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Boston 3-Day Travel Guide – What to See and Do in the “Athens of America”

  • 30.10.2023 09:13
  • Bruno A.

Have a look at our Boston 3-day travel guide and discover the best the city has to offer, including hotels, restaurants, tips to avoid tourist scams, transportation and even a detailed list with everything you must see and do in Boston in 4 days.

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Despite constantly playing second fiddle to New York when it comes to major destinations along the East Coast, Boston, Massachusetts’ main city, has plenty to offer to visitors. A landmark of American colonial history and the nation’s quest for independence, it hosts some of the most significant historical institutions of that era, which helped the city earn its monikers of the “Athens of America” or the “Cradle of Liberty”.

And yet, Boston is way more than ancient halls, museums and historic churches where revolutionary ideas against British rule were spread. In fact, the city is also home to prestigious educational institutions like Harvard and the MIT, attracting a massive student community every year which inevitably shapes the city’s character and atmosphere.

That being said, we invite you to have a look at our Boston 3-day travel guide and discover the best the city has to offer, including hotels, restaurants, tips to avoid tourist scams, transportation and even a detailed list with everything you must see and do in Boston in 3 days.

Boston 3-Day Travel Guide

Boston 3-day travel guide – Best time to visit the city

Since the city is located in the Northern Hemisphere, the best time to visit Boston is during the late Spring, Summer and early Fall, especially from April to October.

However, for those looking to have the most pleasant experience possible, it is best to wait for the shoulder-season, encompassing the seasons of Spring and Fall. Regarding the latter, that’s when the city turns into a live canvas of brown and orange foliage, beautifully matching its colonial-era brick architecture. Furthermore, given how pricey Boston can be, you’ll find accommodation costs to be relatively “nicer”… at least in comparison to the peak of Summer!

Boston 3-day travel guide – Safety, scams and frauds

Boston can be considered a fairly safe destination. In fact, according to the 2023 report from Moneygeek, which relies on FBI crime statistics Boston ranks as the 10th safest among all major US cities (with populations exceeding 300.000), ahead of destinations such as San Francisco, Arlington or Austin.

Although official crime rates are slightly above the national average, most of these occurrences take place in districts/areas where tourists don’t usually go. As a visitor, you’ll likely stick to the central and most touristy areas of the city, where security and surveillance are more robust and the chances of coming across any issues are minimal. Plus, Boston is a relatively calm city, so it’s safe to wander around the city center after sunset.

Be that as it may, and as anywhere else, it’s essential to stay vigilant and be mindful of potential travel scams targeting visitors. Using your common-sense is key. That means no taxis whose drivers refuse to start the meter, no accepting help from strangers when you’re using an ATM or trying to buy metro tickets and always keeping an eye out for your stuff when you’re walking through busy areas. To sum up, don’t do anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable doing in any other city.

Where to sleep in Boston – Hotels and Accommodation

If you’re looking out for a place to stay on our Boston 3-day travel guide then we got your covered!

It’s no secret that Boston is an expensive city. It was already quite costly before the pandemic, but prices have skyrocketed to levels that can feel downright unsustainable in recent years. This is particularly true when it comes to accommodation, since current supply levels are clearly insufficient for the 19 million people who visit Boston every year. As a result, even the most basic rooms can easily set you back $150 per night, often with cleanliness and service standards that leave something to be desired.

That being said, here are a few hotel options which have passed our value-for-money test:

Boston 3-Day Travel Guide – Transportation between the airport and the city center

Upon landing in Boston, the most convenient way to travel from Logan Airport to the city center is by using Silver Line’s SL1 Shuttle Bus. The bus is completely free and it connects the airport to Boston’s South Station, located in the downtown, in just 20 minutes. These vehicles leave every 10 to 15 minutes, operating between 05:30 AM and 00:30 AM. Once you make it to the South Station, you may then transfer into the metro for free, in case you want to reach a different city zone. Finally, please keep in mind the bus is only free for the route from the airport to the downtown. If you need to take the opposite direction, you’ll have to pay full fare ($2,40).

Alternatively, you may also use the subway, though the airport station isn’t exactly close to the terminals. As such, you’ll have to take one of the other free shuttle buses (lines 22, 33, 55 or 66) that travel between the terminals and the subway station, where you then will have to buy a regular ticket ($2,40) and use the Blue Line to get to the city center (you may get out at Aquarium, State or Government Center).

Finally, if you arrive in Boston in the middle of the night and aren’t able to take the bus nor the subway, you’ll have to use the good, ol’ taxi! However, expect to pay around $20-$25 for the short 5-km trip to the downtown area.

