Top Family Attractions and Activities with Kids in Boston, Massachusetts
Touring Boston with amphibious Boston Duck Tours

There’s so much to do in “Beantown” — from colonial history to swan boats, Fenway Park and more; here are Family Travel Forum’s best bets for indoor and outdoor family activities in Boston, Massachusetts. For further general information, be sure to visit the Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau (888/SEE-BOSTON or 617/536-4100), or check out the broader Massachusetts Vacations 
site. 

Great Fun for the Kids

(Toddler to Age 8)

The Swan Boats
At the Public Garden
9 Arlington Street
Boston, MA 02116
617/522-1966
Read your children the classic “Make Way For Ducklings,” visit the charming statues of Mrs. Mallard and her eight ducklings all lined up in a row in Boston Common, and then buy a ticket for a swan boat ride around the lagoon. The timeless book takes place in the Public Garden, which makes a visit all the more exciting for the kids — especially the little ones. The Public Garden is across Charles Street from the Boston Common, the oldest public park in America. The swan boats have run seasonally for over 130 years.

Puppet Showplace Theater
32 Station Street
Brookline, MA 02445
617/731-6400
This company, one of the oldest in the country, performs children’s favorite fairy tales and legends with professional puppeteers, year-round. After the show you can view old and charming puppets, or buy a variety of gifts at the Lobby Store.

Franklin Park Zoo
1 Franklin Park Road
Boston, MA 02121
617/541-LION
With 72 acres to explore, come meet gorillas, baird’s tapirs, leopards and free flying-birds (in the African Tropical Forest, of course). Come face to face with kangaroos and wallabees at the Australian Outback Trail, where the animals roam freely. The Children’s Zoo is a fun way to spend the day, and the Bird’s World is an adventuret. Tours give an explanation of the animals’ natural habitats, and each species’ evolutionary history.

Boston Children’s Museum
308 Congress Street
Boston, MA 02210
617/426-6500
It is practically impossible to enjoy this museum without touching, so it’s perfect for kids with eager hands. Designed for toddlers to 10 year olds, there are many different exhibits — ranging from creating your own art to learning about Boston’s diverse neighborhoods to exploring nature and conservation.

 

Fun for Older Children

(Up to Age 18)

Faneuil Hall
4 South Market Building
Boston, MA 02109
617/523-1300
Combining shopping, food, and street performers into one complex, there is lots of stuff to buy, including music, jewelry, clothes, and chatchkas at Faneuil Hall. There’s also plenty of entertainment and good eats. Visit on a weekend, when you really can get a feel for the B-town scene.

Newbury Street
Boston, MA 02116
There is even more upscale shopping on Newbury. This street is filled to the brim with little boutiques, art galleries, and cafés. Stores on this street can get quite pricey, but others are well within reason.

Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum
306 Congress Street
Boston, MA 02210
617-338-1773 or 1-855-TEA-1773
One of the most substantial legends of the American Revolution is that of the so-called Boston Tea Party.  Having only a name in common with the controversial political movement of 2010, this historical 1773 event was a precipitating moment in the Colonial conflict with the British Crown.  In a period when King George III applied taxes to almost every element of daily life, a new minted tax on tea, truly a basic component of the Colonial diet, was the tax too far. It triggered a rebellion in which the Sons of Liberty, a group of Boston patriots of mixed social class, boarded three merchant ships in Boston harbor under cover of darkness, and dumped their cargo of tea into the water.  This precipitated harsh retribution from the Crown’s government and escalated the mounting conflict that led to the beginning of the War of Independence in 1775. The deed was done under the battle cry, “No taxation without representation.”  

Visitors to Boston can now learn more about this historic event and participate in a symbolic dumping of the tea.  Capable actors take on the part of Sam Adams and another patriot to rouse the audience to march down to the ship next door where bales of tea are tossed (these are tethered to the ship).  A very realistic holographic presentation dramatizes an argument between two women, one a Patriot, the other a Royalist. A well-crafted film follows in another room and dramatizes the events leading to the famous ride of Paul Revere and the opening shots of the War of Independence, fired at nearby Lexington, Massachusetts. Though the Museum is run by a for-profit company (Historic Tours of America, Inc.) and the ticket prices are a bit steep, this is an excursion that will be enjoyed by the whole family.

The Freedom Trail
Boston, MA 02133
A free, self-guided walking tour of 16 historical sights allows you to experience the “footsteps” of colonial Boston’s early patriots and their journey to independence. Marked by a three-mile-long red brick path or painted red line on the sidewalk, the trail begins in Boston Common at its Information Center at 146 Tremont Street. Sights include the Common, the Massachusetts State House, the site of the first public school, the Old Corner Bookstore, the Granary Burying Ground, The Paul Revere House and Faneuil Hall. They are open to the public for exploration.

