Our family visited Boston and loved it. We bundled as best we could in May and braved some blistering winds for a fantastic long weekend.
This was my second visit to Boston and my family’s first. It’s one of my favorite cities, and I know in two visits I’ve only scratched the surface of what it offers.
We did a fair bit of this-and-that when we visited (and discovered one of my favorite museums to date). Even though my focus was on exploring historic places with our girls, I had a secondary list of bookish spots to squeeze in if possible. If you’re working on your travel bucket list, now is a good time to get it out 🙂
3-2-1 Bookish Boston
We did pass by the Old Corner Bookstore while we were walking on the Freedom Trail, but it’s currently a Chipotle so it didn’t make my list. You can walk by and wave if you’d like.
The building itself used to host Ticknor and Fields publishing house and they have the distinction of having published Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Charles Dickens among many other notables. A site to mention but not really one to step into for any reason – unless you’re hungry for a burrito.
These are some of my favorite bookish Boston sites (at least from those that I visited this time around). I’ve added a couple more bookish “bucket list” spots at the end that I’d like to visit whenever I’m in Boston again.
The literary end of our visit included three works of art, two places to visit, and one amazing bookstore.
Three Statues Not to Miss
Make Way for Ducklings
First, for the children, a timeless classic imagined in bronze. I had not read Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey before preparing for our trip, but I immediately requested it from our library when I heard of it. It was 100% worth it.
Make Way for Ducklings is a fun story of a family of plucky ducks making their way and their home through the bustling gardens and streets of Boston.
Mrs. Mallard leads her eight ducklings under the shade of the Boston Garden. While the book is geared to children, the statues delight both children and adults. In fact, when we visited it was mostly adults saying hello to Mrs. Mallard and her crew!
I loved that each of the ducks had a different expression and a different point-of-focus. Mrs. Mallard looks completely in control, too, doesn’t she?
Take time to appreciate the incredible biodiversity of the Boston Gardens while you’re wandering through. Even in the wet cold we were enamored with the blooming trees and meandering trails. The flowering greenery was vibrant despite the gloomy atmosphere around it.
Boston Women’s Memorial – Phillis Wheatley
If you continue walking down the pedestrian space in the middle of Commonwealth Avenue you will eventually meet the Boston Women’s Memorial. Eventually. It’s a bit of a walk from the Boston Gardens, but there were other memorials along the way and some places to sit and chat if you’re so inclined. We were feeling the chill, however, and wanted to keep moving. Another 100% worth-it moment.
The Boston Women’s Memorial recognizes the contributions of three of colonial Boston’s admirable leading ladies: Abigail Adams, Lucy Stone, and Phillis Wheatley. The statues do not stand upon their pedestals – the women are arranged at ground-level so you can look into their eyes, stand next to them, interrupt their thoughts, and imagine what their lives and concerns were like.
It was Phillis Wheatley who holds the honor of being the literary representative in this group. She was the reason that I had dragged my family down, down, down Commonwealth Avenue to see.
Phillis Wheatley, an enslaved literary prodigy, became the first African writer in the Americas to have a book published. In 1773, “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral” was printed – after she faced a grueling test by a panel of judges who doubted her claim of authorship.
Her strong faith, personal courage, and blending of both in her writing are exquisite. I was glad we made the walk to see these monuments.
Edgar Allan Poe
The final statue giving a literary nod to our visit was completely unplanned. I had no intention of bumping into Edgar Allan Poe on our trip. He had a troubled relationship with the city even though he was born here. Since I’m not an ardent admirer I skipped over his involvement with Boston completely.
Then we turned a corner and almost quite literally knocked into him. The statue of Edgar Allan Poe is fantastic. He is going, bustling, moving, and perhaps channeling his inner absentminded professor. Tumbling from his briefcase are a heart, books and papers, and a desperate-to-escape raven. There is so much movement in an otherwise unmovable piece and we enjoyed several minutes of appreciating the different details.
