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Advice Wanted: Touring Boston's Historic Sites?


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I'd like to take my teenagers to see the historic sites in Boston.  I'm in Virginia and I guess we'd drive.  Please post your tips and suggestions to help me do this one-time trip well.

 

Is there a "best" time of year to visit?

 

Where to stay?  How to get around?

 

I've heard of the Freedom Trail, but I don't understand how to fit the tour (guided by a costumed interpreter) together with getting to go inside places like Paul Revere's house, the Old North Church, etc.  

 

Also, while I plan to emphasize Revolutionary War history on this trip, I'd like to sprinkle in some other "lighter" fun activities.  Suggestions, please?  We're all into music and theater.

 

Any "must see" info would be greatly appreciated, too.

 

Thanks in advance!

 

 

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Go on a walking tour of Boston with a guide.

 

Stop at Mike's Pastry's for cannolis on your way to Old North Church. Yum!

 

Don't go to Beacon Hill monument unless you absolutely love walking - it is so far away from the Freedom Trail.

 

Spend a day in Concord/Lexington. You could bike between the two (we did) and it is lovely.

Go to Old Sturbridge Village. The interpreters are artisans and are passionate. My son got to help the blacksmith. :-) We love it more than Plimouth Plantation.

 

Walk around Harvard/Harvard Square. Take the Redline there. Go see the glass flours at the Harvard Nat. History museum.

 

We never did a Duck boat tour since they are so expensive, but maybe someday.

 

Emily

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We did the freedom trail ourselves. A must see is the USS Constitution. Also, if you are there a must see IMO is the Boston Museum of Fine Arts which has a spectacular Egyptian collection and the Boston Science museum.

 

There's a great episode set from Colonial Radio Theater on Old Ironsides: http://www.brillianceaudio.com/product?i=4955

 

They also did a Lexington and Concord episode but I didn't find it as good as those on the Constitution. 

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The guided Freedom Tour talks with the costumed interpreters do not include Paul Revere's House, the Old North Church, or the USS Constitution.  They end at Fanueil Hall.  You might consider going early on the tour, then having lunch at Fanueil Hall.  Then it's a short walk over to Aquarium Wharf (next to the Marriott), where you can get a T water shuttle over to the Constitution.  This is a great, really cheap way to get an (unguided) tour of Boston from the water.    I think they leave every 1/2 hour and cost a couple of bucks or less a ticket round trip.  Over there, there's a nice museum and of course the boat.  Take the water shuttle back, through the Marriott is Waterfront Park, and on the other side is the North End, where you can go into both the Paul Revere House and the Old North Church (former has a small charge for a tour, latter is free with ongoing commentary).  There's also an old cemetery that's also on the FT just up the road from the Old North Church.  And then get Mike's cannoli.

 

I would not under any circumstances bike around Boston, especially with kids, and even more especially without knowing the city.  Yes, they have recently added some bike lanes, but people still aren't used to them, and they are very narrow and between parked cars and traffic.  Boston is famous for it's "paved cow paths" - streets intersect at crazy angles, intersections often have more than four streets coming in, it can be a free-for-all.

 

If you want a nice bike ride and some history, head up to Lexington and Concord (about 25 min. outside the city by car).  If you want to bike in the city just for the exercise, there are lovely paths along the Charles River on both sides - the Boston side is more park-like and called the Esplanade.  There's also a bike path that starts at the Alewife T stop in Cambridge and goes through Lexington - that might be a fun way to get there if you really like biking.  It does not go all the way to Concord, unfortunately, but you could bike on the road from Bedford where the trail ends.

 

There's tons more to do.  How long are you planning on staying? 

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You've gotten some great suggestions!  The only thing I'd add is that at the National Park office (near State Street and Faneuil Hall), you can get the free Jr. Rangers material.  Some of it would be too young for teens, but some of it is quite good.  And hey, who can beat free? 

