Boston City Guide


©2006 istockphotos.com Visitors will find dozens of recreational opportunities in Boston Harbor, which is one of the major Atlantic Coast seaports. See more pictures of city skylines.

Boston has always been extremely proud of its past. After all, the American Revolution started here. In Boston, history isn't just confined to museums; it's everywhere, especially along the city's famous Freedom Trail, the path that traces the "footsteps" of colonial Boston's struggle for freedom and independence. Boston's compact size, quaint architecture, and acres of green open space give the city an almost European feel. Yet Boston is also a thoroughly modern city.

Boston's student population -- there are more than 100 colleges and universities in the Boston metropolitan area -- gives the city a definite youthful vibe. Today's Boston is not so much old provincial capital, but a cosmopolitan city with a decidedly New England charm.

The Best of Boston

For a small city, Boston offers visitors plenty of big-city culture. Boston is home to impressive art collections, and the Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum are among the world's finest museums. Boston also supports a well-established performing arts scene -- the Boston Symphony and the Boston Ballet are both world-renowned.

Family attractions abound in Boston, with fun things for kids to do and to see at both the Museum of Science and the New England Aquarium. Boston's shopping is another great reason to visit, since there are tons of boutiques and interesting stores to choose from on Newbury Street. And you won't just find baked beans and scrod in Boston restaurants anymore. In recent years, Boston has become a "real" restaurant city, with new specialty and interesting ethnic eateries opening almost every week.

Fast Facts & Info

Fast Facts & Info

Geography and landscape: Boston is almost entirely surrounded by water. This city was originally settled by early American colonists on a small peninsula jutting out from Boston Harbor. Boston Harbor is part of Massachusetts Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The Mystic River borders Boston to the north, and the Neponset River lies to the south. To the west, Boston is famously bordered by the Charles River, which separates Boston from the nearby city of Cambridge.

Today, Boston comprises an area of 48 square miles of mostly gently rolling hills -- much of it on reclaimed marshland built on landfill. The city's bustling waterfront scene, its parks, and its graceful skyline make Boston a pleasant city for visitors to enjoy.

General orientation: Boston Common is where Boston begins. Visitors will pass through and around this 50-acre park many times during their stay. Park Street Station, considered the hub of the city's subway system, is located here. The Freedom Trail, the 2.5-mile red brick path that winds through Boston and the important sites of the American Revolution, begins here too.

Boston is a city of 20 distinctive neighborhoods, housing 589,000 residents. Some of the most popular neighborhoods for visitors include The Waterfront, the Downtown/Financial District, the North End, the Chinatown/Theatre District, Back Bay, and Beacon Hill. Keep in mind that some neighborhoods are quite crowded during the school year, as over 200,000 students attend college in the area.

©2006 istockphotos.com The Boston Public Garden, located in Beacon Hill, features a lovely lake. In warmer months, visitors can enjoy the popular Swan Boat tour.

Safety: Boston is a safe city, but as with any major city, you should take the usual safety precautions. Stay in well-populated areas, travel with others, especially at night, and keep track of your belongings.

The tourist areas in Boston are generally safe, but some areas deserve mention. Don't visit the Boston Common or the Public Garden late at night unless you are there for a large public event, such as a concert. Although long past its hey-day, you should avoid walking in Chinatown and parts of Downtown Crossing, Boston's red light district, at night too. The North End, the Waterfront area, and the Theatre District are typically full of people and have lots of activity, but you should be cautious very late at night.

Climate/weather: Boston is a city of four seasons with a tremendous range of weather conditions. The weather in New England is extremely changeable, even on a daily basis, so it's best to be prepared for a wide range of weather conditions.

Boston's winters are cold, snowy, and long, with the first snowflakes often beginning to fly by late November and measurable snow in April is not unheard of. The range of average winter temperatures can be between 0 and 37 degrees Fahrenheit (-17 to 3 degrees Celsius). Spring is the month of May when temperatures average from 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 21 degrees Celsius).

In the summer, the temperatures range from 60 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 35 degrees Celsius). July and August can be either uncomfortably humid or, with a cooling sea breeze, perfectly delightful. Autumn in Boston brings the fall foliage season and exceptional New England weather of warmish days and crisp, cool nights.

If you're thinking of visiting Boston, go to the next page, where you'll find tips on getting to the city as well as getting around once you've arrived.

Getting In, Getting Around Boston

©2006 istockphotos.com From Logan International Airport in East Boston, travelers can make their way to Boston by subway, bus, water ferry, or taxi.

Getting to Boston via car or plane is simple, but navigating the confusing streets of the city is a bit more complicated. On this page, we'll detail your transportation options for getting in and getting around Boston.

From the Airport

If you are flying into Boston, there are a variety of ways to get from Logan International Airport  to the city.

Car rental: Eight rental car companies are available at Logan. In Terminals C and E, all of the car companies have direct line telephone boards connecting to a local rental car facility. Each company has a complimentary shuttle bus that will stop curbside on the airport's arrival level to take passengers to the nearby rental office. Be aware that there always seems to be construction going on around Logan, so you will need to be careful and watch the signs directing you downtown.

Public transportation: Public transportation in Boston consists of buses, subways, commuter rail, and ferries operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority called MBTA or "T", which is convenient, safe, and reasonably priced. Bus Routes 448 and 459 travel between Logan and downtown. MBTA's Blue Line Subway is the best airport connection to Boston.

Many travelers will use the free Massport shuttle bus service that runs between all airport terminals at the arrival levels, the airport subway station on the MBTA Blue Line, and the Water Transportation Terminal dock.

Another option is the MBTA Harbour Express, a water shuttle that makes a convenient 7-minute trip across the harbor from Logan to the city, and is a convenient option if you are staying at a Waterfront or Financial District hotel. Tickets are sold on the boat.

Taxi: You won't have difficulty finding a taxi at Logan, but make sure you understand the fee before you use one. All areas within a 12-mile radius of Boston are charged a metered rate of $2.25 to start and 30 cents per 1/8 mile after that. The charge becomes a flat fee beyond the 12-mile radius. Fares are based on one to four passengers per taxi. It's important to know that all taxis leaving Logan are charged a $2 airport fee.

