Escape to: Boston
By Nathan King and the Editors of Farewell Travels
Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau
Boston is the kind of place you visit and by the time you leave, have a long list of things you want to come back for. There’s always something new in this old city and its sibling, Cambridge, plus there’s history with just about every step you take.
Here’s what you need to know.
Getting around. The first thing to do when you arrive is “pahk the caah.” That’s “park the car”-- with a Boston accent--in a lot or garage and keep it there until you leave. With the city’s many one-way streets, navigating can be challenging. The subway, known simply as “the T” is the easiest way to get around and the most rewarding way to explore most neighborhoods is on foot. And, there are always taxis.
Step back in time. A must for seeing some of the city’s oldest sites is to follow the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile-long route (marked by a red brick or painted line) that takes you to more than a dozen historic sites. It begins at the Boston Common, which used to be the Colonial town’s common pastureland, and ends in Charlestown at the Bunker Hill Monument. If you’re not ready to drop by the end, it’s worth climbing the 294 steps to take in the city views. Learn more at the Freedom Trail Foundation’s site.
Little kids love this. If you haven’t read Robert McCloskey’s book, Make Way for Ducklings to your little ones yet, be sure to before you visit Boston. It’s a story about a mallard duck couple who decides to raise its ducklings on a rocky lagoon in the middle of the busy city. You can visit the “ducks” at the Boston Public Garden.
Historic charm. One of Boston’s most distinguished neighborhoods, Beacon Hill is known for its Federal-style rowhouses (most built between 1800 and 1850), narrow gas-lit streets and brick sidewalks. Don’t miss Acorn Street (pictured here), which is the one everyone pulls out the camera for. Narrow and cobbled and lined with red brick buildings, it’s one hundred percent quaint. Also check out Chestnut Street. Numbers 13, 15 and 17 were designed by architect Charles Bulfinch. The poet Robert Lowell was born at #18. Mt. Vernon Street has a reputation for being one of the finest addresses in all of America. It has several Charles Bulfinch buildings.
Museums everywhere. Essential before going to Boston is pinpointing which museums and exhibits you want to see. Spend some time online visiting the various sites and come up with a short list. Among them: the Museum of Fine Arts which has an impressive collection of works by Claude Monet, but also always great temporary exhibitions. The nearby Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum with paintings, sculptures, furniture and textiles from mostly the Italian Renaissance and 17th Century Dutch masters. The Institute of Contemporary Art on the Waterfront showcases works of contemporary artists from around the world .
And then of course, there are the museums at Harvard where you can stuff yourselves on art, antiquities and the sciences. These include the Busch-Reisinger, the Fogg Art Museum, the Sackler, and the Harvard Museum of Natural History. You’ll also find some of the most progressive exhibits imaginable at the MIT Museum, where exhibitions are devoted to innovations in the modern world.
Buildings of note. Mention Boston to anyone who has been there and he or she will inevitably make a reference to a building such as the Prudential or the John Hancock Tower. Indeed…between Boston and Cambridge, you could easily devote your visit to looking at the architecture alone. In Back Bay, don’t miss the Boston Public Library which was designed by McKim, Mead and White in 1895 and Trinity Church, a hauntingly beautiful French-Romanesque building. On Boston’s Waterfront, the Institute of Contemporary Art is a 65,000 square foot building designed by architects Diller, Scofidio and Renfro. In Cambridge, you see historic wooden houses crammed in between red-brick Federal-style structures and over at MIT, the haphazard-looking lines of the Stata Center designed by Frank Gehry (pictured right). And that’s just to name a few.
Perfect coffee. In a city rife with coffee options, Render Coffee at 563 Columbus Avenue in the South End of Boston is a standout. They pride themselves on crafting individual cups to perfection, using the pour-over brewing technique. Hope that they’ve got some fresh banana bread coming out of the oven when you go, but there are an array of other pastries and snacks as well.
A burger must. College students and locals alike flock to Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage on Mass Avenue in Cambridge for the famous 7-ounce burgers ground fresh daily from choice beef. The specials are creatively named after politicians and noted professors, crafted with all sorts of toppings. One intriguing example: the “Skip Gates Burger,” which is marinated in teriyaki sauce and topped with grilled pineapple and onion rings. Oh…and be sure to get an order of Cajun fries.
Let’s do brunch. Every year since 2001, The Improper Bostonian has named Henrietta’s Table in Cambridge’s Charles Hotel the best brunch in Boston. We couldn’t agree more. Sunday Brunch is an all-you-can-eat buffet ($45 per person) served from 12:00 noon until 3:00 p.m. It includes a raw bar with Wellfleet Oysters and jumbo shrimp; bagels, salmon and other smoked fishes; a selection of great salads, cheeses, pates and terrines; carved meat, omelette and waffle stations and three hot entrees including a vegetarian pasta. Pictured here is Baked Portobello with brie.
Running route. You see runners all over Boston and Cambridge, but an especially popular route is around the Boston Common, which has about three miles of mostly gravel paths. Often abuzz with families, couples and college kids, the Common is where everyone goes to soak up sunshine and nature.
Rowing extravaganza. Every fall, college and club crews from around the world come here to compete in the Head of the Charles, the world’s largest annual two-day rowing event. The banks of the river become one huge open-air party as spectators cheer on crews as they muscle up the river in racing shells, trying to gain tenths of seconds on each other. This year, it’s the weekend of October 20-21. To learn more, see Cheer on the Charles.
Have a ball! No Boston article would be complete without a mention of the Green Monster. If it’s baseball season, by all means, get your tickets for Fenway Park. Information here.
Small and elegant hotel. Housed in a turn-of-the-century Beaux Arts building in Beacon Hill, XV Beacon is chic but also fabulously comfortable. There are sixty three rooms, all individually decorated with original artwork, canopy beds, and fireplaces. Pictured here is Heidi, the general manager’s dog who’s often lounging around in the lobby and on the roofdeck.
Urban romance. Big-city luxury along with five-star service, great dining options and an ideal location (on the corner of Arlington and Newbury streets within easy reach of theater district, shopping streets, historic sites and more) makes the Taj Boston a dreamy romantic getaway. It overlooks the Public Garden. Consider staying in a luxury park view suite (pictured left). They have wood-burning fireplaces (complete with a fireplace butler and a firewood menu). Nice.
Photo Credits: Charles River with rowers by David Fox for Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, Faneuil Hall and Acorn St. by USPhotoGroup.com. Others identified in copy.