Professional Careers

The Graduate Wife Dictionary: Vocabulary of Grad School

dictionary crdotx flickr


When stepping into the world of graduate school, how many of us knew the lingo used? We know we spent a good while asking our husbands, “What does that mean?” when they first started grad schools. For those of you starting out on your graduate journey, our team thought we’d create a list of words we’d wish we had known when we started our journey! We hope it helps. -Mandy & M.C.

Entrance Exams

GMAT- GMAT stands for Graduate Management Admission Test. It is the entrance exam for MBA (Master of Business Administration) and related programs.

GRE (Graduate Records Examination) – The GRE is the entrance exam required for admission to most graduate degree programs. It consists of a verbal (grammar and vocabulary) and math section. Depending on a student’s field of study, he or she may also take a writing component and subject specific components of the GRE.

LSAT- LSAT stands for Law School Admission Test. It is the entrance exam required for law school.

MCAT- MCAT stands for Medical College Admission Test. It is the entrance exam required for medical school.




Seasons of Change


written by Jennifer, a current graduate wife

It has been three years since my journey as a graduate wife began. One master’s degree and two cities later, here I sit in my new home in Texas, surrounded by boxes and stacks of picture frames, ready to embrace this new season, and all the joys and woes that it throws my way.

When the hubs and I first decided to embark on this adventure, I really had no idea what to expect. He had been accepted to school in our hometown, but was offered a scholarship at a school halfway across the country. “What will we do?” we constantly asked ourselves. I think deep down we always knew the answer; it just took some time to admit it out loud.

We moved from Arkansas to Boston just two months after our wedding. I was excited for the adventure, but terrified at the same time. I was eager for the journey, but little did I know then, I was naïve and unprepared. Being a newlywed is already sometimes hard enough, throwing in a cross-country move, full time job, and a master’s program into the mix didn’t help things much.

Though we loved life in our new city, it took some time for Boston to feel like home. I worked as a nanny, so I wasn’t making any friends at work (unless three girls under the age of 13 counts…), and it took us way longer than I would have liked to get plugged in to a church. For the first several months, my only friends were my husband’s, and as much as I grew to love them, I needed some more estrogen in my life. I became desperate and started browsing websites like and chatting with strangers in our apartment hallway.

I call this chapter the “season of loneliness.” By the time Christmas rolled around, I had had enough. Our trip back home was refreshing and inspiring. I soaked up as much time with those nearest and dearest to me, and returned back to Boston full, ready to conquer this challenge.

Eventually, I learned to become more outgoing, something that I always thought I was. Though I have never been shy, I learned that making new friends requires a great deal of vulnerability. With time, friendships started to form. I met people that I could now not picture life without, and created memories that will never be forgotten. On our first Easter there, I hosted dinner for all those friends who couldn’t make it home for the holiday. Our apartment was packed, and my heart was full. Finally, Boston was starting to feel like home.

While things were finally shaping up on the friend front, it felt as though nothing else was staying constant in our lives. As a graduate wife, I have learned that things are always changing, and just as soon as life feels comfortable, it’s time for it to feel uncomfortable again.

I’ve experienced many challenges on this journey, some that I am not proud to admit. I was really jealous and bitter when we first moved to Boston, for one, something that caused way too many fights during those first few precious newlywed months. I’ll go ahead and call this the “season of grudge”…

Though I loved it in our new town, I was having a really difficult time adjusting to our new lifestyle. As we were married just out of college, I had yet to know the joys of working a full time job. City living came at a high expense, and even though the hubs worked when he could, he was really only bringing home the wine money. All other expenses were covered by my paychecks. “Why do I have to pay all of the bills?” I would spit at him. “Why can’t I be the one in school,” I would whine. Going to school was easier than working and paying bills, right? Only now do I see how absurd that sounds…

Though now I see how petty my behavior was, then, I was legitimately upset. I thought that I deserved something more. I was working hard and hadn’t quite accepted the whole “what’s yours is mine” thing just yet. I knew that my behavior was ridiculous, but I wasn’t quite sure exactly how to get it under control.

After much patience and grace from the hubs, I finally learned to cool it. I learned that it was OUR journey, and in a way, I was working on a degree as well. If you are a wife to a husband in any type of schooling, you know that it’s a two-person game. It took us both to get him through it. I’m not saying that a single person can’t do it on their own, but I am saying that if you’re married, it’s certainly about you both. The wife’s role as a supporter and encourager is as equally as important, and once I finally realized that, I was able to do what I was meant to do all along.

Realizing this made the journey much smoother, but it wasn’t long until I found a new challenge to freak out about. As the time grew near to move away from Boston, anxiety became my new evil to kill. “Where will we go?” I would always wonder. “What will happen next?” Let’s call this the “season of anxiety,” shall we?

