By: Genevieve Shaw Brown
For a city that once seemed to suffer a serious inferiority complex at the hands of its New York neighbor to the south, Boston has, by all accounts, come into its own. No longer does the city find itself ranked second best – and why should it? Boston's cuisine is no longer a joke, its nightlife scene has finally burgeoned beyond college bars, and its beloved baseball team is cursed no more.
One of the most historically significant cities in the country, Boston is where the first plans for the American Revolution took shape, and where the country's first public park, first public library, and first subway were conceived. As home to more colleges and universities than any other city, however, this old city manages to remain perpetually young. The antiquated notion of the Boston Brahmin is almost extinct, and though you'll still find the buttoned-up set dining on gigantic cuts of beef inside the dark-wood paneled walls of the storied Oak Room (see Where to Eat), you'll see far more of the jet set sipping cocktails in the adjacent bar. Hip boutiques line centuries-old streets, the oldest watering hole in the country is dominated by 20-somethings wearing baseball hats and halter tops, and the Freedom Trail is used as often to reference the location of a bar as it is to direct someone to one of the 16 important historical sites found along its path. Spend a few days in Beantown, however, and you'll soon find that what's most appealing about Boston is not what has changed, but what has remained the same.
If you have three days, engage in an American history lesson along the red-brick Freedom Trail, head to the Italian North End for excellent food in a true ethnic neighborhood, take an afternoon to stroll Newbury Street and peruse its high-end clothing stores and art galleries, and wander the narrow, tree-lined streets of Beacon Hill. With five days, head over to Cambridge and explore the Harvard campus, do some people watching in the always-eclectic Harvard Square, and explore the city's waterfront by boat. A week will let you take in more of New England with a side trip – Cape Cod, the Berkshires, and the North Shore are all a short distance away. Friendly and manageable, the city is at once quaint and cosmopolitan, old and young, grand and diminutive. One piece of advice though: if you're a Yankees fan, you might want to keep it to yourself.
Though Boston is the largest city in New England and the capital of Massachusetts, the city center is remarkably compact and best explored on foot – a good pair of walking shoes and basic navigation skills are all you need to get around. You'll spend the majority of your time in the neighborhoods of Back Bay, Beacon Hill, North End, South End, and Faneuil Hall in the financial district. If you think of Boston Common as the center, Back Bay lies to the west, Beacon Hill to the north, the North End to the northeast, and the South End to the southeast. Faneuil Hall and the financial district are to the east, and Cambridge (home of Harvard) lies on the opposite side of the Charles River to the west, beyond Back Bay.
Boston's subway is called the "T" and has five lines: Red, Orange, Blue, Green, and Silver (www.mbta.com). It is reliable, clean, and efficient – but if you plan on using it, be sure you know which "T" stop you want to exit at for your attraction – the maps on the trains don't use a city map as a background so there's no point of reference. While stops are often named for significant points nearby, you'll be surprised when you exit at the Back Bay station and realize you are nowhere near the Back Bay attractions you came to see. You won't likely need to utilize the city's bus system, though it is an option for exploring points north, as is the commuter rail. You should avoid driving in Boston at all costs – the streets are often one-way and not easily navigable, parking is a nightmare as the vast majority of spots are designated for residents, and as nice as Bostonians are, they're known for being more than a little impatient behind the wheel.
A guided tour of the city is a great way to see the sites. Both the Old Town Trolley Tours (daily 9am-4pm, 5pm May-Oct; $26; www.oldtowntrolley.com) and Beantown Trolley Tours (daily 9.30am-4.30pm; $29; www.beantowntrolley.com) run on a hop-on/hop-off model and hit many points of interest on their loops. You can pick up tickets for both tours at the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Boston Duck Tours (Tickets available at Prudential Center, 800 Boylston St.; 617/267-3825; $27; www.bostonducktours.com) are led by drivers in character. After taking you on a tour of the streets, these so-called "con-duck-tors" drive right into the Charles River – a thrill for the kids who often are allowed to "drive" the WWII amphibious landing vehicle in the river. The educational tour is most interesting because of the offbeat facts the drivers divulge (i.e., the stairs that wind around the city's psychiatric ward don't actually go anywhere, and though the Great Molasses Flood may sound funny, the thirty-foot wave actually killed 21 people back in 1919). If you're interested in exploring Boston's waterfront, several boat tours are available – we like Boston Harbor Cruises (One Long Wharf; 617/227-4321; $14-$55; www.bostonharborcruises.com) for the variety of options, ranging from sightseeing to whale watching to lighthouse cruises.
The Go Boston Card ($49+; www.gobostoncard.com) is available for 1, 2, 3, 5, or 7 days and offers general admission to over 60 attractions. This is a good value if you plan on doing a lot if sightseeing and tour taking. Visit the tourism bureau's website (www.bostonusa.com) for travel guides, maps, and information on events taking place during your visit.
Following the 2.5-mile long Freedom Trail (www.thefreedomtrail.org) is a popular way to see 16 of the most important historical sites in the city (museums, meeting houses, parks, and cemeteries). This ideal overview takes you through several of the aforementioned neighborhoods, but since there are many points of interest located off the Freedom Trail, we've outlined attractions by neighborhood in detail below (and noted when attractions are located on the trail). Tip The Freedom trail is not a loop, so it's best to pick it up at one end – start your walk in the Boston Common or at the Charlestown Navy Yard. You can either pick up a map for a self-guided tour or take one of the guided 90-minute Walk into History tours – led by guides in 18th-century costume – that depart from Boston Common and Faneuil Hall in warmer months (April-Oct.; $12+; www.thefreedomtrail.org).
