Boston, nicknamed beantown because of the infamous baked bean and maple syrup recipe originally passed down from the pilgrims, is one of the oldest and most historical cities in the US. Where else can you see the oldest continuous restaurant in the US (the Union Oyster House), the oldest public park in the US (Boston Common) and the oldest commissioned warship still afloat (USS Constitution)?

Founded by Blackstone in 1630, the name Boston is actually a contraction of the full name St. Botolph’s Town, named after a town of the same name in England. This year Boston celebrates its 375th birthday and what better way to celebrate it’s history than to take a state-of-the-art digital audio tour of the Freedom Trail? Hear Boston’s history through realistic sound effects, character voices, celebrities and historians produced by the same people who created tours for The Louvre, Alcatraz, and Boston’s own Museum of Fine Arts. Best thing is that you can stop for a beer at a local Irish pub, sample some local calamari in the North End, and pick up where you left off on the Freedom Trail. Pick up your headsets at the Boston Common Visitor Center (Tremont Street) and you’ll soon be on your way to making your own history .

Boston’s Freedom Trail was originally conceived by local journalist William Schofield in 1958, soon becoming the most popular tourist attraction in Boston. The 2.5-mile trail is comprised of 16 historic sites starting with the Boston Common, and ending with the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown, all within walking or T-distance of each other.

The following list highlights some of the not-to-be-missed sites on Boston’s Freedom Trail:

Boston Common & Public Gardens, the Oldest Public Park in the US

The oldest public park in the US, in the heart of downtown Boston, the Boston Common’s history goes back to 1634, when the 24-acre area was designated a common pasture, a military exercise field and a public gallows. Today you can watch Shakespeare in the Park during the summer, enjoy a picnic, sunbathe, read, enjoy a picnic or rollerblade through the tranquil paths.

The Public Garden, just adjacent, was formerly a swamp until it was filled in 1839 and designed as the first botanical gardens in the country, with flower beds and paths laid out in French style. The English pond and the unique Swan paddle boats were added in 1861 which are still in operation today.

Be sure to stop by the bronze sculpture dedicated to the famous children’s book, Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey. The story of a family of ducks takes place in Boston’s public gardens, among other well-known locales sited in the book.

Faneuil Hall, Boston’s First Market

Boston’s wealthiest merchant, Peter Faneuil (1700-1743) built and offered as a gift Faneuil Hall, Boston’s first market to replace the pushcart vendors and instead offer a centralized marketplace close to the waterfront. The hall was home to merchants, fishermen, and meat and produce sellers, and provided a meeting hall for local political issues, like the Sugar Act in 1764 and the early rumblings of revolution against Great Britain. The original hall, which served as the first statehouse, burnt to the ground only 19 years later, but was instantly rebuilt in 1742. By 1805, Faneuil Hall was too small for the rapidly growing Boston, but the architect Bullfinch brilliantly doubled the building’s height and width, keeping the original hall intact.

Today, Faneuil Hall Marketplace is still Boston’s central meeting place for tourists and locals, attracting 20 million visitors annually. It’s central location, free outdoor entertainment acts and unique artisan, tourist shops and restaurants help to explain why.

Quincy Market, the First Urban Renewal Project in the US

Faneuil Hall was expanded in 1826 to include Quincy Market, designed in the Greek Revival style and named for Boston Mayor Josiah Quincy.  It served as Boston’s wholesale food distribution center until the 1960s. Quincy Market was marked for demolition until a group of Bostonians preserved it in the early 1970’s. The 1976 renovation was the first urban renewal project of its kind, one which inspired other such renewal projects in this country and abroad.

Quincy Market offers culinary delights from calzones to gourmet soup to frozen yogurt. Come with an empty stomach to sample some of New England’s traditions like a hearty bowl of New England clam chowder or a plate of fresh oysters, and choose from Italian pastries or gelato for dessert. You can either fight the crowds at the atrium or enjoy free entertainment just outside while eating your tasty treats.

Support the local artists by perusing the pushcart vendors selling handmade articles or New England art like pewter. You can find everything from Christmas ornaments made from seashells, to just about anything in a lobster motif to Red Sox memorabilia. These affordable gifts can be personalized or customized, making a great one-of-a kind gift to bring home.

Union Oyster House, the Oldest Continuous Restaurant in the US

Although not officially part of the Freedom Trail, The Union Oyster House has such an intriguing history, it’s definitely worth a visit—one block west of Quincy Market. The Union Oyster House has been a major landmark in Boston for at least 250 years. The building has been used for everything from a fancy dress goods business, to the headquarters for “The Massachusetts Spy,” to the pay office for the continental army in 1796.

The second floor was even the home away from home for the exiled king of France, Louis Philippe, who bided his time by teaching French to the elite young ladies of Boston.

In 1826, the building became Atwood and Bacon’s eating establishment. Soon the local celebrities of Boston like the famed Kennedy’s flocked to the bar. Since 1826, the Union Oyster House has been in service–the oldest continuous restaurant both in Boston and the U.S.