I asked “What if?” way too much and have now banned that phrase from my vocabulary. It ruled me, and ate away at me each day. I was controlled by the unknown. Boston finally felt comfortable. God forbid life feel uncomfortable again…

We eventually decided to move back to Arkansas so that the hubs could focus on applying for PhD programs. While I thought this would help things a bit, I suddenly had new problems to worry about. “What if he doesn’t get in…,” “Where will we go from there…,” you know, that sort of thing.

Eventually, I think I just grew tired of worrying and accepted that things were out of my control. Once I finally decided to embrace it, the whole process actually became kind of fun. We were nervous and worried about some things of course, but I think my contingency plans helped me relax a bit. I decided we’d just be nomads in Europe for a year if he didn’t get in. That’s realistic, right?

Once our first acceptance came, we nearly cried. In fact, I think I did a little bit. We went to lunch to celebrate, happy and comforted to have to worry no more. We toasted and were merry, dreaming about what life in our new potential city might look like.

After all of the acceptances and denials finally reached our hands, we made our decision to move to Austin, and I vowed to not worry so much this time around.

So far, I’ve done pretty well with that. Though I am jobless once again and don’t know anyone in town, I know that this is just all part of the journey. I’m choosing to embrace this new season, and accept that it likely won’t stay the same for long. I know that the hubs will quickly settle in at school, but where will I fit in, exactly? What will this chapter look like?

For now, I don’t know those answers, but I know that change is bound to come. Change seems to be the theme for my journey as a graduate wife, because really, when do things ever really stay the same? It’s an adventure though, and isn’t that what adventures are all about? People often assume I am ready for a different lifestyle, one that’s a bit more predictable and offers more stability, but where’s the fun in that? I am learning that change isn’t always such a bad thing. In life, we are always having to adapt to what each new season brings, and you know, I can finally say I that I am okay with that.

What is your theme as a graduate wife? What kind of challenges do you face? What challenges have you overcome?

Grad Wife Tips! · Marriage

Making Room for Date Night

Date Night-Written by Jackie, a current graduate wife

I don’t know about you, but it took me a while to figure out the importance of date night. All of my friends with kids kept stressing the need of a date night, but I just didn’t think my spouse and I needed it. That is, until a couple of years ago when life got really busy. We had just completed our first year in our new city and also moved a little bit further from city centre. We wanted to prove to ourselves that the move wouldn’t impede on our new, and fragile, social life. But it was too much. We were exhausted and felt like we hadn’t been able to spend quality time with each other in weeks. Enter in, date night.

It took a while for date night to take roots and really make a place in our schedule but it eventually did. We started to see the value in setting a night aside to focus on us and can see the difference it has made in our relationship.

Of course, being in the “postgrad stage” we don’t really have the budget to go out to a dinner and a movie every week. So, I’ve listed out some of the things we have done for our date nights that keep the wallet, and the heart, happy:

Go out for just dessert/drinks only.

You don’t have to go out for the full meal. A little treat can be just as special.

Cook a meal together.

Pick a fancy-ish meal, something you’d find in a 5-star restaurant, and make it together. And then enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Put a ban on the computer.

I don’t know about you, but I can get just as easily sucked into the computer as my student husband. So, we’ll make sure that the computer stays off unless we’re both using it to watch a movie. Sometimes we’ll put a ban on electronics and we’ll play games or work on a home project we had been meaning to complete.

Go outside.

Go on a walk around a different part of town or a sunset hike. Or you can take dinner outside and have a picnic. If you both enjoy sports, you can toss a football or pass a soccer ball or play catch. This one’s great especially if you’re both stuck indoors 40+ hours a week.

Night Trip.

Is there another city/town close by? Not all trips out of town need to take up a whole day. Arrange to meet at the train/bus station and check out a neighbouring city/town for a few hours.


Groupon, Livingsocial, and Itison all have deals for restaurants or outings every week. There are websites like that offer weekly deals or lunch specials. Also, take advantage of the student life by asking if there’s a discount for students. A lot of venues will offer 10% off. Scan your local cinemas’ websites or your mobile phone plan. Sometimes cinemas will offer deals during specific days of the week or for certain movies. Or maybe the local pub hosts a quiz night, or the comedy club has a deal on nights when they’re showcasing new talent. There are always things going on but you have to dig.

I hope these ideas help you guys out some. Remember, the whole point of date night is to have intentional time with your partner; to hang out with your best friend. That doesn’t look the same for everyone, but it is important for everyone.

Do you have any ideas for date night?

