Boston with Kids – The 2016 Guide

Updated September 2, 2016

See Also

Tips for Boston with Kids

THE 21 BEST THINGS TO DO IN BOSTON WITH KIDS

1. New England Aquarium

June 30 to September 1 Sunday to Thursday: 9am – 6pm, Friday to Saturday: 9am – 7pm; rest of year Monday to Friday: 9am – 5pm, Saturday-Sunday: 9am – 6pm. Reviews
Best Attractions: Boston for Kids
The fantastic finny creatures at home in the excellent New England Aquarium will delight everyone from toddlers to teens. Three kinds of penguins, sharks, sea turtles and exotic lionfish and sea dragons are among the hundreds of varieties. The show-stopper is the four-story Giant Ocean Tank showing off the colorful inhabitants of its Caribbean coral reef. Out back, Northern fur seals and California sea lions cavort and Atlantic harbor seals swim out front. Kids can actually hold sea stars and hermit crabs at the aquarium’s touch tank. The Aquarium is popular, especially on weekends, so avoid lines by buying timed tickets in advance on their web site. Check the activity schedule to time your visit to take some of the special daily activities like penguin feedings, harbor seal training sessions, live animal presentations and divers descending into the Ocean Tank. The Aquarium also shows nautical-themed films on New England’s largest I-Max screen.

2. Boston Children’s Museum

Daily 9am – 5pm, Fridays to 9pm. Reviews
Best Attractions: Boston for Kids
One of the oldest and largest children’s museums in the world, founded in 1913, this engaging learn-and-play wonderland has pioneered many popular museum activities like bubble-blowing and raceways. It introduced the first hands-on exhibits and Playspace, the first exhibit designed specifically for young children. The innovations continue. There’s nothing quite like their New Balance Climb, a three-story enclosed vertical maze that challenges delighted kids to climb higher and find paths to climb out, all the while enjoying panoramas of downtown Boston through the wide windows. Other cultures can be explored with exhibits such as the walk-in Japanese House, an authentic two-story silk merchant’s home, a gift from the city of Kyoto. A full program of activities and events including performances, art and craft workshops keeps everyone busy. This is a don’t-miss treat for young children. To save, come on Fridays from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. when admission is only $1.

3. Museum of Science

Daily 9am – 5pm, Friday to 9pm. Reviews
Best Attractions: Boston for Kids
An entertaining introduction to science and technology recommended for children from third grade and up, this museum offers intriguing experiences such as watching indoor lightning bolts produced by the world’s largest air-insulated Van de Graaff generator, learning to think like a scientist by finding answers to a question in the Investigation Station and sampling engineering design in Design Challenge. A Birds World, a virtual tour of Acadia National Park, includes specimens of every bird found in New England. Live animal exhibits, an enclosed butterfly garden, planetarium shows and I-Max films are other offerings to fill out a visit. Check the web site for many special presentations. Families with younger children can come for the live animal story time for preschoolers held daily at 10:30am.

4. The Freedom Trail – National Park Service Visitor Center, Fanueil Hall

Daily 9am – 6pm. Reviews
Best Attractions: Boston for Kids
Countless families have gotten a lively lesson in American history following the 2 1/2-mile, red-brick line of Boston’s Freedom Trail, where sites such as the Old South Meeting House,and Old State House bring to life the events that led to American Independence. For young travelers,it’s probably better to do the trail in sections. Begin at Boston Common for the central sights, at Fanueil Hall for the Paul Revere House and Old North Church as well as the chance for a tasty meal in Boston’s very Italian North End. The Trail is part of Boston National Historic Park maintained by the National Park Service. Brochures for self-guided tours and many guided tours are available at the park’s Fanueil Hall Visitor Center as well as at the Boston Common Visitors Center at 148 Tremont Street. You can also opt for a hop-on, hop-off trolley tour or a special one hour walking tour designed for children ages 6 to 12 (and their parents) called Boston by Little Feet (bostonbyfoot.com, 617-367-2345).

