Boston is a historic city, home to old centuries-old colonial buildings and a strong link to the country’s founding (the first battles of the Revolutionary War were fought near here). Bostonians are very proud of their city and show their pride any chance they can.
I grew up in this city and, even with all my world travels, it has remained one of my favorites.
And not just because I grew up here. It’s a wonderful place in its own right.
Even though it’s one of the biggest cities in the country, Boston has more of a large town feel to it than that of a metropolis. In this college town, you can find friendly locals, die-hard sports fans, great bars, good restaurants, and a ton of American history. There’s something for everyone!
This travel guide to Boston can help you plan a wonderful trip here without breaking the bank.
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Boston
1. Walk Boston’s Freedom Trail
2. See the Museum of Fine Arts
3. Visit the Museum of Science
4. Take in a game at Fenway Park
5. See the Boston Public Gardens
Other Things to See and Do in Boston
1. Visit Coit Observatory at Boston University
Spend some time gazing at your favorite constellations at Harvard’s Coit Observatory. They offer free stargazing Wednesdays after 8:30 pm throughout the spring and the summer (pending clear skies, of course). Space is limited so book your free tickets in advance.
2. Climb the Bunker Hill Monument
The Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775 was one of the first major battles of the American Revolutionary War. While the British eventually took the field, American’s wore the British forces down much more than anticipated. After the battle, the British were much more cautious in their advance, which gave the Americans more time to prepare for the coming war. The monument stands 221-feet, and you can climb to the top free of charge. There is also a nearby museum which is also free. This is the best view of the Boston skyline, so don’t miss it. It’s at the end of the Freedom Trail, so you can do one and knock out both!
3. Enjoy a picnic at Boston Common
One of the nation’s oldest existing parks, the Boston Common spans nearly 50 acres. Originally, it was used as shared pasture land by Puritan settlers when they arrived. The Common sees plenty of people on warm summer days as there are lots of paths to wander, as well as the Frog Pond (a splash pad) where kids and adults can cool off. During the winter, there’s skating on the pond. Boston Common is a great place to go people-watching, picnic with a book, and snap pictures of the city.
4. Hang out at Faneuil Hall
Faneuil Hall is a popular place for locals to hang out. During the day, a lot of people come here to shop. At night, the restaurants fill with people; it’s one of the biggest bar destinations in the city. The hall has been a meeting place in the city since the 1740s, and many speeches were given here about American independence before the Revolutionary War. It’s a great place for people watching too!
5. Check out Beacon Hill
This is one of Boston’s most picturesque and historic neighborhoods, once home to the likes of John Adams (Founding Father and second US President) and John Hancock (President of the Second Continental Congress and first governor of Massachusetts). Its steep, winding streets are lined with Victorian brick row houses and old-fashioned lanterns, making for a charming afternoon stroll. The Massachusetts Statehouse is also here, which was completed in 1798 and is a National Historic Landmark.
6. Visit Castle Island
Castle Island is located in South Boston. It’s famous for Fort Independence, a British fort built in 1634 that became a US prison (which was in use until 1805). The island extends into the harbor and has excellent beaches as well as running trails that are popular with locals. There is a picnic area here too and you can explore the old fort for free (there are free tours in the summer). Since it’s actually a peninsula, you can walk or drive here.
8. Hang out in Copley Square
Named after the painter John Singleton Copley, Copley Square is a cool little park where you can buy discount theater tickets, listen to musicians, and admire Hancock Tower (New England’s tallest building). You can also pop into Boston’s Trinity Church, which is one of the city’s oldest and most beautiful buildings. It was built in the 1870s after the original building burned down in the Great Fire of 1872. The style is known as Richardsonian Romanesque, which embraces the use of clay roofing, rough stones, and a massive tower. The style actually influenced churches all across the country upon its completion because it was so beautiful. The Public Library, built in 1895, is also here.
9. Visit Harvard University
Harvard University is the oldest university in the country (it was established in 1636, pre-dating the founding of the United States). The campus offers free one-hour tours through the grounds and buildings where you can learn more about its history. Afterward, grab a coffee and people-watch in the alternative and arty Harvard Square.
10. Walk around Back Bay
Boston’s Back Bay is like a version of New York’s SoHo and West Village. This is where Boston’s elite and wealthy live, and nearby Newbury Street is our Madison Avenue, with lots of expensive shopping and high-end eateries. It’s a beautiful space to stroll around, with pretty brownstones and tree-lined streets. You can still see plenty of old Victorian homes in this neighborhood that date back to the 19th century. Just don’t shop here or stay here — it’s expensive!