The City Water Taxi operates 10 boats year-round that shuttle passengers from Logan to 15 landings in Boston Harbor. Don't worry if the weather is cold because the boats are fully covered and heated in winter. The standard rate is $10 per passenger for a one-way trip, $17 round trip, and children 12 and younger ride free with a paying adult.

Driving In

Rush hour: Driving into Boston is relatively easy. Boston is the hub of New England and the region's highways link Boston to all points in the Northeast. If you are driving into or out of the city during morning or evening rush hours, driving in the breakdown lane, or shoulder, is allowed during posted hours on some highways. For visitors arriving by car, drive into Boston and park your car at your hotel. Expect to pay dearly for the privilege. Boston hotel parking fees are routinely $30 to $50 a night.

Rules of the road: Heavy vehicle and pedestrian traffic, non-existent parking, and a maze of narrow, one-way streets make driving in Boston difficult -- even for natives. You can buy a street map of Boston, but it probably won't do you any good.

Be aware the Central Artery Tunnel Project, or Big Dig, is Boston's massive highway and tunnel construction project still in the works. The project involves the Ted Williams Tunnel between south Boston and Logan airport, which is currently open to traffic, and the rebuilding of the Central Artery (Interstate 93), in which a new artery will be made underground through the heart of Boston and under the existing elevated structure.

The Big Dig schedule has work continuing through 2006, with ongoing construction detours and road closures. Avoid construction delays within Boston by walking or using public transportation instead.

Public transportation/fares: Boston's public transportation system of buses, subways, commuter rail, and ferries is operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which is convenient, safe, and reasonably priced. There are four major subway lines, color-coded Green, Blue, Red, and Orange that cover downtown and the immediate suburbs. Most subway rides on the MBTA cost $1.25. Currently the MBTA is a token-operated system (1 token costs $1.25) that is phasing in a stored value card system. The Charlie card system minimum is $5, so most visitors will want to use the MBTA on a pay-as-you-go basis. 

Taxis, on foot, or by bike: Taking a taxi is a necessary evil if you're coming from Logan airport with a lot of people or a lot of luggage. If you're out late at night, taxis may be your only option because the MBTA shuts down at 12:45 am, while Boston bars are open until 2 am. Taxis may be difficult to come by very late on weekend nights as hordes of college students leave Boston's nightclubs.

Boston is a relatively small city, and most of the sites are located within walking distance of each other. One of Boston's many nicknames is "America's Walking City" because walking really is the best way to get around. Boston's cobblestone streets are charming, but murder on your feet.  Wear study walking shoes or sneakers when touring on foot.

Now that you have an idea of how to get around Boston, let's explore some of Beantown's unique attractions. On the next page, learn about popular visitor destinations like Fenway Park, the Freedom Trail, and The New England Aquarium.

Boston Special Events & Attractions

©2006 istockphotos.com The Charles River in Cambridge is the site of the annual The Head Of The Charles Regatta, the world's largest two-day rowing event.

While Boston is one of America's oldest cities, conjuring up thoughts of colonial American history, keep in mind it isn't old-fashioned. The sites along the Freedom Trail may serve as a constant reminder of the city's rich heritage, but the area's highly educated student population gives the city a youthful dynamic.

While Boston Harbor brought trade and wealth to the city in Colonial times, today Boston's bustling waterfront is still the city's showpiece. There are a myriad of activities, such as restaurants, shopping, and attractions centered at Long Wharf. Boston's waterfront has recently expanded to include a new convention center and, soon, the new Institute of Contemporary Art. And throughout the year there are many world-class events going on in the city that make Boston the place to be.

Insider's Guide: The Best of Special Events & Attractions in Boston

Insider's Guide: The Best of Special Events & Attractions in Boston

The New England Aquarium (1 Central Wharf) houses more than 8,000 aquatic creatures, such as dolphins, penguins, harbor seals, and fish from around the world. It's worth visiting for its playful penguin pool as you enter the building, and for a four-story fish tank wrapped by a spiral viewing ramp. If you become tired of the small sharks and huge sea turtles, an Exploration Center is located on the first floor. You can also book a spot (April to October), on the Aquarium's Whale Watches Tour, an educational trip in which professionals take you 25 miles away to Stellwagen Bank to see the feeding grounds of various whales.

Snagging Red Sox game day tickets is virtually impossible, but you can still pay homage to Boston's beloved Fenway Park, America's oldest major league baseball stadium. The Fenway Park Tour (4 Yawkey Way) gives fans a behind-the-scenes look at the still hand-operated scoreboard, the dugout, and tales of baseball lore. You can even check out the Green Monster, a 37-foot, left-field wall where balls disappear in blazing green reflections.

What's one way to pay homage to a good beer? Build a museum in its honor. The Boston Beer Museum (30 Germania St.) is an off-the-beaten-path attraction that will show you the critical details and behind-the-scenes of the brewing process. Brewing is a Boston tradition that goes back 200 years, and this building has the artifacts to prove it.

Go back to 1812 by stepping onto the decks of the USS Constitution (Charlestown Navy Yard). This is the oldest commissioned warship in the world and was engaged in a battle with the British about 600 miles off the coast of Boston. The ship was saved from the scrap yard in 1830 because of the public's response to an Oliver Wendell Holme's poem, "Old Ironsides." You can tour the vessel and learn more firsthand or visit its museum next door.

Seabiscuit was a championship horse that won many races in the 1930s, including a race at Suffolk Downs (111 Waldemar Ave). This race track is rich in history, and you can still visit to place pari-mutuel bets, which only involves placing a wager against other spectators instead of the house. All you need is a minimum of $2 to place a bet. On your way inside the clubhouse entrance, check out the bronze plaque commemorating Seabiscuit's history at Suffolk Downs.