An introductory audio-visual presentation, maps, information and free guided tours can be arranged at the Boston National Historic Park Visitor Center at the Charleston Navy Yard. Freedom Trail Foundation Players, a troupe of costumed actors, portray historical characters and share lively anecdotes about their lives in Colonial Boston and their contributions to the cause. They can be booked (for a fee) for personal tours and events, and give regularly scheduled guided tours of select sights. For the past few summers in mid-August, a group of re-enactors has set up camp on the Trayning Grounds, recreating the events of 1775 through 1776 when the British held Bostonians in a blockade. The special weekend becomes a living history experience where families can participate in the daily life of an 18th century British soldier through drills; cooking; making clothes, shoes and equipment; visiting a surgeon’s tent; watching a skirmish with Colonists and more.

John F. Kennedy Library
Columbia Point
Boston, MA 02125
866/JFK-1960, 617/514-1600
History comes to life at this combination museum/library dedicated to the legacy of JFK and his brother Robert. Nestled on a 10-acre park, the glass pavilion overlooks the dramatic Dorchester Bay, and the displays of artifacts, memorabilia and photographs are enhanced by audio and video presentations. History students, parents and grandparents (who probably remember exactly where they were on that fateful day of November 23, 1963) will find this to be a fascinating museum and a moving experience.

Harvard Museum of Natural History
26 Oxford Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
617/495-3045
Presenting exhibitions about science and nature from the extensive collections of Harvard University’s Botanical Museum, Museum of Comparative Zoology and the Mineralogical and Geological Museum. Contact the museum for a schedule of fun family activities and exhibits.

MIT Museum
265 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
617-253-5927
You would expect any museum associated with the vaunted Massachusetts Institute of Technology to be a major experience in science. Head down Mass Ave. to the wondrous MIT Museum and you won’t be disappointed. On the ground floor, you’ll find rotating exhibits on major themes of contemporary science — developments in fuel cell technology for generating electricity,  bio-molecular engineering, vanishing glaciers and more. These would be for your older young rocket scientists. Parents should take younger kids upstairs to some of the fascinating permanent exhibits which include Kismet the Robot in the Robotics Gallery, the Hologram Gallery, mechanical sculptures, and beyond. It’s a treat for young and old and an experience in mind-stretching.

Shear Madness
Charles Playhouse
74 Warrenton Street
617/426-5225
A must-do among the city’s show options is Shear Madness, a murder mystery/whodunnit set in a hair salon and the longest continuously running play in the United States. Be prepared to participate and expect a few liners that only locals will understand unless you’ve really learned your more recent Boston history. The cast of Shear Madness is very witty and the show is sure to generate laughs; perhaps the most notable thing is that it includes a good deal of improv, which makes the thespians that much more clever.

First Church of Christ, Scientist
210 Massachusetts Avenue
Boston, MA 02115-3195
617/450-2000
Along Huntington Avenue off the Green line, you’ll see the massive First Church of Christ, Scientist, aka Mary Baker Eddy, the church’s founder. The daunting domes of the church are hard to miss and are a good opportunity to use correctly the word, “awesome.” More humble, however, is the original church housed inside, painted pink and adorned with quotations from Jesus Christ and the founder herself. Tours are offered daily throughout the week free of charge, though donations are encouraged.

Fun for the Whole Family

Prudential Center Skywalk
800 Boylston Street
Boston, MA 02199
617/859-0648
Located atop the Prudential Tower, 50 floors above the ground, this is a great place to begin your visit. A complete 360 degree views and breathtaking vistas of Greater Boston will get your group right into the mood for sightseeing. The completely enclosed observatory is open from 10am-10pm from March 11 through October and 10am- 8pm November through early March.

Mapparium
200 Massachusetts Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
888/222-3711
Adjacent to the First Church of Christ, Scientist, the Mapparium is an eye-popping attraction for all ages, who can stand on the glass bridge of this giant luminescent sphere. Once inside, a brief video is shown explaining the purpose and creation process of the 608-painted-glass-panel globe. Upstairs, The Quest Gallery gives a more in-depth look at Mary Baker Eddy and the founding of her unique church. On your way out through the main entrance, you’ll find the Hall of Ideas, where words and ideas of wisdom are projected from above and crawl the space of the hall.

Museum of Science
1 Science Park
Boston, MA 02114
617/723-2500
One of the country’s most renowned science museums housing over 400 interactive exhibits in all areas of science, live animal presentations, making weather, lightening bolt demonstrations, a Discovery Center for pre-schoolers, Planetarium and Omni IMAX theater showing 3-D films on subjects such as whales, tornadoes and mountain climbing. The 4 story domed screen and incredible sound system gives you the feeling you are in the film! Especially interesting to the all the computer buffs in your family, the MOS now houses several exhibitions from the former Computer Museum of Boston. Check out the “Virtual Fishtank” where you create your own fish and watch them interact in a virtural undersea world, and the constantly up-dated “Best Software for Kids” gallery.

