Chitose Suzuki  /  AP
A marker, part of which reads "Paul Revere buried in this ground," is seen on the fence at the Old Granary Burying Ground in Boston.
updated 9/6/2006 8:36:38 PM ET 2006-09-07T00:36:38

A line of red paint or red brick on the sidewalk, the 3-mile Freedom Trail links 16 historic sights, many of them associated with the Revolution and the early days of the United States. The route cuts across downtown, passing through the busy shopping area around Downtown Crossing, the Financial District, and the North End, on the way to Charlestown. Markers identify the stops, and plaques point the way from one to the next.

The nonprofit Freedom Trail Foundation (tel. 617/357-8300; www.thefreedomtrail.org) is an excellent resource as you plan your visit. Call for a guide or, even better, check out the interactive website. It lists a plethora of tours, talks, and other activities, and if you're interested, it offers the only legal way to rub gravestones.

This section lists the stops on the trail in the customary order, from Boston Common to the Bunker Hill Monument. It's important to remember that this is the suggested route, and nobody's checking up on you. You don't have to visit every stop or even go in order -- you can skip around, start in Charlestown and work backward, visit different sights on different days, or even (horrors!) omit some sights. Here's a suggestion: If you find yourself sighing and saying "should" a lot, take a break.

A hard-core history fiend who peers at every artifact and reads every plaque can easily spend 4 hours along the trail. A family with restless children will probably appreciate the enforced efficiency of a free 90-minute ranger-led tour. The excursions, from the Boston National Historic Park Visitor Center, 15 State St. (tel. 617/242-5642; www.nps.gov/bost), cover the "heart" of the trail, from the Old South Meeting House to the Old North Church. At press time, tours were offered daily from mid-April to November. You don't need a reservation, but call for schedules and to check whether off-season tours are available.

The best time to start on the trail is in the morning. During the summer and fall, aim for a weekday if possible. Try not to set out later than midafternoon because attractions will be closing and you'll run into the evening rush hour.

A Pep Talk: Get Lost!
Almost nothing is as stereotypical or as distressing as sightseers shuffling along in lockstep, looking only at what's described in their travel guides and going only where the Freedom Trail takes them. This is a guidebook, not the boot-camp curriculum, and getting really lost in downtown Boston is nearly impossible -- it's just too small. If time allows, wander away from the trail and look around on your own. I promise you won't be sorry.

Listen Up: The Audio Freedom Trail
The Freedom Trail Foundation (tel. 617/357-8300; www.thefreedomtrail.org) rents handheld digital audio players, for use with or without headphones, that allow visitors to take a narrated tour of the Freedom Trail at their own pace. The 2-hour narrative includes interviews, sound effects, and music. Players rent for $15 (credit cards only); they're available at the Boston Common Visitor Center, 146 Tremont St., and can be dropped off there or at several other locations.

Trail Mix
Faneuil Hall Marketplace is a great spot for a break. Time your walk right, and it can be the starting point of a picnic lunch. Visit the Quincy Market food court for takeout, then head toward the water. Two good places to picnic are just across Atlantic Avenue. At the foot of State Street is Long Wharf, Boston's principal wharf since 1710 and a busy sightseeing-cruise dock. Pass the Marriott to reach the brick plaza at the end of the wharf. The granite building dates to 1846, and the plaza affords a great view of the harbor and the airport. Or stop at Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park, on the other side of the hotel, watch the action at the marina, and play in the playground.

As you walk from Faneuil Hall to the Paul Revere House, you'll find yourself in the midst of Haymarket. On Friday and Saturday, the bustling open-air market on Hanover and Blackstone streets consists of stalls piled high with produce, seafood, and flowers. Shoppers aren't allowed to touch anything they haven't bought, a rule you might learn from a hollering vendor or a cutthroat customer. It's a great scene and a favorite with photographers.

Church Chat
One quick way to announce yourself as a tourist is to pause on Hanover Street between Prince and Fleet streets and proclaim that you see the Old North Church. The first house of worship you see is St. Stephen's, the only Charles Bulfinch-designed church still standing in Boston. It was Unitarian when it was dedicated in 1804. The next year, the congregation bought a bell from Paul Revere's foundry for $800. The design is a paragon of Federal-style symmetry. St. Stephen's became Roman Catholic in 1862 and was moved when Hanover Street was widened in 1870. During refurbishment in 1965, it regained its original appearance, with clear glass windows, white walls, and gilded organ pipes. It's one of the plainest Catholic churches you'll ever see.

Security on "Old Ironsides"
The Charlestown Navy Yard, home to USS Constitution and the Constitution Museum, is a heavily guarded area. Expect to have your bags searched at the gate or at the access point for "Old Ironsides," where you'll probably have to pass through a metal detector. And call ahead if the national terror alert is high; the navy yard closes to civilians at the first sign of a serious threat.

Trailing Off -- If you don't feel like retracing your steps at the end of the Freedom Trail, you have two public transit options. Return to the Charlestown Navy Yard for the ferry to Long Wharf, which leaves every half-hour from 6:45am to 8:15pm on weekdays (every 15 min. 6:45-9:15am and 3:45-6:45pm), and every half-hour on the quarter-hour from 10:15am to 6:15pm on weekends. The 10-minute trip costs $1.50, and the dock is an easy walk from Old Ironsides. Alternatively, walk to the foot of the hill; on Main Street, take bus no. 92 or 93 to Haymarket (Green or Orange Line).

For a complete listing of what to see and do in Boston, visit the online attractions index at Frommers.com.

Frommer’s is America’s bestselling travel guide series. Visit Frommers.com to find great deals, get information on over 3,500 destinations, and book your trip. © 2006 Wiley Publishing, Inc. Republication or redistribution of Frommer's content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Wiley.

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