WHAT TO DO
Boston is one of my favorite cities to visit in the United States. It is known for its significant historical sights, distinctive architecture, prestigious schools and vibrant culture. With several unique neighborhoods, it is best to explore Beantown on foot or by the easy to use public transportation line simply known as the T.
Boston was founded in 1630 by Puritan settlers from England, making it one of the oldest cities in America. It was the scene of several key events of the American Revolution, such as the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party and the Battle of Bunker Hill. Because of the city's prominent role in the Revolution, many historical sites are preserved as part of the Boston National Historical Park. A number of them are found along the Freedom Trail, which is marked by a red line of bricks embedded in the ground. I would highly recommend beginning your tour of Boston by walking along parts (if not all) of the Freedom Trail. Start at Boston Common where you can obtain a map, rent a self guided audio tour or take a walking tour (in season) with an 18th century costumed guide. Walking the Trail can take a few hours or half a day, depending on your pace and level of interest. There are well over a dozen sites to see, but I would like to discuss my personal favorites. Boston Common is America's oldest public park dating back to 1634 when it was used as a military training field. It served as housing for British as well as Colonial troops. From the Common, look up at the golden domed State House on your way towards the Old Granary Burying Ground on Tremont Street. This historic cemetery is the final resting place of John Hancock, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and the victims of the Boston Massacre. Next, make your way over to Washington Street and the Old South Meeting House. This building held many town meetings, the most famous of which saw an outraged Samuel Adams signal the start of the Boston Tea Party. Just down the street is the Old State House where the Declaration of Independence was first read in Boston. Outside, in front of the Old State House is the Boston Massacre Site. A ring of cobblestones marks the site of the clash between a jeering crowd and British soldiers on March 5, 1770. Not far away is Faneuil Hall, "The Cradle of Liberty" combines a marketplace (Quincy Market) on the ground floor with the town meeting hall upstairs, the site of fiery revolutionary debate. After a short walk, you'll arrive in the North End neighborhood and the Paul Revere House. This is the oldest home in Boston (circa 1680) and was occupied by silversmith and patriot Paul Revere from 1770 to 1800. Walk along the Paul Revere Mall until you reach Christ Church, aka Old North Church. Built in 1723, it is the oldest standing church in Boston and where two lanterns were hung on the night of April 18, 1775 - signaling the British Redcoats' departure by water for Lexington and Concord. "One if by land, and two if by sea" is from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "Paul Revere's Ride." Finally, take the bridge over the Charles River to Charlestown and the Bunker Hill Monument on Breed's Hill. This is the site of the historic battle on June 17, 1775. The Freedom Trail ends nearby at the Charlestown Navy Yard, home of the world's oldest commissioned warship, the USS Constitution. Christened "Old Ironsides" during the War of 1812 when cannonballs literally bounced off her hull.
If you have some revolutionary energy left in you, take an uber over to the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, not far from the actual location Boston Harbor became a teapot on December 16, 1773. You can tour a reproduction of one of the ships and exhibits, meet reenactors or drink a cup of tea. If you'd rather take a break, head back to Boston Common and the adjacent Public Garden. Although Boston Public Garden is often lumped together with Boston Common, the two are separate entities with different histories and a distinct boundary between them at Charles Street. The Public Garden is America's oldest botanical garden and its pond is home to many ducks and swans. The pond has been famous since 1877 for the foot pedal Swan Boats, which make leisurely cruises during warm months. Staying with the quacking theme, a fun tour is on one of Boston's famous Duck Boats. This 90 minute adventure which starts in front of the New England Aquarium takes you on an amphibious, narrated journey through the streets of Boston then turns into a nautical odyssey when the bus becomes a boat and plunges into the Charles River.