 

I definitely would agree w/ Concord/Lexington, there's some great stuff out there (Old North Bridge, Minuteman Historical Museum, Louisa May Alcott's house...).  If you prefer something different, Salem has a lot of stuff about the witch trials.  Also old graveyards and such.  Some of it is too commercialized, but a lot of it is great.  Just don't go at Halloween, unless you like chaos!

 

In terms of when to come, I'd advise not coming during anything that can be construed as winter: October through April.  Summer's a crapshoot: it can be 95 degrees and humid, or it can be 75 and glorious (like it's been this week!).  Spring is usually nice, fall is probably my favorite.  You might catch some gorgeous foliage too, if you time it right.  Though the exact timing varies from year to year. 

 

Greater Boston is fantastic area to visit, or live.  Enjoy your trip!

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We took 9 teenagers on a history trip last July.  We only spent one day in Boston for the Freedom Trail.  Honestly, it probably should have been two.  Here is my advice for the Freedom Trail.  

 

Do a self-guided tour.  Especially if you have any history geeks in your group. This gives you plenty of time to look, read, observe.  

 

If you DO have history geeks, plan two days lol.  We were pulling them out of places just to get through the whole trail.

 

I used this site http://www.thefreedomtrail.org/freedom-trail/official-sites.shtml to get information about the stops on the trail, entrance fees if any, etc.  

 

Wear excellent walking shoes.  

 

Bring an umbrella (we got soaked)

 

Someone above mentioned Mike's Pastries.  I heard about them here...GO.  It's worth it.  We ate our cannolis across the street from Paul Revere's house. Every one of our kids loved this stop.  

 

If you like Chipotle, the Old Corner Book Store is now a Chipotle and is on the Freedom Trail.  Our kids not only liked eating at the historic site, but eating upstairs at a Chipotle.

 

Take the ferry back after you visit the U.S.S. Constitution and Bunker Hill.

 

There is so much history there in Boston, so many original documents to be read and people to explore.  We had a great time, we just needed more of it :)  

 

If you make it down to Plymouth, make sure you go and see the Matrix of Liberty monument aka National Monument to the Forefathers

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Monument_to_the_Forefathers almost all of the teenagers said this monument, and the story behind it, was their favorite part of a 5 day history trip.  Awesome stuff there!

 

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 If you prefer something different, Salem has a lot of stuff about the witch trials.  Also old graveyards and such.  Some of it is too commercialized, but a lot of it is great. 

 

I would disagree - pretty much all of it is too commercialized, at least the witch stuff.  The only thing I'd recommend at all witch-related in Salem is The Witch House, which is a house that was lived in by a judge in the trials - you can get a very nice tour.  Everything else is über-kitchy, touristy schlock.  There are no other buildings left in Salem that have anything to do with the trials (which largely transpired in Salem Village, which is now in the town of Danvers, not even part of Salem) - everything is newly built and sensationalized, with a healthy dose of new-Agey and neo-Paganish things like Palm Readings and Crystals, none of which have anything more to do with the history of Salem than the statue of Samantha Stevens from Bewtiched that they've erected in town (really).  The Witch Museum and the Wax Museum - please, save your time and money!

 

There is a nice old cemetery (in which no one from the trials is buried - mostly it's from the 1700s and on), next to which is a small site with a modern memorial to the trial victims (their names on stones in a semi-circle).

 

That said, I love Salem for other reasons.  For history, it is much better visited with the China Trade in mind.  Salem was a hub of it for many years.  Visit the Customs House (where Nathaniel Hawthorne worked), a China Trade tall ship, and the Peabody Essex Museum, which has lots of goods from the China Trade years, and also a complete 200-year-old Chinese house brought over piece-by-piece and reassembled in the museum.  And speaking of Nathaniel Hawthorne, you can get a tour of the House of Seven Gables, which does date back to the 1600s (but did not have any role in the Witch Trials).

 

Just down the road from Salem a bit is Marblehead, which is worth a visit.  Really cute old town and harbor, with nice parks. 

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We loved the Boston Tea Party Museum. My kids are substantially younger than yours, but I take adults there, too & they enjoy it. Very interactive & really fun if you allow yourself to get involved in the theater portion of it.