Monday's Food for Thought

Monday’s Food for Thought: A Quote for the Day

new food for thought

I recently came across this quote, and thought it a good one for this graduate journey we’re all on:

It always seems impossible until it’s done.

~Nelson Mandela

Hang on to that today, my friends.


Dear Laura

Dear Laura: One Guilt Trip Away

Dear Laura

Dear Laura,

I’m the oldest sibling in my family and the first one to get married and move away from my parents. Living in a different state makes me miss my family quite a bit, but I think the transition has been harder on them. After living three states away, we have now moved to *only* one state away. My parents want to take this as an opportunity to visit us almost every month. While I try to be accommodating, I have to tell them, “no” sometimes because of the difficulty of fitting visiting relatives in to our already hectic grad life schedule. When I talk to my parents on the phone, they always seem so desperate to hear even the most boring tidbit of my life. It makes me feel guilty and sad for them. Is there any way to help them be more ok with me being far away?

Only a Guilt Trip Away

Dear Guilt Trip (if I may),

My husband and I just celebrated an anniversary, one of the double-digit ones that seem like they’re creeping up with a suddenness that is difficult to wrap our minds around. As part of our two-day celebration we sat down one night with a bottle of red and spent a few hours remembering.  We recalled travels and moves (and moves and moves) and stages and celebrations and milestones, but what was surprising and striking to me was how many of the most poignant and substantial memories were so simple and so deeply woven with people, our favourite, beloved people, and what was so clearly absent was…everything else.

The things we thought were so challenging and difficult and overwhelming at the time of their occurrence didn’t rise to the surface at all; it was our spirited and hilarious best-people that were sharply present in our remembering; those nights of board games and hot fudge sundaes, travel weekends, wine nights, and leisurely walks with these cherished friends and family cut right through the days, weeks, months, and years that at the time seemed so full of the pressures of life .  So, here is why I’ve started to answer your question by instead talking about myself (which is obnoxious, but thank you for indulging me):  it struck me so clearly that when we hit the greatest milestones – anniversaries, birthdays, and even death, what is going to be the best stuff of our memories, the stuff that makes everything else fade into the background is….people.

The stresses of the grad student journey will fade, the weekends you wish were spent recuperating on the couch instead of entertaining guests will fade, the irritation with the needy phone calls may even eventually fade, but your family is going to be there until the end. With that end in mind, let’s figure out a way for you to draw some boundaries around your rest-time and couple-time and give you a shot of confidence as you uphold these boundaries. It is great to have limits and to learn to express them clearly – what a gift to the people with whom you share relationships! – and it is also fantastic to serve the people you love by giving them time and access to your life to the extent you are able. What would that look like? Can you and your spouse talk about what the balance might involve and then can you gently start to work toward achieving that balance with your parents? Is there anything you can do to make the visits more enjoyable and less taxing? All worth a good discussion and planning session.

Also, I think we need to remember that the graduate journey, with all it’s trials and sacrifices and joys, does not belong only to us; our families and friends are affected deeply as well (especially when you start introducing grandchildren into the mix!). You’re not responsible for their emotional well-being and you needn’t feel guilty for launching out into this life adventure, but a positive response to their sadness involves striking a wise balance between your own needs and theirs. So, let’s be both wise about what we need as far as protecting our own marriages and selves, but also gracious to those people who are trying so hard to let us go, sometimes successfully and sometimes not so.  (Come to think of it, perhaps we need a new blog called “Graduate Grandmas”…. you’re welcome, Mandy and M.C.!)


Laura M. Benton, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and professional Graduate Wife (12 years, friends. Two MA’s and a PhD.)

To write with your own question for The Graduate Wife team, email or

Professional Careers

The Graduate Wife Dictionary: Vocabulary of Grad School

dictionary crdotx flickr


When stepping into the world of graduate school, how many of us knew the lingo used? We know we spent a good while asking our husbands, “What does that mean?” when they first started grad schools. For those of you starting out on your graduate journey, our team thought we’d create a list of words we’d wish we had known when we started our journey! We hope it helps. -Mandy & M.C.

University Organization

Accreditation– Accreditation is the process a university or degree program goes through every few years to be recognized as qualified to grant degrees in a specific field or fields of study. Most students won’t ever be involved in the accreditation process, but it is important to know if a program is accredited because graduating from a non-accredited program may make the student less competitive in the job market.

Bursar- The bursar is like the cashier for the university. Bills are issued by and paid through the bursar’s office for tuition and fees.

College- Most people use college as a general term and synonym for university. However, a college is actually a sub-unit of a university made up of similar departments. For instance, a University may have a College Fine Arts, made up of the Departments of Music, Visual Arts, Dance, and Creative Writing and a College of Natural Science made up of the Departments of Biology, Physics, Chemistry, etc. The head of a College is a Dean.

