Boston Freedom Trail Guide
To tour the historic sights of Boston just follow the Freedom Trail, a self-guided walking tour marked by a red line or double row of red bricks on the sidewalk.
Boston's Freedom Trail takes you to the following sights:
Once the town's common pastureland, now Boston's "central park," this is where your Freedom Trail adventure starts.
Many colonial towns preserved a central public square for markets, meetings and militia drills, but Boston, founded in 1630 and soon the largest settlement in New England, had none.
Pasturing cows was more important to these early settlers.
During its explosive growth in the 19th century, Boston's government was smart enough to hire famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, creator of New York City's beautiful Central Park, to make a master plan for Boston's green spaces.
Olmsted's masterpiece was the "Emerald Necklace," a chain of green spaces, old and new, from Boston Common and the newer Public Garden at the heart of the city, along Commonwealth Avenue in the Back Bay to the Back Bay Fens, and finally to the Arnold Arboretum, miles from the center.
Olmsted beautified the Common, preserving a colonial and early American cemetery near the corner of Tremont and Boylston streets, but adding statues, monuments and a Frog Pond that serves as a wading pool and fountain for children in summer, and an ice skating rink in winter.
The ordinance allowing any Bostonian to pasture a cow on the Common is apparently still in the lawbooks, though a stroll through the Common on any summer day reveals picnickers, sunbathers, soapbox orators, street buskers, pitch persons and plenty of pigeons, but no cows.
The entrance to the MBTA subway's Park Street Station at the corner of Tremont and Park streets is Boston's unofficial "speaker's corner," where ideologues hold for on their political, social and religious beliefs—those, at least, who have not become bloggers instead.
The Massachusetts State House (capitol) tops Beacon Hill at the Common's northeastern corner, and the Public Garden adjoins on the west side.
Capitol of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with its landmark golden dome, the Massachusetts State House crowns Beacon Hill, on Beacon Street at Park Street, at the northern corner of Boston Common. It was designed by Charles Bulfinch, Boston's most famous and best-loved architect, and finished in 1798.
Located on the north side of Boston Common at the corner of Beacon and Park streets (map), it was the first building on Beacon Hill, which had earlier served as a cow pasture for governors of the colony.
Guided tours of the State House are conducted by volunteers every weekday from 10 am to 4 pm (closed weekends and holidays), and show you its Doric Hall, Nurses Hall, Hall of Flags, Great Hall, House of Representatives, Senate chambers and Executive Offices.
The rich marble decoration of the State House includes statues of important (and less important) historical figures, and glimpses of the state government at work.
This historic church built in 1809, with its lofty steeple rising above Park Street Station at the northeastern corner of Boston Common, was a beacon in the 19th-century anti-slavery movement.
The cemetery beside Park Street Church on Tremont Street near Park Street (map), just a half-block north of Boston Common, took its name from a nearby granary, now long gone. The cemetery holds the graves of numerous Revolutionary War patriots, and the parents of Ben Franklin. (Ben's buried in Philadelphia.)
Take a walk through—you'll constantly be surprised by the names, dates, and mottoes on the finely carved headstones:
Samuel Adams, Peter Faneuil, John Hancock and Paul Revere, not to mention victims of the Boston Massacre (March 1770): Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, John Caldwell, Crispus Attucks and Patrick Carr. All were laid to rest here.
Walk north on Tremont Street to King's Chapel to continue your walk.
Once the Church of England home of the colonial governors of New England, this historic meetinghouse is now a Unitarian Universalist congregation.
The Church of England congregation of King's Chapel was gathered here at 58 Tremont Street, corner of School street (map), a half-block northeast of the Old Granary Burying Ground, in 1686.
It occupied its first meetinghouse on this site, a small wooden structure, in 1689.
The chapel bell, originally cast in England, was recast by Paul Revere to mend a crack, and rehung in 1816.
In 1783 Harvard graduate James Freeman became King's Chapel's minister, and introduced Unitarian principles to the worship service.
