Any parent will understand that I had nothing but the best intentions to plan an itinerary well in advance of our trip to Boston. But as we got closer to our leave-only-two-days-after-the-last-day-of-school departure date, I realized I had a very short list and no clear idea of how to spend our days in Boston. So for all the over-tired, busy parents everywhere, this list of the best things to do with kids in Boston is for you!

Boston is one of the oldest, historical cities in the United States yet it’s also a young, vibrant, forward-thinking city that I was excited to explore! Boston is where you can bring history alive for the kids (and adults too!), have an aquatic adventure, a sedate experiential learning experience, do some people watching, and get some good eating… lots and lots of eating.

Olde Town Trolley Tour

These orange and green trolleys are everywhere in Boston and with convenient stops throughout the city you can hop on and hop off all day or stay on for the entire loop to take full advantage of this “transportainment” attraction. We spent about 90-minutes aboard the trolley, thoroughly informed and entertained by our trolley driver, Hollywood, whose tour came complete with soundtracks and voice-overs. The trolley tour gave us a good orientation of the city (a great way to start your trip!) and trolley ticket holders also receive discounts and free admissions to other attractions so be sure to check.

The Freedom Trail Foundation Guided Walking Tour

This 90-minute guided walking tour was one of the kids’ favourite activities in Boston. Led by an incredibly informed guide in 18th century costume playing the role of Thomas Hutchinson III, this tour literally brought history alive for the kids as well as the adults. We opted for the Walk Into History Tour which is only about 1 mile of walking and features 11 of the 16 Freedom Trail sites.

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From the moment the tour started in Boston Common until it ended at Faneuil Hall, my oldest daughter was captivated by our guide’s first-person accounts of amazing historical happenings. Every time our guide moved to the next site, she found a spot up front so she could hear, see and ask questions. Our guide kept the younger kids engaged as well with tales of battles and a good dose of humour and the promise of ice cream at Faneuil Hall, the final stop on our tour!

Faneuil Hall

Faneuil Hall has served Boston as a meeting hall and market place since the 1700’s and today it’s just one more example of how history and a modern city intersect. We could have spent all day roaming the over 50 shops, eating (and more eating!), watching the street performers and walking along the cobblestone walkways to truly take in all Faneuil Hall has to offer.

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Quincy Market

Have I mentioned eating? With over 36 food vendors, there was definitely something for everyone at Quincy Market. Take advantage of the Food Voucher program to save time and money and be sure to save room for dessert!

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Of course, if you’re ready to sit down at one of the many restaurant options (including the Cheers replica bar) you can do that too. We opted to sit outside in “The Lounge” where the kids inhaled their lunches then immediately took a crack at every single activity available free of charge. Our children loved it all from the selection of board games, to ping pong to open-air art lessons and a reading room, while we “supervised” as we sipped iced coffees under big shady trees.

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New England Aquarium – Boston Harbor Cruises Whale Watch

We have all heard stories of whale watching tours where the whales refuse to cooperate, so it was with high, yet realistic hopes that we set sail aboard Boston Harbor Cruises. We knew that these were wild animals who may or may not make an appearance during our just over 3-hour excursion. Thankfully, the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is only a 1-hour ride on the high-speed catamaran from Boston Harbor and a known whale feeding area in the summer months. We had amazing views of a humpback whale that surfaced multiple times and had the kids scouting the waves for the telltale spray of water that meant the whale would soon appear.

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We also spotted a few very shy minke whales along the way. An added bonus of this tour is the very informed staff and guides who gave information about marine life, the whale’s activities and were available and very open to questions – amazing learning for kids! Things to keep in mind: Although it was hot and sunny on land, it’s cooler on the open water so be sure to bring a jacket. On a sunny day, that ocean blue magnifies the sun rays so wear sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses. Finally, if you’re prone to motion sickness, check out these great tips for avoiding seasickness.

New England Aquarium

My kids love visiting the aquarium and the New England Aquarium did not disappoint! Plan to spend at least two hours here exploring the exhibits, learning about saving turtles and of course touching sharks and rays! Leave lots of time to watch the penguins – by far the kids’ favourite part!

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Before you head to the aquarium, peruse the New England Aquarium website for helpful tips, a schedule of the day’s events, feeding schedules, IMAX movie show times and this helpful “How To Be a Shark and Ray Whisperer” video perfect for preparing young kids for the Touch Tank.

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Boston Duck Tours

This tour has been voted among the best of Boston many times over and the reason is clear once you step onto the replica WWII amphibious vehicle. The “Duck”, which drives on land and floats on water, is the perfect way to see Boston by land and by sea with the help of your informative and super entertaining ConDUCKtor.

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Our driver and guide was “Skippy the Skydiver” who told us all about key sites and historical happenings as well as some very funny stories and not-very-well-known-facts about Boston – did you know Boston is home to 129 Dunkin’ Donuts? Once we hit the Charles River the guided tour continued but this time Skippy let the kids each take a turn driving the Duck!

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This highlight of our tour will definitely make the “What I Did This Summer” journal entries when they’re back at school.

Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum

I had absolutely no idea what to expect when we walked through the doors of the floating museum and into a Meeting House replica – circa 1773.

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We were each handed a card with the name of a person who was present when the Sons of Liberty dumped the tea overboard. Costumed guides acted out the fateful evening with audience participation then we made our way through the experience with tons of anticipation and a few “Huzzahs!”. The first stop is one of two historically accurate replica tall ships. We boarded the Eleanor and explored above and below deck, marveling at how this tiny ship was built to cross the ocean. Then the kids were first in line to dump replica crates of tea into the water of Griffin’s Wharf exactly where it was done at the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773.

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Other notable exhibits were displays of innovative technology including holographs of women giving two separate perspectives of the events and the “paintings” of King George III and Samuel Adams that come alive in a heated conversation based on the letters they exchanged. We saw the Robinson Half Tea Chest, one of only two known tea chests from the Boston Tea Party, which was found, hidden, preserved and finally displayed at the Museum. At the end of your tour be sure to stop at Abigail’s Tea Room for a tea tasting of 5 teas including the same blends that were thrown over during the Boston Tea Party. You can also enjoy other beverages (yes they serve beer and wine) as well as yummy pastries served with a side of in-character gossip about life in Boston in 1773 as all the servers are dressed as Patriot women.

Quick Tip: The Boston Children’s Museum is located near the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum and is perfect next-stop destination especially for the younger kids! Also, if your kids love fire trucks, the Boston Fire Museum is a few doors down from there.

Get Out Onto the Water

Between our whale-watching excursion and the Boston Duck Tour, I wanted to spend more time on the water and join the many sailboats, kayaks and canoes out on the river.

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Charles River Canoe and Kayak offers rentals and 2-hour lessons for first-timers and anyone who needs a refresher. If you’re looking to partake in some of the many outdoor activities in Boston this is definitely a great option!

The Hahvahd Tour

My eldest daughter is just a few months shy of turning twelve and this tour was perfect for her. Led by a current Harvard student we learned about Harvard culture and traditions, its history and even some famous Havardians.

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From touching the toe of John Harvard for good luck, to standing on the steps of Kirkland House where Facebook was created, to whispering secrets to each other on separate sides of the Whispering Arch, there were many things to see and learn on our Harvard Tour.

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Having a current student guide was definitely a point of difference for this tour. Our guide, Jacob left my daughter feeling inspired and yet understanding that it takes more than good marks to get into Harvard – it’s equally important to be a well-rounded person, to be passionate about something and to make a difference. At the end of the tour, Jacob spent some time answering questions, and when one of the kids asked, “How do you get into Harvard?” his answer was perfect… “Work hard and be unique.”

Swan Boats and Boston Common

I know many will tell you this is a bit of a tourist trap, but the kids loved it. Since 1877, the Swan Boats have been a symbol of Boston and providing tourists and Bostonians alike with a quaint and quiet 15-minute tour around the Public Garden Lagoon in Boston Common, the oldest park in the United States.

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The boat is operated by a driver who sits behind the swan and pedals the swan boat just as you would a bike. As we floated around the lagoon, the kids saw turtles, swans, ducks and ducklings – which was a big hit since we were in the Make Way For Ducklings park.

Check out the Make Way for Ducklings sculpture and the Frog Pond – which is a skating rink in the winter and a splash pad and wading pool in the summer.

Museum of Science

Warning! You can spend all day roaming the exhibits at the Museum of Science in Boston and it is still almost impossible to see and do everything. We learned how our favourite Pixar characters were created and produced in my kids’ favourite movies, about dinosaurs and space and butterflies and whales. Everywhere you turned there was another interactive learning experience for kids of all ages (and moms and dads too!).

Rose Kennedy Greenway

Construction for the “Big Dig” began in 1991 with the goal of moving all of the elevated highways leading in and out of Boston into a tunnel system underneath the city. Once the multi-billion dollar project was complete, a mile and half of public parks were created in the middle of the city where the highways used to be and became known as the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.

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The Greenway is one more perfect example of the fresh vibrant city Boston is and a perfect place to stroll, picnic and explore with kids – especially the water features the kids use as splash pads and the carousel.

Fenway Park

While I admit, I did not personally make my way to Fenway Park, my “boys” made the piligrimage to one of the old stalwart stadiums of baseball. The home of the Red Sox and the legendary “Green Monster” is a must see so if your family likes baseball (or even a few members of your family) be sure to check out a game or take a tour.

Many thanks to Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau for providing my family with passes to some of the above attractions.