If you are planning to spend one day in Boston, this is the post for you! While you could easily spend several days in this city, it is possible to hit many of the main attractions in 24 hours.
Read on to learn about the TOP 10 things to do during your day in Boston.
Note: If you’re including Boston as part of a larger New England itinerary, you might also enjoy reading The Perfect 7-Day New England Road Trip from Boston.
⏰ SHORT ON TIME?
TOP THREE THINGS TO DO IN BOSTON
🚶🏻♀️Walk the historic Freedom Trail
🍕 Eat at Regina’s Pizzeria and Mike’s Pastry in North End
🌸 Explore the Boston Common and Public Garden
🛏 WHERE TO STAY
Omni Parker House or Hyatt Regency Boston Harbor
City on a Hill, Beantown, the Hub…Boston has several nicknames, but the one most commonly used by locals is the Hub. The name is shortened from “Hub of the Universe” and was originally used to describe the Massachusetts State House in the center of Boston. To this day, Boston is a hub of innovation in education, technology, science, and business – with worldwide influence and impact.
Boston is a city of many firsts in the U.S.:
- First subway system (the “T”)
- First public park (Boston Common)
- First public school (Boston Latin)
- First college (Harvard University)
- First chocolate factory (Baker Chocolate Factory)
- First U.S. marathon (Boston Marathon)
- …and many more
While exploring Boston, you will find yourself constantly gazing at a blend of old and new. The City of Boston has done an amazing job preserving the rich history of this place while also allowing for continuous growth and progress.
I am convinced that even one day in Boston will leave you with a lasting impression, making you want to come back for more.
24 Hours in Boston: TOP 10 Things to Do
This itinerary starts at Old North Church in Boston’s North End and ends in the Public Garden, with roughly 5 miles (2 hours) of walking time. The longest distance between attractions is around 1 mile (20 minutes), but you’ll notice several of them are very close together.
For several of the top 10 items listed below, I also include a few neighboring attractions you might find interesting. If you start early enough, you should be able to walk at a leisurely pace throughout the day and make time for pauses at each attraction.
The map below gives an overview of the route for 24 hours in Boston. Feel free to open the map in a new tab for the full details and to play around with the order of items.
Later in this article, I also include a few additional or alternative activities you might want to consider. You can swap one or more of the attractions in this map with these other activities to tailor the itinerary to your liking. Have fun with it!
1. Step Inside Old North Church and Walk the Freedom Trail
This one-day Boston itinerary begins in the city’s historic North End, known as Boston’s Little Italy. But before scoping out the amazing Italian food, take a walk along the Paul Revere Mall starting at Hanover Street.
Technically, the Freedom Trail begins at the Boston Common and you would take it the opposite direction all the way up to Old North Church where it ends. But you can easily follow it in reverse order, too.
For the purposes of this one-day Boston itinerary, you will cover various parts of the Freedom Trail throughout the day but won’t be following it exactly.
You could easily spend half a day or more just on the Freedom Trail, but there are lots of other places to scope out on a day in Boston, too!
2. Explore North End: Boston’s Little Italy
After seeing Old North Church, you can head back through the Paul Revere Mall to return to Hanover Street, the “main street” of North End – Boston’s Little Italy. Here you will find dozens of Italian restaurants, cafes, and bakeries, where you should definitely get a bite…or two…or three.
Hanover Street is a must-see, but it’s also worth exploring some of the side streets, like Prince Street and Thacher Street, for other great restaurants and shops.
Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park is another attraction in North End with gorgeous views of the Boston Harbor. Grab a slice of pizza or a cannoli and enjoy it by the water!
You might also want to stop by the historic Paul Revere House, one of the 16 sites on the Freedom Trail.
Here are a few Great Eateries in North End:
Regina’s Pizzeria (on Thacher Street): This pizza place has been around for nearly a century and still uses the same oven from when it first opened. The crust is the perfect combination of bready and crispy, and that sauce…mmm.
Monica’s Trattoria (on Prince Street): This family-owned restaurant has a cozy atmosphere and nice selection of wine and cocktails. The interior is beautiful with its exposed brick walls and dimmed lighting, making it a welcoming place to stop by for a meal or a drink.
Mike’s Pastry (on Hanover Street): For delicious cannolis, go to Mike’s Pastry, where they will make yours to order. It’s a close competitor with Modern Pastry that’s just down the road. Maybe get a cannoli from both places and decide which one is better?
Note: Many shops and restaurants in North End accept cash only. If you don’t have cash on hand, there are a couple ATMs within close walking distance.
3. Visit the Cradle of Liberty: Faneuil Hall Marketplace
Faneuil Hall (pronounced “fennel”) is a national historic site that first opened in 1742 (and is part of the Freedom Trail).
It was intended for the first floor to be a marketplace and the second to have a Great Hall to hold political debates and other public meetings. Today, the building is still used for very similar purposes.
When there isn’t an event happening in the Great Hall, it is open to the public for free and is fascinating to see. Perhaps one of the most moving events that often happens in this room is a naturalization ceremony for immigrants to become U.S. citizens.
Faneuil Hall is also famous for its many street performances. It’s not unusual to see a crowd gathered in front of the building watching someone do something extraordinary.
Beyond Faneuil Hall is Quincy Market (pronounced “quinzy”), which has been the central market of Boston since 1826.
If you aren’t already full from consuming Italian food in the North End, there are a bunch of take-out restaurants lined up inside of this market, with different ethnic varieties and lots of New England seafood (lobster roll, anyone?).
If you missed Regina’s Pizzeria in the North End, they have a stand inside Quincy Market as well.
Oh, and one more thing! Union Oyster House is very close to Faneuil Hall and is Boston’s longest-operating restaurant (est. 1826), an amazing place for seafood lovers.
4. See Boston’s Old City Hall and more Freedom Trail sites
Just south of Faneuil Hall, on State Street, is Boston’s Old State House. The Old State House, Old South Meeting House, Benjamin Franklin Statue, and Granary Burying Ground are all within about a 5-minute walking distance of one another.
All of these locations are part of the Freedom Trail. The Benjamin Franklin Statue is right next to the Boston Latin School (also part of the Freedom Trail) and Old City Hall. The Boston Latin School is the oldest public school in the U.S., founded in 1635.
Aaand…right next to the Boston Latin School is King’s Chapel and the King’s Chapel Burial Ground, another stop on the Freedom Trail. (Whew!) You can easily hit all of these sites within a short period of time, depending on your interest.
5. Have Lunch In Chinatown
Boston’s Chinatown is a center of Asian-American life in New England. Chinese immigrants first began populating this area of Boston in the 1890s.
While the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 minimized the number of Chinese immigrants in the country for over 60 years, once the Act was abolished, Chinatown began to grow rapidly.
You will of course find lots of amazing Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, as well as a great selection of Cambodian, Thai, Vietnamese, and Japanese food.
Unfortunately, my favorite Chinese restaurant (Gourmet Dumpling House) recently closed down, but I have heard great things about The Q that is literally right around the corner.
6. Visit Copley Square and The Boston Public Library
About a 17-minute walk west from Chinatown is the well-known Copley Square, in the heart of Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood.
The large open space hosts several fun events throughout the year, such as farmer’s markets, concerts, ice sculpture competitions, Christmas tree lightings, and more.
The Square is bordered by important landmarks, such as Old South Church, Trinity Church, John Hancock Tower, and Boston Public Library.
The Boston Public Library, founded in 1848, is definitely worth a visit. It is the third-largest library in the United States with more than 24 million items. The library is made up of two separate buildings that are connected through interior walkways.
- The McKim building is the historic part of the library and is fascinating to walk through. The entrance staircase itself is impressive, but be sure to check out the Bates Reading Room with its ornate architecture and vaulted ceiling.
- The Johnson building is the newer addition to the library and is home to most of today’s book circulation.
7. Browse Through Shops on Newbury Street
The main entrance of the Boston Public Library is on Boylston Street, and the next street north is Newbury Street.
Newbury Street is known for its traditional brownstone buildings and high-end shopping, but you can also find popular stores like Madewell, Anthropologie, Lush Cosmetics, and Sephora.
There are also plenty of small coffee shops and restaurants dotted along the street if you need a pick-me-up while shopping. I highly recommend Thinking Cup.
8. Walk along the Charles River Esplanade
Newbury Street ends just before the Charles River. Cross Storrow Drive and you’ll end up on the Charles River Esplanade, a scenic series of paths and parks that stretch for three miles along the river.
It’s a peaceful place to walk and watch boats and swans gliding on the water, with city views in the background.
Here you will also find the Hatch Shell stage where concerts, free movie showings, and other events take place throughout the year. View the current schedule here.
9. Explore Beacon Hill and Charles Street
If you walk the Charles River Esplanade all the way down to Longfellow Bridge, turn right instead of crossing the bridge and you still soon come upon Charles Street, one of the most well-known streets in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood.
Beacon Hill is quintessential, historic Boston, with its rows of brick townhouses, gaslit street lamps, antique storefronts, and cobblestone streets.
Venture off any of the narrow side roads from Charles Street to explore hidden treasures:
Museum of African American History: Beacon Hill was the birthplace of the Boston abolitionist movement and features several important historic sites related to the life of a free African American before the Civil War. Reserve a museum ticket or take a free walking tour to learn more.
Acorn Street: This is said to be one of the most photographed streets in America, and it’s easy to see why.
You will instantly feel transported to colonial Boston when you walk on the original cobblestones of this narrow street flanked by old, brick row homes. (Just keep in mind that this is a residential area and to not overstay your welcome. :))
Rouvalis Flowers: This might just be the cutest little flower shop you will ever see. Located on the corner of Pinckney Street and West Cedar Street, you’ll often find pretty displays of flowers and other greenery outside of the shop. The overall shop fits well with the romantic ambiance of Beacon Hill.
10. Wander Through The Boston Common And Public Garden
Charles Street in Beacon Hill will lead you right to the entrances of the Boston Common and Public Garden. The parks are side by side, separated only by Charles Street.
The Boston Common, established in 1634, is the oldest public park in America and the first (but in the case of this itinerary, last) stop on the Freedom Trail. It is a large recreational area filled with green spaces, paved pathways, the popular Frog Pond, and several historic monuments.
The Public Garden is the first public botanical garden in the United States, dating back to 1839. It’s a more manicured park than the Boston Common, with beautiful flower gardens and hedges. Stop by to see the famous duckling statues before heading toward the Swan Boats in the Lagoon.
Other Ideas for your day in Boston
Walk Across Longfellow Bridge to MIT
Longfellow Bridge, known to locals as the “Salt and Pepper Bridge” because of the shape of its central towers, is near the east end of the Charles River Esplanade. Instead of turning right to head toward Beacon Hill, you could cross the bridge for sweeping views of the Boston skyline.
The bridge will also take you to Kendall Square in Cambridge, near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). MIT’s campus is very different from Harvard – instead of stately brick buildings, you’ll find very futuristic architecture that looks like it should appear in a sci-fi film.
Tour Harvard University’s Campus
Also in Cambridge is the oldest university in the U.S.: Harvard University, founded in 1636. If you enjoy touring university campuses, you might want to include Harvard in your 24-hour Boston itinerary.
One of the easiest ways to get there is to hop on the T’s Red Line at Park Street (on the northeast side of Boston Common) and get off at the fourth stop: Harvard.
If you want to learn more about the school, you can also schedule a fun, guided walking tour with a current student. These tours get rave reviews.
Check Out One of America’s Oldest Bookstores
If you’re a bookworm, you will love exploring inside Brattle Book Shop, one of the oldest used bookstores in the U.S (est. 1825). The store also has lots of rare and antique books, several of which are first editions.
You could easily add Brattle Book Shop to this one-day Boston itinerary between the Benjamin Franklin Statue and Chinatown, as it’s along the way.
Walk the Entire Freedom Trail
This 24-hour Boston itinerary references 8 of the 16 sites on the Freedom Trail, but if you would like to take the full historic tour, you can reserve a guided tour or go at your own pace.
The nice thing about having a tour guide is you get to hear interesting stories about each site and ask questions as you go along.
Tour the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum
Another popular tourist attraction is the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, which is dedicated to telling the story of the Boston Tea Party.
What was the Boston Tea Party?
It was a political protest in 1773 when American colonists, angry with Britain for imposing “taxation without representation,” dumped 342 chests of tea from the British East India Company into the ocean.
The museum includes interactive exhibits and historical reenactments that showcase the events leading up to the Boston Tea Party and the role it played in the American Revolution.