Boston Common, the Public Garden, and Beacon Hill
Start your visit in the Boston Common, the country's oldest public park, once the site of public hangings and cattle grazing. Used today for picnics, sunbathing, and protests, it also serves as the anchor of the Emerald Necklace, a series of connected parks that dot Boston's neighborhoods and was expanded by the Big Dig, which moved much of the highway that ran through the city underground. At 44 acres the park is a lovely sprawl of green grass in an otherwise crowded city, but its beauty is put to shame by the adjacent Public Garden, the first public botanical garden in the US. A spring or summer stroll is an absolute delight when the flower beds and trees are in full bloom and the ducks waddle out of the pond and along the paths. Warmer months also signal the arrival of one of the city's most-beloved traditions: a ride on the swan boats. For over 120 years, the swan boats have been paddled around the Public Garden Lagoon (Public Garden; mid Apr-mid Sept; 617-522-1966; $2.75; www.swanboats.com).
Just north of the Common is Beacon Hill, the quintessential Boston neighborhood. This National Historic District boasts narrow streets, brick sidewalks, gas lamps, ancient elm trees, and window boxes adorning spectacular townhouses. And if you recognize Acorn Street, it isn't déjà vu. This tiny cobblestone passageway, said to be the most photographed street in America, is every bit as charming in person.
There are several points of interest in Beacon Hill, but the one you're likely to notice first is the State House (Freedom Trail, Beacon St. at Park St.; Mon-Fri 10am-4pm; free tours available; www.mass.gov) – if not for its size (two city blocks long), then for its gleaming 23-karat gold dome. Also on Beacon Street, across from the Public Garden, is one of Boston's most recognizable attractions: Cheers (84 Beacon St.; 617/227-9605; www.cheersboston.com), founded in 1969 and until recently called the Bull and Finch Pub, is the bar that served as the inspiration for the popular television series and whose exterior was shown in the opening scenes.
Those charmed by Beacon Hill's magnificent townhouses and quaint streets will want to make a stop at the Nichols House Museum (55 Mount Vernon St.; May-Oct Tues-Sat 12pm-4pm, Nov-April Thurs-Sat 12pm-4pm; 617/227-6993; $7; www.nicholshousemuseum.org), a 19th-century townhouse that was home to women's rights pioneer Rose Standish Nichols until 1960. The preserved home is a glimpse into 19th-and 20th-century Bostonian domestic life; tours are given every half-hour.
Even if you've a limited interest in shopping, perusing Charles Street (See Where to Shop) is a nice way to soak up more of Beacon Hill's charm. Home to a few upscale clothing shops and several antique dealers, art galleries, and restaurants, the street runs along the "the flat" (the base) of Beacon Hill, so a walk around here isn't an uphill battle.
The North End and Waterfront
Boston's North End is the city's Italian enclave, home to nearly one hundred restaurants where you can find cuisine from every corner of Italy – from red-sauce favorites to the refined dishes from the country's northern regions. Italian is spoken as frequently as English and the many cafés and bakeries that line the streets are typically filled with older men sipping espresso and talking about Italian politics and, of course, football. But as Italian as the neighborhood is, several sites of importance in early American history are also located here. The main streets are Hanover and Salem, which run parallel to each other; other streets are predominately residential.
The Old North Church (Freedom Trail, 193 Salem St.; 617/523-6676; www.oldnorth.com) is the site of a pivotal point in history. The tallest building in Boston at the time of Paul Revere's famous ride, it's where the church's sexton held lanterns in the steeple to warn the colonists in nearby Charlestown how the British were approaching – one if by land, two if by sea. More history is on tap at the Paul Revere House (Freedom Trail, 19 North Sq.; mid April-Oct 9.30am-5:15pm, Nov-mid April 9.30am-4.15pm, closed Mon Jan-March; 617/523-2338; $3; www.paulreverehouse.org), where the patriot lived at the time of his midnight ride on April 18, 1775. The wooden house is a National Historic Landmark and the oldest building in downtown Boston.
Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park (Atlantic Ave. at Commercial Wharf; dawn-dusk) is a small green space worth a walk-through on your way from the North End to nearby Faneuil Hall or the financial district. There are plenty of benches to rest on while looking out to the harbor, and in spring the trellis-covered walkway blooms with flowers. Appropriately, the New England Aquarium (Central Wharf; Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat-Sun 9am-6pm; 617/973-5200; $18; www.neaq.org) is also situated along Boston's waterfront. With jellyfish, seal, and penguin exhibits, it's a great place to bring the kids. Its IMAX theatre rotates educational movies about marine and animal life on a 65-foot-tall screen ($10), but if you want the real thing, the aquarium also offers whale-watching tours (April-Oct, times vary; 617/973-5281; $37; www.neaq.org) that take participants 30 miles off Boston's coast to a whale-feeding area. Another kid-friendly attraction along the harbor (and a great back-up plan when bad-weather strikes) is the Boston Children's Museum (300 Congress St.; Sat-Thu 10am-5pm, Fri 10am-9pm; 617/426-8855; www.bostonchildrensmuseum.org), chock-full of hands-on educational exhibits for kids ages toddler to pre-teen.