5. Boston Common

Open daily. Reviews
Best Attractions: Boston for Kids
America’s oldest public park, a 50-acre retreat in the heart of the city, is a place where kids can romp and recharge and amid greenery and history. Cattle once grazed on this green and British troops camped here. In the 19th century Bostonians transformed the park with trees, statues, monuments and the 22-foot-tall ,bronze Brewer Fountain. There was plenty of room for the crowds who came to hear speeches by everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to Pope John Paul II and for anti-war demonstrators. For today’s families, the common includes ball fields, the Parkman Bandstand and the Frog Pond, which becomes an ice skating rink in winter and a spray pond for children in summer, with a carousel and a playground nearby.

6. Public Garden

Open daily. Swan boat rides, mid-June to Labor Day 10am – 5pm, mid-April to mid-June and Labor Day to mid-September, 10am – 4pm. Reviews
Best Attractions: Boston for Kids
Any child who has read Robert McCloskey’s much-loved book, Make Way for Ducklings will want to see the Public Garden where it took place and to pay respects to the statues honoring Mrs. Mallard and her brood, who were immortalized in the classic tale. Then it’s time for a 20-minute swan boat ride on the lagoon, a Boston tradition just as delightful today as when it was begun over 100 years ago. Created in the Victorian era two centuries after the neighboring Common, the smaller Public Garden was planned as a botanical garden with rich floral plantings that span the seasons and a lagoon where ducks and swans are at home. It remains a beautiful oasis for a stroll in the heart of the city.

7. Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum

Daily 10am – 5pm. Reviews
Best Attractions: Boston for Kids
Toss your own bag or tea overboard as you learn about the famous protest that helped change the course of American history. Start at the Meeting House where you can grab a protest handbill from one of the “colonists “and hear the story of the fateful night of December 16, 1773. You’ll be given a “Mohawk” disguise and join the Sons of Liberty marching to Griffin’s Wharf to board a ship and dump tea beside the patriots, protesting the unfair British tax on tea for the colonies. It was one of the first defiant acts that roused Americans to war and to freedom. This is fun and informative but expensive. Save a bit by buying tickets online.

8. USS Constitution and Bunker Hill

Ship tours: Tuesday to Friday: 2pm – 6pm. Saturday & Sunday, 10am- 6pm.
Closed Mondays. Museum: Daily April 1 to October 31, 9am – 6pm, rest of year, 10am – 5pm. Bunker Hill Monument, daily 9am – 5pm, last climb, 4:30pm. Reviews
Best Attractions: Boston for Kids
The USS Constitution, better known as “Old Ironsides” is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world. It launched in 1797, built by order of George Washington to protect America’s ports. She earned her nickname fighting the British during the war of 1812 because cannonballs seemed to bounce off her wooden hull. She was never defeated in battle. In 2015, the Constitution went into dry dock in the Charleston Navy Yard for a three-year restoration. It remains open for public tours as does the USS Constitution Museum where hands-on exhibits show what life was like at sea over 200 years ago. .Kids have a chance to swing in a hammock and have a go at furling a sail.

Nearby is the 221-foot tall hilltop Bunker Hill Monument marking the site of the first major battle of the American Revolution in 1775. Colonel William Prescott’s famous command here, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” was to insure that each shot counted for the overmatched rebels, who bravely managed to repel two British assaults. Climb the 294 steps to the top of the monument for a towering view.

