Boston Walk: Guide to the Freedom Trail
The Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile route that zigzags through the city of Boston, Massachusetts. Sixteen stops along the trail help to tell the story of the American Revolution.
A brick-lined path winds from downtown’s Boston Common to the USS Constitution in Charlestown. Along the route there are public spaces, parks, buildings, burial grounds, and churches to discover. Exploring revolution-era sites while in the middle of a bustling city is a fascinating way to spend the day.
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Freedom Trail Location: The trail travels through the neighborhoods of Beacon Hill, Downtown, the North End, and Charlestown. It can be completed by starting at either end (it is not a loop). Most people begin on the Boston Common and end at the USS Constitution (or Bunker Hill). A red brick line connects the sites. At busy intersections you may need to search a bit for where the line picks up.
Parking: If driving, we find it easiest to park at the Constitution Center Parking Garage (1 Constitution Wharf, Charlestown, MA) as it keeps you out of the busy downtown area. Then, take a taxi from Constitution Wharf to the Boston Common Visitor Center (about $18.00). Or, walk to the Common (roughly 1.5-miles; 35 minutes). Alternatively, park at Boston Common Parking Garage (0 Charles Street, Boston MA).
Information & Maps: After arriving at Boston Common go to the Visitor Center (139 Tremont Street, Boston MA) to pick up a map of the Freedom Trail (or download one from home).
Freedom Trail Tips:
Eating/Shopping/Bathrooms – Faneuil Hall is around the route’s halfway point. Plan to stop here to recharge. You can eat and shop in Quincy Market. There are free public bathrooms in the bottom floor of Faneuil Hall, and in the market. Otherwise, public bathrooms can be hard to locate in the city without out the purchase of a product, food or beverage.
Wear comfortable footwear and dress in layers. You will be walking on pavement for much of the day, and moving from in- to outdoors. Bring bottled water and sunscreen. Keep backpacks and purses on the small size (for security purposes).
Pacing: Plan to spend around 6 hours completing the trail. Freedom Trail Sites in the downtown area are within close proximity. After Faneuil Hall, the route spreads out. Many people spend too much time at downtown sites and tire after the North End, thereby missing the Bunker Hill Monument and USS Constitution (which are fun sites).
The Route and Freedom Trail Sites
STOP 1: Boston Common
Established in 1634, the Boston Common is the oldest public park in the United States. For almost 400 years, Bostonians have gathered in this space. Puritans used the area for livestock grazing and public hangings. The British practiced military maneuvers on it. In 1897, it was the site of the first subway station in America. In 1979, Pope John Paul II celebrated his first mass in United States here.
STOP 2: Massachusetts State House
From the Information Center, follow the brick path to the top of Beacon Hill where the “new” Massachusetts State House is located. Opened in 1789, the building is the oldest continually inhabited state capitol in America. The dome was originally built of wood. In 1802, Paul Revere was hired to covert the wooden dome to copper. On the state’s 100 anniversary in 1876, it was gilded in gold. With advance reservation, the Statehouse offers free guided tours. Across the street from the Statehouse, pause to see the Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial. The relief honors one of the first African American regiments of the Civil War. The 1989 film “Glory” tell the story of the all-volunteer regiment. The sculpture, by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, is a stop on Boston’s Black Heritage Trail.
STOP 3: Park Street Church
Next, retrace your steps down the hill to the Park Street Church. The church, which still holds weekly services, was the site of the first Sunday School in America. Over the years it served as a rallying point for the anti-slavery movement, women’s suffrage, and prison reform. On July 4th, 1831, the song “My Country Tis of Thee” was performed in public for the first time here. Click here for Park Street Church information.
STOP 4: Granary Burying Ground
Return to the trail and walk to the Granary Burying Ground (named for the grain storage building that was once next door). Originally a part of Boston Common, the burial ground is the third oldest graveyard in the city (established 1660). It is the final rest place of some of Boston’s most prominent citizens. Three signers of the Declaration on Independence (Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Robert Treat Paine) are buried here, as is Paul Revere and Mary Goose (recognized as Mother Goose). On the grounds there is an obelisk for the family of Benjamin Franklin (Ben was born in Boston, but buried in Philadelphia). Finally, the victims of the Boston Massacre were laid to rest here.
STOP 5: King’s Chapel & Burying Ground
Follow Tremont Street to the corner of School Street to find the King’s Chapel. The church and burial ground, established in the 1600s, were the first in the city. Many prominent Puritans, including Governor John Winthorp and Mayflower passenger Mary Chilton are buried in the adjacent cemetery. On most days, the lovely church with its boxed pews and white columns, is open for guided tours to the public. Click here for information on King’s Chapel tours.
STOP 6: Benjamin Franklin Statue & Boston Latin School
Continue along School Street to see the original location of the Boston Latin School. Established in 1645, Boston Latin is the oldest-running public school in America. A mosaic and statue of Benjamin Franklin mark the spot of the original schoolhouse (the location of the present-day building is near Fenway Park). Four signers of the Declaration of Independence (Franklin, Adams, Hancock, and Paine) attended this free boy’s school (girls were taught at home).
