It seems like every square inch of Boston is somehow historically significant. That's why it's a good thing that the city decided to help tourists out by specially marking out some of the most important sites, thus creating the Freedom Trail. It's a 2.5-mile-long path (marked with brick) that winds through the city past 17 spots of particular historical interest, mostly pertaining to the American Revolution, in which Boston played a huge role. Walking along the trail, you'll see all kinds of fascinating places, from ships to cemeteries, and essentially follow the path from colonial rule under Britain to American independence... and beyond! Here's a stop-by-stop guide to the sights of the American Revolution.
Then it's on to the Massachusetts State House, built in 1798 on land once owned by Massachusett's first elected governor, John Hancock (aka he of the enormous signature on the Declaration of Independence). They offer free tours here; some details to look for include the Sacred Cod in the House of Representatives chamber (which symbolizes the importance of fishing to the state) and the pinecone on top of the gold dome (a tribute to the also very important logging industry.)
Next, you'll visit the historic Park Street Church (the first of many old churches you'll visit on the trail). It was built in 1809 and is still holding services after all these years. The spot where it stands used to be known as "Brimstone Corner", because hardcore street preachers used to go on about fire and brimstone and eternal damnation (some things never change) here, and also because this was once a secret storage spot for Patriot gunpowder.
Park Street Church is right next to your next stop, the Granary Burying Ground. Other than being a hauntingly beautiful old cemetery, it's important in that several notable people are buried here: look for the headstones of Sam Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, Phillis Wheatley, and the 5 victims of the Boston Massacre (some massacre, huh?)
Then, it's on to King's Chapel, where many Loyalists gathered before fleeing Boston during the Revolution. In the 18th century, each family paid the church for a box pew to sit in, and they could decorate them however they wished. The bell here was recast by Paul Revere after it cracked, and you can still here the sweet ring today!
Beside this church is Boston's first cemetery, Kings Chapel Burying Ground, which is the final resting place of all kinds of characters, from Puritans to pirates. The European first woman to step foot in New England is buried here, as is Ralph Waldo Emerson's dad and the lady who allegedly inspired Hester Prynne in "The Scarlet Letter". So scandalous!
Next, head in search of the city's Ben Franklin Statue. This is more than just a statue honoring one of Boston's favorite sons. It's also the former site of the Boston Latin School, America's first public school (and first school, period.) Ironically enough, although it has many famous alumni, they chose to mark the school's old location with a statue of one of its most famous dropouts. Yep, ol' Ben never graduated from school!
After that, visit the site of the Old Corner Bookstore. It's one of the older buildings in Boston, and was once home to Anne Hutchinson, who was famously expelled from Massachusetts in 1638 for heresy-- after that, the building tampered its notoriety by becoming a bookstore and publisher that's credited for giving the world gems like The Scarlet Letter, Walden, and the Atlantic Monthly Magazine. Naturally, given the building's historical significance, it's been turned into a Chipotle.
The Old South Meeting House is the next stop. It was the largest building in Boston at the time of the American Revolution, so it was the perfect gathering place for Patriots-- the Boston Tea Party was famously organized here. Of course, when the British came to Boston, they caught on that this was a popular meeting spot, so they occupied it, filling it with dirt and using it to practice horse riding. They also stole an important manuscript, written by Pilgrim governor William Bradford, that was hidden in the church's tower. Honestly, that sounds like something right out of "National Treasure", which is totally epic.
Head to the Old State House, where the government of colonial Massachusetts met between 1713 and 1776 (then it became the seat of the state government for Massachusetts until 1798). Today, it's a museum that offers exhibits on the history of Boston. There's an especially detailed section dedicated to the Boston Massacre, which makes sense, because the historically significant event took place right outside the Old State House.
The cobblestone ring on the plaza, which marks the Boston Massacre Site, is the next stop on the Freedom Trail. Even though the story of the massacre is a bit overdramatized, it was a crucial moment in the story of America's independence, and it's chilling to stand at the spot where the deadly riot happened.
After that, lighten the mood with a trip to Faneuil Hall Marketplace-- this was a marketplace and meeting hall in the 18th century. Ponder the firey speeches Sam Adams gave here while chowing down on lobster bisque and shopping for souvenirs.
Tired yet? Don't worry, you're almost done. Listen, my children, and you shall hear.... of the Paul Revere House, which has been very well-preserved and turned into a museum of sorts. It's one of the stops that actually has an admission fee, but it's worth it to peek inside, since they've done a nice job of showing you what life was like for a family in Boston in the 18th century. Plus... it's Paul freakin' Revere's house, and it's still around, and we want it to be around for a long time so we can keep talking about his ride!
Then visit Copp's Hill Burying Ground, Boston's second cemetery, which is home to more than 1,200 marked graves. You won't find any super famous people buried here, but it;s a lot bigger and creepier. The thing that sets Copp's Hill apart from the other old graveyards on the trail? The African American graves.
After that, pay tribute to the men who lost their lives in the first conflict of the American Revolution at the Bunker Hill Monument. There's a free museum with some great info on the battle, and if you're not too worn out, climb to the top of the granite obelisk and take in the incredible views of Boston. You can even spy your next (and final!) stop from the top.
The trail ends at the water, with the USS Constitution. It's the oldest commissioned naval vessel afloat, having been launched in 1797. In fact, George Washington was the one who named it! It's most famous for its actions in the War of 1812-- a little reminder that the American Revolution was so influential that it didn't exactly end back in the 18th century.
This is just a fraction of the history that Boston has to offer. Literally every brick and crack across the city has a story to tell, and it's so important to our identity as Americans to understand the history that made our country what it is, and where the idea of independence came from. Further interesting background can be found throughout the rest of the city, and it's all well worth exploring.