Your Boston Travel Guide: How to See the City Like a Pro
Boston, Massachusetts is one of the most historic, richly cultured, and diverse cities in the entire country, founded back in 1630 when America was merely at the beginning of European exploration. Home to infamous historic events, like the Boston Tea Party, as well as the home to many of our Founding Fathers, Boston today still pays homage to the colonial days of the past with preserved architecture that makes it cozy and welcoming. It is, therefore, no wonder why Bostonians are very proud of their city – they know it’s an important piece in the American puzzle.
Perhaps the most often cited characteristic of Boston is that although it’s one of the biggest cities in the country, it still has a large town feel to it. A college town, popular tourist destination, and food haven, Boston is great for friendly locals, die-hard sports fans, bars, restaurants, tours, and plenty of American history. Classic architecture is placed in a juxtaposition next to tall, steel skyscrapers, with plenty of historical museums and edgy art galleries abounding below. Not to mention, the city’s range of diverse neighborhoods are fun to explore, all holding onto their unique attributes.
So, with all of these options available to you in Boston, where do you start? What should you prioritize on your trip? How can you experience the city like a local? You have come to the right place. We’re going to cover everything you need to know below in our Boston Travel Guide. Let’s get started!
Boston: Things to See and Do
You could spend an entire year trying to see and do all of the things Boston has to offer. We’re going to summarize the very best options for you to consider today:
- Boston Freedom Trail: Seeing Boston on foot is one of the best ways to really experience the history and culture of the city. The famous Boston Freedom Trail is a 2.5-mile historic tour that takes people around the city to the best landmarks, including Boston Common, Faneuil Hall, State House, and Bunker Hill. You can elect to do the trail through a registered company with a tour guide, or you can bring yourself through it and look up the different landmarks along the way. Be sure to bring your camera!
- The Museum of Fine Arts: Home to 450,000 pieces of art, the Museum of Fine Arts is hailed as one of the most comprehensive art museums in the entire country today. It carries pre-Colombian era art, up through Italian Impressionists. Admission is typically $25 per person unless you go after 4PM on Wednesdays – then it is free.
- Fenway Park: One of the oldest baseball venues in the country, Fenway Park is a great place to catch a ballgame while visiting. Bleachers are only $20 per seat, or $30-$40 if you want to be closer to the action. You can also sign up for a guided tour that costs $21 for one-hour. It’s a great way to learn more about the baseball legends who have called Fenway Park their home. Oh, and don’t forget to get a hot dog while watching a game.
- Boston Public Gardens: Opened in 1837 on swamp land, the city almost turned the Boston Public Gardens into a cemetery before they finally decided on renovating it for public use. Today you can lounge around the gardens, take a swan boat on the pond, or simply walk around and view the flowers. You will definitely want your camera in tow to capture the serenity.
- Boston Harbor: Maritime industries and seafaring have been a big part of Boston’s history, which is why you can’t visit this city without going to the Boston Harbor. Explore the picturesque waterside or take of a tour of the Boston Harbor Islands State Park. You can spend all day watching the boats come in and out of the harbor with their fresh catch. It’s also a great place to cool off if you are touring the city during hot summer months.
- Quincy Market: You must make time to grab at a bite at the famous Quincy market. Home to a number of food stalls from a diverse culinary array, you can sink your teeth into just about any kind of food at this market. Take your time to check out every last vendor so you know you are making the right decision. There are standing tables inside as well as space outside for you to enjoy your food.
- Harvard University: You would be remiss to visit Boston without seeing one of the colleges that calls the city its home. The most famous – and the oldest college in our country – Harvard University offers free walking tours to people throughout the day. Simply sign up and learn about the rich history of the university that supports some of the brightest students in the entire world today.
- Beacon Hill: Beacon Hill is one of the best places in Boston to take pictures amidst the traditional colonial architecture with cobblestone streets. It’s almost like a 300-year blast from the past, helping you to really take in what the city used to feel like. Enjoy the cafes and boutiques, as well as the perfect spots for taking photos. If you visit the area at dusk, enjoy the lanterns that provide soft lighting to the tiny streets.
- New England Aquarium: Boston is known for having a very advanced and stimulating aquarium, which is a great option for a rainy day. The fish aren’t packed into small tanks, but rather, allowed to roam free in multi-floor displays that make the entire venue magical. You can see everything from northern fur seals, to octopus and penguins. Admission cost is $31 every day of the week.
