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As one of the oldest settlements in the USA and the largest city in New England, Boston has a wealth of history and culture to offer. Despite the city's serious academic and historical pedigree, a huge student population ensures a youthful vibrancy that adds a totally different dimension to Boston's bygone charm.
Cambridge lies across the Charles River and is the largest college town in the world, synonymous with Harvard University and founded in 1638. The neat, ivy-covered brick buildings of the university grounds, the labyrinth of twisting streets in the city centre, and the old architecture means Boston is best explored by foot.
Referring to itself as the 'Walking City', it's remarkably compact and centres on the country's oldest public park, Boston Common. The Information Centre in Boston Common is the starting point for two walking tours, two of the city's main attractions. The Freedom Trail explores the city's revolutionary past and the birth of the modern American Republic, while the Black Heritage Trail highlights Boston's place in black American history and its role in anti-slavery.
Boston is an easy blend of historic charm and modern convenience, with a busy street life and beautiful architecture, green parks and gardens, skyscrapers and modern freeways, museums, galleries, and colonial churches. The city is home to the first public library, the first public school, and the first subway system in the US. It's the site of the Boston Tea Party that started the Revolutionary War and is the location of the Cheers bar, made famous by the popular TV sitcom.
The two and a half mile (4km) Freedom Trail follows a line of red bricks, or a painted red line on the pavement, linking 16 historic sights associated with the early struggle for freedom from British control and the events leading up to the revolution. Markers identify the stops and provide information from downtown to the North End to Charlestown and Bunker Hill Monument. Sights along the way include Paul Revere House, Boston's oldest surviving house that was home to the famous revolutionary. The Old North Church is also nearby, where two lanterns were hung in the belfry to warn the revolutionaries of the British movements while Revere went on his famous horse ride to warn of imminent British attack. The elegant Old State House was the seat of British colonial government and where the Declaration of Independence was read in 1776. There is a museum of Boston history inside. At the Old South Meeting House, Samuel Adams addressed the revolutionaries in the significant meeting prior to the Boston Tea Party, and a circle of cobblestones marks the site of the Boston Massacre. In Charlestown, the USS Constitution, also known as 'Old Ironsides', is the oldest warship still afloat. Its name was earned after the sinking of the British frigate, HMS Guerriere, during the war of 1812. Bunker Hill Monument is the site of the first formal battle of the American Revolution, fought in 1775. Also along the trail is the beautiful white steeple of Park Street Church, the site of several important anti-slavery speeches, and the Old Granary Burying Ground, where a number of revolutionaries are buried. Add to that the Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall that once were meeting places for revolutionaries as well as bustling marketplaces. Although a complete self-guided trail, the National Park Service also conducts free tours with guides in historic costumes that cover some of the trail's highlights.
Today, Beacon Hill brings to mind images of affluence and luxurious living. Yet until the end of the 19th century, it contained a free black community and escaped slaves who owned businesses, built houses and schools, and worshipped together in the churches. Although the black community has since shifted to other parts of Boston, the Black Heritage Trail covers 14 sites important in local black history. Massachusetts was the first state to abolish slavery in 1783. Beginning at the Boston Common, there is a memorial to slave abolitionist Robert Shaw who led the first black regiment recruited during the Civil War. Various sites on Beacon Hill include homes of famous citizens, the city's first racially integrated public school with exhibits portraying the struggle for equal school rights, and a house that was part of the famous Underground Railroad that sheltered runaway slaves from their pursuers. The African Meeting House, part of the Museum of Afro-American History, is one of the most interesting stops on the trail. It was the first black church in the United States, known as Black Faneuil Hall during the anti-slavery campaign. Here, famous abolitionist speeches were made and black people were called to take up arms in the Civil War. There is an informative audiovisual presentation in the gallery. Although a self-guided trail with brochures and maps provided by the Museum of Afro-American History, park rangers also give free daily two-hour tours, which start at the National Park Service Visitor Center.
Moored to the bridge is the Beaver II, known as the Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum, and one of the three ships stormed by patriots in 1773 as an act of rebellion against British rule and in particular against the new tax laws imposed on tea. A group of revolutionaries dressed as Mohawk Indians burst from the South Meeting House and boarded the ships that were loaded with tea. They emptied the crate contents into the harbour in an event known as the Boston Tea Party. The Beaver II is an exact replica of the original Beaver I and visitors can learn about the event onboard the ship. The museum has recently been renovated and improved, receiving rave reviews from visitors of all ages.