Boston 3-Day Travel Guide – Public transportation

Since Boston is one of the oldest cities in the country, the original planning didn’t follow the traditional grid style found in other American cities, which is quite practical for car travel. As a result, not only is Boston generally more pedestrian-friendly than its American counterparts, but its layout also led to the development of a more extensive public transportation network (despite its structural challenges).

That being said, visitors to Boston can take advantage of its public transport options, including the subway (locally referred to as “T”), buses, commuter trains and even ferries, all under the central management of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). However, for most tourists, the subway system is the go-to choice.

Boston Subway – Maps, Tickets and Fares

Consisting of more than 150 stations and 6 lines, Boston’s subway system integrates three different modes of transportation into a single system. Out of these 6 lines, only 3 are served by traditional subway trains, while the other three are divided between 2 tram/trolley lines (Green Line and Ashmont–Mattapan Line) and 1 Bus Rapid Transit/BRT line (Silver Line). Fun fact: the Green Line is considered the oldest operational subway line in the entire United States, boasting charming vintage vehicles.

Although working hours aren’t the same for every line, most routes run from 05:00 AM to 00:30 AM.

To use the subway system, you’ll need to get yourself a CharlieTicket, a reusable paper ticket that you can load with any number of rides you want. On the other hand, most locals go for the CharlieCard, a plastic alternative that is topped-up with a cash balance, with the fare being automatically deducted with each use. Alternatively, if you’re taking the bus or the tram/trolley, you can simply buy your ticket with cash. As for fares, it’s the same no matter what ticket format you choose, with a single ride costing $2,40, including a free transfer within a timeframe of 2 hours.

That being said, if you plan on using the subway frequently, it’s worth looking into the daily and multi-day options available:

  • LinkPass 1 Day City Zone Ticket: $11,00
  • LinkPass 7 Days: $22,50

All tickets and passes can be bought at any of the stations’ automatic machines.

Boston 3-day Travel Guide – Free walking tours

While in Boston, you have the option to explore the downtown area with a free walking tour. These tours, led by local guides or tour companies, offer guided visits to the historic center, sharing intriguing stories about each place and providing valuable cultural context. Even though these tours are technically free, it’s customary to show appreciation for the guide’s efforts by leaving a tip at the end. In Boston, a reasonable minimum tip would be around $7,00.

That being said, here are a few companies that run free walking tours in Boston:

Boston 3-day Travel Guide – Hidden Treasures

With 3 full days in Boston, you’ll get to visit the city’s most popular tourist attractions, while at least having a little wiggle room for a few creative detours.

That being said, and in order to spice things up a bit, we’ve included a few off-the-beaten-path gems to add to your list of things to see and do in Boston:

Boston Public Library: It’s one of the US’s most historical libraries, featuring interiors worthy of a classic European palace across the Atlantic. Just like any public institution, admission is free.

Acorn Street: Beacon Hill’s most picturesque corner. Although this quarter is a major tourist highlight of Boston – funny enough due to photos of this particular place – this street is remarkably easy to miss.

Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum: This place is famous for sparking the American Revolutionary War, when a group of Bostonians dramatically dumped an entire shipment of tea into the harbor to protest against British Crown taxes. The museum features replica ships and an animated experience with actors to reenact the event. An interactive way to find out more about US history.

Boston Athenaeum: Hidden away on the 5th floor of a classic building in Downtown Boston, the Athenaeum is a stunning private library and one of the city’s most “instagrammable” locations. A guided tour of the space costs 15,00$.

Observation Deck at Independence Wharf: While Boston might not have the same abundance of viewpoints as the likes of New York City, the Observation Deck at Independence Wharf, on a modest 14th floor – boasts one of the best views of the city, providing magnificent panoramic vistas over the waterfront. Plus, admission is free!

Boston 3-Day Travel Guide – What to See and Do in 72 Hours

As mentioned earlier, 3 days is a decent amount of time to get the best out of Boston. With 72 hours, you can comfortably stroll along the iconic Freedom Trail, delve into the historic charms of Back Bay and Beacon Hill, and even squeeze in the mandatory visit to the grounds and museums of Harvard University. It might be a bit packed, but it’s entirely doable!

Without further ado, here’s what to see and do in Boston in 3 days:

Boston 3-Day Travel Guide: Day 1 – Freedom Trail

To kick off your Boston adventure, there’s no better way than to follow the path that has helped put the city in history books and travel guides: the Freedom Trail! Crossing through the heart of Downtown Boston, this trail will guide you through more than a dozen historic sites, all related to the American Revolution and the subsequent independence of what would become the world’s most powerful nation. It’s a route rich in historical significance, but even if history isn’t really your thing, these 3 miles will take you through some of Boston’s most picturesque and oldest neighborhoods, making it THE thing to do in the capital of Massachusetts.

That being said, your journey will start at the State House, the state’s seat of government, before you stop by Park Street Church, one of the city’s oldest churches and once the tallest structure in America (hard to believe, I know). Next to this place of worship, you can explore the King’s Chapel and the Canary Burying Ground, a historic cemetery where notable revolutionaries were laid to rest, such as Paul Revere, the victims of the infamous Boston Massacre and several signers of the Declaration of Independence, like John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Next up, you’ll take a quick stroll past the Boston Latin School, the oldest public school in the US – where the illustrious Benjamin Franklin was a student – before visiting the Old South Meeting House ($15,00, ticket also covers the Old State House), an old church where the Boston Tea Party was planned, the event that triggered the struggle for independence from British rule. At the end of the street, you’ll then come across the Old State House ($15,00, ticket also covers the Old South Meeting House), not only the city’s oldest public building, but also the actual site where the infamous Boston Massacre took place.

Arguably the most important stop on the trail, it is time to visit Faneuil Hall, a majestic building where the first pro-independence speeches were delivered, as well as the initial protests against British taxation. After the independence, this hall also hosted the very first Town Meeting in brand-new America, earning it the title of “the Home of Free Speech”. Curiously, the building’s name honors Peter Faneuil, who funded its construction and donated it to the city… with money obtained through from his involvement in the Atlantic slave trade. History is complicated. From here, you’ll gradually make your way from the downtown area to the Charlestown waterfront, stopping on the way by the Paul Revere House ($6,00), the city’s oldest structure and the former residence of one of America’s most famous revolutionaries, and the Old North Church. It was at this church’s bell tower that lanterns were shown to signal the positions and advances of British troops, helping the revolutionary forces gain the upper hand in the early battles of the war. Once you make it to Boston Harbor, you’ll board the USS Constitution, a naval-frigate-turned-museum that was involved in clashes with the British navy, currently standing as the world’s oldest warship still afloat. Finally, to cap off such a busy day, you’ll finally climb the Bunker Hill Monument, an obelisk marking the place where the first important battle of the American Revolution took place. Plus, you can’t beat the view of Boston from atop the monument!

First day wrap-up:

  • Freedom Trail
    • State House
    • Park Street Church
    • King’s Chapel
    • Canary Burying Ground
    • Boston Latin School
    • Old South Meeting House
    • Old State House
    • Faneuil Hall
    • Casa de Paul Revere
    • Old North Church
    • USS Constitution
    • Bunker Hill Monument

Where to eat in Boston – Cheap restaurants in Downtown Boston:

Boston 3-Day Travel Guide: Day 2 – Beacon Hill and Back Bay

After a first day heavily focused on the country’s history, you will now get to have a more laid-back experience while strolling through some of Boston’s most charming neighborhoods and scenic spots. That being said, there is no better way to begin than by starting your day at Boston Common, the oldest public park in the US and the city’s main green space. In fact, this expansive park is actually a 2-in-1 sort of experience, since it’s also formed by the Public Garden, an adjacent area with countless monuments and statues, as well as a lake where you can rent the iconic Swan Boats, a timeless Boston tradition. North of the park, we highly recommend taking a walk through the historic Beacon Hill, one of the city’s most beautiful neighborhoods. If you want to find Beacon Hill’s most picturesque corner, then look out for Acorn Street. Although this quarter is a major tourist highlight of Boston – funny enough due to photos of this particular place – this street is remarkably easy to miss.

Heading west, it’s time to explore the district of Back Bay, famous for its old-world architecture and pedestrian-friendly streets, reminiscent of a European city. Surprisingly, this part of the city is actually far more modern than the rest of the city center, having been meticulously developed in the 19th century. There’s plenty to see and do in Back Bay, with notable highlights including Copley Square, a lively square surrounded by Trinity Church and by the Boston Public Library (whose interiors look like they’ve been taken from a European palace), and Newbury Street, the district’s main thoroughfare. From here, you’ll have two options to cap off your day. On one hand, you may choose to visit the Boston Museum of Fine Arts ($27,00), one of the most prestigious art institutions in the United States, home to masterpieces by renowned artists like Monet, Degas and Renoir, along with captivating artifacts from ancient Egypt and Oriental sculptures. On the other hand, if art doesn’t do it for you and you’re more of a sporty type, then it’s worth taking a tour of the iconic Fenway Park ($25,00) home of the Boston Red Sox, arguably the most famous franchise in baseball. If you want to go all-in on the experience, then why not check out tickets for a game?

