USS Constitution docked in Charlestown's Navy Shipyard - Bunker Hill Monument in background
One of the most interesting sites on Boston's Freedom Trail and always a huge favorite with keds and teens, the USS Constitution offers free tours conducted by its Navy crew members.
You get to see the top deck, gun deck, and berth area, plus you get the thrill of walking around this magnificent ship built in 1797, the oldest commissioned warship still afloat anywhere in the world.
Best of all are the guides' stories about life aboard the ship 200+ years ago, tidbits about her legendary battles, and explanations of the Constitution's important role in American history. Adding to the authenticity, crew members wear 1812-style uniforms.
Located in the Charlestown Navy Yard close to Downtown Boston, the USS Constitution spends most of the year anchored wharf-side, easily accessible to visitors who join the 30-minute tours.
Here's everything you need to know about visiting and touring the USS Constitution, where to stay nearby, the fascinating history of this famous ship, more fun things to do near the Charlestown Navy Yard, and best times to visit.
Note: USS Constitution will temporarily close to the public between April 27 and May 19, 2015 in order to be prepared for being put into dry dock while repairs and restoration take place from 2015-2018. The Constitution will reopen for free public tours on June 9, 2015.
Whether you want to join one of the Navy tours of the Constitution or just view it from the water, several Boston sightseeing tours include Old Ironsides while showing you many other interesting attractions at the same time.
This narrated seasonal (April-November) cruise takes you to see the Constitution up close, along with the Bunker Hill Monument, Boston Tea Party Boat, and the Old North Church. Best of all, you have the opportunity to disembark at the Charlestown Navy Yard and tour the ship and the nearby Naval Museum. More about the USS Constitution Cruise »
Choose this tour when you want to experience the best of Boston, Lexington, Cambridge, and Concord in 1 day! In addition to your visit to the Constitution, you'll tour famous Boston sights and charming neighborhoods, stroll around Harvard Square, and follow Paul Revere's route to Lexington and Concord. Find out more about the Total Boston Experience Tour »
You'll see spectacular views of the Boston city skyline, fascinating scenes along the North End, and finally, the Constitution and Bunker Hill monument silhouetted against the evening sky, just like my photo at the top of the page. To make your sunset cruise even more special, you'll hear the Constitution's sunset cannon salute. More about the Sunset Cruise »
Want to experience sailing aboard a historically accurate tall ship, just like the spectacular schooners that once plied the waters of Boston Harbor? Several modern but historically accurate tall ships offer memorable cruises daily from June to September. Find out more about tall ship cruises »
Marriott Residence Inn - Waterfront Location
Constitution Inn - Navy Yard Hotel
Battery Wharf - In nearby North End
The Charlestown Navy Yard, home to the USS Constitution, dates back to 1800 and closed as a Naval shipyard in 1974.
At that time, 30 acres of the Yard became preserved as a park. In addition to touring the Constitution, you can also visit World War II destroyer USS Cassin Young, where park rangers offer free tours. Want to learn more about both ships? Visit the USS Constitution Museum, dedicated to presenting the history of Old Ironsides.
Every July 4th, the Constitution appears in Boston Harbor as part of the huge Harborfest celebration. Additional turn-around cruises occur a few more times each year.
USS Constitution in Boston Harbor on her annual turn-around cruise
The 204 foot-long, wood-hulled Constitution launched in 1797, sporting copper fastenings designed and fabricated by Paul Revere, 3 enormous masts topping as high as 220 feet, and a crew of 450-500. The magnificent vessel spent her first years defending American shipping interests by fighting Barbary pirates off the North African coast.
Designed to combine speed with fire power, the Constitution fought numerous battles against the British during the War of 1812.
After defeating 5 British warships and capturing numerous merchant ships, her moment of glory came during a fierce battle against the mighty British frigate HMS Guerriere. The two frigates collided and nearly capsized but they still continued to fight.
By the end, the Constitution had pulverized the Guerriere - but most of the Guerriere's shots and cannon balls simply bounced off the hull of the American ship. When she returned to port in Boston, cheering crowds re-christened her "Old Ironsides."
The frigate's biggest battle came in 1830, when plans to scrap the aging wooden ship inspired poet Oliver Wendell Holmes to write his famous poem, "Old Ironsides." Public outcry kept her in active service until 1855, and after extensive restoration, she now serves as a museum ship.
The Constitution giving a 21-gun salute in Boston Harbor, seen from Castle Island
The War of 1812 is sometimes called "America's second War of Independence," and although the Constitution's victories at sea actually did not make a substantive difference in the war's outcome, they played a huge role in the young country's confidence in its ability to prevail for a second time against England.
Children and teens love touring this ship - and so do adults. For many, getting to go aboard "Old Ironsides" turns out to be the highlight of the Freedom Trail.
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