Julianne Gauron has the lowdown on the old and new highlights of historic Bean Town.
Boston is one of the oldest cities in America, rich in colonial and maritime history, with architecture spanning many centuries. Less widely known are the modernisation, growth, and food scene that have emerged in the past decade. In the summer, the city reverberates with festivals, live music, free outdoor activities, farmers' markets and endless ways to enjoy local culture. There has never been a better time to visit.
Because of its density of sites and experiences, Boston is great for walking — tackle it by section, bring comfortable footwear and use Uber and the subways to break up the journey. The Boston Harbor Walk is a recent addition that allows you to follow the water's edge from Charlestown, to Downtown, the Seaport to North End's Italian haunts. If you get ambitious you can walk south to the Fort at Castle Island in Southie and take a swim at Pleasure Bay, or M Street Beach, like the locals do.
Be sure to stop off for coffees or beers along the way.
It's the smell of the apple-cider donuts that grab your attention when you walk into the Boston Public Market in downtown. This place is a recent addition to the city — what Faneuil Hall must once have been — showcasing the best artisanal foods of New England: honey, cheeses, beers, chocolates, fruit, fish, and those donuts. Show up hungry and plan to take gifts home with you. Vendors are knowledgeable and can give you a mini-culinary tour of New England, its farm and food culture. A new spin on old delights.
Another revamped experience in Boston is the beautiful Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park, a perfect summer activity. Ferries take you from the dock near New England Aquarium and the New England Greenway out to the various islands and forts. Although this has always been a part of the city, in the past decade the Parks have created engaging events for adults and children and better access. Today, you can rent a yurt on some of the islands and stay overnight (book well in advance for weekends, and check out REI Stores for gear rentals — rei.com).
The historic-registered high-end Ames Hotel, with its revamped interior is in the heart of the city. If you are aiming to really dig into the history and heritage of Boston (sans car) this is a great locale.
The Boston Institute of Contemporary Art's Seaport building was one of the sparks in the recent redevelopment of the city. The site, once a wasteland of parking lots and dive bars, seemingly grew up overnight. Check out Lucky's which still remains. In 2018, the ICA Watershed opened in East Boston, which can be reached by a ferry ride across the harbour, included in your museum ticket. The trip is worth it for the views back across the Boston skyline alone. While in Eastie you can sneak into the Downeast Cidery and drink some of their free samples. And the Seaport ICA has wonderful live music events on their expansive deck on summer evenings.
If you are feeling hungry, you have great options. Flour is a famous bakery group founded by Joanne Chang, with pastries to die for. Drink is a high-end speakeasy where one-off beverages are created for the customer and of course there's Lucky's Lounge, the area's original dive bar.
Though there are many great food trucks here, for a serious meal head to local favourite Sportello, Blue Dragon, Row 34, the Coppersmith or new addition Chickadee. Be warned, Boston's food scene is pretty fierce, so booking on the Open Table app is advised.
Newbury St, Boston's famed Back Bay shopping street full of designer names, is over-rated. Instead head away from the Garden to find interesting local stores. Ministry of Supply is a successful tech-driven apparel brand — you can 3D print your own garment in the store — and Johnny's Cupcakes is a stellar graphic design experience. Frye boots is a fashionable local brand with its origins in the Civil War, Muji's is a classic everything store and Reformation is a sustainable Californian brand fighting fast fashion.
Boston Museum of Fine Arts is the fifth largest museum in the United States. Grab a coffee in the recently added atrium beside the Chihuly sculpture and check out the photography and fashion exhibits. Summer 2019 includes Gender Bending Fashion and Georgie Friedman: Fragments of Antarctica. If you're in town during MFA Late Nites, get a ticket and join in the all-night revelry in the museum. Expect the unexpected, from DJs, to artmaking and intriguing food.
Or head to Third Thursdays at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum just next door. The museum lights up with live music from local musicians, thought leaders and artists in residence, just as it did when the extraordinary building was home to its namesake, one of Boston's leading ladies.
Be sure to head down Clearwater Street to local secret, the Bodega. Even if you aren't in the market for edgy street fashion, the experience of walking into an unremarkable quickie mart and then emerging in a high-end boutique behind the shelves is worth the stop, even if only to be able to say: "Yeah, I know where the Bodega is."
Shakespeare on the Common is a feature of the Boston summer, and like many of the best activities it's free. Bring a picnic dinner and a blanket from your hotel (beverages incognito as New England is old-school on liquor laws), and relax into a gorgeous evening under the stars.
For summer 2019, the troupe will perform Cymbeline, a tragedy which is also purported to be a romance bordering on comedy.
There's free yoga all over the city, including Copley Plaza and the Frog Pond on Boston Common, where you will be surrounded by Beacon Hills residents walking their dogs, just as their ancient forebears exercised their right to graze their sheep on the shared common land in the early colonies.
Walk along the Charles River, once renowned for its dangerously unsafe water quality, now classified so highly that the Charles River Conservancy has a Charles River Swim.
The band the Standells made it a point of acclaim with their song Dirty Water — "I love that dirty water, Oh Boston you're my Home", a beloved classic which echoes around Fenway Park Stadium's hallowed green stands as fans sing along.
A game at Fenway watching the Red Sox, hot dog in hand as twilight drops is a summer necessity in Boston; the worse your seats the better a fan you are.
Near Fenway Park, newly added The Verb Hotel has a funky vibe and an outdoor swimming pool which is a relative rarity in Boston.
Check out the free evening music from Boston Landmarks Orchestra's Concerts at the Hatch Shell, alongside the Charles River Esplanade.
Out of Town
Guests love a visit to the World's End conservation area south of the city in Hingham. The two drumlins landscaped by Frederick Law Olmstead sit in Boston harbour and as much of the world as I travel, this remains one of the most beautiful places I have seen. It's stunning in all seasons.
To the south, Cape Cod is a famed beach destination. Skip it and head to the vibrant, fabulous artists' enclave at the end of the cape, Provincetown (PTown). You can take the Ferry from Boston, and potentially get your whale watching fix in as you cross Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.
Although people say Bostonians are crazy drivers, we believe we are assertive and tactical, but either way the road network here was laid out by cows.
Save yourself the trouble and use Uber, the subway, trains and ferries as much as possible.
In summer, there are loads of bike-sharing options and the Minuteman Bikepath will take you out of vibrant Davis Square in Somerville through historic Lexington and Bedford and makes a great ride with lots of coffee and ice cream stops along the way.
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