Last Updated on November 17, 2023 by Kelly
The oldest public park in the United States is the Boston Common, and the Public Garden was the first public botanical garden. When you’re visiting Boston, you absolutely have to visit these historical parks! Both parks are located right next to each other, creating 70 acres of urban green space right in the middle of downtown Boston. The parks are full of historical monuments, trails, and gardens. We’ve visited Boston numerous times over the years, and the Boston Common and Public Garden are one of my favorite places to spend a day in Boston. In this post, we’re sharing 26 things to do at the Boston Common and the Public Garden.
About Boston Common and the Public Garden
Boston Common was established in 1634, making it nearly 400 years old! Puritans purchased the land and it was used for their sheep to graze. It was called “The Common Land”, and as you can see, the name stuck! In 1775, the land was used by the British army as a training ground during the Revolutionary War. The Boston Common became a National Historic Landmark in 1987. It’s one of the components of the “Emerald Necklace” of parks in Boston and Brookline.
The Public Garden was established in 1837. While Boston Common was a large public park, the Public Garden was built with the specific intention of planting flowers and plants for a more aesthetic experience. The park was designed based on Victorian-era gardens. It has a large lagoon and many paths.
Things to See in Boston Common
1. Robert Gould Shaw and 54th Regiment Memorial
The Robert Gould Shaw and 54th Regiment Memorial honors the first all-Black volunteer regiment in the Civil War. Governor John Andrew created the Massachusetts 54th Infantry after Abraham Lincoln presented his Emancipation Proclamation. The Governor chose Robert Gould Shaw, who was the son of two of Boston’s most prominent abolitionists, to lead the regiment. He believed that the Black soldiers could fight just as well as White soldiers. He led them in battle in an assault at Battery Wagner in South Carolina. Unfortunately, Shaw and many of the soldiers were killed. The battle proved that the regiment was just as brave as any white regiment, and it inspired the enlistment of many more Black soldiers.
When we visited this memorial, there was a ranger from the National Park Service providing a free talk. We learned a lot from his presentation! It was really great to hear more of the history about the memorial.
2. Boston Common Carousel
The Boston Common Carousel was built in 1947. The carousel is open for spring, summer, and fall seasons. If you have kids, this is a great attraction in the Boston Common. At the time of this writing, a ticket is $4 per ride (with a 10-ride card available for $30).
3. Boston Frog Pond
Another kid-friendly attraction at the Boston Common is the Boston Frog Pond. During the summer, the “frog pond” is a free splash park. And during the winter, it’s transformed into an ice-skating rink. The Tadpole Playground is right next to the Frog Pond.
4. Soldiers and Sailors Monument
The Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the Boston Common honors those who died in the Civil War. It was dedicated in 1877. The monument contains four large bronze reliefs: Departure for the War (shows soldiers leaving for war), The Sanitary Commission (shows soldiers receiving medical care on the field), The Departure of the Sailors from Home (shows sailors in a naval fight), and The Return from War (soldiers returning home). The monument is 126 feet high. Atop the column is the statue of America, depicted as a woman wearing a crown of 13 stars. She holds the American flag in one hand, and she holds a sword in the other. The bronze statues at the base of the monument were missing for many years, and citizens were unsure if the memorial had never been completed, if the statues were stolen, or if they were missing. In 2014, the original statues were discovered (they were awaiting restoration).
5. Central Burying Ground
The Boston Common also contains the Central Burying Ground, which was one of the least desirable burying grounds in colonial Boston because it was furtherest away from the downtown center. Some of the oldest gravestones there are from 1756.
6. Brewer Fountain
The Brewer Fountain was built in 1868 and is made of bronze. It’s 22-feet-tall and was originally cast in Paris. It was gifted to the city of Boston by Gardner Brewer, who was a wealthy Boston merchant. The fountain was cast at least 16 different times, and you can find variations of this fountain around the world. The fountain depicts the figures of Neptune, Amphitrite, Acis, and Galatea (all from Greek mythology).
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Travel Tip: If you’re planning a trip to Boston, consider buying a Boston CityPASS. You’ll be able to save money if you plan on visiting multiple attractions.
