US: Boston and the Freedom Trail

by - November 08, 2018

Boston is undoubtedly one of the most charming places I've visited in the US, though I did find it a tad bit too waspy for my taste. In some ways, I found the South to be a little warmer than Boston, literally and figuratively, but since I spent four years in this city (well, just across the river), it has a close place in my heart.

Two days should be enough in Boston, to get a feel for the city, or at least the history.  The first thing you do in Boston is to walk along the Freedom Trail. This is a self-guided pathway that takes you around the city and its major monuments. You can take a guided tour, a self-guided one, or even a trolley tour. Its not so long (2.4 km) so I would suggest walking it.

The official start of the trail is right in front of the visitor center on Boston Common – if you’re there too early for tours to be starting it may be easy to miss but it’s the green kiosk located on Tremont Street. I started at Boston Common at 10:00 am, and by the time we reached the end of the trail in Charlestown we had just barely missed the museum at the Bunker Hill Monument (and the interior of the monument itself) since they closed at 5:00 pm. If you start at 9:00 am, you'd have seen the museum too.

The Common is the oldest public park in the country. There is lots to see on the Common aside from what the trail covers, so if you have the time it’s worth walking through (you can ice skate on the Frog Pond in the winter and walk over to the Public Garden and ride the Swan Boats in the summer).

From the Common, the trail will bring you up towards the Massachusetts State House.  The State House is open for (free) tours during the week, so if you happen to be in town Monday-Friday catching a tour isn’t a bad idea. It is the building with the gold dome, and is also a great marker for directions.

The next stop on the trail is the Park Street Church, which was built in 1809 when it was used to store the town’s grain. It is still a functioning church so the visiting hours vary based on the time of year and when church services are going on.

From there, the trail will take you to the Granary Burying Ground, home to the graves of famous people like Paul Revere, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and the victims of the Boston Massacre. You’ll see a marker for “Franklin”. Those are for Benjamin Franklin’s parents– Benjamin Franklin is buried in Philadelphia.

Kings Chapel comes next, and was used by Boston’s (small) Anglican community in the 18th century. You can take a tour of Kings Chapel (for free) daily unless there is a service or other special event going on as this one is also still a functioning church. Right next door to it is the Kings Chapel Burying Ground which is also home to some famous graves like John Winthrop (Massachusetts’ first governor), and Mary Chilton (the first woman to disembark the Mayflower).

The next stop on the trail is the Ben Franklin Statue and the Boston Latin School. These stops are only markers, and you don't actually see a physical building of the school. You can see the statue though.

Continuing down School Street you’ll come to the site of the Old Corner Bookstore, which is Boston’s oldest commercial building (est. 1718). During its time as a bookstore, it was a common gathering place for writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Its current tenant is Chipotle. You can use the augmented reality app to get a glimpse of the building’s past.

Across the Street is the Old South Meeting House (est. 1729) which is known for being the site of the debates that led to the Boston Tea Party. Inside you can view the meeting house itself along with an exhibit that covers its history.  When you visit the Old South Meeting House and the other museums in the vicinity be sure to take your time looking at everything. Each of these sites are historic buildings in addition to museums with exhibits, and you’ll really get more out of your visit by spending some time reading everything inside (or by taking the tour at the Old State House).

After leaving the Old South Meeting House continue along the Freedom Trail down Washington Street and you’ll come to the Old State House. Much like the current state house today, the Old State House was where the colonial government was housed. As you continue along the trail leaving the Old State House you’ll see a circle marker on the ground which signifies that the Boston Massacre took place right here.

A number of restaurants come up at and around Faneuil Hall, which is the next stop on the trail. If you want to save time and have something quick you can walk through Quincy Market where you’ll find all different kinds of quick service food. If you keep kosher or halal, vegan or vegetarian, the clam chowder has some bacon FYI. Most of the meetings of the Boston Tea Party were actually held at Faneuil Hall before they were moved to the Old South Meeting House to better accommodate the crowds. Inside Fanueil Hall, you’ll find exhibits and information and you will get to hear many giving historical talks here throughout the day.

If you want sit-down lunch, pass Faneuil Hall until you come to Union Street. Here you’ll find restaurants, pu, s and taverns some of which are actually related to the history you’re learning about on the Freedom Trail.

From Union Street, the Freedom Trail turns into Boston’s North End. If you have time to stop for coffee or a cannoli this is the place to do it! The next stop on the trail which is located in the North End is the Paul Revere House. If you purchase the Patriot Pass at the Old South Meeting House you’ll be all set with admission by the time you reach the Paul Revere House, if not admission is $5 for adults.

Once inside the house, you’ll be able to take a self guided tour of the home and exhibits. As this is self guided like the Old South Meeting House, definitely make sure to take your time reading all of the exhibits. If you rush through with a quick glance at the house you won’t take away as much from the experience.

Next is the Old North Church, which you may be familiar with as the church where the lanterns were hung to signal how the British soldiers would be arriving and going towards Lexington and Concord.

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground is the next stop, and the last stop on the trail before you head over the bridge to Charlestown. This cemetery is overlooked in my opinion compared to the other Freedom Trail cemeteries, and with only a handful of names most tourists will recognize. I don't know any.

With that, the trail ends, and you can then walk from the North End to Charlestown. Might not be difficult but after a whole day of tourin, well, that is a whole different story.

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