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Kings Bowling
Photograph: Courtesy Kings

The best things to do with kids in Boston

From toddlers to teens, and every kid in between, these Boston spots satisfy every interest (even yours!) with family-friendly fun

Written by
Cheryl Fenton
Written by
Eric Grossman
&
Krista Diamond
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Whether you’re helping them release some pent-up energy with a good old fashioned romp outside or you’re sneaking in a little learning at a museum, Boston is a fantastic city for kids of all ages to discover. From the best Boston museums and the best Boston parks, The Hub is overflowing with child-friendly offerings that keep grownups just as occupied as the wee ones. For activities that are also wallet-friendly, check out the best free things to do in Boston.

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

Things to do with kids in Boston

  • 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 tank, which is 40 feet in diameter and three stories tall, is alive with moray eels, stingrays, gigantic sea turtles and sharks. On a smaller scale, a touch tank exhibit lets children stick their hands into the cold water of a tidal basin to get up close and personal with starfish, sea urchins and hermit crabs. The huge indoor penguin exhibit is one of the city’s most enduring nature attractions. If the lines are too long, take a break from waiting and peek at the playful inhabitants of the outdoor seal enclosure instead. The IMAX theatre offers state-of-the-art 3D glasses to put viewers in the middle of the action.

  • Things to do
  • Somerville

Legoland’s oversized blocks and race cars delight kids of all ages—as do the 4D theater and rides on the Kingdom Quest Laser Rider. The biggest attraction for young and old alike is Miniland, a little replica of famous Boston landmarks in Lego form. If you’re looking to really wear out a rambunctious youngster, send them off to one of the two play zones onsite, which feature jungle gyms and climbing walls.

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  • Museums
  • Childhood
  • Seaport District
  • price 2 of 4

Founded in 1913, the Children’s Museum remains a beloved local institution among generations of area youngsters. This Fort Point Channel landmark has seen its surrounding neighborhood explode in recent years, but once inside, kids find themselves immersed in a series of spacious open areas. The centerpiece of the museum is the New Balance Foundation Climb, a twisty, turning three-story climbing structure made of serpentine wires and curved plywood sails. 

  • Museums
  • Science and technology
  • West End

This well-known and extremely child-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. For parents of the under-eight set, there’s no greater reprieve than the Discovery Center, which lets kids engage in hands-on learning activities while their adult counterparts take a much-needed breather. There's also an enormous gift shop, a café and a spectacular view of the river to admire from the vast windows in the back of the museum.

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  • Bars
  • Sports Bars
  • Back Bay
  • price 2 of 4

Because you currently have to shelf outdoor activities until higher temps return, why not turn in those snow boots for some bowling shoes at Kings? With five locations in and around Boston (check out the most recently opened one in the Seaport), each site has thousands of square feet of neon lanes, retro arcade games, billiards, corn hole, Giant Jenga, air hockey and more. They’re also known for specialty pizzas, award-winning wings and hand-spun milkshakes (which can also be spiked for grownups). 

  • Attractions
  • Ships and boats
  • Public Garden
  • price 1 of 4

What child could resist sitting in a swan? A part of Boston tourist history, these odd watercrafts were created by designer Robert Paget in 1877. Youll spend 15 minutes cruising around the small lagoon in the Boston Public Garden, amid the ducks and willows, as gaggles of kids do their best imitations of swashbuckling pirates or quietly observe nature.

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  • Things to do
  • Games and hobbies

If your kid is over seven years old and great at problem-solving, there’s a quest for them (although based on their age, they might still need your help). America’s only location of the true “quest” room experience, Boda Borg is 10 minutes outside of Boston, in Malden. Armed with nothing more than general instructions, rooms with names like Alcatraz, Rats and Spook House await. There are three different levels of physicality, and challenges range from obstacle courses to brains-over-brawn conundrums. One entrance fee gives you access to up to 25 different quests, and you can play as often as you like.

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

The MFAs globe-spanning collection of art encompasses more than 500,000 objects. Of particular note to children: the Egyptian collection, much of which was acquired through excavations done in conjunction with Harvard University in the first half of the 20th century. The impressive number of kids-oriented activities include storytimes for toddlers, scavenger hunts and walk-in art classes.

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  • Things to do
  • Somerville
  • price 2 of 4

Ascend to new heights with your kids on the 25,000 feet of indoor climbing terrain at Brooklyn Boulders. Start with an intro class, then climb away to your heart's content as you get the hang of it. Special kids' courses are available, and the climbing spot is also a great place to host your tiny adventurer's birthday parties.

  • Attractions
  • Zoo and aquariums
  • Roxbury

As fascinating as lions and tigers are on the TV screen, they’re far more impressive in the flesh. The Franklin Park Zoo—whose mission is to inspire people to protect and sustain endangered species—has them all, in addition to zebras, gorillas, giraffes and a whole host of other exotic animals that wouldn’t normally be seen in the wilds of New England. Little visitors are well-served at the children's zoo, which features everything from a prairie dog neighborhood to a grass maze.

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  • Things to do
  • Ice skating
  • Boston Common

It’s a four-season family attraction. In the winter, you can bundle up, grab the kids’ skates (or rent them on-site) and take a spin in the middle of Americas oldest public park—preferably on a clear, starlit night. Bobby the Skating Seal is a rink prop that can be rented for the littlest of ones who are just learning to skate, and kids can sign up for skating lessons with the Skating Club of Boston. In the summer, the pond becomes a splash fountain, the easiest way for city families to cool off without leaving town. There’s also a carousel set up on the far end starting in April and going through the fall.