Degree Program- A degree program is the set of classes leading to a specific degree, and the infrastructure that supports those classes. There may be multiple degree programs within a department. For instance, a Department of English might have master’s degree programs in both English Literature and Creative Writing.

Department- A department is the unit of a university that graduate students will interact with most often. A department is made up of faculty all teaching the same or very similar subjects, for instance, a university might have a Department of Social Work, which delivers all of the degrees and classes in the field of Social Work.

Graduate College (or School) – Many universities have a Graduate College or Graduate School separate from the other colleges that make up the university. In these cases, students still take classes and work with faculty within the college related to their field of study (for instance an engineering student taking classes in the College of Engineering), but much of the paperwork students are required to submit for admissions, enrollment, and graduation are handled by the Graduate College.

Registrar- The registrar’s office of a university keeps track of student records, especially transcripts. A student may need to visit the registrar to change courses in the middle of a semester, fix a problem with his or her enrollment, or to request a copy of his or her transcripts.

School- A School is a group of related departments within a college. Grouping departments into schools can help with the management of very large colleges. For instance a College of Arts and Sciences might have a School of Fine Arts that includes the Departments of Music, Visual Arts, and Theatre.

University- A University is an organization that awards graduate degrees. Universities may be public, funded partially by taxpayer money and partially by student tuition, such as the University of Missouri, or private, funded by student tuition and gifts from donors, such as Harvard University.



The Top 10 Things I Learned as a Graduate Wife


As my graduate wife journey has come to an end, and I have transitioned onto the next adventure, I have had time to reflect on what I have learned as a graduate wife. I have also had time to be thankful for the opportunity to share this journey with so many other graduate spouses, through this blog and the University communities I was a part of. Here are the top ten things I have learned, paired with some of our best posts that highlight each lesson.

1. Graduate life is only a season. During our time in grad school, I was friends with a woman whose husband had completed grad school 20 years prior. She constantly told me that grad life was a season. Although my head believed her, my heart did not. When we were in the middle of it, and the process was continually kicking us in the face, it was easy to lose hope. After 9 years of grad school life, and 1 year of being back on the ‘other side of real life,’ I can say….she was right. It really is only a season, and to be honest, it will probably end up being a short chapter in my life book!

Savor the Here and Now

2. Investing in relationships takes work. Moving, starting over, and building a new community is hard work. You have to be willing to invest time in people around you. A community doesn’t happen over night. The time you’re investing now will pay off. Stick with it!

The Mark of Friendship- Response

3. Grad school is a marathon, not a sprint. There will be times that grad school will feel like it’s never ending. You get through one goal, only to discover there are 30 more in front of you. When I started to focus on what seemed like never-ending goals in front of us, I immediately became overwhelmed. I learned to take life one day at a time. I only needed enough strength to make it through that one day!

Six Stages of the Graduate Journey

4. Living simply is an art.  For most of us, the stipends and scholarships barely cover living expenses. I had to learn to live a much more simple life. It wasn’t easy to do, but once we settled into just taking care of what was needed, we became used to it. Since we were also part of a community that was living the same type of life we were, it was good to share ways with each other to even further simplify the simple.

Beauty and the Budget Series

5. Having your dreams shattered might the best thing that’s ever happened to you. My husband and I have always been planners. Unfortunately, graduate school is not kind to planners. It’s hard when your entire life is being determined by a hiring committee. We definitely had our fair share of disappointments: failed grant proposals, interviews that didn’t end with job offers, interviews that didn’t happen, etc. Looking back, it’s now easy for me to see that those things had to happen in order for us to be who we are and where we are today.

Grad Wife to Farmer Life

6. You are not alone. I remember vividly sitting in a coffee shop with a dear friend of mine telling her I didn’t think I could press on any further with this grad school thing. I also remember being shocked as she told me she often felt the same way. The very act of being really vulnerable with a friend turned the tables for me. I left the coffee shop with a resolve and strength that I didn’t have when I arrived….I was not alone.

A Name for Pain

7. Don’t put your own dreams on hold. It’s so easy to slide into being the ‘support’, but if you stay in that mode for too long, you will lose yourself.  I have a friend that moved with her husband to London when he started grad school. While they were there, she was offered her dream job in California. They had long talk(s) and decided they could live a part for year, seeing each other in person once every three to four months, to make both their dreams happen. While that scenario wouldn’t work for everyone, if you have your own burgeoning career, figure out a way to make it happen, and do it!

