Boston’s history is an amazing story. With a National Historic Site on nearly every block, it’s not unlikely that you’ll cross paths with a number of important landmarks while running commonplace errands. As one of America’s oldest cities, Boston is often credited as the birthplace of America and can claim a many of its evolutionary milestones. Did you know the first public park in America is the Boston Common, the first American lighthouse was built in Boston Harbor, and the first modern World Series game was played here? From war enthusiasts to architecture junkies, Boston’s history has something for everyone. Best of all, Boston knows how to show off its history well. Most sites offer informative tours for a fee, tip, or humble donation, and you’re just as fine exploring on your own with the handy pocket guide you pick up at the door. I challenge you to see every historic site in the city—it may take several dozen visits!
Boston Public Library
This central branch at Copley Square is home to the magnificent Bates Hall reading room, the most architecturally revered and historically significant room at America’s first public library. Before you leave, don’t miss a quiet moment in the courtyard before heading to the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, where you can peruse the vast collection of maps and nautical charts, including some of the earliest ever printed from 1482.
The Freedom Trail covers the basics of Boston history. The 2.5-mile red brick trail winds through 16 sites integral to the story of the American Revolution. Make a day of it so you have time to explore little pit stops along the way, like lunch at the The Bell in Hand Tavern—one of the oldest pubs in the nation—or explore the USS Constitution Museum, free of charge.
Launched in 1797, this 44-gun frigate is one of the first commissioned warships for the U.S. Navy. As legend has it, sailors saw British cannonballs bounce harmlessly off the ship’s wooden hull during the War of 1812, and earned it the nickname “Old Ironsides.” Take a guided tour below deck lead by knowledgeable Navy crewmembers for more wartime tales, and visit the museum’s related exhibits, featuring national cruise scrapbooks and other relics of the ship’s heroic past.
A masterpiece by visionary American architect Henry Hobson Richardson, this Episcopal Church has dominated Copley Square since it was built on Back Bay marshland during the 1870s. Today, it is a national historic landmark renowned as the most famous example of “Richardsonian Romanesque” architecture, an influential and groundbreaking design for its time. The dramatic archways and castle-like turrets still house a thriving congregation.
This Civil War-era fort was built as Boston’s main line of defense against the Confederate Navy. Take a ferry through the harbor to Georges Island to explore the fort’s history and learn about the war prisoners captured there. Say hello to the Lady in Black, the ghost of Mrs. Andrew Lanier. The long-departed wife of a Confederate soldier imprisoned there in 1861 is said to haunt the fort to this day.