The MIT Museum is located in Cambridge, near the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the most prestigious universities in the US. The relatively small museum houses technology-themed collections. These include holograms, artificial intelligence, robotics, and maritime history, placing specific importance on MIT's contributions to the history of technology. Some of the most interesting exhibits are those of the MIT Hacks, elaborate pranks pulled by students each year. Don't miss the Arthur Ganson gallery of kinetic sculptures, which is also something special.
Just across the Charles River from Boston, Cambridge is actually a city in its own right. But the two cities are so closely associated that many people believe them to be one and the same. Cambridge is home to two of the most prestigious centres for education in the country, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It has a young and vibrant atmosphere due to the 30,000 university students from around the world that reside and study here. The city centres on Harvard Square, a gathering spot that reflects the international culture of its learning community as well as the influence of its students, residents, and business owners. Surrounding the square and lining the streets that spread out from Harvard Square are dozens of bookstores and music shops, cafes, coffee houses, and restaurants. Harvard Square, occupied on one side by the university, is a lively mixture of students and professors, buskers, evangelists, and political campaigners, and is a great place to have a cup of coffee, watch the activity, and soak up the atmosphere.
Established in 1636, Harvard University is the oldest in the country and one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the USA. It's famous for its brilliant faculties, which have produced economists, biologists, prize-winning poets, and famous graduates like President John F. Kennedy. It is perhaps equally well-known for its famous dropouts, such as actor Matt Damon and tech icon Bill Gates. The focal point of the university is Harvard Yard, a courtyard surrounded by ivy-covered colonial buildings from the 18th century named for John Harvard, a graduate of Cambridge University in Britain, who died leaving the college half his estate and his entire library. The shoe of John Harvard's statue is rubbed for good luck. Harvard also has some outstanding museums, including the Harvard Art Museums, the Fogg Art Museum, and the Museum of Natural History. The huge collection covers works from the European Renaissance period to the modern day, including works by Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, and Klee. The Bush-Reisinger and Arthur Sackler Museums are included in the same ticket while the Natural History Museum is renowned for its display of hand-blown glass flowers.
The first botanical garden in the United States, the Boston Public Garden provides a tranquil escape from the fast pace of the city centre. Maintained by the Boston Parks and Recreation Department and the Friends of the Public Garden, the botanical garden is a must-see on any exploration of Boston. With more than 600 varieties of trees and colourful displays of well-ordered decorative flowers, visitors can go for a relaxing swan boat ride on the three acre lagoon, enjoy the attractive vista of the city's sardined skyscrapers through the trees, or take pleasure in the numerous public works of art that border the meandering paths. The gardens are a great stop for families wanting a break from sightseeing.
A great Boston day trip and shopping destination, Faneuil Hill Marketplace offers superb shopping at some familiar designer stores, quality arts and crafts, as well as great restaurants and sidewalk cafés. Four places in one, Faneuil Hall Marketplace encompasses Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, North Market, and South Market. Set around a cobblestone promenade, the market is a haven for the performing arts with jugglers, mimes, musicians, and magicians entertaining passers-by. Centrally located and operating for more than 250 years, the Faneuil Hill Marketplace is the hub of Boston city life. Drawing large crowds excited by the electric energy, visitors can shop, stroll, eat, and wander.
An artwork in itself, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston houses some of the most famous European paintings in the US. Boston's oldest, largest, and best-known art institution, the MFA's collection is one of the planet's most comprehensive, with something like 22,000 artworks including masterpieces by some of the finest artists in the world. With a striking collection of Impressionist paintings, Egyptian sculptures, and a moving exhibition of Japanese and other Asian artworks, visitors should make sure they have ample time to explore the exhibition rooms of the MFA. Have a break and enjoy a coffee or lunch at one the three gallery restaurants or browse the outstanding museum bookstore and shop.
Codzilla takes passengers on a high-speed cruise around Boston's harbour. People on board will scream in pure delight as the boat curves, spins, and rips through the harbour for 40 minutes. You'll be travelling at a heart-pumping 40 miles (70km) per hour. Reservations are recommended. Very young kids may be frightened, but generally the whole family will relish the thrill. Numerous other boat tours and cruises are available in Boston's harbour, with more sedate options for those who aren't keen on braving Codzilla.
