Boston, Massachusetts Travel Guide
- Compact and eminently walkable
- Rich in history; American Revolution landmarks and other historic sites dating back to our country's founding, including Faneuil Hall, the Paul Revere House, the Old North Church, and other stops on the Freedom Trail
- Rich in culture; an impressive breadth of museums and cultural institutions; a diverse music scene; and still more going on across the river at Harvard and at other local colleges and universities
- Lovely public parks, including the Boston Common, Public Garden, and the rest of the Emerald Necklace (an 1,100-acre chain of parks in Boston and Brookline)
- Stately and quaint colonial architecture like Quincy Market's cobblestone streets and Beacon Hill's red-brick rowhouses and gas lanterns
- Loads of fun activities for families, including the swan boats in the Public Garden Lagoon in the summer, ice-skating on Frog Pond in the winter, the Freedom Trail, and ferry boat trips to the Boston Harbor Islands
- A major sports town -- home of the Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, Patriots; annual Boston Marathon and Head of the Charles Regatta
- Major airport within five or six miles of many popular tourist areas
- Easy-to-use, clean subway system
- Low crime rate
- Fresh New England seafood: clam chowder, lobster rolls, and raw bars
- Unpredictable New England weather that can fluctuate by the minute; long, cold winters and hot, humid summers
- One of the highest costs of living in the country
- Early-to-bed nightlife: Subway system shuts down at 12:30 a.m.; bars close at 2 a.m.
- Bars around the colleges get crowded with loud collegiate and post-collegiate partiers.
- Hotels fill up early during college graduation.
- Constant, huge crowds of business travelers around the convention centers
- Expensive hotel parking (usually $38 to $42)
- Pricey cabs ($2.60 for first 1/7th of a mile)
- Back Bay: A commercial area famous for its luxury Newbury Street shops and picturesque Copley Square
- Cambridge: Just across the Charles River; home of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Downtown and the Waterfront: The commercial and governmental center of Boston, with historic Freedom Trail sites like Faneuil Hall, ferries to the Harbor Islands, and the scenic Harbor Walk
- The North End and Beacon Hill: The former is an traditionally Italian area rich with restaurants and cafes; the latter, a wealthy residential neighborhood of quaint red-brick rowhouses and cobblestone streets.
What It's Like
Some associate Boston largely with crooked old cobblestone streets, the American Revolution, and New England clam chowder. And it's got all that. But it's also filled with sprawling convention centers, progressive universities, and biotech research facilities. A forward-looking town with an eye on the past, Boston combines the charm of a New England harbor town with the conveniences and mindset of a bustling, modern metropolis.
And it does all this in a surprisingly compact space. Central Boston is really just a cluster of neighborhoods crammed into a single small peninsula, bound by the Charles River to the north and west and Boston Harbor to the east. It's very walkable. The old blue-blood mansions of Beacon Hill are just a few blocks from the start of the Freedom Trail, the 2.5-mile path through the city dotted with historical landmarks of the Revolutionary era. From Back Bay's Newbury Street, you can walk to Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, in about 20 minutes. Thanks to the Big Dig, it's become even easier to get around Boston. The $15 billion public works project removed an old congested raised highway and converted industrial wasteland into greenways and public parks. In place of the highway, the pretty Rose Kennedy Greenway now welcomes tourists to the old Italian neighborhood, the North End, with its tempting restaurants and Italian cafes. Logan International Airport is now only a short ride from most major tourist spots.
Along with remarkable convenience, the city offers pockets of calming natural serenity. The picturesque Charles River snakes its way around the peninsula of downtown Boston, dividing it from Cambridge. The Emerald Necklace, 1,100 acres of linked parks, winds its way through the entire city, breaking up the rowhouses and skyscrapers with patches of green. Although winters can be brutal, falls are mild and the perfect time to view Boston. Trees turn shades of red and orange all along the banks of the Charles. Crew teams row gracefully along the river, framed by rows of brick-red houses in the distance. At its best moments, modern Boston becomes the idyllic portrait of New England beauty.
There's only one rule to remember when planning a visit to Boston. Do your best to avoid graduation season. With 50 schools within 50 miles, this college-heavy city hosts more than 60 commencement ceremonies between the months of May and June. Hotels book up as much as year in advance.
Where To Stay
Boston offers an impressive variety of hotels. The Boston Common and the Public Garden sit in the center of the city, surrounded by the neighborhoods of Back Bay, Beacon Hill, The North End, and Downtown and the Waterfront. Hotels that directly overlook these parks -- like the Four Seasons and the Taj in Back Bay -- are hot commodities.
With its central location, luxury boutique shops, and excellent restaurants, Back Bay is a popular draw for tourists. The upscale, commercial area features a mix of romantic old Copley Square hotels (Fairmont, Lenox) and sprawling business-friendly chains attached to the Hynes Convention Center (Westin, Sheraton). The wealthy neighborhood of Beacon Hill offers a postcard-perfect image of romantic old Boston, from its quaint brick rowhouses to its gas lanterns. In the past 10 years, it's become home to a new crop of luxurious modern lodgings (Liberty Hotel, XV Beacon).
History buffs should book a hotel in Boston's Downtown and Waterfront area, where they'll be within walking distance of Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, and other key stops along the Freedom Trail. While most of the prime waterfront spots are taken up by condos and luxury hotels, you can still enjoy scenic views along the new Harbor Walk. The old Italian neighborhood, the North End, offers some of the city's cheapest lodging, and is a diner's paradise of delis, cafes, bakeries, and some of the city's best restaurants.