As far as cities go, few are more kid-friendly and manageable than Boston. Parents can take comfort in knowing that the many activities geared at kids are educational and fun for adults too. Kids will love following the red brick Freedom Trail as it winds through the city past all sorts of historical sights, eating at the food stalls in Quincy Market or picnicking in the Public Garden with ducks waddling around. Boston is safe, clean and filled with charm — a perfect city for families looking to see the sights, explore our nation’s history and have a heck of a good time along the way.
A great way to keep costs down and save time on ticket lines is to buy the Boston CityPass, offering discount admission to five of the following six popular attractions: the Museum of Science, the New England Aquarium, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the Skywalk Observatory, and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Museum and Library. The savings is about 50 percent if you were to visit all the attractions, but if not, you’ll have to do the math and see what’s the best deal for you.
Amazing Freebies Worth Pursuing
Walking the Freedom Trail; posing with the statues of Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings in the Public Garden; self-guided tours of Harvard’s campus (in hopes that its beauty will inspire the kids to study hard!); admission to the Harvard Art Museums for kids under 18; family-friendly Friday night movies at the Hatch Shell in warmer months; picnic lunches on Boston Common; admission to the Museum of Fine Arts for kids under 17 on weekends and after 3 p.m. on weekdays; admission to the Isabella Stewart Garner Museum for kids under 18.
Boston Hotels for Families
The kid- and pet-friendly Colonnade Hotel is located in Back Bay near the Prudential Center. The hotel offers great family packages including free overnight parking (practically unheard of in Boston), late checkout and breakfast. When the kids tire of sightseeing, they’ll love the Colonnade’s rooftop pool — the only one in the city.
Not only is the Omni Parker House located steps away from some of Boston’s most kid-friendly attractions (the Freedom Trail, Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market and the Boston Common), it also boasts a kids’ program. Kids can check out the “suitcase of fun” from the front desk filled with books and games while parents are provided with a list of top family attractions, local emergency numbers and a safety/first aid kit which includes a night light and outlet covers. Kids get goodie bags upon check-in and most rooms are equipped with video games.
A good option for families on a budget is the Midtown Hotel, which offers a family package that includes free parking, breakfast and admission to several kid-friendly attractions. It is conveniently located in Back Bay, and has an outdoor pool that’s open all summer.
Start your day with an overview of the city on a Boston Duck Tour. Parents will appreciate the informative and entertaining tour while kids will love the DUCK, an amphibious landing vehicle that, once the land portion of the tour is complete, drives right into the Charles River. “ConDUCKtors” let kids “drive” the DUCK in the River and encourage them to quack at pedestrians on the street. You can pick up the tour at three locations: the Prudential Center, the Museum of Science and the New England Aquarium. If you pick up the tour at the Museum of Science, stop in and spend some time at the planetarium or take in a film on the giant screen at the Mugar Omni Theater.
After the Duck tour, jump on the “T” (specifically the Green Line) and take it to the Government Center stop. Grab lunch at the food court at Quincy Market in Faneuil Hall Marketplace — with more than 50 food stalls serving everything from pizza to clam chowder in a bread bowl to hot dogs and lobster rolls, everyone is sure to find something they’ll enjoy. Take a seat at one of the communal tables or head outside and find a bench to dine on. The warm months often find the steps of Quincy Market packed with street performers — magicians, jugglers and clowns — to occupy the kids’ attention.
Once you’ve refueled, head over to Boston Common and the Public Garden. Take pictures of the kids on the bronzed statues of Mrs. Mallard and her eight ducklings — a tribute to Robert McCloskey’s “Make Way for Ducklings,” about a duck family who found their home in the Public Garden. Real-life versions of Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack are in the pond nearby. To get a good look, take a ride on the foot-paddled swan boats. If the kids haven’t read the book, make sure to pick up a copy to read as a bedtime story tonight. The book is available at nearly every gift shop in Boston.
While you’re at Boston Common, stop at the Greater Boston Convention and Visitor Center (147 Tremont Street) to pick up a Freedom Trail map and guide — you’ll need it for tomorrow.
Exit the park and take a walk up Newbury Street — you can window shop on your way to dinner at Joe’s American Bar & Grill. The large menu includes burgers, chicken fingers and milkshakes as well as more grown-up seafood and pasta dishes. After dinner finish your stroll up Newbury and get ice cream for the kids at either Ben & Jerry’s or JP Licks.
Get out that map of the Freedom Trail and pick your starting point — the trail is not a loop so it’s best to start at one end or the other. Most people start at Boston Common and make their way along the 2.5-mile red brick path to visit some 16 of Boston’s most important sites. Allow a minimum of three hours to walk the trail and stop in at some of the attractions like the Paul Revere House and the U.S.S. Constitution.
