Boston Public Garden: The Complete Guide

Swan Boats on the Boston Public Garden
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Located next to the Boston Common right in the middle of the city, you’ll find the Boston Public Garden — America’s first public botanical garden. Centrally located to several neighborhoods, it's the perfect places to stroll through on a nice day and take in the scenery.

History of the Boston Public Garden

The Public Garden's beautiful trees, flowers and statues have been an iconic landmark in the city since it was established as the “Proprietors of the Botanic Garden in Boston” back in 1837, which later became the “Public Garden” a year later in 1838. In the years that followed, residents continually fought against any plans the city had to sell the land and eventually, in 1859, the land was marked as permanent public land for the city of Boston to enjoy.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the Public Garden experienced a decline, which was a common trend among urban parks in the U.S. following World War II. In 1970, the Friends of the Public Garden civic group was formed. Ultimately, this group helped restore and maintain the Public Garden and Boston Common and continue to do so to this day.

What to See & Do

The most popular activity in the Boston Public Garden is taking a ride on the Swan Boats, which have been a Boston landmark since 1877 and can be enjoyed by visitors seven days a week from early April to late September. These unique foot-propelled paddle boats are the only of their kind in the entire world, created by shipbuilder Robert Paget. Unfortunately, he only got to enjoy his Swan Boats for a year before he passed away, but his wife went on to run the business and it remains in the family with the today’s fourth generation Pagets.

While aboard the Swan Boats, you’ll spot the “Make Way for Ducklings” statue, a nod to the classic children’s book by author Robert McCloskey. If you happen to be in town while a Boston sports team is in the playoffs, you’ll likely spot them wearing their own miniature jerseys. Many families stop to have their own children pose for a photo with the ducklings. If you happen to be in the city for Mother’s Day, that’s when the Public Garden hosts “Duckling Day,” a 30-year tradition with a parade and celebration in honor of the “Make Way for Ducklings” book and Boston heritage.

From late May to the middle of September, take part in the 60-minute Untold Stories of the Public Garden guided walking tour, where you’ll get background on everything you’d want to know about the park’s history, sculpture and horticulture. This activity can be done on a whim, as it’s free and doesn’t require that you book your spot in advance — just head to the Make Way for Ducklings statue on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 4 p.m. and Wednesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m., as long as it’s not raining.

Other Nearby Activities

With the Boston Public Garden centrally located within the city, there’s plenty to see and do nearby. It’s adjacent from the Boston Common and is surrounded by a few different neighborhoods, including Beacon Hill and Back Bay.

In the winter months, head over to the Boston Common to ice skate at the award-winning Frog Pond. From late June through Labor Day, the Frog Pond Spray Pool is open and the perfect spot for the kiddos to cool off and have some fun. There’s also a carousel, the Frog Pond Café and free yoga once a week.

Just a short walk away from the Public Garden are Newbury and Boylston Streets, where you’ll find all the shopping you could ever dream of. Boylston Street is where the iconic Boston Marathon finish line can be found, along with the Prudential Center with even more shops.

From spring through fall, catch all sorts of different events at the DCR Hatch Shell along the Esplanade on the Charles River. The most popular event is the Boston Pops Independence Day Concert and fireworks, but there are other free and ticketed concerts throughout the year, along with activities like road races.

And whether it’s a beautiful summer day or a snowy winter afternoon, you won’t be disappointed with the true Boston scenery as you stroll through Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. Stop by one of the city’s most photogenic streets, Acorn Street, and capture a picturesque moment among the brownstones and cobblestone pathway.