Families love Boston for one simple reason--it's small and compact and most of the major sites (New England Aquarium, Quincy Market, the Freedom Trail, and the Children's Museum) are within easy walking distance. The Museum of Science, Harvard Yard, and Museum of Fine Arts are a bit more of a schlep, but still an easy T (subway) ride away.
So ditch the car, relax, and revel in the city that jump-started America's drive for independence.
The red line painted on the pavement takes you to monumental revolutionary sites, including Paul Revere's House and Old Ironsides, the U.S.S. Constitution. National Park Rangers offer a 75-minute tour from Old South Meeting House to Old North Church, but you might prefer to take the tour on your own with a copy of Charles Bahne's informative The Complete Guide to Boston's Freedom Trail ($4.95 at the Boston Common Visitors Information Center). www.thefreedomtrail.org
The Freedom Trail leads to Boston's number one attraction, Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market
Constructed in 1742 as a market where country folk brought produce to town, Faneuil Hall is today home to hundreds of name-brand shops. Pause amid the souvenir hunt for a bag of just-out-of-the-oven cookies from Boston Chipyard. Or grab half-price theater tickets at the kiosk for a play that evening at the dazzling Boston Opera House, built in 1928 and now a favorite spot for traveling Broadway plays. www.faneuilhallmarketplace.com
No family trip to Boston is complete without a visit to the New England Aquarium at Central Wharf
The aquarium's main attraction is the four-story cylindrical tank that visitors spiral around (like the Guggenheim Museum). Sharks, large turtles, and huge cod call this tank home. It's especially fun to be around during the daily feedings. Times vary, so be sure to ask. www.neaq.org
Ideal for kids 9 and under, the newly refurbished Children's Museum overlooks Fort Point Channel
Inside, pieces of plywood float like magic carpets to the ceiling in a climbing structure. There's also KidPower, an exhibition devoted to encouraging good nutrition and an active healthy lifestyle through biking and basketball. www.bostonkids.org
For any child with a healthy dose of curiosity, it's hard to beat the Museum of Science
Kids experience the lightning show in the Thomson Theater of Electricity, say hello to the three-story-high Tyrannosaurus rex, and dismantle computers all day long. Investigate! helps children think like scientists, developing questions, finding evidence, and drawing conclusions from such activities as exploring the human body. Or visit the solar system at daily star shows in the Charles Hayden Planetarium. www.mos.org
Museum of Fine Arts
In Boston, you're supposed to give the kids a history lesson, so head straight to the Museum of Fine Arts' galleries on early American painting. Check out Gilbert Stuart's well-known portrait of debonair George Washington, along with John Singleton Copley's painting of Paul Revere.
Few realize that Revere was a silversmith, so a large collection of his own wares sits next to his portrait. Another family favorite is John Singer Sargent's Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882), an icon of childhood, where each of the four girls are scattered around the canvas like chess pieces. www.mfa.org
Already quite stately, the museum will only get bigger with the emergence of the American Wing in 2010, a $500 million expansion.
Family vacation hot spots in Boston