The Institute of Contemporary Art (100 Northern Ave.; Tues-Wed & Sat-Sun 10am-5pm, Thurs-Fri 10am-9pm; 617/478-3100; $12; www.icaboston.org) is a recent and welcome addition to South Boston's waterfront – and a testament to the neighborhood's transformation from Irish enclave to yuppie haven. Housed in a 65,000-square-foot building designed by award-winning architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the ICA is the first museum in the US dedicated completely to contemporary art in all forms: dance, music, literature, and visual arts.
Within short walking distance from the North End is Faneuil Hall, one of Boston's biggest attractions. This shopping and dining complex has a rich history – built in 1742 with a marketplace on the ground floor, it was a popular gathering place for town meetings. While Faneuil Hall is actually one building in a larger complex called Faneuil Hall Marketplace (www.faneuilhallmarketplace.com), people typically refer to the entire complex by the abbreviated name. The other large building in the area is Quincy Market (See Where to Eat), a wholesale food distributor until the 1960s and today a massive food court with everything from clam chowder in a bread bowl and fresh-shucked oysters to pizza and gourmet sandwiches. Quincy Market is flanked by the North and South Markets, where you'll find sit-down restaurants, retail shops, and craft carts. This is a great place to pick up anything from a dress at Ann Taylor to a lobster lollipop souvenir. In warmer months, street performers and musicians frequent the area.
Blackstone Block, just north of Faneuil Hall, is a narrow cobblestone street lined with 17th-century buildings. Here you'll find Boston's oldest continuously operating restaurant, the Union Oyster House (See Where to Eat). A few steps away on Union Street is the Bell-in-Hand Tavern (45-55 Union St.; 11.30am-2am; 617/227-2098; www.bellinhand.com), the oldest continuously operating bar in the country; and just around the corner on Marshall Street is the Green Dragon Tavern (11 Marshall St.; 11am-2am; 617/367-0055; www.celticweb.com/greendragon), a favorite meeting place of Paul Revere and the Sons of Liberty in the days leading up to the American Revolution.
In stark contrast to the Blackstone Block is the very modern New England Holocaust Memorial (www.nehm.org) across the way – six glass towers (for the six main Nazi death camps) with six million numbers etched into the glass, a reference to the six million people who died in the holocaust.
The streets of Back Bay are constantly bustling with locals and out-of-towners alike. Newbury Street, Copley Square, the Boston Public Library, and several other attractions draw visitors every day of the week, but weekday crowds are a bit thinner. Whenever you decide to go, you'll be impressed by the establishments along Newbury and Boylston Streets (the main roads in this neighborhood), as well as the spacious, gracious residential streets nearby – Marlborough Street, in particular, is worth a stroll.
Back Bay is the city's premier shopping destination, with Newbury Street and the Copley Mall (See Where to Shop) leading the way. From big-name chains to small boutiques, you'll find it in Back Bay. If you consider shopping more of a chore than a pleasure, not to worry, this neighborhood has plenty to offer history buffs and culture-vultures as well. Start your visit in Copley Square and visit the Boston Public Library (700 Boylston St.; Mon-Thu 9am-9pm, Fri-Sat 9am-5pm, Oct-May Sun only1pm-5pm; www.bpl.org), which boasts one of the largest collections of prints in the country, with works by Goya, Rembrandt, and Toulouse-Lautrec, among others.
Also in Copley Square is Trinity Church (206 Clarendon St.; 617/536-0944; www.trinityboston.org), an example of "Richardsonian Romanesque" architecture built in 1877. But this landmark of American design is not just for architecture buffs; it's worth a stop for everyone just to peek at the stunning stained-glass windows. Guided tours are free every Sunday following the 11.15am service; phone to arrange a guided tour on other days. Self-guided tours (Mon-Sat 9am-5.30pm, Sun 1pm-5pm; $5 includes map) are also available.
Trinity Church makes an encore appearance in the reflective glass panels of the John Hancock Tower (200 Clarendon St.), the tallest building in New England. But don't worry about vertigo – its interior and observatory have been closed since 9/11. A short walk down Boylston Street will bring you to the Prudential Center (800 Boylston St.; Mon-Sat 10am-9pm, Sun 10am-6pm; www.prudentialcenter.com), the other building that dominates the Boston skyline. Its biggest draw is the 75 shops (See Where to Shop) and restaurants inside.
A little more than a decade ago most tourists skipped the once-dodgy South End, but today it's one of the city's most popular and diverse residential neighborhoods, with families, a large gay and lesbian community, immigrants, and artists all calling it home. The neighborhood boasts nearly 30 parks and is an important part of Boston's culinary explosion, with many excellent and innovative restaurants, particularly along Tremont and Washington Streets.
Fans of Victorian architecture take note: the South End features the largest Victorian brick row house district in the US; it's on the National Register of Historic Places and all 500 acres are designated as a Boston Landmark District.
In case you weren't confused enough by Boston's tiny one-way streets and various squares, not to mention the sometimes barely-intelligible accents of the locals, here's one more curveball: "The Fenway" is a neighborhood, but it is not where you'll find Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. You'll find the ballpark in the nearby Kenmore neighborhood, near the Kenmore Square "T" stop.
