“ City: Boston / Country: USA / World Region: North America „
The Freedom Trail is a walk through American history. It's over 2 miles long and encompasses a great deal of the city, it's a great way to see Boston and learn a few things!
You can pick up the trail at any point, it's marked by a red line on the pavements and it leads you to many of Bostons tourist attractions: the common, Mass state house, Quincy market, Faneuil hall as well as graveyards that include the graves of Samuel Adams and even Mother Goose.
You can pick up maps of the trail all over the place, there is a visitor centre on the edge of Boston Common that has useful information. We picked even picked up a map in the Cheers bar at Quincy Market, makes a nice souvenir.
Boston is a lovely city and it has a lot to offer, by doing the Freedom trail you'll see things you may want to come back to another day, in fact it's about a 2 day tour if you see all the houses etc the great thing is the trail is free to do and a lot of the attractions are free too...the State House is well worth seeing and it's still in use so is really interesting. Paul Revere house cost a few dollars to go in but the guide in there was excellent.
You can't go to Boston and not do the Freedom Trail!!
Boston is a city of contrast with old and new right next to each other. It is a very walk-able city, very different from other US cities you might come across. It feels like it had time to actually grow naturally, unlike many cities that were planned on a grid system.
You're in Boston and don't really know what to do and in what order to tackle the history of the place?
Fear not, just look down onto the ground in front of you and before you know it you see something that resembles a long, red line drawn in the middle of the pavement (sidewalk if you're in the USA).
If you are curious like me you just follow the line and see where it leads you. Before you know it you notice there is actually a system behind the line and a lot of people, mainly tourists, are following. You have stumbled across the 'Freedom Trail'.
The 'Freedom Trail' wiggles through central Boston, linking 16 colonial and revolutionary sights. The trail officially begins at the Visitors Information Booth in Tremont Street on Boston Common and runs all the way to Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown and is about 2 ½ miles long - although it appears much longer as you are not walking in a straight line but zig zag from one place to the next, up and down, and even crossing the Charlestown Bridge to get to the last few sites in Charlestown.
The sites are 'connected' by the order in which they are 'appear' and not chronologically. This makes it easy for visitors to tackle the trail in any which way they like, start at the beginning, the end or somewhere in the middle and take in as much as the trail as wanted.
I have been to Boston three times and by now have managed to walk the trail at least once in its entirety. Well, it took me three visits to finish it because there are too many other distractions along the way and you can easily get side tracked and not bother to finish the first time you are there. The trail is not going away so you can always finish it another day (or year) if you wish.
If you start at the beginning of the trail you have to start at Boston Common and the Massachusetts State House. You can't miss the State House, it's the one with the golden dome. There are free tours available during the day and it's certainly worth a look in if you have time.
You won't miss 'Park Street Church' with its triple tiered steeple nestling against some of the new shiny buildings. The church is nicknamed 'Brimstone Corner' possibly because components of gunpowder were stored here (brimstone, sulphur). However, it was also the first place where 'America (My country 'tis of three)' was sung in 1831.
The 'Granary Burying Ground' is the final resting place for famous and legendary Boston people like Paul Revere, John Hancock and Samuel Adams as well as the Boston Massacre victims and Mother Goose.
If you have time to visit the 'King's Chapel' and 'Burying Ground' you will find the grave of Mary Chilton. Legend has it that she was the first female passenger from the Mayflower who, when close to shore, hopped overboard and walked to 'Plymouth Rock'.
Along the trail are a number of other sites that can be looked at briefly without going into much detail. If you continue along the red line on the pavement you will walk past a mosaic depicting where the first public school, Boston Latin, once stood as well as a statue of its probably most famous drop out Benjamin Franklin.
The 'Old Corner Bookstore', a meeting place for some famous writers (Longfellow, Emmerson, Dickens, Louisa May Alcott and more) will be followed by a walk towards the 'Old South Meeting House' where the 'Sons of Liberty', disguised as Native Americans set off to dump crates of tea into Boston harbour as a protest against taxes.
During the revolution, the 'Old State House' was the seat of the British Government, later it became the first Commonwealth's state house. It was from the balcony of the 'State House' that the Declaration of Independence was first read to the public. Visiting this place is not free and you will be charged a fee to enter the house and museum. On the ground below the balcony is a cobblestone commemorating the site of the 'Boston Massacre'.
The Boston Massacre is a bit of an exaggeration considering 'only' five people died when soldiers shot into a crowd of people but nevertheless, if that is what makes a massacre then so be it. The five that were killed are commemorated here on the 'Freedom Trail'. However it is important to remember that the death of these people started revolts that ultimately culminated in the American Revolution.
'Faneuil Hall' and Quincy Market are actually some of my favourite places in Boston. Faneuil Hall was built as a market on the ground floor level with meeting/assembly rooms in the floor upstairs where some of the most famous and influential people (including Samual Adams) made their speeches, unfair taxes debated in revolutionary times, encouraging independence. Faneuil Hall is seen in American history as one of the most important places and is often dubbed 'The Cradle of Liberty'.
While I am all for history, this is normally where I get side tracked and leave the 'Freedom Trail' for a few hours. 'Faneuil Hall' and neighbouring Quincy Market have some of the nicest food and speciality shops, carts and boutiques in Boston and I can spend hours wandering around, looking and sometimes even buying. There are also plenty of conventional 'chain' stores around so there is something for everyone.
Paul Revere House
"Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year..."
Paul Revere, silversmith and patriot, actually owned the place at the time he went on his famous midnight ride, is one of the few places where you actually have to pay. The place is a museum now and while I was marginally interested in going in, I just didn't have the time. Next time I'm in the area I'm sure I will manage to find extra time to see the place. After all, it's not that expensive to go in, compared to other places (currently $3.00 per adult).
In between all the brick buildings, the house looks very small and unimportant. But considering its historical importance, size and look should not be underestimated. After all, it is Boston's oldest surviving building in downtown Boston.
The trail here is actually a 'white' line in red paving stones to make it stand out.
The 'Old North Church' is a place of most historical relevance and it was Robert Newman on the evening of 18 April 1775 who hung the two lanterns as a sign from Paul Revere that the British were marching to Lexington and Concord, thus igniting the American Revolution .
"... Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower, as a signal light,
One, if by land, and two, if by sea..."
To reach the last two sites on the 'Freedom Trail' you have to cross the river into Charlestown. From here you have a nice view over Boston from along the sea front. It's easy to pick up the trail again that leads to the 'USS Constitution', the oldest commissioned war ship still afloat. Tours are available.
The last stop on the 'Freedom Trail' is the 'Bunker Hill Monument', an obelisk to commemorate one of the first battles between the British and Patriots, the battle of Bunker Hill (actually fought mainly at Breed's Hill).
If you have made it to hear in one stretch then well done. There are plenty of distractions along the way and I must admit that I didn't do the last two sites on the trail until my last trip to Boston when I picked up the trail at the Paul Revere House and walked all the way over to the Charlestown sites. Because these two sites are so far out from central Boston, it feels like a drag to actually go there, after all you also have to come back the same way. And it is rather boring when you have nothing to really see apart from a nice view over Boston harbour.
One place the Freedom Trail does not come across is the 'Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum'. This attraction is separate from the trail and currently undergoing restoration and not open to the pubic. But nothing will stop you from taking a detour and popping in to see the ship and museum (once it's open for visitors again).
Next time I'm in Boston I know I will have another look and visit certain sites in more detail. There's only so much time for each site when you are trying to fit everything in and I find it is best to tackle the trail in stages or go back to places you have already been. I like historical graveyards so I will make another bee line to the ones along the trail to study in more depth.
Highly recommended if you don't have much time and want to see as much of Boston's and America's early history in the shortest of time. But don't forget, there's much more to Boston than its history. It's a great city to visit, even if you don't want to spend time looking at old buildings, there's so much more to explore and a great starting point to explore the area around the city.
There are official 'Freedom Trail' tours. They last about 90 minutes and take in 11 sites, starting at Boston Common and ending at Faneuil Hall or the other way round. If you prefer someone talk you through the finer points of the trail then you can book a tour for $12 per person (check tour times and starting points).
I purposely didn't mention any of the street names. If you follow the 'Freedom Trail' it is not necessary to know street names, after all, your route is inlayed (or painted) on the ground and there's not really that much time to look at street names, nor is it necessary.
Poem extracts from 'The Midnight Ride' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1860
A 2.5 mile red-brick walking trail that leads you to 16 nationally significant historic sites: unique collection of museums, churches, meeting houses, burying grounds, parks, a ship, and historic markers that explain the history of the American Revolution and beyond.