Traveling with Tweens and Teens

How to Turn a College Tour Into a Vacation: Boston Edition

Harvard University

As the home of 35 colleges and universities, Boston is a magnet for those on the college touring circuit. We’ve outlined a four-day itinerary with some of the most frequently requested schools, but there are plenty of others to consider. We suggest staying in the Back Bay area of the city, which makes a great home base for exploration. Many sites are walkable from here, but Boston’s subway, known as the T, is an easy way to get around.

Be sure to give ample focus to the fun aspects of the trip. Days with your soon-to-be college student are dwindling, so try to make this as much of a chance to savor your time together as to identify next steps. More tips about timing, general pace and how to approach college touring can be found in our New York-area edition, the first in this series.

How to Turn a College Tour into a Vacation, Boston
Northeastern University

Day 1

Northeastern University is a private research university founded in 1898. It is extremely well located, a stone’s throw from Back Bay, and makes a great place to start. Northeastern is known for its strong co-op program that integrates classroom knowledge with professional experience. Look for the tunnel system that connects some of the major academic buildings for use during inclement weather. Without making it a big issue, this is a way to get a feel for your student’s take on attending school in an area where cold weather is definitely a factor.

For lunch, try local institution Chicken Lou’s. Word on the street is that you should try a TKO: baked chicken, melted Swiss, bacon and honey mustard.

In the afternoon, explore the area around Boston Common. An excellent option is the Freedom Trail, a 2 1/2-mile journey that connects 16 historically significant sites related to the American Revolution. Either opt for a 90-minute tour or explore on your own; keep an eye out for the signature red line connecting each stop.

If you still have energy to burn, head out on a sunset kayaking tour through Paddle Boston on the nearby Charles River. You’ll be treated to fabulous views of the area and glimpses of many local schools.

How to Turn a College Tour into a Vacation, Boston
Boston University

Day 2

Commonly called BU, Boston University is a private school situated along the Charles River in the Fenway-Kenmore and Allston neighborhoods. BU boasts a tremendous number of noted alumni — Alexander Graham Bell even invented the telephone in a BU lab. The school serves more 30,000 students and the Boston University Terriers compete in NCAA Division I sports.

For lunch, try Mei Mei. This creative Chinese spot started as a food truck and after gaining popularity, established a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Or go healthy and try By Chloe for creative vegan food.

In the afternoon, explore the Back Bay neighborhood and Copley Place. Window shop along Newbury Street with its trendy stores and art galleries. Keep an eye out for artisanal doughnut shop Blackbird if you need to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Tonight, take in a Boston Red Sox game or a tour of Fenway Park. Known as “America’s favorite ball park” and home to the Green Monstah, Fenway is an iconic outing. Try a brown butter lobster roll at Eventide Fenway or look for the Green Monstah ice cream sandwich from the Cookie Monstah truck.

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How to Turn a College Tour into a Vacation, Boston
Boston College

Day 3

Next up is Boston College. This private Jesuit school in Chestnut Hill is nicknamed “The Heights” because of its hilltop location. Explore the campus and then have lunch at student favorites Eagle’s Deli or Crazy Dough’s pizza.

For the remainder of the day, explore the popular Quincy Market Complex, including Faneuil Hall, the meeting hall and marketplace dating back to 1743 and known as the “cradle of liberty.” Stroll through the stores, try some authentic Boston “chowdah” and settle in to watch the sights and all of the street performers.

If you’re looking for a different vibe, go hang on the grown-up tire shaped swings at the highly Instagrammable Lawn on D in the Seaport District, the city’s tech hub.

How to Turn a College Tour into a Vacation, Boston
Harvard University

Day 4

Today is devoted to visiting Harvard University. As the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States, this Ivy League school hardly needs introduction. Harvard’s notable alumni range from Nobel Prize winners to Rhodes Scholars as well as eight U.S. presidents. Located in Cambridge just over the Charles River, the campus is known for its ornate architecture, styled similarly to colleges in England.

Leave time to soak up the atmosphere in Harvard Yard, where all freshman live and which is home to student events. Then spend some time in Harvard Square with its cafes, shops and restaurants. Don’t forget to check out Harvard Coop, the official campus bookstore, for souvenirs. For lunch try Mr. Bartley’s, a throwback burger joint that has been serving since the 1960s.

Spend the rest of the day taking it all in along the banks of the Charles at Riverbend Park or head back to Back Bay for some more city exploration. 

TIP: Unstructured time such as shopping or sitting in a park is a great chace to let your student talk at their leisure about reactions to different schools, campuses and approaches to higher learning. It is easiest to have these gut-check conversations when a bit of time has passed and you are not on campus but all of the experiences are still fresh. Don’t force it, just let the conversations happen.

Tonight, cap off the trip with dinner and jazz at the The Beehive, an all-ages venue named one of the top 100 jazz clubs in the world.

Based on time, interests and the desire for a contrasting look at some smaller schools, consider adding (or replacing) visits to Tufts University, Babson College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Brandeis University or noted women’s college Wellesley.

Relevant Links:

Browse all tips and ideas for travel with teens and tweens on Ciao Bambino

How to turn a college tour into a vacation: New York/Tri-State edition

How to turn a college tour into a vacation: Southeast edition

How to turn a college tour into a vacation: Midwest edition

9 places to make family travel memories with college-age kids

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