The Freedom Trail in the City of Boston beckons you to wind through 2.5 miles of early U.S. history as you follow the red-brick path. The 16 official historic sites range from burial grounds to battlegrounds to meeting houses to a vintage sailing ship. You can go inside a famous statehouse as well as the home of Paul Revere.
As the trail is outdoors, you can come and go as you please, visiting parts of the trail at different times, even on different trips. Or you can start at the beginning and make a day of it, meandering through the city and exploring many fascinating places that lie between Boston Commons and Boston Harbor.
While the Freedom Trail offers much flexibility, you will want to plan your time to get the most out of your visit. Here are tips to help you enjoy a fantastic day tracing the story of the American Revolution and early days of the U.S. in beautiful Boston.
1. Peruse The Official Freedom Trail Brochure
Before you visit, download the official online brochure for the Freedom Trail (PDF). This gives you a map of the walking tour along with information on each of the 16 sites. Keep this on your smartphone or print it out so you can refer to it throughout the walk. This one-page map (PDF) showing the Freedom Trail is also helpful.
Get an idea of how much of the trail you want to cover and where you want to begin and end. Keep in mind the interests of your fellow travelers. Do they love history? Will you want to go quickly by some of the stops? Can everyone in your party walk comfortably for more than two miles in a day? Do you want to build in rest stops and snack breaks?
The next tips will look at the stops along the trail and give you an overview to help you plan.
2. Head To Boston Common
Boston Common is the place to begin if you want to walk the entire Freedom Trail. This 44-acre park, founded in 1634, is the oldest in the U.S. The Colonial militia mustered here at the beginning of the Revolution. Later, George Washington and John Adams celebrated independence in Boston Common.
You may want to stop in the visitor center for maps and information. Then, begin your adventure at the red-brick line in the sidewalk.
At the beginning of the Freedom Trail, look across the street to the Massachusetts State House. The state government has served from this building since it opened in 1798.
Also note the bronze memorial to the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, sculpted and dedicated in 1897. This commemorates the all-Black volunteer regiment in the Union Army that served from 1863 to 1865.
Follow the trail and soon you come to Park Street Church. Look up at the steeple that’s more than 200 feet high. It’s been guiding people approaching Boston from the water since 1809, when the church opened.
3. Contemplate Life At The Granary Burying Ground
Next door to Park Street Church you come to the Granary Burying Ground. Wander through this lovely cemetery, with its crooked rows of grave markers. Think about the people who lived and died in Boston going back more than three centuries. It’s believed that 5,000 people are at rest here, including three signers of the Declaration of Independence: Samuel Adams, Robert Treat Pain, and John Hancock. And Paul Revere is buried here.
The slate and marble grave markers, with their carvings and inscriptions, are fascinating. The skull heads and cherubs represent different eras of style in gravestone design.
4. Stop In King’s Chapel And Visit A Historic Bookstore
Walk two blocks along the Freedom Trail to King’s Chapel. This is the first Anglican church in New England, founded in 1686. You can go inside to see the elegant church and look at the exhibits that explore the roles of religion and justice in the birth of the nation. Bells and Bones tours take you to the bell tower and also to the old crypt.
The yard of the church contains the Burying Ground. Well-known Boston folks such as John Winthrop, first governor of Massachusetts, are buried here. Note the striking headstone showing Father Time battling death on the grave of Joseph Tapping in the front of the grounds.
Continue on the trail past the Boston Latin School site, where the oldest public school in America once stood. A statue of Benjamin Franklin, who was a student at this school, marks the location.
Next stop is the Old Corner Bookstore. I love to seek out bookstores during my travels, and this one did not disappoint. Built in 1718, the Old Corner Bookstore housed publishers Ticknor and Fields in the 1800s. This company produced gems such as Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Nathanial Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, and the Atlantic Monthly magazine that featured Julia Ward Howe’s Battle Hymn of the Republic.
5. Tour The Old South Meeting House And The Old State House
The next stops on the Freedom Trail are two buildings with rich history. The Old South Meeting House, built in 1729 as a church, also hosted town meetings. Here, in 1773, more than 5,000 men crowded together to debate the controversial tax on tea. The outcome was the Boston Tea Party, when the Sons of Liberty led the dumping of 342 chests full of tea into the harbor.
The nearby Old State House is the oldest surviving public building in the city. It’s been a center of business and politics since 1713. The balcony of the Old State House is where the Declaration of Independence was first read in public. Future First Lady Abigail Adams reported to her husband John that at the end of the reading, “three cheers rended the air.”
Inside the Old State House, explore the building and imagine the people rushing up and down the circular staircase. The small museum showcases items such as a drum played at the Battle of Bunker Hill, just a few miles away.