A trip to Boston without seeing Fenway Park is like traveling to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. Yes, it is that big of a deal. "The Sawx" are such a part of the fabric of the city that even ambivalence is blasphemous. Of course, the best way to see the park is during a game from the stands, but if you can't score tix, tours of the park (4 Yawkey Way; Mon-Sat 9am-4pm, Sun 12pm-4pm; 617/226-6666; http://boston.redsox.mlb.com) are available. That said, try to catch a game – the ballpark's small size and zealous fans ensure there's really no bad seat in the house. Tip: Single-game tickets typically go on sale in late January (check www.mlb.com); advance planning is your best bet, otherwise you can almost always buy tickets from a scalper outside the ballpark on the day of the game. How much you pay will depend on who the Sox are playing.
Art lovers adore The Fenway because it's home to two of the cities most important museums: The Museum of Fine Arts (465 Huntington Ave.; Mon-Tues & Sat-Sun 10am-4.45pm, Wed-Fri 10am-9.45pm; 617/267-9300; $15; www.mfa.org) and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (280 The Fenway; Tues-Sun 11am-5pm; 617/566-1401; $12; www.gardnermuseum.org). The MFA is Boston's one-stop-shop for important artworks – one of the largest Monet collections outside of Paris is located here and its European collection alone has 22,000 pieces from the seventh to late 20th centuries. In addition to Asian, African, and ancient art, you'll also find a sizeable collection of American art from painters like Cassatt and Sargent.
In the late 19th century, Isabella Stewart Gardner began to amass a private collection of art – rare books and manuscripts, paintings, textiles, furniture, and more – that was opened to the public in 1903. Today her collection (more than 2,500 pieces) is one of the most important in the country; visitors to the museum are most often struck by the setting – galleries on three floors surrounding a lush garden courtyard. Even if you know nothing about art, the museum is an exquisite place to spend a few afternoon hours.
It's a whole separate city, but eclectic and open-minded Cambridge is just across the river and a short "T" (Red Line) ride away. Home to two of the finest bastions of higher education in the U.S. (MIT and Harvard), it, like Boston, is teeming with young people – but here they seem bent on individuality, while back across the Charles the kids are more concerned with blending in with the group.
The microcosm of Harvard Square (Red line to Harvard Sq. stop) is the best place to experience Cambridge. The boutique shopping, sidewalk cafes, and many bookstores make it an easy place to while away the afternoon. On all but the very worst weather days, there are street performers galore to entertain you, that is, if you can pull your eyes away from the people watching. Stroll the grounds of the Harvard campus on your own – it may be your only chance to get inside those brick walls – or join one of the several free tours (Harvard University; Feb 5-May 4 and Sept 25-Dec 18, Mon-Fri 10am and 2pm, June 25-Aug 17 Mon-Sat 10am, 11.15am, 2pm, 3.15pm; 617/495-1573; www.harvard.edu). There are several museums on campus – an archaeology museum, a geology museum, a natural history museum – but the one that stands out is the Fogg Art Museum (32 Quincy St.; Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 1pm-5pm; 617/495-9400; $9; www.artmuseums.hardvard.edu), Harvard's oldest, which houses one of the country's most important collections of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art. Although it's closed for renovations until 2013, many of the museum's most important pieces are on display at the nearby Arthur M. Sackler Museum (485 Broadway; Tue-Sat 10am-5pm; 617/495-9400).
There are plenty of places to rest your weary head after a long day of sightseeing in Boston. From luxury properties with all the bells and whistles to budget digs with just the basics – mega-hotel chains to intimate B&Bs – you'll find the place that suits your needs and your wallet here. In the last decade, Boston has added more than 30 new properties, most of the high-end variety and several boutique accommodations – something unheard of before the year 2000. New hotels are opening their doors all the time, but we've picked our well-established favorites in each price category.
A familiar name in luxury tops the list: The Four Seasons (200 Boylston St.; 617/338-4400; www.fourseasons.com/boston) overlooks the Public Garden from its perch in Back Bay and visitors can expect to be pampered – complimentary limousine service to downtown, in-room exercise equipment on request, spa services, elegant interiors, and one of Boston's best restaurants (Aujourd'hui) are all part of the experience. Also in Back Bay, the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel (138 St. James Ave.; 617/267-5300; www.fairmont.com/copleyplaza), opened in 1912, recently completed a major restoration, with a spectacular lobby and luxurious guestrooms with marble bathrooms. The hotel is home to The Oak Room (See Where to Eat) one of the city's top steakhouses; guests can order off this menu as part of the restaurant's 24-hour in-room dining program. XV Beacon (15 Beacon St.; 617/670-1500; www.xvbeacon.com) is a 60-room ultra-luxe boutique hotel in Beacon Hill where all rooms have gas fireplaces, queen poster beds, CD player and library, and rainforest showerheads. It's also credited with starting the boutique-hotel craze in the city. Complimentary chauffeured Lexus sedans are available to all guests for jetting around town.
In the mid-range category, our favorite is Jury's (350 Stuart St.;617/266-7200; www.jurysdoyle.com), the Irish hotel chain that arrived in Boston a few years back and quickly became popular for its upscale rooms, warm staff, and great location in Back Bay. Its home is the former police headquarters, but you'd never guess it from the luxurious linens, spacious bathrooms, and little touches like free wireless, multi-head showers, and heated towel racks that make this hotel an excellent value. In Beacon Hill, the intimate 12-room Beacon Hill Hotel (25 Charles St.; 617/723-7575; www.beaconhillhotel.com) has a great location on lovely Charles Street near the Boston Common and Public Garden. Think modern conveniences (flat-panel TVs and high-speed internet access) in a charming, old-world setting. Its on-site restaurant, The Beacon Hill Bistro, is a local favorite. Families love the Colonnade Hotel (120 Huntington Ave.; 617/424-7000; www.colonnadehotel.com) for its roof-top pool – the only one in the city – a guaranteed hit when the kids tire of sightseeing on a summer day. Rooms are comfortable and tastefully decorated, and its location in Back Bay near the Prudential Center is prime for sightseeing and shopping.
