Downtown Boston just after sunset, from LoPresti park

24 Hours in Boston, Massachusetts from a Bonafide Local

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Boston is an incredible city with a mixture of the new and old. As one of the top 30 biggest US cities, Boston boasts a vibrant downtown, miles of waterfront, and a mix of colleges, universities, and major corporation headquarters.

Having lived in Boston for many years, we have many favorite places to visit. In our 24 hours in Boston, we’ll hit some of the historic sites, visit some of the new modern buildings, and then enjoy some time in and on the water.

Everything we list is within a short walk from a subway station, so no need for a car. Get an unlimited MBTA Day Pass and let’s get going. Although we couldn’t possibly show you everything Boston has to offer in a day, we hope that this quick tour will cause you to want to come back.

How to Spend One Day in Boston, Massachusetts from a True Local Expert

Advice on exploring all of the hidden gems during your 24 hours in Boston by someone who has lived in the city, not just a traveler passing through. Go beyond the best things to do in Boston and discover the local favorites.

Morning of Your 24 Hours in Boston

Downtown Boston - the Old State House
Downtown Boston – the Old State House

Explore the Historic Downtown

The Historic Downtown Area consists of several buildings, some dating back as far as the 1700s. The Bell in Hand Tavern is heralded as America’s oldest continuously operating bar, serving its first drink back in 1795. Nearby is the Union Oyster House, which claims to be the oldest restaurant in America, starting service in 1826. Both are listed on the registry of historical buildings.

Not far from there is Faneuil Hall Marketplace & Quincy Market, which includes dozens of shops and restaurants in three buildings. It’s a great place to stop for breakfast. There are nearly always street performers around Faneuil Hall that are fun to watch. Just note that they’ll want to collect tips when they are finished with their performance.

If you want to learn more about the history of Boston, there is a Faneuil Hall Visitor Center with lots of maps and brochures.

Other notable historic sites within walking distance are the Old State House, the original seat of the colonial government. Now home to a museum on the main floor and a subway station in the basement.

Just up the street heading towards the water is the location of the Boston Tea Party. Heading in the other direction is the Old North Church which is famous for Paul Revere’s “one if by land, two if by sea” warning and ride.

Indulge at the Boston Public Market

Vegetables at Boston Public Market
Vegetables at Boston Public Market

From North End toward downtown is the Boston Public Market, which is a collection of 28 vendors selling New England-based products. You can pick up everything from ice cream to coffee to bagels and seafood, and the place smells incredible. I would strongly recommend getting some Union Square Donuts and Crescent Ridge Ice cream while you’re there. During the summer, you’ll often see fresh fruit and vegetable vendors set up in the road on Hanover Street just outside of the Boston Public Market.

If you’re looking for a moment of quiet reflection, the New England Holocaust Memorial is also between North End and Government Center. It is a very good, thought-provoking memorial. From here, you’ll also see the back of the Boston City Hall, built in 1968, and commonly regarded as the ugliest building in Boston.

It was built using brutalist architecture. Go ahead, take the time to walk around it, and really take it all in. Trust us, the inside isn’t any better than the outside. Locals called for the building to be demolished before they were even done building it.

Take a Peak at the New England Aquarium

Heading back down towards the water, plan to spend a few hours at the New England Aquarium on Central Wharf. With over 2,000 animals and one of the largest aquarium tanks in the world, you could get lost in this place for hours.

Before you even enter the building, you get a sneak peek of the seals through some glass windows. Upon entering, you first get to see some adorable penguins as you weave your way up the ramp and around the central tank into even more types of marine animals.

If you get to the top of the tank during a feeding time (which is scheduled and published), you’ll really get to see a fun show. They have a touch tank as well and don’t forget to head outside to see the seals and sea lions in their enclosure. Also on the same site is Simon’s 3D Theatre with ocean-theme movies.

Afternoon of Your One Day in Boston

usa boston with building 4931506
Explore the modern buildings at Boston University during your 24 hours in Boston

Admire the Old and the Young at Boston University

For some more modern activities, start at Boston University, right alongside the Charles River. Arguably one of the most modern buildings in Boston, the BU Computing & Data Sciences building is located right in the middle. Try to figure out how they get the building to stay up with a design like that.

The Boston University Campus is nearly a mile long, stretching between Boston University Bridge and the Harvard Bridge. Boston University is home to some of the oldest university buildings in Boston, along with some of the most modern. So, if you love architecture, a walk down these streets will need to be on your to-do list.

You’re also near the infamous Fenway Park if you love baseball, go for the park tour. You’ll learn about the Green Monster and the history of that one lone red seat. Tours are offered daily, every hour, all year round.

Grab lunch at the Prudential Center & Copley Place

If you’re thinking about food at this point, it’s a short walk down to the Prudential Center & Copley Place. Prudential Center includes (or connects via sky bridge to) restaurants, stores, an apartment complex, a hotel, a convention center, and a subway stop in the basement. Stores in this complex range between Star Market Grocery Store and CVS Pharmacy to Prada, Saks Fifth Avenue, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton.

If you’re looking for a lunch option, I would recommend Eataly. With 4 restaurants ranging between pizza, steak and seafood, 6 cafes that include gelato, panini and coffee, and a winery there is something for everyone. Of course, they also have a market with fresh pasta, cheeses, chocolates, a butcher, and a bakery.

Get Lost in the Boston Public Library

library building road snow 6554635
library building road snow 6554635

With both a new, old, and outdoor courtyard section, the next stop is the Boston Public Library which covers an entire block. The library includes a TV studio in the lobby, along with a café, a tearoom, and a map room.

The Boston Library was the first library public library in the United States to lend books. With lots of places to sit and read, including the enclosed courtyard, you could grab a book and relax for a while before continuing your tour of Boston.

Directly in front of the library is the Boston Marathon Finish Line which you can see printed on the roadway all year round. Nearby is the Boston Marathon Survivor Memorial, in remembrance of those affected by the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing.

Next door to the library is Copley Square, which hosts the Copley Square Farmer’s Market, the biggest and busiest Farmer’s Market in Boston. It’s open on Tuesdays and Fridays all summer long.

Escape to the Boston Public Gardens & Boston Common

A short walk down Boylston Street will put you in the Boston Public Gardens & Boston Common. This is a great place to escape the crowds and watch the swan boats float around the pond, or the myriad of ducks, birds, and other wildlife enjoy the park.

For just a few dollars, you can also get a short ride on the swan boats, which have been cruising this lake for decades, since 1877.

There is a bandstand in the middle of the Boston Common that regularly hosts concerts, plays or speeches. If you’re visiting over the summer, Shakespeare on The Common is a free Shakespeare production by the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company. I’ve seen a couple of the shows, so I can say the shows are well done, despite being done on a temporary stage in the middle of a park.

Evening during Your 24 Hours in Boston

Boston at Night is a must during your 24 hours in Boston
Boston at Night

Dine on the Water with Splendid Views of Boston

Get out on the water with a cruise. You can even go for a dinner cruise and get two things done at once. There are a couple of good cruise companies out of Boston Harbor, including Boston Harbor City Cruises, Boston Signature, or the historic Liberty Clipper.

Boston has calm waters, so it’s a good way to see the city from a new perspective. Once you’re out in the middle of Boston Harbor, you’ll be in between four different sections of Boston.

Charleston to your north, Home of the USS Constitution, the oldest still active navy ship. They offer free tours of both the ship and the nearby museum.

East Boston to your east, home of Logan International Airport.

North End to your west, with more restaurants per square mile than anywhere else in Boston. Our very favorite bakery, Bova’s Bakery, located in North End is open 24/7/365, and it’s worth stopping for.

Seaport to your south, home of the Boston Convention Center and some amazing seafood restaurants.

Discover Something New at the Museum of Science

If you want to learn more about the water and what’s in it, plan to spend a few hours at the Museum of Science. With 3 floors of exhibits, there is plenty to see for both children and adults.

They have some permanent exhibits including the two-story Theatre of Electricity, which is always a crowd favorite. Other permanent exhibits include New England Habitats, T-Rex, Hall of Human Life, and Seeing is Deceiving. In addition, they have some ever-changing exhibits throughout the museum.

To save some money, they do offer some discounted days and times. Active-duty military is always free, and over the summer they offer free admission to the military member and up to 5 family members.

If you wanted to do something very touristy, the Duck Boat tours have a stand set up in front of the museum, and this is one of the starting points for the tour. The duck boat tours start with a driving tour of Boston before plunging into the Charles River to give you a different view of the city from the water.

Relax and Wind Down at Constitution Beach

If you’ve still got some time at the end of your day and are ready for some relaxing, I would suggest Constitution Beach. It’s a small little beach in East Boston, but it’s easily accessible by public transportation.

You can watch MBTA Subway trains pass under you on the overpasses. You can watch airplanes take off across the bay. Or you can watch an ice hockey game in the arena on the beach. Of course, you can also go swimming, relax on a picnic bench, or walk along the East Boston Greenway.

The greenway leads from Constitution Beach all the way to the East Boston Memorial Park next to the airport. There are lots of cool plane or train-watching locations along the way too.

Tips for Exploring Boston in One Day

How to Get Around Boston

Although Boston is on the list of the top 50 most populated cities in the US, it’s surprisingly small. You can easily walk between most of the best sites in Boston easily. But, if walking isn’t your thing, there is a great public transportation system that will get you nearly anywhere that you want to go in Boston.

Getting into and out of the city is easy too, with daily bus and train services into Boston’s North and South Stations, the hubs of transportation.

By airplane, fly into Boston’s Logan Airport. A quick airport shuttle will get you to the Blue Line MBTA Station, which will get you into the city quickly.

You can obviously rent a car at the airport, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Driving is difficult in Boston, and parking is even worse. Unless you’re leaving the city, the car will be much more expensive than it’s worth.

Weather in Boston

Note that Boston is in the northeast, and so winters can be extreme. Although the city is on the water, which produces a nice breeze to keep the snow amounts down. The cold in the winter can be brutal and keep you inside if you aren’t used to it. Luckily many buildings are close together, or in some cases connected, to minimize your time outside. I wouldn’t recommend coming in winter.

In the summer, there are concerts, festivals, and events seemingly daily. We would commonly stumble upon one by accident while going out to get lunch on a weekend.

Boston is a vibrant city with a lot of activities throughout it. With 23 different neighborhoods within the city and 9 surrounding cities linked by the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Association) subway system, there is so much more to explore than you could possibly do in your short 24 hours in Boston.

Happy travels!

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