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The Freedom Trail
A line of red paint or red brick on the sidewalk, the 2 1/2-mile Freedom Trail links 16 historic sites, many of them associated with the Revolution and the early days of the United States. The route cuts across downtown, passing through Downtown Crossing, the Financial District, and the North End, on the way to Charlestown. Markers identify the stops, and plaques point the way from one to the next.
The best time to start on the trail is in the morning. During the summer and fall, aim for a weekday if possible. Try not to set out later than midafternoon, because attractions will be closing and you'll run into the evening rush hour.
Parks & Gardens
Green space is an important part of Boston's appeal, and the public parks are hard to miss. The world-famous Emerald Necklace, Frederick Law Olmsted's vision for a loop of green spaces, runs through the city.
The best-known park, for good reason, is the spectacular Public Garden, bordered by Arlington, Boylston, Charles, and Beacon streets. Something lovely is in bloom at the country's first botanical garden at least half the year.
For many Bostonians, the official beginning of spring coincides with the return of the Swan Boats. The pedal-powered vessels -- the attendants pedal, not the passengers -- plunge into the lagoon on the Saturday before Patriots' Day, the third Monday of April.
The home in Boston imbued with the most history is the Paul Revere House. A visit brings the legendary revolutionary to life.
Gibson House Museum: The Gibson House is an 1859 brownstone that embodies the word "Victorian." Forget you've ever heard the phrase "less is more" -- the ornate furnishings and abundant accessories permit a compelling look at the domestic life of a socially prominent family in the then-new Back Bay neighborhood.
John F. Kennedy National Historic Site: The 35th president's birthplace is a modest 1909 house in a quiet residential neighborhood. The president's mother, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, collected many of the items on display and helped with the restoration; the current configuration is her recollection of the house's appearance around 1917, when "Jack," her second child, was born.
The Best Museums
Concord Museum: Always informative, never overwhelming, it shows and tells visitors enough about the town's history to help them make the most of a visit here.
The Institute of Contemporary Art: Literally and figuratively a trip - it's on the South Boston waterfront and unlike any other cultural institution in Boston - the ICA is a blast.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: The Gardner is a magnificent repository of art and nature in a building that's as impressive as anything hanging on the walls.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum: This library captures the personality of its charismatic namesake as well as the spirit that continues to make the Camelot era so compelling, all these years later.
Museum of Fine Arts: The MFA truly is world-class - and all over the place, you'll stumble on masterpieces so familiar that seeing them is like running into an old friend on the street.
Peabody Essex Museum: Yes, it's possible to spend a day in Salem and not give witches more than a passing thought. The Peabody Essex greeted the 21st century by expanding in size and soaring in reputation; its Asian collections are especially noteworthy. Check ahead for information about special exhibitions, or just show up and take in the marvels of the permanent collections.
(c) Zagat © 2013, Google.
A Ride across the Harbor: The ferry that connects Long Wharf and the Charlestown Navy Yard is a treasure hidden in plain sight. You might notice the boat traffic on the Inner Harbor as you make your way around downtown; for just $1.70, you can be part of it.
An Island Excursion: The Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area is something of a hidden secret, just offshore but a world away. Magnificent views combine with natural and manmade features to create a destination so accessible and interesting that you won't believe how uncrowded it is.
An Interlude at a Cafe: Outdoor seating in a place with great people-watching is a good idea right up there with fire and the wheel. A passing parade of shoppers and students (on Newbury St. and in Harvard Sq.) is more interesting than suits and ties (downtown and the rest of the Back Bay), but if the breeze and the iced cappuccino are cool, what's not to like?
A Free Concert: The Boston area's cultural scene has no real off season. During the summer, many musicians and musical groups take their acts outside -- to parks, plazas, and even a barge (behind the Boston Harbor Hotel). Plan well and you can enjoy music alfresco almost every night.
A Stroll (or Jog) along the River: The bike path that hugs both shores of the Charles accommodates pedestrians, runners, and rollerbladers, as well as cyclists. The Esplanade (adjacent to the Back Bay) offers both people-watching and gorgeous trees and shrubs; the Cambridge side has abundant seating and fabulous views of the Boston skyline.
A Walk Back in Time: Head for Concord to experience nature as Henry David Thoreau did in the mid-19th century. Through a nearly magical combination of circumstances, Walden Pond looks much as it did when the author and naturalist lived there from July 1845 through September 1847.
A Seaside Saunter: Gorgeous Marblehead is a quintessential New England town, with crooked lanes leading down to a broad harbor jammed with yachting and fishing vessels. Great shopping, good food, interesting architecture, arresting scenery, and plenty of places to sit and watch the waterborne action make it one of my favorite destinations anywhere.
(c) Zagat © 2013, Google.