Steeped in tradition, yet more lively and ambitious than many urban centers, Boston is a fantastic place to visit.
Since its birth as a tiny Puritan settlement in 1630, Boston has become a bustling regional hub, home to over half a million people. It offers some of the world's finest hospitals and institutions of higher learning, including Brigham & Women's Hospital, Children's Hospital, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Massachusetts General Hospital. There's also easy access to urban culture, a passionate sports community, and beaches and mountains nearby. Boston offers everything except plentiful street parking-but the city's marvelous public transit system (the Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority, or simply "the T") makes up for this.
Located on the Massachusetts coast north of Cape Cod, Boston has a four-season climate that swings from lows averaging 22[degrees] F (-5.6[degrees] C) to highs averaging 82[degrees] F (27.8[degrees] C). Summers are humid, but ocean breezes are free.
Shall we walk or take a Duck?
Boston is a wonderful city for walking. To get a sense of the city and its historic treasures, walk the 21/2-mile Freedom Trail, which passes 16 historic sites in downtown Boston. Many of them are free; pick up a map at the visitor information booth on Boston Common, where the tour begins. Or take a Boston Duck Tour aboard an amphibious World War II vehicle. These 80-minute tours leave from the Prudential Center. Your Duck will waddle right into the Charles River and Boston Harbor as well as roll along city streets.
Wandering through Boston's wealthy and well-preserved Beacon Hill and Back Bay neighborhoods is a trip into history. Beacon Hill is the city's oldest neighborhood and retains the feel of a 19th-century European city, with charming town houses and cobblestone streets. The Back Bay was built on a swamp that was gradually filled in the late 1800s. Also with a European feel, this neighborhood boasts some of the city's best (and most expensive) shopping districts, including Newbury Street and Commonwealth Avenue.
One if by land, two if by sea
The Old North Church, Boston's oldest church, still hosts Sunday Episcopal services. From its tower flared two lanterns on April 18, 1775, warning Paul Revere that the British were approaching by sea. The city's oldest downtown building is the Paul Revere House in the North End, built around 1680. Boston's tallest building is the John Hancock Tower, designed by architect I.M. Pei and built in 1976.
Boston Common, located in the heart of the city, is the nation's oldest park. Originally a pasture, it hasn't seen grazing cattle since 1830. In the adjacent Public Garden, you can still ride the Swan Boats, a popular recreation operating since 1877.
The oldest commissioned warship still afloat is the USS Constitution, nicknamed "Old Ironsides" for the way a British cannonball bounced off her hull in the War of 1812. You can see her at the Charlestown Navy Yard. And thanks to the Big Dig project, an enormous construction project, Boston is now linked to nearby Charlestown by the spectacular Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge-the world's largest cable-stayed bridge.
Museums of all sorts
Boston museums house world-class exhibits and collections. If you love art, start with the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and its superb collections of Impressionist paintings, Egyptian sculpture and artifacts, Asian art, and musical instruments. The museum has beautiful period rooms and boasts three restaurants. You might also enjoy the Harvard University Art Museums, which include the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, with its Middle and Far East art objects, and the Fogg Art Museum, with fine collections of mid-20th-century American art and work by Rembrandt. If your passion is nursing history or ethics, visit Boston College's Burns Library for its archives of relevant documents, photos, and audio and video recordings.
The Museum of Science has hundreds of interactive exhibits, including exhibits on biotechnology and "the Unseen World." The New England Aquarium on Central Wharf includes a giant ocean tank, an IMAX theater, and many other exhibits, with the Big Dig Visitors Center just adjacent on East India Row. The Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum is under renovation and is expected to reopen in spring 2006.
Going out on the town
Boston long ago shed its Puritanical flavor. Cultural treasures, culinary delights, and shopping to suit any need or whim await you. To find all these things in one convenient location, visit Faneuil Hall. Now a marketplace with shops, restaurants, and entertainment, it housed town meetings from 1764 to 1774, where early Revolutionaries met to discuss vexing issues such as taxation without representation.
