Best Ways to See & Tour "Old Ironsides" on the Freedom Trail
The USS Constitution, also known as "Old Ironsides" for its victories in the War of 1812, offers free tours conducted by its Navy crew members and is one of the popular sites on Boston's Freedom Trail.
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 free 30-minute tours.
During the tours, 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.
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.
Top Photo: USS Constitution in the Charlestown Navy Yard at sunset
USS Constitution Tours & Cruises
If you're interesting in seeing or touring the Constitution, you have three options, all of them good:
Join one of the free Navy tours on board the Constitution. These tours take place throughout the year, except for major holidays, and last about 45 - 60 minutes. Lines for the tours can sometimes be long, as only a certain number of people can go on board at one time. Wait times tends to be the longest in the summer, on holidays, and on weekdays during the school year as this is a popular field trip for Massachusetts middle school classes.
View the ship from land or water when you go on one of the many Boston sightseeing tours and cruises that include Old Ironsides along with other interesting attractions.
Watch the Constitution's turn-around sail in Boston Harbor on July 4th as part of the huge Harborfest celebration. Additional turn-around cruises may occur a few more times each year. Castle Island offers terrific views, although you can also see the ship from many places around the Harbor.
Popular Sightseeing Tours & Cruises of the USS Constitution
Boston Sunset Cruise
The popular 90 minute Boston Sunset Cruise shows you spectacular views of the Boston city skyline, the North End, and finally, the Constitution and Bunker Hill monument silhouetted against the evening sky, similar to our photo at the top of the page. As an extra bonus, you get to hear the Constitution's sunset cannon salute.
The Historic Sightseeing Cruise takes you around Boston Harbor as the professional narrator points out sites that bring history to life. Hightlights include close-up views of the USS Constitution as you cruise by. You'll also see the Tea Party ships and adjacent museum as well as the Old North Eng Church.
The narrated USS Constitution Cruise shows you the Constitution up close, along with the Bunker Hill Monument, Boston Tea Party Boat, and the Old North Church. You can choose to disembark at the Charlestown Navy Yard, and tour the ship on your own.
Most of these Boston Harbor sightseeing, lunch, and dinner cruises take you past the USS Constitution in Charlestown Navy Yard:
USS Constitution Turn-Around Cruise on July 4
The USS Constitution makes her annual turn-around cruise in Boston Harbor each Fourth of July to celebrate our nation's independence.
The magnificent 204 foot-long wood-hulled ship which first launched in 1797 and is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world will sail out to Fort Independence on Castle Island, exchange a 21-gun salute, and then turn around and head back into the Inner Harbor and exchange cannon fire with Boston's Coast Guard Base in the North End.
Departure from Charlestown Navy Yard's Pier One takes place at 10:45am and she returns to her Navy Yard berth across from the USS Constitution Museum at 2pm.
Watch from points along the harbor or Castle Island, or even better, from the water on the Schooner Adirondack III or the Northern Lights:
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 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.
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, with lots of interesting nautical artifacts and the USS Constitution Museum.
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.
Essentials: USS Constitution Visitor Information
Location: Boston National Historical Park in Charlestown Navy Yard on the Freedom Trail
Hours and Cost: Friday-Sunday, 10am-6pm; closed on a few major holidays (Martin Luther King Jr's birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day). Free admission and free tours by the U.S. Navy.
Security: All visitors 18 and older must show a valid federal or state-issued photo ID such as a passport or drivers licence, and all bags will be screened at the security entrance; all visitors must pass through a security screening similar to those at airports. This means you will probably be asked to take off your jacket, jewelry, watch, etc, and items such as electronic devices, cameras, bags, and backpacks may be examined.
More information: Tours may be modified if repair or maintenance work is underway, and hours are subject to change. ALWAYS check the US Navy website before coming: http://www.navy.mil/local/constitution/visitors.asp
Getting there by subway: Orange Line: North Station - you'll cross over the Zakim bridge, cross the Charlestown bridge, and then follow the red line of the Freedom Trail until you reach the Charlestown Navy Yard where the ship is located - about a 15-20 minute walk.
Park: You cannot park next to the ship, and nearby curbside parking is limited/impossible to find in this area. Your best bet is to park at one of the nearby garages - you'll see signs once you get there.