Today King's Chapel continues in the Unitarian tradition of non-creedal Christian worship, using a modified version of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Sunday worship is at 11 am, and there is a Wednesday prayer service.
In the Chapel's Burying Ground (cemetery) are the graves of John Winthrop (1587-1649), first governor of the colony of Massachusetts Bay, and many of his family, as well as other Boston notables.
6. King's Chapel Burying Ground
The small cemetery on the northeast side of King's Chapel holds the remains of Boston's 16th- and 17th-century notables, including Governor John Winthrop (1587-1649).
7. Ben Franklin Statue & Boston Latin School
After attending Boston Latin School, the first public school in America (1635), Benjamin Franklin left Boston for Philadelphia, fame and fortune. This statue at 45 School Street marks Boston Latin's first location and honors its most famous alumnus.
First used as a bookstore in 1828, this red-brick building at 238 Washington Street, corner of School Street, was the home of noted Boston publishers Ticknor & Fields from 1832 to 1865, and a meeting place for the authors of Boston's 19th-century literary golden age: Dickens, Emerson, Hawthorne, Holmes, Longfellow and others. It was used as a bookstore as recently as 2002, but now houses a restaurant.
Built in 1729, Old South Meeting House, on Washington Street at the corner of Milk Street in Downtown Crossing (map), was the largest building in colonial Boston at the time. It saw its most famous meeting on December 16, 1773, when a group of colonials in Indian dress set out from here to throw the Boston Tea Party.
Though built originally to house a church congregation, today the building is a museum with exhibits of historical documents, currency, furniture, and a scale model of Boston in 1775, which gives you a very clear idea of the size and layout of the town.
Some visitors confuse Old South Meeting House with Old North Church in Boston's North End, in the steeple of which two lanterns were hung to signal to Paul Revere that British troops were moving from Boston by sea toward Charlestown. (Old North Church is No. 14 on this tour itinerary.)
10. Old State House
The Old State House at 206 Washington Street (map), just up the street from Government Center and right above the State Street MBTA subway station, dates from 1713. It's the oldest surviving public building in Boston, and was constructed as the Massachusetts Town House to hold the governing offices of the Massachusetts Bay Colony: the council chamber of the royal governor and the courts of law. It replaced an older colonial government building (1658) that burnt in 1711.
The Council Chamber of the Royal Governor was on the second floor, along with the Massachusetts Assembly and, later the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
Merchants did their business on the ground floor. John Hancock and others used the basement as a warehouse.
Important proclamations were read from its second-story balcony, and it was beneath this balcony on the evening of March 5, 1770 that British soldiers fired on a threatening mob of civilians, resulting in the Boston Massacre.
The Declaration of Independence was first read to Bostonians from its balcony in 1776. From that same balcony, George Washington addressed the citizens of Boston in 1789.
After the American Revolution it was known as the State House, and after the present State House was built in 1795, this one became the Old State House.
Now that the building is hemmed in by giant buildings on all sides, much of the dignity and prominence it must have held for colonial and revolutionary Americans is lost, but the building in included in Boston National Historical Park.
11. Site of the Boston Massacre
On State Street near the Old State House, this is where a crowd threatened a small group of British soldiers who fired into the crowd, killing three and mortally wounding others.
12. Faneuil Hall
"The Cradle of Liberty," where Samuel Adams, James Otis and others spoke in favor of independence from Great Britain, is now the centerpiece of Faneuil Hall Marketplace, on Congress Street at North Street just down the hill from Government Center (map).
The handsome brick building designed by John Simbert was erected by the Town of Boston in 1742 with money given by Peter Faneuil (pronounced FAN-yool or FAN'l). It was later enlarged and modified by Charles Bulfinch (1805).
The plan is that of an English town market, with shops on the ground floor and a town meeting hall above. The ground floor was originally a food market, and is now filled with souvenir and other shops. The second floor was—and still is, more than two and a half centuries later—used for public meetings.
Entrance to the second-floor meeting hall is from the east side, opposite Quincy Market. National Park Service guides are on hand to tell you all about the building. Entrance is free.