7. Parkman Bandstand
The Parkman Bandstand was built in 1912 in honor of George F. Parkman, who was a prominent Bostonian that donated money to the parks. In its early years, the bandstand was used for puppet shows. Today, it’s used for rallies, speeches, and concerts. During the summer, you can even catch Shakespeare on the Common performances.
8. Plaque to the Great Elm
The Great Elm was a large elm tree in Boston Common that fell during the year 1876. It had been an icon to Bostonians, and it was sorely missed. Today, there is a plaque marking the spot where the tree once existed.
Be sure to see all our posts about destinations in Massachusetts!
9. Boston Massacre Monument
Although the site of the Boston Massacre is not in Boston Common (you can find that marker on the Freedom Trail), there is a monument honoring the victims of the Boston Massacre in Boston Common. The monument is 25-feet-tall.
A woman at the top represents the Spirit of Revolution, which was based on a symbol in a painting of the French Revolution. In one hand the woman holds a broken chain (which symbolizes freedom from oppression), and in the other hand she holds the American flag. One of her feet crushes the royal crown, and next to her other foot an eagle is about to take flight.
The monument was erected in 1888. It honors the 5 victims of the Boston Massacre: Crispus Attucks, Patrick Carr, James Caldwell, Samuel Gray, and Samuel Maverick.
Boston Common is the first stop on the Freedom Trail. Read our full guide to walking the Freedom Trail!
10. Founders’ Memorial (300th Anniversary Monument)
This memorial was built in 1930 and honors the 300th anniversary of the settlement of Boston’s first founders. On one side of the memorial there is a bronze depiction of Puritans arriving in Boston. On the other side of the monument, there are some quotes from early settlers.
11. Baseball Fields and Tennis Courts
Boston Common also features a number of sports fields and courts. During the warmer months, the park is filled with people enjoying outdoor recreation.
12. Statue of Edgar Allen Poe
Technically the statue of Edgar Allen Poe is right across the street from Boston Common, but it’s a cool statue to see while you’re in the area. This bronze statue depicts the poet Edgar Allen Poe and a raven flying out of his suitcase.
13. The Embrace
The Embrace is a new statue that was unveiled in 2023. The statue features two sets of embracing arms and is made of bronze. The Embrace honors the lives of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther Link, Jr., and Coretta Scott King. The statue is located within the 1965 Freedom Plaza.
Things to See in the Public Garden
14. Make Way for Ducklings
The Make Way for Ducklings bronze statue depicts a mama duck with her ducklings. It’s a popular place for children to take photos. The statue is located in the Public Garden. The statue is based on the children’s book Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. The book was set in Boston’s Public Garden, so the statue is a nice tribute to the children’s story.
15. Swan Boat Lagoon
While you’re in the Public Garden, you can’t miss the Swan Boat Lagoon. At the lagoon, you can ride in giant swan boats (open seasonally and with weather permitting). The last day of the season for 2022 is September 5th. No reservations are needed to ride one of the boats. At the time of this writing, an adult ticket is $4.50. The swan boat will take you around the lagoon, and the ride is about 12-15 minutes. The swan boats began in the 1870s by the Paget family, who continues to operate the boats today as 4th generation business owners. Today the swan boats are considered a designated Boston Landmark.
16. George Washington Statue
The George Washington Statue, located in the Public Garden, depicts President George Washington riding a horse. The statue is one of the largest bronze statues in all of Boston. The total height is 38 feet (statue plus the pedestal). The statue was funded by donations and a large fair to raise money for its completion. The design of the statue was completed, but the making of the statue had to wait several years because of bronze shortages during the Civil War. The statue was unveiled in 1869.
17. Tulips in the Public Garden
The Public Garden contains thousands of tulips, which remind Bostonians of spring’s arrival each year. The tulip gardens by the George Washington statue are especially beautiful. In 2021, there were as many as 21,000 tulips at the Public Garden!
18. George Robert White Memorial
This memorial is also known as the Spirit of Giving. The bronze sculpture was built in 1924 and depicts a winged woman. Below the figurine is a fountain. The memorial honors George Robert White, who was a famous Boston philanthropist.
19. Boston Public Garden Foot Bridge
This foot bridge crosses the lagoon and is an ideal place for photography. It was originally built in 1867.
