12 great alternatives to Boston tourist traps

Pay these lesser-known spots a visit for a Boston experience that's just as fun.

The lobster roll at Neptune Oyster.
The lobster roll at Neptune Oyster. –Wiqan Ang/Globe

Boston is no stranger to tourists, those wide-eyed wanderers who meander along the Freedom Trail with cannoli in hand. We can understand wanting to hit up the classics on your inaugural trip to the city, but there’s more to this town than Faneuil Hall and the Samuel Adams Brewery. Here are a bunch of alternatives to the most touristy restaurants, markets, monuments, and parks in Boston.

Good: Dubbed a national historic landmark, the Union Oyster House opened in 1826 and has been attracting crowds hungry for its shrimp cocktails and platters of oysters ever since.
Better: We won’t sugarcoat it: The North End’s Neptune Oyster has a sizable wait time, too. But in addition to the phenomenal East and West Coast oysters at the raw bar, there are daily seafood specials, a massive yellowfin collar for two, and a stellar lobster roll with a pile of fries, all served in a cozy space that’s perfect for date nights or post-work oyster slurping.


Good: Mike’s Pastry, the iconic bakery that originated in the North End, is known for its cannoli — and the long line of tourists that often snakes outside the front door and spills onto Hanover Street.
Better: If you want to avoid the long lines, you can get your cannoli fix at Bova’s Bakery, located on the less busy Salem Street. Bonus: It’s open 24 hours a day.

Customers at the counter in Bova’s Bakery on Salem Street in Boston’s North End. —Jim Tuttle

Good: Boston’s popular Newbury Street is a well-known shopping destination that offers eight blocks of boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, spas, and more.
Better: Charles Street, in Boston’s historic Beacon Hill neighborhood, provides a quaint selection of boutiques, galleries, specialty shops, and restaurants in a more relaxed neighborhood atmosphere.

Good: Stop by Faneuil Hall during lunchtime — or anytime, really — and you’ll have to join a sea of tourists all fighting for oversized pretzels, Philly cheesesteaks, and, inexplicably, a reservation at Dick’s Last Resort.
Better: Boston Public Market is home to a handful of heavy hitters, like Union Square Donuts, Bon Me, and the irresistible apple cider doughnuts at Red Apple Farms. There are plenty of opportunities to pick up souvenirs, too, like a handcrafted serving board from Peterman’s Boards and Bowls or a jar of honey from the Boston Honey Company.

Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum is great to explore. —Jim Harrison / The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University

Good: We’re not knocking Boston Common — founded in 1634, it’s America’s oldest park and a beautiful, historic site — but there’s plenty of green space to explore beyond Frog Pond and the ball fields.
Better: The Arnold Arboretum is a lush 281 acres, part of the city’s Emerald Necklace and filled with 4,000 kinds of trees, vines, and shrubs. Wander through the crabapple collection, explore the Explorers Garden, and take in the scent of the lilac collection.

Good: It’s no wonder the Boston Children’s Museum is so popular — it has an art studio, performance stage, Japanese house, and plenty of hands-on exhibits. Not to mention, the Hood Milk Bottle is right outside.
Better: For something new for fire truck-loving kids, get up close to engines from the 18th and 19th centuries at the Boston Fire Museum, which is housed inside an 1891 Boston firehouse listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Admission is free (donations are accepted), and — bonus! — kids can meet a real firehouse dog named Sparky.

An extra cheese and pepperoni pizza at Santarpio’s Pizza. —Globe Photo / Wiqan Ang

Good: The iconic Regina Pizzeria, which has been serving pizza in the North End since 1926, was named the best pizzeria in America by TripAdvisor in 2018.
Better: Santarpio’s Pizza in East Boston is no stranger to best pizza lists and boasts an establishment just as old — actually even older. It began in 1903 as a bakery.

Good: The Boston Public Library, the first free municipal library in the nation, has more than 23 million items and saw more than 3.8 million visitors last year at all of its locations.
Better: There are over half a million volumes at the insanely stunning but much less crowded Boston Athenaeum, a membership library and fine art museum on Beacon Street. Just note: While members have access to the entire library, the public only has access to the first floor unless taking a private tour.

Take a tour of Harpoon Brewery. —Laurie Swope/Globe File Photo

Good: Boston’s most famous brewery, Samuel Adams, offers an informative, fact-filled tour that serves as a great introduction to the Jamaica Plain-based beer.
Better: Another awesome brewery, Harpoon, is closer to the city center and gives tours that are just as entertaining (and sudsy). Tours run every 20 minutes; afterward, if the weather is nice, head to the outdoor Keg Yard for pretzels and, well, more beer.

Good: The Paul Revere House is the famous 17th-century home where the silversmith lived when he made that fateful journey on April 18, 1775.
Better: Step back in time at the Nichols House Museum, constructed in 1804, to see how landscape architect, writer, and suffragist Rose Standish Nichols and her family lived at the turn of the 20th century on historic Beacon Hill and view the family’s collection of 17th- to 19th-century furniture, art, oriental rugs, and more.

The Harborwalk at Fort Point. —Wendy Maeda / The Boston Globe

Good: On The Freedom Trail, which attracts more than 4 million visitors a year, you’ll follow a red brick path through downtown Boston and learn 250 years of history while viewing 16 historic sites.
Better: Follow a path along the water instead, and stop at parks, beaches, retail spots, restaurants, and museums on the Boston Harborwalk, a 43-mile public walkway along Boston’s shoreline.

Good: If you grew up in the Boston area, you likely took a school field trip to the Museum of Science, watching galaxies swirl inside the Charles Hayden Planetarium and meandering through the Hall of Human Life.
Better: Catering to both children and adults, the MIT Museum hosts collections filled with cutting-edge research on topics that range from holography and architectural design to sonar expeditions. Explore installations on modern design, glass, and the invention of instant photography.