KidTripster Teen: 12 spots in Boston where your kids actually will want to learn
If your kids are like me, then you know it’s sometimes hard for them to get in the mood to study, especially when it comes to history. I enjoy interactive learning, so visiting any spot where history took place is always helpful. “Bahston” (it’s how the locals say it!) is one of the most historic cities in the country. So many key events happened in and around this town that lead up to the birth of our great nation, and that means, there are plenty of places to explore as a family. Here’s a list of my favorite historic spots that are sure to entertain your history students and perhaps, even inspire them to hit the books when they get home!
Photo courtesy: JFK Presidential Library & Museum
3 McKinley Square
If you’re visiting Boston to soak up some history, why not start by staying in one of the city’s historic landmarks? The Custom House originally was built in 1837 at the edge of the city’s docks and was the place where cargo from merchant ships was inspected and documented. The clock tower was added later and gave the building the distinction of being Boston’s first skyscraper. Now owned by Marriott, it’s a super cool hotel that offers ample accommodations in a historic setting. Its location in the heart of downtown also makes it a convenient spot for visiting the other places on my list. The hotel offers guests many free activities including various private walking tours with expert guides; check with the concierge to find out what’s available during your stay since the options change daily. Be sure to head up to the observation deck on the 26th floor and take in the panoramic views of the Boston Harbor, also free for guests! Room availability and rates vary widely from season to season but start around $394/night.
KidTripster Tip: Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, you still can stop by and take in some history here. There’s free access to the hotel’s exquisite, first floor rotunda which features a maritime exhibit of select artifacts from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. Public access to the observation deck also is available every day (except Fridays) for a modest $4 donation; proceeds go to the Children’s Miracle Network. The super friendly staff at the front desk can provide more information and sell tickets.
Faneuil Hall inherited its nickname as the “Cradle of Liberty” for good reason. Though originally purposed as a commercial marketplace, this building held the country’s first town meeting as well as many other political gatherings that united the Patriots to challenge the British. Upon entering, the collection of gift shops on the ground floor gives the impression that there’s not much else to see here, but don’t dismay. Instead, head upstairs where you’ll find the Great Hall. This grand, two-story, public space hosted many famed speakers throughout history, including Samuel Adams and Harriet Tubman, and is still used to this day for civic events. (While I was there, the staff was preparing for a citizenship ceremony.) Since the site is operated by the National Park Service, knowledgeable park rangers are always on hand to answer any questions that you may have. Make sure you stick around long enough to catch one the free lectures given every half hour by the ranger staff. They really know their stuff! Cost: Free.
4 South Market St.
Directly across the cobblestone street from Faneuil Hall is another prominent historic site. Completed in 1826, Quincy Market was initially designed as an indoor pavilion for merchant booths. Today, down either side of its long halls, you’ll find stalls with cuisine from around the globe and seating in the middle, so you can enjoy your meal under the iconic, two-story dome. It’s a great place to grab a bite, rest, and people-watch. There also are dozens of retail shops in and around the food court, making it the perfect location to nab a cool souvenir or find a unique piece of jewelry made by a local artisan. You’ll also find various street artists and musicians performing here throughout the day. Cost: free to enter.
KidTripster Tip: As this is a popular tourist destination, you may want to strategically plan your visit before or after typical meal times. You’ll have an easier time finding a table.
Just up the street from Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, you’ll find the Old State House, one of the oldest public buildings in the United States. This is where celebrated patriots like Samuel Adams and John Hancock fought for the colonists’ freedom and where the Declaration of Independence was first proclaimed to the citizens of Boston. Despite its famed history, the building was almost destroyed. Thankfully, a Boston historical society, formed specifically to save the structure, rescued it from demolition. Now, it serves as a museum dedicated to telling the 400-year history of the city. There are several interactive exhibits and informative tours that take you through the museum. On your way out, look for the small memorial in the front of the building marking the very spot where the Boston Massacre occurred over two centuries ago. Cost: Youth (5 & under) Free; Youth (6-18) $3; Adult $7.50.
