Visiting Boston in Winter

Updated: November 19, 2023

If you've always wanted to visit Boston but have heard that it's pretty cold in the winter...well, that's true.

But that's no reason to cross Boston off your bucket list of places to see in America.

Just do what we do -- grab a warm coat, a hat, and a scarf, then go out and take in all that the city has to offer.

One good reason to visit Boston in the winter is that there are things to do that you can't do at any other time of the year, like ice skating!

Another bonus is that other than around the holidays, it's off-peak tourist season so there are deals on airfares, train tickets, and hotels.


Top Boston Attractions For Winter

These top activities include historic sites, outdoor fun, entertainment options, free things to do, and things to do during the holidays.

As you'll see, there is plenty to see and do in and around the city of Boston in the wintertime.

You might want to take a look at these posts, depending on when you are visiting:


Go Ice Skating

Winter means it's time to put on our skates and hit the ice rinks.

There are some awesome rinks around the city.

Our favorite is the rink on Boston Common Frog Pond.

On a nice day, you can also stroll through the Boston Common which is the oldest public park in the United States, established in 1634.

A few other locations to go ice skating within Boston are:

  • Steriti Memorial Rink
  • DCR Kelly Outdoor Rink
  • DCR Murphy Memorial Skating Rink
  • The Rink at 401 Park (AKA Fenway Rink)

Others include:

  • Community Ice Skate @ Canal District Kendall | Cambridge
  • Simoni Skating Rink | Cambridge
  • Kirrance Rink at Larz Anderson Park | Brookline
  • Winter Skate at Patriot Place | Foxborough
  • Warner Ice Arena | Brighton

For opening dates, hours, skate rental information, ticket pricing, and more, read our full post on Boston Ice Skating Rinks.

Note: for great sledding hills, check out Flagstaff Hill in Boston Common or Larz Anderson Park in Brookline.


Take a Free Walking Tour

Winter doesn't stop our guides from showing you the town!

On one of our pay-what-you-wish Boston walking tours, you'll find that groups are smaller so your guide can give some more personal attention!

Try one of these tours:

We also offer several self-guided tours and GPS-enabled tours for those who want to explore at their own pace.


Visit Faneuil Hall

If temperatures are colder than you'd like, there's plenty to do at Faneuil Hall to keep you busy and warm!

This historic Boston site features a visitor's center, the Great Hall, and a free military museum.

You can also spend time shopping in a few of the historic buildings that make up Faneuil Hall: North Market and South Market.

There are also plenty of places to fill yourself in a third building, Quincy Market, where you'll find hardy fare such as lobster rolls and chowder (otherwise known as chowda) and many other food options.

In late November there's an annual Christmas tree lighting of a tree that is always magically decorated.

Read more about what to do at Faneuil Hall.


See The Holiday Lights

The holiday season is especially fun in Boston. Hot chocolate never tastes as good as it does this time of year.

Take it from us: as local tour guides, we love feeling the Christmas joy in our city.

We think that you'll love seeing the holiday lights, and our self-guided tour takes you to them!

The tour starts at Faneuil Hall’s Holiday Tree and its fabulous light and sound show.

Then you'll head to Macy’s for the jovial window displays.

The tour also takes you past Boston’s official Christmas Tree and lights on Boston Common, the Commonwealth Avenue spectacular.

Here's the entire self-guided holiday lights tour.


Go to Boston Bruins Game or Other Sports Event

When it's cold outside, it's often nice to get indoors and see a game. Of course, if you want to see a team play outdoors, you can do that too.

Whether you enjoy basketball, football, or hockey, Boston will have a game for you.

Ice Hockey

Basketball

Football

Sports lovers may want to visit the New England Sports Museum.

The museum consists of a half-mile of exhibits at the TD Garden, the home of the Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics.


Tour the USS Constitution

The USS Constitution was one of six ships constructed in accordance with the Naval Act 1794.

The ship was made famous during the War of 1812 as it never lost a military engagement with the British.

Enemy cannonballs made barely made a dent in the ship, earning it the nickname “Old Ironsides”.

The hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 10 am-6 pm. There is a suggested donation, but any amount is appreciated.

Read more about the USS Constitution Museum and Ship Tour.

If you enjoy learning about historical ships, a short walk through the North End from the USS Constitution is the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum. Find information here about an interactive tour.


Stop By a Holiday Market

Get in the festive mood by visiting a Boston holiday market.

They are a great place to find a unique gift for Christmas or Hanukkah, hand-crafted goods, and delicious foods.

You're sure to find caroling, workshops, and even iceless curling at some of them!

Here are some of the best 2023 markets:


See a Musical or Play

Warm up your heart with a Boston musical or play in the Theater District.

Check out this list of Boston theater productions to find tickets for shows you can see when you're in town.

For example, the Nutcracker ballet, a holiday favorite, will be playing in November and December.

Boston Opera House Photo Credit: Samantha Gilman

You can also check the calendars of these popular venues:

TIP: If you are on a budget, there are usually at least one or two off- Broadway productions happening at any given time.


Take a Brewery Tour

As an alternative to hot chocolate, stay warm with a pint of freshly brewed beer!

The Samuel Adams Brewery Tour is free though a $2 donation is requested for their charity efforts.

Only guests over 21 will be able to sample, however. The tour takes just under an hour and happens daily except Sundays.

For just $5, you can take a 30-minute tour of the Harpoon Brewery. The tours are one hour and include a sample for guests over 21.

Please note that the entire Beer Hall, including tours, is 21+ only on Saturdays. Tours take place daily.


Ring in the New Year

If you are in town on December 31, you are in for a treat!

The biggest free public celebration is called First Night Boston.

Ring in the New Year with a spectacular fireworks show that will take place at midnight.

In 2023, the schedule is as follows:

  • 12:00 pm | Family Festival Kick-Off. Artistic performances, ice sculpture viewing, and live entertainment continues through midnight.
  • 12:00 pm – 4:30 pm | First Night Boston Playhouse. Live performances within City Hall and other nearby indoor and outdoor venues.
  • 6:00 pm | First Night Parade. A short “parade” of cultural performances and other guests in downtown Boston.
  • 7:00 pm | Family Fireworks On Boston Common
  • 8:00 pm | First Night Party On The Plaza. Back-to-back musical performances, ice sculptures, and non-stop light displays.
  • ice sculptures, and non-stop lighting displays.
  • 11:50 pm | Midnight Countdown
  • Midnight | First Night Harbor Fireworks

Visit a Historic Attraction

Any time of the year is a fine time to visit these sites of significant American history events.

Tickets are $10 or less and several don't charge anything for children under 5.

Old North Church

Established in 1723 as Christ Church in the City of Boston, Old North Church is the oldest church building in the city.

It is both a national historic landmark and an active Episcopal Church congregation.

It is open Tuesday – Saturday from 11 am – 5 pm and Sunday from 12:30 pm – 5 pm. Check the site for holiday hours.

General admission tickets are $5 per person. Children under 6 are free. Tours are offered.

Other historic sites:

Paul Revere House

Learn about the midnight ride's famous rider, Paul Revere. It is open 10 am - 4:15 pm, November 1st - April 14th.

Adults: $6 / Children 5-17: $1 / Under 5: Free.

Old South Meeting House

See where the Boston Tea Party got started. This historic colonial landmark is open 10 am - 5 pm.

Adults: $15 / Seniors (62+) & Students: $14.00 / Children (under 12): $8.00

Trinity Church

This is one of the 10 most important buildings in American architecture. See why on a guided tour Tuesday-Sunday 10 am - 5 pm.

Adults: $10 / Seniors and Students: $8.00 / Children under 12: Free.

Old State House Museum

The Birthplace of the American Revolution in Boston is at the Old State House Museum.

It is open from 10 am to 5 pm. Visit the website for a list of planned closures.

Adults $15.00 /Seniors (age 65+) & Students: $14:00 / Children ages 6-12 $8


Save Money With a Tourist Pass

If you’re planning to enjoy a lot of different activities while you’re in Boston this December, a tourist pass can save you a lot of money on popular attractions.

