I grew up in Boston, went to college there, and still find new and exciting things to do every time I return for a visit. And of course, once I had kids, watching them experience the things that I enjoyed as a child has just doubled the fun! Even though Boston is steeped in history and educational opportunities, this list is all about fun for little ones, ideally under the age of 5. So grab those tiny hands and go explore!
KidTripster Tip: Take the subway system known as the "T.” It's easy to navigate and brings you right to the front steps of most attractions. Driving can be crazy. The roads were originally cow paths in the 1600s, so they're not exactly wide and well-marked. Avoid the hassle! Plus, your kids will think public transportation is an adventure.
Photo courtesy: Freedom Trail Foundation
1/Ride the Swan Boats
Boston Public Garden
The Swan Boats are a Boston tradition that every local kid reads about in the children's book Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. It's a delightful story about Mr. and Mrs. Mallard, who find their home on one of the islands at the Boston Public Garden and start raising a family. The Swan Boats are peddled along the lagoon in the middle of the garden by a driver, who looks like he or she is seated on a large white swan. It's a great way to take in the beauty of the garden and see lots of mallards and swans. The ride lasts about 15 minutes. After the ride, walk through the garden and cross its beautiful footbridges. You'll find the famous statues of Mrs. Mallard and her brood of ducklings near the gate at the corner of Beacon and Charles Streets. Little kids always get on the ducks, and parents take pictures. It's adorable. Cost: Youth (2-15) $2; Adults $3.50.
KidTripster Tip: The Swan Boats are only open mid-April through mid-September. We went the Friday afternoon before 4th of July weekend, and we were shocked to find the Public Garden relatively empty, and no line at the Swan Boats.
Photo courtesy: GBCVB
2/Meet Myrtle at New England Aquarium
1 Central Wharf
The Giant Ocean Tank is the coolest thing about the New England Aquarium. It's in the center of the place and spans several stories. You can walk up a ramp around the tank. At the very top, you can watch shows with the sea life or just watch the divers jump in. Other activities include seeing the penguin exhibit, touching sea life in the Shark and Ray Touch Tank, and visiting famous Myrtle the Turtle, a giant sea turtle. My children had a fantastic time here, but it’s definitely spendy. Cost: Youth (3-11) $18.95; Adults $26.95.
KidTripster Tip: Avoid school breaks, if you can. Public school students in Massachusetts have week-long breaks in February, April, and December. It’ll be very crowded during those times.
Photo courtesy: Brian Skerry
3/Ride a lobster on Greenway Carousel
Rose Kennedy Greenway
Outside the aquarium near Faneuil Hall Marketplace, you'll find the beautiful Greenway Carousel. My girls loved riding it. The carousel has 36 seats that feature 14 different characters that were inspired by the drawings of Boston school children and then fabricated by Massachusetts artist Jeff Briggs. The characters are all animals native to the state, including a lobster, cod, harbor seal, grasshopper, and Peregrine falcon. If you’re lucky, you may visit on one of the free ride days. Cost: $3; 10 for $25.
KidTripster Tip: Sponsored by the Highland Street Foundation Free Fun Fridays offers visitors no-cost admission to some of Massachusetts’ most beloved kid attractions from the end of June through the end of August. The venues change weekly. Check the schedule before you visit Boston.
4/Feel like royalty in your own carriage
A carriage ride is a great way to take in the beauty and history of downtown Boston, and kids feel like royalty! Walk outside Faneuil Hall, and you'll find the main carriage stand located at Chatham Street. The tour takes you through the Financial District, passing the Custom House Tower and Old Boston Federal Reserve Building. The driver tells you all about the sites and answers all the kids' questions about the horse. The tour only lasts 15 minutes, perfect for little ones. Our party of seven (including baby on my lap) could all fit in one carriage. After a long day of walking, this is a great way to rest and still see more of the city. Cost: Group $40.
5/Snack at Faneuil Hall Marketplace and Quincy Market
4 S. Market Street
Here's where Mom and Dad can get a bit of history, while the kids get something in their bellies! Faneuil Hall is where the famous Boston Tea Party rebellion against British taxation began. Then there's Quincy Market, built in the 1800s by Mayor Josiah Quincy, who organized its construction without any tax or debt. These buildings along with the North and South Market surround a cobblestone marketplace, offering shopping, entertainment, and dining. You can explore where Boston's first merchants gathered four centuries ago. I went here with the kids after the aquarium visit for some treats at Quincy's Place, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor and candy shop. Big hit!
Photo courtesy: Cynthia Clayton Photography
Journalist Valerie Preisz lives in Portland, Oregon, but travels to Boston twice a year with her husband and two daughters, ages 2 and 4.