The 8 Best Parks in Boston for Your 2023 New England Trip
Boston is a city unlike any other, and thanks to its location on the eastern seaboard, it’s quite easy to visit since there are direct flights from most cities in the US. It’s the largest city in Massachusetts and one of the oldest in the country, founded in 1630 by Puritan colonists.
The city is known for its rich history, as it was the center of the American Revolution and home to related sites like the Freedom Trail, the Boston Tea Party Museum, and the USS Constitution Museum. And while Boston may get a bit brisk in the winter, it’s downright delightful in the spring, summer, and fall — and fortunately, it’s loaded with green spaces perfect for everything from morning runs to afternoon picnics.
That makes Boson a great city for a trip that blends history and the outdoors. Visitors can walk through the best parks in Boston on their way between museums, or take a day trip to a park that celebrates two American presidents. And some of the most popular parks in Boston have quite the history, like Cambridge Common, which served as a training ground for soldiers during the Revolutionary War.
Here are eight awesome parks in Boston to add to your next New England vacation.
Where to find the best parks in Boston, MA
Most of the parks listed below are either in Boston proper or just across the river in Cambridge. However, it only takes about seven minutes to get from Boston to Cambridge on the T (Boston’s public transportation system), so moving between the two locations is very easy. The furthest park from the city is Adams National Historical Park, usually just called Adams Park, about 25 minutes away in Quincy.
Remember that Boston is known for pretty bad traffic, so it’s always best to take public transportation or walk, rather than dealing with driving and finding parking.
Boston Common is the oldest public park in the United States, dating to 1634. It is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. It’s home to statues and monuments, such as the Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial, which honors the first African American regiment to fight for the Union in the Civil War. The park is also home to the famous Make Way for Ducklings statues, based on the children’s book of the same name by Robert McCloskey.
On warm days, you can almost always expect to find locals picnicking, tossing a frisbee, or playing team sports. Aside from being one of the most famous parks in Boston, it’s also near some of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, including Faneuil Hall (.5 miles away). The 50-acre Boston Common is also the starting point for the famous 2.5-mile Freedom Trail, which winds past more than a dozen sites of historical significance in the 392-year-old city.
The Public Garden
The Public Garden is adjacent to Boston Common on the other side of Charles Street. It was the first public botanical garden in the United States and designed in the Victorian-era style. It’s known for ornate seasonal gardens, a large pond, and the popular swan boat rides that first opened in 1870. The garden also features statues and monuments, such as the George Washington statue and the Ether Monument, which honors the first successful use of ether as an anesthetic in surgery.
The park is free, as is Boston Common, though there is a fee for the swan boats. But it’s pretty reasonable, at $4.50 for adults and $3 for kids. The swan boats are open between mid-April and early September, with the occasional closure for strong wind. You can’t make reservations, but according to the website, the wait is never more than five or 10 minutes.
The Esplanade is one of the most scenic parks in Boston. It runs parallel to the Charles River with walking and biking paths, playgrounds, and the Hatch Memorial Shell outdoor concert venue. The striking outdoor venue is home to the Boston Landmarks Orchestra (also called the Boston Pops), which performs free concerts in the Hatch Memorial Shell during the summer.
The Esplanade runs for about three miles along the Charles River, so expect to see rowers and sailboats on summer weekends. Also available in the summer are kayak rentals from Community Boating Inc., where rates start around $30 for two hours. You can actually rent kayaks as early as April or as late as October, but be sure to pack a wind- and waterproof jacket (and maybe a beanie and gloves) if you’re out on the water in spring or fall. It also offers sailing lessons and rentals.
The park is worth a detour if you’re nearby as walking through the park’s waterfront is much more pleasant than walking along busy city streets.
Franklin Park is the largest park in Boston’s “Emerald Necklace” — the term NYC Central Park architect Frederick Olmstead gave for the ring of green spaces surrounding the city. The park features a zoo, a golf course, an enormous playground, and several monuments. That includes the Franklin Park Zoo War Memorial and a series of art installations and sculptures scattered throughout the park.
