Our tour starts on the edge of Boston and Charlestown at the Museum of Science. It then travels along the Charles River passing through a few different parks and the Charles River Dam until our tour ends at the Charlestown Naval Yards where the USS Constitution is located. While a few of the stops include inside destinations (Museum of Science, Navy Yard Visitors Center, the Constitution Museum) most of the stops are outside with room to run around and with great views of the Boston sky line. At the end of the tour, the most fun way back to Boston is to take the ferry from the Charlestown Navy Yard that will drop you off right next to the Aquarium and get a great view of Boston from the water.
The 2.2 mile path of the tour takes approximately 46 min.
We have not included the Bunker Hill Monument on this tour because many kids may be too tired after the rest of the walk to continue uphill from the USS Constitution to get to the monument. But if you still have energy, we’ve include the site as a one-off location. The walk will take about 10-15 minutes but also keep in mind if you want to go to the top of the monument it can only be accessed via a 294 step stairway.
Stop 1. Museum of Science
(1 Science Park, Boston, www.mos.org)
The museum emphasizes hands on education offering a range of interactive exhibits and displays ranging from dinosaurs (including a full size tyrannosaurus rex), artic exploration, human biology, a walk-thru insect zoo, demonstrations of artificial lightning bolts in theater of electricity and much more. Also located on site is the largest Omnimax movie theatre in New England, the Charles Hayden Planetarium and a 4-D movie theatre.
The Museum began in 1830 when a collection of men who wished to share scientific interests founded the Boston Society of Natural History which became more commonly known as the Boston Museum of Natural History. As the museum grew, the trustees looked for a larger space and moved into the 234 Berkley St building in 1862, which was designed by William Preston, in the newly formed landfill area, the Back Bay. Almost 100 years later as the museum outgrew this space, they developed and moved into a space on top of the Charles River Dam Bridge in 1951 (the building on Berkley Street is now a retail store).
The Charles River Dam was built in 1910 and including two locks, one of which is now under the Museum of Science’s parking garage. As this dam began to have problems keeping sea water out of the Charles River fresh water basin, a new dam was built downstream, and now the locks as the Museum of Science are always kept open.
The main entrance to the museum straddles the border between the cities of Boston and Cambridge, and the boundary is indicated by a marker embedded in the floor inside the museum.
Stop 2. North Point Park
Quiet park but area can be noisy from car traffic on the bridges and boat traffic on the Charles. Great views of the Boston Cityscape and the Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge, especially when it’s lit up at night. The park has a playground, splash pond and picnic tables but no restrooms.
The North Bank Bridge is a pedestrian bridge that connects North Point Park with Paul Revere Landing Park.
Stop 3. Lynch Family Skate Park
Built by the Charles River Conservancy this free skate park is located under a ramp of the Zakim Bridge at the edge of the Charles River. There are 3 different bowls and a variety of street features offering something for all skill levels. Can get pretty busy but always great even to just watch.
Stop 4. Charles River Dam
The Charles River Dam controls the surface level of the river and its upstream tributaries including the Back Bay Fens and Muddy River and prevents sea water from entering the Charles River freshwater basin during high tides. The dam contains three individual locks and a fish passage. The three locks, the Gridley Locks, can be crossed by pedestrians and bicyclists and is shorter than the bridges but one may need to wait if a boat is passing through since the lock gates hold the pedestrian pathway.
On the dam's walkway is an interactive art installation, the "Charlestown Bells", by Paul Matisse, which plays a set of chimes when walkers hit the railing.
The Dam became operational in 1978 replacing the 1910 Charles River Dam located at the Science Museum which was having problems keeping salt water out upstream.
Stop 5. Paul Revere Landing Park
Another quiet park with great views of the city. This park has a dog park as well as a playground. A large grassy oval meadow serves as an amphitheater and concert stage for performances.
Although the name of the park would lead one to believe that this is where Paul Revere landed when rowing over the Charles River from Boston to start his midnight ride to Lexington and Concord to warn that the British were coming, the actual landing site is right next to the Charlestown Navy Yard.
Stop 6. City Square Park
(New Rutherford Ave and Chelsea St)
City Square Park is a small well-groomed 1 acre park with a fountain right off the bridge for those following the Freedom Trail on to Bunker Hill. The park is located on the spot where Charlestown was founded in 1628 and where the first governor of Massachusetts, John Winthrop, built his home known as “the Great House” (the original location of the house is outlined in the lawn with stone). The fountain in the center of the park is surrounded by curved seat walls and bronze sculptural elements. In the summer, movies are shown on the lawn.
Stop 7. Charlestown Navy Yard / Boston Navy Yard
The area here was used to build ships during the American Revolution and in 1801 the newly established US Department of the Navy purchased the facilities, creating the Charlestown Navy Yards, one of six ship building facilities for the Navy. In 1814 the shipyard built the USS Independence which was the US’s first ship of the line. At least twelve small vessels for the Civil War were built here but the yards were primarily a repair and storage facility until the 1890s when it started building steel-hulled steam-powered warships for the Navy. Many of the ships built here were in the 1930 and 40s. After the Vietnam War the yards closed and in 1974 the site was decommissioned and this 30 acre property became part of the Boston National Historic Park.
