Boston Walking Tours

Spring is sprung, so it is a good time to get out and take a walking tour of Boston where one can learn about history, architecture, art, nature, society, or just get some fresh air. Since I love walking tours, I decided to pull together a list of the various tours available in Boston and neighboring communities. The two organizations listed below have primacy because I am a volunteer guide for them (don’t let that scare you away, the other guides are great). The rest are listed in alphabetical order. While I’m a fan of walking tours, I don’t tend to have the time to take as many as I like so be aware I only have personal experience with a few of these organizations so don’t consider making the list an endorsement. If you know of any good walking tours in Boston not listed below, I’d love to add them to the list, so please post in the comments.

  • Boston By Foot – Boston’s premier walking tours with 7 regular tours offered daily, tours of the month, and special holiday tours.
  • Jamaica Plain Historical Society -Weekly tours on Saturday mornings of 6 areas in the Eden of America.

  • Appalachian Mountain Club – The Boston Chapter has a Local Walks Committee offering hikes to condition oneself for the mountains, nature walks, and social walks.
  • Arnold Arboretum – Boston’s tree museum offers regular highlight tours and special theme tours. Come back again because the tour changes depending on the season.
  • Audissey Guides – Download a tour narrated by local personalities for your mp3 player.
  • Black Heritage Trail – A tour of African-American history in Boston led by National Park Service guides, or you can take a self-guided tour.
  • Evening Walkers – A group for people who like walking. No narration, just scenery and a chance to meet people.
  • Friends of the Blue Hills – Group hikes and nature walks in the Blue Hills Reservation.
  • Brookline Food Tour – The way to Brookline’s heart is through your stomach.
  • Boston Athenæum – Art and architecture tours of this respected independent library. They also offer tours for members should you be so fortunate. [Suggested by Charles Swift in the comments below].
  • Boston CityWalks – Four regularly scheduled walks and custom tours of Boston and Cambridge [Suggested by Alan in the comments below]
  • Boston Harborfest – Walking tours are among the many events of Boston’s Independence Day celebration, including special Boston By Foot offerings.
  • Boston Harborwalk – A self-guided walk along Boston’s waterfront.
  • Boston Movie Tours – Tinseltown comes to the Hub in this tour of film locations.
  • Boston National Historical Park – Tours of the Freedom Trail and Charlestown Navy Yard led by National Park Service Rangers.
  • Boston Nature Center – Birding tours, nature walks, and hikes in the heart of the city.
  • Boston Public Library – Regular art and architecture tours of the oldest municipal library in the US.
  • The Boston Spirits Walking Tour – A spooky walking tour focusing on Boston’s ghost stories.
  • Boston Town Crier – Freedom Trail tours led by character interpreters of James Otis and Benjamin Franklin.
  • Boston Women’s Heritage Trail – Nine self-guided walks exploring women’s history in Boston.
  • Boston Your Way – Hire a private guide for a customizable tour (I wonder if they’re hiring).
  • Cambridge Historical Society – The CHS events calendar currently includes a garden tour and historic house tours.
  • Discover Roxbury – Arrange a 90 minute tour for school, family, and adult groups of this historic and diverse neighborhood.
  • Fenway Park – Go behind the scenes at the home of the Boston Red Sox, the oldest and smallest ballpark in Major League Baseball.
  • Forest Hills Cemetery – Boston’s hidden gem is full of history, art, and architecture, all of which is illuminated by a good tour guide (read about a great tour we took last fall).
  • Franklin Park Coalition – A self-guided tour, trails, and special events throughout the year in the “gem” of the Emerald Necklace.
  • Freedom Trail Tours – You can follow the red line on your own or let a costumed guide show you the way with 3 different 90-minute tours provided by the Freedom Trail Foundation.
  • Gibson House Museum – If you’re admiring the Victorian architecture of Back Bay and want to see a house interior, stop in here for a tour.
  • Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Society – Explore the new public space replacing the elevated Central Artery with special tours supported by Boston By Foot.
  • Harvard Campus Tour – Free official tours of the Harvard University campus.
  • Historic New England – The HNE calendar offers neighborhood and historic property tours in Boston and throughout New England.
  • Irish Heritage Trail – A self-guided walk with guided tours in the works.
  • Learn English in Boston – Art and architecture tours of Boston for ESL students.
  • Mass Bay Railroad Enthusiasts – Quarry to wharf tours of the remains of the granite railway in Quincy and Milton (part van, part walking tour).
  • MIT Campus Tour – Learn about the innovative architecture by world-renown architects that speckle the MIT campus.
  • Middlesex Fells – Check the calendar for special hikes or join the regular Babes in the Woods walks for parents and children.
  • Museum of Fine Arts – Regular free guided tours of the galleries (with museum admission) plus art & architecture tours outside of the museum.
  • The Nichols House Museum – If you’re admiring the Federal architecture of Beacon Hill and want to see a house interior, stop in here for a tour.
  • North End Secret Tour – Tours of Boston’s oldest neighborhood lead by a local resident.
  • The Path to Independence – Character interpreters offer a first-person historical perspective of the Freedom Trail.
  • Phantoms of Olde Cambridge -The ghosties of Harvard Square get their own tour.
  • Photowalks – Walking tours combined with instruction in photography on four different routes.
  • Paul Revere’s North End Walking Tour – An experienced guide from the Paul Revere House leads tours of the North End in early July.
  • South End Historical Society – An Annual House Tour is offered in October.
  • Unofficial Tours Present Harvard University – Fun tours of America’s first college.
  • WalkBoston – Boston’s walking advocacy group offers regular walks around the city.
  • Walking Tours of Historic Boston – Families and groups can book tours of Boston’s historic center lead by a children’s book author.
  • Watson Adventures Scavenger Hunts – A unique spin on the walking tour where participants gather together in teams to solve questions and puzzles.
  • Women Artists in the Back Bay – A self-guided walk created by created in partnership by the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, with the support of the City of Boston, the Boston Women’s Commission, and the MFA Ladies Committee Associates.