The New England Aquarium is home to Simons IMAX Theatre and the New England Aquarium Whale Watch, which runs from April through October. It features a plethora of some of the world's most amazing marine species, such as the impressive giant pacific octopus, sand tiger shark, green sea turtles, and North Atlantic Right whales. It is an absolute must for children of all ages and any adult in love with the underwater world. The aquarium is a wonderful family attraction for a rainy day. Basic admission includes the aquarium, while the IMAX and Whale Watch charge additional fees.
The Boston Red Sox are a much-beloved part of life in New England. The 'Curse of the Bambino' and their infamous near 100-year losing streak only made their supporters more fanatical. Fenway Park is the oldest Major League Baseball stadium still in use, and has quirky features like The Triangle, Pesky's Pole, and the famous Green Monster left-field wall. Visitors will notice a lone red seat in the right field bleachers, which is where Ted Williams hit the longest home run at Fenway, measuring 502 feet (153m). A baseball game at Fenway Park is a must for any summertime trip to Boston. Hot dog, crackerjacks, and all.
Visitors to Boston can take an informative tour of the Sam Adams Brewery and get a look at the brewing process for the popular beer. Named for the revolutionary war hero, the beer has been brewed in Boston since the 1980s. The tour showcases the entire process and allows visitors to taste the special malts used. Tours depart roughly every 45 minutes and last about one hour, with a free glass included for visitors using the Go Boston Card. The brewery does not accept reservations, but they do recommend that visitors arrive fairly early in the day to avoid long waits, especially on Saturdays. All donations benefit local charities.
Children on holiday in Boston will be enthused by the exciting attractions and activities that abound in this buzzing city. With museums, kids' theatres, parks, playgrounds, and everything in between, deciding where to start will be the difficult part.
Of course, many of the city's most famous attractions are fun and educational for the whole family, but there are also many activities and attractions designed specifically for kids in Boston. Head to the stadium and watch a local Red Sox game at Fenway Park if you can, or for a more leisurely activity, enjoy seeing Boston by foot along the Freedom Trail.
Little ones would be better suited to the less exhausting option of the 'Boston by Little Feet' tour, giving kids the opportunity to enjoy the highlights of the Heritage Trail, come rain or shine. Activities like Monster Golf and indoor playgrounds like Jump On It are great options for those days when activities for kids out of doors are not an option.
In the evenings, why not take the kids out to see Shear Madness, a hilariously funny and constantly changing play where the whole family can be involved, along with the rest of the audience, in solving the mystery. With so much to see and do, parents will find Boston to be one of the most child-friendly and accommodating cities in the United States.
Boston has a continental climate with very changeable weather patterns such as wide temperature swings in a matter of days, and unseasonal snowfalls. Summers (June to August) are usually sunny, hot and humid, with temperatures in July hitting averages of 82°F (28°C).
Winters, by contrast, are bitterly cold, windy, wet and snowy, with temperatures in January averaging between 22°F (-6°C) and 35°F (2°C). Boston averages 42 inches (108cm) of snowfall annually, much of it deposited in northeasterly storms.
The best time to travel to Boston is in late spring or early autumn, when the weather is warm and pleasant. Autumn is particularly lovely when New England's trees wear their colourful fall foliage.
Due to its shared cultural roots with greater New England, fresh local seafood dominates Boston's regional cuisine, along with a large emphasis on rum, salt, and dairy products. Tourists eating out in Boston will want to try a cannoli before leaving, with some of the best found at Mike's Pastry and Modern Pastry. Ideal for a takeaway lunch by the harbour or a quick bite to eat, Faneuil Hall still comes out tops with a fantastic cross-section of the city's cosmopolitan cuisine and manages to simultaneously be a wonderful tourist attraction.
The North End is a firm favourite with locals and features wonderfully intimate cafés, bakeries, and eateries with enough gastronomic treats to get just about everybody's mouth watering. Hanover Street also offers many good restaurant choices. The South End boasts some of the most elegant restaurants in Boston's dining scene, with bookings a priority.
Most restaurants in Boston close by 10pm or 11pm; however, those looking for late-night dining can head to Chinatown, where some eateries stay open as late as 2am.
