More insider guides for planning a trip to Boston
Almost 400 years of considerable history and a couple of centuries spearheading culture achievement means that Boston is packed with things to do. History really permeates everything here and you can get a primer via a walking tour or guided ride. There are first class museums, historic theatres, and even the beautiful Harbor Islands [sic] to explore. Begin at the 50-acre Boston Common, the world’s first city park, which is, along with its smaller neighbour, the Public Garden, Boston’s true heart.
Take in Boston’s panorama from a famous skyscraper
Now, this is what you call sightseeing. The Prudential Center offers sky-high panoramic views past Boston: to the Blue Hills to the South, and to Cambridge to the North and west. The 50th-floor Skywalk is New England's tallest observatory and includes The Dreams of Freedom Museum (which tells the story of immigration in the city), and the Wings Over Boston aerial video tour.
Insider tip: Alternatively, skip the Skywalk exhibits and take the super speedy lift to the very top of the Pru to use the money for drinks or towards a bite at Top of the Hub, a classy, classic American restaurant. In the evening, bands play and there’s dancing with the skyline twinkling all around.
Contact: 00 1 617 236 3100; prudentialcenter.com
Opening times: Skywalk: Daily, 10am-8pm in winter; daily, 10am-10pm (last admission 9.30pm) in summer. Top of the Hub: Mon-Sat, 11.30am–1am; Sun, 11am-1am
Nearest T stop: Prudential, Copley, or Hynes Convention Center
Trace the history of America on a walking trail
The two and a half mile Freedom Trail unites 16 of Boston’s historic places, each connected by an easy to follow painted red line. There is a strong focus on Boston’s considerable role in the American Revolution and the events leading up to it. Among the sights are the Old State House, from where the British ruled before the Revolutionary War handed it to the newly formed Americans in 1776; the Old North Church, where Paul Revere hung his lantern to warn of British troop encroachment in 1775; and the USS Constitution Museum, or Old Ironsides, which is the world's oldest commissioned warship still afloat.
Insider tip: There are several different tours you can book; choose from 18th-century costumed guides; self-guided audio tours; and themed tours, such as a historic pub crawl or the Halloween ghost tour, done after dark. But, you can easily do the walk yourself, armed with the map and Google: just follow the red line.
Contact: 00 1 617 357 8300; thefreedomtrail.org
Opening times: Times vary seasonally from three tours a day in winter, to hourly departures, 11am-4pm, in summer
Nearest T stop: Park Street
Price: Walking the trail is free; guided tours and individual attractions have fees, £
See the city by way of an amphibious vehicle
Boston Duck Tour is a fun way to get to know your way around Boston, by land and by water. During an 80-minute ride, these amphibious vehicles, modeled after World War II landing vehicles, take visitors through the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, the West End, over to East Cambridge, and into the Charles River, giving a rare waterside view of the city. Along the way, guides give a nutshell view of Boston’s history and sights.
Insider tip: Tickets give you discounts to several other attractions and restaurants – check the website for details and save money by visiting those with your Duck pass. There are three departure points: Prudential Center, Museum of Science and the New England Aquarium.
Contact: 00 1 617 267 3825; bostonducktours.com
Opening times: Seasonal – see website
Nearest T stop: Copley, Back Bay (for Prudential Center); Science Park (for Museum of Science); Aquarium (for New England Aquarium)
South Boston Waterfront
Admire modern art and the waterfront
The original Institute of Contemporary Arts Boston was in the tiny old firehouse at the top of Boylston in the Back Bay. When it moved to the waterfront in 2011 and opened in this bespoke modernist building, designed by renowned New York City architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the harbour was still an open landscape. Besides a considerable permanent collection of modern art, and visiting exhibits, there are live sets and other performances and events that take place here.
Insider tip: The ICA has an enviable waterside position and, whether for a performance, or just to sit for a while and take in the sight, the Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theater inside has a spectacular view over the Boston Harbor.
Contact: 00 1 617 478 3100; icaboston.org
Opening times: Tue-Sun, 10am–5pm; except for Thurs and the first Friday of the month, 10am-9pm
Nearest T stop: Courthouse
Price: £; free Thurs, 5pm-9pm and on certain national holidays
Go island hopping in the Boston Harbor
Nix’s Mate, Little Brewster, and Spectacle are just three of the 34 islands dotting the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. Once a part of city life and commerce, the islands are part of the largest recreational open space in Eastern Massachusetts. In summer, there are concerts and rudimentary camping on certain islands; Georges Island is home to historic Fort Warren.
