The Boston Guide
There are two Bostons.
The first is the one of infamous grit. This Boston is a maze of dark alleys and winding streets, a small town of locals proud of their history and their neighborhoods. (Play the Standells’ “Dirty Water” and any Bostonian—young or old—will sing along.) Natives share a storied past, which has translated into some of the best culinary institutions in the city, not to mention a strong-as-oak loyalty to the Red Sox (and the Celtics, the Bruins, and the Patriots).
Then there’s the Boston of young blood: home to Harvard, MIT, a dozen world-class universities, and hundreds of thousands of students who live here three quarters of the year. The gentrifying neighborhoods of Somerville, Jamaica Plain, and the South End are where those same students land once they graduate, where they build their careers, where they settle and raise their families. This is the Boston of a rich intellectual history, of growing opportunities, of incredible shops and mixology bars, of neighborhoods full to bursting with energy.
Boston is as much a home to the blue-collar worker as it is to the tenured professor, to the artist as it is to the banker, to the athlete as it is to the gamer. It’s where decades-old Irish pubs and landmark seafood joints share sidewalk space with upscale restaurants and modern boutiques. It’s a first-class global metropolis cleverly disguised an old New England town.
Walk the Freedom TrailBoston Common | 617.357.8300
In 1951, the citizens of Boston preserved and dedicated the historic Freedom Trail, a two-and-a-half-mile walk through the city that passes sixteen historically significant sites, starting with Boston Common and ending with the USS Constitution. While the Freedom Trail Foundation offers tours—led by guides in colonial outfits, no less—it’s actually more fun to grab a map and do a self-guided version, as the red line marking the trail’s path throughout the city makes it all but impossible to get lost. Just make sure you don’t miss the Old State House (where the Declaration of Independence was first read to the people of Boston in 1776), Paul Revere’s House, and Old North Church (where Robert Newman famously hung two lanterns in the belfry, alerting Revere that the British were coming over the Charles River).
Harvard UniversityCambridge | 617.495.1000
Harvard’s quintessentially New England campus is a pretty ideal place for strolling, particularly if you have a high schooler in need of a bit of motivation. While there, check out the collection at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, which is housed in a quaint old building, and the Harvard Museum of Natural History, which is famous for its gorgeous glass flower replicas: Both are open to the public. When you’ve had your fill of the campus, tool around in Harvard Square—restaurants, shopping, street performers galore—and then take a walk along the Charles River, where you’ll find the boathouses for the sailing and rowing teams of all the local universities.
Boston CommonBoston Common
Boston’s largest park occupies land that was once a community cow pasture right in the middle of town. It’s a great jumping-off point for exploring Beacon Hill or Newbury Street (not to mention that it’s the starting point for the Freedom Trail), but the park itself also justifies its own trip. Take littles to check out the Make Way for Ducklings statue—based on Robert McCloskey’s famous children’s book—or for a ride on the unabashedly fun swan boats, which occupy the small lake in Boston Public Garden. In the winter, the frog pond on the northern edge of the Common hosts ice-skating. A visit to the original Cheers is also a cheesy but worthwhile outing for nostalgic grown-ups.
USS Constitution MuseumCharlestown Navy Yard, Building 22, Charlestown | 617.426.1812
The USS Constitution was commissioned and named by George Washington back in 1797; at the time, it was a capital ship (aka one of the navy’s most important warships). The Constitution gained her nickname, Old Ironsides, during the War of 1812, when the ship defeated more than five British warships. After that victory, she became a darling of the public, who fought hard to save her from scrapping and devoted a museum to her history. Today, the ship, which is technically still fully commissioned by the navy, is actually being restored in dry docks, which are open to the public. When it’s not being restored, its permanent home is at Pier 1 at Charlestown Navy Yard, where it can be boarded and explored by visitors to the museum. If you must see ships in the water before Old Ironsides’ makeover is finished, check out the Boston Tea Party Museum’s ingenious replicas at the seaport.