For a suitable stay at a budget price, the Midtown Hotel (220 Huntington Ave.; 617/262-1000; www.midtownhotel.com) offers affordable prices and all the basics in a great Back Bay location. The rooms, though not luxe, are large, clean, and comfortable. All have televisions, hair dryers, climate control, and coffee makers. There is an outdoor pool open in the summer months and on-site parking for $12/day – a bargain compared to other parking prices in the area. Nearby, on a quiet residential street, the 463 Beacon Street Guest House (463 Beacon St.; 617/536-1302; www.463beacon.com) offers 20 guest rooms in a turn-of-the-century brownstone mansion with architectural details common in this kind of home – high ceilings, hardwood floors, and ornamental fireplaces. The rooms are clean and basic; all but a few of the least expensive have a private bath.
With Boston's emergence as a first-class culinary destination, innovative and excellent restaurants are popping up everywhere. But don't get so caught up in the latest and greatest that you overlook restaurants that have stood the test of time.
Boston's classic restaurants offer a total dining experience in addition to a great meal. For carnivores, few would argue there's a steakhouse more quintessential than the Oak Room (Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel, 138 St. James Ave.; 617/267-5300; www.theoakroom.com), where the elegant dinging room is done up in dark wood paneling and heavy red draperies, conjuring up a feeling of old-world Boston like few other places in the city. The menu is classic steakhouse with New England influences – lobster bisque and clam chowder are a nod to the locale. A considerably less-pricey choice that duplicates the only-in-Boston feeling is the Union Oyster House (Freedom Trail, 41 Union St.; 617/227-2750; www.unionoysterhouse.com); sure it's touristy (note the gift shop), but as the oldest continually operating restaurant in the country and a favorite of John F. Kennedy's, there's no denying its place in history. We recommend skipping the dining room in favor of slurping oysters and littlenecks at the raw bar on the first floor. Locke-Ober's (3 Winter Place; 617/542-1340; www.locke-ober.com) legacy stretches back to 1853 and today is still one of Boston's top tables – elegant and timeless, serving outstanding French-inspired New England cuisine with dishes ranging from foie gras "steak" and escargot to lobster savannah and Boston scrod with crab.
Dining at one of the following high-end restaurants is worth the inevitable haggling over a reservation. Since opening No. 9 Park (9 Park St.; 617/742-9991; www.no9park.com) in 1998, Chef Barbara Lynch has been a darling of the Boston restaurant scene, and with good reason. The restaurant's low-key elegance and location overlooking Boston Common and the State House, when paired with its artisan wine list and Lynch's regionally inspired French and Italian cuisine, makes for a memorable meal; try the chef's tasting menu with wine pairings to experience the vast range of her talents. The North End's restaurants are hit-or-miss, but one that consistently knocks it out of the park is Prezza (24 Fleet St.; 617/227-1577; www.prezza.com), a welcome respite from the tourist-heavy tables on nearby Hanover Street. The menu is heavy on seafood and handmade pastas, but also includes homemade meatballs and veal porterhouse; the massive wine list is largely Italian. Before there was a wealth of great restaurants in the South End, there was Hamersley's (553 Tremont St.; 617/423-2700; www.hamersleysbistro.com), a neighborhood gem for almost 20 years. The interior is predominately French-country – cheery yellow walls and floral tapestries – as is the menu: classic roasted chicken and cassoulet are staples.
There are so many exceptional mid-priced restaurants in Boston you'll have a hard time narrowing your choices. Casa Romero (30 Gloucester St.; 617/536-4341; www.casaromero.com), loved equally for its food and atmosphere, is a must for any fan of Mexican cuisine. If the warm-weather patio is open, it's worth the wait for a table outside. If not, the tiled tabletops and brick walls create the kind of cozy environment that makes you want to linger for hours. The sangria is the best in the city, and the baked cheese and chorizo appetizer served with warm tortillas is delicious. Near the waterfront is the much-lauded Sel de la Terre (255 State St.; 617/720-1300; www.seldelaterre.com), a French brasserie serving Provencal-inspired dishes in a elegant but casual setting. Its name ("salt of the earth") reflects the rustic cuisine of southern France; the restaurant is famous for its bread, baked fresh every day and so tasty it is served in many other restaurants around the city. It's also sold in the adjacent boulangerie if you want to pair it up with an artisan cheese and have a picnic in nearby Christopher Columbus Park (see Exploring Boston). We've selected two restaurants where you can linger over drinks and lighter fare. New on the scene and very well-received in Beacon Hill, Bin 26 Enoteca (26 Charles St.; 617/723-5939; www.bin26.com) offers small plates of cured meats and artisan cheeses, perfect for snacking while sipping vino from its Italian wine list. For the best Spanish tapas and the best people watching in Boston, snag a table on the Newbury Street patio of Tapeo (266 Newbury St.; 617/267-4799; www.tapeo.com) and sip sangria and Spanish wines while you nosh on garlicky shrimp, baby lamb chops, and stuffed squid.
