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As one of the most pivotal places in the U.S. that shaped American history, Boston is the perfect destination for curious minds and history buffs alike. Aside from the most popular Beantown haunts — the Paul Revere House, Faneuil Hall, and Old North Church — there’s plenty more to see and do. From bucolic garden cemeteries to an Art Deco-style cinema, here are 17 Boston (and a few Cambridge) landmarks you shouldn’t miss.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
If you only have time for one art museum in Boston, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is a must. Located inside the former home of Isabella Stewart Gardner, a wealthy and unconventional woman who amassed countless works of art during her lifetime, the mansion still contains most of her original collection.
In 1899, the home was reconstructed to show off her astounding art collection, with the addition of a magnificent courtyard designed by Gardner herself. In 1903, Gardner moved to the home’s fourth floor, allowing her private collection to become open to the public. Nearly 100 years later, the Gardner Museum became famous for a notorious art heist that resulted in 13 pieces of stolen art — a mystery that remains unsolved to this day.
Forest Hills Cemetery
Dating back to 1848, Forest Hills Cemetery in the neighborhood of Jamaica Plain is one of the most remarkable cemetery gardens in the country. Spanning 275 acres, the greenspace is as occupied by the living as it is the dead, with walking trails, woodlands, ponds, and open meadows that welcome the public.
Forest Hills also features several interesting sites, such as a miniature village with replicas of the homes of notable people interred in the cemetery. There’s also a sculpture garden, a giant xylophone that can be played, and intricate stone architecture featured throughout.
In addition to the garden’s natural elements, the graveyard’s unusual headstones are fascinating to ponder, such as the “Boy in the Boat” sculpture, gravestones sculpted into tiny beds, and even a few tombs dedicated to beloved pets.
Kelleher Rose Garden
Located in a park known as Back Bay Fens across from the Museum of Fine Arts, the Kelleher Rose Garden was once a tidal wetland that wasn’t much use to the city. But after being converted into an estuary by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in the late 1800s, a portion of the Fens was transformed into a tranquil garden dedicated to roses in the 1930s.
At the time, rose gardens were becoming increasingly popular across the U.S., and the formal garden became one of Boston’s most popular sites. After a few decades of neglect toward the end of the century, a conservancy group decided to assume upkeep of the garden. These efforts transformed Kelleher Rose Garden into the lovely park seen today, with 200 varieties of roses and a beautiful fountain.
"Make Way for Ducklings"
With its ample greenspace, blooming magnolia trees, and iconic swan boats, the Public Garden is already a must-see in Boston. But the garden’s renowned sculpture, “Make Way for Ducklings,” is also a huge draw. Created by artist Nancy Schön in 1987, this charming art piece features the adorable ducklings from Robert McCloskey’s award-winning children’s book of the same name.
Featuring eight baby ducklings following Mrs. Mallard, who measures 38 inches tall, the sculpture is adored by children and adults alike. It’s also a common spot to take photos, especially when the ducklings are dressed in seasonal attire. If you visit around Halloween, Christmas, or Easter — or if any Boston sports teams are winning — you can expect to see the ducks dressed accordingly.
Concealed inside the Mary Baker Eddy Library is one of Boston’s hidden treasures — the Mapparium. Measuring three stories high, the stained-glass globe depicts a map of the world from 1935. Accessible via a glass bridge, the Mapparium offers visitors the chance to witness the world from a different perspective, as if from the inside out. Since the globe is lit from within using LED lamps, standing inside the sphere is a rather surreal experience.
Another special feature of the Mapparium is its acoustics. Since the structure features a whispering gallery, visitors at opposite ends of the globe can hear soft sounds from a distance, a phenomenon that occurs because the glass sphere reflects sound waves instead of absorbing them.
Situated in the heart of the city near Boston Common, the Boston Anthenaeum is a little-known treasure. The city’s oldest library, the Anthenaeum was founded in 1807 and has since become one of the most respected independent libraries in the country. Housing numerous texts and collections, from rare manuscripts to an actual book made of human skin, the library has something for everyone.
The fifth floor of the Anthenaeum contains a reading room that rivals the most iconic libraries in the world, alongside rotating exhibitions that are worth the cost of admission. Tours of the library are available on a weekly basis, and admission to the first floor is free on the second Saturday of each month.
Commissioned in 1794, the USS Constitution is a warship from the U.S. Navy’s original fleet. Built to protect the country from coastal threats, the ship has survived famous battles and even fought against pirates along the Barbary Coast. Over 225 years after it launched, the USS Constitution is still operated by the U.S. Navy, with officers and crew serving aboard.
Today, visitors can see the ship in all its glory in the Charlestown Navy Yard, located in a historic Boston neighborhood on the city’s north side. To learn more about the ship, the nearby USS Constitution Museum provides visitors with an in-depth learning experience chronicling the ship’s history, crew, and passages across the Atlantic. To arrive in style, take the MTBA ferry from Atlantic Avenue to the Navy Yard — a short but fun boat ride through Boston Harbor.
The oldest public arboretum in the U.S., Arnold Arboretum, is also located in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood. With 281 acres of land available for public use, the arboretum is affiliated with Harvard University as both a botanical research institution and a public park.
Home to 15,000 plants, the park’s first propagator, Jackson Dawson, made countless expeditions around the world to find exotic species to feature in the arboretum. The result is an astounding collection of trees, shrubs, and flowers, all of which can be accessed from the park’s many walking paths. The arboretum offers several self-guided activities in order to provide an informative experience for curious visitors.
Coolidge Corner Theater
Established in 1933, Coolidge Corner Theater is an independent cinema and one of Boston’s finest cultural institutions. Dedicated to keeping film culture alive through community, the non-profit theater has never closed to the public, with the exception of a temporary shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, the theater’s doors are open, and ticket-holders can watch independent and vintage films that aren’t often screened at a local cineplex.
With its Art Deco interior, Coolidge Corner Theater harkens back to the days of the golden age of cinema. Annual events include film festivals and screenings of Oscar-nominated shorts, while the theater’s concessions range from beer and wine to candy and popcorn.
Museum of Science
The Museum of Science delights and inspires with hundreds of interactive exhibits, from virtual experiences in the Arctic to live animal presentations. The museum is also home to the Charles Hayden Planetarium, which presents mind-boggling shows about the universe, and a five-story IMAX theater.
By far, one of the museum’s most exciting exhibits is the largest Van de Graaf Generator in the world. Able to produce indoor lighting bolts, the generator is a performative experience that demonstrates the science behind the natural phenomenon. With coils that produce half a million volts of energy, the museum’s electric Lightning Show is thrilling, informative, and downright memorable.
After undergoing a recent renovation, the Longfellow Bridge has a revamped walkway for people to cross the Charles River. Now fully accommodating for both cyclists and pedestrians, the bridge dates back to the early 1900s and is named for one of the city’s most prolific residents, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Connecting the cities of Cambridge and Boston, the bridge provides magnificent views of the river and the city skyline. Since it connects two major thoroughfares along the river — Storrow Drive and Memorial Drive — the bridge is also the perfect way to traverse both cities. When your legs get tired from walking, fear not — the T’s Red Line also crosses the Longfellow Bridge and takes you back to your original destination.
Copp’s Hill Burying Ground
The second burial ground to be established on Shawmut Peninsula in present-day Boston, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground dates back 363 years, to when it was first established in 1659. Named after William Copp, a cobbler who was the land’s original owner, the oldest gravestone in the cemetery belongs to Copp’s two grandsons who both passed in 1661.
In addition to being a burial ground, Copp’s Hill was strategically used during the Revolutionary War, when the Red Coats used the headstones for target practice. With 10,000 interments, the cemetery has a few notable residents, including the tomb of Cotton Mather, who played an integral role in the notorious Salem Witch Trials of the 1600s. Since the cemetery was revamped with the addition of shrubs and trees in the 1800s, it’s a rather peaceful place to take in Boston’s history.
Deciding upon the best cannoli in Boston is a hotly debated topic, with locals either swearing by — or against — Mike’s Pastry. But whether or not you believe that Mike’s has the best cannoli in the city, there’s no doubt the flagship store is an iconic city landmark. Located in Boston’s historic North End, which is famous for its cobblestone streets and Italian eateries, Mike’s Pastry is a requisite stop for visitors.
You’ll feel like a true Bostonian when you leave the pastry shop with the iconic white box filled with pastries. If you’re not sure what to order, this definitive ranking of cannoli flavors, which ranges from limoncello to espresso, will help you decide.
Brattle Book Shop
If your idea of heaven is perusing aisles of old books, then Brattle Book Shop is just the spot for you. One of the oldest book shops in the country — and the largest, too — Brattle easily takes up the better part of an afternoon.
Located across the street from the Common (and near many of the landmarks on this list), the bookstore feels labyrinthian and cozy at the same time, with towering aisles of books perfect for perusing. The antiquarian book store houses rare and out-of-print books, so it can feel like a treasure hunt if you’re on the search for something specific. And when the weather is nice, the shop’s anterior courtyard contains hundreds of books on sale for $5 or less.
Boston Symphony Hall
Perhaps one of Boston’s most underrated buildings, Boston Symphony Hall is stunning inside and out. Home to the city’s resident orchestra since it opened in 1900, it also has been widely recognized as one of the top-rated acoustic landmarks in the world.
With sloping walls, shallow balconies, and coffered ceilings, the concert hall is designed to distribute sound evenly, allowing the music to be crisp and focused no matter where you sit. In addition to its olfactory design, the hall is pleasing to the eyes, with ornate replicas of Greek and Roman statues overlooking the venue. Home to the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops, which specializes in classical and pop music, rush tickets to the theater are available for $10 on certain days of the week.
Harvard Museum of Natural History
As the public face of three of Harvard University’s research museums, the Harvard Museum of Natural History allows for zoology, botany, and geology to converge in a single space. As the most visited attraction at Harvard, the relatively small museum packs a huge punch — whatever natural science sparks your interest, this museum has something for you.
With an entire section dedicated to rare fossils, one of the museum’s most prized possessions is an intact kronosaurus, a prehistoric marine reptile measuring 42 feet long. There’s also an exquisite exhibit displaying glass flowers, a 1,600-pound amethyst geode, and the “Rockefeller Beetles,” a massive collection of beetles amassed by David Rockefeller.
Overlooking Dorchester Bay, this small but lovely park in South Boston makes for a great day trip. Home to the historic Fort Independence, which once defended Boston from the threat of invaders, Castle Island also contains a children’s playground and a large lawn. Adjacent to Pleasure Bay is a human-made lagoon, and the park’s sandy beach allows visitors easy access to the water.
To see Castle Island in its entirety, the park’s Harborwalk connects to Head Island Causeway, a paved walkway that circles the lagoon and allows visitors to venture out onto the water toward Head Island. From there, the causeway offers panoramic views of the fort, the Boston Harbor Islands, and planes taking off from Logan International Airport. Back on land, Sullivan’s, the only restaurant on the island, serves classic New England fare and plenty of outdoor seating.