When the trail winds its way through the North End, divert off the path for lunch at Regina Pizzeria and sample Boston’s most popular pizza steaming hot and fresh from the brick oven.
After you’ve had your fill of history and sightseeing, head over to Kings Bowling Alley (Green Line to Hynes station) to enjoy 16 state-of-the-art lanes with cool graphics, name personalization at each lane and automatic scoring. At 6 p.m. when the place clears everyone under 21 out, head upstairs for dinner at Jasper White’s Summer Shack. The casual and fun seafood joint serves all your favorites from clam chowder to boiled lobster and fried clams.
Another option for today is to take a break from sightseeing and head to the beach. By car, the bridges to Cape Cod are only an hour away. You can also take a 90-minute ferry ride from downtown Boston to Provincetown, a diverse and colorful fishing village on the tip of the Cape. If you decide to take the ferry to Provincetown, there is an onboard concierge who can assist you with everything from renting bikes to reserving a whale-watching tour. Be forewarned: The beaches on Provincetown are known for riptides and, at certain beaches, naturalists.
If you arrive on the Cape via car, your options for exploring the charming seaside towns are much greater. Once you get to the Cape, you can take Route 6 or 6A. Route 6 is as close to a highway as you get on the Cape and is the best option for people who have a particular destination in mind. 6A is much slower, but is one of New England’s most scenic drives, winding through the towns of the Cape and affording the opportunity to explore each one at a leisurely pace.
If the kids have sand and surf on the brain, head straight to the Cape Cod National Seashore, a 30-mile stretch of beach that runs from Chatham to Provincetown. Chatham is arguably the most charming town on the Cape — besides the ice cream shops and fried clam shacks, it has a town center lined with white clapboard shops, quaint inns and some of the Cape’s best restaurants. If you happen to be in town on a Friday, bring a blanket and lay it down on the grass at Kate Gould Park for the Chatham Band concert every Friday evening in July and August. Stake out your territory early in the day — by noon the grass is covered in blankets and the park looks like a patchwork quilt threaded together by small patches of grass.
Chatham has options for every taste and budget when it comes to dining. If you’re looking for a fried seafood and ice cream paradise, head to the Kream and Kone — you order at the counter and eat outside on picnic tables. For a diverse menu that still includes all the seafood staples, head to the Chatham Squire — they have a children’s menu and the kids will get a kick out of decoding the unusual license plates that cover the walls. If you want to go upscale, head to the Impudent Oyster (15 Chatham Bars Avenue, Chatham) and order the steamers — plump, juicy and nearly completely void of sand — perhaps the best on the Cape.
Once the kids are sufficiently tired out, get in the car and head back to Boston — you have one more day of action-packed sightseeing ahead.
Start today with a trip to the Boston Children’s Museum. The hands-on, interactive exhibits are so much fun that the kids won’t even know they’re educational too. Kids can visit a Japanese house, act in short plays put on by museum professionals or try their hand at a kid-friendly indoor construction site.
On your way out of the Children’s Museum, stop for lunch and ice cream at the snack bar housed in the giant, 40-foot Hood’s Milk Bottle (summer only) and dine in the outdoor picnic area. In colder months, there is an indoor picnic area in the museum perfect for bring-your-own lunches.
Spend the afternoon at the New England Aquarium, which houses more than 15,000 fish and water mammals. The aquarium’s crowning jewel is the 200,000-gallon Giant Ocean Tank that contains coral reefs, sharks and other sea creatures. There are also a shark and ray touch tank, a delightful performing sea lions show and, in a separate building, an IMAX theater showing educational 3-D films (additional admission charge).
For your last night in Boston, have a classic Boston experience in a kid-friendly and casual environment at Durgin Park. Its location will give the family one last chance to peruse the kitschy souvenir shops in Faneuil Hall, and the menu is basic and big enough to accommodate everyone’s taste buds. Clam chowder, Yankee pot roast and Boston cream pie are all long-time favorites.
After dinner, if you feel your children are old enough, take a tour of Boston’s darker side on a Ghosts and Gravestones trolley tour. Visit the final resting place of many of the most famous heroes of the American Revolution including John Hancock, Paul Revere and Samuel Adams. Hear the tales of the Boston Strangler and visit some of the city’s most famous cemeteries and burial grounds. The tour is fun, but it is also scary — don’t be surprised if you find the whole family in your hotel bed tonight!
Visit our sister site, Family Vacation Critic, for more information about Boston family vacations.
–written by Genevieve Brown; updated by Chris Gray Faust