Two of my favorite neighborhoods to wander are Beacon Hill and Back Bay. Strolling along Beacon Hill's picturesque gas lit streets, brick sidewalks and Federal style row houses, you feel as though you've traveled back in time. Possibly my favorite street in Boston, Charles Street is located at the flat of the hill. It is lined with boutiques, antiques, restaurants, cafes and charming hotels. Be sure to stop in to Tatte Bakery & Cafe at 70 Charles Street for a latte and pastry before walking up the hill to photograph lovely Acorn Street (take the T green line to Park Street). Exquisite architecture and world class retailers are plentiful in Boston's most well known neighborhood, Back Bay. The Victorian brick and brownstone residences that line the streets are regarded as the best preserved examples of 19th century urban design in the United States. Back Bay is home to Newbury and Boylston Street, the iconic Prudential Building and John Hancock Tower, and Copley Square with Trinity Church and the Boston Public Library. Nightlife thrives in Back Bay, with chic hotel bars and world class restaurants (take the T orange line to Back Bay). A nice walk is down Newbury Street from Arlington (more on the posh side) to Mass Ave (more on the funkier side). Two spots I always visit are Newbury Comics at 348 Newbury Street and Trident Booksellers & Cafe at 338 Newbury Street. Comics is a low cost music shop (for those of us that still buy tangible pressings) and comics/collectibles haven. Trident is an indie bookstore and cafe with a linger friendly vibe. Another wicked good walk is along the Commonwealth Avenue Mall towards Fenway Park. It extends down the middle of Back Bay's Commonwealth Avenue and holds several inspiring memorials including: naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison, the Boston Women's Memorial and the Vendome Monument, dedicated to the nine firemen who died in a 1972 blaze at the Back Bay's Vendome Hotel. Make your way to what might be Boston's most famous landmark, Fenway Park - the home of the Boston Red Sox. Opened in 1912, it is the oldest major league ballpark and has a 37 feet high left field wall known as the Green Monster (pronounced green monstah if you're local). Stop in for a pint or two at the famed Cask 'n Flagon pub just outside Fenway and be sure to look up at the sky and appreciate Boston's famous Citgo sign (it lights up at night).
For some higher learning or to simply enjoy a college campus, take the T (red line to Harvard) over the Charles River into Cambridge. Established in 1636, making it the oldest college in the United States, Harvard University was named for John Harvard who left the school his entire library and half his estate. Harvard's history, influence and wealth have made it one of the world's most prestigious universities. Enjoy a walk in Harvard Yard (students provide campus tours free of charge) and take in its redbrick buildings, libraries and museums. From there, head over to Harvard Square for some great people watching. The Square is a triangle plaza and celebrated Cambridge crossroad full of students, tourists and street entertainers. If you get hungry or thirsty, stop in to The Sinclair on Church Street. Cambridge was home to various celebrated writers, but Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has to be the most significant. Mentioned earlier, his patriotic poetry helped popularize American history. Take a walk past the yellow Brattle Street mansion he lived in from 1837 to 1882 (it also served as George Washington's headquarters during the siege of Boston in 1775-76) it has been preserved as a National Historic Site. Staying in Cambridge, you might also want to check out the campus and impressive architecture (contributions from I.M. Pei and Frank Gehry) of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Founded in 1861, MIT moved to Cambridge from Copley Square in the Back Bay in 1916. Free campus tours are also offered here.
Boston is famous for museums and there are several (apart from the previously mentioned), but I would highly recommend a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the Institute of Contemporary Art. Located at 465 Huntington Avenue, the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) is a world class institution, it attracts approximately one million visitors per year and houses close to 450,000 works of art. Plan on spending most of the day here if you want to see all MFA has to offer. From Renaissance and Impressionist masters to Asian art and African masks, to samples of Native American pottery and decorative arts, the collections will keep your curiosity. Some of the museums highlights include: works by John Singleton Copley and Paul Revere, Renoir and Pissarro, El Greco and Velazquez and my personal favorite - close to 40 paintings by French Impressionist Claude Monet (the largest collection of his work outside France). Other highlights include J.M.W. Turner's The Slave Ship and Donatello's marble relief The Madonna of the Clouds. Located nearby at 25 Evans Way, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (ISGM) occupies a grand palazzo and includes thousands of artistic objects, especially Italian Renaissance and Dutch Golden Age paintings. Do not miss Titian's The Rape of Europa and Rembrandt's Self Portrait, Age 23. The interior courtyard, lush with seasonal plants and flowers, is an oasis of tranquility and beauty. In the early hours of March 18, 1990 - two thieves disguised as police officers robbed the museum of thirteen works valued at an estimated 500 million dollars - the greatest known art theft in history. The crime remains unsolved and the works have not been recovered. Located at 25 Harbor Shore Drive on the Boston waterfront, the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) showcases innovative paintings, videos and installations. This cutting edge institute has played host to works by Edvard Munch, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. To conclude your tour of Boston, be sure to visit The New England Holocaust Memorial located in Carmen Park on Congress Street near Faneuil Hall. It is an outdoor space and open to the public at all times. Created by Stanley Saitowitz and dedicated in 1995, the memorial holds recollections by Holocaust survivors set into the glass and granite walls. It has six steel towers (at night they glow) that are etched with 6 million numbers in random sequence, symbolizing the Jewish victims.