Fenway Park4 Yawkey Way, Fenway | 877.733.7699
There is nothing more Boston than walking down Yawkey Way on game day. Even if you’re not a baseball fanatic, Fenway can make you feel like one for a few hours. The stadium, which was originally built in 1912 and then reconstructed in 1934, is arguably the most historic in the MLB. Bonus points if you see a home run over the Green Monster while you’re there. If nothing is on the schedule while you’re in town, keep in mind that they still offer tours on non-game days, where you can go up in the Green Monster and peek into the locker rooms.
Minute Man National Historic Park174 Liberty St., Concord | 978.369.6993
Every year on Patriots' Day (which is a statewide holiday in Massachusetts), the Lexington Minute Men stage a major reenactment of the Battle of Lexington on the Lexington green. Waking up early to fully experience the drama is something of a rite of passage for kids growing up in Boston. Whether or not you’re there for Patriots' Day, Minute Man National Historic Park has a lot to offer—visitors can take tours of historic homes lining the fields, kids can try on historic clothing, and the historic Wayside, which was home to authors like Louisa May Alcott, is open for exploring. Be sure to visit Buckman Tavern, where you can see the tavern’s original door and the musket bullet that’s still lodged in it.
Museum of Science1 Science Park, West End | 617.723.2500
You’ll find the city’s epic science museum located on the stretch of Boston that connects Cambridge to the West End. Permanent, family-friendly exhibits include a tropical world butterfly garden; a hands-on discovery center (complete with an engineering-focused experiment station); a park simulation setup that lets kids move while teaching them about motion, mechanics, and math; and an Apollo module that you can climb inside—and then watch the first moon landing from the cockpit seats.
About 30 miles outside of Boston, the riverside town of Essex is a great, definitively New England mini trip, especially in the summer. It’s right near Rockport and Gloucester, complete with a beautiful shoreline and beach and a cool maritime history. If you go to Essex, you have to eat at the famous Woodman’s—clambakes, lobster rolls, clam chowder, corn on the cob, etc.
ICA Boston25 Harbor Shore Drive, South Boston
Originally an incubator for MoMA, the establishment officially became the Institute of Contemporary Art in 1948. It’s dedicated to identifying new artists and showing contemporary works in all mediums—including performance, film, and literature. What’s little known yet fascinating about the ICA is that the museum has introduced many of the most influential twentieth century artists, like Georges Braque and Edvard Munch, to US audiences. Aside from the stellar permanent collection, what keeps locals coming back is provocative exhibits in line with the cultural and political landscape. Currently on show are Caitlin Keogh’s investigation into gender and representation through large-scale paintings and Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu’s A Promise to Communicate, an installation of the grey rescue blankets used in humanitarian relief efforts around the world.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum25 Evans Way, Fenway | 617.566.1401
The Gardner museum offers art with a side of scandal. In 1990, thirteen works, including a rare Vermeer and Rembrandts valued at $500 million, were stolen by thieves posing as police. They’ve never been recovered, and the empty frames still hang in their original spots in memory of the lost works. Heist aside, this is probably the most beautiful museum in New England. Modeled on the Venetian palazzi adored by nineteenth-century socialite and philanthropist Isabella Gardner, it’s an immersive experience, with pencils and sheaves of paper nestled into corners and stacked on surfaces to encourage sketching. Although she was a Boston resident, Gardner spent most of her time exploring Europe and the Far East with her husband, accruing a collection of paintings, books, sculptures, and textiles—nearly 16,000 items in all. Sketches by Manet, Michelangelo, and John Singer Sargent, gothic tapestries, paintings by Velázquez and Titian, as well as an extensive furniture and rare books collection fill the galleries. Wander through the rooms of the palazzo and wind up in the courtyard, a cloistered space filled with sculptures, trees, tiles, and a proper Roman-style pond, all of which adds up to the most serene spot in Boston no matter the season.