20. Garden of Remembrance 9/11 Memorial
The Garden of Remembrance 9/11 Memorials honors the victims of the 911 terrorist attack that were from Massachusetts and New England. The memorial was dedicated in 2004.
21. Ether Monument
The Ether Monument is also known as the Good Samaritan. It honors the use of ether in anesthesia, which I imagine was a pretty big moment in the history of medicine! The statue is 40-feet-tall and it’s also the oldest monument in the Public Garden.
22. Triton Babies
The Triton Babies is a small bronze statue of two babies playing in the water. It was cast in 1922.
23. Tadeusz Kosciuszko Memorial
The Tadeusz Kosciuszko Memorial was commissioned by the Polish people and honors a Polish military hero. The bronze statue was cast in 1927.
24. Wendell Phillips Statue
This statue was dedicated in 1915 and honors Wendell Phillips, the abolitionist and advocate of Native Americans’ rights. It’s a bronze statue with a pink granite background.
25. Bagheera Fountain
The Bagheera Fountain was built in 1939 and depicts a mountain lion and an owl, based off the novel The Jungle Book.
26. Edward Everett Hale Monument
This monument honors Edward Everett Hale, who was known for his abolitionist writing. The statue was built in 1913.
|After a full day at the Boston Common and the Public Garden, you’re probably ready for a solid meal! See our guide to the best restaurants near Boston Common.|
Hotels Near Boston Common and the Public Garden
As you plan your trip to Boston, you’ll want to make sure you have good accommodations. Here’s a few places to consider:
Luxury | Omni Parker House
The Omni Parker House is a 4-star hotel located directly adjacent to Boston Common. The rooms feature historical decor alongside modern amenities. If you’re a foodie, you’ll be pleased to know that the Boston Cream Pie was invented at Parker’s Restaurant within the hotel. Be sure to stop by their restaurant for a slice!
Moderate | Royal Sonesta Boston
The Royal Sonesta Boston is located in Cambridge. The hotel is located right next to the Charles River and has excellent views of the city.
Budget | HI Boston Hostel
The HI Boston Hostel is located just a few minutes’ walk away from Boston Common. The hostel has dorm bedrooms as well as private rooms.
For a full list of accommodations in Boston, click here.
How to Get to Boston Common and the Public Garden
Boston Common is in the heart of Boston’s downtown! If you’re flying into Massachusetts, you’ll probably book flights to Boston Logan International Airport (BOS). (See our post about best hotels near Boston’s airport if you need a place to stay.)
If you’re taking the train to Boston, there are three Amtrak stations in the city: North Station, South Station, and Back Bay.
If you’re driving to Boston, you’ll want to research rental cars and parking garages in advance. The Boston Common Garage is the most convenient place to park. It’s actually located underground beneath the park!
Frequently Asked Questions
How much time do you need at the Boston Common and the Public Garden?
We’d recommend allotting at least one hour to walk through the Boston Common and the Public Garden if you just want to get a general sense of the parks. (If you’re planning to walk the full Freedom Trail, you might just want to do a quick walk-through.) However, if you have more time, you could easily spend half a day at the Boston Common and the Public Garden.
What do locals call Boston Common?
Many Bostonians call Boston Common “The Common.”
Is it Boston Common or Commons?
The correct way to call this area of land is “Boston Common” (not plural).
Is Boston’s Public Garden free?
Yes, Boston’s Public Garden is free to the public. It’s open 365 days a year.
Summary: Our Adventure at Boston Common and the Public Garden
If you have the time in your Boston itinerary, we recommend setting aside a couple of hours to explore Boston Common and the Public Garden. I really loved meandering through the parks and not feeling rushed. The Public Garden was designed to be a bit more ornate, so it’s really peaceful to just stroll along the paths and admire the lagoon. The monuments in both parks honor a lot of Boston’s history, so it’s worth stopping at the various monuments and learning about some of Boston’s most influential citizens.
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If you enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in the following posts:
- Boston Hotels that are on the Harbor
- Best Boston Hotels Near the Airport
- Full Guide to the Freedom Trail in Boston
- Best Restaurants Near Boston Common
- Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts
- Fall Foliage in New England
Disclaimer: We always strive for content accuracy. Since the time of publishing, travel-related information regarding pricing, schedules, and hours may have changed. Please look up such information directly from each vendor or institution for the most current information.