Don’t Put Your Life on Hold

8. Learn to live in the present. My friend, Betsy, always said to me, “Bloom where you’re planted.” It resonated with me then, but especially now as we’ve entered a new city. Do I miss Oxford? You betcha. I miss our friends, the familiarity, the little family we made there. I also miss those things from Orlando and Atlanta (and if I’m honest, a pretty long list of our favorite restaurants). Even though these places are part of my story and woven into the fabric of my heart, I no longer reside in them. I am still learning what it means to embrace where I am placed.

Life is Now

9. You will change. Grad school changes you. You will not be the same person at the end that you were in the beginning. The experiences will mold and shape your character, teaching you so many wonderful lessons about life, love, and sacrifice. Some of it will be hard. Some of it will be amazing. But in the end, as your life words are being penned, allow it to permeate your soul and become part of who you are. There will be purpose and joy in your pain. I promise.

I used to…

10. This will be an experience of a lifetime. As more and more time passes between our time in grad school and this new season of life, I have come to realize what an absolute irreplaceable gift it was. From learning and living life lessons, to being part of an amazing community of people, to watching my husband obtain one of his dreams….it was all a gift. I’m so thankful we were given this amazing opportunity.

Love, Written on My Heart

As a former, current, or soon-to-be graduate wife, if you could add your own point to this list, what would it be?






Professional Careers

The Graduate Wife Dictionary: Vocabulary of Grad School

dictionary crdotx flickr


When stepping into the world of graduate school, how many of us knew the lingo used? We know we spent a good while asking our husbands, “What does that mean?” when they first started grad schools. For those of you starting out on your graduate journey, our team thought we’d create a list of words we’d wish we had known when we started our journey! We hope it helps. -Mandy & M.C.


Assistantship- An assistantship is an agreement a graduate student makes to work part time for a university in exchange for tuition, a stipend, and benefits.

Fellowship- A fellowship is similar to a scholarship or grant, but may go beyond paying tuition, to cover other school related and living expenses for a student. Unlike an assistantship, a student on a fellowship (called a fellow) usually does not have to work for the university as part of their fellowship agreement. Depending on the field and university, fellowships can be very competitive and difficult to obtain, but they do provide a unique opportunity for students to focus more solely on their education.

Graduate Assistant (GA)- Although used by many as a catch-all term for students with assistantships, graduate assistant more specifically refers to a student with an assistantship that works on something other than research or teaching. GAs may provide support to the university administration, athletics, residence halls, libraries, or other parts of the university.

Postdoc (Post Doctoral Scholar) – A postdoc is a person who is working on research for a limited period of time after they finish their doctoral degree. Postdoctoral research may be funded by a fellowship or grant, and depending on the field may be an important step along the way to an academic career.

Practicum- A practicum is a period of time where a student is working in their field of study under the supervision of a professional in that field. It usually happens prior to graduation (as opposed to a residency, which may occur after graduation). Practicums are most common in education and medical fields.

Research Assistant (RA) – A research assistant is a student with an assistantship whose work duties are tied to a specific research project or laboratory. RAs may be assigned to a single faculty member or group of faculty members whom they assist with research. RAs do not usually teach or perform duties outside of their research assignment.

Residency- A residency is a time period where a graduate student is working in their profession, under supervision of an advisor. It may occur after graduation and licensure, but is still considered part of the student’s required education. This is most common in medical fields.

Teaching Assistant (TA) – A teaching assistant is a student with an assistantship whose work duties include either teaching courses or assisting a faculty member with course related duties. Some TAs (usually in PhD programs) will teach courses on their own (known as being the teacher of record), while others may teach lab sections related to the lecture led by a faculty member, and other may provide tutoring or grading support for courses.





Grad Life Voices: Making Sacrifices

Peter Hayes

written by Lacey, a current graduate wife

In the past couple years, my husband and I have learned the importance of working together in order for him to get through grad school. Most of his colleagues don’t have families, and sometimes it seems it gives them an advantage. We both agree that it is important that he focuses as much as he can on his work. I don’t want him to have to deal with the stresses of family life especially when he’s approaching a deadline. His schedule is crazy. I’d say most days it doesn’t bother me, but then other days I feel so alone.

About six months ago, I was just about done with all of this grad school stuff. I was working a job that I absolutely hated and after applying to job after job with no luck, I felt like I was trapped there. As much as I hated my job, it had its benefits. It was close to home, I got a lot of time off and although it wasn’t great, the pay was manageable. I would go through times where I would just tell myself to suck it up, but the job was so draining. Around the time that I quit, we started to have childcare issues. With both our incomes combined, we could not afford most daycares. We first enrolled our girls into a program that we liked, but the hours didn’t work for us. We had to hire a babysitter to fill in when the daycare’s schedule didn’t fit with ours. We found someone I loved and who was able to work with us on price. But then, of course, she moved, and we had trouble finding a good replacement for her. I think losing the provider that we loved was where things went downhill for me. I hated that I was dropping my kids off with someone I wasn’t crazy about so that I could work a job that I hated. I really felt I had no control over my own life. I was so unhappy and it was really starting to affect my life with my family.