For gourmands on a budget, have no fear – we know the best places to dine on the cheap in Boston. The most obvious choice is Quincy Market (Faneuil Hall Marketplace; www.faneuilhallmarketplace.com) with 40-plus choices in its mammoth food court – there's chowder (aka chowdah), pizza, paninis, etc. Burrito lovers, brace yourselves: the best burrito in the country is not found in SoCal, San Francisco, and most certainly not in New York City, but in Boston at Anna's Taqueria (several locations; www.shopannas.com). Steamed tortillas (that's the trick) are stuffed with rice, beans, and carnitas, chicken, steak, or veggies and made with only the freshest ingredients. While a bit messier, the quesadillas are equally superb and have their own cult following. Locals are almost as fanatical about the pies at Pizzeria Regina (11 ½ Thatcher St.; 617/227-0765; www.polcaris.com), and though there are several outposts, we recommend skipping them and braving the line outside the original in the North End. Brick-oven pizza is the only thing on the menu – and though the waitresses are surly and the service spotty, it's a fun and delicious experience. If Chinese food is your thing, Boston's vibrant Chinatown is teeming with quality restaurants and low prices; we recommend two: Jumbo Seafood (5-9 Hudson St.; 617/542-2823) and Peach Farm (4 Tyler St.; 617/482-1116). What both lack in atmosphere, they more than make up with fresh seafood ranging from the basic to the adventurous; both are open late, as are most other restaurants in the neighborhood.
In a city overrun with college kids, there's no shortage of college dive bars. You can join 'em or avoid 'em – it's entirely up to you. If you enjoy loud music and cheap drinks, you'll find a bar that will accommodate you – keep in mind that Boston's bars and clubs close at 2am. But if you crave something a bit more adult, no worries – there are plenty of places to go and things to do when the sun sets. Hotel bars provide a quiet place to sip a cocktail, and Boston has a vibrant arts scene, particularly for music lovers.
Near Fenway Park, Lansdowne Street is a club-hopper's dream. Packed with bars and dance clubs, moving from one to another is easy enough, save for the lines outside the most popular establishments. Keep in mind the crowd tends to be of the barely-legal drinking age. The 2,000 person-capacity club Avalon (15 Lansdowne St.; 617/262-2424; www.avalonboston.com) has been going strong since 1992 and remains a fixture on the Boston club scene for its theme nights (including a long-running gay night on Sundays) and for hosting some of the world's top DJs. Nearby Axis (13 Lansdowne St.; 617/262-2437; www.bostonaxis.com) is a bit edgier, often hosting live bands.
For something a bit more subdued, the B-Side Lounge (92 Hampshire St., Cambridge; 617/354-0766; www.bsidelounge.com) is a stylish 1940s cocktail lounge that serves fun, interesting drinks to a hip, mostly professional, crowd. The place gets crowded, but retains its low-key vibe; it also serves a small, but creative menu – no burgers or wings here.
No trip to Boston would be complete without a visit to an Irish pub. The Black Rose (160 State St.; 617/742-2286) is one of the city's most famous, attracting a true mix of locals and tourists, young people and an older crowd – all of whom get into singing along with the live Irish bands who take the stage most weekend nights. A short walk away and on the Freedom Trail is the Purple Shamrock (1 Union St.; 617/227-2060), with several traditional Irish dishes on the menu – but you're more likely to be singing along to top 40 than Celtic classics. A few doors down is Hennessey's (25 Union St.; 617/742-2121), a local favorite with Irish pub grub on the menu and live bands on its second floor every Thursday night.
Your nocturnal activities need not revolve around booze and bands, however, because Boston's theater and arts scene is thriving. The Wang Theatre, the Majestic Theatre, and the Stuart Street Playhouse are all top spots to see a play or musical; check out artsboston (www.artsboston.org) to see what shows are in town, but hit up the Bostix booths in Faneuil Hall (near West entrance of Quincy Market) and Copley Square (Corner of Boylston and Dartmouth Sts.) for discounts. Tickets are half-price for same-day productions and go on sale at 10am Monday through Saturday and 11am on Sundays (excluding Faneuil Hall, which is closed on Sundays); cash only.
If you love classical music, don't miss a performance by the Boston Symphony Orchestra (www.bso.org), now over 125 years old and regarded as one of the best orchestras in the world. If classical music isn't your thing, a performance by the Boston Pops (www.bso.org) might just be – pick from performances of jazz, rock, Broadway scores, and much, much more on its varied schedule. The BSO and Pops call Symphony Hall (301 Massachusetts Ave.; 617/266-1492; www.bso.org) home during the winter months, but move the act to the Berkshire's Tanglewood (See Day Trips) during the summer months.
You'll find places to shop all over the city – from the stores in Back Bay's Prudential Center to the rock-bottom bargain prices in Downtown Crossing. Then of course, there are the boutiques and shops that line Newbury Street and the preppy palaces on Charles Street. Whatever your fancy, and no matter your budget, you'll find something to take home. If you've a love for lobster, you'll find no shortage of them in the form of lollipops and stuffed animals.