11. Drink at Sam Adams Brewery
Sam Adams, named after the Founding Father, is a major brewer in Boston, and locals drink it widely and frequently. Tours and tastings take place Monday-Saturday from 10am until 3pm, with extended hours on Friday afternoon. Admission is free in exchange for a small donation that supports local charities. There are also several in-depth specialty tours ranging between $20-35 USD, which include some generous beer tastings.
12. Visit the New England Aquarium
Boston’s aquarium is one of the better ones I’ve been to. It’s really well done; the fish aren’t all clustered into a few small tanks and there’s a lot of information about how to protect the oceans. They have everything from northern fur seals to giant octopuses to penguins! Admission costs $32 USD.
13. Explore the North End
The historic North End is the heart of Boston’s Italian community. You hear just as much Italian here as you do the Boston accent. In the mornings, little Italian grandmas can be seen shopping at the markets while the grandpas sit and have their morning espresso. It’s almost like being in Italy. The best gelato outside of Italy can be found here too (don’t miss Lulu’s Sweet Shoppe).
14. Visit the Arnold Arboretum
These 260 acres of free public space are open from sunrise to sunset. Located south of the city, it’s the oldest public arboretum in the country (it was founded in 1872). There are running trails, gardens, lawns, and tons of flowers from all over the world. Relax among the plants and take a step back from the fast pace of the city. This place is much quieter than the Public Gardens and offers a wider variety of plant life. They also have a great bonsai tree collection too.
15. Take a walking tour
Boston has a plethora of walking tours. Bites of Boston offers four different food tours around town, each in a distinct neighborhood, starting from $71 USD per person while history buffs can check out Cambridge Historical Tours for in-depth history tours ($25 USD). If you’re on a tight budget, Free Tours by Foot offers daily free walking tours around town. They’re a great way to get oriented and see the major sights without breaking the bank. Just be sure to tip your guide!
16. Visit Forest Hills Cemetery
This serene Victorian-era cemetery sits on almost 300 acres of land. It’s the resting place of a few noteworthy individuals, such as the playwright Eugene O’Neill and the poet E.E Cummings. In 2006, as part of an exhibition, sculptures, including miniature buildings, were added to the cemetery. The cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places.
For more information on other cities in the United States, check out these guides:
Boston Travel Costs
Hostel prices – During peak season (summer), a bed in a four-six-bed room costs $53 USD. For a room with eight beds or more, expect to pay around $40 USD. During the off-season, a bed in a room with eight beds or more costs about $31 USD while smaller rooms cost $36 USD. Free Wi-Fi is standard but only some hostels have self-catering facilities.
A basic private room for two with a shared bathroom costs around $136 USD per night during peak season and around $90 USD in the off-season.
Budget hotel prices – Budget two-star hotels start at $170 USD in peak season and $95 USD in the low season.
There are also lots of Airbnb options in Boston. A private room starts at $65 USD per night while entire homes/apartments average closer to $149 USD per night.
Food – Since Boston is a big college town, there are plenty of cheap restaurants and to-go places throughout the city. Make sure to try a lobster roll or clam chowder while you’re here — they’re local favorites!
You can find cheap hot dogs for under $4 USD, while a meal at a casual sit-down restaurant costs closer to $20 USD. Expect to pay at least double that for a meal with an appetizer and a drink.
Fast food (think McDonald’s) costs around $9 USD for a combo meal. Large pizzas cost around $10 USD while Chinese food can be found for as little as $8 USD for a filling main dish. You can find tacos for under $3 USD.
Beer is $8 USD while a latte/cappuccino is $4.50 USD. Bottled water is $2 USD.
Some of my favorite places to eat are Zaftigs (the best brunch), FuGaKyu (the best sushi), Back Bay Social Club, Row 34, Trillium Brewing Company, Legal Sea Food, Summer Shack, and Kelly’s Roast Beef.
If you plan on cooking your own food, expect to pay $60-70 USD per week for basic staples like pasta, rice, vegetables, and some meat.
Backpacking Boston Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Boston, expect to spend about $75 USD per day. This budget covers a hostel dorm, using the public bike-sharing program and taking the bus, cooking your own meals, and doing some free activities (like a free walking tour and relaxing on the Common). If you plan on drinking, add $10-20 USD more per day.