 

And if you're fans of '80's TV, remember to stop at the Bull & Finch Pub (aka The Cheers Bar)! 

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Agreeing with all of this advice - and in case you don't know, your students under 12 can ride the T for free, and your teen students can ride at half price.

 

I wouldn't bike in Boston w/anyone, but Concord and Lexington are beautiful for biking.

 

(I consider eating at Faneuil Hall / Quincy Market a "must-do." :) )

 

The schools here take a full week vacation in both February and April; make 100% absolutely SURE you don't come either of those weeks, LOL.

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Thank you all so much - this is great!

 

I would definitely not ride bikes in Boston; that sounds very dangerous to me.  I meant to ask if there was an established path to ride between Lexington and Concord, or if riding in the Lexington/Concord area would involve riding on regular roads with cars.

 

I'm not sure I even want to drive in Boston.  (D.C. was nerve-wracking enough for me.  I can do it, but I don't enjoy it.)  Maybe there's a way to stay on the outskirts and then take public transportation or some type of shuttle into town?  Would that cause us to eat up too much time going back and forth?

 

Or would it be better to stay at a hotel right in the thick of things b/c once I make it to the hotel parking, I can leave the car and not need it again until I leave Boston?  (Seems like that might be really expensive though . . . )

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I'm not sure I even want to drive in Boston.  (D.C. was nerve-wracking enough for me.  I can do it, but I don't enjoy it.)  Maybe there's a way to stay on the outskirts and then take public transportation or some type of shuttle into town?  Would that cause us to eat up too much time going back and forth?

 

Or would it be better to stay at a hotel right in the thick of things b/c once I make it to the hotel parking, I can leave the car and not need it again until I leave Boston?  (Seems like that might be really expensive though . . . )

 

Driving in Boston is crazy!  When we went for the 2012 Boston Marathon we had originally planned to stay outside the city and ride public transportation in.  So I know that is an option.  Thankfully, mil paid for us to stay right downtown.  That is totally awesome.  I would pick that any day but it was really, really expensive.  The parking for those few days was expensive as well.  So I guess if you have a tight budget, I would stay outside the city and take the public transportation in.  If you can afford it, stay downtown!

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Swan boats in pond in Boston Common.

Duck boat tours.

Harbor cruise, especially to George's island where there are forts.

Lunch at the Top of the Hub.  That is at the top of the Prudential building, one of two skyscrapers in Boston.  If you go up to their viewing area, it will cost nearly as much as lunch, so you might as well go up and enjoy the view while you eat.  Be sure you insist on a window table.

Harbor cruise.

Do not bike in Boston, or drive, unless you have to.  (We) Bostonians drive in our own particular way and we think that the laws of space and time do not apply to us.  Don't risk it.  Be very careful if you are pedestrians.   Be prepared for lots of honking too!  Take the T instead.

Do not go in summer.  Sometimes it is crazy hot and humid.  Go in Sept-Oct, or May.

 

ETA We read the historical novel Touchmark as background (in addition to SOTW & biographies), by Mildred Lawrence.

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When you go to the North End (end of the Freedom Trail) eat at Gallaria Umbertos. Local. Cheap. Bring cash. Get one (or 2) of eveything!!! It's on Hanover across from Mike's Pastry. Be prepared for a line but it moves fast and the atmosphere is great. Just be ready to order or you'll anger the regulars, LOL!!!

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That said, I love Salem for other reasons.  For history, it is much better visited with the China Trade in mind.  Salem was a hub of it for many years.   And speaking of Nathaniel Hawthorne, you can get a tour of the House of Seven Gables, which does date back to the 1600s (but did not have any role in the Witch Trials).

 

 

WE LOVED SALEM.  it actually had a nice camp ground but that was many years ago.

 

We too loved the house of Seven gables, and if you read Carry On Mr Bowditch the kids will love it too.  They have a whole room set up about him (but shhh don't tell the kids about it if you take them, mine were so surprised, and ended up over talking the tour guide and telling all they knew about him).

 

We missed lots of stuff though, wished we could have gone back.