There's not much to distinguish the Shops at Prudential Center (800 Boylston St.; Mon-Sat 10am-9pm, Sun 10am-6pm; www.prudentialcenter.com) from any other upscale shopping mall, but if you're in desperate need of and prefer one-stop shopping to lengthy perusing, it's a perfect solution. Major department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor carry the typical assortment of casual and formal attire, cosmetics and perfume, and handbags, shoes and other accessories. Other stores include Ann Taylor, Club Monaco, Arden B., and Lacoste; there's also a food court and several sit-down chain restaurants like Applebee's, the Cheesecake Factory, California Pizza Kitchen, and Legal Sea Foods.
Just a quick walk away, Newbury Street offers a much different shopping experience – you could spend an entire day wandering into the shops and boutiques that line this hipper-than-hip thoroughfare. The shopper's paradise starts near the Public Garden on Arlington Street and doesn't stop until you reach Massachusetts Avenue, about 8 blocks away. Start your stroll with a stop at Chanel (5 Newbury St.; 617/859-0055) and nearby Burberry (2 Newbury St.; 617/236-1000) and then make your way to Marc Jacobs (81 Newbury St.; 617/425-0707) and Betsey Johnson (201 Newbury St.; 617/236-7072). Pockets aren't that deep? No worries – there's plenty of duds to be had at more moderate prices, whether it's the familiar khaki-and-white at Banana Republic (28 Newbury St.; 617/267-3933), or something a little more offbeat and colorful at Calypso (114 Newbury St.; 617/421-1887). There are plenty of art galleries, antique shops, and specialty stores (think a hat shop, beauty products, and home furnishings) dispersed among the clothing stores, as are restaurants and cafes. Alfred J. Walker Gallery Fine Art (162 Newbury St., 2nd floor; Tues-Sat appointment only; 617/247-1319; www.alfredjwalker.com) specializes in American art from the late-19th and early-20th century, while Alpha Gallery (38 Newbury St.; 617/536-4465; www.alphagallery.com) specializes in contemporary art, particularly paintings, and hosts "new talent" exhibitions as well as exhibitions by established artists. For the home, Lavender Home & Table (173 Newbury St.; Mon-Sat 11am-6pm; Sun 12-5pm; 617/437-1102; www.lavenderhomeandtable.com) offers handmade Italian and French tableware along with antique furniture, china, and ceramics.
Beacon Hill's Charles Street is another boutique-and-art-heavy shopping locale. Girly-girls love the duds at Wish (49 Charles St.; 617/227-4441; www.wishstyle.com); pretty frocks by designers like Nanette Lepore, Trina Turk, and Susana Monaco are the norm, and though prices are steep, you're guaranteed to find a must-have dress. Preppie princesses love Holiday (53 Charles St.; 617/973-9730; www.holidayboutique.net), which carries adorable dresses, tops, and skirts by designers like Tory Burch and Kater Hall. For beauty products, candles, and home goods like decorative pillows, stop in at The Flat of the Hill (60 Charles St.; 617/619-9977; www.theflatofthehill.com), a tiny store stocked with goodies; it's the perfect place to pick up a small gift.
Downtown Crossing, in the financial district of downtown, is home to stores where you won't have to pay up to dress up – H&M (350 Washington St.; 617/482-70014), TJ Maxx (350 Washington St.;617/695-2424), and Marshall's (350 Washington St.;617/338-6205) are all here too. Besides the discounters, you'll find stores like Macy's (450 Washington St.; 617/357-3000), The Children's Place (349-351 Washington St.; 617/426-9524) and Thomas Pink (280 Washington St.; 617/426-7859).
One of the best things about Boston is its proximity to a wealth of New England attractions – all very different, but all within a short drive. The most famous is Cape Cod and the islands known simply as "The Cape," "The Vineyard," and Nantucket. A less-touristy and more laid-back beach vibe is found north of the city in towns like Marblehead and Gloucester; the North Shore, as it's known, is also home to Salem, infamous for its witch trails. Finally, mountain lovers will adore the greenery and cultural pursuits found in the Berkshires. The most famous town here is Lenox, home to Tanglewood, the summer outpost of the Boston Pops.
Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, & Nantucket
The Cape Cod National Seashore (www.nps.gov/caco) boasts 40 miles of beaches and nearly 45,000 acres extending from Orleans to Provincetown. With a car, and light traffic, you can travel over the Cape Cod Canal via the Sagamore or Bourne Bridge to the sandy shores and beach towns of the Cape in about an hour; with more time, we recommend driving an extra 30-45 minutes down Route 6 to the Lower Cape, which includes the towns of Harwich, Chatham, Orleans, and Brewster. Of these, Chatham is the most lovely, with its timeless main street, gracious homes, and wonderful beaches. If you are traveling sans car, you can visit the Cape via ferry (mid May-Sept; 8am, 1.30pm, 5pm; 617/748-1428; $69RT; www.baystatecruises.com) from Boston to Provincetown, the easternmost town on the Cape and known for its large gay community and picturesque village.
If you choose to visit Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket, you can catch a ferry to both from Hyannis (www.hy-linecruises.com), about 15 minutes onto the Cape once you're over the bridge. Both islands are charming and equally upscale – Nantucket draws more of a "scene" to its shores, while the Vineyard is more laid-back. Lily Pulitzer dresses for women and pink pants for men abound on both. Though Martha's Vineyard probably attracts more celebrities, it is the more laid-back of the two islands; Nantucket, while equally beautiful, boasts more of a see-and-be-seen attitude. Both have miles and miles of pristine public beaches, grand summer homes, and plenty of shopping, dining, and nightlife.