A mid-range budget of $205 USD per day covers staying in a private hostel room or Airbnb, eating out for all of your meals at cheap restaurants, having a couple drinks, taking the occasional taxi, and doing more paid activities like museum visits or catching a baseball game.
On a “luxury” budget of about $410 USD or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out anywhere you want, drink more, rent a car or take taxis everywhere, and do as many paid tours and activities as you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you spend more, some days you spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Boston Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Boston is super expensive, even for those who live here. You can go through money really quickly if you aren’t careful. But Boston is also very much of a university town, so there plenty of cheap options if you know where to look! Here are some ways to save money in Boston:
- Eat at Quincy Market – The Quincy Market in Faneuil Hall offers a wide range of food stalls at low prices. It’s a hugely popular place to eat, especially during lunch.
- Take a free walking tour – Free tours are the best way to see the main sights and get a feel for a new city. Free Tours by Foot offers a number of different free walking tours around the city to help you get oriented. Just be sure to tip your guide!
- Drink outside downtown – Experience Boston nightlife in Brighton or Allston for cheaper drinks and a more relaxed (and younger) environment.
- Enjoy the free parks – You can experience nature for free at the Arnold Arboretum. There are over 260 acres of free public space here, open from sunrise to sunset. There are running trails, gardens, open lawns, and lots of flowers from all over the world. It’s super relaxing!
- Enjoy free concerts – During the summer, there are a lot of free concerts on the Charles River. Check with Visit Boston to see what’s happening during your visit.
- Get the Boston City Pass – This pass provides up to 50% off at a number of attractions. It’s $64 USD per person and gets you access to four attractions: the Museum of Science, the New England Aquarium, Boston Harbor Cruises, and Franklin Park Zoo or the Harvard Museum of Natural History.
- Couchsurf – There are plenty of Couchsurfing hosts in the city who can show you around their town and let you stay for free. It’s the best way to meet locals and lower your costs.
- Save money on rideshares – Uber and Lyft are way cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to take a bus or pay for a taxi. The shared/pool option (where you share a ride with other people) offers even better savings. You can save money off your first rides with the following codes: Lyft (MATTHEW999 to save $10 USD) and Uber (jlx6v to save $15 USD).
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water here is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built-in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
Where to Stay in Boston
Boston is a small city, so fortunately you’re never too far from the main attractions (no matter in what neighborhood you stay). Here are my recommended places to stay in Boston:
For more hostel suggestions, here’s a list of more of my favorite hostels in Boston!
And, to find out exactly which neighborhoods in the city will best suit you, here’s a post that breaks down the best neighborhoods in Boston.
How to Get Around Boston
Subway – Boston’s public transportation system is known as the MBTA, and it’s the easiest and cheapest way to get around. The subway gets you everywhere you need to go, including into Cambridge. You can buy tickets for single or multiple rides at vending machines located in most stations.
A single fare is $2.40 USD, or you can get a daily pass for unlimited travel for $12.75 USD or a weekly pass for $22.50 USD, which covers the subway, bus, and water shuttle networks.
If you get a Charlie Card (the cards are free) you can load them with money for cash-free transportation.
Bus – The bus goes everywhere the subway doesn’t. It’s $1.70 per ride.
Water Shuttle – You’re probably not going to use the water shuttle service unless you’re visiting Boston Harbor Island and Charlestown or specific stops along the waterfront. Fares range from $3.70-9.75 USD each way.
Bicycle – Boston has a bike-sharing program known as Blue Bikes, with stations all around Boston, Cambridge, Brookline, and Somerville. It costs $2.95 USD for the first 30 minutes and $2.50 USD for each additional 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can get a day pass for an unlimited number of bike rides for $10 USD. However, this pass is only suitable for two-hour intervals — any longer than that, and you have to pay $2.50 USD per each extra 30-minute interval.
Taxis – Taxis are not cheap here, but they’re plentiful. Base fares start at $3 USD and go up by around $1.75 USD per mile. Skip them if you can!
Ride-Sharing – Uber and Lyft are way cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around if you don’t want to take a bus or pay for a taxi. The shared/pool option (where you share a ride with other people) offers even better savings. Via is the cheapest option.
Car rental – Car rentals start at $35 USD per day for a multi-day rental. Unless you’re heading out of the city though you won’t need one.