Book Review: Billiards at Half-Past Nine by Heinrich Böll

Nobel Prize Laureate Heinrich Böll‘s novel Billiards at Half-Past Nine represents Germany for Around the World for a Good Book. The story focuses on three generations of a family of architects set on one day in 1958, but encompassing flashbacks to life during two World Wars and living under Kaiser, Fuhrer, and Democracy. The three central characters are Richard Faehmel, his son Robert Faehmel, and grandson Joseph Faehmel. All three are tied to St. Anthony Abbey which is outside of the the city of Cologne where the family lives. Richard completed the Abbey in 1908, Robert as a demolition expert destroyed the abbey under orders in the waning days of the war, and Joseph contributed to its reconstruction in 1958. Through the novel each man’s relationship to the Abbey is revealed in ways that defy expectations – Richard is indifferent to the destruction of mere buildings, Robert more complicit in the Abbey’s destruction because he believed the monks collaborated with the Nazis, and Joseph horrified to learn that his father destroyed his grandfather’s work. The novel’s title refers to Roberts attempts to make order in his life with a rigid schedule that includes shooting billiards at the local hotel each morning from 9:30-11.

Billiards at Half-Past Nine is a complex novel with narration rotating from chapter to chapter offering perspectives of different family members, work colleagues and friends of the family. The time-scale and place are also affected by frequent flashbacks and memories to different places and times. All this is woven together well to show different perspectives on people and events in the novel.

Religious overtones are strong in this novel. The imagery of the lamb, referring to meek or sacrificial characters is used often. The lamb also comes up in allusion to Biblical passages such as “Feed my lambs” and “Lamb of God.” Meanwhile, those drawn to Nazism are described as taking the “Host of the Beast” and their actions are akin to Satan worship. Interestingly enough, while there presence is felt throughout the novel, the words “Nazi” and “Hitler” never appear in the text.

This is an excellent book, probably worth puzzling through again to get a better sense of the German zeitgeist in the aftermath of World War II. There are a lot of interesting details about place and time. I enjoyed reading about German school boys playing rounders (a game similar to baseball) in the 1930’s and one character’s ride on the Cologne streetcars whose routes and schedules haven’t changed over decades of turmoil.

I found these two discussion guides useful in sorting out the characters and chapters:

Favorite Passage

“Politeness is really the most effective form of contempt,” he thought.

New York: McGraw Hill (1962)