  • Attractions
  • Libraries, archives and foundations
  • Fenway/Kenmore

The Mapparium—the worlds largest walk-in globe—is among the citys quirkiest landmarks and catnip to any budding junior historian or geologist. Housed in the Mary Eddy Baker Library, it’s a three-story model of the globe built to scale, running 30 feet in diameter and traversed by way of a glass bridge bisecting its interior. Kids love the weird acoustics and outdated borders (instead of depicting the worlds current geography, the 608 stained-glass panels recreate the planet as it was in the mid-1930s, when the project was completed).

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

Contemporary art engages the senses in fun and unique ways, and the breadth of works at the ICA is no different. Admission is always free for visitors 18 and under at this water-front museum, which pays homage to the importance of the likes of Gauguin, Picasso and Warhol. Most recently, the highly anticipated Yayoi Kusama’s LOVE IS CALLING has returned, an immersive kaleidoscope of huge polka-dotted tentacles and a one-minute time limit perfect for short attention spans. Past exhibits have included two-story slides.

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Jamaica Plain

In a beautiful, 265-acre park setting, this free, living museum is administered by Harvard University. Open to the public, it provides the opportunity to see more than 7,000 types of trees and plants from around the world—but don’t bother telling that to the kids, because they’ll be too busy riding their bikes and scooters up and down the well-paved paths. In May, Lilac Sunday is an outdoor activity must-do for families. It's a day-long celebration of the fragrant, flowering shrub that usually coincides with Mother’s Day.

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  • Attractions
  • Libraries, archives and foundations
  • Back Bay

The BPL can keep kids of all ages busy (and indoors) for hours. The original structure, completed in 1895, now serves as the research library, which might appeal to sophisticated tots who enjoy a good Sargent painting. But it’s the modern wing of the library—which underwent a multi-year, multi-million-dollar renovation—that will be the main event to future literati. The new Children’s Library is twice as large as its predecessor, brightly decorated and packed to the gills not only with books, but also with computers, early literacy stations, reading list suggestions and comfy seating. Come summer, the BPL offers all sorts of special children’s programming, both within and beyond its walls.

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Downtown

While the 15-year Big Dig was no picnic for the city, the spoils of that construction battle have increased the quality of life in Downtown Boston tenfold, especially for families. This linear park covers an expansive 15 acres that connect the Chinatown Gate and the iconic Zakim Bridge. You can stroll its length over a lazy afternoon, stopping by kid-friendly attractions along the way, such as interactive installations and the splash fountain. The piece de resistance is the Greenway Carousel, which boasts 36 seats that depict native Massachusetts animals.

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  • Things to do
  • Sport events
  • Fenway/Kenmore

Seeing a game at Fenway has always been a quasi-religious experience for younger fans—and the legendary ballpark has only gotten more family-friendly in recent years. The Kids’ Concourse includes a pitching booth and lots of photo opps. You can sign little ones up for Kid Nation, which also offers early entrance to watch batting practice. Inside the concourse, there’s Wally’s Clubhouse (open from the third to the seventh inning), where kids can play, interact with a balloon artist and see Wally himself. Parents, don’t panic: There’s also beer.

  • Things to do
  • Cultural centers

What it lacks in size, this century-old zoo makes up for in personality. Set on 26 acres in Stoneham and a sister location to the Franklin Park Zoo, this spot lets visitors stroll the tree-lined paths to view animals from A(rctic fox) to Z(ebu). Favorites to watch are the Mexican Gray Wolf roaming around the outdoor habitat, while inside the Animal Discovery Center, you’ll find small things that slither. Be sure to check out the pretty-in-pink flamingo cove.

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It’s fast, it’s exciting and it’s rewarding—even if you don’t spot one of these gigantic, aquatic mammals (though you probably will). The New England Aquarium's whale watch program takes passengers to the federally protected Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary, home not only to a plethora of whale species—humpbacks, finbacks, minkes, pilots and even the endangered right whale—but also dolphins, seabirds and otters. Naturalists on board offer detailed knowledge about each animal and patiently answer all questions from even the youngest passengers. Unlike other slow-moving whale watch boats, the aquarium’s customized (and eco-friendly) catamaran whisks you to the sanctuary at 35 miles per hour, which means more time for whale-tail gazing.

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens

Just a few minutes outside of the city is a 7,000-acre reservation with 125 miles of resplendent hiking trails, many of which are appropriate for younger climbers. Great Blue Hill is the most popular trail, earning the family an unmatched view of the city skyline; just prepare for crowds in the summer months. Much shorter trails throughout the reservation let kids scramble over rocks and walk across narrow bridges. In the winter, a portion of the reservation transforms into a modest ski resort, with lesson options for children and even some nighttime skiing available. 

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • South Boston

South Boston lays claim to one of the citys most appealing shoreline parks: Castle Island, where children can run through grassy knolls, hit the playground for a bit, then dig holes on the beach before demanding hot dogs and ice cream at Sullivans, the on-site food shack. This 22-acre green space is, in other words, a one-stop spot for a sunny afternoon. Its also among the oldest fortified military sites in North America, serving as the site of Fort Independence, a pentagonal granite structure that was finished in the 1850s—and that can be toured for a nominal fee.

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