I love Boston; It’s my hometown. Even though I moved to Connecticut almost twenty years ago, I still consider myself a Bostonian and love exploring the city whenever I am in town visiting my parents. The list of places to explore with my children is long (hello, Freedom Trail!), but on a recent trip, I thought we’d start with an experience I keep reading rave reviews of: The Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum. The tour and museum did not disappoint; this is one of the most engaging, humorous tours I have experienced. The tour guides (all of whom impersonate actual historical figures) were upbeat, friendly, and welcoming to children. Children of all ages will enjoy the experience. (**toddlers might need to skip one small section of the museum; see below)
Located on the Congress Street Bridge in the heart of Boston, the tour reenacts the night of December 16, 1773 when 5,000 “Sons and Daughters of Liberty” (or a maximum of 55 tourists) met at the South Meeting House to organize protests against the tea tax. During peak summer season, there are 29 tours (about every 15 minutes), with a total of over 1500 guests, provided every day. The museum and tours operate all year long, with a reduced tour schedule in the winter. Check the calendar and buy slightly discounted tickets online here.
Traveling With Kids:
- Park in either the Farnsworth or Stillings Parking Garages. If you park before 9am, or have your parking ticket validated by the museum gift shop, it’s $24 to park for the whole day. The Farnsworth Garage is less than two blocks and Stillings Garage is four blocks to the museum.
- Wear sneakers; you’ll be walking up and down gangways (metal bridges connecting the land and boats) and going up and down steep staircases.
- The museum and boats are handicap accessible but strollers are not allowed.
- Restrooms are located next to Abigail’s Tea Room. Definitely go before you start the one hour tour.
- Photography is not allowed in the museum.
Five Highlights of the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum Tour:
1. Start in the South Meeting House. You’ll be welcomed by a host character (who portrays a Bostonian involved in the destruction of the tea and protest of the tea tax), who provides feathers from the Mohawk Trail and alternate identity cards of actual community members. You’ll receive a quick “training” session to prepare you and you fellow Sons and Daughters of Liberty to fight against the tea tax. Make sure to practice your 18th century common phrases like “hauzzah” (“Hooray!” or “Yay!”) or “Fie!” (“Boo!”). Samuel Adams will come in and give a full report of events occuring around the city. There are also opportunities for budding thespians to have a role in the town meeting.
2. Head down to either the Beaver or Eleanor (they’re identical ships which rotate between tour groups) to hear more from another host aboard the ship. Everyone will have a chance to throw replica cargo of tea overboard into the harbor. You can go below deck and explore the living quarters of the ship.
3. Inside the museum (no photography allowed), the guide will escort you through three rooms with artifacts from 1773 (including a vial of tea). In each room, there is a video presentation with narrated reenactments of what happened leading up to the American Revolution. Make sure you pay close attention to the paintings on the wall in the second room! Note: The third video presentation is very loud and depicts Paul Revere’s Ride and the Battle at Concord and Lexington. There are scenes of men being shot and killed. There is a space to wait for the rest of your party if little ones want to skip this part of the tour. If you want to learn more about the American Revolution and the Battle at Concord and Lexington, visit the Minute Man National Historic Park, close to Boston. You can read about our adventures here.
4. The tour ends at Abigail’s Tea Room overlooking the harbor. There is a wide assortment of freshly baked cookies and pastries, salads and soups, and hot and cold drinks (adult beverages too!) available each day. Check online for daily times. There is also a wide variety of teas offered, with a “sampling” option. The tea room has plenty of space to enjoy snacks and lunch, as well as limited outdoor seating, and many tables have period games, with instructions, to keep children entertained.
5. The gift shop, located at the entrance/exit to the complex, has a wide variety of souvenirs, including clothing, tea sets, ornaments, and children’s items.
Other Nearby Places to Explore with Children:
The Boston Children’s Museum is literally on the right side of the bridge. It’s massive (three floors and over twenty hands on exhibits) and has activities for children of all ages, as well as daily programming. Plan on spending at least a couple of hours here.
The Boston Fire Museum is also less than two minutes from the Tea Party Museum, behind the Children’s Museum pavilion. It’s free to visit but only open on Saturday. It looks to be a great way learn about firefighting techniques and history, with many fire engines and equipment on display. Plan to spend 45 minutes to an hour here.
The New England Aquarium is a quick ten minute walk from the Tea Party Museum. It’s home to over 27,000 animals and has over 70 exhibits, many of which are interactive like touch tanks, coral reefs, seal shows, whale watches. Plan to spend two to three hours to explore the aquarium, not including shows or excursions.
From the New England Aquarium, you can take a ten minute water taxi (operated by Boston Harbor Cruises) to Charlestown and explore the USS Constitution and Navy Yard and Museum. There are other private water taxis, but the Boston Harbor Cruise line, a division of MassDoT (Department of Transportation) is the most economical, charging $3.50 per ride, and children ride free with adults. I’ll have a full write up of our visit to the USS Constitution and the Charlestown Navy Yard next week.
The Freedom Trail is a two and a half mile trail throughout Boston with sixteen historically significant stops. Just follow the red painted line to stay on course and make sure to collect your National Parks Passport stamps. You'd need a couple of days to really explore each location.
The Barking Crab is a two minute walk, to the right of the bridge and next to the Children’s Museum. It’s casual, with indoor and outdoor seating, and has a good seafood menu, as well as plenty of options for non seafood lovers
Smith and Wollensky Steakhouse is on the left side of the bridge. If your children have sophisticated palates this is the perfect spot, and the restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating with nice views.
If you or your spouse are beer connoisseurs, definitely make time to stop at Trillium Brewing Company. It’s a mecca for beer lovers and people wait in line for a long time to purchase their craft beers. Note: you can only buy cans or beer or have growlers filled; no tasting or food options.
Disclaimer: I was given a media pass to take a tour. All opinions expressed are my own.