Kid Friendly Summer Fun in Downtown Boston
I recently had the pleasure of a little Q&A with Carl Schwartz, Chief Travel Officer of Cheapflights.com. As a local, and father of 3, Carl shares some great tips for summer activites for families visiting Boston. Thank you, Carl!
1. What are the popular family attractions in Boston, and how do we navigate them like a local?
All of my suggestions are appropriate for kids from 2 – 18 unless otherwise noted. Boston is a great city to bring kids as it is easy to walk and has some very diverse areas.
We have some of the best museums I have seen in Boston. Our Children’s Museum is wonderful for kids of all ages. They just added a climbing structure in the front hall that kids never want to leave.
- Museum of Science is great for children 5 and over.
- Boston’s aquarium is definitely worthy of a visit. I have been to better facilities, but what makes this one great are the people who work there. Every time I go, I make a point to talk to the staff. They have a great perspective and wonderful stories. My kids and I still talk about a story we were told during one particular visit (involved an octopus invading the crab tank for after hours snacks).
- Following the Freedom Trail is also a popular activity. The nice thing about this is that it takes you through many neighborhoods. From Charlestown, to the North End, to Beacon Hill you really get to see a lot. A bit of advice, wear comfortable walking shoes and make sure you take time to explain the significance of the historic sites. I found that my kids were bored until I painted a picture and made it understandable.
- Take a Boston Duck tour. It’s definitely not free, but it is worth the money. You get to see a lot of the city. The drivers are hysterical; each with their own personality. The look on your kids’ faces as you leave land and drive into the Charles River is priceless. If I splurged on one tour activity, it would definitely be a Duck tour.
- Swan boats in the Public Garden. Season runs from mid-April through mid-September. Cost for adults is $2.75. Cost for children (ages 2-15) is $1.50.
- Harvard Museum of Natural History. This museum has a PR issue. It’s just not as well known as the other museums mentioned. However, with its numerous exhibits, you could spend hours wandering around inside.
- Rent canoes or kayaks from Charles River Canoe & Kayak located on Soldiers Field Road near Harvard Stadium. Prices are good and you can paddle all the way down to the Museum of Science.
- I would recommend the Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum, but it is actually closed for renovations through the Summer of 2010.
- Sports, sports, and more sports. We are fanatical about our pro sports teams. If you can swing the costs, spend some time at Fenway Park. It is the oldest ballpark in the U.S. and a great way to spend a few hours.
- Take a day trip to Cape Cod. You can take a ferry from Boston to Provincetown and the ride only takes 90 minutes. It is an easy way to experience some of our beaches.
- If you can find a resident of Boston who is also a member of the Boston Public Library, their membership pass can translate into free passes to the Children’s Museum, Harvard Natural History Museum, Museum of Science, and a few others. Only Boston residents can get the BPL membership card though.
2. What do local families do for free-or-cheap family outings?
- A visit to Castle Island (not actually an island) in Southie (South Boston for non-locals) can be a day-long outing. There are great walking/biking trails, a big playground, small beaches on the harbor, fantastic views, and you will be directly under the flight path for planes landing at Boston Logan airport. I was just there with my family and stayed for 5 hours, having only spent $8 total for lunch/snacks at Sullivan’s (only snack bar on site). We probably spent an hour watching planes come in and trying to guess which airline it was.
- The Frog Pond on Boston Common is also a great free activity. In the summer, it is a wading pool with a huge spraying fountain. In the winter, it becomes a skating rink (skate rentals available). There is also a good sized playground nearby.
- Bike riding on the Charles River bike path. Of course, this means you have to rent bikes, but it is so worth it. The path is mostly flat and in about 25 minutes, you will be adjacent to downtown. My 8 y.o. son and I make this trek several times a year. His incentive? We ride down to Fenway Park on game day. If you get there 4-5 hours before game time, head to the players parking lot at the corner of Yawkey Way & Van Ness St. You can watch the players arrive and usually score some autographs as well.
- People watch on Newbury Street or in Harvard Square.
- Ride the T (our name for the subway system). My kids would ride the T all day long if we let them. It is relatively inexpensive ($2 per one way trip) and can get you to most of the popular tourist areas.
- Visit the Boston Public Library. They have great children’s programs including free movies, special activities and story hours.
- Community Boating. This is a truly remarkable program for kids 10-18 (adults too!). For a mere $1 summer membership fee (yes, you read that correctly), you can take sailing and kayaking lessons on the Charles River. It is a great way to see the city from a different perspective.
3. Any other insider tips you can share with us regarding visiting Boston with kids?
- Subscribe to BostonCentral.com’s free newsletter a few months before you travel to Boston. It is sent weekly and contains a listing of events and attractions worth visiting.
- BosTix offers half-off last minute tickets to shows like The Blue Man Group. It is located at Fanieul Hall.
- I know it comes off as a joke, but driving in Boston really is not fun. I would avoid renting a car if you are staying close to downtown. You will spend more time trying to navigate the streets and being honked at than actually enjoying the city. It’s best to walk or take public transportation once you are here.
- Buy a Boston CityPass. It will save you money if you plan to visit multiple museums/attractions and can help you avoid long entrance lines.
4. Do you have any kid friendly restaurants or places to stay that you’d recommend?
- Hotel Intercontinental is a new hotel that offers a fantastic location. I have also heard that you can usually find great deals here.
- Millennium Bostonian Hotel is right next to Fanieul Hall. It can get loud and crowded in this area due to the bar scene, but you can walk everywhere which should help you save on transportation.
- Seaport Hotel offers excellent deals on the weekends and is close to the North End and Financial District.
- Hotel Marlowe is a Kimpton Hotel in Cambridge. The boutique chain is quickly making a name for itself as being very family-friendly.
- If you are staying downtown, you have to go to the North End at least one night. This is our version of Little Italy. Check out La Famiglia Giorgio’s, Antico Forno or really any of the other Italian joints. You really can’t go wrong. Skip dessert at the restaurant and wander into Mike’s Pastry when you are done with dinner. You’ll thank me later.
- The Summer Shack in Copley Square is fun for everyone. Great fried clams, lobster rolls and other summer type food. Hotdogs, etc for kids.
- Bartley’s Burger Cottage in Harvard Square. Homemade burgers, some of the best French fries you will ever have, and out of this world milkshakes.
- Carlo’s Cucina Italiana in Brighton. You have to get there before 6:00p on weekends, but it is close to the best Italian food in the area.
- Border’s Café in Harvard Square has great Mexican food. Again, need to get there on the early side because the line will stretch out of the door starting around 6:30p or 7:00p.
Carl is the Chief Travel Officer for Cheapflights and a father of three who is no stranger to traveling for business or leisure, Carl is the go-to guy in the company for anyone seeking family travel advice that will make trips enjoyable, efficient and of course, cheap. Carl also contributes regularly to the Cheapflights.com. Also check out Cheapflights’ travel guide PDF.