To travel and learn in Boston is fairly easy. These 8 must-do activities are just a starting point for this city. You can’t swing your arms without hitting something historic. As proof, only one thing on this list is less than 100 years old – and it happens to be a museum about an event in 1773!
In our first year of homeschooling we studied native nations and colonialization right up to the Revolutionary War. I knew Boston was going to be high on my agenda of places to visit, and it did not disappoint!
We visited in May, and it was still blustery and chilly and rainy. The only people that were bothered much by it were us thin-skinned Charlotteans, but it didn’t hold us back!
- Travel and Learn Activities in Boston
Travel and Learn Activities in Boston
Tea Party Museum
Our first adventure was the Tea Party Museum – formally known as the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum.
The Tea Party Museum is, by far, my favorite history museum. Anywhere.
Incidentally, it’s also the only thing on this list that’s under 100 years old.
Purchase tickets for your timed entry. When you enter into the Meeting House you will be given a character card. The card contains details about one of the participants in the infamous Boston Tea Party, and you get to “be” that person.
Our meeting facilitator taught us how to use hand gestures for participating with what was being said (thumb on your nose and wiggle your fingers to show contempt). He told us to stomp the floor at times and to shout “fie, fie!” We stomped the floor and shouted fie! We were so riled up at the end – both from laughing and the underlying drama – that it wasn’t hard to see how easy it would have been to go from a meeting house to an act of rebellion.
To the ship! We boarded the ship and tossed tea in the water! More fists and cheering.
We won’t remember every detail, but we will absolutely remember how it felt to get a rise in our emotions and release it with action. This is not history in a textbook!
The rest of the tour took place inside the building, but it was no less interesting. The museum brings history to life with an attention-grabbing blend of theater and modern technology – think talking portraits like in Hogwarts’ castle and a panoramic, multi-sensory film.
Red Sox Game at Fenway Park
I had a job interview many years ago and in a group interview one of the interviewers asked, “Are you a Red Sox or Yankees fan?” The HR interviewer next to me looked appalled and said, “Please don’t answer that.”
My answer was the only diplomatic solution I could come up with on the spot: “I know enough to know I’m not going to touch that question with a ten-foot pole!”
A visit to Fenway Park was not necessarily on our list to begin with, but when we checked prices and availability we decided to go. We rode the T to get to the Park, fed the children corn dogs and cotton candy (don’t judge), and watched the game.
Fenway is iconic and though it was bustling when we arrived, it never felt overcrowded. It was a great family night and a relief from the constant walking and hurrying we had done all day!
But what does it have to do with learning? Well, that depends on your style. For us, attending sporting events gives us an opportunity to explain the traditions of the national anthem and to explain baseball as a competitive sport to the girls (positions, objectives, etc.). For the people sitting in front of us (not pictured) they were keeping stats and comparing information.
Definitely a fun place to experience if you visit Boston during baseball season!
Eat at Union Oyster House
Union Oyster House holds the distinguished honor of being the oldest restaurant in continuous service in the U.S. It opened for business in 1826 and still retains an historic charm (though our girls didn’t believe us when we said the televisions were original to the time, too).
Since no one in our family had ever had clam chowder we made that a priority. I admit we’re not a family of foodies, but it was yummy and perfect for a rainy day.
Don’t underestimate the significance of learning with all your senses!
I flirted with the idea of trying to make some at home – they gave me a recipe at the hostess desk when I asked – but it’s still a bit (a very large bit) outside my skill level.
Boston Common and Boston Public Garden
These two outdoor spaces are right next to each other but obviously distinct in their intent and feel. Boston Common and Boston Public Garden have two centuries between their points-of-origin, and both spaces reflect a distinct vibe despite their proximity.
Boston Common came along in 1634 and currently has a playground, winding trails, open space for playing with dogs, and a carousel. It feels more casual and comfortable.
Boston Public Garden was the first botanical garden in America and has an air of elegance and generous beauty.
These two large natural areas are right next to each other. Don’t miss either one.
Take a Ride on the Swan Boats
It seems impossible to walk through Boston and not see something over 100 years old. Be that as it may, the ride on the iconic Swan Boats, started in 1877, was another cultural experience not to miss. The Swan Boats take riders around the Public Garden lagoon on a 15-minute boat ride. We watched the birds come and go, waved at passers-by on the bridge, and enjoyed a few minutes on the water.
Check their website for hours and ticketing information.
The Old North Church (and Historic Chocolate Program)
We walked to the Old North Church to see the place where Paul Revere received his signals to start his midnight ride. Walking inside the church was a fascinating look at the religious culture of the time, independent of the historic contribution of its bell tower.
What we were not aware of was that behind the church, and as part of the admission fee, we could visit the historic Clough House and learn about 18th century chocolate.
What a wonderful surprise. We stayed for about ten minutes, talked with the woman doing the demonstration, and got a unique perspective on history. Short, sweet, to the point, and chocolate! Win!
Granary Burial Grounds
The Granary Burial Grounds is the final resting place for several esteemed participants in European-American involvement in the Americas. Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Ben Franklin’s parents, and so many others are buried here.
Two points of learning emerged as we wandered the old headstones.
- When we first walked in and visited the sites along the front right of the burial grounds we noticed several headstones had coins on them. This was unfamiliar to us but obviously held some significance as we saw it in some places but not in others.
A quick google search revealed that this is a tradition for visitors to honor those who have served in the U.S. military. Please do not disturb the coins. Leave one if you would like.
- The other point of learning for us was curiosity about some of the designs on the headstones. Several had images of a skull with wings or crossed bones. These are non-religious symbols used as decorative motifs. There are informational stands throughout the cemetery to explain some of the images. Keep an eye out for the different kinds and read up on their significance and usage.
And now for the grand finale….
If you spend any time in Boston, you will bump into the Freedom Trail. In fact, a couple of the attractions that I’ve already mentioned are part of it, but it definitely deserves its own recommendation!
Walk the Freedom Trail (and find a unicorn!)
Of all the must-do activities in Boston, walking the Freedom Trail is probably the most recognized (and for good reason!). If you’re traveling with children then that may influence how much you can walk of this 2.5 mile trail. Nevertheless, there’s so much on it that you can’t go wrong.
The morning we started our Freedom Trail adventure was cold and windy and rainy. By the time we made it to where we wanted to start both our girls had soaked feet. Our youngest in particular was miserable.
We bought over-priced (but dry!) socks and ice cream at 10 AM because: vacation!
Then we started again.
Still, our youngest was ready to call it quits.
We slouched through crowds across from the Old State House (which is where you can read plaques about the Boston Massacre), and I happened to look up (in silent prayer no doubt).
‘Lo and behold what did I see? A royal unicorn rearing up at the top of the Old State House.
I’m not kidding.
My unicorn-obsessed daughter was delighted.
The day was saved.
We had found a unicorn in Boston and hope for our Freedom Trail adventure was reborn.
The unicorn was a symbol of British authority and shortly after the Declaration of Independence was read from the balcony of the Old State House building, the unicorn and his buddy the lion on the other side were tossed to the stones and burned.
Thankfully, they’ve both been restored.
Travel and Learn Boston
There you go, now you have a list of activities you can start with while you “travel and learn in Boston.” There really are dozens of other opportunities, and I am looking forward to going again soon.