When to Go to Boston
June to August is the most popular time to visit Boston. Summer is peak tourist season, with accommodating rates spiking in prices; however, you get all the good stuff like outdoor dining, baseball games, and free outdoor concerts. In the summer, temperatures reach 81°F (27°C).
Winter can be cold and snowy, but it’s the best time to visit if you want to see Beantown on an ultra-tight budget. Just dress warmly as it can get super cold if you’re walking around exploring.
Personally, I think the shoulder season is the best time to visit. April-May and September-October offer nice weather without the crowds. Accommodation is cheaper too. Just pack a sweater for those cool mornings and evenings.
How to Stay Safe in Boston
Boston is a safe place to backpack and travel — even if you’re traveling solo and even as a solo female traveler. Violent attacks are rare, but practice caution wherever you go just in case. Don’t walk alone at night and keep your valuables secure at all times (especially on crowded public transportation).
Chinatown and parts of Downtown Crossing can be a little seedy at night, so avoid them if possible.
Never leave your drink unattended and stay vigilant if you’re using the subway late at night (but this is true for every major city).
If you experience an emergency, dial 911 for assistance.
Worried about travel scams? Read about these 14 major travel scams to avoid. There aren’t many here in the states though.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they know where you are.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in Boston. Follow that rule and you’ll be fine.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance protects you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Boston Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
Below are my favorite companies to use when I travel around Boston. They are included here because they consistently turn up the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. The big cities have tons of listings!
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around the United States, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you get a discount when you click the link!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home-cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Boston Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Boston Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
Written in 1957, Jack Kerouac’s Beat Generation classic is a must-read travel novel. Kerouac’s character’s (who he modeled after himself) frustration, desire to see the world, and adventures resonate with all of us who need a little relief from modern life. The story follows Sal as he leaves New York City and heads west, riding the rails, making friends, and partying the night away. He finds thrills, adventure, love, sex, drugs, poverty, and excitement while moving from a weak character into someone whose life experience brings confidence. It’s a true American classic.
Tip of the Iceberg, by Mark Adams
In 1899, Edward H. Harriman (a rich railroad magnate) converted a steamship into a luxury cruise for some of America’s best scientists and writers and embarked on a summer voyage around Alaska. Now, author Mark Adams retraces that expedition, traveling over 3,000 miles along the coast of the state. Mark is one of my favorite writers, and this book is very reminiscent of Turn Right at Machu Picchu. Mark brings insight into the people, history, and culture of the state in a way he did with his other book.
Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
Forgetting the hype of the book (and the subsequent movie), I really did like this book. Cheryl Strayed’s book is about her journey along the Pacific Crest Trail when she was 26. She sets off in hopes of finding herself and coming to grips with the death of her mother, break-up of her marriage, and drug use. She’s looking for a fresh start. Along the way, she encounters kindness, happy fellow hikers, and a deep sense of belonging. Filled with wonderful prose, I found this book deeply moving. It’s easy to see why the book became such a hit.
Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, by Richard Grant
As a big fan of the state of Mississippi, I was keen to read this book. The state is an often-overlooked tourist destination with eccentric but wonderful people; beautiful parks, rivers, and swamps; stunning architecture; and a complex and rich history for history buffs like myself. In this book, English writer Richard Grant and his girlfriend move to rural Pluto, Mississippi, to live a better life, escape the big city, lower their cost of living, and try something new. They learn to hunt, garden, fend off wild animals, handle snakes, and befriend interesting characters along the way.
The Not-Quite States of America, by Doug Mack
The United States of America is more than just 50 states. There are also the non-states of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. In this funny, detailed, fact-rich book, Doug Mack explores these territories largely forgotten by the rest of the country, which play a more important role in our country than we realize. I had the pleasure of listening to Doug talk about his book in NYC, and he’s a wealth of knowledge — just like his book! This one of those travel books that expands your mind about the place you don’t really know.
Blue Highways: A Journey into America, by William Least Heat-Moon
This is a deep dive into America’s unknown tiny towns scattered across the country map, like New Hope (Tennessee), Remote (Oregon), Why (Arizona), and Whynot (Mississippi). Yes, those are real town names! Heat-Moon’s book is considered a masterpiece in American travel writing and you’ll love his adventures and the incredible people he encounters as he reveals the “real” American experience.
Boston Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on United States travel and continue planning your trip: