The 16 official sites of Boston’s Freedom Trail take you from the oldest public park in the nation, the Boston Common, all the way through the history of the American Revolution to the Bunker Hill Monument, the site of the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775 which was the first major battle of the Revolutionary War. You can take a variety of guided tours, some with costumed guides and some that delve more deeply into certain sites and neighborhoods. Visit Thefreedomtrail.org for information on tours and more. You can also take a map of the trail and walk it yourself in about two hours or more (depending on how often you stop and how long you stay at each stop), which is what we did. Here are the highlights of our walk through Boston’s history.
The Freedom Trail
The first place of interest is the (1) Boston Common itself, where you can have a quick snack and relax at one of the park benches as you gather energy for the trek ahead. At the Visitor’s Center you can also find the beginning point of the trail, marked by a red brick line embedded into the pavement which can be followed throughout the trail.
It will take you to the (2) State House, a white domed building overlooking the park that serves as the seat for the Massachusetts government. The third stop is the (3) Park Street Church, with its tall white steeple which once could be seen for miles. Founded in 1809, it is still an active Evangelical church today. We walked past the (4) Granary Burying Ground, peering through the iron fence at the tombstones jutting out of the ground where John Hancock, Paul Revere and Samuel Adams are buried.
We continued to the (5) King’s Chapel and Burying Ground, making a stop to sit inside the pews of the chapel, maybe to rest our legs a little bit and also to take in the somber, religious atmosphere. King’s Chapel has the oldest American pulpit still in use today. The bell which was recast by Paul Revere in 1816 after some damage is still used today to ring in church goers. Sitting in this chapel, imagining the centuries of services performed here, it was hard not to feel communion with the spiritual aspect of what it meant to be American and free to worship as one chooses.
Once rested, we continued to walk past the (6) First Public School Site, a school which five of the signers of the Declaration of Independence attended, although Benjamin Franklin notoriously dropped out. The next site is the (7) Old Corner Bookstore, a historical commercial building that once published such well-known American titles like Thoreau’s Walden, Hawthorne’s Scarlett Letter, Alcott’s Little Women and the first American editions of Charles Dickens’ novels. It made me wish I had taken a copy of one of those novels with me to read on the trip, a nice way to take one back into the spirit of those times.
This location is also a good place to take another break, as Bruegger’s Bagels [7 School Street, (617)367-4702] is nearby. We stopped here for something of a brunch, fueling up on “egg and cheese on everything” bagel sandwiches.
Onward to the eighth site, the (8) Old South Meeting House. The Boston Tea party most famously began here. On December 16, 1773, after a heated debate in this meeting house about the tea tax imposed by Britain, it was Samuel Adams who signaled all to head out to Griffin’s Wharf and dump chests of tea into the harbor in protest. I stopped here to ponder the event that sparked the American Revolution, and how it must have felt to be one in a crowd of over 5,000 (which must have felt like the entire city of Boston at that time), fueled with the spirit and urgent need for independence – for an America to forge and define values of freedom and justice.
We decided to walk past the (9) Boston Massacre Site where a protest against British redcoats ended with five people dead, and the (10) Old State House, which was an important meeting hall and is now a museum with informative tours. Its steeple can be seen in the distance from the statue of Paul Revere.
We had someone to meet at (11) Faneuil Hall and the adjacent Quincy Market with its South and North Halls, so we headed on.
Faneuil Hall was once a market and is named after Peter Faneuil, who after an inheritance became one of the wealthiest merchants of his time in the late 18th century. It was his idea to propose that a central market be built to accommodate the existing market, which had become overcrowded. In 1826, the Quincy Market building along with the South and North Market buildings were built, named after Mayor Josiah Quincy in honor of his contributions. There are so many shops inside and outside these four buildings, as well as restaurants and a wide variety of food stalls.
If you want to get some souvenirs of your trip to Boston, Quincy Market is a good place to go. There are literally dozens of souvenir carts and shops, my favorite being Best of Boston. There are over 50 places to eat, and you can choose from Mexican, Asian, Greek, Italian, New England seafood, or stop by a pub. We chose The Point [147 Hanover Street, (617) 523-7020], to meet my friend’s old college buddy who now lived in Boston. I managed a very reasonably priced lunch of fish and chips. Recommended is also the nearby Union Oyster House [41 Union Street, (617) 227-2750], which also happens to be located along the Freedom Trail. It is almost 200 years old, a national historic landmark, and a cozy place to sample good food in dark wood paneled rooms with bustling, noisy crowds (reservations are recommended.)
After lunch, we began the long walk to the next site on the Freedom Trail, the (12) Paul Revere House in the North End neighborhood. Paul Revere was an express rider employed to carry news, messages and important documents throughout Boston and beyond. He owned and lived in this house from 1770-1800. A tour of his home will give you a glimpse into 18th century life, and you can also hear a telling in his own words of his midnight ride to revolutionaries in Lexington and on to military stores in Concord, delivering his message of the approach of the British. For us, in the interest of time, we moved on to (13) The Old North Church. It was here that the American Revolution was launched by the lighting of two lanterns in its steeple, signaling to revolutionaries that the British were coming to fight in Boston by sea (2 lanterns meant by sea -1 lantern meant by land). We sat in the pews of the church, soaking in revolutionary vibes.
The North End is also known for Italian restaurants and bakeries. This might be a good spot to stop for coffee at an Italian café, maybe some Tiramisu, or make reservations for dinner. For espresso try Caffe Vittoria [290-296 Hanover Street, (617) 227-7606]. For lunch or dinner you may want to try The Daily Catch North End [323 Hanover Street, (617) 523-8567].
It was getting late in the afternoon for us and we were eager to complete the trail so we pressed on.
We walked past (14) Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, a large graveyard for notables who lived in the North End, across the Charles River on the Charlestown Bridge, passing the (15) USS Constitution and Museum, which would take time to explore, and on to the last site on the Freedom Trail, the (16) Bunker Hill Monument. History tells us that the battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775 was the first major battle of the Revolutionary War. It wasn’t won by the colonists, but it proved that they were a force strong enough to put up a fight against the British. Wearily, I climbed the steps up to the monument, feeling worn out after a day’s worth of walking and impressions. I felt somewhat akin to the feeling the colonist might have had during the building of tensions that led to the American Revolution – that of being worn and tired but having set out to do something, being strong enough to at least attempt it.
While there is much more of early American history to learn, our walk on the Freedom Trail was a start. As we walked back along the trail I pondered the American spirit of protest against oppression, the struggle for freedom, and the strength and willingness to overcome odds. A walk along the Freedom Trail will ignite a spark of that spirit within you.
Date of trip: September 2015
One thought on “The Freedom Trail – Boston, MA”