 

There is a thing called City Pass look for it to see if that will help you with going to museums.

 

We loved Lexington and Concord too.

 

The park rangers at the Constitution said with out of state plates we could park all day there without worry, but DO ask.  It was free I think.

 

Plan to be at things as soon as they open, most close by 5pm. 

 

Enjoy your trip we loved that trip.

 

 

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If you take a trolley tour haggle with the ticket guy. Not the person in the booth, but the random ticket guy roaming the street. You can get a few dollars off.

 

If you have to pick between the Old North Church and Paul's, pick the church. There isn't much to see in the house. You can be in and out of the house in less than 10 minutes.

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Forgot to add - if you know anyone in the area most of the public libraries have passes for the major museums (art, science, Sturbridge...). For science the normal admit is $23/person over 12 - with the pass it's $7. They also allow online reserving of the passes. If you don't know anyone many libraries you can join for cheap (I saw one at $12/year). Other towns let visitors use the passes if they're not being used (for free). It's really a fabulous deal and you usually pick up the pass the day before - and some you don't return.

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We went last year, in May, with our 4 children. The weather was perfect- perfect time of year- and the sites were amazing. We chose to walk the Freedom Trail, little legs and all. No one complained too much because of the frequent stops. 

 

We stayed at a *wonderful* house in Plymouth. It took <60 minutes to drive into Boston. We chose Plymouth both because it's cheaper than in Boston and because we visited Plymouth Plantation (which was excellent). We also went into downtown Plymouth, toured the Mayflower replica and saw Plymouth Rock- beautiful town!

 

Here is the house we stayed in- I cannot recommend it enough. Absolutely gorgeous, helpful owner and perfect location. http://www.vrbo.com/297069

 

 

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HI,

 

I didn't read all the responses, but, as I live in Boston, I'll chime in too.  Sorry if any of this is repetitive.  

 

First, the Freedom Trail is a nice urban walking "trail" that takes you past most of the major downtown colonial historic sites.  Here is the City of Boston page with links to video snippets about the trail:  http://www.cityofboston.gov/freedomtrail/  More info here:  http://www.thefreedomtrail.org/index.html  Honestly, I'm not sure I'd take a guided tour.  It could be very cool, and if you have time to circle back to anything you want to explore in more depth, it might be valuable.  I'd lean more toward researching the sites I want to see before going and really immersing myself in them.  But, this really comes down to preference.

 

If this is about history, I would not miss Plymouth (maybe stop there for half a day on the way in or out), nor would I miss Lexington and Concord.  Take the drive along the old battle road from the historic Lexington Green (where it all got started) out to the Concord Bridge (where the Brits found out we meant business ;) ). 

 

Don't forget the literary avenues to explore as well.  Thoreau was at Walden Pond in Concord--a great place to swim, walk, read, and think.  The Emerson and Alcott houses are in Concord as well.  The Longfellow home, which was also Washington's headquarter in 75--76, is in Cambridge.

 

If your children are into coastal, fishing, or whaling history, consider Nantucket (or to a lesser extent Gloucester).  These would take a bit more travel and planning, but Nantucket would be a place to explore this aspect of New England history: http://www.nha.org/sites/

 

If they like sports (baseball particularly) Fenway park is now the oldest major league ballpark in the US.  You could do a tour or catch a game (I'd recommend stubhub for tickets--it's just easier and usually cheaper than ebay or CL).

 

For art history, the MFA is great, and the Isabella Stuart Gardener Museum is a gold mine.  It is dense and crowded, but it is loaded.  If you head to the North Shore at all, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem is a great little museum.  

 

Lastly, on this short list, I would add Harvard square.  The university and the City of Cambridge are worth visiting.  You could do a little section on the history and purpose of higher education in early America (Harvard was founded in 1636).  William and Mary is almost as old, so you could do the same type of thing in VA, but Harvard is fun.  

