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Boston Public Library, Sights and attractions, Boston
Photograph: ShutterstockBoston Public Library

The best Boston attractions

We’ve sifted through the city’s museums, parks and historic sites to select the very best Boston attractions

Written by
Eric Grossman
&
Time Out Boston Staff
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From storied landmarks to world-class museums, the top Boston attractions offer a range of experiences both indoors and out. You could spend the better part of a day exploring the Art of the Americas wing of the Museum of Fine Arts, or a couple days checking out all the historical sites along the Freedom Trail. For a more intimate cultural experience that’s unique to Boston, visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, or a short walk along the Emerald Necklace. For those with little ones, check out the best things to do with kids in Boston. One big bonus about these Boston attractions? They’re all close to some of Boston’s best restaurants—so make a day, or night, of it.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Boston

Best Boston attractions

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Boston Common

The dual jewels of the Emerald Necklace, the city’s historic park system, perfectly reflect the vision of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The Public Garden is a lovely place to stroll, with pathways designed for promenading. The seasonal Swan Boats are adored by children and adults. Across Beacon Street is the Boston Common, where, depending on the season, you can ice-skate on the Frog Pond, play softball or tennis, or lounge with a book on a grassy knoll.

  • Things to do
  • Sport events
  • Fenway/Kenmore

Seeing a game at the home of the Red Sox is a quasi-religious experience for countless locals. If you’re not the sporty type, look out for a big-name concert. The oldest ballpark in the majors, Fenway dates from 1912, and to truly appreciate Fenway’s colorful history, join a guided tour, offered daily. Be sure to check out the most famous part of the stadium is its 37-foot-high left-field wall, known affectionately as the Green Monster.

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  • Attractions
  • Zoo and aquariums
  • Waterfront

The breathtaking centerpiece of this excellent aquarium is the colossal 200,000-gallon salt-water replica of a Caribbean coral reef. The cylindrical tank, 40ft in diameter and three stories tall, is alive with moray eels, stingrays, gigantic sea turtles and menacing sharks. Stop by the touch tank to get up close and personal with starfish, sea urchins and hermit crabs. Don't miss the huge indoor penguin exhibit, where you can watch their antics from almost any balcony.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Fenway/Kenmore
  • price 2 of 4

Founded in 1870, the MFA moved from Copley Square to its current home, a neoclassical granite building on Huntington Avenue—the so-called “Avenue of the Arts”—in 1909. The globe-spanning collection encompasses more than 500,000 objects. An array of performances and special events attract culture hounds of all ages. Penny pinchers can visit on Wednesdays after 4pm, when admission is by voluntary contribution.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Mission Hill

The Gardner museum is a lavish reconstruction of a 15th century Venetian palace, complete with a luxurious interior courtyard and seasonally changing floral display. First opened in 1903, the museum is notable for its varied collection, which includes European, Asian and Islamic art from classical times to the turn of the 20th century. The museum entrance is located a short walk from the MFA, making it easy to check out the city’s two most beloved museums in a single visit.

  • Attractions
  • Libraries, archives and foundations
  • Back Bay

The BPL regally sits across from Copley Square, attracting scores of student groups, visitors, and casual book-browsers to its multi-faceted complex. The labyrinthine structure is a joy to get lost in; be sure to visit the cloistered courtyard, a most tranquil place to linger. Join a free tour covering the library’s art and architecture, or check out one of the talks and readings that are regularly offered.

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Jamaica Plain

The arboretum, a leading center for plant study, was established in 1872. In a beautiful, sprawling park setting, this living museum is administered by Harvard University. Open to the public, it provides the opportunity to see more than thousands of specimens of trees and plants from around the world. Free guided tours are available on designated days throughout the year. Though picnicking is not allowed, Lilac Sunday is the exception, when the Arboretum celebrates spring and its lilac collection.

  • Attractions
  • Religious buildings and sites
  • Back Bay

The unabashedly ornate Trinity Church is the visual centerpiece of Copley Square. The intricate, colorful stained-glass windows are most impressive, as is the list of Boston royalty who have passed through the doors over the years. The church is also known for its extensive murals—almost every inch of wall was handpainted by a team led by American artist John La Farge. 

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  • Things to do

For the first-time visitor to Boston, the Freedom Trail provides a useful starting point before checking off the best attractions in Boston. The self-guided, two-and-a-half-mile tour is clearly marked by a red line on the sidewalk, which has winded its way past several of the Hub’s best-known historical sites since 1958. The Trail begins at the Visitor Information Center on Boston Common and ends at the Bunker Hill Monument. 

  • Things to do
  • Event spaces
  • Quincy Market

Built for the city by the wealthy merchant Peter Faneuil in 1742, Faneuil Hall has hosted countless key moments in Boston's history. While the building is mostly synonymous with the surrounding commercial activity—most notably Quincy Market's myriad shops—it still hosts the occasional political debate and symposium as a nod to its history. Faneuil Hall is part of Boston’s National Historic Park, and rangers provide brief historical talks in the Great Hall daily.

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  • Attractions
  • Monuments and memorials
  • Charlestown

This 221-foot granite obelisk commemorates the first major battle of the American Revolution. Visitors can listen to free talks from park rangers, or climb the monument's 294 steps (a brisk ascent takes five minutes) for a breathtaking view of Boston. 

  • Bars
  • Breweries
  • Roxbury
  • price 1 of 4

For beer fanatics, visiting this classic Boston brewery is a must. Brewery tours allow you to follow the beer-making process, from the selection of ingredients to the finished product. Take a by-donation classic tour, offered on a first-come, first-served basis, or reserve a spot a specialty tour, such as Morning Mash-In, Beyond the Brewhouse, and the Sam Adams Barrel Aged Experience.

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Seaport District
  • price 2 of 4

The ICA moved to its spacious Seaport home in late 2006, becoming the cultural cornerstone of the waterfront. With its 65,000-square-foot floor space, the dramatic, glass-walled building houses galleries, a theater and a café. The museum prides itself on being a platform for challenging works; for a lighter experience, catch a concert or DJ set on the breezy, scenic back deck. Don't miss the ICA Watershed, the art annex in the East Boston Shipyard.

  • Museums
  • Science and technology
  • West End

This kid-friendly museum is committed to providing an interactive and educational experience, making science accessible through a wealth of hands-on activities and engaging exhibits. Highlights include the domed Mugar Omni Theater for IMAX movies and the multimedia Charles Hayden Planetarium. There’s an enormous gift shop, a café courtesy of celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, and a spectacular view of the river to admire from the vast windows at the back of the museum.

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