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11 Things You Must Do at Boston Common

July 26, 2023
Boston Common

Just setting foot in Boston Common earns you some pretty serious bragging rights — it has the distinction of being the oldest public city park in the entire country, established in 1634. But it also has plenty to offer beyond historic charm. We’ve rounded up the best ways to spend a day outdoors in one of the city’s crown jewels.

1. Have a picnic

Boston Picnic

Whether you’re enjoying a romantic date with your sweetheart, gathering a group of pals, or even snacking solo, a picnic on Boston Common is always a great idea. 

You can’t go wrong with a basket of cheese, a bunch of grapes and fresh berries, and maybe even a bottle of wine (shh — the public consumption of alcohol is technically not allowed), and several nearby shops make it easy enough to pull together the perfect spread in no time. Stock up on gourmet grub, from fruits and cheese to premade sandwiches, salads, and desserts, at nearby Roche Brothers in Downtown Crossing, or the upscale Deluca’s Market across the park in Beacon Hill. 

2. Ice skate (or cool off) at the Frog Pond

A beloved fixture on the Common, there’s fun to be had nearly all year round at the multipurpose Frog Pond

In the wintertime, it’s a scene straight out of a Hallmark movie, with hat-and-scarf-clad locals and visitors alike gliding on their ice skates and sipping hot cocoa. In the summer, it transforms into a spray pool that provides endless entertainment for kiddos — and a few moments of relief for their parents.

3. Ride the carousel

Boston Carousel

Both kids and the young at heart will get a kick out of the old-school merry-go-round, located not too far from the Frog Pond. And it’s truly a classic, built in 1947 by the Allan Herschel Company and featuring hand-carved wooden horses. 

Open in the spring, summer, and fall, it costs $4 per ride. Or you can purchase a $30 pass that’s good for 10 rides.

4. Take a ride on a swan boat

Swan Boat

There are few better ways to enjoy a sunny spring or summer day than by heading out onto the water. But if you think you have to make friends with someone who has a yacht to make it happen, think again. 

Sure, it’s not quite the same. But the Swan Boat rides (technically in the Public Garden, adjacent to the Common) are not only relaxing, but oh-so-cute. Not to mention, inexpensive — currently, they’re $4 for adults and seniors, $3 for children ages 2-15, and free for those under 2.

5. Travel back in time 

From trees to tombs, the Common has plenty of both well- and lesser-known sites that tell tales of Boston’s past. Here are just a handful of the attractions you’ll want to pay a visit to as you make your way through the park.

The Great Elm

Before you get too excited to curl up under a massive, towering tree for your afternoon nap, we should probably let you know that the Great Elm, which has been called “Boston’s oldest inhabitant,” is no longer standing on the Common — after years of damage from adverse weather (and people climbing its branches), the tree fell on February 15, 1876, as a result of heavy winds during a major storm. 

Today, a small memorial plaque commemorates its significance to the city, namely with respect to environmental awareness and preservation initiatives, remains.

John Paul II placard

This small placard commemorates the first mass that Pope John Paul II held in the United States on October 1, 1979. 

Central Burying Ground

One of the most famous cemeteries in Boston, Central Burying Ground has graves dating back to 1756, including those of painter Gilbert Stuart, composer William Billings, foreign visitors to Boston, and British soldiers who died during the Revolutionary War.

Soldiers and Sailors monument

Like its name suggests, the Soldiers and Sailors monument is a memorial dedicated to the servicemen who lost their lives in the Civil War.

6. Take a tour

With history comes another “H” word: hauntings. And there’s no shortage of spooky stories surrounding the many famous people and places in this city.

Our Haunted Boston Walking Tour kicks off from Boston Common, where you’ll learn this place wasn’t all sunshine and carousel rides over a century ago. On this tour, a local shows you around some of the spookiest places in Boston on a late-afternoon stroll that steps back in time to explore the dark and often unseen side of town.

From the King’s Chapel Burying Ground, the oldest cemetery in town, to the most haunted building in Boston, the notorious Omni Parker House, you’ll find thrills and chills around every corner.

7. Photograph the fountain

Brewer Fountain is arguably the centerpiece of Boston Common, a bronze structure featuring a statue of a Triton surrounded by cascading water jets and a circular basin adorned with intricate carvings and decorative elements. It truly is a stunning piece to photograph — whether on its own or as part of a selfie or group shot.

The fountain was created by Michel Joseph Napoléon Liénard and gifted by Gardner Brewer to the city. It’s actually one of multiple copies of the original piece, which was built for the Paris World Fair in 1855. 

Fun fact: The fountain stands at 22 feet tall and weighs 15,000 pounds, and began working for the first time on June 3, 1868.

8. Visit the Public Garden

Boston Public Garden

long with the Swan Boats, the Common-adjacent Public Garden boasts even more famous water fowl — in the form of the iconic Nancy Schon sculpture Make Way for Ducklings, which was installed in 1987. The mom and baby ducklings, crafted from bronze, are often dressed up in seasonal or holiday-appropriate attire, making for the perfect Instagrammable Boston backdrop. 

Once you’ve snapped your shot, feel free to lie down and lounge in a shady spot across the 24 acres.

9. Get active

Sure, Boston Common is the perfect place to kick back and people watch, but it’s also ideal for running, walking, and playing catch or frisbee. 

You can also bring your pup along, as there’s an approved off-leash area where dog owners gather to let their canines carouse — and socialize amongst themselves as well.

10. Behold The Embrace 

While a good portion of the attractions in Boston Common date back hundreds of years, this 20-foot wide by 25-foot tall bronze sculpture, called “The Embrace,” was unveiled in December of 2022. 

It abstractly represents a photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. hugging Coretta Scott King after his Nobel Peace Prize win in 1964, and while it has been polarizing among both the public and art critics since its debut, it’s irrefutably striking to see in person.

11. Admire the State House

Massachusetts State House

With its, um, stately facade and gold dome, the Massachusetts State House is one of the most instantly recognizable (and picture-perfect) buildings around the park. 

Local tip: If you’re curious to see the interior, you can take a free, docent-guided walking tour.

Tips for visiting Boston Common

Boston Common

Boston Common’s prime location smack-dab in the middle of the action is wonderful, but it puts parking options at a premium, so taking the “T” (subway) is highly recommended. The Green Line Boylston Street stop, Red Line Park Street stop, and Orange Line Downtown Crossing or Chinatown stops are all an easy walk from the park. If you have to drive, there’s an underground garage where you can park for $18 per day.

There’s plenty of beauty to be found here during any season, but I’d have to say the best time to visit Boston Common is autumn. The vibrant fall foliage is one of New England’s most distinguishing (and gorgeous) features. 

Earlier in the year is a close runner-up. Spring and summer bring multicolored blooms, especially in nearby Boston Public Garden

As for the best time of day to visit, while Boston is generally a very safe city, it’s still a city, so it’s a good idea to explore during the morning, afternoon, and early evening hours — especially if you have children in tow.

Endless possibilities for fun

No matter how you decide to spend your day in Boston Common, you’re sure to have an enjoyable time soaking up the rich history and taking in the 50 acres of natural beauty that surrounds you.

Hungry for even more history? Come take a walk along the Freedom Trail.