One of the easiest options is a build-your-own-pass, which allows you to save 20% off 2 or more tickets. 

Another nice thing about these passes is that they make it easier to save a few bucks on attractions that are already inexpensive.

Here are a few of the most notable tours and tickets included with Boston tourist passes:

Some of these services also include skip-the-line entry at certain locations, making it easy to save both time and money.

Depending on how you use these passes, you could save anywhere from 20% - 50% or more.

For more information on how to save money with these services, make sure to read our full post covering which Boston tourist pass offers the best deals.


Go to a Free Museum

Here are a handful of cool Boston museums that are always free to visit.

  • USS Constitution Museum
  • Waterworks Museum
  • Commonwealth Museum
  • Boston University Art Galleries
  • Boston Fire Museum
  • Boston Athenaeum
  • Ancient & Honorable Artillery Company
  • Bunker Hill Museum
  • Warren Anatomical Museum
  • The Russel Museum
  • Massachusetts Historical Society
  • McMullen Museum of Art
  • MIT List Visual Arts Center
  • Boston Public Library

These museums are free at certain times:

  • Children’s Museum (only $1 on Sunday from 1:30-4:00)
  • Museum of Fine Arts (free on Wednesdays from 4-9 pm.)
  • Institute of Contemporary Art (Free Thursdays from 5-9 pm)
  • Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Free on your birthday or if your name is Isabella!)
  • Coit Observatory ( Free on Wednesdays nights)

See a list of all the free museums in Boston.


See Gingerbread Houses

The Back Bay neighborhood has an annual gingerbread design competition, each year with a new theme.

All entries can be viewed from December 7th to 21st, 2023, in the Atlantic Wharf Lobby.

To see more of the area, take our  Back Bay Tour which is offered every Tuesday at 10:00 a.m.


Family-Friendly Winter Activities

Many kids love winter. Above, we've covered some of the things kids can enjoy in Boston like ice skating.

Here are a few more family-friendly things to do. For more ideas, see our post Things to Do with Kids in Boston any time of the year.


Experience Zoo Lights

This holiday display will be up at Stone Zoo until January 7th, 2024, giving families one last opportunity to enjoy the attraction.

Visitors can expect to see live reindeer, decorated animal areas, and a plethora of trees and other displays lighting up the night.

Tickets for this event are separate from tickets to the zoo, but they are also cheaper than zoo tickets.

Learn more about Zoo Lights.


See a Holiday Show

Kids and adults alike love the Grinch and Charlie Brown. If you are in Boston from early December until teh end of the month, you are in luck!

These time-tested classics are in and around Boston this year!


Museum of Science

This science museum also has a zoo! It is home to the Hayden Planetarium.

The exhibits range from space discovery to natural science to the physics of sport.

It is open 9 am-5 pm.

Admission varies as there are many add ons such as a visit to the Planetarium or IMAX Theatre.

You can get more information here.


The Commonwealth Museum

Their collection includes John Adams’ expense report from his trip to Philadelphia, John Hancock’s cover letter to the Massachusetts copy of the Declaration of Independence, and more.

With interactive exhibits, The Commonwealth Museum is great for kids.

They can pretend to be a judge at the Salem Witch Trials or figure out if you would be a Tory or Patriot before the Revolution. 

It's free to visit and is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. - 5 p.m.


Harvard Natural History Museum

The Museum was created to be the “public face” of three Harvard research museums and is a great way to stay warm and explore some of the fascinating exhibits of natural history.

Visitors can touch rock and mineral specimens dating back to the beginning of our solar system and experience glass models of plants, flowers, and more.

Read more about the Harvard Natural History Museum.


About The Author

Brian Burgess

I was born in Cambridge and have been living in the Boston area all my life. I am a graduate of Boston's Emerson College with a degree in communications with a journalism/history focus. I have been leading tours for Free Tours By Foot Boston since it was started in the city of Boston in 2012, and enjoy sharing my knowledge of Boston's rich history with not only the guests on my tours, but with everyone I meet. <a href="https://freetoursbyfoot.com/contributors/brian-burgess/" Read More...
Updated: November 19th, 2023
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