Watch the Battle of Bunker Hill by visiting the Whites of Their Eyes at the Bunker Hill Pavilion (55 Constitution Rd, 617-241-7575). This specially designed pavilion houses a multimedia re-enactment of the Battle using life-size figurines and eyewitness narratives.

Against the backdrop of New England's autumn beauty, the Charles River Regatta, a world-class sporting event, is held during the third weekend in October. Hundreds of thousands of spectators line the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge to cheer on the athletes. The best vantage points are the six bridges that span the course.

Another world-class sporting event, the Boston Marathon, heralds spring for winter-weary New Englanders. On the third Monday in April, one million cheering spectators line the route from Hopkinton (in the western suburbs) to the finish line at Copley Square.

In the winter take a spin on the ice at the Boston Common Frog Pond Rink (617-635-2120). Ice skating in Boston, under the lights with a fresh blanket of snow, is magical. Frog Pond is open every day for public ice skating from late November to March. You can rent skates and buy hot chocolate from the Frog Pond concession stand.

Tourists always touch the toe of the John Harvard statue in Harvard Yard for good luck, but beware -- don't follow the crowd. Harvard students have their own John Harvard statue tradition -- examine the stain near his foot.

For the visitor seeking cultural fare, Boston offers a world-class orchestra and ballet company, in addition to a number of important art museums. On the next page, read about Boston's thriving arts and culture scene.

Boston Arts & Culture

©1998 Lou Jones Photo Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Boston's Museum of Fine Arts is one of the most comprehensive art museums in the world.

Boston is passionate about its art and culture. As you would expect from a city whose nickname is the "Athens of America," Boston has high-brow culture galore. The Museum of Fine Arts, The Gardner Museum, and The Fogg are among the best art museums in the country. Classical music lovers, too, will find plenty to enjoy in Boston. The Boston Symphony, the Boston Ballet, and the Boston Lyric Opera present a full season of performances from September through June. And in the Theatre District, there are always several touring Broadway musicals and plays onstage.

Boston has a vibrant contemporary art scene too. The Boston Pops regularly showcases jazz and contemporary music. The Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory feature performances by well-known visiting guest artists and up-and-coming student talent. Regarding the visual arts, both the Museum of Fine Arts and the Institute of Contemporary Art are in the midst of expanding their contemporary art collections.

Boston is also home to many alternative theatre companies. Boston University's Huntington Theatre and Cambridge's A.R.T. both showcase local talent performing modern works.

Insider's Guide: The Best of Arts & Culture in Boston

Insider's Guide: The Best of Arts & Culture in Boston

The phrase "world-class" is used a lot in Boston, and there isn't an institution in the city that deserves the accolade more than Boston's Museum of Fine Arts (465 Huntington Ave). The museum houses an extraordinary collection of more than 450,000 items, including paintings from European Masters, a comprehensive display of American paintings, and decorative arts and sculpture from Egypt and the ancient world. You'll also find a much underappreciated gallery of contemporary art. For time-pressed visitors in a city with way too much to do, note that the museum is open seven days a week and late at night, until 9:45 pm Wednesday though Friday.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (280 The Fenway) is a small jewel box of an art museum built in 1901 in the style of a 15th-century Venetian palazzo by Boston socialite Isabella Stewart Gardner to house her private art collection. The Gardner Museum's central courtyard is filled with orange and palm trees, the soothing sound of water, and seasonal blooming flowers that serve as a lovely respite from the mayhem of the city.

Another Boston cultural gem is Symphony Hall (301 Massachusetts Ave). Built in 1900, this is considered by many as one of the finest concert halls in the world. If you visit, you will find that it's the home of the Boston Symphony and the Boston Pops.

Boston always celebrates Independence Day in grand style. Each year, half a million people throng the Esplanade to see the Boston Pops Free 4th of July Concert and fireworks. You can see the same Pops concert, the 4th of July Free "Preview" show, at the Esplanade on July 3rd. There are no fireworks on that day, but since the preview concert draws an audience of 10,000 people, you can sit in the grassy oval and enjoy the Boston Pops up close and personal.

The Bernard Toale Gallery (450 Harrison Ave) is the place to view some of today's up-and-coming artists and perhaps even buy a piece that moves you. Established and today's new artists display their drawings, photographs, paintings, and sculptures here, so you can get your hands on a cutting-edge creation. If you go, it's best to allow yourself one or two hours to take it all in.

The September 2006 re-opening of the Institute for Contemporary Art (100 Northern Ave) is one of the most highly anticipated cultural events to occur in Boston for years. The new waterfront home of the ICA features a bold, cantilevered glass building. The expanded gallery and performing art space will house an international contemporary art collection and feature both well-known and emerging artists.

Where else can you find three for the price of one? The Harvard Museum of Natural History includes the Museum of Comparative Zoology, and the Mineralogical and Geological Museum, but the real star is the Botanical Museum. The glass flower exhibit is simply exquisite. The life-size glass models of flowers (there are 3,000 of them) were made in the late 1800s in Germany and were used to teach biology. One admission fee grants access to all three Natural History Museums.

As one would expect from a city with so many historical ties, Boston is liberally peppered with landmarks and architecturally significant buildings. On the next page, learn about some of Boston's architectural highlights.

Boston Architecture & Landmarks

©2006 istockphotos.com Boston's Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge is the widest cable-stayed bridge in the world.

Boston has an extraordinary number of landmarks -- old and brand new. The USS Constitution, the Swan Boats, and Fenway Park are a few of the treasures that define Boston to residents and visitors alike. Tiny Beacon Hill is famous for its picturesque streetscapes and the architectural details of its Federal-style homes.

In Boston's Back Bay neighborhood, the brownstone homes and several of the buildings that cluster around Copley Square are interesting examples of Victorian-era architecture. What's next for Boston? The buzz in town is that the new Institute of Contemporary Art will be Boston's next major landmark.