5/Old North Church
193 Salem St.
Located in the North End, Boston’s oldest residential neighborhood, the Old North Church is the place where Robert Newman famously flashed two lanterns in the window of the spire, warning the Patriots that the Redcoats were coming by sea. Its pristine white steeple has been a historic landmark for decades. You can tour the church or even attend a service, as this place of worship is still operational. You also can check out the rest of the campus that boasts an old printing shop and even a revolutionary chocolate shop! Several stunning gardens are a part of the grounds, too. Confirm the schedules for each of the venues online because hours vary depending on the season. Cost: Suggested donation of $3/person and $1/additional family member. In-depth tours are available for an additional fee.
KidTripster Tip: There’s another interesting thing about this neighborhood. During late 1800s, masses of Italian immigrant families moved into the North End. To this day, there are over a hundred Italian restaurants and bakeries operating here, so it’s the perfect place to have lunch or grab some cannoli after you see where the midnight ride began. Mike’s Pastry’s is my family’s go-to spot for a sweet treat!
To discover other family favorites, all recommended by our local KidTripster mom, read Boston’s Top 10 Eats.
6/Paul Revere House
19 North Square
Another distinguished North End locale to check out is the Paul Revere House, one of the most famous homes in all of Boston. It was built in 1680, making it the oldest building in the center of the city. Paul Revere owned this house for 30 years from 1770 to 1800. It was repurposed several times until 1902, when Paul’s great-grandson purchased the building, saving it from demolition. From the street, it doesn’t look very promising, but behind the red brick wall, you’ll find a courtyard that leads to several well-preserved, 18th-century homes, including Paul Revere House. Step inside and get a peek at some of his personal belongings and learn the real facts of the storied, midnight ride talked about in Longfellow’s legendary poem. Cost: Youth (under 5) Free; Youth (5-17) $1; Adult $3.50.
KidTripster Tip: Bring cash; debit and credit cards are not accepted.
7/Charlestown Naval Yard
114 16th St., Charlestown
This place is bound to be a military fanatic’s dream. Charlestown Naval Yard was one of the first shipbuilding and repair facilities organized by the U.S. government. The Navy Yard has two main attractions: the USS Constitution and the USS Cassin Young. The Cassin was commissioned as a battle cruiser back in World War II. In 1974, the Cassin was struck, and the U.S. Navy permanently loaned the ship to the National Park Service. Now you can tour the magnificent ship, and there’s even a mobile app that allows you to explore the stories of the young sailors who worked on the Cassin and in the yard during the war. However, the main draw here is the famous warship from the War of 1812, the USS Constitution, which is currently the oldest, commissioned warship afloat. You can take a walk on the boat; you’ll have to show photo ID if you're over 18. The park service offers guided tours, but you also can tour on your own, if you'd like. The tour will give you an idea of what life was like on the ship back when it was in operation. Also in the Navy Yard, stop by the USS Constitution Museum. This museum’s pretty ship-shape! You’ll get a detailed history of “Old Ironsides,” the Constitution’s nickname. Overall, it’s a great place with lots of fun things to do. Cost: Free.
KidTripster Tip: Check the schedule before heading over. Sometimes attractions can be closed due to the season, or they may be performing maintenance the boats.
8/Massachusetts State House
24 Beacon St.
At the very top of the hill above Boston Commons, sits the magnificent Massachusetts State House with its signature gold dome. It’s been home to state government offices for well over 200 years. Many people are surprised to find that you can tour it for free; all you have to do is sign up, and pass security. The tour takes you through the state house and shows you several cool spots, including the Hall of Nurses, a memorial dedicated to the women who served as nurses during the Civil War. You also may be able to peer inside the House of Representatives’ chambers as long as they aren’t in session. If you want to score extra points with your tour guide, ask about the “sacred cod.” Cost: Free.
KidTripster Tip: To avoid looking like a total tourist, don’t try to walk in the front doors! There are only three occasions when these doors are opened: when the U.S. President or a foreign dignitary visits, when the sitting governor exits the building on his or her last day in office, and when regimental flags are returned from battle (though this hasn’t been done since the Vietnam War because all flags are now returned to Washington, D.C.). Just so you’re in the know, the public access entrance is on the right side of the building.
