5 must-see stops on Boston’s Freedom Trail, according to a local guide

There are 16 historic spots on the 2 ½-mile trail.

Get a hands-on history lesson at the USS Constitution Museum, where you can balance on a footrope to furl a sail, practice tying knots, scrub the deck, and cook a faux meal September 5 - 7 between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. The museum suggests a donation of $5 to $10 for adults and $3 to $5 for kids.
The USS Constitution in Charlestown, part of the Freedom Trail. –Flickr / Loco Steve

Walking Boston’s iconic Freedom Trail is a “dynamite” way to spend a fall day (or any day), according to Brian Burgess, a tour guide for Free Tours by Foot in Boston for the past seven years.

While all 16 historic spots on the 2 ½-mile Freedom Trail are well worth a visit, Burgess said, the following five are can’t-miss locations for those pressed for time.

Granary Burying Ground

There are about 2,300 markers at the historic Granary Burying Ground, so if you’re wondering where to find the cemetery’s most famous residents, Burgess said there’s a trick for that.

“If you stay along the perimeter of the burial grounds, you’ll find all the rock stars,” Burgess said. “You’ll find Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, they’re all on the outside.”

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The cemetery, established in 1660, is the third-oldest burial ground in the city of Boston and was named in 1737 for the neighboring granary that once stood where Park Street Church, built in 1809, resides today.

Tremont Street between Park and School streets, Boston

Old South Meeting House

The 1729 building is where about 5,000 colonists met on Dec. 16, 1773, to protest the shipment of taxed tea before hundreds of chests of tea were dumped into the Boston Harbor. Burgess tells his groups that the building is also home to the oldest American-made tower clock still operating in its original location. It was created in 1766.

“Paul Revere, one of his bells is in it,” Burgess said.

The tower contains an 876-pound bronze bell made at Paul Revere & Sons Bell and Cannon Foundry in the North End in 1801. It is one of only 46 surviving bells Revere made. The bell was used in a number of churches in Westborough before it was placed in the Old South Meeting House tower in 2011.

310 Washington St., Boston

Colonial re-enactors are reflected on a pane of glass at the Old South Meeting House in Boston for the 245th Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party in 2018. —Michael Swensen for The Boston Globe

Fanueil Hall

The 1742 Fanueil Hall building was built and gifted to the city of Boston by Peter Faneuil, a wealthy merchant. The large market building served as a meeting place for patriots leading up to the American Revolution. Burgess also likes to point out something else to his groups.

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“If you look at the top of the dome of Faneuil Hall, you’re going to notice a grasshopper,” Burgess said.

Faneuil copied the 4-foot-tall grasshopper weathervane from the London Royal Exchange Building, which also has a grasshopper, Burgess said. The London grasshopper was recognized around the world as a symbol of commerce, so Faneuil chose it as a sign of prosperity, he said.

4 S Market St., Boston

Old North Church

Old North Church was a pivotal site for the American Revolution. Burgess enjoys telling tourists about how the phrase “One, if by land, and two, if by sea,” written by Henry W. Longfellow in the poem “Paul Revere’s Ride,” was inspired by events at the iconic site.

The 1723 church — the city’s oldest — was the location of Paul Revere’s secret signal to warn patriots the night of his historic midnight ride from Boston to Concord on April 18, 1775. Revere instructed Robert Newman and John Pulling to hang one lantern if British troops were traveling by land and two if they were traveling by water. The men hung two lanterns, of course, to signal that the troops were crossing the Charles River to Cambridge.

“The steeple was the tallest building in Boston back then, that’s why they used it,” Burgess said. “It could be seen all over Boston.”

193 Salem St., Boston

USS Constitution

The sites and smells of the USS Constitution make the famous warship Burgess’s favorite stop on the Freedom Trail.

“You get to board the ship,” Burgess said. “You can smell the ship. It’s just amazing.”

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The USS Constitution, launched in 1797, is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world. Burgess tells his groups how the ship, made famous in the War of 1812, got the nickname “Old Ironsides.”

“The cannon balls would bounce off the side,” he said.

Also onsite is the USS Constitution Museum, which offers interactive exhibits and hands-on programing about the ship for visitors of all ages.

Charlestown Navy Yard, Charlestown