He wouldn’t stop for a selfie, but if you’re in the corner of Charles and Bolyston Streets keep an eye out for him. It was a surprising treat (not sure Poe has ever been called that – maybe?).
Two Must-See Literary Spots
Boston Public Library
If you make it down to see the Boston Women’s Memorial, then you’re not too far from the library. The Boston Public Library in Copley Square is a must-see stop for booklovers. The central branch has two buildings: the original McKim building and the recent Johnson addition.
In truth, there is so much to see in this library. We snapped the iconic picture of the green lamps in the reading room. Then, the girls enjoyed the artwork and storyline of the Arthurian legend The Quest of the Holy Grail in the Abbey Room of the McKim Building. It’s a mural cycle of fifteen panels with life-sized figures depicting the story.
When I return to Boston, I’d love to take one of their daily Art & Architecture Tours of the buildings. The Boston Public Library is a beautiful and inspiring place – everything a library should be.
Printing Offices of Edes & Gill
The final spot to appreciate a literary marvel is a stop in Faneuil Hall.
Here you can stop by the printing offices of Edes & Gill. It’s a memorable conversation if you get to speak with one of the printers. We arrived early in the morning and started asking a few questions about the printing press and the process.
The person we spoke with was impressively well-informed, passionate about his work, and patient with our questions. Not only was he able to describe the process of working in a printing press and the challenges therein, but he spent several minutes highlighting the significance of the invention itself and its impact on history.
One Bookstore to Visit
And last but absolutely not least is the amazing and historic Brattle Book Shop (established in 1825) on 9 West Street. The giant yellow pencil over the door draws attention to the otherwise dark building. The pencil tip points savvy book-shoppers towards the outdoor shelves stocked with bargain books on a variety of topics.
The inside was every bit as cozy and jammed with great books as I would expect for a used bookstore in such a well-read city. I didn’t make it up to the second or third floors (big frowning face), but this is, without a doubt, one of my favorite bookshops.
I could’ve stayed here all day. Alas, not this trip!
My children and my suitcase thanked me.
Bookish Boston Spots to Visit (Next Time!)
I always end up planning more than what we have time to do. On the one hand, that means we have a few options and a couple back-up plans; on the other hand, it means there are always a few things that we just can’t make it to in a long weekend. Just gives me another reason to go back sometime 😉
Here are a few of the other bookish Boston spots that I’d like to see next time I’m in the city.
Bookstores to Visit
Both these bookstores were on my original list of places to visit, but we just didn’t get to them. Add them to the list for Trip #3!
Trident Booksellers & Café – A robust menu, full event calendar, almost non-stop hours (8AM-midnight, Sunday to Saturday), and a well-curated selection of enticing books sounds like a literary wonderland! Can’t wait to see it in person!
Commonwealth Books – Old books, prints and maps? Yes, please! This sounds like an ideal bookstore for browsing with an eye for an unexpected treasure.
Other Literary Spots
Omni Parker House Hotel – This place was quite a literary hotspot for a host of celebrated and recognized authors in the 19th century including Emerson, Longfellow, and Hawthorne (a meeting they called the Saturday Club). Other names associated with the hotel include Edith Wharton, Charles Dickens, Willa Cather, Malcolm X, and Mark Twain.
As a nod to the Saturday Club, the Omni Parker offers lectures and discussions called School Street Sessions about once a month. I wouldn’t usually make a special trip just to see a hotel, but throw in a lecture or book reading and a slice of Boston Cream Pie and it is most definitely on my list.
Boston Anthenaeum – one of the oldest independent libraries in the country and host to notable art collections and cultural artifacts. Visitors only have access to the first floor, but I’ve heard they have an annual Fall Open House where all five floors are open for exploring.
Come to think of it, I’ve visited Boston twice in the spring so planning my next trip for the fall is not a bad idea.
Do you know of any other literary connections to visit in Boston? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!