Paul Revere, the Famed Patriot Who Warned of the British Arrival

If you’re lucky enough to be in Boston around Patriot’s Day (April 18th), you can actually see many of the historic moments re-enacted—like Revere’s famous ride and the first shot of the American revolution, among others. Contrary to the widely-held legend of Paul Revere, he did not he did not set out on April 18th,1775 to alert his countrymen of the British attack. Instead, he was sent to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that their lives were in danger. He rode towards Lexington, arriving near midnight where Adams and Hancock were staying. They correctly concluded that the British force was after the ammunition located in Concord. Revere and Dawes, joined later by Dr. Prescott, set off to warn the citizens of Concord of the British advance.

Unfortunately, the three intrepid riders fell into an ambush, held at gunpoint by the British. Before they could be questioned, Prescott and Dawes escaped into the dark woods while the British questioned Revere. He finally revealed that the countryside had been warned of the approaching British force. He was taken as far as Lexington, where it was obvious that the countryside was indeed beginning to take up arms. Revere was finally released as the British galloped off to warn the main British force that the Americans knew about the attack.

Paul Revere’s House, a Colonial American Relic

Today Revere’s home still stands in the North End and has become a national historic landmark. It is downtown Boston’s oldest building and one of the few relics left of colonial America.

Revere owned the home from 1770 to 1800, after which time it was sold. The house then became a tenement, and the ground floor was used as a candy store, cigar factory, bank and fruit and vegetable business over the years.

In 1902, Paul Revere’s great-grandson, John P. Reynolds Jr. purchased the building and formed an association to preserve and renovate the building. In 1908, the Paul Revere House became one of the earliest historic house museums in the U.S., with the Association still overseeing the day-to-day operations of this national treasure.

Bunker Hill Monument, Site of the First Major Battle in the American Revolution

Today, a 221-foot granite obelisk marks the site of the first major battle of the American Revolution, known as the Bunker Hill Monument. The Battle of Bunker Hill pitted a smaller and inexperienced colonial army against the highly trained British. Even so, the colonial leaders were experienced from the French and Indian War. Although the British ultimately won  the battle, the colonists greatly surprised the British by repelling two major assaults and inflicting great casualties.

Out of the 2,200 British ground forces and artillery, 1,034 casualties were inflicted, while the colonists only lost around 600 casualties, including their leader Dr. Warren, killed during the final assault. In 1794, an 18-foot wooden pillar with a gilt urn was erected to commemorate the battle, but in 1842, a more permanent monument was constructed along with the exhibit lodge and a statue of Dr. Warren.

After getting a taste both literally and figuratively of the history of Boston and its wonderful food, it’s hard to say what I liked most about Boston. Maybe the freedom trail speaks for itself—what a unique way to learn about Boston’s rich history and see the main tourist attractions, not to mention a self-guided digital audio tour! The romantic beauty of Boston’s Public Gardens, the excellent free entertainment at Faneuil Hall, the fun lobster-themed gifts at Quincy Market, the foresight of Paul Revere and fellow patriots, the majesty of the USS Constitution, and the courage of the colonial soldiers at Bunker Hill all made my historical tour all the more real. What better way to end such a historical day  than with a plate of fried calamari and a pint of Sam Adams? Come to Boston and make history your very own.

USS Constitution, the Oldest Commissioned Warship Still Afloat

In 1794, George Washington authorizes the construction of six warships, one of which is the USS Constitution. In 1797, The USS Constitution construction begins with a design to be powerful enough to outfight similar size enemy warship, but fast enough to out sail a larger opponent. Made from approximately 2,000 trees from Maine and Georgia, armed with cannons cast in Rhode Island, and fitted with copper fastenings made by Paul Revere, the vessel is truly a “national” ship. In 1812, the USS Constitution’ earns the nickname of Old Ironsides during the historic battle with the Guerriere, a British warship on August 19, 1812. A short-range slugfest between the two warships destroyed all of the masts of the Guerriere. When a cannon shot ricochets off the Constitution’s side, someone shouts, “Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!” In recognition, Congress awards the ship and crew gold and silver medals and $50,000.

  • 1972-1975: “Old Ironsides” undergoes another major restoration in preparation for the nation’s bicentennial in 1976.

  • 1976: The USS Constitution is visited by Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, and the Admiral of the Fleet the Royal Navy.

  • 1997: The USS Constitution sails under her own power for the first time in 116 years using six of the ship’s sails. “Old Ironsides” celebrates her own bicentennial with a parade from her birthplace to the Old South Meeting House.

  • 1998:  Naval vessels and “tall” ships from around the world come to Boston Harbor to honor the USS Constitution.

  • 2000: “Sail Boston 2000″ Old Ironsides” leads a “Parade of Sail” with over 120 tall ships

Freedom trail

Faneuil Hall

Faneuil Hall Marketplace

Union Oyster House

Paul Revere’s House

Paul Revere’s Ride

USS Constitution and Charlestown Navy Yard

Bunker Hill Monument

Photo Credits:
Freedom trail photo provided by The Freedom Trail Foundation.

Public garden, USS constitution, Bunker HIll Monument, redcoats and Quincy Market images provided by the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau.