Boston is a city steeped in history, particularly relating to the American Revolution. One of the best ways to explore this history is by following the famous Freedom Trail – a 1.6 mile or 2.5 mile walking trail through downtown Boston.
The entire trail connects 16 historical sites related to the Revolutionary era. Depending on the tour, you can do all or just some of the sites.
Guided tours led by costumed reenactors bring this history to life. Walking the trail is like taking a journey back in time to Colonial Boston and the beginnings of the American Revolution.
When we decided to start our revolutionary tour through America’s founding, we knew we needed to see where it all began. The question I had was, would the kids enjoy it?
While I may have geeked out a little more than they did, they still had a great time. Here are the highlights of the tour.
Boston Common – America’s Oldest Public Park
Our first stop on the Freedom Trail is the beautiful green expanse of the Boston Common. Established in 1634, it is America’s oldest public park.
In the early years of the colony, the Common was used as a cow pasture, but it quickly became an important gathering place for public speeches, military drills, and leisure activities.
The Common has been the site of public hangings, religious camps, victory celebrations, and more. It’s where the British Army camped before the Battles of Lexington and Concord.
Today, the Common retains its role as a public gathering place in the heart of Boston. Make sure to take some time to stroll along its tree-lined paths and appreciate this historic urban oasis.
The Golden Dome of the Massachusetts State House
Off in the distance is the imposing granite facade of the Massachusetts State House. Its brilliant gold dome is one of Boston’s most iconic landmarks.
The current State House was built in 1798 and was designed by famed architect Charles Bulfinch. It sits adjacent to the site of the former John Hancock mansion.
Inside, the State House contains the Massachusetts Senate and House of Representatives. Guided tours showcase the Doric Hall with its beautiful artifacts and paintings of famous Revolutionary heroes.
The traditional freedom tours don’t go inside the State House, but you can take a public tour afterward.
Park Street Church
As we head down the trail, the next stop is the landmark steeple of the Park Street Church at the corner of Tremont Street.
Founded in 1809, this granite church has been an important gathering place for religious and historic events.
Most famously, William Lloyd Garrison gave his first public anti-slavery speech here on July 4, 1829. The church’s 217-foot steeple was also long used as a guidance point for travelers approaching Boston from the Neck.
Make sure to appreciate the stunning architecture and history of the Park Street Church.
The Graves of Patriots at Granary Burying Ground
After passing the gleaming skyscrapers of Downtown Crossing, we come to the somber gray headstones of the Granary Burying Ground.
Established in 1660, this is the resting place of many notable Revolutionary heroes, including Paul Revere, John Hancock, and the five victims of the Boston Massacre.
The brick Egyptian Revival gate at the entrance was added in 1840. The original “Mother Goose” story writer’s tomb is also here, but it was stolen during the pandemic.
Kings Chapel and the Adjacent Burying Ground
Continuing on Tremont Street, we arrive at a very different historic church – the elegant Georgian edifice of King’s Chapel, built in 1754.
It was founded as Boston’s first Anglican church in 1686. Inside, the chapel contains one of the first organs in British North America.
The tranquil King’s Chapel Burying Ground adjacent to the church dates to 1630 and is Boston’s oldest graveyard. Notable Revolutionary figures buried here include early Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop.
You might know the site of this from the movie National Treasure. This is the church where the movie ended.
William Dawes, who rode with Paul Revere to warn of the British, is buried here.
Benjamin Franklin Statue and the Boston Latin School
Turning onto School Street, we encounter a bronze statue of Benjamin Franklin, founding father, inventor, and Boston native.
The statue stands on the original site of Boston Latin School, where Franklin attended school as a youth.
You’ll also find a famous donkey statue out front where politicians like to take pictures in front of. If you are a Democrat, hop on the Donkey. If you are a Republican, you stand in front of the donkey to stand in opposition.
The Old Corner Bookstore – A Literary Landmark
At the corner of School and Washington Streets once stood the Old Corner Bookstore, built in 1718. This historic literary landmark was home to many 19th-century publishers and authors including Ticknor and Fields, James Thomas Fields, and later John Greenleaf Whittier.
Many important American literary works were published here, like Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.
Though the bookstore itself is long gone, a commemorative plaque marks where it once stood, reminding us of Boston’s legacy as a hub of literature and publishing.
Hear the Echoes of Revolution at Old South Meeting House
Few places embody the spirit of the American Revolution as much as the soaring old timber interior of Old South Meeting House. Starting in the early 18th century, this building was one of the largest public gathering spaces in Boston.
It was the site of numerous meetings about the hated Stamp Act taxes as well as the famous pre-Tea Party rally protest against the tea tax in December 1773.
The words spoken within these walls by the likes of Samuel Adams helped spark the American independence movement.
The Old South Meeting House truly set the stage for the iconic events that followed.
Gaze Up at the Old State House
Next up is Boston’s Old State House. One of the oldest public buildings in the city, it was built in 1713 and was the center of civic activity and British government before the Revolution.
This was the seat of some of the most dramatic events on the Freedom Trail. In 1770, it was the site of a public reading of the Declaration of Independence.
In 1776, the Lion and Unicorn statues symbolizing British rule were torn down from the roof and burned in a public celebration.
Queen Elizabeth II even spoke at this location on her visit to Boston in 1976.
Remember the Boston Massacre
Right in front of the Old State House, the simple cobblestone circle marked the site of the Boston Massacre in 1770. It was here that an angry mob confronted British soldiers, leading to the deaths of five colonists.
Crispus Attucks, an African-American sailor, was the first man killed in the violent clash. He and the other victims were hailed as martyred heroes of the growing resistance against British rule.
This tragic civilian-soldier conflict helped catalyze the chain of events leading to the revolution.
Experience Faneuil Hall History
No freedom trail tour is complete without a visit to Faneuil Hall! Since 1742 this iconic building with its grasshopper weathervane has been a hub of Boston political and commercial activity.
It earned the nickname the “Cradle of Liberty” for the numerous impassioned political speeches advocating independence that were delivered there by Samuel Adams and others.
Inside you can browse the lively market shops or have a meal in America’s oldest continuously operating restaurant – the historic Union Oyster House.
Don’t forget to look at the weathervane shaped like a gilded grasshopper on the top of the building – it has graced the skyline here since 1742.
This is where a lot of the tours end, but you can also do longer tours or explore by foot to the remaining sites.
Paul Revere’s home
The next stop takes us to the home of the legendary Paul Revere. His small grey house sits in the middle of Little Italy.
You can also take tours inside. Though the house changed shape over the years, many original elements remain intact today like the pine beams and staircase.
Here, as a silversmith and activist, Paul Revere organized intelligence efforts and helped spark the independence movement through his famous Midnight Ride.
Fun fact, Paul Revere was only one rider of five to spread the word. He got most notoriety from the poem, Paul Revere’s Ride, mostly because his name was the easiest to rhyme. Samuel Prescott was the only one to complete the journey to Concord.
Freedom Trail Tour FAQ
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about taking a guided Freedom Trail Tour in Boston:
How long does the Freedom Trail Tour take?
The walking tour takes around 2 hours if done at a brisk pace with a guide. Plan for 2.5-3 hours to make time for entering buildings along the route and taking breaks.
When is the best time of year to go on the Freedom Trail Tour?
Boston’s peak tourist season is from April through October. But the tour can be enjoyed year-round as long as you dress appropriately for the New England weather!
How much does it cost?
Most guided Freedom Trail tours cost $8-17 per person. Tickets for individual sites like Paul Revere’s House are around $5. Combination tickets can save money on multiple admissions.
Where do tours start?
Most Freedom Trail tours start at the Visitor Center on Boston Common or Faneuil Hall. Tours can also be joined at any stop along the route.
Should we do a guided tour or a self-guided one?
Guided tours are highly recommended to get the most insight and bring the history to life. Guides are very knowledgeable about each site.
What are the milestones not to miss?
The top highlights are the Old State House, Faneuil Hall, Paul Revere’s House, and Old South Meeting House. But every stop has special historical importance!
How strenuous is the walking on the Freedom Trail Tour?
The terrain is largely flat along city streets and brick sidewalks. But wear comfortable walking shoes as you will be on your feet for 2-3 hours.
Our kids didn’t have any problems.
Is the trail wheelchair accessible?
Unfortunately, much of the Freedom Trail is not fully ADA accessible, due to the historic nature of the trail and buildings. Check on accessibility before going for any mobility limitations.
Experience history come to life!
My family and I recently had the opportunity to take a guided walking tour of the Freedom Trail in Boston. It was an incredibly enjoyable and educational experience that we won’t forget!
Our guide brought the historical sites to life with her captivating narration and vivid stories. You don’t have to know anything about the key events and figures from Revolutionary Boston before your trip as the guide will explain it all.
We ended up walking the tour in reveres when we were done, much later in the day to get a closer look at some of the locations. I’d encourage you to do the same. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your guide questions. There’s so much rich history to uncover along the trail.
Overall, walking the Freedom Trail gave us an invaluable window into the beginnings of American independence. I highly recommend taking a Freedom Trail tour during your visit to Boston! If you don’t want to do the official tour, just follow the line on the road and do a self-guided tour as it passes by the historic locations. Just be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes!