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10 Must-See Boston Attractions

SmarterTravel

While many Boston attractions center around its history, there are plenty of other ways to experience the city, whether it’s by eating or enjoying the numerous green spaces. Boston sightseeing is best done by foot, but you may want to consider using the subway (called the “T”) to truly explore all the nooks and crannies.

The Top Must-See Boston Attractions

This list of places to visit in Boston offers a mix of well-loved favorites and less-frequented, but just-as-worthy, attractions.

Fenway Park

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Though it may not be as old as Old North Church, Fenway Park has been part of the Boston landscape since 1912. If your team is not in town and you don’t want to root for the home team, take a tour of Fenway Park.

The Boston Citgo sign in nearby Kenmore Square, often seen in the background of games, is one of the most iconic Boston attractions in its own right.

Mary Baker Eddy Library

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One of the lesser-known Boston attractions, this library allows visitors to explore the ideas of Mary Baker Eddy, a 19th-century woman who fought restrictions on women. The most-visited attraction at the library is the three-story stained glass globe. Through words, music, and lights, the Mapparium shows how ideas span time and place.

The building is located on the Christian Science Plaza, itself a photogenic and relaxing corner of the city.

Arnold Arboretum

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Located in Jamaica Plain, the 281-acre Arnold Arboretum is one of the more off-the-beaten-path places to visit in Boston, but well worth the trek. The arboretum is part of the Emerald Necklace, a seven-mile network of parks that Frederick Law Olmsted envisioned for the Boston Parks Department beginning in 1878.

Within the National Historic Landmark, you’ll find paths winding among trees, shrubs, vines, and seasonal blooms like wildflowers, rhododendrons, and crabapples. Visit for free or attend a workshop or guided walk (varying fees).

North End

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Known for its Italian influences, the North End neighborhood is one of the tastiest Boston attractions. It’s worth a visit for all the cannoli you can pack in your belly and your suitcase. If popular Mike’s Pastry has a line, as it likely does, head over to the less-crowded Salem Street and visit Bova’s Bakery. Fresh bread scents pour out of this 24-hour outpost of pastry delights.

Besides the pastry shops, stop by Cafe Vittoria for the best cup of hot chocolate, a.k.a. liquid chocolate, or sit down for lunch or dinner at any of the Italian restaurants.

Boston Duck Tours

While the boats are an attraction in and of themselves, the actual tour is one of the best for Boston sightseeing. The World War II amphibious-style vehicles take you past all the major sites in Boston—by land and sea. If you’re lucky, your driver may let you (or your child) steer the boat on the Charles River.

Your guide will point out and give you the history behind dozens of landmarks old and new, including the State House, the TD Garden, Zakim Bridge, City Hall, the Holocaust Memorial, and Cheers.

New England Aquarium

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With a mission to protect the ocean, the aquarium is not only a good place to while away a rainy day, it’s also a place to get inspired by the deep blue. The exhibits are built around the main attraction: a four-story Giant Ocean Tank with tropical sea turtles, sting rays, sharks, and hundreds of colorful fish.

Myrtle, a sea turtle, has been a staple at the aquarium since 1970, a year after the aquarium opened. Other highlights include a touch tank, penguins, and seals.

Harvard Square

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Though it’s located across the Charles River in Cambridge, Harvard Square is on many visitors’ to-do lists, and for good reason. The area is home to unique shops, acclaimed dining, and one of the most recognized institutions of higher learning, Harvard University.

While just wandering around the neighborhood can fill an afternoon, consider visiting the impressive collections at the Harvard Art Museums and the Harvard Museum of Natural History. Whatever you do, resist the urge to say, “Park the car in Harvard Yard,” in a butchered Boston accent.

Boston Public Library

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As one of the nerdiest Boston attractions, the Central Library of the Boston Public Library is home to far more than books. You’ll find floors and vaulted ceilings of marble, molded plaster domes, and massive murals, including one painted by John Singer Sargent.

Free public tours about the art and architecture are offered daily. If you can’t join a tour, the library’s website offers a guide for what you’ll see in the McKim building, as well as details on the murals. It’s perhaps the best non-museum museum you’ll ever visit.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

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One of the further afield places to visit in Boston, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum preserves the personal and presidential papers and historical materials of the 35th president of the United States. More than an archive, the museum puts these artifacts into the greater political and social context of the president’s time.

Along with rotating exhibits, the permanent collection features gifts from heads of state, clothing, and objects from the Oval Office. The museum is located on a 10-acre park overlooking the water, so consider budgeting more time to enjoy the area.

Swan Boats

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With history dating back to 1870, the Swan Boats are as much a part of the Boston fabric as clam chowder. The boats, in the Public Garden lagoon, are still run by the descendants of the founder and are still pedaled by drivers; no automation here. In 2011, they were designated a Boston landmark.

In the winter, the pond often freezes over. But even if you can’t take a ride, you can visit some other feathered friends in the park: Make Way for Ducklings statues. Made famous by Robert McCloskey’s classic children’s book, the statues are a popular photo op.

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– Original reporting by Kate Sitarz

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