Second day wrap-up:

  • Boston Common and Public Garden
  • Beacon Hill
  • Acorn Street
  • Back Bay
  • Copley Square
  • Trinity Church
  • Boston Public Library
  • Newbury Street
  • Boston Museum of Fine Arts
  • Fenway Park

Where to eat in Boston – Cheap restaurants in Back Bay and Fenway:

Boston 3-Day Travel Guide: Day 3 – Harvard and the Harborwalk

As we’ve come to your final day in Boston, it’s time to venture beyond the city center and explore the outskirts, with a special visit to one of the world’s most iconic educational institutions. That’s right – today, your morning will be spent at Harvard University! Centered around Harvard Square and the bustling Harvard Yard, both gathering places for the vast student community, I recommend starting at the Visitor Center, where you can request a free guided tour from a university student. Besides the prestigious campus, the history and the countless classic buildings and churches, Harvard also boasts a pretty interesting array of museums, such as the Harvard Art Museums (free) and the Harvard Museum of Natural History ($15,00 for access to its 4 different exhibitions), as well as the picturesque Harvard Bookstore, one of the most beautiful bookshops along the East Coast. As for the numerous halls spread across the campus, be sure to peek inside the Widener Library and the Memorial Hall, since the latter houses the atmospheric Sanders Theater and the spectacular Annenberg Hall, probably the most beautiful dining hall in the world. Lastly, and since this is a student area, take the opportunity and enjoy lunch nearby, as prices are considerably lower when compared to the downtown area.

Back in Boston proper, your next destination is the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum (34,00$), a museum featuring replica ships and an animated experience with actors, aiming to reenact the event that sparked the American Revolutionary War, when a group of Bostonians dramatically dumped an entire shipment of tea into the harbor to protest against British Crown taxes. An interactive way to find out more about US history, especially if you’re traveling with kids. If you prefer to skip the museum, you can head directly to the Observation Deck at Independence Wharf. While Boston might not have the same abundance of viewpoints as the likes of New York City, this observation deck – located on a modest 14th floor – boasts one of the best views of the city, providing magnificent panoramic vistas over the waterfront. Plus, admission is free! Finally, to bid farewell to the city, there’s nothing better than strolling the scenic HarborWalk, a pedestrian pathway along the shores of the Boston Harbor. The perfect place to watch the sun set one last time over the “Athens of America”.

Third day wrap-up:

  • Harvard University
    • Harvard Square
    • Harvard Yard
    • Harvard Art Museums
    • Harvard Museum of Natural History
    • Harvard Bookstore
    • Widener Library
    • Memorial Hall (Sanders Theater and Annenberg Hall)
  • Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum
  • Observation Deck at Independence Wharf
  • HarborWalk

Where to eat in Boston – Cheap restaurants in Harvard:

Got more than 3 days? Then it’s worth checking out the best day trips from Boston:

  • Salem: Famous for the haunting Salem Witch Trials, this coastal town was once among the wealthiest in the United States. Today, it still boasts its historic architecture and numerous house-museums as remnants of its prosperous past. And yeah, of course there is no shortage of iconic sites associated with the iconic “witches”.
  • Newport: Located in the neighboring state of Rhode Island, Newport used to be a playground for old-time millionaires, who spared no expense in competing to build the most lavish mansions. As a result, Newport is now filled with palaces offering stunning views of the local rocky beaches and the Atlantic coast.
  • Plymouth: Considered the first permanent settlement in New England, the Plimoth Patuxet Museums, located in Plymouth, aim to recreate the original English village established in 1620.
  • Cape Cod: Probably the most popular summer destination among the residents of Boston, Cape Cod has some pretty extensive beaches and wonderful spots for a well-deserved R&R, with the charming town of Provincetown as the region’s postcard child. If you have the time, consider taking a ferry to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard.
  • Portland: Last but not least, we close off our list of great Boston day trips in Portland, the largest city in Maine. Enjoy the sea breeze, wander through the quaint streets of the Old Port and pay a visit to the Victoria Mansion. But whatever you do, make sure to savor the local seafood and lobster – after all, Portland is a must-visit for foodies!
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