Finally, we discussed my quitting. I opened up a shop online before the awful job just to see where it would go, and I used it while I was employed to help relieve stress. Since quitting, I’ve been able to focus more on it. Some months I make pretty good sales, but it nowhere compares to my old income. I’m a lot happier now and it’s been easier for me to be the support my husband needs. I miss being able to eat out whenever we wanted and not having to worry so much about finances, but I don’t have the stress from the job and childcare. My husband doesn’t have to work his schedule around dropping off and picking up kids. We don’t have to stress out about snow days and one of the kid’s billionth sick day. I will be honest and say there were times that I resented my husband because I felt I was putting aside my happiness for his career. I’ve always been an optimistic, happy person, but the job I had brought out a bad side. I’m happy to be doing something for me for once. I get to work towards my goals and I get to spend quality time with my girls. Still, it’s a short term solution, and I am currently on the job hunt again. I’m hoping this time around I will find something that’s actually rewarding!

It seems with this journey, we’re going to make sacrifices no matter what, and we have to figure out which are worth making. If we really knew what we were getting ourselves into, we may not have chosen grad school. I’m happy we did though. We may not be living a comfortable life now, but I know in the long run this will be worth it, and my husband will actually be doing something he enjoys and believes is important.

As a graduate wife, what sacrifices have you had to make?

City Escape

City Escape: Boston


Fenway Park 2
Fenway Park

Have you ever wondered where the readers/writers of this blog live? The answer is all over the world! We thought it would be fun to feature various cities our fellow graduate wives reside in….now you can see their cities through their eyes! If you’d like to feature your city, please contact us at

-written by Jennifer, a current graduate wife

I could write for days about all there is to see and do in Boston. This charming, historical city is chocked full of fascinating sights and hidden little treasures. Each week when Friday would come, I would let out a sigh of joy and dive into the weekend.

My hubs often jokes that it’s a miracle he even made it through his first year. Rarely was there a weekend that we would spend time at home. Each and every spare moment was dedicated to travel. We worked hard during the week, and the weekend was our time to explore.

Boston is a manageable city and many of the greatest sights can be seen in just a few days. Though some of my favorite days exploring were spent away from the crowds, the major attractions in Boston are not to be missed. With a vast array of museums, sports, historical sights, restaurants, shopping and outdoor activities, there’s a little bit of something for everyone to enjoy.

If you are just visiting for a weekend, don’t be afraid of tourist traps. In a town where there’s something historical everywhere you look, you learn to embrace all that you see, even if you are surrounded by a crowd.

For those lucky enough to live in this great city or stay longer than just a few days, with time, you’ll discover your favorite places and create a Boston that’s all your own. Some of our best days were days that we spent trying to get lost. We discovered fun little coffee shops and thrift stores, quirky restaurants and abandoned parks. I could have spent a lifetime exploring, and would have never of gotten bored.

For the sake of this post, you’ll find a few of my favorite things to do, including both “touristy” and “non-touristy” options, as well as a few pointers and tips that I picked up along the way.

See Something Historical:

  • Walk the ENTIRE Freedom Trail. On a pretty day, this 2.5-mile trail is the best way to explore the city. With 16 historic sights and some of the best views of the city, there’s no better way to explore Boston. Start by picking up a cup of Joe from The Thinking Cup and enjoy a stroll around the Public Gardens. From the gardens, make your way over to the Boston Commons where you’ll find the visitor’s center and the starting point of the trail. Pick up some information and a map, and just follow the yellow red brick road.

The trail will first take you to the Massachusetts State House before leading you to the famous Park Street Church. From there, you’ll talk a walk through the Granary Burying Ground, resting place of many notable Revolutionary War-era patriots, including three signers of the Declaration of Independence, Paul Revere, and five victims of the Boston Massacre.

From the burying grounds you’ll head to the King’s Chapel and Old South Meeting House, before landing at the Old Corner Bookstore, the oldest commercial building in Boston. From the bookstore, the trail leads to the sight of the Boston Massacre as well as the Old State House. You’ll then head straight to the middle of Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall, and excellent spot for shopping and lunch. There’s a food court here that offers a little something for everyone, but for those wanting to sit and take their time, a meal at Durgin-Park is always a good choice.

