Calling this quaint and charming city the 'Athens of America' might seem a bit boastful, but the city's 19th-century glory radiates through its grand architecture, its population of literati, artists and educators, and its world-renowned academic and cultural institutions.
Disastrous 'urban renewal' projects in the 1950s provoked such a furious backlash that Boston now has some of the best-preserved historic buildings and neighborhoods in the country. Compact, walkable, historic and clean, the city blends old-world beauty and modern convenience.
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This urban downtown retreat is situated within walking distance of a wealth of trendy nightclubs, upscale shops, major corporations and landmark Boston attractions.
What To Do
Boston is a surprisingly active town, given to walking, cycling and swimming for brisk, constitutional reasons. Cycling on the Charles River Esplanade is a cardio-intensive way to see the skyline, while local walks meander through the city's historical precincts.
What To See
Browse the past in modern comfort.
The image of brownstone Boston bounces off the shiny mirrored skyscrapers around it but, at street level, it's still a history buff's favourite American city. The past is everywhere, from colonial buildings downtown to the grand 19th-century mansions in South End to cosy museums.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
The Gardner is filled with almost 2000 priceless objects, primarily European, including outstanding tapestries and Italian Renaissance and 17th-century Dutch paintings. The four-story greenhouse courtyard is a masterpiece and a tranquil oasis that alone is worth the price of admission.
Boston Massacre Site
Directly in front of the Old State House, encircled by cobblestones, the Boston Massacre site marks the spot where the first blood was shed for the American independence movement. On March 5, 1770, an angry mob of colonists swarmed the British soldiers guarding the State House. Sam Adams, John Hancock and about 40 other protesters hurled snowballs, rocks and insults. Thus provoked, the soldiers fired into the crowd and killed five townspeople, including Crispus Attucks, a former slave. The incident sparked enormous anti-British sentiment. Interestingly, John Adams and Josiah Quincy – both of whom opposed the heavy-handed authoritarian British rule – defended the accused soldiers in court, and seven of the nine were acquitted.
Two deadly shipwrecks may bode badly for seafarers, but that doesn't seem to stop recreational boaters, swimmers and sunbathers from lounging on Lovells' long rocky beach. With facilities for camping and picnicking, Lovells is one of the most popular Harbor Island destinations.
Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum
After years of anticipation and restoration, the Tea Party Ships are moored at the reconstructed Griffin's Wharf, alongside a shiny new museum dedicated to the revolution's most catalytic event. Interactive exhibits allows visitors to meet re-enactors in period costume, explore the ships, learn about contemporary popular perceptions through multimedia presentations and even participate in the protest.
Founded in 1636 to educate men for the ministry, Harvard is America’s oldest college. (No other college came along until 1693.) The original Ivy League school has eight graduates who went on to be US presidents, not to mention dozens of Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners. It educates 6500 undergraduates and about 12,000 graduates yearly in 10 professional schools.
‘Her sides are made of iron!’ So cried a crewman as he watched a shot bounce off the thick oak hull of the USS Constitution during the War of 1812. This bit of irony earned the legendary ship her nickname. Indeed, she won no less than three battles during that war, and she never went down in a battle. For her last mission in 1853 she seized an American slave ship off the coast of Africa. The USS Constitution is still the oldest commissioned US Navy ship, dating to 1797, and she is taken out onto Boston Harbor every July 4 in order to maintain her commissioned status. She has been moored here since 1897, when Congressman John F ‘Honey Fitz’ Fitzgerald introduced a bill to make Massachusetts her permanent residence.
Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts holdings encompass all eras, from the ancient world to contemporary times, and all areas of the globe, making it truly encyclopedic in scope. The museum's latest addition is new wings dedicated to the Art of the Americas and to contemporary art, which has significantly increased its exhibition space and broadened its focus, contributing to Boston’s emergence as an art center in the 21st century.
Across the street from Copp's Hill Burying Ground, this is Boston’s narrowest house, measuring a whopping 9½ft wide. Sometimes called a ‘spite house,’ the c 1800 house was reportedly built to block light from the neighbor’s house and to obliterate the view of the house behind it.
Regional books, music and all sorts of souvenirs emblazoned with the Harvard logo.
Life is Good
Life is good for this locally designed brand of T-shirts, backpacks and other gear. Styles depict the fun-loving stick figure Jake engaged in guitar playing, dog walking, coffee drinking, mountain climbing and just about every other good-vibe diversion you might enjoy. Jake’s activity may vary, but his ‘life is good’ theme is constant.
Bobby From Boston
Bobby is one of Boston’s coolest cats. Men from all over the greater Boston area come to the South End to peruse Bobby’s amazing selection of classic clothing from another era. This is stuff that your grandfather wore – if he was a very stylish man. Smoking jackets, bow ties, bomber jackets and more.
