Are you searching for the best things to do in Boston as a first-time visitor? I was once in your shoes, so I’ve compiled this handy guide of the top things to do in Boston.
Disclosure: This travel guide to the best things to do in Boston as a first-time visitor contains affiliate links. When you click on one of these partner links to make a purchase or reservation, I may earn a small commission.
Top Five Things to Do in Boston
With historical sites, charming neighborhoods, beautiful public parks, a variety of museums, and delicious dining options, there are plenty of things to do in Boston. It is one of those cities I could repeatedly visit and experience differently on each trip. But, what should you do on your first visit?
That is exactly what I tried to figure out during my first trip to Boston. The Massachusetts capital had been on my travel wishlist for years, and I finally visited in March 2015 for the Women in Travel Summit (WITS).
Although I was there for WITS, I planned to make the most of my limited time in Beantown. Was I successful? I think so. Yet I barely scratched the surface of all the attractions I’d like to visit in Boston. And the foods I want to eat.
Whether you like art, history, food, craft beer, sports, or films, you could easily build a Boston trip itinerary around your interests.
If you are like me, you probably want to experience everything. While that is logically not possible during a long weekend trip, you can certainly make a dent in your list of things to do in Boston and get a real feel for the city within a few days.
So, if you are visiting Boston for the first time, I’ve got five ideas for how to quickly acquaint yourself with the city.
First of All, Take a Tour of Boston!
When I’m visiting a new destination, my favorite way to get to know the area is by taking a tour. Walking tours sometimes require using public transportation, which allows travelers to learn how to navigate the local subway or bus system. In fact, I rode the T on my first Boston tour!
Walking tours are also ideal for photo opportunities. If you enjoy photography or just coming home from your travels with photos of beautiful scenery, you should take a photography tour.
In Boston, you can take guided photography tours of the Freedom Trail and the Beacon Hill and Back Bay neighborhoods. I’d love to do this on my next visit. I’m just not sure how I’d choose which tour to take!
Though I love walking tours, I also suggest considering bus tours — such as the Boston Hop-on Hop-off Trolley. Bus tours tend to cover a broader area, giving you an idea of how the city is laid out. Both walking and bus tours are often full of insightful notions and fun facts that only the locals seem to know.
Of course, sightseeing tours are best if you are interested in seeing all of Boston’s top sights in a short time frame.
Boston Duck Tours, which traverses the city by land and the Charles River, came highly recommended to me by several local Bostonians. Since the vehicle drives right into the river, I’d say a Duck Tour would be one of the most fun things to do in Boston with kids.
Unique And Unusual Tours In Boston
Are you a history buff? A foodie? A literary geek? A film aficionado? Into ghost stories or pub crawls? Then skip the generic sightseeing tour! Opt instead for a tour tailored to your interests.
I took two tours specific to my interests during my first few days in Boston. After the tours, I was confident I could get myself around the city by foot or the T. I also pinpointed the landmarks, neighborhoods, and attractions I wanted to explore further on my own.
Here are a few tours that sound pretty awesome and are currently available to book:
- Boston Ghosts and Gravestones Tour — As you hear tales of “lost souls” believed to be haunting the streets of this historic city, you’ll walk through two of the oldest burial grounds in Boston, including Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, where Cotton Mather, known for his involvement in the Salem witch trials, is buried. Book your tour now!
- Boston Movie Mile Tour — See famous movie and TV locations around Boston on a 1.5-hour walking tour! You’ll have a drink at the original Cheers bar, stroll through Boston Public Garden to see the famous benches from Good Will Hunting and Ted, and discover more movie and TV connections in Boston. Don’t miss out — reserve your tour today!
- Boston’s North End Pizza and History Walking Tour — Learn a bit of North End and Freedom Trail history as you taste three slices of pizza and a Modern Pastry cannolo! Reserve your slice(s) by booking your tour now!
Boston Food Tours
My first tour in Boston was a special Bittersweet Boston food tour led by a Boston local. Although the Bittersweet Boston tour was a one-time event, you can find several other food tours in and around Boston.
With our local guide leading us, our tour group rode the T to the end of the green line. We then walked with umbrellas in hand through the pouring rain to the Taza Chocolate factory, where we toured the factory, tasted chocolates, and shopped for delicious souvenirs in the gift shop.
You can visit the Taza Chocolate factory, too! The Intro to Stone Ground Chocolate includes an educational talk, views of the chocolate-making process, and stone-ground chocolate tastings. This experience costs $12/person and runs Wednesday through Sunday. Online reservations are required.
Beer & Food Tours in Boston
- Sip of Boston Brewery Tour –– Taste up to 12 different beers on this tour of Boston’s thriving beer scene with visits to some of the city’s most iconic breweries. This tour will likely sell out, so book now to reserve your space!
- North End Secret Food Tour –– Explore the flavors of Boston’s Little Italy with brick-oven pizza, fresh pasta, classic Sicilian cannoli, and more at six stops as you walk a trail dating back to the American Revolution! This food walking tour will also likely sell out, so make your reservation now!
- Boston Underground Donut Tour — It may be known for Dunkin Donuts, but Boston has a broader doughnut scene worth exploring (and tasting). On this tour, you’ll sample Boston’s finest doughnuts as you walk through Boston’s Financial District, Boston Public Market, and Little Italy. Like all the foodie tours I’ve recommended in Boston, this one also quickly sells out. Grab your ticket(s) now for this tasty tour!
Boston Movie & TV Location Tours
The second tour I took was a Boston TV & Move Sites Tour with On Location Tours. Our bus tour took us past settings used in Good Will Hunting, The Departed, Ted, Field of Dreams, Mystic River, and The Town among many other movies. I hadn’t even realized how many films took place in Boston!