Franklin Park is free to visit, but the Franklin Park Zoo has an admission fee starting at $11.15 for kids under 12 and $15.95 for adults. Buying your tickets online is strongly recommended. And if you like quirky places, visit the park’s old bear cages, which used to house bears in the former Franklin Park Zoo.
The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway
The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway is a string of interconnected parks and gardens built on land reclaimed from the “Big Dig” highway project that lasted for 20 years. The greenway features a variety of playgrounds, public art, and gardens. The greenway also has a number of food trucks and carts, which offer a variety of food options for visitors. The Greenway is also tied to the Wharf District Parks, where visitors will fin the Rings Fountain, the Greenway Carousel, and the Boston Tea Party Museum.
This Greenway is one of the best parks in Boston for renting bikes, either through the city’s robust BlueBike program or with private companies like Urban AdvenTours). And if you’re there in June, try to time your visit to attend Glow in the Park, the annual kick-off to summer with live music, lawn games, beer gardens, craft vendors, and more.
Harvard Yard is the historic heart of Harvard University in Cambridge, just across the river from Boston. It’s a central green space surrounded by some of the university’s most iconic buildings, including Memorial Hall, Massachusetts Hall, and Widener Library. The Yard is open to the public and is a popular spot for visitors to explore the history and beauty of the campus.
The history of Harvard Yard dates back to the founding of Harvard College in 1636. The Yard has been the center of student life for centuries and is home to several historical landmarks, including the John Harvard Statue (a popular visitor photo spot). The statue is a replica of the original statue, first donated to the university in 1884 by the senior class.
Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the Yard and explore the various buildings and landmarks or visit the Harvard Museum of Natural History (the park is free, but adult tickets to the museum are $15). You can also take student-led guided tours.
To get to Harvard Yard from Boston, take the T Red Line to Harvard Square. The Yard is just a short walk from the subway station.
Cambridge Common is a public park also in Cambridge. It’s one of the oldest public parks in the United States, dating back to 1630. The Common first served as a training ground for soldiers during the Revolutionary War and was later used more peacefully for grazing cattle and sheep. The Common also features several monuments and statues, such as the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which honors the soldiers who fought in the Civil War, and the Samuel Eliot Morison Statue, honoring the historian and Harvard professor.
The Common is also home to the Cambridge Public Library, and since it’s very close to Harvard Yard, it’s easy to combine the two into one day trip. There are plenty of places to grab an affordable lunch nearby, and if you have little kids in tow, take them to the well-known and interactive Alexander W. Kemp Playground — it’s one of the best in the city.
Adams National Historical Park
Adams National Historical Park in Quincy (about 30 minutes from Boston) is a historic site that preserves and interprets the homes, gardens, and property of the Adams family. That includes the birthplace, boyhood home, and gravesite of second US President John Adams, and the birthplace, home, and library of his son, sixth US President John Quincy Adams.
The park also includes the Stone Library, which houses over 14,000 historical books and manuscripts, as well as the Adams Carriage House, now the museum and visitor center. The park offers guided tours, educational programs, reenactments, and special events throughout the year, plus a self-guided tour of the property. The park is open year-round, but hours of operation vary depending on the season. Admission is free, through guided tours have an extra fee.
Where to stay in Boston
Boston’s transportation system is quite efficient, so it’s easy to visit many of the parks in Boston above even if you stay a bit outside of town. But most people will want to stay either near the historical sites in Boston, or near the green spaces of Cambridge. Airbnbs are also a good option if you prefer to stay somewhere more residential.
We hope you love the spaces and stays we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.
The Godfrey Hotel Boston: affordable rooms near Boston Common
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The Liberty Hotel: in Boston’s city center
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The Charles Hotel in Harvard Square: steps from Harvard Yard
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