Insider's Guide to Architecture & Landmarks in Boston

Insider's Guide to Architecture & Landmarks in Boston

The soaring cable bridge that spans the Charles River to the north of Boston was an instant Boston landmark. Opened in 2003 as part of the Central Artery Tunnel Project, The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge -- or simply the Zakim -- is named after the late Lenny Zakim, a local civil rights activist. It's the widest cable-stayed bridge in the world and its two towers mimic the Bunker Hill monument across the river in Charlestown.

Boston is rich in landmarks celebrating the "footsteps" of colonial Boston's struggle for freedom and independence. You can't see it all at once, but some places are worth noting, especially if you have limited time. The Boston Massacre Monument (206 Washington St) is a special acknowledgement of the origin of the Revolution of 1770. Paul Revere House (19 North Square) is Boston's oldest building and includes authentic furnishings from the Revere family. Old North Church (193 Salem St) is the site of the oldest church in Boston, in which a church sexton hung two lanterns in the steeple to signal the British were coming.

Touring the Harrison Gray Otis House (141 Cambridge St) will give you a sampling of home architecture from 1796 to 1820. Architect Charles Bulfinch designed this home, which strongly influenced the Federal style architecture in New England. For a sample of early-Georgian architecture, take a stroll through the Isaac Royall House (15 George St), furnished with Queen Ann, Chippendale, and Hepplewhite furnishings. Another example of Georgian architecture is the Shirley-Eustis House (33 Shirley St), and is only one of four remaining in the country.

The first United States lighthouse is still operating. Boston Light, located on Little Brewster Island in Boston Harbor, is the only U.S. lighthouse that is still manned.  A Boston Light Tour includes a narrated boat ride to Little Brewster Island and a ranger-guided tour of the light tower. You can even climb the 76 stairs to the top (or not). Boston Light tours are available from June 15 to October 1st. Book ahead, as tours sell out well in advance.

The weather beacon on top of the "old" John Hancock (200 Berkeley St) serves a useful purpose to both residents and visitors. Check out the signal before heading out. The neon lights predict the local weather forecast. But to decipher the lights, you need to know the rhyme:

Steady blue; clear view;

Flashing blue; clouds due.

Steady red; rain ahead

Flashing red; snow instead.

The Boston Public Garden (64 Arlington St) is the first botanical garden in the United States with its 24 acres of flowers and shrubs. It also was the setting for Robert McCloskey's Caldecott-award winning picture book, "Make Way for Ducklings." The endearing bronze sculptures of Mrs. Mallard, Jack, Kack, Lack, etc. all are near the Beacon and Charles Street entrance to the park.

Boston encompasses a wide range of choices for the enthusiastic shopper, including haute couture boutiques on Newbury Street and bargain-bin shopping at the original Filene's Basement. On the next page, you can read about the highlights of shopping in Boston. 

Boston Shopping

©2006 istockphotos.com Fanueil Hall, Boston's historic marketplace, offers shoppers a delightful range of wares in its dozens  of stores and unique pushcarts.

The shopping scene in Boston caters to all kinds of shoppers. With haute couture and one-of-a-kind, upscale establishments, fashionable Newbury Street is a mecca for both the wealthy and hip trendsetters. Cambridge has scads of independent booksellers, and Inman Square is the place for the trend-setters. For the most seriously addicted shopaholics, there is bustling Faneuil Hall and the behemoth Copley Place/Prudential complex.  And Filene's Basement is legendary and a tourist attraction in its own right.

Insider's Guide: The Best of Shopping in Boston

Descend the narrow escalator directly from the street into the depths of a century-old Boston retail institution. The sign proclaims "Entrance to World Famous Filene's Automatic Basement Store" (426 Washington St at Downtown Crossing). Old wooden bins and overstuffed clothing racks are packed with a mix of brand name, designer, and sometimes even couture goods. The dressing rooms are communal and not for the timid.

This is the real Filene's Basement, the flagship store, and is famous for its automatic markdown system. The price tags are dated and prices drop by 25 percent every two weeks. After four weeks, the price is reduced 75 percent off, and if the merchandise remains unsold it's given to charity. Filene's Basement is for serious shoppers who enjoy the thrill of the hunt and a chance to snag a men's Armani suit, a Prada evening gown, or Kate Spade shoes at a bargain price.

Shreve, Crump, and Low (330 Boylston St) is one of Boston's oldest retailers. Shreve's is a great place to buy high-end Boston-themed souvenirs such as a sterling silver Swan boat pin or a hand-painted enamel box of the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship in the world and located in Boston.

Totally different, the Society of Arts and Crafts, America's oldest non-profit craft organization, has gallery and retail space at 175 Newbury St. You'll find handmade items in ceramics, fiber arts, jewelry, and mixed media.

Boston's raucous open-air produce market, Haymarket (Blackstone Street off of Interstate 93), is a colorful part of the Boston landscape. Fifty or so temporary wooden stalls are set up for business on Fridays and Saturdays from dawn to dusk, year-round on Blackstone Street, behind Quincy Market.

 

Haymarket still has a strong Italian presence, since it's on the edge of the North end, but many of its customers in recent years have included Latinos, Asians, and others. Those participants have helped Haymarket evolve in its offerings. Don't even think about picking your own apples; the vendors will yell at you, but it's all part of the market's charm and atmosphere.

If you're a book lover, stop in at Peter L. Stern (55 Temple Place) for its rare and antique books, including many first editions of 19th- and 20th-century literature. It's worth the trip to view antique books that remain intact after nearly 200 years.

Boston's nightlife may be tame compared to cities such as New York and Miami, but there is still plenty to do once the sun goes down. Find out about some of the best bets in nightlife and entertainment in the next section.

Boston Nightlife & Entertainment

©2006 istockphotos.com Due to the Blue Laws, beer in Boston generally flows only until 1 am.

But Boston's nightlife doesn't lack for variety. Boston entertainment choices range from the Lansdowne Street and Theatre District dance clubs and bars that cater to the young crowd, to the Euro-chic lounges in the Back Bay, to sophisticated live jazz clubs in Cambridge.