WHERE TO EAT
Boston has many great places to eat and drink. From the North End to Back Bay, whether it's the famous native clam chowder or a wicked good pint of Guinness, there is something for everyone. When I travel I like to eat and drink local and when I'm in Boston I head straight for the seafood spots. There is no better place to start than at the Union Oyster House at 41 Union Street. Established in 1826, it is the country's oldest continuing restaurant and the building is designated a National Historic Landmark. The food might not be the best in town, but every visitor to Boston should pay a visit - after all Daniel Webster, John F Kennedy and Michael R Lichtstein have walked through its doors. Try to sit at the ground floor raw bar, it's a good time. Another solid joint is Neptune Oyster in the North End. The oysters are fantastic, the clam chowder (chowdah) is made fresh to order and the spicy fish stew is dynamite. The place is tiny so go early to avoid a long wait. Located in the South End of Boston is B&G Oysters - it is chef Barbara Lynch's modern take on a classic oyster bar. The $30 lobster (lobstah) roll is worth every penny and comes with french fries, along with bread and butter pickles. Try to book a reservation because there is always a crowd. One spot not to be missed is Saltie Girl, found at 279 Dartmouth Street in the heart of Back Bay. This awesome seafood bar is well known for its tinned seafood collection, scallop crudo and fried lobster and waffles with sweet corn butter and spicy maple syrup. Equally impressive are the Gloucester lobster roll and torched salmon belly.
For the best sandwich in town head to Sam LaGrassa's at 44 Province Street (they are only open for lunch M-F). You must get the Famous Rumanian Pastrami on rye bread, it's awesome. If you fancy something more fancy, try Stephanie's on Newbury. The food is good, the Bloody Mary's are better and if the weather is nice, the patio seating is perfect for people watching on Newbury Street. If you are in the mood to change things up a bit, head to Toro in the South End. Chef Ken Oringer's popular Spanish restaurant features seating at a series of communal tables and small tapas dishes such as grilled corn with cotija cheese and crispy pork belly short ribs. The all Spanish wine list complements the plates. For the best sushi in town head to O Ya at 9 East Street. The nigiri menu is adventurous and the sake menu is extensive. For a special occasion (and a pretty penny) do try the grand omakase tasting menu.
Beacon Hill is home to some of my favorite restaurants in Boston. No 9 Park at 9 Park Street is chef Barbara Lynch's (B&G Oysters) first project and it continues to impress from its place just below the golden dome of the State House. The dining room is swanky and the menu is a choice of a la carte or the chef's tasting. Located at 75 Chestnut Street is 75 Chestnut. This local haunt serves tasty American dishes in cozy quarters and has a rustic bar. The Hungry I is located at 71 Charles Street and has been called Boston's most romantic restaurant. Tucked just below street level in a two story brownstone, it is truly charming and intimate. Save this for a special occasion or a special someone. Chinatown is one of the city's best food neighborhoods. Be sure to check out Shojo at 9 Tyler Street, Empire Garden at 690 Washington Street and Gourmet Dumpling House at 52 Beach Street. Shojo is known for its pork belly dumplings, tiger style ribs and inspired cocktails. Empire Garden does excellent dim sum and exotic adult beverages. Gourmet Dumpling House makes some of the best pork soup dumplings in town.
No trip to Boston would be complete without a visit to the North End. Italian culture reigns here and it is Boston's oldest and busiest neighborhood. Take the T green line to Haymarket and walk the narrow cobblestone streets. There are a number of solid restaurants and bakeries - the ones I continue to visit are Mamma Maria at 3 North Square, Giacomo's Ristorante at 355 Hanover Street, Mike's Pastry at 300 Hanover Street and Modern Pastry at 257 Hanover Street. Mamma Maria restaurant has a great view of North Square (try to reserve a front room window table) and its handmade pastas are delicious. Try the pappardelle layered with braised rabbit. Giacomo's is a bustling, down to earth eatery that has some of the best pasta dishes in the city. Do get the ziti with chicken and shrimp in a pesto cream sauce. Be aware - they don't take reservations and it's cash only. When you're finished, walk down the street and get in line at Mike's Pastry. There is always a crowd, but the selection of fresh cannoli's is ridiculous and worth the wait - my personal favorite is the chocolate cream. If you cannot decide, just ask for an assortment in their famous string tied white boxes. It is up for debate among locals and tourists, Mike's or Modern Pastry (my suggestion is try both). After all, Modern Pastry is just down the block. The traditional cakes and cookies are scrumptious so try as many as you can. I must add, if you haven't had enough - walk a few blocks to Bova's Bakery at 134 Salem Street. It is family owned and operated since 1932.
