Guide to Boston’s Most Historical Sites

If you have a free afternoon in Boston, check out these must-see historic sites. Use our guide to plan your afternoon of exploring, and where to eat after.

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If you’re a history buff, Boston is the place to be. The city has a large number of historical landmarks, many of which can be found along the famous Freedom Trail, the 2.5-mile “red line” that connects 16 historical sites dating back to the 1600s. If you have a free afternoon, the trail is one attraction you don’t want to miss. Sign up for one of the 90-minute tours led by guides dressed in 18th-century costumes, schedule a private tour, or stroll at your own pace. Keep your eyes peeled for these top historical highlights along the way:

Boston Common

The Freedom Trail begins at the Visitor Information Center at Boston Common, America’s oldest public park. The Common is a park with a storied past. Originally a simple grazing area for livestock, the park became a magnet for Puritans who settled around the area’s potable springs. Later, it was used by the British army as a camp during the occupation. It has witnessed public witch and pirate hangings as well as history-making public dialogues, including speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope John Paul II. Today, the Common hosts theatrical performances and picnic lunches on warm days.

Granary Burying Ground

Across Park Street on the Freedom Trail is Granary Burying Ground, with its cast-iron fence and granite gated entry. You’ll want to download the smartphone app from the Freedom Trail Foundation for this one. This historic cemetery is the final resting place for more than 5,000 residents, including Paul Revere, John Hancock, and members of Benjamin Franklin’s family. The app, called Granary Burying Ground’s Top 100, will help you find these and other historic figures, including little-known goldsmiths, writers, and merchants who made up Boston’s rich colonial-era community. Nab the app from iTunes or Google Play.

Aerial view of Boston’s Old North Church.

Old North Church

Old North Church is one of the most visited historical sites in Boston, so it’s a must-see on your history tour. It served as a special communication post for Paul Revere on the eve of the Revolutionary War on April 18, 1775. As the British organized plans to march to Concord to capture a stockpile of ammunition, patriot leaders tapped Revere and William Dawes to ride ahead and warn others of the invasion. Revere devised a system that used the lights in the church to communicate the British plan: one lantern if they marched from Boston or two if they were rowing boats across the Charles River into Cambridge. The plan, made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s line “One if by land, two if by sea” in his famous poem, centered on the recently restored church, which remains active with an Episcopal congregation.

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Old South Meeting House

The revolutionary era plot to throw 340 crates of tea into Boston Harbor had to start somewhere. On December 16, 1773, colonists outraged over the high British taxes on tea met at the Old South Meeting House and hatched a daring plan to retaliate. Built in 1729 as a Puritan house of worship, the building was the largest in colonial Boston. It continues to serve as a meeting place for lectures and programs today. Residents saved the structure, which is located next to the site of the Boston Massacre, from demolition in 1876.

The USS Constitution Navy warship, part of the Freedom Trail, sits on the dock in Boston on a grey, cloudy day.

USS Constitution

You can almost imagine cannonballs firing from the deck of the USS Constitution, which rests in the Charlestown Navy Yard on the Freedom Trail. With the nickname “Old Ironsides,” this U.S. Navy warship first sailed in 1797 and became famous after its battle with the British frigate HMS Guerriere in the War of 1812. While the ship is currently in dry dock undergoing renovations, you can still admire its impressive rigging and sails and thick white oak construction. Tours are available during certain months in dry dock. If you’ve got time, stop next door at the USS Constitution Museum to experience hands-on lessons about life on the high seas 200 years ago.

Bunker Hill Monument

In Monument Park, the last stop of the Freedom Trail honors the Battle of Bunker Hill, where colonial forces successfully held their ground against the British army on June 17, 1775. During this battle, Colonel William Prescott yelled the famous phrase, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!” A 221-foot-high granite sculpture stands at the Bunker Hill Monument site where the scrappy patriots fought, and Bunker Hill Museum offers details about the epic fight.

Bell in Hand Tavern

All the walking will make you hungry, so end the afternoon at Bell in Hand Tavern on Union Street. Steeped in history, the tavern opened in 1795, making it America’s oldest tavern. Dig into a bowl of New England Clam Chowder or a slice of Boston Crème Pie and imagine sharing it with Daniel Webster or other historical leaders who once frequented the popular alehouse.

Ready to step back in history for a few hours? Share your favorite Boston photos on Instagram so others can walk the Freedom Trail with you.

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