Stop 8. Paul Revere’s Landing Point
During the British Occupation of Boston, the Massachusetts Militia stored weapons and gunpowder in the town of Concord. British troops were planning to march from Boston to seize the weapons and capture the patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Paul Revere was waiting in Boston to find out if the British were marching out of Boston “by land” or taking boats over the Charles River “by sea”. On the night of April 18, 1775, Revere was given the signal of 2 lamps hanging in the Old North Church steeple, signifying “by sea”, rowed to Charlestown, and landed near here. After borrowing a horse he rode to Lexington and Concord to warn the patriots there and along the way.
The following day, April 19, 1775, the first military engagement of the Revolutionary War occurred in Lexington and Concord and along the road on the path back to Boston, as the patriot militia fought the British regulars.
Stop 9. Charlestown Navy Yard Visitor Center
(55 Constitution Rd., Charlestown)
The Visitors Center has exhibits and artifacts about the US Navy and is also the entrance way to visit the USS Constitution. The Visitor Center is free to enter but requires going through a security inspection which at times can require a long wait.
Stop 10. USS Constitution “Old Ironsides”
(3rd St, Charlestown, 10am to 4pm)
During George Washington’s presidency Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean were capturing American ships. The Naval Act of 1794 provided funds for the creation of six frigates for the United States Navy which included the USS Constitution which was built in Boston and named by George Washington after the United States Constitution. The ship earned its nickname, “Old Ironsides”, during the war of 1812 when British cannonballs fired at the ship seemed to bounce off its hull. A British sailor remarked that the ship must have a side made of iron although in fact the ship is constructed of a three layer wooden sandwich of live and white oak. The USS Constitution served in the Civil War as a training ship for the US Naval Academy, was retired from service in 1881 and became a museum ship in 1907. The USS Constitution is the world’s oldest commissioned naval ship still afloat, and still has a crew of active duty US Naval Officers and Enlisted men.
Once a year on July 4th the USS Constitution is taken out on the water for a cruise and then returned to park on its opposite side (allowing for more even wear on the boat). Tickets are available through a lottery.
Visiting the ship is free but it requires going through a security inspection which at times can require a long wait.
Stop 11. USS Cassin Young
USS Cassin Young (DD-793) is a US Navy Fletcher-class destroyer launched September 12 1943. After serving in World War II, including the Battles of Leyte Gulf and Okinawa, the ship was decommissioned but was reactivated during the Korean War and continued in service until 1960. The Cassin Young is preserved today as a memorial ship and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986 as one of only four surviving Fletcher-class destroyers still afloat. The ship was named for Captain Cassin Young who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism at the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and killed in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in the fall of 1942.
Admission is free.
Stop 12. USS Constitution Museum
(10am-5pm Thursday to Sunday, Admission-donation encouraged ($5-$15), ussconstitutionmuseum.org)
The USS Constitution Museum tells the story of the ship and the US Navy through its collections and its interactive exhibits. It is housed in a restored shipyard building at the foot of Pier 2. The Museum is a private, non-profit organization that is managed separately from the naval ship.
Extra Stop. Bunker Hill Monument
(Monument Sq, Charlestown, 10am to 5pm)
The Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775 was one of the first battles of the Revolutionary War. While the British in the end won, the colonists inflicted severe casualties on the British side – 1,000 out of 2,400 were either killed or wounded. The colonial soldiers had received word that the British were planning to fortify the hills at Charlestown which overlooked their encampments in Boston. On June 16 the colonists under the leadership of General Putnam and Colonel Prescott rushed to the hills ahead of the British and in the middle of the night built fortifications. The next morning on June 17 the British were surprised to see the colonists on the hill and General Howe sent 2,400 solders to remove the colonists. 1,500 colonists held off 3 British attacks before eventually retreating when they ran out of gun powder. According to popular stories the colonists were warned “don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” in order for their musket fire to be most effective.
The 221-foot 294-step granite obelisk was erected between 1824 and 1843 to commemorate the battle and was built at the site where an earthen fort was constructed before the battle. While the battle was named after the larger more prominent hill, the actual fighting took place on Breed’s Hill, a smaller hill in front of Bunker Hill, and is where the monument is located. There is also a small but informative museum across the street from the monument that includes exhibits about the battle.
There is no admission charge to the monument or the museum. The only way to the top of the monument is the 294 step narrow stairway which leads to a small room at the top with small windows, but the views are fantastic. The monument requires free timed tickets which can be obtained in the museum. There are public restrooms in the museum.
MBTA Charlestown Ferry
Charlestown Navy Yard to Long Wharf (South) - Summer Schedule
10 minute trip
$3.70 1 way fare
Weekdays: 6:45am to 8:15pm. Departs every 30 minutes throughout the day, every 15 minutes during rush hour.
Weekends: 10:15am to 6:15pm. Departs every 30 minutes.
Long Wharf (South) to Charlestown Navy Yard - Summer Schedule
10 minute trip
$3.70 1 way fare
Weekdays: 6:30am to 8pm. Departs every 30 minutes throughout the day, every 15 minutes during rush hour.
Weekends: 10am to 6pm. Departs every 30 minutes.