Looking for something a little more historical? Take a slight detour over to the Union Oyster House, Boston’s oldest restaurant, and then enjoy a beer right next door at the Bell In Hand Tavern, Boston’s oldest bar. After lunch, continue on down the trail with a walk through the historic North End, Boston’s little Italy.

Here you’ll enjoy a tour of the Paul Revere House, Old North Church, and the Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, as well as some of the best pasta and pastries in the city. Mike’s Pastry is always great (the amaretto cannoli and lobster tail pastry are top notch), and for dinner, Giacomo’s is my favorite. The line is always lengthy, but if you time it right, you can avoid a long wait. The fra diavolo linguine with scallops is great, and the fried calamari for an appetizer is the way to go.


Continue your tour with a stroll across the bridge over to Charlestown to explore the USS Constitution before ending the day with a 294-step climb to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument. Take in the views and give yourself a pat on the back. The tour is over. Head back to the North End and enjoy a large plate of spaghetti!

Alternatively, this tour can easily be split into two days. If you choose this route, I recommend saving Charlestown for your second day. Everything up to that point is manageable in one day, or even just a couple of hours if you’re speedy.

  • Get lost on the crooked, cobblestone streets of Beacon Hill, Boston’s most historic neighborhood. Known for old colonial brick row houses with colorful doors, decorative ironwork, brick sidewalks, and narrow streets lined with gas lamps, this is Boston in its most quintessential state. Enjoy unparalleled New England antiquing on Charles Street, or sit and enjoy a scoop of ice cream from the Boston original and favorite, J.P. Licks.
Beacon Hill
Beacon Hill
  • Take a tour of Fenway Park. If you aren’t interested in attending a game or can’t find tickets, taking a park tour is a great way to see this historical landmark. Another interesting option is to visit the Bleacher Bar, a restaurant and bar lying beneath the bleachers in center field. With a window that looks directly through centerfield and into the park, the view can’t be beat. Show up really, REALLY, early on game days to snag a seat, or just drop in on a nongame day for a unique view of the field. OH, and whether you attend a game or not, be sure and enjoy a Fenway sausage from one of the carts parked outside of the park. Noms…

Do Something Artsy:

  • While there are many great museums to visit in Boston, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is easily my top choice. Additionally, the Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Science, and though not technically a museum, the New England Aquarium, are all great options for a rainy day.
  • If you enjoy music, there are many great ways to catch a live show in Boston. Watching an outdoor concert at the Hatch Shell is always fun, and if you can afford it, the Boston Sympathy Orchestra is not to be missed. Alternatively, with the Berklee College of Music located just downtown, there are always great live and inexpensive shows taking place. Just check the school’s website to find a schedule. Another unique option is to enjoy a drink and some Jazz at Wally’s Café, located in the quirky South End.

Drink Good Beer:

  • With a bevy of breweries scattered about New England, a brewery tour is a must. While a visit to the Sam Adam’s Brewery is essential, touring the Boston favorite Harpoon Brewery is not to be missed. For just $5, one can enjoy a tour of the facility, and all the beer that you can throw down in a half hour time span. For those not interested in a tour, the newly finished German style beer hall is a great spot to enjoy a pretzel and a pint. If you are looking for a meal after your tour of Harpoon, the Yankee Lobster Company, which is just down the road, is an excellent place to stop.
  • Enjoy a pint at Washington Square at The Publick House. Located in Brookline, this gastropub with an old-world feel offers 30 selections on tap and 100+ bottled options, all served at the appropriate temperature and in the correct glassware, might I add, making it the place to be to enjoy your favorite craft beer or rare import, or to try something new. Looking for a snack to enjoy while you drink? You can’t go wrong with the Monk’s Frites. These Belgian style fries are superb. Enjoy them with some truffle ketchup and garlic-asiago mayonnaise to really put them over the top. If you’re looking for something a little heavier, their mac and cheese is award winning and well worth the calories.
  • If you insist on visiting Cheers, be sure to visit the Beacon Street location. There is a second restaurant located at Faneuil Hall, but if you are a fan of the show, the Beacon Street location is the one that you are after.

Take a Campus Tour:

  • With over 100 colleges and universities in the greater Boston area, a campus tour is an essential part of any visit to Boston. My personal favorite (although I might be a bit biased) is the Boston College Campus. The English Collegiate/Neo-Gothic architecture that adorns the property is truly breathtaking. Before starting your tour, pick up a bowl of ice cream from my all time favorite, White Mountain Creamery. I could eat an entire pint of the Cookie Monster in one sitting. The Death By Chocolate is also another good choice.