9. Boston Duck Tours

Tour times may vary with seasons; best to double-check current offerings. From Prudential Center: Daily, March 21 to November 30 & Fridays, Saturday, & Sunday in December, Every half hour 9am to one hour before sunset. From Museum of Science: Daily from March 21 to November 30, Every Hour or half hour, 9am until one hour before sunset. From New England Aquarium: Daily from June 16 to September 2, starting at 12:00pm, hours vary rest of year so best to check. Reviews
Best Attractions: Boston for Kids
There’s no quack-ier way to see the sights than these lighthearted 80-minute tours aboard a W.W.II style amphibious landing vehicle. “ConDUCKtors” mix lots of humor with the facts as you travel past Boston landmarks, and they encourage passengers at special stops to greet passers-by with a chorus of quacks. The grand finale is the splash down right into the Charles River for a cruise with views of the Boston and Cambridge skylines. This is a good introduction to the city, especially since ticket holders can later receive discounts at the Museum of Science and the New England Aquarium. You can board at either of these two locations or at the Prudential Center.. Early birds who tour before 10 a.m. get a discount if they book online. Tours are expensive; it pays to look for other discounts online.

10. Quincy Market

Monday to Saturday: 10am – 9pm, Sunday: Noon – 6pm; shorter hours in winter, best to check. Reviews
Best Attractions: Boston for Kids
In Boston, even markets come with history. Quincy Market is sometimes known as Faneuil Hall Marketplace because one of its structures, Faneuil Hall, was built in 1742 as Boston’s first market. A stop on the Freedom Trail, Faneuil Hall became a gathering place for patriots plotting protests. As the city population grew, more market space was needed and Quincy Marketplace was added in the 1800s.The fine market building is made of New England granite with brick interior and features Roman-style Doric columns and a large copper-covered central dome. In the 1970s, the market was restored and enlarged as a tourist destination. The scene now bustles with dozens of shops, restaurants, pushcarts, food stands and street entertainers, a colorful stop for a meal or a snack. Visit a vendor and take your food to the benches outside; almost surely there will be street musicians to provide fun with your meal.

11. Franklin Park Zoo

April 1 to September 30: 10am – 5pm, weekdays: 10am – 6pm. Saturday, Sunday, & Holidays and the rest of the year daily: 9am – 4pm. Reviews
Best Attractions: Boston for Kids
A wide world of animals awaits at this top-notch 72-acre zoo, with many features especially for young visitors. See lions and striped bongos roaming the Kalahari Kingdom and giraffes and zebras in their wide open Giraffe Savana. Stop into the enclosed Aussie Aviary where bright-colored “budgies” may come to rest on your feed stick, and watch the butterflies flutter around you in the tented Butterfly Landing. Children can pet friendly sheep and dwarf goats on the Franklin Farm and have their own small world at the Children’s Zoo. Don’t miss the Zookeeper Gorilla Encounter at the Tropical Forest exhibit each day at 2 p.m. There’s a lot of outdoor walking at the zoo so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and dress appropriately for heat or cold. You can cut down on walking with a tour on the little red train ride. More kid-size fun awaits on carousel rides and a wildlife themed playground.

12. Fenway Park

Hourly tours daily year-round from 9am – 5pm unless games are scheduled. Reviews
Best Attractions: Boston for Kids
America’s oldest ballpark, inaugurated in 1912, is loaded with nostalgia and is a special experience for anyone with any interest in sports. Whatever your team, it is fun to see the exuberant fans of Red Sox Nation and the wealth of memorabilia in the stadium concourses. Don’t miss sampling a Fenway Frank, the king of ballpark hot dogs. If you can’t attend a game, take the one-hour guided tour to enjoy mementos of greats like Ted Williams and Babe Ruth, and photos tracing the park over the years. Check out the red seat marking the spot where Ted Williams hit a 502-foot home run, and the hand-operated scoreboard that remains for old times’ sake. Marvel at the “Green Monster, the wall standing 37 feet, 2 inches high to challenge the mightiest hitters.. Note that tour tickets are not available in advance, sold only on the day of the tour