The huge painting dominating the front of the hall, they will tell you, is of famed lawyer Daniel Webster speaking on the virtues of a close union of states (as opposed to states' rights). The speech was given in Washington in 1830, not in Faneuil Hall, but the painting must have inspired hundreds of less talented, although perhaps equally long-winded, orators.
The third floor houses the headquarters of Boston's most famous chowder-and-marching society, the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts.
Come to Faneuil Hall not just to visit the historic building, but also to enjoy Faneuil Hall Marketplace: a stroll, a snack, a drink, a meal, some window shopping, actual pay-money shopping, or people-watching.
This neighborhood is a good place to stay for sightseeing in Boston, with several hotels nearby.
The grey granite Quincy Market, named for Boston Mayor Josiah Quincy who had it erected in 1826, is, with historic Faneuil Hall, the centerpiece of Boston's most historic and popular shopping area. It's located right next to Government Center, Haymarket and the North End (map).
Quincy Market was Boston's larder for a century before the changing patterns of commerce and provisioning led to its decline.
Its restoration in the 1970s, along with the large Greek Revival North Market and South Market buildings on either side, has created the booming Faneuil Hall Marketplace you see today.
Faneuil Hall Marketplace is filled with snack shops, chowder houses, cafés, delis, bakeries and restaurants.
If you only want a snack or light lunch, wander through Quincy Market and pick up a freshly-baked bagels, bags of dried apricots, nuts or Turkish figs, fragrant French bread, Italian salads, Chinese finger food, or any of a dozen other treats (though I must say I've been underwhelmed by the quality of food in some of these fast-food places.)
If it's raw clams or oysters you crave, drop in for a dozen at the nearby Union Oyster House, America's oldest restaurant (1826)( map). The restaurant has a full menu of other dishes (especially seafood) as well.
On Friday afternoons and Saturdays, stroll among the costermongers in Boston's Haymarket open-air fruit-and-vegetable (and much more) market just a block to the west.
The great patriot and silversmith lived in this 17th-century house (1680) at 19 North Square in Boston's North End from 1770 to 1800.
American patriot Paul Revere (1735-1818) was a silversmith, bell-caster and revolutionary agitator, but he is most famously remembered for his "midnight ride" "through every Middlesex village and farm" to warn colonial Americans that a British expeditionary force had set out "by sea" from Boston.
The "Regulars" landed in neighboring Charlestown, and were on their way through Middlesex County to Lexington and Concord to sieze arms and ammunition stored there by the colonial "Minutemen" militias.
The Revere House is the oldest extant house in Boston, and is a suitable museum of the age in which Revere and his revolutionary friends worked for independence from British colonial rule.
Revere was an important figure in the American revolution, but it was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, "Paul Revere's Ride" (1863) that assured Revere's place in the pantheon of American revolutionary heroes.
Actually, Revere was not alone—William Dawes rode as well—and Revere never made it all the way to Concord, having been captured by the British on the outskirts of that town. (A plaque along Battle Road marks the spot of his capture.)
But he got the word out, which others then carried to all the towns and villages in Massachusetts and beyond.
The Paul Revere Memorial Association maintains the Paul Revere House...and the memory of the great patriot who once lived in it.
14. Old North Church
This is where the lanterns were hung: "one if by land, and two if by sea" and Paul Revere and William Dawes rode to warn that "the Regulars are out!"
The Episcopal Christ Church in the City of Boston, better known as Old North Church, 193 Salem Street, is located on Copp's Hill in Boston's North End, just down the street from the Copp's Hill Burying Ground.
Built in 1723, it is the oldest church in Boston still in active service, with Episcopal services every Sunday.
You can see by the church's hillside location (193 Salem St—map) why it was a good place from which to give such a signal.
It was two lanterns hung in the tower that started Paul Revere and William Dawes on their fateful night rides on April 19, 1775 to warn the Colonials in Lexington and Concord that British Regular troops were heading out from Boston to search for hidden arms.
Old North Church is open for visits daily (closed Monday in January & February). The tradition of free admission was modified in March 2018 due to mounting costs. s of May 1, 2018, admission fees are $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and students, and $4 for children. Donations for support of the beautiful, historic building are gratefully received. More...