Visit America’s First Public Beach
Take the T’s Blue Line all the way to the Revere Beach stop to see America’s first public beach, formally established in 1896.
If you’re looking for a chance to see the ocean and escape the noise of the city, this could be a nice break in the day. But note that it could take about an hour round-trip on the T to get there and back.
See a Show in the Downtown Theatre District
If you plan to stay into the evening in Boston, you might consider seeing a show in Boston’s Downtown Theatre District.
From plays to symphonies to comedy to concerts, there’s something for everyone. Boston Discovery Guide has a great overview of venues and events in the Theatre District.
Where to Stay in Boston
If you plan to follow the Boston day trip itinerary in this article, I would recommend getting a hotel in or near North End, so you can be conveniently located by the first stop (Old North Church).
Search for hotels in North End
Of course, you can get to North End pretty easily from anywhere in Boston, so if you find a hotel you like in a different neighborhood, the North End is just a T ride away.
How to Get Around in Boston
Boston is a very pedestrian-friendly, walkable city. If you are fine with being on your feet most of the day, you can easily visit many of the major landmarks (including all the sites mentioned in this one-day Boston itinerary) by foot.
Ride the T
Boston’s subway, the T, is another convenient and cost-effective way to get around the city. You can get to most major attractions via the T.
A single, one-way ticket costs $2.40, but an unlimited day pass costs just $11. The day pass is a great option if you think you will use the T several times. The tickets are called “CharlieTickets,” which you can purchase at most T stations.
Boston Discovery Guide also has a great T map and general riding tips.
Rent a Bluebike
Bluebikes is Boston’s public bike sharing program. There are bike stations throughout the city, as well as neighboring towns like Cambridge and Chelsea.
A single trip is $2.95 for 30 minutes and $2.50 for every 30 minutes after that. You can also purchase a day pass for $10 with unlimited two-hour rides within 24 hours.
The easiest way to purchase Bluebikes passes is through their mobile app, but you can also pay for them at the kiosks near each station.
Guided Tours of Boston
If touring the city on your own feels daunting, there are several guided tour options to choose from as well. All of these companies have been around for a while and have excellent reviews.
Boston Duck Tours: Reserve a spot on the amphibious Duck Tour vehicles that travel on both land and water, giving you different perspectives of the city. These tours last about 90 minutes with an entertaining guide the entire way.
Old Town Trolley Tours: This is a hop-on, hop-off tour that takes you to 14 different sites around Boston. You can get off at any location and spend as much time there as you want before hopping on a different trolley. The trolleys come by each stop about every 15 minutes and run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.
The Revolutionary Story Walking Tour: These two-hour tours are led by historians who are great at storytelling. Participants have raved about how entertaining and informative they are.
Wrap-up: 24 Hours in Boston
Boston is a lively city filled with both rich history and ongoing innovation. While you could easily spend a week or more here and not run out of things to do, it is more than doable to see Boston’s main attractions in one day.
Recap of Top 10 Things to Do in Boston:
- Start your day in North End, where you will fill up with the best Italian food.
- Then explore key sites on the Freedom Trail.
- Meander down to Faneuil Hall Marketplace, where you can learn about the influential events that took place in the Great Hall and sample more delicious food in Quincy Market.
- Not far away, you can swing by the Old State House, Old South Meeting House, and the Benjamin Franklin Statue to understand more about Boston’s revolutionary past.
- Walk down to Chinatown for some authentic Chinese food…
- …before heading over to Copley Square and the historic Boston Public Library.
- Shop along Newbury Street …
- …and then take a walk along the Charles River Esplanade, which will lead you to Longfellow Bridge.
- Turn right at the bridge to get to Charles Street in Beacon Hill, and enjoy exploring the quaint little shops before sneaking over to the famous Acorn Street with its original cobblestones.
- Finally, end your day by walking in America’s oldest public park, the Boston Common, and enjoying the well-kept landscaping in the Boston Public Garden.
Whether you follow this itinerary exactly, you add or replace items with some of my other suggestions, or you decide to take a guided tour, I hope you have the most wonderful time in Boston!
Are you planning to visit other places in Massachusetts as well? Check out 28 Hidden Gems in Massachusetts: Fun for All Ages!