The North Shore
Though positively bustling around Halloween, the city of Salem (www.salem.org) makes for a great year round side trip. A 30-minute drive north from Boston, you can also get there by train, bus, and ferry. It's an interesting coastal city most famous for the witch trials that took place in 1692 and led to deaths of 20 people for suspicion of practicing witchcraft. Start your visit at the Salem Witch Museum (19 ½ Washington Square; daily 10am-5pm, 7pm in July and Aug; $7.50; 978/744-1692; www.salemwitchmuseum.com), which provides a history lesson about the trials themselves and also educates about witches in general.
Eighteen miles north of Boston lies the striking town of Marblehead, one of the prettiest in New England. Its reputation as the "yachting capital of America" should clue you in on what to expect here – a lovely harbor, six beaches, upscale shopping, and beautiful, tasteful homes, some dating back to before the Revolution. The main beach is Devereux Beach, with over five acres of fun on the Atlantic (summer is the best time to visit). The most picturesque part of Marblehead is Old Town, with winding streets, upscale shopping, and views of the harbor. You can drive or take a train or bus to get here.
A bit further north (about an hour by car from Boston) is the village of Gloucester (www.gloucesterma.com), the oldest fishing port in the country and still a working port today. The city was immortalized in the movie The Perfect Storm, and many people come to see the places where the events leading up to this tragedy took place, especially the Crow's Nest bar (344 Main St.; 978/281-2965; www.crowsnestgloucester.com) of which a replica was built for the movie. Its rocky shoreline is dramatic and its most popular beach (Good Harbor) delightful. The section known as Rocky Neck Art Colony (www.rockyneckartcolony.org) is the most charming part of town and the oldest art colony in the country.
In western Massachusetts, just a two-hour drive from Boston, are the Berkshires. These low-lying mountains are great for lovers of the outdoors – hiking, fishing, golfing, and rafting are common pastimes – but first-time visitors are often surprised at the region's depth of cultural activities. Besides being home to many important historical sites, like the home where Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick, Edith Wharton's estate, and a restored Shaker village, the region also possesses a wealth of museums, including MASS MoCA (87 Marshall Street, North Adams; 413/662-2111; Sept-June Wed-Mon 11am-5pm, July-August daily 10am-6pm; $10; www.massmoca.org), the largest contemporary-art center in the U.S. Fans of Norman Rockwell's work will delight in the Norman Rockwell Museum (9 Glendale Rd., Stockbridge; 413/298-4100; May-Oct daily 10am-5pm, Nov-April Mon-Fri 10am-4pm Sat-Sun 10am-5pm; $12.50, www.nrm.org), with the largest and most-important collection of the artist's original work in the world. But the area is primarily known for Tanglewood (Lenox; 413/637-1600; www.tanglewood.org), the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a mecca for music lovers. The 250 acres are the site of outdoor concert performances all summer long, and having a picnic while listening to the music under the stars is an unforgettable experience.
When To Go
The great thing about taking a city vacation is that no matter the weather – sweltering heat, snowstorm, or anything in between – you can bet the attractions you came to see are open for business. That said, months when it isn't too hot and isn't too cold are the best for comfortable exploring – in Boston, these months come in spring (April – June) and autumn (September – October). These are the high season, and you can expect to find hotels at their priciest, restaurants their most crowded, and lines longest. Summer is also a busy time, with families trying to educate the little ones at the Boston historical attractions on their summer vacations. The low season, January through March, is a great time to score rock-bottom rates on hotel rooms and highly coveted restaurant reservations. However, it's likely to be quite cold during your visit. You'll get the best bang for your buck if you visit in November and early December – the weather will probably be chilly but bearable and prices at hotels are less expensive and the crowds have disappeared for the winter.
Boston has one major airport: Logan International (BOS) is served by hundreds of domestic and international flights daily, including non-stop flights from virtually every major city in the world. Major US carriers such as American (www.aa.com); Continental (www.continental.com); Delta (www.delta.com); United (www.united.com); and US Airways (www.usairways.com), as well as discount carriers like AirTran (www.airtran.com), and JetBlue (www.jetblue.com), among others, operate nonstop and connecting service from across the United States.
Efficient train and bus service also operates from major cities across the U.S. into Boston. Most buses arrive at South Station (Summer St. and Atlantic Ave.; 617/222-5000; www.mbta.com) including Greyhound (800/231-2222, www.greyhound.com), this station is also where Amtrak (800/872-7245; www.amtrak.com) trains arrive. Contact individual transit companies for schedule and fare information.
Booking air and hotel together (and other trip essentials such as airport transfers, car rentals, and even tours and activities) can save a bundle of cash – online travel discounters such as Orbitz (www.orbitz.com), Expedia (www.expedia.com), and Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) are a good place to start your search. Consult with major airlines that offer air/land packages such as Delta Vacations (800/654-6559; www.deltavacations.com), US Airways Vacations (800/455-0123; www.usairwaysvacations.com), or United Vacations (888/854-3899; www.unitedvacations.com).
Getting into Boston
Though Logan airport is just a few miles from downtown, high taxi fares, traffic, and tolls might run your tab close to $30. If you can manage your luggage, hop a shuttle bus to the Airport Station on the Blue Line (the buses are marked "Subway") and take the "T" (Blue Line) to State Street Station where you can connect with the Orange and Green Lines. It costs $1.70.
From South Station, your best bet to is to catch a taxi from the line outside the station and take it to your hotel. You should expect to pay about $12.