Select your language to auto-translate:
Self-Guided or a Tour?
So, should you take a guided tour or guide yourself? This book contains virtually everything a paid guide will share (actually, a lot more), and allows you to go at your own pace. With the free companion apps, or those available from the National Park Service (covers only the 16 official stops, but is very good, download here), you can have a wonderful visit. However, a group tour can be a lot of fun and may engage you in a way that a self-guided tour will not.
There are excellent free tours given by National Park Service (NPS) rangers. Most of the paid guided tours cost $12-15 per adult (some have senior discounts) and $8-10 for children.
Most tours run an hour or an hour and a half and concentrate on selected parts of The Freedom Trail – such as the downtown portions (Boston Common to Faneuil Hall – Stops 1 – 11), the North End (Paul Revere House, Old North Church & Copp’s Hill – Stops 12 – 14 ), or Charlestown (USS Constitution and Bunker Hill – Stops 15 – 16).
Within these time constraints, the guided tours do not allow you to spend much time within any of the Stops and will often not enter the Stops at all. Almost all will skip entering those Stops that charge a special admission fee (Old South Meeting House, Old State House and the Paul Revere House).
Recommended tour companies include:
National Park Service. The National Park Service (NPS) provides free ranger-guided tours and lectures including two 60 minute tours of The Freedom Trail (one covering downtown, the other the North End – combine them for a more complete visit), the USS Cassin Young, USS Constitution, and Faneuil Hall. They are highly recommended, well done, and the price is right. Some tours are attendance limited and first come, first served, so get there in time to get an admission sticker, usually 1/2 hour before the scheduled start. Call (617) 242 5642(617) 242 5642 for information. For web-based tour information and times, click here.
The Freedom Trail Foundation. The Freedom Trail Foundation is the official voice of The Freedom Trail, and some of the proceeds from their tours goes to support the Trail. They offer a variety of quality tours given by costumed actors. For web-based information, click here.
Boston By Foot. Boston By Foot is a non-profit organization that uses unpaid volunteer guides that are well trained and have in-depth knowledge. They offer a variety of tours, including some geared to children. You do not need an advance ticket, just show up and pay the guide. Their approach is more in depth than many other companies, and they are very good. For web-based information, click here.
There are many other quality tour companies, some with specially tours such as for photographers or historic pub crawls. Search Google for “Boston Walking Tours” or TripAdvisor for “Freedom Trail, Boston.”
The entire Freedom Trail is only 2.7 miles, but seeing it all in one day will be difficult, especially if you want to spend time visiting any Stop. To help you plan, I’ve provided a quick assessment of each of the official 16 Stops, its significance to the Revolutionary period, and the recommended time needed for a visit.
Beneath the Stop Review section below, you will find itinerary recommendations with alternatives for 1/2 day and full day self-guided visits. For a two day visit, combine two of the day or four of the 1/2 day itineraries. Most of the downtown Stops (1 through 11) are close together. If including a guided tour, plan accordingly based on what that tour covers.
Walking directly from Boston Common to Faneuil Hall is only about .6 miles (1 km) and takes less than 15 minutes. Walking from downtown Stop 11 (Faneuil Hall) to Stop 12 (Paul Revere House) in the North End takes 10-15 minutes. The Charlestown Stops are another 15+ minute walk from the last Stop in the North End (Copp’s Hill Burying Ground), and there is a 10+ minute walk between the USS Constitution and Bunker Hill. There are no MBTA stations convenient to the Charlestown Stops.
Stop 1 – Boston Common. A great old park, but unless you want to walk around and enjoy the outdoors, there is not much of prime historical importance to see. There is a good playground for younger children at Frog Pond.
Stop 2 – The State House. There are excellent guided tours and it is a fascinating and elegant old building, Plan 1.5-2 hours to pass through security and take the tour. While it is worthwhile, there is not much relating to the Revolutionary period as the State House was built after the Revolution. Take the time to view St. Gauden’s Robert Gould Shaw & MA 54th Memorial across the street at the edge of Boston Common.
Stop 3 – Park Street Church. Closed for viewing except during the summer. Unless you take a tour, it will not take much time. There is little of primary Revolutionary significance.
Stop 4 – Granary Burying Ground. This is the final resting spot for Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, the Boston Massacre victims, Mother Goose and others. Plan about 15 minutes to walk through.
Stop 5 – King’s Chapel. Great old church usually open for viewing. Plan 15 minutes to walk through, more if taking the fun Bell & Bones tour.
Stop 5a – King’s Chapel Burying Ground. The oldest in Boston, plan about 10 minutes to walk through and view the old stones. Not much of Revolutionary significance as the Burying Ground was full well before 1700.
Stop 6 – Boston Latin, Old City Hall, Franklin Statue. Everything is outside (there is no interior viewing of Old City Hall). Plan 5-10 minutes to view the outside plaques. If you want to see the Province House steps, plan for another 5 minutes to walk up Province Street.
Stop 7 – Old Corner Book Store. You will walk by and see the house, which now houses a Chipotle Mexican Grill. Nothing to tour.
Stop 8 – Old South Meeting House. Plan 1/2+ hour to view inside and the exhibits. The Meeting House is interesting given the number of important Revolutionary-era meetings that took place here. There are interpretive exhibits that place the building and its events in history and a good three dimensional map of Revolutionary-era Boston that highlights key locations – fascinating given the city’s changing topography. Check their web site for other programs. Benjamin Franklin’s birthplace and the Irish Memorial are directly across the street and are quick to see.
Stop 9 – Old State House. The Old State House features excellent docent-given tours and talks that cover the building and Revolutionary events. The museum has some good displays and exhibits. Plan about an hour or more to visit and take a tour. Highly worthwhile.
Stop 10- Boston Massacre Site. This is a plaque embedded in the street directly below the balcony of the Old State House. This is a walk-by with a photo opportunity.
Stop 11 – Faneuil Hall. This is a great old and important building. Go inside and enjoy a ranger-led talk (given every 30 minutes). Plan for 30-45 minutes to visit the Hall. The Faneuil Hall Marketplace (Quincy Market) is located next door, and is a good place to stop, get something to eat or shop. Plan accordingly. The new National Park Service Visitor Center is located on the first floor of Faneuil Hall.
Note: From Faneuil Hall, it is a 15 minute walk to the next official Stop, the Paul Revere House, in the North End. On the way, you pass some interesting unofficial Stops in the Blackstone Block area – the Holocaust Memorial, Union Oyster House, Marshall Street, and the Ebenezer Hancock House. The Blackstone Block is also a good, less commercial place to take a break or to eat. Some of the local restaurants feature good lobster specials at lunch.
Stop 12 – Paul Revere House. Built in 1680, it is the oldest structure remaining in Boston. It is a good example of a period dwelling and you will gain insights into Paul Revere’s life. The costumed docents provide interesting descriptions of the house and the Revere family. Visiting is worthwhile, but the house is small, consisting of only four rooms. Plan for about 1/2 hour.
Note: It is about a 10 minute walk through the North End to the next stop. The North End is also an excellent place to stop for lunch. It has a very European feel and many wonderful restaurants.
Stop 13 – Old North Church. A beautiful and important church, the oldest remaining in Boston. A walk through takes 15 minutes, the worthwhile Behind-the-Scenes tour another 30.
Stop 14 – Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. A 5 minute walk up hill from the Old North Church. Plan about 10-15 minutes to walk through the Burying Ground. There are a few interesting graves, a headstone used by the British for target practice, and a nice view of the harbor.
Note: From here there is another 15+ minute walk across the bridge to Charlestown and the next Stop, the USS Constitution.
Stop 15 – USS Constitution and the Charlestown Navy Yard. Visiting the Constitution and the Museum can easily be a half day visit. For the Constitution alone, plan at least an hour to pass through security, view the small museum and take the guided tour of the ship. The very good USS Constitution Museum (different from the small museum attached to the Constitution), is worth another hour. A walk around the WWII Destroyer USS Cassin Young will take another 1/2 hour. Walking around the Navy Yard area is also a pleasure; there is only one restaurants in the Yard. This is a highly worthwhile 1/2 day, especially for children, who will enjoy exploring the ships.
Note: There is another 15 minute walk between the Charlestown Navy Yard and the Bunker Hill Monument and Museum. For a historic lunch, try the Warren Tavern, which is only a short detour between the two sites.
Stop 16 – Bunker Hill Monument. To tour the monument area, plan about 15-20 minutes, unless you plan to make the 294-step ascent to the top. That is a fun activity and provides a spectacular view of Boston and the surrounding area. If climbing the Monument, plan 1/2 hour. To visit the Bunker Hill Museum, which is excellent and best seen before the monument, plan another 1/2 to full hour. The museum features exhibits on the battle and Charlestown history, and has Ranger-guided programs – great for children. If you have time, visit the Museum before the Monument. Highly recommended.
1/2 Day Tour Alternatives
Option 2: (Downtown and North End): Walk by Stops 1 – 3, visit Stops 3 – 5, walk by 6- 10, visit 11, walk by 12, visit 13 and 14. Lunch and break in Faneuil Hall Market, the Blackstone Block or the North End.
Option 3: (Charlestown – USS Constitution and Bunker Hill): Visit Stop 15 USS Constitution (bypass the Constitution Museum and USS Cassin Young), visit Bunker Hill Monument and Museum. Lunch at the Warren Tavern or at the Navy Yard.
Option 4: (Charlestown, USS Constitution): Spend a full 1/2 day visiting the USS Constitution, the Museum, USS Cassin Young and walk around the Navy Yard. Lunch at the Navy Yard or across the Bridge in the North End.
Option 5: (A little Downtown, free ranger-guided tour, North End, USS Constitution – requires a lot of walking and tour-time coordination): Start at Stop 11, Faneuil Hall, and listen to the NPS Great Hall talk, take the NPS tour that goes to the North End, visit Stops 13 – 15, take the Water Shuttle back to Long Wharf.
Full Day Tour Alternatives
Boston and the North End: Walk by Stops 1-3, visit Stops 3-5, walk by 6-7, visit 8 and 9, walk by 10, visit 11, lunch or break in Faneuil Hall Market, the Blackstone Block or the North End, visit 12-14.
Charlestown: spend a full 1/2 day visiting the USS Constitution, the Constitution Museum, USS Cassin Young and walk around the Navy Yard, lunch around the Navy Yard or at the Warren Tavern, visit the Bunker Hill Monument and Museum.
If you want to visit the entire Freedom Trail in a single day, it is recommended that you combine Options 2 and 3. It will be busy and there is a lot of walking, but you will have a great time.
What would I do?
Without question, if I only had 4-5 hours, I’d recommend Option 5, especially with kids. This requires planning to fit in the National Park Service ranger tours, but is absolutely worth it. Start at Faneuil Hall and attend a Great Hall ranger talk (every 1/2 hour) and get a sticker for the ranger-tour that goes to the North End (currently at 12, 2 & 3 PM – stickers available 1/2 hour prior. Confirm times at the NPS visitor center.) After the ranger tour, visit Old North Church (Stop 13), walk through Stop 14, then walk quickly to Stop 15 and take the USS Constitution tour. Take the Water Shuttle back to Long Wharf (every 1/2 hour during non-commuting hours). Grab lunch where you can.
If I only had half a day, wanted to self-guide, and could not coordinate times for Option 5, I’d recommend Option 2 with a lobster lunch in the Blackstone Block. See as much as you can, and the North End has fantastic character and a European feel. Don’t miss a Faneuil Hall tour or a visit to the Old State House. If you are not from New England, the lobster is not to be missed.
If I had a full day, combine Options 2 and 3. The downtown stops are great and I love the Navy Yard and USS Constitution (it is easy to spend too much time here). Bunker Hill and the Bunker Hill museum are excellent. Have a lobster lunch in the Blackstone Block or grab some character and a Paul Revere Burger at the Warren Tavern in Charlestown (I’d choose the lobster, but it may be too early in your day).
Great Side Trips
In my work with travelers at the National Park, I most often get asked about side trips to Harvard Square, Lexington and Concord. Visitors should also consider the wonderful Adams National Historical Park in nearby Quincy, especially if you have seen the HBO mini-series. The Harbor Islands are a joy – lots of fun, plenty to do, and a great diversion from city activities; not to mention a wonderful ride through the harbor. Go if you have time.
All of these destinations are reachable by public transportation (although getting to Lexington and Concord does take a little work) and can be visited in 1/2 day; although a visit to both Lexington/Concord and the Minuteman NHP requires more, and is worth it. If I only had 1/2 a day, I’d recommend a Harvard Square walking tour; but a close second would be the Adams NHP.