The Boston Student ‘Bucket List’: 10 Things You Must Do Before You Leave Beantown


In a city where the residents and visitors are energetic running enthusiasts, I’ve often wondered when anyone has the time to stop and “smell the roses,” (or the tulips, if you’re in the Boston Public Garden), especially in a bustling metropolis where work, studies, and other intellectual obligations dictate students’ schedules. My personal experience with bucket lists is that they just aren’t – they’re more of a romanticized conception of what you WOULD do IF you had the time.

Instead of theoretical ponderings, here is a “bucket list” of ten beautiful buildings you SHOULD and CAN explore before you have to leave Boston. Feel free to run, walk, or even take the MBTA on your adventures, as the locations are listed by their positions on the public transport line. 

Go out there and explore, snow or shine. You won’t always be twenty-something living in Boston! 

10. Historic North End 

If you’re feeling ambitious, all ye History majors can embark upon the Freedom Trail to the Historic North End of Boston, a two-and-a-half mile excursion that will lead you from the Boston Common to Bunker Hill and Charlestown to the North End, where you can reward yourself for the exercise you’ve just accomplished with Mike’s Pastries and renowned cannolis (it’s okay, you’ll hit the campus gym tomorrow). From touring Paul Revere’s House (built in 1680) to the Old North Church where he lit and hung those two famous lanterns, this historic red brick neighborhood, draped in the savory scents of authentic Italian food and desserts, is a must-see, and a great day trip.

Highlights: Food, food, and more food (the dining hall can wait).

9. New England Aquarium

The New England Aquarium, which opened in 1969, boasts a more modern architectural style than the North End, but that shouldn’t deter you from the exquisite array of ocean creatures that call this place home. The Aquarium here is on the smaller scale, but it’s just enough for you to spend an afternoon without your friends getting antsy or your date getting bored. 

Highlights: The penguins in the main foyer are always a delight (think real-life Happy Feet), and there’s a touch-tank for nurse sharks and rays in the basement. The Aquarium also offers an IMAX theater if you want to relax for a bit. Make sure to visit the Jellyfish/Medusa room (slightly hidden on the lower level). 

8. South Station

While making your way back inland, you’ll pass the colossal South Station (opened in 1899). Don’t let its grandiose external façade fool you – after the railway station was saved from demolition, it was completely renovated in the 1980s.

Highlights: This is your hub of travel to and from Boston by train, but feel free to take a look around and shop and grab a quick bite or drink inside. And yes, college students and recent grads, there are bars in there.  

7. Faneuil Hall

The Faneuil Hall area (opened in 1742), including the Quincy, North, and South Marketplaces, is one of the main tourist attractions of Boston, but don’t let the fact that your parents and grandparents aren’t here deter you from being a bit touristy yourself. There are always plenty of free samples, and several versions of New England clam chowder to try. 

Highlights: An endless array of shops, restaurants, and street entertainers.

6.  The Financial District: 

You probably won’t be in the Financial District unless it’s for work or an internship, but there’s no doubt that some of the prettiest parts of the Boston skyline reside here, so make some time to visit. It’s a great place to spend the afternoon walking around, and the array of restaurants is fantastic. 

Highlights: Old State House (opened 1904), Old South Meeting House (opened 1729).

5. Museum of Fine Arts 

Chances are that your school has granted you a student discount to the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), and maybe even some of the other museums around Boston (the Museum of Science, Boston Children’s Museum, etc.), so USE IT. The best days to visit this gorgeous museum with its stately columns (opened in 1907) are rainy ones – not so rare in New England – or when you need a study break during exam periods. Check the MFA website to see if there are any special monthly collections or exhibits you might be interested in.   

Highlights: Better than studying art history out of a textbook…

4. Massachusetts State House

With its signature golden dome topped with symbols of the state forests (a lantern and a pinecone), the Massachusetts State House (opened in 1787) resides at the top of the sloping hill above the Boston Common and Public Garden. If the architecture looks familiar, think of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., whose construction was later supervised by the same architect, Charles Bulfinch. The State House offers complimentary tours and was built on a pasture originally owned by John Hancock himself. 

Highlights: A lovely green space to read, write, draw, play music, or just hang out.

3. Copley Square

While in the heart of the shopping district, make some time to relax at Copley Square, a small scenic patch in the midst of downtown Boston that will remind you that beauty does exist in the city. Bordered by the stores at Copley Place, the shops at the Prudential Center, and the boutiques of neighboring Newbury and Boylston Streets, Copley Square boasts a small green park area with fountains where you can take your favorite book or bring a picnic lunch with friends.  

Highlights: The architectural accomplishments of the Trinity Church (1877), the Boston Public Library (1895), and the John Hancock Tower (1976), along with a plethora of classy hotels, overlook Copley Square.

2. Prudential Center 

By now, you’ve probably already shopped your heart out at the Prudential Center (opened in 1993), but don’t forget about the small green space in the center of the mall that will give you peace of mind during your lunch break from work – or a shopping spree. Take time to browse the vast Barnes & Noble, or celebrate special occasions at the fine dining options. 

Highlights: For the best 360-degree view of Boston, take an elevator 50 floors up to the Skywalk Observatory. It’s eye-opening, to say the least. For an amazing panorama while you dine, meet friends for drinks and dessert at the Top of the Hub restaurant.

1. The Universities/Colleges

On both sides of the Charles River, some of the most amazing architectural feats of the Boston area are the universities and colleges themselves. 

Don’t wait until your last semester to tour or walk through these beautiful campuses, or assume that you’ve even explored everything your own school has to offer. As a graduate student in a one-year program, I never underwent the orientation experience that explained the wonders of the campus to me, but instead explored the city and schools on my own and with friends. Don’t make your bucket list – go out and do it.