The Boston-Beacon Hill and Downtown Boston parks trek, a 3 miles self-guided tour to walk along the Charles river, explore 2 parks, then visit Beacon Hill (a tour revised in February 2019), will take you about 2 hours to complete, more if you board a gondola or a swan boat, and visit the Museum of African American history.

In summer, bring your swimsuit to sunbath on pontoons along the river. In winter, bring your ice skates and enjoy the ring in the Boston Common (details and photos under the map)

Highlights: the Charles river esplanade, the Hatch Shell, the Gondolia Di Venezia, the Boston Public Garden, Swan boats, “Make Way for Ducklings” statues, Boston Common Frog Pond,  the Museum of African American History, the African Meeting House.

A: Your trek starts at Charles/MGH T.stop; before starting it, go and have a look at the Liberty Hotel on your right (when you face the river). Established in a former jail, it’s now a 4 stars place.

Then find on your left the pedestrian bridge that cross Storrow Drive; it will bring you to the river banks.

Once you’re on the Charles River Esplanade, the city seems far away. You have the view of the river with, most likely, small sailing boats coming and going (the Community Boating Inc is just there). Cambridge is on the other side. People are jogging, walking their dogs, sitting on benches, and generally speaking, having a much slower pace than a few blocks away.

B: After walking on the Esplanade for a while, you’ll reach the Hatch Shell; it’s a semi-circular venue used for outdoor concerts; that’s where you’ll go and listen to the famous  Fourth of July’s concert with the Boston Pops Orchestra. There are many other free events most weekends and weeknights in summer; just bring a chair or a blanket if you do not want to sit directly on the grass.

Next to it, you’ll find a bistro for a drink or a sandwich (in season only)

A bit further on your right, a small bridge; cross it and tour the island, with Fiedler Field in the middle to  sit on the grass; or go to one of the pontoons to enjoy the sun. On your way, you’ll surely have noticed the Gondolia Di Venezia pontoon. Yes, they are authentic Venetian gondolas built and shipped from Venice! Any tour you book will be on the Charles river, but certainly romantic too!

C: Once you’ve toured the island, take the Arthur Fiedler footbridge to exit the Esplanade; you are going back to the city. On your left, a façade covered with vines, below you, the Storrow Drive traffic. Take Arlington Street in front of you.

D: Commonwealth Avenue is tempting with its central pathway lined by trees, but today, go on your left to enter the Boston Garden. The George Washington Statue is here, then a charming pedestrian bridge crossing the lagoon. If you did not tour the Charles on a gondola, you can now tour the lagoon on a swan boat. It’s a landmark in Boston, at least in summer. Otherwise, just admire the scenery, the skyscrapers in the distance, the old willow trees, and the people relaxing.

E: Once ready, find a path on your left. You’ll soon reach another landmark, the “Make Way For Ducklings” statues. There are always toddlers sitting on one of the ducks for a photo, so if you want the statues only, it could take you a while!

F: Next, cross Charles Street and enter the Boston Common in front of you. This part of the park is bare, but a good place to play balls (in fact, there is a parking garage below the grass). If you follow a path going toward downtown Boston, you’ll soon see a reflective pool; it will however be an ice skating ring in winter; or sometimes just an empty basin. It’s the Frog Pond with, on the other side, the Tadpole Playground and, of course, frog statues in front of it.

G: Once you have explored the park, its benches, its motley population, its squirrels, exit it on your left to find Joy Street and Beacon Hill.

Follow Joy Street for a while, up then down, and you’ll find the museum of African American History; next to it when you reach Smith Court on your left, the African Meeting House. Both places will tell you what it meant to be an African American in New England from the colonial period to the 19th century. They are part of a larger set of houses, all on Beacon Hill, related to the history of the black community in the neighborhood. You’ll learn that they left it to go to the South End and Roxbury, replaced by the newly arriving Jewish community. The African Meeting House even became a synagogue for a while before being bought back by the Museum of African American History in 1972, and transformed as a museum.

H: When you exit the Meeting House, go to the end of Smith Court; you’ll find on your left a small no name alley, like in an old European town. Follow it, it will lead you to S.Russel Street (it’s not what the map tells you  because this alley is not on the map!). Turn right, and a few yards later on your right, there’s a tiny and peaceful garden where you can sit.

I: Then follow S. Russel Street until Cambridge Street, turn left and you’ll reach your starting point, the Charles/MGH T. stop.

If you want to explore Beacon Hill in more details, you can now take the Beacon Hill trek; in fact, don’t even go to the T.stop, but enter the Museum of Medecine on your left, the first stop on this trek

Good to know: You’ll find plenty of benches on your walk, but restrooms are scare, except at the museum; if in need (!), go to the Boston Visitor Center, 148 Tremont Street, on the edge of Boston Common. Food options are limited too, except on Cambridge Street at the end of your trek.

T.stop: Charles/MGH (start and end)

Tips for the scout: they are welcome, see suggestions at the bottom of the page. Thanks in advance for your contribution!

6 comments on “Beacon Hill & Parks trek

    • It’s pretty anytime of the year but after the long winter we had this year, it’s even better to see the trees and flower blooming and people coming back to the piers to sunbath along the river. Thanks for your comment, Ryan.

  • I can’t quite figure out how to download these hikes so I can read them on a phone or tablet. there are no “download buttons”. Can you advise?

    • Hello Tricia,
      You’re right, by download I was mainly thinking “follow on your cellphone”, or “print them beforehand”. However, if you copy all and then paste on Word or Notepad, it will work too. Tell me if it works.
      Thanks for your comment,
      Best,
      Dominique

      • Thank you. I’ll figure out a way. maybe print to pdf and then use a pdf reader …. I’ll figure something out. I don’t have a printer right now!!!

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