STOP 7: Old Corner Bookstore
At the corner of School and Washington Street you will come to the Old Corner Bookstore (now a Chipolte Restaurant). Built in 1712, this once famous publishing house produced such titles as Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, Longfellow’s Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, and Thoreau’s Walden. The bookstore was an important meeting space for Boston’s writers including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Harriet Beecher-Stowe.
TIP: Don’t miss the Irish Famine Memorial located across the street from the Chipolte.
STOP 8: Old South Meeting House
From the Old Corner Bookstore, walk down Washington Street to Old South Meeting House. Since 1729, the church has been a haven for free speech. It was from this church that the Sons of Liberty (disguised as Mohawk Indians) departed to dump nearly 300 boxes of tea into Boston Harbor in protest of a tea tax (the Boston Tea Party) to hasten the war for independence. The church’s bell tower houses one of the 46 surviving bells created by Paul Revere. Click here for National Park Service information on Old South Meeting House tours.
STOP 9: Old State House
Retrace your steps to the Chipolte, and continue on Washington Street to the Old State House. Built in 1713, it is the oldest public building in Boston. Now surrounded by skyscrapers, this landmark was once the center of the city’s civic life. On July 4th each year, the Declaration of Independence is read from the building’s balcony. At the first reading in 1776, the crowd ripped down the British crown’s lion and unicorn symbols, and burnt them in a bonfire (they were since replaced). Click here for information on visiting the Old State House.
STOP 10: Site of Boston Massacre
Behind the Old State House is a memorial to the victims of the Boston Massacre. On March 5, 1770 a group of colonists gathered on the spot to protest months of British occupation and taxation. The crowd began throwing snowballs and rocks at the British soldiers. British muskets were discharged and 5 men died as a result. Pro-revolutionaries labeled the event a ‘massacre,’ and used the incident to rally people to their cause. There is a star in the middle of the monument; its five points signify the 5 deaths. The memorials 13 spokes signify each of the original 13 colonies.
STOP 11: Faneuil Hall
Follow the trail to Faneuil Hall (built in 1743). The marketplace and meeting hall have been nicknamed “the cradle of liberty” and “the home of free speech.” From this building, Sam Adams gave many protest speeches encouraging independence from Britain. In front of Faneuil Hall there is a statue of Sam Adams, behind it is Quincy Market (great food and shopping). Plan to spend at least an hour exploring this area.
TIP: Across the street from the Sam Adams statue is Government Center. Climb the steps for great shots of the Faneuil Hall.
STOP 12: Paul Revere House
From Faneuil Hall, take Union Street past the Holocaust Memorial and the Union Oyster House. Cross onto Hanover Street, and follow the trail through Boston’s North End to the Paul Revere house.
Built in 1680, the Paul Revere House is the oldest residential structure in the city. Paul Revere was a pro-independence colonist who lived in the home from 1770 to 1800. On April 18, 1775, he was instructed by the Sons of Liberty to warn Samuel Adams and John Adams that the British were coming to arrest them. Along the way, Revere warned other colonialists that the British were coming. The journey was immortalized in Longfellow’s poem, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”. Click here for more information about Paul Revere House tours.
STOP 13: Old North Church
TIP: Between the Paul Revere House and the Old North Church you will pass a statue of Paul Revere. The statue sits in the shadow of the church, and is a great spot to stop for photos.
Christ Church (the official name of the Old North Church) is the oldest church building in Boston (built in 1723). At the time of the revolution, the church’s steeple was the tallest point in the city. On the night of Paul Revere’s ride, a lantern in the church steeple alerted Revere that the British were advancing. Revere then spread the word, enabling colonists to ward off the initial British attack at the start of the Revolutionary War. Click here for more information about touring the Old North Church.
STOP 14: Copp’s Hill Burying Ground
From the church, the trail leads to the Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. Many of Boston’s artisans, shop keepers, and craftsmen are buried here. During the Revolutionary War, the British used this site to aim cannons at Charlestown, and to take target practice on the gravestones. Some of the markers still have bullet holes in them. Cotton and Increase Mather, two Puritan ministers associated with the Salem witch trials, are buried here as well as Prince Hall, the first African American Mason and founder of Prince Hall Masons.
STOP 15: Bunker Hill Monument
Follow the trail across the river into Charlestown. Walk past Constitution Wharf and up Breed’s Hill to the Bunker Hill Monument. It was on this site on June 17, 1775, that colonists faced the British army in the first battle of the War for Independence. Though the British claimed victory, the New England soldiers inflicted heavy casualties upon the British setting the tone for battles to come. Fifty years later, a 221-foot obelisk was erected to commemorate the battle. You can climb to the top of the monument via 294 stairs. The Bunker Hill Monument and associated museum are part of the National Park Service.
STOP 16: USS Constitution
Take the trail back down the hill to Constitution Wharf. The USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned military ship still in the water. Launched in 1797, the ship earned the name “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812. During one battle, British soldiers reported that cannon balls ‘bounced’ off the ship’s sides (made of American oak to resist rot). Click here for more information about touring the USS Constitution and Museum.
This concludes your tour of Boston’s Freedom Trail. Before heading home, check out the wharf’s restaurants and shops. Laura and Randy
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