Bostonians would sooner root for the Yankees than endure the indignities of a Duck Tour, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t love exploring the best Boston attractions with savvy visitors in tow. From the best free things to do in Boston to exciting museums where to see art in Boston, the Hub offers plenty of offbeat excursions—as proven by these cool Boston city tours.
Best Boston city tours
This is the one you haul all the out-of-towners to—mostly because you can’t wait to go yourself. The hour-long tour includes player and ballpark history and visits to the press box and Pesky’s Pole; depending on the guide, you also might visit the bullpens and peek behind the anachronistic scoreboard (this is why people take the tour more than once). Contrary to lore, game-day tours are available as well—upgrade your ticket and you can hang out on the warning track and then shag homers from the famed Green Monster during batting practice. Fenway Park Tour, daily 9am-5pm, $10-$30, 4 Yawkey Way, Kenmore, 877-733-7699
For a city that’s often hamstrung by booze-related blue laws, Boston sure has a fine collection of breweries. The city’s most famous brewer is Samuel Adams, the Revolutionary and “maltster” after whom the local brewing company is named. Tours of the brewery in Jamaica Plain run daily and are free (although there is a suggested donation of $2). You’ll taste the malts, smell the hops and, yep, most definitely sip on a few brews. If you’re an early riser, hit up the 9:40am Morning Mash In tour, when you’ll get to indulge in a special tasting. Free with suggested donation, departs every 45 minutes.
Boston Lobster Tours
Trap-to-table is the only way to eat your favorite crustacean. Hop aboard a legit Downeast-style lobster boat with up to three other friends (bench seating is offered), then cruise around the Boston Harbor for 75 minutes, learning about the local industry and hauling up two traps of your own; whatever is of legal size is yours to keep and (presumably) eat. Boston Lobster Tours, $225 for up to four people, 617-892-5053
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Robyn Lee
You can spend years visiting the BPL and never have proper knowledge of the beauty contained within. These free, volunteer-led tours—no appointment needed—offer architectural insight into both the original Renaissance Revival McKim building and the modernist Philip Johnson wing added in 1972. Even born-and-bred residents might be startled by the sheer volume of oils, tapestries and sculptures populating the halls, including the John Singer Sargent murals that took some 30 years to create. BPL Art & Architecture Tour, Mon 2:30pm; Tue & Thu 6pm; Wed, Fri–Sat 11am; Sun 2pm, free, 700 Boylston St, Back Bay, 617-536-5400
Why does the Freedom Trail get such a bad rap among locals? It might be the gussied-up guides who pose as historical figures as they shuffle tourists through the historical sites. We say, skip the paid tour—it’s a lovely self-guided stroll for residents, two and a half miles that remind you of the city’s unparalleled Colonial and Revolutionary history. After all, how often do you peek inside Old North Church or climb the Bunker Hill Monument? And if the trail has only whetted your appetite for historical discovery, consider downloading one of the city’s podcast tours, like the Black Heritage Trail or the Women’s Heritage Trail.
Historic Boston Harbor Cruise
It’s worth it just to get on the water. The narrated 90-minute boat tour takes you around some of the Harbor Island while recounting the city’s history as a shipping port, as well as the role that the harbor played in the Revolutionary War (hello, Tea Party!). Just prepare yourself for real estate envy when you sail past all the city’s waterside condos. Daily, 1pm, $26.95.
Boston Chinatown Markets Tour
Chinatown can intimidate; Boston Food Tours can help. The three-hour-plus walking tour leads you through a bakery, barbecue shop, herbal pharmacy, bubble tea shop and food market to help you understand different regional cuisines and ingredients. The tour culminates in a dim sum lunch with your tour guide, who’ll also share food storage tips and recipe ideas. Boston Food Tours, $75, Thu & Sat 9:30am & 1pmPhotograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Simon Law
In any other city, the Arnold Arboretum would be the crown jewel of esplanades. But in Boston, the Harvard-owned park has to compete with the Public Garden and the Boston Common. No matter—the Jamaica Plain respite is still worth its own visit, in part due to the oldest and largest collection of lilac bushes in the world, predating even the founding of the arboretum in 1872. Free weekend tours will help better acquaint you with the vast expanse of flora; seasonal themed tours focus on one species, like the greenhouse collection of potted bonsai plants. Sat 10:30am and Sun 1pm.
Designed by Bulfinch and completed in 1798, this magnificent structure replaced the old legislative building across Boston Common, which had been the headquarters of the British government. The dome, originally covered in copper by Paul Revere & Sons, was later sheathed in 23-carat gold. To this day, the shining bulb is one of Boston's best-known landmarks—although it was blacked out during World War II, due to the threat of air raids. Among the rooms covered by the complimentary tours (call ahead to reserve a spot) are the Doric Hall, with its portraits and sculptures of historical politicos, the House of Representatives and the Senate Chamber—in the public gallery of the House, look out for the Sacred Cod, an 18th-century carved wooden fish symbolizing the importance of the country's first industry. Visitors can also conduct the tour unaccompanied and sit in on meetings in the public galleries of the legislative chambers; you can also call to arrange a separate legislative tour. Weekdays, 10am-3:30pm
Sweet and Savory South End Food Tour
Sure, you’ve eaten in the South End before, but six restaurants in three hours? Pace yourself for bite-size sandwiches, cookies and fried clams (from Morse Fish Company, the city’s oldest fish market). Between stops, you’ll learn about the history and architecture of the area and gain some insight into local characters. Bites of Boston Food Tours, Apr-Nov, $69-72, 800-656-0713
Dark Side of Boston Tour
Our city’s history is not all puppy dogs and rainbows—death, disease and crime make sizeable appearances as well. A 90-minute evening tour of the North End attests to these more ominous events, from smallpox and the Molasses Disaster to the Great Brink’s Robbery of 1950, when a team of 11 thieves made off with more than $2 million. Your Bostonian pride will either be shaken or cemented. Boston by Foot, $15, Fri–Sat 6pm, 617-367-2345Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Bill Ilott
City Wine Tours
Three hours of wine drinking under the auspices of learning? Yes, we imagine a few Bostonians would partake. Choose between four neighborhoods—South End, Back Bay, North End or Assembly Row in Somerville—then trail a wine connoisseur as she introduces you to the wine lists and cellars of three locally acclaimed restaurants (appetizers help temper the boozy good time). There’s also a Harvard Square bubbly tour for those who prefer their walking tours a little more festive. City Wine Tours, Sat & Sun, times vary, $66, 844-879-8799
Walks with the Local AMC Chapter
The Appalachian Mountain Club wants to show you parts of Greater Boston you’ve never explored before. Year-round hikes and nature walks, both accessible and challenging, take you all around the state (and sometimes New Hampshire, too), lasting anywhere from 3 to 20 miles. These walks cost just $1 if you’re not an AMC member–but consider membership a worthwhile investment. Sat and Sun, locations and times vary.
Locals sometimes forget about the 1850 granite bastion known as Fort Independence, poised at the ocean end of South Boston on Castle Island. It’s a good spot for an all-day picnic, or to pretend you’re going on a medieval raid. In addition to the landmark, today’s Pleasure Bay also offers 22 acres of beach, bike paths, fishing grounds and picturesque views. Sat and Sun, noon-3:30pm, year-round.