Boston is filled with history. It just hits you in the face. Towering office buildings encircle some of the oldest buildings in the United States and when you turn a corner and see one, it almost silences the honking horns around you. Almost.
It’s not just Boston itself that is overflowing with history. There are several places just a short drive or train ride away that are worth a visit depending on the length of your stay.
1. The Freedom Trail
This is the best way to see the greatest number of historic sites in Boston. Seventeen historically significant sites, in fact.
The Freedom Trail starts in Boston Common and is 2 ½ miles long. It’s marked by a thick red line around the city. The places you’ll see include Granary Burial Ground, Old South Meeting House, the Site of the Boston Massacre, Faneuil Hall, Paul Revere’s Home, Old North Church, and the USS Constitution.
2. Lexington And Concord
It probably goes without saying, but just in case, these were the locations of the first battles of the Revolutionary War, fought on April 19, 1775. It was the night prior when Paul Revere and others sounded the alarm and two lanterns were hung in the Old North Church.
The towns are located between 15 and 20 miles northwest of downtown Boston, respectively. Minute Man National Historical Park literally connects the two towns. You can walk the five-mile Battle Road Trail or drive and stop at different points along the way.
In Lexington, visit Buckman Tavern and Lexington Green. The tavern is where militia awaited word of the British arrival on April 19, 1775. Hours for the tavern are seasonal, so check before you go. Lexington Green is the site of the fist battle of the American Revolution.
In Concord, don’t miss the North Bridge, site of “the shot heard ’round the world” and the Minute Man Statue. Concord is also known for its literary history. Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne all lived and are buried at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
Patriot’s Day, a Massachusetts State Holiday, marks the first shot of the war. The holiday is celebrated the third Monday in April and is a wonderful day to visit the area because of added unique events like parades and reenactments. Patriot’s Day is also known as Marathon Monday, because the Boston Marathon takes place on this day every year.
Both Lexington and Concord are classic New England towns and it’s worth walking the streets of each, just to take it all in.
This is where the Pilgrims eventually dropped anchor aboard the Mayflower in December of 1620. (They first landed on nearby Cape Cod.) Plymouth was the second English settlement in North America, the first was Jamestown.
Begin your visit to Plymouth at the Plimoth Plantation visitor center. You can see a re-creation of the 17th Century Village, visit the Wampanoag Homesite, and Plimoth Grist Mill. You’ll need to get back in your car to see Mayflower II and Plymouth Rock. Some of the options are seasonal and require tickets, so please check before you go.
Please note: Mayflower II is currently being restored in Mystic, Connecticut until 2019. Plymouth is about a 45-minute drive from Boston, depending on the traffic.
4. Boston Tea Party Ships And Museum
“Taxation without representation.” Colonists, upset with the British government, dumped 340 chests of tea from the East India Company into Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773. The original location, Griffin’s Wharf, no longer exists because the city of Boston created land for expansion by filling in the harbor. The original location is thought to be near Congress and Purchase streets and there is a marker commemorating this event, which helped spark the American Revolution.
The Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum is just a few blocks from the spot of the “original” site. The guided tour is interactive, giving you the chance to protest and throw a “chest of tea” off the ship. It does require a ticket.
If you want to see the changes in the city of Boston over the last century, take a look at these maps. Type in Boston, click on the map and then click on one of the boxes on the timeline below to see the difference. It’s fun to do with any city you want to visit.
5. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library And Museum
If you can’t get enough of Camelot, this is a must stop. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum fully immerses you in the life and legacy of America’s 35th President. Whether it’s his run for the White House, the country’s journey into space or Mrs. Kennedy’s fashion that interests you, it’s all here, and much more. Its location on the water creates a tranquil setting, as do the grounds, which are landscaped with plants reminiscent of his life on Cape Cod.
6. Harvard University
There are dozens of colleges and universities in Boston and its surrounding area, but only Harvard can claim the title as the oldest institution of higher education in the United States.
48 Nobel Laureates, 32 heads of state, and 48 Pulitzer Prize winners earned their degrees from here. Just walking around the Cambridge campus is an experience, and while you’re not allowed to just wander in and out of the buildings, the university does have several museums that are open to the public and some are free.
7. Fenway Park
If you’re passionate about America’s favorite pastime, Fenway is a bucket list item. It’s the oldest baseball park in the country, and it’s as much a tribute to the past, as it is a ballpark. The tour will even appeal to non-sports fan. The guides are knowledgeable and share interesting trivia. You’ll get to see the press box, the stands, and sit on top of the Green Monster. Along the way, think about the legends who’ve played here. Just don’t bring up Bill Buckner.
8. African Meeting House
The African Meeting House sits on Beacon Hill. In the early 1800s, this was the heart of the free black community in Boston. William Lloyd Garrison started the New England Anti-Slavery Society at the African Meeting House. Abolitionist Frederick Douglas also spoke here. Built in 1806, it’s the oldest black church still standing in the United States.
Next door, the Abiel Smith School was the first public school in the country built to educate African American children, completed in 1835. Both are part of the Museum of African American History and open to the public. They do charge admission.
9. Adams National Historical Park
History buffs will love seeing the homes of four generations of the Adams family, including the birthplaces of Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams. The 14-acre park, located in the town of Quincy (pronounced Quin-zee), is about 10 miles south of Boston.
The Stone Library on the property contains more than 14,000 books and important documents, which belonged to members of the family. It’s believed to be the first presidential library in the United States.
The family was America’s first political dynasty, but this visit isn’t just about the men. The women have earned their own place in history. President Harry Truman once said, Abigail Adams, “would have been a better President than her husband.”
The homes operate on a seasonal schedule. Please check the website when planning your trip.
This waterfront town is best known for the Salem Witch Trials, but it’s connection to history runs much deeper.
The oldest home in the United States is located here. Pickering House was built in 1651 and has been home to the Pickering family for more than three and a half centuries. Although, there have been several additions to the home over the years.
Salem’s Maritime history dates back nearly four hundred years and is on display at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. The site includes The Custom House and Salem’s historic wharves, which were the area’s hub for international trade. The visitor center is open every day from May-October.
Nathanial Hawthorne was born in Salem and the town influenced his writing. The Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, better known today as The House of Seven Gables, was where he visited his cousin and became the setting for his novel.
As mentioned, most notably, in 1692, 14 women and 6 men were tried and executed in Salem, accused of being witches. There are many events and places to visit associated with the trials. At the Salem Witch Museum, 13 stages, with life-size figures, take you back to that time. There is a memorial to each victim who was hanged near Charter and Liberty Streets, and the Corwin House is the former home of Witchcraft Trials Judge Jonathan Corwin, and the only home remaining with direct ties to the Witch Trials.
Ghost tours are also popular, and the town has an Official Witch, Laurie Cabot. If you are in Boston during October, it’s the perfect time to visit Salem. People flock to the town and the people watching is fantastic, in addition to all the other historic sites to see.