This past summer, my oldest son had some time with nothing to do, and so I created “Mom Camp.” One of my favorite activities we did during Mom Camp was going into Boston to discover The Freedom Trail.
Since my son was at the right age (10 years old) to start learning about the American Revolution, and I was quite sure he would enjoy hearing from a person in a costume, we opted for a Freedom Trail walking tour. It was a fantastic way to hear about important historical facts, and see some famous landmarks of Boston, in an engaging way.
But you don't have to wait until next summer! Kid-friendly Boston is one of the best places in the United States to learn about American history. It's a great place to visit on school breaks, almost any time of year. And, if you make your way to Boston, a walking tour of The Freedom Trail is a must-do bucket list item if you are looking for an educational travel experience for your kids.
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If you are coming to Boston, one of the must-do experiences is to follow The Freedom Trail. It is a 2.5-mile trail through Boston, marked by red brick in most places, that passes by 16 significant locations important to American history and the start of the Revolutionary War (when our country became independent from England.)
The trail stretches from to Boston Common (near Beacon Hill) all the way to Charlestown. Important historical sites on the way include the Old South Meeting House, the Old State House, Paul Revere's House, the Boston Common, the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown, and a few graveyards that contain the headstones of famous figures in the revolutionary war, just to name a few.
While you could certainly get a guidebook and travel The Freedom Trail on your own, there are several organized tours that make it far more interesting and bring history to life. Often, they are led by a historian in costume representing an important historical figure, making it more engaging (especially for kids.) After doing a bit of research, we opted for The Freedom Trail Foundation's Walk Into History Tour.
When we first moved to New England, I went on The Freedom Trail tour with the National Park Service, and always greatly enjoyed it. I recall they took the tour into the North End, to see Paul Revere's house, which is my favorite area of Boston. The guide dressed in historical garb using present-day comparisons made the tour interesting and easy to follow.
As I thought about what I wanted my son's experience to be, I wanted him to be engaged, interested, and maybe even learn a few things! Though The Freedom Trail Foundation's Walk Into History Tour does not visit the North End or Charlestown, it does visit 11 of the 16 official Freedom Trail sites. This was the first plus. Here are the other reasons I chose The Freedom Trail Foundation:
We chose the Walk Into History tour because it was a 90-minute tour to sites in fairly close proximity to one another. A hot summer day and a 10-year-old with a limited attention span? This was the winner!
We met our guide – Andrew Craigie – at Faneuil Hall. With this tour, meeting sites alternate between starting at Faneuil Hall and Boston Common, though you will end up at one of these spots (depending upon where you begin.) As Mr. Craigie explained to us, he was the first Apothocary General of the Continental Army during the American Revolution (in other words, the pharmacist.) He went on to many business ventures following the war to great wealth, only to later end up in great debt. Upon his death, his wife was forced to rent rooms to Harvard faculty members, which included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (who wrote the famous Paul Revere's Ride poem.)
Mr. Craigie carried on the tour to explain the many happenings that lead to the first shot of the American Revolution, including the Boston Massacre, secret meetings, the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere's ride (and the true story behind it), and much more. We also visited the historic Granary Burying Ground, where Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere and members of Benjamin Franklin's family are laid to rest.
As a 10-year-old, my son is at the ideal age to learn about American history. He loves to learn and is fascinated with countries, government, and how they are formed. Hearing about how his own country came to be is fascinating to him.
In that we also lived in England and recently took our kids back to London, visiting many English historical sites, my son was easily able to understand what was happening in England (broadly speaking) at the time of the American Revolution. Seeing The Freedom Trail sites in person and hearing about the sequence of events that led to this was tangible for him in this tour.
Couple that with a historical guide dressed in period clothing and taking on the persona of a historical figure, and my son was hooked. I don't know why but having someone giving a tour in a costume does make it significantly more interesting!
While we were enjoying our tour, several other tours were passing us, with other historical figures in costume. My son kept asking who each person was and their role in history. Quite honestly, it made us both want to go on the tour several times to hear from other “historical figures.”
Children under age eight (or thereabouts) may not enjoy this tour. They may like the tour guide in costume, but much of the information would quickly go over their heads. It is also 90 minutes of standing and walking. My younger two would not have been patient for that long.
The tour also does talk about serious topics such as the Boston Massacre, guns, death, and you do visit a graveyard. So, if your younger children could be frightened by this, I would recommend avoiding this tour until they are older.
Children or adults with mobility concerns should also take note of the walking. The streets are paved, but you are crossing many major roads in Boston with heavy traffic. Some of the sidewalks are narrow, and Boston is a bit hilly in spots. You could bring a stroller on this tour, but understand the sidewalks can be narrow and crowded.
Boston is a fantastic place to visit most times of the year. It is beautiful, walkable, full of culture, and historically significant to the United States. It is a wonderful place for school-aged kids to visit, to supplement what they are learning in school.
If you aren't keen on tours with an in-person guide, you don't have to miss out. Viator has a downloadable app you can purchase for a self-guided audio tour you can do from your phone! It is a GPS-enabled professionally narrated audio tour, available in English and Chinese, you can enjoy at your leisure.
While this is a great alternative, I still vote for The Freedom Trail Foundation's Walk Into History Tour because nothing quite brings history to life like hearing from a “real historical figure.”
Have you been on The Freedom Trail? Tell us about your experience! Comment below!
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