13 Museum of Fine Arts

Daily 10am – 4:45pm, Wednesday to 9:45pm. Reviews
Best Attractions: Boston for Kids
Founded in 1840, the MFA is one of America’s oldest and most comprehensive art museums with major collections of Impressionist and Asian art and an entire wing devoted to Art of the Americas from Colonial times to the present.. Family Activity Totes, available free at the Sharf Visitor Center, are filed with self-guided gallery activities for kids, and a sketchpad and colored pencils to make a visit more fun. Art Connections sheets can be downloaded or picked up at the Visitor Center to help kids search for objects and images in the art, from dogs to dragons to chocolate. A children’s audio guide for ages 6 to 10 is offered for the Art of the Americas and Contemporary collections. Note that kids age 7 to 17 are admitted free during non-school hours (weekdays after 3 p.m. and weekends) and everyone can pay what you wish on Wednesdays after 4 pm.

14. The Esplanade

Open daily. Reviews
Best Attractions: Boston for Kids
When it’s time for a break, head for the Esplanade, parkland along the Charles River running for three miles from the Museum of Science to the Boston University Bridge. The park offers walking and biking trails, playgrounds, boat rentals and plenty of scenic open space for ball playing, kite-flying, or picnicking. Rent a Hubway bike in front of the Fiedler Footbridge or just relax on a bench to watch the skateboarding action and the sailboats on the river. The Hatch Memorial Shell is the scene of free summer family films known as Friday Night Flicks and many concerts, including the big Fourth of July celebration with the Boston Pops. Locals advise that you can take in a gala concert on July 3rd without having to brave the big crowds. See descriptions of three playgrounds below.

15. Whale Watch Cruises

April through October. Reviews
Best Attractions: Boston for Kids
Boston is prime whale-watching territory. Humpback, minke finback and right whales return each year to the rich offshore feeding grounds off Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary. These giants put on quite a show, especially the humpbacks, who fling their 50-foot, 40-ton bodies into the air and then crash with mammoth belly flops. They slap their flippers, bang their massive tails, and blow clouds of bubbles, delighting viewers and photographers. The best choice is the 3-hour cruise by Boston Harbor Cruises in partnership with the New England Aquarium. Their speedy catamaran gets to the sanctuary in a hurry, leaving more time for viewing. Aquarium-trained naturalists are on hand to tell about the whales as well as the dolphins and sea birds attracted to the sanctuary. This outing is better suited to older children who will appreciate the high-speed ride. Bring a warm jacket and sunscreen. Ocean waters can be rough, so seasickness medication may be a wise precaution.

16. Ice cream Treats

Best Attractions: Boston for Kids
Good boys and girls deserve an ice cream break and Boston has some unique local treats to share. Emack and Bolio (29 Newbury Street or 140 Brookline Avenue near Fenway Park)) has a rock and roll history. It began in 1975 in a cellar as a place where bands could go to jam after midnight when Boston’s Blue Laws closed the clubs. Specialties include oversize flavored cones dipped in chocolate and rolled in toppings and outrageous flavors like Chunk o’ Funk and Cosmic Crunch. Equally popular is J.P. Licks (150 Charles Street), named for its first store opened in Jamaica Plains in 1981. The menu of home-made ice cream changes every month and this is the place to sample an only-in-Boston specialty known as a frappe, similar to a milkshake but made with ice cream

17. Prudential Sky Walk Observatory

10am – 8pm, summer hours to 10pm. Reviews
Best Attractions: Boston for Kids
The Skywalk Observatory on the 50th floor of the Prudential Tower, Boston’s tallest buildings, offers spectacular 360 degree views of Greater Boston and beyond. On a clear day you can see for 100 miles, to the beaches of Cape Cod to the south and the mountains of New Hampshire to the north. Everyone receives an Acoustiguide audio tour to help pick out the city’s most interesting sites, and there’s a special version for children. Tickets also include a visit to the Dreams of Freedom museum, tracing the many nationalities that make up the multi-lingual Boston population (more than 240 languages!) and two short multi-media films, “Wings Over Boston,” and “Dreams of Freedom.” No worries about weather, as the glass-walled Observatory is completely indoors, but be sure to choose a clear day.