A tiny, unpretentious Italian restaurant with hard working staff and authentic Italian cuisine, Pomodoro is one of those neighbourhood restaurants frequented by locals and foreigners who keep coming back for more. Situated in the Northend, Pomodoro serves a wide range of Italian cuisine from traditional linguine marinara with lots of garlic and fresh herbs to seafood wonders like blackened swordfish, shrimp fradiavolo, and baked haddock. The affordable prices and quality of food make up for the simple decor, with most patrons being mesmerised by the activity and aroma escaping from the open kitchen and the food on their plate. Reservation recommended. Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner.
Located in Boston's trendy South End, Mistral promises uncomplicated and stylish fine dining. This upmarket restaurant specialises in French cuisine, with an emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients. The chef, Jamie Mammano, is highly acclaimed in Boston and the restaurant has a lovely ambience. Reservations are recommended.
The Capital Grille is an American steakhouse institution, serving up extremely high quality food in generous portions. Despite being a restaurant chain, The Capital Grille is an upmarket fine dining experience and a good option for special occasions. If you are visiting for a special celebration, mention it to them when you make a reservation as they really do go the extra distance. Although steak of all kinds is the speciality, there are also tantalising seafood and vegetarian options on the menu. The Capital Grille is open for lunch and supper, Monday to Friday, and supper only on Saturdays and Sundays. Reservations are recommended.
Boston's eclectic heritage is best appreciated through its foods and nowhere better than at Pho 'n Rice. For the uninformed, pho is deceptively simple traditional Vietnamese soup consisting of light but strong broth and noodles, with pieces of meat and vegetable that continue to cook in the bowl. Pho 'n Rice has added great variations to the traditional meal along with some Thai-style dishes that promise to be light on the wallet and the waistline. They'll even deliver your dinner to you for a small extra charge.
Known for serving some of the best clam chowder in Boston, Legal Sea Foods offers a range of fresh local seafood and steaks. The large restaurant has three levels, and the top dining room and balcony offer stunning views of the harbour, and the staff is attentive and knowledgeable. Booking ahead is recommended, as there can be long queues at peak times.
Consistently ranked one of the top restaurants in Boston, the Atlantic Fish Company serves up local seafood like crab cakes, mussels, clam chowder, Atlantic cod, and lobster pot pie to hungry tourists and locals alike. The menu changes daily according to the day's catch. The dining room is built to resemble the interior of a classic cruising ship, and the outdoor patio. Atlantic Fish Company is open Sunday to Thursday from 11.30am-11pm, and Friday and Saturday from 11.30am-midnight. Reservations are recommended.
The Boston Harborfest celebrates the nation's independence and the maritime and colonial heritage that is part of Boston's history. There are over 200 events, including re-enactments, concerts, historic walking tours, and parties, climaxing with the 4th of July orchestra and fireworks display over the Charles River. Main events include the Opening Ceremony, the Chowderfest, and Children's Day. The festival is thought to be the largest celebration of patriotism in the country. The 4th of July is no ordinary date in Boston. As one of the pivotal locations of the Revolutionary War, the city celebrates the American Independence Day like no other. The July 4th Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular includes a performance by the Boston Pops Orchestra and one of the biggest fireworks displays in the US, as well as parades, festivals, and many other parties.
The oldest marathon in the world and ranked as one of the most celebrated and popular road racing events, the marathon sees 20,000 runners take to the streets of Boston every year. Entry is by qualification: would-be runners must complete a certified marathon in a qualifying time determined by age and so qualifying is highly competitive. After the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon in 2013, in which two bombs exploded, killing three people and injuring about 264 others, security has been increased at the marathon and Boston is working hard to put a positive spin on the famous race despite the tragedy.
Said to be the oldest and largest New Year's Eve celebration in the country, First Night Boston features performances and entertainment at more than 40 indoor and outdoor venues throughout the city. Highlights include ice sculptures, glittering fireworks displays, and a Family Festival. As well as the First Night Grand Procession, there is a variety of theatre, dance, music, film, and storytelling on offer. Of course, First Night is also a big party and Boston becomes a winter wonderland with fireworks, street parties, live music, and performance art.
Surprisingly, considering the huge student population, Bostonians don't take their nightlife too seriously. Most clubs close by 2am and Massachusetts state law forbids smoking in all bars, nightclubs, and restaurants.