- Boston’s North End: Home to Boston’s large Italian population, the North End has some of the best food in all of Boston. It’s likely you will hear more Italian spoken in this area than English as Italian families go in and out of their grocery stores while sipping on their morning espresso. Don’t forget to order some gelato – it’s arguably the best you will taste in the United States outside of Italy.
- Castle Island: Lastly, we recommend that you make some time to visit Castle Island, which is located in South Boston. It is famous for its Fort Independence, which was actually the first state prison. The island extends into the harbor and is home to plenty of beaches, plus running trails for those looking to get some exercise. You can also enjoy lunch in the picnic area, and explore the old fort for free. If you want to go on a tour, they are only offered during the summer.
So how does Boston stack up when it comes to overall costs? Is it as expensive as New York City, or is it a little easier on the wallet? Let’s breakdown the different costs of spending the night in the city:
- Hostels: If you are on a budget, you can find a bed in a four-to-six-person hostel room for $50 USD per night. During the off season (winter), you can find hostels as cheap as $26. However, do note that is because Boston can have a brutally cold and snowy winter.
- Airbnbs: There are a lot of Airbnbs in Boston since the city is not particularly strict with outlawing them. You can find private rooms from $40 to $60 per night, or entire apartments for around $150 per night. Sometimes, Airbnb is the best way to be right in the best parts of Boston, experiencing the neighborhood like a local.
- Hotels: Hotel pricing is pretty average in Boston, with 3 or 4-star hotels coming in at around $200-$300 per night. For the big 5-star options, you can expect to pay what you would anywhere else, around $400-$500 per night.
- Food: Boston has a lot of affordable, delicious food options since the city has a love affair with street food. Since Boston is also a college town, you can find many cheap restaurants and go-to places around the city that deliver hot dogs and pizza slices for as little as $2. Sandwiches and subs can come in around $5 even, which means you can feast like a King or Queen for most days under $20. Of course, if you want to explore high-end dining, you certainly can in Boston for $50 to $70 per meal. It’s worth it to see the fancier side of the city if you can!
What About Total Day Costs?
If you’re planning to backpack Boston, you can manage on about $70 per day for a hostel, food, and free walking tours. You can also access the public bike-sharing program, cook your own meals, and follow tips for attending museums during their free days.
If you want to stay at an Airbnb or a hotel and budget for meals, Boston is possible at about $200 per day. This includes eating out for all meals and using public transportation.
Of course, don’t limit yourself if you don’t have to! At $450 per day, you can stay at a 4-star hotel right in town, eat all meals out, go on any tours you want, and use Uber to get around. It’s worth it to live in luxury at least a day or two while you are exploring the city.
Quick Cost-Saving Tips
We all want to try and save some money when we can, which is why it’s worth considering some hacks for saving money when exploring Boston. Here are some of our favorites:
- Eat your meals from Quincy Market. You can find many meals for $5 or less and there is a huge variety!
- Take walking tours. Bring your sneakers because Boston is home to dozens of free walking tours. Look up Free Tours by Foot in Boston to check out all of their different options.
- Avoid downtown tourist trap pricing. If you want to relax and have a beer, you will find much better drink pricing outside of the downtown region. Consider going to Brighton or Allston instead.
- Relax in the free parks. All of Boston’s parks are free and beautiful. You can lay down in the Arnold Arboretum, as well as catch a pretty amazing sunset.
- Charles River: Be sure to check out the Charles River schedule ahead of time. There are many free summer concerts you can enjoy during your time there.
- Take advantage of free water. As always, pack a water bottle with you and take advantage of the public water fountains where you can refill it throughout the day. You’d be amazed how much money the average person wastes on water!
The Boston City Pass
If you are planning on hitting tons of attractions, then the Boston City Pass might be worth your time. You will be able to score nearly 50% off admission at a number of attractions. The pass costs $64 per person, but it gains you entrance to:
- The New England Aquarium
- Skywalk Observatory
- The Museum of Fine Arts Boston
- The Museum of Science
- Boston Harbor Cruises
- The Harvard Museum of Natural History
Getting Around Boston
Boston comes with its own public transportation network and a subway managed by the MBTA. The subway is divided into four color-coded lines that bring you to the majority of Boston attractions. If you don’t want to take the subway, there is a series of bus routes, commuter rail lines, and boat links that can also help you get around.
Lastly, Uber and Lyft are available, although they can be around $20-$30 per ride to get to your destination. Don’t forget to check out the shared-ride options inside the apps.
Explore Boston Like a Pro
And there you have it! You now have everything you need to see Boston like a local. Follow our tips and suggestions here for making the most out of your trip. Let us know your thoughts below – we welcome all feedback.