For music lovers, Boston offers the Boston Symphony or the Boston Pops (both at Symphony Hall, although the Pops sometimes plays at Jordan Hall or, during the summer, in the Hatch Memorial Shell on the Charles River Esplanade). Dance aficionados won't want to miss the Boston Ballet, usually appearing at the Wang Theater. If theater tickets usually are beyond your budget, look for half-price tickets for that day's shows at BosTix outlets, in Faneuil Hall or Copley Square at Boylston and Dartmouth Streets. Or unwind at an inexpensive weeknight comedy show upstairs at Faneuil Hall, at the Comedy Connection. Harvard Square in Cambridge, a short T ride across the river from downtown Boston, offers restaurants and many bookstores.
You won't go hungry in Beantown. If you like to eat fish, don't miss Legal Sea Foods. This long-standing chain has many locations and even boasts its own microbiology lab to test its seafood. Their clam chowder has been served at presidential inaugurations since 1981. Another good seafood restaurant with a long history is known, oddly, as the No-Name Restaurant, on Boston's Fish Pier.
Maybe you'd like to try a "real" Irish pub? Check out the Littlest Bar or the Plough and Stars. (Both have music, but the Plough and Stars also serves food.) The North End is Boston's Italian neighborhood and offers fabulous restaurants. Note that many of them don't take credit cards and that you're better off taking the T rather than trying to drive to this neighborhood. Try Pomodoro (cash only) or Piccola Venezia for starters. For a great buffet brunch, enjoy the Blue Room in Cambridge's Kendall Square-delicious, eclectic food with a Southern flavor. Boston's Chinatown offers fantastic dim sum and Cantonese food.
Sport fan heaven
Boston is home to the formerly "cursed" Boston Red Sox (at Fenway Park), the Boston Bruins and the Boston Celtics (both at the TD Banknorth Garden), and the mighty New England Patriots (at Gillette Stadium in nearby Foxborough, reachable by T).
You can sail, row, windsurf, kayak, or canoe on the Charles River; check out Community Boating, Inc., or Charles River Canoe and Kayak. You can bike, run, or walk along the river. Ice skate on Boston Common's Frog Pond, open daily in season, with cheap admission and skate rental. If you love to ski, visit the Berkshires in western Massachusetts or Vermont's slopes. For an affordable way to meet people while engaging in your favorite sports, try joining an organization like the Boston Ski and Sports Club.
Out and about: Nearby treasures
If you love baseball but can't afford a Fenway ticket, go see the North Shore Spirit team (in the newly formed Canadian-American Professional Baseball League) play at Fraser Field during summer months in Lynn, just north of Boston. Get a field-box ticket-best in the house-for just $9 at this small, friendly field.
Six miles out of Boston at the Forest Hills T stop, you'll find the exquisite Arnold Arboretum, 265 acres of trees and shrubs with well-maintained paths. In Salem, about 20 minutes by T from Boston, visit the Peabody Essex Museum, which houses an astounding collection of art, architecture, and cultural artifacts from around the world. Of particular note: a relocated 200-year-old house of a Chinese merchant. Salem's houses cover the range of American architectural styles, and both Salem and nearby Essex are great places for antique shopping.
About 45 minutes north of Boston by car or commuter rail check out the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell. Or, if you're craving quiet beaches and bird-watching, tour the Harbor Islands. Take a picnic and plan on walking around these islands. Of course, there's always Cape Cod, with its exquisite beaches and charming cottages, which stretches its long, inviting arm south of the city.
For more information
If you'd like general tourist information, call the City of Boston at 1-800-SEE-BOSTON or visit its Web site at http://www.cityofboston.com/visitors/default.asp. If you're trying to research neighborhoods, visit http://www.digitalcity.com/boston/neighborhoodsboston/boston/neighborhoodsboston.
Emily Law is a freelance writer in Philadelphia, Pa.