Boston is a great drinking town and has more than a few pubs to wet your whistle. There are several in and around Faneuil Hall, all providing a welcoming atmosphere and some history. Start your crawl at The Bell in Hand Tavern on Union Street - it's the country's oldest continuously operating pub and has live music every night of the week. Just across the street is The Green Dragon Tavern where legend has it Paul Revere overheard the plans for a British assault on Lexington and Concord, prompting his famous midnight ride. The waitstaff are friendly and the cover bands are entertaining. Nearby is Hennessy's which gets a good crowd on weekends. It claims to be the best Irish pub in town and has a solid whiskey menu. The Black Rose at 160 State Street is decorated with all things Irish and draws a big tourist crowd due to its Faneuil Hall location. The hearty Irish cuisine and traditional live music make it worth braving the crowds. Nestled in the heart of the financial district downtown at 77 Broad Street is Mr Dooley's Boston Tavern. For great hospitality, a darn good burger and "a pint and a chat", be sure to stop into Mr Dooley's.
Make your way towards Beacon Hill and 21st Amendment, located at 150 Bowdoin Street. Named after the amendment that ended Prohibition, this low key watering hole (across from the State House) offers up beer, cocktails and bar bites to neighborhood regulars. Next, head to one of my favorite pubs in town at 77 Charles Street - The Sevens Ale House. This small, unpretentious neighborhood tavern has great pub grub, good taps and a fun atmosphere. Not far away is the place "where everybody knows your name", Cheers on Beacon Hill. Located at 84 Beacon Street and formerly known as the Bull & Finch Pub, this was the inspiration for the TV series of the same name. It's worth a visit, but it doesn't look anything like the bar in the show - a second location was established by popular demand in Faneuil Hall that does have an exact reproduction of the TV set. The last destination requires a T ride just outside the city center (take the orange line to Green Street). Doyle's Cafe is located at 3484 Washington Street in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood. Opened in 1882, it is a friendly neighborhood Irish pub that truly is an institution. This historic landmark has a fantastic corned beef and cabbage, more than 20 brews on tap and 60 single malt Scotches. It is also the first home of Sam Adams Beer. If you want to check out a few cool places for live music, head to The Paradise Rock Club at 967 Commonwealth Avenue. This small place holds around 900 and has pretty good sound. Two levels of booths provide good sight lines anywhere in the club and the four bars quench the crowd's thirst. For another intimate setting, head over to Cambridge and The Middle East at 472 Massachusetts Avenue. This venue manages to be both a Middle Eastern restaurant and one of the area's most eclectic rock clubs. It has three rooms showcasing live acts, belly dancing and jazz.
WHERE TO STAY
Boston is home to many notable hotels, some overlook the park and others are on the waterfront. Location is always very important to me and I prefer to stay either in Beacon Hill or Back Bay every time I visit this great city. Two properties that I always return to are XV Beacon and The Lenox Hotel.
Housed in a beaux arts building dating from 1903, XV Beacon sets the standard for Boston's boutique hotels. Located at 15 Beacon Street in Beacon Hill, this small luxury property has an intimate lobby of all black mahogany and abstract art. Rooms are done up in soothing, neutral cream colors and each has a custom made gas fireplace and surround sound stereo. The beds are comfortable, WiFi is on the house and the roof deck is pleasant during the spring and summer months.
The Lenox Hotel is located at 61 Exeter Street at Boylston in the Back Bay neighborhood. Family owned and operated for generations, this landmark building dates from 1900 and is not far from Newbury Street, Trinity Church and the finish line of the annual Boston Marathon (Boston Strong). There is a T stop right across the street and hotel amenities include: cookies and bottled water at turndown service, flat screen TVs, Bose sound systems and free WiFi. With an excellent location and top notch service, you can't go wrong staying at The Lenox.
Boston is rich in history, culture and tradition. I genuinely enjoy my time there and always look forward to returning.