9/Boston Tea Party Museum
306 Congress St.
The Boston Tea Party Museum is bringing “huzzah” back. (If you are unfamiliar with the word, look it up because it'll come in handy at the museum!) This tribute to one of the most significant events in American history was closed for over a decade after a devastating fire destroyed the original structures. The museum finally reopened in 2012, and the new incarnation is nothing short of amazing! More than a mere museum, this highly interactive and immersive encounter carries you on a journey through the events before, during, and after the infamous Boston Tea Party. All the guides are dressed in colonial garb and rarely break character. You’ll feel as if you’ve traveled back in time with them as you attend a town hall meeting, steal onto one of the pair of authentic replica ships, and even toss some contemptible cargo into the harbor! It’s a truly “tea-riffic” experience! Cost: Youth (under 5) Free; (5-12) $18; Student $25; Adult $28; buy tickets online for discount.
To give you an idea of what to expect, watch this video.
KidTripster Tip: The upstairs tea room is charming, but the menu is limited. Instead head to the other side of the Congress Street Bridge. I love Flour Bakery + Cafe, a trendy counter service cafe that offers tasty sandwich choices, plus yummy gluten-free options to die for. There’s also the cool and kitschy, though a bit pricey, sit-down restaurant called The Barking Crab. It features waterfront, open-air seating and serves a mean clam chowder. It’s one of KidTripster’s Top 10 Eats in Boston!
Photo courtesy: Boston Tea Party Museum
4 Yawkey Way
This place doesn’t date back to the Revolutionary War, but it’s worth mentioning because there’s plenty of history here, sports history that is! Fenway Park is the oldest baseball park in the country. It’s also the smallest but don’t judge it by its tiny size; it has lots to offer. Two of my favorite features here are the live pipe organ and hand-operated score board that are still in use to this day! In front of the stadium, you can pose for a picture with the statue of four of the greatest players to ever wear Red Sox uniforms. You can see all these attractions when you are at a game, but, if you want more in-depth history or it’s the off season, be sure to take a tour of this amazing park. It’s sure to be a hit for any sports family! Tour cost: Youth (under 3) Free; (3-12) $12, Adult $18.
11/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
220 Morrissey Blvd.
If you have a fascination with 20th-century American history and don’t mind a brief trek south on I-93 from downtown Boston, then be sure to visit the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Musuem. After President Kennedy's assassination, his family wanted to create a tribute to his memory, and since the concept of a Presidential library was already in the works, the addition of a museum honoring his achievements seemed appropriate. It took over 15 years to complete, but the project was finally finished in 1979. This breathtaking structure, designed by architect I.M. Pei, sits on a waterfront park. The attraction is a supreme resource for learning about one of the most remarkable periods in U.S. history. There are 25 engaging and interactive multimedia exhibits that provide a unique and intimate glimpse into Kennedy’s life and his presidency. Make sure to check out the recreation of Kennedy’s Oval Office; it's very cool! Plan to spend at least a couple of hours here. Cost: Youth (under 12) Free; Youth (13-19) and College Students with ID $10; Adults $14.
Photo courtesy: JFK Presidential Library & Museum
The best way to successfully conquer this list, especially if your time is limited, is to take a tour. There’s every kind of experience imaginable for perusing the prominent sights of Boston from walking tours to Segway excursions. It can be a bit overwhelming when trying to choose, so here are a few of my favorites.
If you’re on a budget, walk the famous Freedom Trail. The best part about this attraction? It’s completely free! If you have younger kids with you, consider the Boston Duck Tours. The Duck tours will drive you through the streets of Boston giving all sorts of history; then the wheels on your bus will come up, and you’ll be cruising the Charles River. However, for the most bang for your buck, I’d recommend a trolley tour. There are several to choose from, but I prefer Old Town Trolley Tours. Like the others, they offer hop on-hop off service, but their easy-going and friendly staff go the extra mile to make you smile. Old Town Trolley typically has killer deals in the off-season, like “buy a day and get a second day free.”
Laine Messier is a homeschooled high school student, who currently splits her time between Los Angeles and New York City. She’s lucky enough to be able to explore the globe with her parents and is always on the lookout for unique and exciting experiences. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her surfing, jamming on her guitar or searching for new adventures with her trusty canine sidekick, Tess.