    

Insider's Guide:

The Best of Nightlife & Entertainment in Boston

Boston bleeds green. At The Black Rose (160 State St near Quincy Market), you can enjoy a pint, Irish pub fare, live music, and spirited conversation.

For microbrew fans, Boston Beer Works has a huge local following. Boston Beer Works keeps 15 microbrews on tap at any one time. The downtown bar (112 Canal St) has a billiards room, and their location at 61 Brookline Ave. is conveniently close to Fenway Park.

The Comedy Connection (2nd Floor Quincy Market Building Faneuil Hall) has been packing them in for more than 25 years. The club features national headline acts and emerging new talent. There are two shows on weekend nights and it's worth attending.

If you like your jazz with barbecue, head to Ryles Jazz Club (212 Hampshire St in Cambridge). This nightclub/bar caters to a diverse crowd and features jazz in the main room and swing and Latin dancing upstairs.

The Roxy (279 Tremont St) is as frenzied as Boston gets. The dance floor is huge and the DJ spins house/techno dance music for a hip crowd that loves to dance. There's both a dress code and cover charge. 

After a night of carousing, a relaxing day in the park may be just the thing. On the next page, we highlight Boston's most relaxing activities.

Relaxing & Unwinding in Boston

©2006 istockphotos.com The Swan Boats, seen here docked in the lake of The Boston Public Garden, offer visitors a relaxing, scenic tour in a unique setting.

Periods of sightseeing should be tempered with down time. Hands down, the Boston Common and the Boston Public Garden are the places to relax in the city. Together, these practically adjoining parks are Boston's great public space. Here, you can sit on the park benches and people-watch, walk along the paths, and enjoy nature, whatever the season.

Take advantage of Boston's waterfront setting. Spending time on and near the water is another favorite way for Bostonians to relax. Enjoy a Swan boat ride, a harbor cruise, or perhaps a leisurely walk along the Charles River Esplanade.

Insider's Guide: The Best of Relaxing & Unwinding in Boston

Insider's Guide: The Best of Relaxing & Unwinding in Boston

How about hanging out at a glamorous rooftop pool in Boston? Who would have thought! The roof top pool, a.k.a. RTP, at the Mobil Three-Star Colonnade Hotel (120 Huntington Ave) is open to the public (for a fee) Monday through Friday during the summer season. Swim, relax by the pool with a book, and have a mojito. RTP is the stylish summer spot for Boston's see-and-be-seen crowd.

A sunset stroll along the Charles River, over the little lagoons and footbridges of the Charles River Esplanade along Storrow Drive, is romantic. You can catch a free summer concert at the nearby Hatch Shell, an outdoor stage. Best access can be made if you come from the Arthur Fiedler footbridge at Beacon and Arlington Street.  

Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park (Atlantic Ave, near Long Wharf) has some of the best views of Boston Harbor. Recently renovated, the park has a small rose garden, playground, fountain, and benches. Located near the North End and Fanueil Hall, the park is a perfect spot to relax after a day of shopping and dining in the area.

Best spots in Boston for people-watching? For "beautiful people," the cafes on Newbury Street can't be beat. The people-watching is great at Faneuil Hall simply for the sheer number of residents and visitors who pass through each day.

Perhaps one of the best places to sit on a blanket and watch the beauty, and crowds go by, at Boston Public Garden (64 Arlington St), which has 24 acres of flowers and ornamental shrubs that bloom from April until mid-October.

What better way to relax and unwind than spending a day on the links? The Franklin Park Golf Course (1 Circuit Drive, Dorchester) is a 6,009-yard, par-70 golf course with some demanding, steep hills. This is especially worth playing since it's the second oldest public golf course in the United States.

Perhaps you want a guide to show you the highlights of Boston. Try a guided tour on an amphibious landing vehicle (or "Duck"), where you'll peruse the streets of Boston before plunging into the Charles River for breathtaking views of the city's skyline. In the next section, learn about the various organized tours offered in Boston.

Boston Organized Tours Overview

©2006 istockphotos.com Boston's Freedom Trail is a 2.5-mile red-brick line that provides an ideal walking tour of historical sites.

Although touring Boston on your own is totally manageable, sometimes taking a guided tour makes sense.

Boston Duck Tours never seem to lose their popularity among visitors. The refurbished World War II amphibious vehicles tour Boston's downtown sights before dipping into the Charles for a mini-cruise. The Ducks are heated, but Duck tours are seasonal and run from April to November.

Old Town Trolley Tours are fully narrarated, run year-round and have the advantage of on-and-off privileges. From Harvard Square, you can also opt for a 60-minute double-decker bus tour of Cambridge and Boston.

For Boston specialty tours, the North End Market Tour, given by local foodie Michele Topor, is highly regarded. And if you have kids in tow, Boston by Little Feet walking tours is a 60-minute walking tour that follows the Freedom Trail and explores local architecture and history for children ages 6-12 accompanied by an adult.

There are numerous other Boston walking tours available, including free guided tours by the Boston Park Rangers. You might also enjoy one of the special interest tours, like the Behind the Scenes at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Trinity Church tour, or the Literary Landmarks tour.

Regardless of how you decide to explore the city, you'll need comfortable accommodations from which to make your forays. Read about various accommodations available in Boston in the next section.

Boston Hotels Guide

©2006 The Four Seasons Hotel, Boston The Four Seasons Hotel Boston is conveniently located across from the Beacon's Hill Public Garden.

The Mobil Five-Star Four Seasons Hotel Boston (200 Boylston St) is elegant, yet unpretentious and enjoys an incredible location across from the Beacon Hill's Public Garden. Another excellent choice is the Taj Boston (15 Arlington St), which also overlooks the Public Garden. The Mobil Four-Star Ritz-Carlton, Boston Common (10 Avery St) is a hotel of classic grandeur. With period reproduction furniture and wood-burning fireplaces, this Ritz is very much "old Boston."

The Mobil Four-Star XV Beacon (15 Beacon St) is a turn-of-the-century Beaux Arts building in Beacon Hill features artwork created by well-known artists and guest rooms decorated in an eclectic style different from traditional Boston décor.