Insider tip: The National Park Service Rangers offer a unique, three and half hour boat trip to Little Brewster Island for a tour of Boston Light given by the lighthouse keeper (do bear in mind it’s not wheelchair accessible or suitable for young children).
Contact: 00 1 617 227 4321; bostonharborislands.org
Opening times: Ferries and tours operate to the islands from spring through autumn
Nearest T stop: Aquarium
Relive an important historical event
Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum on Fort Point Channel honours Boston’s challenge to taxes imposed by the remote British King George III, which culminated in the dumping of the powerful East India Company’s tea cargo into the harbour on December 16, 1773. It became known as the Boston Tea Party. Ironically, the museum’s Abigail’s Tea Room is open for lunch or afternoon tea.
Insider tip: For something a little stronger, the tavern serves beer, wine and hot buttered rum. On the second and fourth Friday of every month, there are Tavern Nights, which recreate an 18th-century colonial tavern with actors taking on the roles of revolution stokers Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Dorothy Quincy.
Contact: 00 1 866 955 0667; bostonteapartyship.com
Opening times: Daily, 10am-5pm in summer; 10am-4pm in winter; tours every 30 minutes
Nearest T stop: South Station
Discover the physical evolution of Boston on foot
The Norman B. Leventhal Walk to the Sea – a free, self-guided walking tour – is a journey through the physical evolution of the City of Boston. It runs from the State House on Beacon Hill down State Street to Long Wharf and includes stops with reproductions from Boston developer Norman B. Leventhal's 200,000-strong map collection. The Boston Public Library in Copley Square houses the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center.
Insider tip: The end of the walk puts you in the harbour area near the Boston Harbor Hotel, which is the perfect spot for refreshments. There are more original Leventhal maps in the lobby lounge by Rowes Wharf Bar. Fitting: he built the hotel!
Contact: 00 1 617 450 7000; walktothesea.com
Opening times: Daily, 24 hours
Nearest T stop: Park Street
Catch a Red Sox baseball game
Watching a game at Fenway Park is simply one of the city’s greatest experiences. It’s pure Americana: You don’t have to be a baseball fan, or even a sports fan to appreciate the atmosphere at America’s oldest Major League Ballpark still in operation. It opened in 1912 as the home to the Boston Red Sox, becoming hallowed ground to the 'Fenway faithful,' or Red Sox Nation, as the fans are known.
Insider tip:Outside of season, or if you are unable to buy tickets, experience the ballpark via the daily walking tour or head to the Bleacher Bar on Lansdowne Street – on non game days, its window is open to the field.
Contact: 00 1 877 733 7699; mlb.com
Opening times: Daily, 10am-5pm tours run hourly, but may vary due to game times
Nearest T stop: Kenmore
Price: Tours, £; games, £-£££
Step inside a globe
The Christian Science Plaza is on the cusp of the Back Bay. This 14.5-acre site is the largest privately owned, yet publicly accessible space in Boston. It includes the grand plaza and its beautiful Reflecting Pool; the Mother Church, a lovely, newly renovated Romanesque gem; and the Mary Baker Eddy Library, which is named for the founder of this religion.
Insider tip: The library’s Mapparium is a beautiful, three-story, stained-glass globe built in 1935. A footbridge allows you to walk through the globe and to see the world from inside the earth. The Mapparium is the only part with an admission charge, but it’s well worth it.
Contact: 00 1 617 450 7000; marybakereddylibrary.org
Opening times: Tue-Sun, 10am-4pm
Nearest T stop: Prudential, Symphony, or Hynes Convention Center
Price: Free / £
Immerse yourself in Native American and contemporary art
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s grandest museum, collects art and artifacts from the Americas and Europe. The fascinating Arts of the Americas wing include many local Native American pieces. Contemporary programming tends to mingle the museum’s considerable collection with temporary exhibits; or it blurs established art with new 'disruptor' pieces. There is so much to see, the museum thoughtfully allows reentry on the same ticket within 10 days.
Insider tip: In the spring, Art in Bloom mixes masterpieces from across the collection with floral interpretations. Another interesting way to experience the MFA is First Fridays, which adds a cocktail party to the mix and, in the warm weather, musical performances in the courtyard.
Contact: 00 1 617 267 9300; mfa.org
Opening times: Mon-Tue, Sat-Sun, 10am–5pm; Wed-Fri, 10am-10pm
Nearest T stop: Museum of Fine Arts