18. Legoland Discovery Center

Sunday to Thursday: 10am – 5pm, Saturday-Sunday: 10am – 7pm. Reviews
Best Attractions: Boston for Kids
A fun break for the kids, Legoland is an indoor playland for ages 3 to 10. Visitors can build with Lego blocks, race Lego cars and get inspired at Miniland, where replicas of Boston’s best buildings are displayed, completely made of Lego bricks. Those who want to learn block-building tricks can sign up for workshops at the Model Builder Academy. Two imaginative indoor rides include Kingdom Quest Laser Rider, offering laser wands to zap enemies, and Merlin’s Apprentice, where travelers must pedal hard to make the ride go higher. Two play zones with Fireman and Construction themes offer a chance to get active, with slides, a jungle gym and climbing walls. The Assembly Row stop on the Orange Line of the “T” subway will take you from downtown Boston directly to the location in the suburb of Somerville in about 35 minutes. Plan to spend two or three hours.

19. Boston Beaches

Beach season in Boston: mid-May to mid-October
Best Attractions: Boston for Kids
Families visiting Boston in warm weather can add a bonus to the trip with a day at the beach. The closest choice is Castle Island, 22 aces south of Logan Airport where you can tour Fort Independence, a site dating to Colonial days, take scenic walks along the harbor, fly a kite or toss a frisbee, enjoy the beach and a big playground. To get there, you can drive, take the #9 bus or ride the Red Line T to Broadway Station, then transfer to bus #9 or #11. Just don’t come on weekends when Bostonians crowd the facilities.

Even more of an adventure is the ferry ride to the Boston Harbor Islands. There are 34 islands, maintained by a partnership of national and state park services, six of them accessible by ferry. Each has attractions—tours of America’s oldest lighthouse or historic Fort Warren, boating, hiking, and more. For beaches, the best choice is Spectacle Island, and a half-hour ferry ride from Long Wharf North will get you there.

20. John F. Kennedy Library

Daily 9am – 5pm. Reviews
Best Attractions: Boston for Kids
Presidential libraries offer a uniquely personal look at history and this tribute to John F. Kennedy will interest any child who has studied American history in school. The vibrant young president whose life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet was responsible for many important innovations that are part of life today, including the Peace Corps, space exploration and televised press conferences. Clips of those press interviews show off the ready wit of the charismatic late president. Three theaters with interesting films and some 25 multi-media exhibit help bring to life events like the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War. The striking I.M. Pei library building is set on 10 acres on Boston’s waterfront and offers a scenic Harborwalk and picnic grounds. Kennedy’s 26-foot sailboat Victura is on display from May to October.

21. The Best Playgrounds in Boston

Best Attractions: Boston for Kids
(Remember to bring a swimsuit or a change of clothes for water sprays)

1) Tadpole Playground, Frog Pond – Swings, slides, water play and whimsical frog sculptures make this Boston Common play space a kids’ favorite.

2) The Esplanade – Take your choice of three options: for ages 5-12, Playspace (climbing, swinging, zip line), Charlesbank (tunnels, tubes, slides, swings), or Stoneman,
(more climbing, fire pole, monkey bars and a separate toddler section for ages 3 and under).

3) Christopher Columbus Park – If you follow the Freedom Trail to the North End, continue to this waterfront park with a playground and water spray. Popular with school group tours so come early morning or late afternoon on school days.

4) Franklin Park – This beautiful 485-acre park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park fame offers three playground choices: El Parquesito de Hermandad with climbing, a double slide, zip line, and water spray; Tiffany Moore with a Tot Lot for little ones; and the American Legion Highway Play Area for all ages.

5) Paul Revere Park, Charlestown – If you visit Charlestown, this newer park where the Charles River meets Boston Harbor has lots of open space for running and games, and a fenced in playground good for all ages.

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