Boston is a great destination for families: It's a compact city, with many of the primary tourist attractions right downtown, all within a short walk of each other. Over the course of a weekend, a family can easily visit Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, the Boston Common and Public Garden, and the Children's Museum, among other kid-friendly sites, all on foot. And for the many other attractions around Boston and Cambridge, the T connects them all with just a short ride.
Here are my picks for fun places for kids in and around Boston.
Boston Duck Tours
Goofy and fun, the Boston Duck Tours are always a great introduction to the city (and there's nothing else quite like driving into the Charles River). Pickups are at the Museum of Science, the New England Aquarium, or the Prudential Center, so you can easily combine a tour with a day of sightseeing elsewhere.
New England Aquarium
Boston's aquarium got a major overhaul in 2013, with updates to its giant tank and new touch tanks. Of course, the main draw is the wildlife, with the penguins, sea lions and seals, green sea turtles, and sharks always eliciting oohs and aaahs (from both parents and kids).
Museum of Science
The always-fascinating Museum of Science has something for everyone, from dinosaur fossils to butterfly gardens, oversized human organs at the Hall of Human Life to model-making exhibits, and a lot more. Set aside a good chunk of time to explore – there's so much to see and do here that it's easy to fill a day discovering something new around every corner.
Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market
Are your little ones picky eaters? Go straight to Quincy Market to eat – the gargantuan food court has something for every palate. Stick around for some shopping or to watch the best street performers in the city. (If your family is crowd-averse, though, steer clear – it's always crowded in this popular tourist spot.)
The North End
Kids will get a kick out of the North End, Boston's oldest neighborhood, with its winding streets, cobblestone courtyards, waterfront, and playgrounds. This is also a good stop if they're hungry – check out the neighborhood's pizza joints or casual Italian eateries and indulge in a kid-approved feast.
Boston Common and Public Garden
Of course, no visit to Boston is complete without a few hours running around the parks of the Boston Common and Boston Public Garden. With kids, though, you'll want to make a few key stops in the Public Garden: the Make Way for Ducklings statue, featuring the titular critters from the beloved Robert McCloskey picture book, and in warmer months, the Swan Boats, for a leisurely ride around the garden's pond. If you're visiting in winter, head right to the Boston Common Frog Pond for ice skating.
Boston Children's Museum
At most museums, you've got to ensure kids keep off the exhibits. Not so at the Boston Children's Museum, where active play and hands-on exploration are encouraged. Don't miss the ever-popular New Balance Climb sculpture, construction zone, and bubbles exhibits, as well as the new astronomy exhibit that debuted in late summer 2014.
Legoland anchors Somerville's red-hot Assembly Row and promises a fun-filled day featuring a hands-on climbing maze, a gallery of Boston landmarks (constructed in miniature from Legos, of course), amusement-park-style rides, and more. Note that all entry is timed (order online in advance to guarantee entry) and that adults must have an accompanying child in order to enter.
The Curious George Store
Sky Zone Trampoline Park
Have kids with lots of energy to burn? Take them to the Sky Zone Trampoline Park in Hyde Park for a few hours of jumping, tumbling, and other high-energy pursuits. Note that walk-ins are welcome, but there are capacity limits in place; to ensure a spot, book online in advance.
Continuing with the active theme, spend a day climbing with your kids at Brooklyn Boulders in Somerville. There's more than 28,000 square feet of climbing space; all first-timers get a quick orientation and the option to take a course to get acclimated to climbing ("Learn to Boulder" and "Learn the Ropes").
Franklin Park Zoo
The Franklin Park Zoo got two spotted hyenas in fall 2014, the first time this species has been exhibited here. Other exhibits include gorillas in the Tropical Forest, lions in the Kalahari Kingdom, and kangaroos in the Outback Trail, among many other creatures great and small. There's also a 10,000 square foot playground for your own little monkeys to get in some play time, too.