I ventured back to Boston a couple weekends ago, marking the fourth time visiting this great city. What keeps bringing me back here? My best friend would say it’s her—and that is a factor—but there’s something else that pulls me to Boston. What it is, I can’t exactly put my finger on. It has an atmosphere, a dynamic pulse and a strong sense of history and pride.
It’s something everyone should experience for themselves. I’ve visited during three of the four seasons—I’m avoiding winter—but summer has been my season of choice, followed by autumn (the changing colors are incredible). Boston really comes alive from June to August, with festivals, fairs, concerts and more.
If you plan to visit Boston in the summer, here are some great things to do:
Walk the Freedom Trail
The 2.5-mile trail that runs through the heart of Boston and into parts of Cambridge is one of the top attractions in the city. It leads you from the Boston Common over to Bunker Hill, stopping at key points of interest, all playing a role in the history of Boston and the country. It’s one of the easiest ways to see a lot in one day. Given its popularity, the trail can get crowded with tour groups and visitors, which means each stop will be full of people. If you choose to go at prime hours (about 10am-3pm), be patient and prepare for it to take a little longer to see everything. If you’re someone who doesn’t need to go into all the buildings, then I recommend hitting the trail early, before most of the attractions open, or later in the evening, when some of them are still open and most of the crowds have dissipated. To be honest though, I think it’s worth taking a little extra time to experience the trail, touring the buildings and learning more about the history of our nation.
Plus, if you have the time and you’re not in any hurry, you can make some stops that are not officially part of the trail. Take a quick break at Beantown Pub, across from the cemetery. There, you can enjoy a pint of Sam Adams while looking at Sam Adams—or more appropriately, his grave. After you’ve passed Faneuil Hall, follow the trail to The Bell in Hand, America’s oldest tavern, where you can enjoy another pint of a local brew.
Across the street from Bell in Hand is the New England Holocaust Memorial, another attraction that falls along the trail, but is not actually part of it. The memorial is an outdoor space accessible to the public at all times. It is designed around six glass towers, each standing 54 feet and lit internally from top to bottom. Etched into the towers are millions of numbers, representing the infamous tattoos on victim’s arms.
Sail on the Boston Harbor
This was a new experience for me, and I was very excited to see Boston from a new vantage point. We had a small group, and my friend arranged for us to have a private sailing tour on her friend’s boat. We spent the whole day sailing around the islands that dot the harbor, anchoring for a few hours to eat lunch and cool off in the frigid water (although I chose not to jump in).
If you don’t have a friend with a boat, there are other options. Classic Harbor Line features a number of different tours on the schooner Adirondock III. Or if a sailboat is not your preference, you can take a ride on the motor vessel Northern Lights. The Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships is another option, which features sunset sails, day tours and fireworks cruises. Most tours only last a few hours, so if you’d like to spend the whole day on the water, you will need to look into renting a private boat. Luckily, there are many companies and boat owners that offer this possibility.
This may seem completely cheesy, but it was seriously a lot of fun. I did this on my second trip to Boston a few years ago, and it’s still one of the best tours I’ve had. It’s a great way to learn about the history of the city, and practice your “Bawston” accent. The tours take off from the Prudential Center, The Museum of Science and the New England Aquarium, and take you through the main arteries of the city, highlighting the major sites, including Copley Place, Beacon Hill, the Charles River, Trinity Church and much more. Plus, you get a chance to float on the water, too, and, if you’re lucky, the driver will ask you to take the wheel (but only for a few minutes).
SoWa Open Market
Named after the shortening of South of Washington, SoWa is a creative community that blossomed from old rundown warehouses in Boston’s South End. It is now known for its boutique retail stores, unique galleries and artistic community. The SoWa Open Market has become a staple of the summer season. It features over 75 artisans selling a variety of hand-made good, as well as a farmer’s market selling local produce, a specialty market with chefs and bakers, and a large selection of food trucks lined up to offer much needed sustenance to market goers. In 2016, the market added a new weekly Beer & Wine Garden. (The market is open every Sunday from May 1-October 31, from 10am-4pm.)
Of course this had to make the list (it’s a blog about beer, after all). Boston is home to many major brands and local varieties. Sam Adams Brewery and Harpoon are two of the largest brewers in the city, and the country. Sam Adams brewery offers tours every day except Sunday, and a few select holidays. On this tour, you’ll discover the history of the brewery and the brand, experience the brewing process, and taste some special malts and smell the hops that go into some of Sam Adams’ most famous brews. And, of course, you’ll get to sample some beer. The brewery does not take reservations for tours, so if you plan to go, try visiting on a weekday when there are fewer crowds. If you have to go on Saturday, get there as early as possible. Tours are free ($2 donation is encouraged) and start at 10am.
Harpoon Brewery’s tours run every day, and schedules vary depending on when you go. Learn about Harpoon’s past, how it brews its beers, and get a taste of some of its classic brews. Tours cost $5, and that includes a beer tasting. Similar to Sam Adams, Harpoon gets very busy on weekends. Try to visit during the week, or arrive as early as possible on weekends.
If you’re interested in checking out a smaller establishment, try visiting some of the local microbreweries in Cambridge. Cambridge Brewing Company, founded in 1989, is an award-winning Pub Brewery crafting an assortment of brews, from new American to traditional to experimental. John Harvard’s Brewery & Ale House, christened after the somewhat mysterious man for whom Harvard University was named, opened its doors in 1992. Its beers draw on the fabled stories and recipes of John Harvard, and the restaurant has become a great gathering place for the community.
Somerville (an absolutely adorable neighborhood north of Boston that I had the pleasure of staying in this past visit) also has some great breweries to check out. Somerville Brewing Company, or Slumbrew, began as a husband and wife team in 2011. The brewery + Taproom offers free tours on Saturday afternoons, or you can sit and enjoy a pint and a charcuterie board, grilled flat breads or pulled pork tacos in the restaurant. Winter Hill Brewing is a small-batch brewer that features a select number of beers on tap at a given time. They also serve coffee and small plates throughout the day.
A Lobster Roll at Faneuil Hall
This may be one of the busiest areas of the city, especially in the summer, but it’s worth fighting the crowds to get a taste of a famed Boston specialty: a lobster roll. This is a classic and a must-try when you’re in town. Faneuil Hall has a number of restaurants serving up great seafood, but one of the best places to get a lobster roll is Boston & Maine Fish Co. It’s a local favorite, and features a lobster bar with the delicious crustacean cooked all kinds of ways. You can also grab a bowl of their famed New England Clam Chowder (Chowda!), perfect for visits on cooler fall days. The Walrus and the Carpenter is another option, featuring a great oyster bar as well as some delectable lobster rolls.
Summer in the City series at Boston Harbor Hotel
A longstanding, annual series, Summer in the City offers Bostonians and visitors free entertainment every night Tuesdays through Fridays during the summer. Each night has a different theme, and bands play from 6pm until 10pm. On Fridays, movies play at Rowes Wharf, and you can enjoy classics like The Sandlot and Dirty Dancing while you sit under the stars.
Kayak on the Charles River
Fondly called the Charles by most Bostonians, the river that runs through the city offers many recreational options, both professional and leisure. Kayaking is a popular activity and a great way to experience Boston in a different way. Charles River Canoe & Kayak provides rental kayaks every day of the week. Pick up your kayak from the Allston/Brighton location in Boston, and paddle west down a calm stretch of the river to Newton. Or go east toward Cambridge, passing under the many famous bridges that cross over the Charles. You can also rent canoes and stand-Up paddleboards, if kayaking isn’t your thing.
Red Sox Game at Fenway
You don’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate the history and tradition of Fenway. Opened in 1912, Fenway has become an icon of baseball pride in the city of Boston. While it has undergone many renovations and upgrades over the last 104 years, the original essence of the stadium remains today. There are very few ballparks in the U.S. with the storied past that Fenway has, and it’s definitely worth visiting, if for no other reason than to say, “I’ve been there.”