A walk around inside turns up many curiosities that bear on the history of Boston and the United States: memorial plaques to famous men, nameplates on the very high pews.
The tall graceful windows of Old North Church are exceptionally fine. The bust of George Washington on view within the church is, according to the Marquis de Lafayette, the best likeness of Washington that he had seen.
Although it's now hemmed in by houses and shops on all sides, Old North Church does have a set of tiny terraces and gardens open to the public on its north side.
The small formal garden and the fountain are good to refresh your spirit on a hot day, and the memorial plaques set into the walls are, in some cases, delightful. One reads:
Here on September 13, 1757
"John Childs who had given public notice of his intention to
Fly from the steeple of Dr. Cutler's church, performed it to
The satisfaction of a great number of spectators."
1923 the year of the first continuous flight across
The continent this tablet has been placed here by
The Massachusetts Society of the Colonial Dames of America
To commemorate the two events."
The question that comes to mind: would it not have been faster to dispatch John Childs by air from the steeple to Lexington and Concord rather than Dawes and Revere on horseback by land, on that historic night in 1775?
This cemetery at 45 Hull Street, founded in 1659 for use by the congregation of Old North Church, is the second oldest in Boston (after King's Chapel) and affords fine views of Boston Harbor, Bunker Hill, Charlestown, its Navy Yard, and the USS Constitution ("Old Irosides"; see below).
The tall obelisk commemorates the 1775 battle on Bunker and Breed's hills in which Colonel Prescott cried to his men, "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes!"
The granite obelisk which towers above Charlestown on Monument Square (map) commemorates the first Colonial-initiated action by American forces against British regular troops—in effect, the first major army battle of the American Revolutionary War.
The 221-foot (67-meter) monument, set in a small, grassy hilltop park in Charlestown, 2 miles (3.2 km) north of Boston Common and a half-mile (800 meters) north of the USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides"), is well worth a visit for its historical significance, the exhibit lodge next door, the Battle of Bunker Hill Museum just off the summit, and the spectacular panoramic views from the small windows at the top—reached by 294 steps (no elevator/lift!).
Admission is free to the monument, the exhibit lodge, and the museum.
How to Get Here
You can get to Charlestown and Bunker Hill by walking across the Charlestown Bridge from the North End (map); or by taking the MBTA Orange Line subway to Community College station; or by the MBTA F4 Ferryboat from Long Wharf near the New England Aquarium.
The ferry goes right to the Charlestown Navy Yard where you can tour of the USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides"), its Museum, and other nautical exhibits, then walk a half-mile (800 meters) uphill to Bunker Hill.
Construction of the Bunker Hill Monument began in 1827, a half-century after the battle. The dedication on June 17, 1843 was attended by President Tyler, veterans of the battle, and 100,000 others.
The monument was extensively restored in 2007, and the Battle of Bunker Hill Museum opened.
(America's other great Revolutionary War monument, the Washington Monument in Washington DC, is 555 feet (169 meters) high—over twice as high as the Bunker Hill Monument.)
On June 17, 1775, Colonel William Prescott of the Continental army ordered his force of 1200 men to secretly occupy Bunker Hill during the night and construct a small earthwork fortification. When the British awoke in Boston, they found the Americans in command of the hill and indeed of all Charlestown—and within cannon range of Boston.
British regulars rowed across the Charles River and attacked the hill's defenders. Their ammunition running low, Colonel Prescott cried to his men, "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes!"
Against a British force of twice their number, the Americans held the hill until their ammunition ran out, then retreated in good order to Cambridge, leaving half the British force dead or wounded on the hill.
Though the battle must be considered a British victory, the Battle of Bunker Hill showed that the Continental Army was a force to be reckoned with, and gave encouragement to those willing to fight for separation between Great Britain and its American colonies.
Bunker or Breed's?