    Boston College
    Boston College
  • While I am admittedly biased toward BC, another personal favorite, and a must see Boston (well, technically Cambridge) attraction is the Harvard University Campus.  Walk along the famed Harvard Yard and rub John Harvard’s toe for good luck. The Harvard Peabody Museum is also worth a stop, as is an afternoon spent in the eclectic shops and restaurants of Harvard Square.
  • While you’re on that side of the river, you might as well swing by MIT. The unique and modern architecture is fun to look at, and being on the campus alone makes you feel smarter. From campus, head over to the esplanade on the Charles River for one of the best views of the city.

    MIT Campus
    MIT Campus

Other Notables:

  • If you are anywhere near Brighton on a Monday night, head over to The Green Briar Pub for a pint and some authentic live Irish music. Each Monday night, a group of vibrant Irishmen and women gather around with their instruments and fill the bar with lively Irish tunes.
  • Drink a cup of hot chocolate from LA Burdick. If it’s hot outside, drink a cup anyway. While they are known for their dark hot chocolate, I have found that the milk hot chocolate is the way to go (and I am a dark chocolate lover). On a cold and snowy day, this is the perfect treat to help you warm up. If it’s not cold, well, like I said, just drink a cup anyway. Trust me… you’ll thank me that you did.
  • If you’re looking to put a dent in your credit card, enjoy a day of shopping on Newbury Street. Even if you don’t want to shop, a stroll down this attractive street is worth your time. If you need a break from shopping, a stop at Trident Booksellers and Café is a good choice.
  • Take a whale watching tour. Scoring a Groupon not only once, but twice, I was able to see these majestic creatures in the wild two incredible times. While I never took a tour directly out of Boston, I know that the New England Aquarium offers tours seven days a week in season.
  • Tour a chocolate factory. Taza Chocolate Factory, located on the other side of Cambridge in Somerville, is a great experience for chocolate lovers. This local, stone-ground, organic, Mexican chocolate is a real treat. Seeing the small factory where it’s made only adds to its sweetness.
  • Enjoy a Sunday afternoon at the SoWa Market. Head out early for brunch at Gaslight Brasserie Du Coin before browsing through the endless booths of famer’s market goodies, antique finds, and homemade crafts at the market next door. Enjoy a late lunch at one of the market’s numerous food trucks, and delight in an afternoon of people watching. Before you leave, be sure to stop by Bobby from Boston, an eclectic little shop full of vintage goods and clothing.
  • Indulge in a sweet treat from Flour Bakery. The homemade Oreo cookie is an excellent choice, and their Belgian chocolate brownies are rather decadent.
  • Though a little touristy, a meal at Legal Sea Foods is not to be missed. Though there are nearly 20 locations to choose from in the Boston area, my personal favorite is Legal Harborside, located in Boston’s seaport district.
  • Have a lobster bake! You’ll easily find lobster almost anywhere you go in Boston, but if you have access to a kitchen wherever you’re staying, it’s much cheaper to cook it on your own. If you’re visiting Boston in the summer, a pound of lobster will likely cost less than a pound of organic chicken. While it’s cheaper to purchase live lobsters outside of the city, you can find it at almost any grocery store or market that you visit. The James Hook Company, located on the historic waterfront district has a great selection as does the Brighton Fish Company, located on the West side of the city near the Boston College campus. If you don’t have a kitchen, head to the Brighton Fish Company. They’ll cook your lobster for you at no additional cost.

    Lobster Bake
    Lobster Bake
  • Enjoy a drink at the top level of the Prudential Center. Alternatively, you can take a tour at the Skywalk Observatory, but for roughly the same price, you can sip cocktails with unparalleled views at the Top of the Hub
  • Take a quick trip outside of the city. While I could devote an entire post dedicated to Boston road trips (maybe next time!), I will leave you with a few of my favorite destinations located within an hourish drive of Boston. Gloucester (particularly a visit to Halibut State Park) and downtown Rockport, Walden Pond, Old Sturbridge Village, and the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Cape Cod National Seashore
Cape Cod National Seashore
Old Sturbridge Village
Old Sturbridge Village
Downtown Rockport
Downtown Rockport


Walden Pond
Walden Pond

Pointers and Tips:

  • Boston is a very walkable city. Wear comfortable shoes and see as much as you can by foot.
  • If you plan to visit more than just a few days and intend to spend much time on the “T” (AKA, the subway), buy a week pass. It’ll pay for itself in just a few rides, and it’s a convenient thing to have. Plus, it’s also good for buses, which comes in handy when there is no T stop on your route.
  • Be sure to check before your trip. While there’s always something fun going on in Boston, sometimes an event calendar can really help you decide what to see and do if you’re short on time.
Halibut State Park
Halibut State Park


*all images original to Jennifer Doss