On Locations Tours also offers the 1.5-hour Boston TV & Move Sites Tour and a three-hour private tour with your own driver/guide. The private tour covers many of the filming locations on the full Boston TV & Movie Sites Tour.
Eat One of Boston’s Classic Dishes or Desserts
Once you have toured the city, you’ll have worked up an appetite. Luckily, Boston is full of restaurants serving delicious dishes.
And, none has done that longer than America’s oldest restaurant. At Union Oyster House, established in 1826, you’ll find freshly shucked oysters and the New England Clam Chowder for which this iconic Boston restaurant is known. As a favorite of the Kennedy family, JFK was known to privately dine upstairs. If you dine here, don’t miss the booth dedicated to the 35th president!
Of course, being situated along the Atlantic Ocean, Boston is known for its seafood. So, you probably want to know where to find the best lobster roll, right? The good folks at Thrillist compiled this handy list of the best lobster rolls in Boston. Happy lobstah eating, friends!
However, lobster rolls, oysters, and clam chowder aren’t the only famous Bostonian foods. Among other signature Boston dishes are Boston Cream Pie, which originated at the Parker House Hotel, and the baked beans for which Boston earned its nickname “Beantown.”
During my trip, I made it my mission to try a true New England Clam Chowder and a Boston Cream Pie. I knocked them both off my list when dining at Legal Sea Foods, a Boston-based seafood restaurant chain. Next time, I’m hunting down lobster rolls, pizza, and cannoli! How about you?
Visit a Museum in Boston
Visiting the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston was a highlight of my Boston trip. Seriously, I could have spent an entire day moseying between galleries. I just couldn’t get enough of the Van Gogh, Monet, and Degas artwork. And with more than 40 museums in the Greater Boston area, you are likely to find one that also suits your interests, too.
Best Boston Museums for Kids
Pro Tip: If you plan to visit the New England Aquarium, Boston CityPASS® could save 41% off your admission. The pass also covers admission to three other Boston attractions including the Museum of Science and two attractions of your choice from the following: Harvard Museum of Natural History, Franklin Park Zoo, or a Boston harbor cruise.
Boston’s Best Historic Sites and Museums for History Buffs
Visit the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum to dump tea into the harbor like the colonists did. Then stop along the Freedom Trail at Paul Revere’s home, where the silversmith left for his infamous “Midnight Ride.”
To see more Paul Revere silver and Revolutionary War relics, visit the Americas collection at the Museum of Fine Arts. Afterward, skip ahead to the 20th Century to view Oval Office decor and Kennedy family photos at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
Art Museums in Boston
No matter which era or medium you enjoy, I highly recommend visiting the Museum of Fine Arts. The museum has one of the largest collections in the United States with more than 450,000 works of art.
If you enjoy contemporary art, the Institute of Contemporary Art has a unique permanent collection and rotating exhibits in a stunning waterfront building with floor-to-ceiling harbor views in Boston’s Seaport District.
Art lovers will find even more at the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge.
Dine in Boston’s North End
You absolutely must dine in the North End while in Boston. Eat some pasta, drink some wine, finish with cannoli, and thank me later. Walk along Hanover and Salem streets, and you’ll find Italian eatery after Italian eatery. The restaurants all seem to post their menus outside, so you can just stop once one sounds appealing.
My friends and I ended up at L’Osteria, where I had a delicious lobster ravioli in creamy vodka sauce.
If you are looking for an after-dinner treat, stop by Mike’s Pastry or Modern Pastry for cannoli. In fact, why not do a cannoli taste test by visiting both like the family travel bloggers at Diapers On A Plane did!
Take A Scenic Stroll
Now that you’ve taken a tour, visited a museum, and dined around Boston, you can wander. Boston is wonderful for wandering.
It’s a fairly small “big city” at 48 square miles, so a 30-minute walk could take you past Back Bay rowhouses, ritzy Newbury Street shops, and Beacon Hill’s charming brick and cobblestone streets.
You could also stroll along the Charles River Esplanade or through Boston Public Garden and Boston Common.
If you are walking through Boston Public Garden with children, find the “Make Way for Ducklings” statue near Charles and Beacon streets and ride on a Swan Boat.
Where to Stay in Boston
For a truly unique hotel in Boston, consider booking your stay at The Verb. This rock-n-roll-themed boutique hotel has guest rooms outfitted with record players and albums and custom “Backstage” trailer accommodations designed to make you feel like a rock star!
The hotel’s location puts you near Fenway Park — perfect for catching a Red Sox game or touring Fenway Park.
As a hotel guest, you can also dip into the year-round outdoor pool, see the hotel’s red 1947 Greyhound Clipper bus, and experience a taste of Japanese nightlife at the Hojoko Japanese Tavern.
It’s also less than 15 minutes walking distance from top attractions, such as Boston Common and Boston Public Garden.
This hotel also offers a variety of room types, including lofts and suites. For groups of friends traveling together, the triple and quad rooms with bathrooms down the hall are great options.
Don’t worry about the bathroom down the hall! It’s much more private than shared hostel or dormitory bathrooms, and each floor has 10 single-occupancy bathrooms outfitted with a toilet, sink, and shower stall.
I found this hotel to be in a convenient location for first-time visitors to Boston. It’s centrally located and a very short walk from Boston’s theatre district, Boston Common, and Boston Public Garden.
Check availability and book your stay now!
Apartment Rentals in Boston
On my last night in Boston, I wanted to experience the city like a local, so I booked a Back Bay apartment through Airbnb. From my rowhouse apartment, I walked to Trident Booksellers & Cafe for an afternoon latte and book browsing and then met up for drinks with a friend at Back Bay Social Club.
Use the map below to find and book accommodations for your upcoming Boston trip!
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