Boston is alive with history and proud of its patriotic past. But few of the city’s museums and monuments can dazzle kids like the three-masted frigate docked in Charlestown Navy Yard. The USS Constitution is a floating museum. Known as “Old Ironsides” since the War of 1812, it is the oldest commissioned ship in the United States Navy. Today, Old Ironsides serves as a tribute to–and connection with–our shared history and tradition of freedom. And it has some pretty awesom hands-on activities too! Read on for our guide to visiting the USS Constitution with kids.
The USS Constitution is just one of our picks for the Top Attractions in Boston: Best Things To See and Do with Kids. For more hands-on history that’s just a stroll away, check out 15 Coolest Spots for Kids on the Freedom Trail. And always check out our Boston Events Calendar for the latest exhibits, presentations, and activities in and around the city.
Old Ironsides has been part of Boston’s waterfront since 1794. Photo courtesy of the USS Constitution Museum
Why the USS Constitution is an Awesome Family Destination
The USS Constitution Museum sits on the waterfront in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood. Once a major shipbuilding site, the Charlestown Navy Yard is now part of Boston National Historic Park. The location marks where the Freedom Trail intersects the Boston Harborwalk. Families out exploring the city can stop by and combine engaging, hands-on activities while learning about the extraordinary history of the ship, the city, and our country. The museum has artifacts from the earliest days of the nation, along with vivid portrayals of what life was like for all manner of Americans.
As with other stops on Boston’s Freedom Trail, the USS Constitution illuminates the early history of the United States. But few historical sites can light up a youngster like a real sailboat with real cannons!
Must See Things at the USS Constitution
There is so much to see when visiting. But the ship is definitely the star attraction!
Hands-on activities make visiting the USS Constitution with kids fun.
The USS Constitution itself is not operated by the museum. the ship is a naval vessel, still maintained by an active enlisted crew. Their mission now is to educate visitors about the role of the navy and the extraordinary history of the ship. These sailors answer questions and shed light on the ship’s operations. The top three decks of the USS Constitution are open to the public, with genuine rigging, canons, and crew quarters.
The USS Constitution is one of the first six ships created for the nation’s fledgling navy. Old Ironsides’ resilience in battle provided the nickname and earned the vessel a cherished place in an emerging national identity. It is the world’s oldest comissioned warship still afloat, though it spends most of its time
USS Constitution Museum
Your little brick fanatics will love the LEGO Maritime Festival. Photo courtesy of the USS Constitution Museum.
The USS Constitution Museum offers visitors a detailed history of the birth of the USS Constitution and the American Navy. The exhibits include ncredibly detailed model ships, video battle simulators, and depictions of Old Ironsides’ service in war and in peace. The space is filled with interactive displays, games, and stories from average Americans throughout history.
Many exhibits allow visitors to see how sailrs lived in the days of tall ships. Kids can hoist a sail or see how comfortable a ship’s hammock can be!
The best exhibits let children build their own vessels, with wooden parts or with LEGO bricks. Families are welcome to create their own boat and set it afloat in a tank of water. The LEGO Shipyard also boasts a six-foot replica of the USS Constitution.
USS Cassin Young
While not as old as the more famous naval vessel docked in Charlestown, the USS Cassin Young has a remarkable history of its own. Like Old Ironsides, the USS Cassin Yong is docked in Charlestown Navy Yard and serves as a museum ship. This remarkable WWII destroyer survived three kamikaze attacks, and remains one of only four of its class still afloat. The vessel is free to explore, with the first deck open to the public. Free guided tours take visitors below deck, but groups are limited and operate on a first-come, first serve basis.
Kids get a feel for the days of tall ships when visiting the USS Constitution Museum.
Know Before You Go
The museum is fully accesible and stroller-friendly. The USS Constitution itself cannot accommodate wheelchairs, scooters, or strollers. The laddrs to get below decks are steep, and could prove challenging for small children.
The security checkpoint to get on board the USS Constitution requires a photo ID for each adult. The museum has some battle displays and exhibits that might not be inappropriate for younger kids.
Eating at the USS Constitution
The museum’s gift shop sells beverages, snacks, and treats, like ice cream. Nearby, the Anchor serves up craft beers, refreshing soft drinks, and fun food. One of our favorite family-friendly Boston breweries and beer gardens, the Anchor features live music and patio games in a vibrant outdoor space. Also nearby is Styles Cafe, offering light breakfast and lunch fare from 7am to 4pm.
Visiting the USS Constitution with kids shows them a peek at a by-gone era. Photo courtesy of the USS Constitution Museum
Visiting the USS Constitution
The USS Constitution is open from 10am to 6pm, Tuesday through Sunday. The ship is closed to visitors on federal holidays. The museum is open daily from 9am to 6pm; it’s closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Check the museum’s website for hours on both before visiting.
The USS Constitution Museum has a suggested admission of $10-$15 for adults and $5-$10 for children. Admission to the ships is free.
The museum offers discounted parking through the Nautica Parking Garage. Metered street parking is available but has a 2-hour limit.
All photos by the author unless otherwise indicated.