That said, Boston's entertainment and nightlife scene is still thriving with live bands, comedy acts, and shows taking centre stage in the Theater District. Contrary to popular belief, not everybody knows your name in Boston's bar scene, but a beer at the Cheers bar on 84 Beacon Street is a must for fans of the 80s TV show.
Don't be disappointed though if you don't find your friends here, they're probably hitting some of Boston's hipper nightspots. Boston's nightlife has a sophisticated edge, with a good dose of culture in the entertainment.
Popular spots to drink and mingle include venues like the Museum of Fine Arts, which often features live music, and a cash bar on summer evenings. Crowds of classy 20- to 30-somethings mingle and socialise in the galleries and museums while sipping on cocktails and wine.
Many Bostonians prefer to start off an evening with drinks in hotel lounges and bars, as patrons are able to chat more easily than in many clubs and bars. Once warmed up, the clubs are the place to be and Bostonians can party hard.
Pool and bowling are popular pastimes in Boston and visitors are spoilt for choice with the amount of bowling alleys and pool halls to choose from. Couple these activities with a few beers and you've got yourself a recipe for a more relaxed evening out.
Those looking for theatre or classical music will love the city. Both the renowned Boston Pops Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra have regular performances at Symphony Hall. The New England Conservatory is also nearby, offering top-notch student performances for no admission charge.
One look at the city's boutiques, department stores, malls, and outlets, and it's no wonder why thousands flock to Boston to stock up on clothes, jewellery, and books. Take a walk down to the Downtown Crossing near Boston Common, a browser's paradise, while just around the corner Boston's Chinatown offers herbal remedies, silk slippers, and other traditional goods.
Faneuil Hall Marketplace, also known as Quincy Market, is a firm favourite, with more than 100 of Boston's finest shops and carts touting a variety of merchandise. It is also home to the Bull Market, a fleet of 43 unique pushcarts featuring New England's artisans and their wonderful wares, as well as an amazing food court where tired shoppers can stop and refuel.
Big spenders will enjoy the many designer boutiques on the renowned eight-block stretch on Newbury Street, boasting names such as Cartier, Armani, and Max Mara to name a few. History buffs will fall in love with the cobblestone streets of Charles Street on Beacon Hill, where they can browse through the cramped stores of this early Boston neighbourhood for historic photos, furniture, antique china, and intriguing architectural objects.
Shops in Boston generally open from 10am to 7pm from Monday to Saturday, with most large stores open on Sundays with reduced opening hours.
Boston's transport network consists of the country's oldest subway system, buses, trams, ferries around the harbour, and the commuter rail. For getting around the Boston-Cambridge area, the subway is the best as it's easy to use, fast, and safe.
It serves most of the city and on the whole visitors will have little use for the bus network, which is cheaper but more confusing for newcomers. Buses operate from 5am to 11.30pm and the subway until around 1am. A 'Night Owl' bus service has been introduced to provide transport along main bus routes and parallel to subway lines on Friday and Saturday nights until 2.30am.
Taxis are plentiful but expensive, with water taxis a novel way to explore the city. Licensed metre cabs park at cabstands, usually near hotels, but can also be reserved by phone. Boston is a motorist's nightmare and there's no need to rent a car while in the city, unless planning excursions.
An historical treasure trove, Boston is full of fascinating sites crucial to America's history. Following a line of mostly red bricks and linking 17 of Boston's top attractions, from Paul Revere's house and the statue of Benjamin Franklin to the Bunker Hill Monument and Boston Common, the Freedom Trail is a must for history buffs and anyone sightseeing in Boston.
Head to the New England Aquarium, featuring more than 70 exhibits with aquatic animals from around the world; marvel at the Bengal and white tigers at the Franklin Zoo; visit the Museum of Fine Arts; and get away from the buzz of the city by wandering through the first botanical garden in the United States, the Boston Public Garden.
After a long day of exploring the city, what could be better than appreciating Boston from a distance aboard a sunset cruise on one of the many boats that leave the harbour. Enjoy sipping on a glass of wine, a magnificently prepared seafood dinner and breathtaking views while the sun dips below the horizon.
Visitors keen on viewing a number of the city's greatest sights would be wise to get a Go Boston Card which grants travellers admission to more than 70 of the best activities, tours, and attractions in Boston.
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