Boston is an extremely popular tourist destination from April through November. But Boston does have a low season, so hotel prices tend to go south for the winter. Generally many Boston hotel deals are available from January to March.

So if you don't like crowds, are looking for a good deal and you don't mind the cold, bring a warm coat and boots and enjoy a visit to Boston in the winter. Hotel taxes average 12.5 percent and include a state sales tax, occupancy tax, and a convention center tax.

The restaurants in Boston offer a myriad of culinary delights, from traditional "Yankee fare" to lobster fritters to Boston Cream Pie. Read about dining in Boston on the next page.

Boston Restaurants Guide

©2006 istockphotos.com Once a favorite food for colonial Bostonians, Boston baked beans are still served at Durgin-Park.

Local New England cuisine emphasizes seafood. You absolutely have to try New England -- no tomatoes ever -- clam "chowda." Rich and creamy, clam chowder is New England's comfort food. For chowder with a side of history, the Mobil Two-Star Union Oyster House (41 Union St) is the oldest continually operating restaurant in the United States. And if you've never tasted lobster before, you're in for a treat. Lobster appears in some form on nearly every menu, such as traditional boiled lobster, grilled lobster, and even lobster fritters.

Legal's Seafoods (26 Park Plaice) serves the best in seafood in a newly renovated building in downtown Boston, and is the place that natives choose to dine. You also can order just the right wine with your meal since its state-of-the-art wine celler houses 11,000 bottles.

Jumbo Seafood (7 Hudson St, 617/542-2823) is one of the largest restaurants in Boston's Chinatown. The Jumbo Shrimp steamed with wine and fresh garlic is representative of Jumbo's fresh, clean cuisine.  But if your taste runs to the more exotic, Boston has a treasure trove of other cuisines to try as well, such as Persian, Cambodian, and even Malaysian.

Disneyesque by Boston standards, celebrity chef Todd English's Kingfish Hall (188 Faneuil Hall Marketplace, South Market Building) serves both New England classic and Asian-inspired seafood. It's a fun place for a New England lobster boiled dinner.

Boston is affectionately known as "Beantown" because beans baked in molasses was a favorite colonial food. Mobil One-Star Durgin-Park (340 Faneuil Hall Marketplace) is one of only a few restaurants in town that still serves Boston baked beans. Durgin-Park serves traditional "Yankee" cooking, the waitresses are famously (yet selectively) boorish, and everyone eats at communal tables. Durgin-Park is yet another Boston institution that can help you find the true "local" experience.

If you're looking to eat Boston Cream Pie, you will be eating cake. This vanilla layer cake filled with custard and topped with a chocolate glaze was first created at Mobil Three-Star Parker's Restaurant in the Mobil Three-Star Omni Parker House Hotel (60 School St). Parker House rolls also were invented here. In fact, dining here will put you in one of the oldest dining rooms in Boston.

Of course, the North End does Italian cuisine exceedingly well and there are some great Asian restaurants in Chinatown. Mobil Three-Star Mamma Maria (3 North Square) gets raves all around for its gorgeous setting and wonderful food. This restaurant located in an early 19-century brick townhouse, is a good spot to get contemporary and specialty dishes. Their rabbit with pappardelle pasta is a standout.

Boston is also noted for its many fine-dining establishments. During March and August you can sample a three-course prix fixe lunch or dinner at some of Boston's most exclusive restaurants at reduced prices.

Before you step into a restaurant, keep in mind that a 15 percent gratuity tip is expected for good service.  It's advised that you check the bill to determine if a gratuity is already included. For larger parties, the average gratuity trend for restaurants is to add from 15 to 18 percent to the bill.

As you've read in the preceding sections, Boston is a town with countless things to do. But since most travelers have only a limited number of days to see the city, we've planned several specialized itineraries. Check them out in the following section.

Suggested Itineraries for Visiting Boston

©2006 istockphotos.com           The USS Constitution, also known           as "Old Ironsides," is one of           Boston's must-see attractions.          

A visit to Boston affords a unique experience: the advantages of a big city in a conveniently smaller-size city. To help you tailor the perfect trip, the itineraries below focus on particular interests.

                 

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries

for Special Events & Attractions in Boston

for Special Events & Attractions in Boston

From the historical to the aquatic, Boston has so many special events and attraction that it's difficult to plan your days. Here's some help:

1 day: Where to start? If you are on a tight schedule, concentrate your sightseeing along the Freedom Trail, the red brick path that winds through the important sights of the American Revolution. Break for lunch at Quincy Market (33 Washington St, 617-786-7650) and follow the suits -- the men and women who work in the Financial District -- to line up at Bombay Club (1 Faneuil Hall Market Place, 617-723-6001) for dosas, a footlong Indian crepe stuffed with potatoes, lentils, and peas. In the afternoon, give your feet a rest and continue on the Freedom Trail by taking the "T" ferry at Long Wharf across the harbor and tour the USS Constitution (Charlestown Navy Yard), the world's oldest commissioned warship.

2 days: Head to the New England Aquarium (1 Central Wharf) and spend some time at sea. The adventurous may want to go on a whale watching expedition. During the season (April to October), a high-speed catamaran leaves from the Aquarium dock for the 90-minute round-trip to Stellwagen Bank, a feeding area for marine mammals. Landlubbers may opt to explore the Aquarium's four-story GOT (giant ocean tank). GOT talks take place on the top of the viewing staircase, so check out the times at the information booth when you arrive. Continue the nautical theme at Jasper White's Summer Shack (50 Dalton St), where it's always an August day on Cape Cod. The lobster roll is not to be missed.

3 days: See how smart you can be. For families, a visit to The Museum of Science (1 Science Park) is a must. You could easily spend an entire day here, but come in the morning and leave by lunchtime because it can get quite crowded on weekends and during the summer. For little ones there are loads of hands-on activities and live animal presentations. For older kids, cool exhibits on biotechnology, computers, and a theatre showing the latest IMAX films. Take the MBTA (Red line) across the Charles River and hang out in Boston's quirky sister city, Cambridge. You don't have to be a die-hard fan to enjoy a close look at one of the oldest and rich-in-history ballparks -- Fenway Park (4 Yawkey Way).

