Boston City Pass: Museums, Aquariums, and Skywalks
See The Best Of Beantown with a Boston City Pass
By Sierra Sumner
Boston, Massachusetts is legendary for its history and culture. Growing up in nearby Lowell, Mass, the state capitol is a hub for everything, as well as its twin, Cambridge. I set aside a fall weekend to explore the city and see what it has to offer, using a Boston City Pass. All in all it’s a great investment!
The driving in the city is fast-paced and constantly busy, so my preferred method of traveling the city is on foot and through the Boston’s subway MBTA, known to all Bostonians as “the T.”
With the use of the Boston City Pass, I was able to plan out a two-day tour of the city with admission to some of Boston’s best museums and views.
The City Pass booklet offered a lower cost than paying individually for four Boston attractions. You pay $55 for the pass instead of $98.25 without the pass. The City Pass tickets also include the location of each place with the hours and address printed on them.
On the back of the booklet, there is a map showing where each attraction was located around Boston, which served as a great visual for planning.
New England Aquarium
My first stop was the New England Aquarium. It’s located on the waterfront by the North End. At this time of year, so you see the Christmas tree lights if you take a little stroll along the North End.
I would recommend the aquarium especially for families, because most people had younger children exploring the touch tanks and there are child play areas conveniently located on the first floor. On a rainy day, the aquarium, like most indoor places, becomes crowded, so it’s best to go on days that aren’t overcast and raining.
The aquarium is built around the giant fish tank in the middle and around it are exhibits of different marine life.
On the first floor, you step into the main building area and immediately see the penguins. When I arrived, it was feeding time for these birds. They were huddled on the rocks next to the staff in a wet suit feeding them fish and writing down notes simultaneously.
Around the first floor, there is information about the aquarium’s preservation and educational goals.
On an outer layer of the aquarium, there is the seal tank. When I went out to see them, there was a beautiful view of the harbor through the floor-to-ceiling windows. At this area, the seals showed off by moving their flippers to the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams playing over the speakers.
Do not miss the ray and shark touch tank. You can learn about and touch: Cow-nose rays, Atlantic rays, and Epaulette sharks as they swim through the water. The staff explained to us the proper way to do it: lay you hand flat, like waving hello, face down in the water and move it slowly to not scare the rays.
The animals will swim by and you can gently stroke their backs, being careful not to touch their sensitive fins and tails. The rays were soft and slimy to the touch.
The aquarium is a great place to experience marine life and learn about it. I had a talk with one of the staff about the octopi at the aquarium. A surprising fact I learned is that there is no way to know the exact age of an octopus at the aquarium since its growth depends on its environmental factors. I also learned that, as seen in Finding Dory, octopi will actually try to escape their containment and are extremely resourceful about it.
Tip: Most people are frightened of driving in Boston, but it’s all about paying attention and defensive driving. I found street parking instead of forking over the $20+ charge for parking garages. I ended up with an affordable meter parking that was only a street over from the aquarium.
Skywalk Observatory at the Prudential Center
The Prudential tower has always served as my North star around the city, since it can be used to compass yourself around town when it’s in view. From the Charles River, it sticks out as it is one of the tallest buildings around, as you can see in the top photo.
The Skywalk Observatory is the only place in Boston that gives a full 360-degree of the city and offers a free audio tour with your admission.
Going up to the observatory, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I knew there was going to be a spectacular view, but I didn’t know they also provide interactive exhibits to teach visitors about the history and culture of Boston. They did a great job with relevant and stimulating information.
One exhibit was “Who Wants To Be a Citizen,” a mock-off of the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” In the same style of the game show, it had podiums for three players and allowed each player to answer multiple choice questions about America.
The area also had a small theater area that played a continuous loop of short films about Boston. One included an aerial tour of the city, while another discussed the “Children of Boston.” It was educational, but also entertaining and fortified with iconic imagery of the city.
It was a great view and made me proud to be from Massachusetts, but it’s definitely something I would do once. Next time, I would grab a drink at the Top of the Hub, which is a restaurant two floors up from the exhibit and you can see the city while paying a little less.
Museum of Fine Arts
I set off into the museum determined to make it through every floor. Be warned, if you want to do the same, which I highly recommend, then it takes several hours and much perseverance.
I have been to the MFA multiple times before, but the galleries are always being changed up. Last time I went, they had a spectacular exhibition of Goya in the ground floor.
Now, they had the work of William Merritt Chase. The exhibition followed his artistic life span, where it explored the influence of the Japanese within his work as well as his studio arrangements. At the beginning of the exhibit, it challenges you to look around in his paintings too spot repeated props and patterns.
Some of my favorites are the permanent collections, such as the mummies in the “Art of the Ancient World” first floor gallery area. They provide a look into the lives of ancient Egypt and how the mummification process adapted through the years. These collections are the staples of the MFA and are favorites that will be there year after year.
On the third floor in the “Art of the Americas” gallery, they had many great artists: Pollock, Georgia O’Keefe, and a Frida Kahlo’s “Don Mujeres.”
The MFA also has what’s called the “Conservation in Action,” which is seen throughout the floors of the museum. It serves to educate the public about how art is conserved and the process of dong so. It is an involved process that can take weeks to carefully preserve a piece of artwork.
Museum of Science
The Museum of Science has been a favorite of mine since my childhood. Whether it’s the Human Hall of Life or the Illusionists exhibit, the museum provides a educational and extremely fun experience.
Every exhibit has interactive elements, where you can explore and learn through playing around. This museum are for the movers and shakers; there are machines to be experimented with, buttons to be pressed, and lessons to be learned each time.
Throughout the day, the museum offers “light shows.” It shows off the world’s largest air-insulated Van de Graaff generator that sends indoor bolts and strikes a large cage.
The museum currently has an exhibit of “Leonardo Da Vinci – The Genius.” It explores the drawings and designs that were well ahead of his time, such as a design for what resembles modern SCUBA diving equipment.
It includes a deep analysis of the Mona Lisa as well, since through recent use of modern technology has allowed us to see the layers and repainting done on the world’s most famous painting. These were the “Secrets of Mona Lisa,” that suggest the process of Da Vinci’s painting and artistic choices. It was an in-depth analysis that was very rewarding to learn about, plus they even had a very accurate replica of the original painting itself.
There are also shows going on in the Planetarium that show engaging and enlightening films. It’s all seen in IMAX, so the experience is intense and unlike any regular movie theater.
Visiting the City
Comparing the price of the Boston City Pass and the general admission costs of each of the four attractions, there was a sizable discount with the City Pass. I saved time and money.
At most of the attractions (the New England Aquarium, Museum of Science, and Museum of Fine Arts) having the City Pass let me into shorter lines and less time that waiting to buy a general admission ticket. I never spent much time in line, maybe a few minutes at most.
You may use your City Pass booklet for nine consecutive days, beginning with the first day of use. You can also visit the attractions in any order; there is a map on the booklet and online at citypass.com.
I would recommend this pass to families who want to see the great museums and attractions of Boston for the best price.
Sierra Sumner is a writer from Massachusetts, Hawaii and California. She loves the outdoors, such as hiking and kayaking, and has traveled all across the US. She hopes to continue her explorations and to encourage others to expand their horizons.