American Repertory Theater
There isn’t a bad seat in the house at Harvard University’s Loeb Drama Theater, where the prestigious ART stages new plays and experimental interpretations of classics. Since 2008, Artistic Director Diane Paulus has encouraged a broad interpretation of 'theater', staging an interactive murder mysteries (Sleep No More), readings of novels in their entirety (Gatz) and robot operas (Death & the Powers).
Folk music in Boston seems to be endangered outside of Irish bars, but the legendary Club Passim does such a great job booking top-notch acts that it practically fills in the vacuum by itself. The colorful, intimate room is hidden off a side street in Harvard Sq, and those attending shows are welcome to order filling dinners from Veggie Planet, an incredibly good restaurant that shares the space.
Reserved and bookish they may be, but Bostonians do Independence Day for a week and St Patrick's Day hangovers can last even longer.
Kick off the Chinese New Year in January or February with firecrackers and scampering dragons. If you've ever had a taste for green beer you can drink your fill on St Patrick's Day in mid-March. South Boston holds the city's biggest St Paddy's parade, though Cambridge has made a point of allowing the gay and lesbian groups that SoBo excludes from marching. The city streets resound with the muffled slaps of thousands of running shoes during April's Boston Marathon.
Harborfest is Boston's weeklong version of the Fourth of July, with a free Boston Pops concert on the Esplanade and fireworks over the harbour. Save some room for July's Chowderfest, when you can sample dozens of fish and clam chowders from some of Boston's best restaurants. August sees different communities celebrate their heritage: the Chinese celebrate the Autumn Moon Festival, the Caribbean community recreates Carnival, and the Italians hold feasts and processions honouring patron saints. Film, blues and jazz get a workout at festivals in September.
In December, the Boston Tea Party Reenactment sees costumed actors march from Downtown to the waterfront and dump bales of tea into the harbor. Later that month, head over to Cambridge for the Christmas Revels, which feature music, dancing and theatre from a different folkloric tradition each December.
Food and Drink
Cask 'n' Flagon
Boston’s iconic sports bar has long served the Fenway faithful and it occupies a conspicuous site opposite the Green Monster. What this means, particularly for those who are lucky and early enough to score a pregame sidewalk seat at the Cask’n Flagon, is that you’ll have a prime spot from which to watch Lansdowne St reach its frenzied best. It is also a popular destination for Red Sox fans watching away games.
For an extensive list of English and Scottish beers plus a few interesting local brews (Tuckerman’s Pale Ale), stop by this family-owned pub. If you need more convincing, the bartenders commonly pour samples should you be curious about an unknown ale. Board games, darts and pool tables keep the drinkers entertained.
Mike’s City Diner
Start the day with a big breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast and other old-fashioned goodness, topped with a bottomless cup of coffee. If you need to refuel at lunchtime, go for classics such as meatloaf and mashed potatoes or fried chicken and biscuits. The service is friendly and fast. Your server will probably call you 'hon.' Cash only.
Mr Bartley's Burger Cottage
Packed with small tables and hungry college students, this burger joint has been a Harvard Sq institution for more than 50 years. Bartley’s offers at least 40 different burgers; if none of those suit your fancy, create your own 7oz juicy masterpiece with the toppings of your choice. Sweet potato fries, onion rings, thick frappes and raspberry-lime rickeys complete the classic American meal.
Neptune’s menu hints at Italian, but you’ll also find elements of Mexican, French and old-fashioned New England. The daily seafood specials and impressive raw bar (featuring several kinds of oysters, plus littlenecks, cherrystones, crabs and mussels) confirm that this is not your traditional North End eatery.
This hole-in-the-wall place on Hanover is one of the North End’s most romantic settings for delectable Italian. The food is simply but perfectly prepared: fresh pasta, spicy tomato sauce, grilled fish and meats, and wine by the glass. Credit cards are not accepted and the bathroom is smaller than your closet, but that’s all part of the charm.
Known for no-nonsense service and sawdust on the floorboards, Durgin Park hasn’t changed much since the restaurant opened in 1827. Nor has the menu, which features New England standards such as prime rib, fish chowder, chicken pot pie and Boston baked beans, with strawberry shortcake and Indian pudding for dessert. Be prepared to make friends with the other parties seated at your table.
This subterranean space is a beer-lovers’ paradise and a welcome addition to Kenmore Sq. It has all the atmosphere (and beer knowledge) of its sister establishment, Bukowski Tavern, but the Lower Depths classes it up. Besides the impressive beer selection, the kitchen turns out excellent comfort food, including one-dollar Fenway Franks with exotic one-dollar toppings.