
Built in 1713, Boston's Old State House is the city’s oldest public building and considered pivotal to prerevolutionary US history. Dwarfed by Boston’s skyscrapers and a fixture on its revolution-tracing Freedom Trail, the onetime government building is now a museum to the city’s revolutionary era and the events that kindled the American Revolution.
At the Salem Witch Museum, relive the tragic Salem witch trials of 1692 through a series of life-size stage sets. See and hear how neighbors turned against neighbors, and learn more about everyone involved. You’ll also get an overview of the evolving perception of witches throughout history.
Boston’s most cherished landmark isn’t Bunker Hill or the Tea Party Ships, but rather old Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. A must-see for sports enthusiasts as well as history and architecture buffs, Fenway Park is famous for its uniquely shaped playing field and towering left field wall known as the Green Monster.
The Boston Public Garden is a 24 acre (10 hectare) botanical oasis of Victorian flowerbeds, verdant grass, and weeping willow trees shading a tranquil lagoon. At any time of the year, it is an island of loveliness, awash in seasonal blooms, gold-toned leaves, or untrammeled snow.
A statue of George Washington, looking stately atop his horse, greets visitors at the main entrance on Arlington Street. Other pieces of public art in the park, however, are more whimsical. The most endearing is Make Way for Ducklings, always a favorite with tiny tots who can climb and sit on the bronze ducks. But it’s the peaceful lagoon that draws visitors and locals a like to the Public Garden. For it is hear, you should take on the slow-going swan boats, a serene relic of bygone days.
With a range of interactive exhibits, the Boston Museum of Science is an educational playground. Its exhibits explore computers, technology, complex systems, algae, maps, models, dinosaurs, birds, and much more. Don't miss the world's largest lightning bolt generator, a space capsule, world population meter, and virtual fish tank.
Home to the Massachusetts State House, Boston’s historic Beacon Hill neighborhood is reminiscent of 19th-century London—replete with cobbled streets, brownstone buildings, and flower-filled window boxes. At night, gas lanterns flicker to life and create a romantic atmosphere for fine dining and bar-hopping.
Located in Cambridge, just north of Boston, Harvard University is synonymous with prestige and accomplishment. Known for a curriculum that challenges and inspires its students, this Ivy League university boasts over 45 Nobel Prize winners and eight US presidents, including Barack Obama, among its faculty and alumni.
The Bunker Hill Memorial is a granite monument built in memory of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the first real battle of the American Revolutionary War.
The Battle of Bunker Hill took place in June 1775 in Charlestown, Massachusetts, when American Revolutionary forces met the British Army during one of the earliest battles of the war. The British ultimately won that battle – although, of course, they would go on to lose the war.
The battle itself took place on nearby Breed's Hill, but Bunker Hill was the main objective of both armies – so that's where the Bunker Hill Monument was built. The first monument was built in 1794, made of wood, and stood 18 feet tall. From 1827-1842, the current granite memorial was built. The obelisk resembles the Washington Monument in Washington D.C., towering over the surrounding landscape.
Copley Place is the premier high-end shopping destination of Boston. With 75 shops spread out over 9.5 acres, there is something for every shopper at the massive mall. The two levels of shopping are joined by a dining area, four office buildings, and two hotels. Apparel shops include brands such as Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Christian Dior, Neiman Marcus, Tiffany & Co, and Barney’s New York, alongside lifestyle stores like William & Sonoma and Sur La Table.
Named for American artist John Singleton Copley, it was designed by the Architects’ Collective. The building’s center atrium and skylight lets in a ton of natural light and creates an airy feeling inside. The Westin and Boston Marriott Copley Place hotels offer maximum proximity to the center’s many shops. Special events are held frequently in the space as well. Copley Place is a luxurious, central place to shop, eat, work, and play in historic Boston.
Plimoth & Patuxet, formerly Plimoth Plantation, is a living history museum that attempts to portray the first colony of English settlers to arrive in the New World in the 1600s. You’ll meet historical reenactors who speak and look the way the Pilgrims did as you explore the faithful recreation of a chapter in American history at a Smithsonian-affiliated museum.
A circle of cobblestones in front of the Old State House still stands to commemorate the Boston Massacre that occurred in 1770. The Boston Massacre Site today reminds visitors of the event, when tension between British soldiers and colonists came to a head, and a minor fight erupted into a riot. Rocks, fists, and insults were thrown as the soldiers fired into the crowd, killing five Bostonians. At the time, 2,000 soldiers occupied the town of only 16,000. The troops forced their way in to defend officers from the hostile (though unarmed) crowd.
The Boston Massacre was an important moment in early US history. The violence toward colonists served to turn public opinion against the Redcoats soldiers, some of whom were tried for murder. Figures such as Paul Revere and John Adams were instrumental in the aftermath of the incident. Some have even called it the spark that started the Revolutionary War. For many it is seen as the start of the rebellion against British occupation in colonial America.
Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park is comprised of 34 islands sprinkled throughout the city harbor. Just 45 minutes by ferry from downtown, the park is a picturesque escape, where visitors can explore a Civil War–era fort, visit the oldest lighthouse in the United States, head out for a hike, and spend a night camping.
Boston Children's Museum is the city’s premier destination for the education of children and the second oldest museum of its kind in the country. It boasts a wide variety of activities and hands-on exhibits for children through entertainment and fun. Many are just as entertaining for parents as they are for children.
The museum hosts nearly 20 permanent exhibits. Among them, the incredibly popular Arthur & Friends is home to characters from Marc Brown’s TV show and book series. In the Art Studio, parents work with their children to create freeform art. The Construction Zone inspires children to work with trucks and power tools to explore the world of construction. While the Japanese House is an actual house shipped from Kyoto to help foster an understanding of foreign cultures a world away.
History buffs will also appreciate the museum’s rare and substantial collection of Natural History, Dolls and Dollhouses, Americana, Native American and Japanese artifacts. While many of its more than 50,000 artifacts are safely stored away from the public, visitors are still able to view a sizable portion of the collection.
Newcomers to the city of Boston often refer to it as “the city of history” because while walking along the Freedom Trail, you encounter so many important historical points—points that were instrumental in the founding of America. It makes for an incredible walk through time, and one of the highlights on this Freedom Trail is a visit to the Massachusetts State House.
Built in 1788, the “new” Massachusetts State House is built across from the Boston Common on the top of Beacon Hill. Known far and wide for its gilded gold dome (it’s actually made of wood and copper, but topped with 24-karat gold), the State House symbolizes what the founding fathers had envisioned upon landing at Plymouth Rock – to build a city upon a hill. Inside, the working State House houses working government officials, beautiful murals depicting colonial times of war, spacious marble-filled corridors, and other historical items that reflect the heritage of the Boston area – a pinecone high atop the dome pays homage to Boston’s logging industry, and the “Sacred Cod” is a nod to the fishing industry—both paragons of the early industry that made Boston one of the most influential cities in America.
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