                 

©2006 istockphotos.com           Fenway Park, home to the Boston Red Sox, is the oldest major league           stadium. Behind-the-scenes tours are offered seven days a week.          

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Arts & Culture in Boston

Boston's arts and culture scene is unsurpassed. Here are some itineraries that will enable you to experience all of the highlights:

1 day: Concentrate the day on Boston's "Avenue of the Arts", the area around Huntington Avenue. You could easily spend the entire day at the Museum of Fine Arts (465 Huntington Ave). But don't overdo it. Hone in on your favorite art period. If you simply cannot choose, take one of the free, docent-led guided tours offered throughout the day. The one-hour introductory tour is an overview of the MFA's very best.

Have an early dinner, but nothing too heavy, before the Symphony. Finale (15 Columbus Ave, 617-423-3184) serves an elegant two-course (one starter and one dessert) Prix Fixe menu before 8 pm. Their white pizza, grilled chicken with caramelized onions and feta, and lemon cream is light done right. Definitely pick their signature molten chocolate cake for dessert. In the evening, attend a concert at Symphony Hall (301 Massachusetts Ave), where the setting and acoustics are superb. The Boston Symphony plays September to November and January to May; the Boston Pops performs December, June, and July.

2 days: Head back over the river again. Spend the day in Cambridge, exploring Harvard University's Art Museums (371 Harvard St, Cambridge). The Fogg (32 Quincy St) is the best-known gallery, and holds an impressive collection of Renaissance and French Impressionist art. The Sackler (371 Harvard St) specializes in the art of the ancient world, Asia, and an important Islamic Art collection. The Busch-Reisinger Gallery (32 Quincy St) is the only museum in the United States that focuses on German Art.

Toscanini's (1310 Massachusetts Ave.) is where Harvard students take an ice cream break, and you should too. Their burnt caramel ice cream is incomparable.

There's always something (very) new playing at The American Repertory Theatre (64 Brattle St, Cambridge). Unlike many theatre venues, the A.R.T. has performances year-round. And as you would expect from a Harvard-affiliated arts institution, A.R.T.'s repertoire emphasizes innovative contemporary plays and adaptations of the classics.

3 days: Irish immigrants have had a huge influence on Boston life. To many, Boston is Kennedy country. Overlooking Boston Harbor, The John F. Kennedy Library and Museum (Columbia Point) is a tribute to Kennedy's life and legacy. The museum also chronicles important mid-20th century American political events, such as the Civil Rights movement, the Cold War and the space program.

 

In the afternoon, poke around the art exhibits at Fort Point (300 Summer St). The Fort Point Arts Community is a thriving artist colony, where 500 artists maintain studio space. The Fort Point Gallery space is open Monday through Friday. Throughout the year, Fort Point also hosts evening art receptions and open studio tours.

                 

©2006 istockphotos.com           The John F. Kennedy Library and Museum pays           tribute to the United States' 35th president.

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Architecture & Landmarks in Boston

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Architecture & Landmarks in Boston

Boston is steeped in history, so it has plenty of architectural landmarks. If you follow these suggestions, you won't miss anything.

1 day: The Freedom Trail is essentially a tour of 16 Boston landmarks.  The 2-mile trail covers two and a half centuries of early colonial history. You can take a self-guided tour or you can take one of the free 90-minute tours offered by the National Park Service, which begin at the Old State House (15 State St). There are also walking tours offered by The Freedom Trail Foundation, which begin at the Boston Common Visitor Center.

Not-to-be missed highlights of the trail include The State House, with its 23-carat gold dome (painted grey during World War II) and now dominates Beacon Hill, the First Public School Site, and The Boston Massacre site. The Paul Revere House, which was built in 1680, is the oldest building in downtown Boston. Old North Church of "One if by land, two if by sea" fame, the USS Constitution, and The Bunker Hill Monument should not be missed. Have dinner in the North End, where there are more than 80, mostly Italian, restaurants to choose from. Of late, Mobil Two-Star Terramia (98 Salem St) is getting raves for its creative cuisine like grilled calamari with basil pine nut pesto. Terramia is small -- so small that it doesn't serve coffee or dessert.

2 days: The 19th century townhouses, secret gardens, gas lamps, and brick sidewalks of Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood have changed little in the past century. From the State House you can wander down Mount Vernon Street. Fans of Federalist architecture will want to check out the Nichols House Museum (55 Mount Vernon St) for an inside look at the Boston Brahmin lifestyle. Further down Mount Vernon Street are the large Greek Revival homes of some of Boston's wealthiest residents. Nearby is pretty Acorn Street, with its neat little row houses, flower boxes, and cobblestones.

Beacon Hill also has an important role in 19th-century African-American History. The 15 sites of the Black Heritage Trail lead through the heart of Beacon Hill and are part of the National Park Service. Begin at the African Meeting House (8 Smith Court) near the State House. Ranger-guided tours are also available by appointment.

At the base of Beacon Hill (84 Beacon St) there's a place where everyone knows your name. Cheers Beacon Hill (they don't even bother calling it the Bull & Finch anymore), is the Boston pub that inspired the wildly popular television series.

                 

©2006 istockphotos.colm           Trinity Church has appeared on           architectural "top 10" lists for           decades. Guided tours of the church           are offered every Sunday.

3 days: Stroll wide, tree-lined Commonwealth Avenue in the Back Bay and you'll think you're in France. The Back Bay was created by adding fill to the flats of the Charles River in the late 1800s. Nearby is Copley Square, where you'll find an interesting mix of architectural styles bordering Boston's largest public square. The Boston Public Library (700 Boylston) is a fine example of neo-classical architecture and the building's facade has the look characteristic of an Italian palace.