The Boston Massacre unfolded in front of Old State House. On March 5, 1770, occupying Redcoats clashed with citizens of Boston, firing on a crowd in this square. Five people were killed, which rallied more of the citizens of Boston to oppose British rule. A medallion commemorates the lives lost in the massacre. Look for it at the intersection of State and Congress Streets.
You can buy a ticket that allows you to tour both these meeting houses.
6. Refresh And Reenergize At Faneuil Hall
Faneuil Hall is also known as the Cradle of Liberty. It’s been a favorite meeting place of groups of all kinds for more than 275 years, dating back to Revolutionary times. Since then, abolitionists, women’s suffragists, labor unionists, and many others gathered here to hold protests, meetings, debates, and conventions.
Outside this building, you’ll find the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. This lively outdoor venue, along with adjacent Quincy Market, offers food, shopping, and fun. Street performers will dazzle with their acrobatics and juggling, and vendors sell colorful wares.
You’ve been walking for a while by this point along the Freedom Trail. So, find a place to sit, rest your feet, and enjoy something to eat or a cool drink while you’re entertained.
If you’re ready for a delicious meal, go one block past Faneuil Hall and dine at the Union Oyster House. Mouthwatering food and the dark wood decor are a good combination. The restaurant, established in 1826, claims to be the oldest in the U.S. Whether or not that’s true, eating here is an experience to remember.
7. Pay Respects At The New England Holocaust Memorial
While not an official stop on the Freedom Trail, the New England Holocaust Memorial is a block from Faneuil Hall along the trail and is definitely worth seeing. The Memorial serves to honor the memories of the victims while showing hope for a future without oppression.
The design of the Memorial is striking, with six glass towers reaching more than 50 feet into the air. Numbers etched in the glass represent the tattoos inflicted on victims. Walk the path that leads through the towers. Read the memories of concentration camp survivors.
8. Walk In Paul Revere’s Footsteps
The Paul Revere House is the next stop on the Freedom Trail. Revere’s family lived here from 1770 to 1800, and from here he left for his famous night ride to Lexington in 1775.
Built in 1680, the small wood home was renovated by Revere’s great-grandson and opened to the public more than a hundred years ago. It’s a fascinating memorial to the silversmith whose courage made him famous.
To learn more about Paul Revere’s ride, continue to the next stop on the trail.
9. Take A Seat In The Old North Church
Boston’s oldest church, The Old North Church, is best known as the site of the lanterns in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. The signal to the patriots waiting to meet a British invasion was “one if by land, two if by sea.” Revere asked the church sexton to hang two lanterns in the steeple on April 18, 1775, to let those watching know the invasion would come along the banks of the Charles River rather than by the land route from Boston. Revere hopped in a boat and crossed the water, then took off on horseback to warn colonists. His ride ended in Lexington, with his task accomplished.
This is a lovely colonial-style church, and its history adds to the allure. You can sit and admire the stately architecture as you remember the panic of that night that launched the American Revolution.
A block from the church is Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, the final resting place of more than 10,000 merchants, artisans, and craftspeople who lived here in Boston’s North End.
Notice that you are on high ground that overlooks the harbor. This gave the cemetery strategic military importance during the Revolution. The British stationed here could shell Bunker Hill from the burying ground. Legend says that they used the gravestones for target practice.
10. Walk A Ways To A Warship
The next section of the Freedom Trail involves the longest walk. Cross the river on the bridge and head for the warship, the USS Constitution. After you walk almost a mile, you come to the three-masted frigate.
The USS Constitution, nicknamed “Old Ironsides,” launched in Boston in 1797. She fought the British during the War of 1812. Retired from active service in 1881, the Constitution became a museum ship in 1907. Owned by the U.S. Navy, today, the ship educates visitors on the Navy’s role in war and peace.
11. Climb Bunker Hill
The last stop of the Freedom Trail is a half-mile from the USS Constitution. Bunker Hill, also known as Breed’s Hill, is the site of the first major battle of the Revolutionary War. Troops clashed here on June 17, 1775. Soldiers from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire fought the British. Out of 2,400 men, about 1,000 were wounded or killed. The memorial tower, a tall granite obelisk, is open to climb — if you’re up for the 294 steps. There’s also a small museum.
The Freedom Trail offers quite a variety of sights. You may choose to walk by some, go inside others and spend time in the small museums, stop and fortify yourself with a good meal, and end up aboard a docked sailing ship. Satisfy your curiosity about historic events, walk in the footsteps of the famous, and tromp on a battlefield. Whether you cover the entire trail or your favorite parts, your day of adventure on Boston’s Freedom Trail will be full of fun memories you can treasure for years to come. For more Boston-area inspiration, consider