Is it Bunker Hill or Breed's Hill? At the time of the battle (1775), the ridge with two high points (110 feet & 62 feet) was known as Bunker Hill. Some years after the battle the land including the lower summit (62 feet) on which the Colonials built their redoubt was owned by a man named Breed, thus gaining the name Breed's Hill. So it was all Bunker Hill at the time of the battle, but the main point of battle was later named Breed's Hill.
The 3-masted frigate launched in 1797 fought dozens of battles, was never defeated.
The oak-hulled, three-masted, 2,286-ton, 44-gun heavy frigate was built in Boston, given the name USS Constitution by President George Washington, and launched in 1797 as one of the six original capital ships of the young United States Navy.
Constitution fought Barbary pirates off the coast of North Africa (1801-1805), and defeated five British warships in the War of 1812.
In the notable battle with HMS Guerriere in August 1812, the Constitution's unusually thick and sturdy oak hull resisted the British ship's cannonballs so well—bouncing them off her sides—that she earned the nickname "Old Ironsides."
Constitution later saw continued service in the Mediterranean and along the coasts of Africa.
During the American Civil War, she was used as a training ship for United States Naval Academy midshipmen.
Constitution was retired from active service in 1881, but she still sailed, notably on a 90-city tour of the USA in 1931. She is the world's oldest commissioned warship afloat.
Docked in Boston Harbor at the Charlestown Navy Yard (map), she was in a deteriorated condition, but was restored for her 200th birthday in 1997, and she sailed out into Boston harbor under her own power then, and again in 2012.
In May 2015 she again moved into Dry Dock 1 at the Charlestown Navy Yard for repairs, including replacement of the 3400 copper sheets that protect her hull from wood-boring sea worms. Constitution had been the first ship to enter Dry Dock 1—in 1833.
Repairs continue when needed to keep this icon of early American sea forces in shipshape.
Constitution is normally open to visits. Admission to the shipyard and to the ship is free of charge.
Because you will be on US Navy property hen you visit the USS Constitution, if you're 18 years of age or older, you may be required to present a government identification document such as a driver's license or passport, and you will pass through a security check: metal detector and x-ray of bags.
Usually, you may visit the top deck of the vessel on your own. To visit belowdecks, you must take the free 30-minute guided tour.
In the historic granite drydock (1833) next to the USS Constitution is the USS Cassin Young (DD-793), a Fletcher-class destroyer built in 1943 by Bethlehem Steel Corporation. The Cassin Young, named for a US Navy captain awarded the Medal of Honor, saw much action in the Pacific during WWII, and was retired in 1960.
The nearby USS Constitution Museum, a separate entity, houses many artifacts dealing with the Constitution's history and its 40 battles at sea (all won), besides a "Life at Sea" exhibit, showing what shipboard life was like in 1812. Donations are suggested for the museum.
The Boston National Historical Park - Charlestown Navy yard also offers programs on the Navy Yard and the American Revolution in Building No. 5 (between the ship and the USS Constitution Museum).
The easiest way to reach the Charlestown Navy Yard and USS Constitution is by MBTA F-4 Inner Harbor Ferry from Long Wharf near the New England Aquarium. You can also take the MBTA Orange Line subway to the Community College station and walk to Bunker Hill or to the Charlestown Navy Yard.
More Walking Tours
Freedom Trail maps are available at its starting point: the Boston Common Visitor Information Center, on Boston Common near the MBTA Park Street Station.
I've adapted the trail's route to my own walking tours for you so that you can see more with less back-tracking:
Starting at Boston Common, this 1-mile (1.4-km), 2-hour walking tour follows the Freedom Trail to Beacon Hill, the State House, Old Granary Burying Ground, King's Chapel, Old South Meeting House, Old State House, Faneuil Hall, ending at Quincy Market in Faneuil Hall Marketplace. More...
Starting at Faneuil Hall Marketplace (the end point of the Beacon Hill & Downtown Boston Walking Tour), this 2-mile (3.22-km), 2-hour walking tour takes you to Haymarket (best on Friday and Saturday mornings), the Italian-American North End, Paul Revere House, Old North Church, Bunker Hill and the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides). More...