 

This really is a short list, as there is so much more here it explore.  If you have any particular areas you want to explore, let us know and we can taylor some recommendations.  For example, if you wanted to teach colonial religious history, you might want to visit Plymouth to talk about importance of faith in the founding of the colonies, Salem to discuss views on witchcraft, and Newburyport's Old South Church (burial place of George Whitefield) to discuss the Great Awakening.  Early Colonial history and Revolutionary American history is obvious and 18th--19th century literary history is pretty easy to ferret out as well, but there is so much more you could do too.  This just depends on your particular interests.

 

As to logistics, I'll keep this really short.  Stay near where you want to explore and move around Eastern Mass as you delve into different aspects of its history.  If you explore Plymouth and/or Nantucket, maybe stay on the South Shore.  Stay in or near Boston for your Boston days.  And I'd stay out near Lexington and Concord for a day or so.  If you want to stay in one place, I'd pick a spot either in the City (expensive) or just outside the City but within striking distance of the T.  For example, if you stay in the Cambridge/Arlington/Lexington area (Route 2 corridor), getting either into the city or to historic site outside and around the city will be fairly easy.

 

Getting around Boston is easy.  It is a great walking city, and, as an alternative, the T is very accessible.  Get a good map of downtown and plan on walking most places and hopping on the T for longer shots.

 

I hope this helps a bit!

 

Jeremy

 

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  • 3 months later...
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My dilemma is where to stay if I fly with 2 teens and also want to see Lexington/Concord and Plymouth. I would rather not rent a car since most things are near public transit - except these excursions.

 

Any suggestions on budget hotels near transit on the outskirts of Boston?

 

If we drove 13 hours with our disabled older children, I love the house in Plymouth idea. Just don't know if they could handle the long trip. We want beachfront though bc we will take turns staying home to care for our oldest.

 

Any others beachfront house suggestions within daily driving distance of Boston or transit?

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We live way-across the country and REALLY enjoyed our time in Boston as part of a big-long East Coast trip several years ago. For Boston:

 

1. We went in mid-October; the weather was GREAT, and no tourists.

 

2. We stayed outside of Boston, in Rockport (Eagle House Inn) about an hour's drive NE of Boston, and took the commuter train into Boston, and were able to walk wherever we wanted to go (which was really fun, because we don't have anything like that where we live). And, no driving and no trying to find a parking spot!! The Inn was just 2 blocks from the Harbor, and about 35-minute drive from Halibut Point State Park (lovely beach and a quarry that is now a small lake). A don't miss at the harbor in Rockport is the little A-Frame building on the wharf that sells THE BEST clam chowder EVER! (Also lobster and crab cakes that are local/fresh.) We sat outside on the wharf, swinging our legs and watching the local fishermen come in with their lobsters while eating our clam chowder lunch. Rockport was also close enough that you could easily make some more historic day trips to Gloucester, Salem, or Lexington and Concord, all within 60-90 minute drive by car, or to Plymouth by car (90 min - 2 hours). History note: about 1 block in the opposite direction from the wharf in Rockport is the First Congregational Church, which still has a cannonball lodge in the bell tower, shot from a departing British warship that tried to invade there right at the end of the War of 1812.

 

3. The Freedom Trail is a series of Historic sites all within a mile or so of one another. When you arrive first in the morning, you can sign up for a FREE guided tour from the U.S. Parks Service. (The tour/talk covers the site of Ben Franklin's birth, spot of Boston Massacre, points out Paul Revere's house, the North and South Churches, etc....)

 

4. At the end of the Freedom Trail tour, just a few blocks from the North Church, stop for coffee and cannoli at A Modern Pastry Shop -- and buy extra to take with you for dessert later on!

 

5. Be sure to take a free tour of "Old Ironsides", the U.S.S. Constitution, the oldest still-in-service ship! he ship that fought off the Barbary Pirates in the early 1800s, and participated in the War of 1812. You'll want to sign up earlier in the day to make sure there's room in the tour for you. Here is the official website. There is also a free, fun little Naval Museum right there at the harbor, and you can also tour the WW2 Destroyer, Cassin Young.

 

 

Enjoy your trip to Boston! Warmest regards, Lori D.

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