Best Boston Day Trip Things to Do for Teenagers
by Reverend Meg
We are bringing a group of 24 teens to Boston for the day. Most are between the ages of 13-18. The focus of the day is to have fun and keep it cheap! We'd like to find a restaurant that can accommodate all of us at one time. I read about the Barking Crab and that sounds great. Any other unique attractions? Thanks - Reverend Meg
Susan's reply: What a great day in Boston you'll have with your group of teens! The city is very compact and perfect for walking, so you can see lots of different things in a short time.
Since you ask about unique attractions, want to have fun, and not spend too much money, let's start with activities for teens (I'll come back to restaurants in a moment). Since I don't know where you live, I'm going to make the assumption that you don't live in Massachusetts or New England, and that many of the kids in your group haven't been to Boston before, or at least not recently.
A wonderful framework for planning the day in Boston with teens is the Freedom Trail, a group of 16 significant historical sites related to America's quest for liberty. The trail itself, marked by a red stripe on the sidewalk (paint or red bricks), is 2.5 miles long so you can either walk the whole length, or pick a section. A cool thing about the Freedom Trail is that it takes you through the heart of the city, through various neighborhoods, through the most historic areas, and past many other interesting sites where you can make small detours - so it's a great way to see the city as well as to see some interesting historic places related to America's history.
So here's how I might plan a day with teens in Boston (and I'm speaking as the mom of an 11 and 15 year old), mixing fun with a little exposure to some meaningful things, using the Freedom Trail as a framework, and not spending a ton of money.
I'd start at Boston Common, which is the natural starting point for the Freedom Trail, and also the oldest park in the country, dating to 1634. If you're arriving by bus, have it let you out at the Visitor Information Center on Tremont Street. Go inside and pick up a free Freedom Trail map at the counter (you have to ask; also, you'll see lots for sale but the free one is as good, and in fact, is my favorite Boston city map.
If you want, you can join a free 90 minute Freedom Trail tour given by a Ranger from the National Park Service. You won't cover all of the sites, but will definitely hit many interesting ones, and the Rangers give very interesting tours. You'll also see lots of costumed guides offering tours for a fee. They're very good, but skip them, as they'd be pricey for a group as large as yours.
You can easily do a self-guided tour with the help of the map, and you may prefer to set your own pace. If you're going to do this, you may want to first head over to the Public Garden, another park just across Charles Street, about a 5 minute walk. In addition to being a gorgeous Victorian-era park, it's the site where (if you're familiar with the book, Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, the fictional Mr. and Mrs. Mallard finally decided to raise their brood of 8. You can take a 15-minute Swan Boat ($1.50 for 15 and under; $2.75 for 16 and up) ride around a lagoon containing the island where they built their nest. Then walk over to statues of the ducklings near the corner of Charles St and Beacon St. You'd think that teens would feel too old for this, but they actually love it.
Now, to get back to the Freedom Trail, cross back over Charles St and continue walking up Beacon St. Across from the Massachusetts State House (you can't miss the gold dome), you'll see near the fence a big monument to Robert Gould Shaw and the Fifty-fourth Regiment. It honors the bravery of the first Black regiment to serve in the Civil War, and their leader, Robert Gould Shaw, who lived in Beacon Hill - they were the subjects of the film, Glory, starring Denzel Washington.
From that point, you can follow the Freedom Trail past several historic sites in the oldest part of Boston. Old Granary Burial Ground is interesting because a) it's very old, and b) a number of prominent heroes from the American Revolution such as Samuel Adams and Paul Revere are buried here. A bit later, you'll pass another graveyard - King's Chapel Burying Ground. The first generation of Puritan settlers are buried here. Particularly interesting are the images on the gravestones - lots of skulls and crossbones, and then a generation or 2 later when life became a little easier, angels.
Two interesting Freedom Trail Museums are in this area: the Old State House and Old South Meeting House. Both are quite interesting, and charge only modest admission fees - about $8 for adults, and about $3 for teens, plus you might be able to get a group rate. They have exhibits related to events like the Boston Tea Party and other events leading up to the Revolutionary War. You'd probably spend about 30-45 minutes in each of them. If you want to limit yourself to just this part of Downtown Boston, either is a great choice. However, you'll also find 2 more choices a bit farther along the trail - more about that in a moment.
At this point, you're getting close to another site, Faneuil Hall. Only about 1 block away is the Boston Holocaust Memorial, well worth the detour. All but the youngest teens will probably have studied about the Holocaust in school. My experience is that teens find this a very moving place - I would highly recommend it.
If you're visiting on a Friday or Saturday, also stop by nearby Haymarket. It's a continuation of a market that's been in this spot for almost 2 centuries.
Food - you'll probably want lunch by this point. Faneuil Hall, a Freedom Trail site, is part of Quincy Market, a big shopping complex with one entire building devoted to a Food Hall. This is one of my favorite places to grab a bite in the city, and one of my Boston Cheap Eats spots - must be 30-40 food stalls, and most of the choices are reasonably priced (well under $10). It is much, much better that mall food court-type food. There are tables, but they're always packed. However, just go outside and you'll find plenty of places to sit. There's also a large restaurant at one end called Wagamama's - mostly Asian-type noodle dishes, mostly in the $12-14 range.
I'm not trying to steer you away from Barking Crab - it's a lot of fun, and one of my favorite places in the South Boston Waterfront (about a 10-minute walk from Faneuil Hall). Just be aware that it's going to be a little pricey - you're paying for the waterfront location, plus seafood is always expensive here. Plus, for a large group, they will add 18% for the tip, and our sales tax recently went up to 6.25%, so together these will add almost 25% to your meal.
Another option, also about 10 minutes from Faneuil Hall, is Chinatown. Boston has the 3rd largest Chinatown in the country, and it's full of wonderful, affordable restaurants. Two that would work well for a large group are China Pearl (9 Tyler St) and New Shanghai (21 Hudson St). At both, you'll find the usual lunch combos, or you can order a few dishes from the menu to share, or order off-menu - ask the waiter "what's fresh? what's good?" and let him bring you dishes featuring whatever is best that day. Sometimes, the chef will come out and ask what you like - so just suggest things like "spicy chicken" or "green vegetables" or "shrimp lo mein" and he'll describe a couple of options and take it from there.
For the afternoon, my suggestion is to visit one of the Freedom Trail sites in Charlestown: the USS Constitution. Unlike the other sites, this one is not Revolutionary War era - it's the famous "Old Ironsides" ship that fought against the British in the War of 1812. It's occupied by a Navy crew of about 70, and they give fascinating free tours of the ship and tell you about what life for sailors was like the the frigate was in her fighting prime. Teens love this tour, and adults often say it's their favorite stop on the Freedom Trail. You can also go on a free tour of a World War II destroyer, the USS Cassin Young. While you're in Charlestown, you can also visit the Bunker Hill Monument if you're still feeling energetic.
To get to Charlestown, walk over to Long Wharf (walk up the Greenway if you're at the Barking Crab or in Chinatown), and take the MBTA Ferry to the Charlestown Navy Yard - $2 for one way. You can either take the ferry back, or walk back along the Trail.
By this point, you'll probably be ready to relax for the evening. But if you still have energy, follow the Trail through the North End, where you can visit Old North Church, where Paul Revere arranged for lanterns to be hung to signal his famous ride. You can even visit his house, the oldest wooden structure in Boston. The North End is also full of fabulous bakery/coffee shops - great spot for a little more refreshment!
Hope your visit to Boston is wonderful and memorable!