Fenway Park
4 Yawkey Way
Boston, MA 02215
877/RED-SOX9
While you’re in town, why not take in a Red Sox game or take a family tour of Fenway Park? Dating from 1912, this renowned park is the oldest ball field in the major leagues and still employs a hand-operated scoreboard. Batter-up!

Charlestown Navy Yard
Building 22
Charlestown, MA 02129
617/426-1812
Often referred to as Old Ironsides, a nickname she acquired during the War of 1812, this ship was launched in 1797 and is the oldest commissioned warship in the world. Guided tours offered by members of the Navy provides interesting historical information and takes visitors through the Gun Deck, the Berthing Deck (where the crew slept in hammocks), Captain’s quarters, sick-bay and other areas of the vessel, demonstrating the difficult conditions of life aboard. Adjacent to the ship, the USS Constitution Museum houses over 3,000 artifacts which present the history of this treasure of the US Navy. Hands-on activities and video presentations appeal to visitors of all ages. Also part of this complex, you can visit the USS Cassin Young, a destroyer commissioned in 1943, which experienced combat during World War II and the Korean Conflict. Tours given by National Park Service Rangers provide information on it’s battles and restoration and presents it as a modern contrast to “Old Ironsides.”

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
617/267-9300
Boston’s answer to New York City’s Met, this museum boasts collections from all over the world. With MFA’s ongoing schedule of exhibitions and collections, families can see impressionist paintings and art from around the world. Call ahead to find out about current exhibits, as adults may need tickets for these shows.

Institute of Contemporary Art
100 Northern Avenue
Boston, MA 02110
617/478-3100
Situated along Boston’s pristine waterfront, the ICA has very few exhibits on display, but the ones featured are just enough to take in, artsy-fartsy hipster or not.

New England Aquarium
Central Wharf
Boston, MA 02110
617/973-5200
Your family will be welcomed by seals and sea otters swimming in their outdoor pool. While you’re here, visit with 7,000 other fish and aquatic animals. Inside, the incredible variety of sealife lives in a cylindrical tank, viewed from a spiral ramp. Looking for a way to see the animals get a little lively? Catch a glimpse of the divers entering the tanks for feedings several times a day. Families can also go aboard the Voyager III and travel to Stellwagen Bank. This feeding area for whales, dolphins and other sea animals gives you an up close and personal look at these unique natives. Visitors can also pay for a whale watch and interact with naturalists, experience the hands-on navigation station and learn information about whales. Reservations are strongly recommended for this 3 to 4-hour trip.

TOURS & SIGHTSEEING CRUISES:

Unofficial Hahvahd Tours
One Mifflin Place
Cambridge, MA 02138
855/455-8747
This tour company leads entertaining tours through the Harvard, MIT and spots along the Freedom Trail. Tours last for about 70 minutes and include historical tidbits of the campuses and its former famed students, adding a little humor into the mix as well.

Boston Duck Tours
4 Copley Place
Boston, MA 02116
617/267-DUCK
The most innovative way to tour the city is aboard a re-conditioned World War II amphibious landing craft, or “duck.” Your 80-minute trip is narrated by costumed characters known as “conDucktors” who are both knowledgeable and entertaining! The tour takes you to Trinity Church, Faneuil Hall and through the historic North End, but the highlight is when the duck waddles down a ramp and splashes into the Charles River for a waterside view of Boston. If they’re lucky, your kids may even get a chance to pilot the craft while it’s afloat!! The heated vehicles operate from April through November, rain or shine, every day from 9am until an hour before sunset.  Ducks depart from 3 locations:  1 Science park, 53 Huntington Avenue and 1 Central Wharf.

From Spring through Fall, you can enjoy cruising the waters surrounding Boston and touring the Harbor Islands. Contact the sampling listed below, or obtain a complete list from the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Boston Harbor Cruises
One Long Wharf
Boston, MA 02110
877/SEE-WHALE, 617/227-4321
Adventurous families climb aboard the “Codzilla” for a zip across the ocean at 40 miles per hour. For a tamer vacation, go whale watching for a glimpse of majestic Humpbacks, Finbacks, Minke and white-sided dolphins. Boston’s only 3-hour Whale Watch, Boston Harbor Cruises teamed up with the New England Aquarium for a gauranteed whale watching experience. That means if there aren’t any whales on your trip, you’ll get a free ticket for a future cruise.

Massachusetts Bay Lines
60 Rowes Wharf
Boston, MA 02110
617/542-8000
Take a 90-minute sunset cruise around Boston Harbor for a look at the city skyline and historic USS Constitution. Light snacks and beverages are avaiable for purchase. Call ahead, as dates are subject to change. Families, groups and reunion travelers can also charter a boat for their own private Harbor cruise.

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