When we decided to road trip through the USA, I knew it’d be very different from travelling around Europe. To be honest with you, I wasn’t sure about the trip.
One of the things I love about Europe is its history. Cities are hundreds, in some case thousands of years old.
But the USA didn’t seem to have much of this. Where was I to find a Notre Dame equivalent? Or a church of bones like the one we found in Kutna Hora?
The Boston Freedom Trail
But the Boston Freedom Trail certainly proved me wrong on that point. The 4km trail leads you through all the historic monuments of the city, telling you the story of all the people who helped to shape the nation.
You can take a guided tour but we decided to do it ourselves. I downloaded the Freedom Trail Walking App onto my iPhone and we used this to guide us along.
And it’s an easy route to follow because the path is paved in red bricks so you can’t get lost.
So what were the highlights?
1. Bunker Hill
We had a love / hate relationship with this war monument. It is a tower standing nearly 68 metres high and is on the site of the first major battle of the American Revolution fought on June 17, 1775.
You can climb the Bunker Hill Monument for free to take in the views if you pick up tickets from the museum across the road. Despite it being a cloudy day, for some reason Dave thought it was a good idea.
So we trudged up the 200+ steps and arrived at the top, ridiculously sweaty. Not a great start to the morning, considering we had a lot of walking to do.
Although my mum will be happy at the efforts to walk off all the large American meals we’ve been eating.
Sure enough, we could hardly see the view through the clouds.
And when we got down, the guide at the door told us that there’s been quite a few heart attacks up the top of the tower. He said it’s a massive struggle to get the person back down the winding staircase.
So carefully consider whether you’re fit enough before you attempt to climb the monument.
2. USS Constitution
Dave is really into his warships and if you are too, you can’t miss the USS Constitution on the tour.
The vessel is the oldest commissioned warship left in the world. It was named by President George Washington more than two hundred years ago after the US Constitution. The ship was used for training during the American Civil War.
The USS Constitution is free to visit (like many of the spots on the Freedom Trail) and you can either take a self-guided tour of the whole upper deck or a guided tour of the whole ship. The latter lasts about 45 minutes whereas you only get 15 minutes on the ship if you do the self-guided tour.
I’d recommend checking the tour times on the website before you go though, because you might have a little wait otherwise.
There are a few cemeteries on the Freedom Trail – most notably the Granary and the Copp’s Hill Burial Ground. I’d recommend visiting both because you can really get a sense of Boston’s history from looking at the graves.
Three of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence are buried in the Granary Burial Ground, including Samuel Adams, a Founding Father of the USA who was instrumental in shaping the political culture of the country.
There are plaques throughout the graveyards which will give you information on who was buried there, including an infant’s tomb where more than 500 children have been laid to rest.
4. The Old North Church
And if you’re into your history, you can’t skip the Old North Church on the Freedom Trail. We’re not really into churches but this one has a very interesting past.
The organ that you’ll see at the back of the building is decorated in ornate golden angels which were plundered by a pirate who was a member at the church. The organ is also the first pipe organ to be brought over to America from England.
As soon as you walk into the church, you’ll notice that it’s divided into different sections. This was so families could keep warm in the depths of winter back in the day. They would fill boxes with hot rocks and put their feet on top of them, while the white partitioning they were sitting in would keep out the draft.
But it wasn’t a cheap way to sit – the boxes at the front of the church cost the equivalent of $20,000 in today’s money to rent for the year!
5. Mike’s Pastry
Just down the road from the Old North Church on Hanover Street is Mike’s Pastry. DO NOT miss this stop off. Not officially on the Freedom Trail, if you walk the trail, you should pass right outside its doors.
You’ll be able to spot Mike’s Pastry from a long way away because there will be a crowd outside the front and quite often a queue to get in.
It’s worth the wait. I had the best cannoli I’ve ever tasted there. It’s what Mike’s Pastry is famous for, and you can get many different flavours. I had Oreo – delicious!
6. Holocaust Memorial
Dave and I have been to a lot of memorials, most recently the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. But none of them have really affected me like the Holocaust Memorial in Boston did.
You walk through it underneath many glass enclosures, with each section telling you startling statistics from the Holocaust. Many of the sections have quotes from people who survived engraved into the glass.
As you pass through each glass enclosure, a thin mist of water is sprayed onto you to replicate the gassing in the chambers.
It is haunting and as you leave the memorial you will certainly feel an overbearing sense of sadness for all the people who lost their lives under Hitler’s rule.
Not the happiest part of the trail, but it’s certainly worth a visit.
So there you have it – our top six things to see on the Boston Freedom Trail.
Have you been on the Freedom Trail? What did you like the most?
What you need to know:
Cost – Most of the trail is free, although The Old State House, Old South Meeting House and Paul Revere House cost various (smallish) amounts for entrance. The Old North Church also asks for a donation. The 90 minute guided walking tours cost $11 per person for an adult ticket.
How to get there – We actually did the Freedom Trail in reverse, starting at the Bunker Hill Monument and finishing at The Common. But if you do it the right way round, The Boston Common is situated in the heart of Boston and is easy to find. We recommend getting there without a car because parking can be a problem. It took us about four hours to do the trail but you probably don’t need that long, it’s just that we took our time.
When to go – Nearly all of the trail is outside, so rug up warm if it’s cold and try not to get caught in the rain! The Freedom Trail is 2.5 miles (4km) long.