Across the square, Trinity Church is one the America's finest examples of Romanesque architecture. Trinity's stained-glass windows dazzle. The New Old South Church (645 Boylston) is in the High Victorian Gothic style. On the far side of the square, you will find the striking John Hancock Tower (200 Clarendon St), the glass skyscraper that dominates Boston's downtown skyline. Designed by architect I.M. Pei, it is the tallest building in New England, but its observation deck has been closed to visitors since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries

for Shopping in Boston

In Boston, you're never far from a chance to shop. Here are ways to plan out your shopping expeditions:

1 day: A stroll down Newbury Street (I-361 Newbury St) in the Back Bay is the best Boston shopping experience. The brownstone buildings that line the street are filled with charming boutiques, art galleries, salons, and restaurants. Haute couture is here, as well as Armani, Chanel, and Versace. If the weather is fine, dine al fresco at Armani Cafe (214 Newbury St). Try the veal Milanese with watercress and arugula. Newbury Street is a great spot for people-watching, too, since it has a reputation as an upscale shopping experience.

2 days: Dedicated shoppers need to indulge their passion despite the vagaries of Boston's weather. The Shops at Prudential (800 Boylston St) and Copley Place (100 Huntington Ave) are much more than a mall. Together these two complexes, connected to each other by a glass walkway, contain 175 shops and restaurants. Shops among them include Neiman Marcus and Saks, as well as national chains stores and boutiques Louis Vuitton and Jasmine Sola. You can easily make a day of it here. If anything, make sure to visit the top of the Prudential Center, the Skywalk, which offers a beautiful panoramic view of the city from the 50th floor.

3 days: Shopping in Beacon Hill is a singularly Boston experience. The shops on Charles Street are best known for their distinctive gift shops, antiques, and quaint cafes. Beacon Hill shopping can be pricey, but there are a few less expensive options. Check out Black Ink (101 Charles St) for fun gifts, Rugg Road (105 Charles St) for handmade paper, and Eugene Galleries (76 Charles St) for prints and maps.

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Nightlife & Entertainment in Boston

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Nightlife & Entertainment in Boston

If you're looking for things to do after the sun goes down, we can point you in the right direction. Check out these suggested itineraries:

1 day: The leading jazz clubs in Boston are actually in Cambridge. Overlooking Harvard Square, the Regattabar (One Bennett St, Cambridge) is located in the Charles River Hotel. Scullers is located in the Doubletree Suites Hotel along the Charles River. Both venues feature local and international jazz stars.

2 days: Boston has some swanky lounge clubs to offer for those who want to stay out late. Saint (90 Exeter St, at the Mobil Two-Star Copley Square Hotel) is both trendy and upscale, featuring contemporary food with a global slant. Peking duck pot-stickers and Lychee Martinis appeal to the oh-so-hip crowd. Cap off your night with a cappuccino in the North End. Cafe Pompeii  (280 Hanover St) is one of Boston's few late-night haunts that's open until 4 am.

3 days: Dance under the stars on the Odyssey, a luxurious yacht that sails year-round on Boston Harbor. The four-hour dinner cruise includes a four-course meal, music provided by a live five-piece band, and dancing. But don't be left at the dock; plan ahead because reservations are a must.

                 

©2006 istockphotos.com           For some visitors, the quintessential           Boston experience is a Swan Boat tour           of the lake at Boston Public Gardens.

1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries

for Relaxing & Unwinding in Boston

If you're seeking peace and quiet, you'll find it in Boston. Follow these suggested itineraries for relaxing and unwinding.

1 day: The natural beauty of a "deserted" island, an abandoned Civil War fort, and an ocean cruise is a relaxing way to explore. For a quick get-away, Bostonians head out to George's Island, located a short 20-minute passenger ferry ride across Boston Harbor. Ferry boats leave from Boston's Long Wharf from May to October.

Explore Fort Warren's labyrinth of tunnels and climb its ramparts on your own or take a free ranger-led tour. There is a snack bar on the island, but better yet, ask your hotel to prepare a "box lunch" to enjoy on the island's grassy meadows or picnic tables. Swimming is not allowed because of strong currents, but you can walk along the shore to search for smooth rocks (perfect for skipping!) and take in the terrific view of the Boston skyline.

2 days: Few things in life are as enchanting as a Swan Boat ride on Boston Public Garden's Lagoon. The 20 passenger boats run on pedal power provided by very fit college students, which some describe as a quintessential Boston experience. Afterward, take a stroll through the Public Garden, the formal floral gardens are a delight.

3 days: Combine two relaxing and rejuvenating activities together by planning an early afternoon spa treatment to coincide with afternoon tea. Book your favorite spa treatment at either Daryl Christopher Salon and Day Spa (37 Newbury St) or Bella Sante (38 Newbury St). As befits a city with strong British roots, the tradition of afternoon tea is strong in Boston. In the Back Bay, the Mobil Five-Star Four Seasons (220 Boylston St), the Taj Boston (15 Arlington St), and the Park Plaza  (64 Arlington St) each offer afternoon tea. Be advised that you should make reservations.

For Revolutionary War history, the city of Boston can't be beat. But Boston has much more to offer than history. Whether you're an architecture buff, a shopaholic, or an arts connoisseur, you can enjoy a wide array of activities in this charming New England metropolis.

©Publications International, Ltd.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Maria Olia is a freelance writer who has lived in the Boston area (trolley stop distance!) for the past 25 years. Of the many travel destinations that she writes about, Boston is always a thrill.

Related Links

American Repertory Theatre

Boston Light

Boston Marathon

Boston Park Rangers

Boston Pops

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Cambridge Office of Tourism

Charles River Regatta

Fort Point Art Community

Freedom Trail Foundation

Harvard Museum of Natural History

Harvard University Art Museums

Institute for Contemporary Art

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

John F. Kennedy Library and Museum

Museum of Fine Arts

Museum of Science

New England Aquarium

Nichols House Museum

Paul Revere House

Shirley-Eustis House

Symphony Hall

Trinity Church Boston

USS Constitution Museum