It’s easy now to look back on the Sons of Liberty as just a bunch of guys in funny hats and breeches, shooting off muskets and complaining about tea. But there is something undoubtedly stirring about visiting the graves of the early revolutionaries and sitting in the pews of the church where they first thundered their speeches that brings alive the true passion of the American Revolution.
In fact, the days leading up to the War for Independence were less like a noble war for freedom and more like a running mob insurrection. The few passionate men and women who worked to rile up a reluctant populace are very accessible, and it’s easy to get drawn into their stories—both those you know and those you don’t.
In the 1960s, Boston  made it easier to trace the history of the Revolution by connecting 16 historical attractions in downtown Boston with the Freedom Trail—a red line, alternately painted on the sidewalk and embedded in it with a double line of brick. From Boston Common  to the Bunker Hill Monument , the trail stretches for two and a half miles, with each site designated by a bronze medallion in the pavement.
Visitors can walk the line themselves or hook up with a 90-minute guided tour offered by the Freedom Trail Foundation (Boston Common Visitor Information Center, 148 Tremont St., 617/357-8300, www.thefreedomtrail.org , 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m., 3:30 p.m., and 4:30 p.m. daily, $12 adults, $10 students and seniors, $6 children) that covers the first eleven sites along the route in the company of a costumed actor playing one of the lesser-known patriots such as William Dawes, Abigail Adams, or James Otis.
Perhaps the best way to take in the trail is to book the morning tour, then stop for lunch at the Quincy Market food court or a trattoria in the North End. After lunch, continue along by yourself to the sites in the North End  and Charlestown , taking the ferry back to Boston ; or return back along the way you came, taking more time to explore the inside of the Old State House , the Old South Meeting House , and the Massachusetts State House .
The Freedom Trail Foundation also offers two-hour self-guided audio tours, with sound effects and voices of historians to bring the trail to life ($15). Since part of the fun of the trail is experiencing the contrast between Revolutionary Boston and the sights and sounds of the modern city, however, the headphone tours can be a bit insulating.