- While Boston has all the trademarks of a brash American city like busy streets and towering skyscrapers, you don't need a week to explore it in full, 3 days in Boston is plenty. I don’t think I stand alone when I say this, but when I think America I think big: big buildings, big cars, big personalities and big movie stars. Whether it's shopping centres, cinema complexes, sports stadiums or fast food restaurants, they usually don’t get bigger than the ones you find here. Heck, this is even where the Big Mac was invented!
So before getting to Boston, I had anticipated my arrival would be in a big, brash, typically-American city where the footpaths would be like battlefields lined with Bostonians fighting one another for space, and the cars on its streets would sit bumper to bumper. Then I got there and my perception of American cities began to change. For a start, Boston is only 44 square miles in size. Secondly, the streets have a lot less people lining them than the ones in Dublin, where I live. Thirdly, its city centre is compact and if the slightest of hikes doesn’t cause you some concern, it is very easy to get around on foot. This was when I realised that getting around the capital of Massachusetts was going to be easier than I pre-empted.
The Freedom Trail
One of the best ways to acquaint yourself with the city centre while learning all about the city’s documented history at the same time is by embarking on the 3-mile walk which is known as the Freedom Trail. Beginning at the tourist information centre in Boston Common, follow the red line (Wizard of Oz-style) and it will bring you past some of the most important buildings in the New England capital’s history. These include the site of the first public school in the US, Massachusetts State Hall and Park Street Church.
There are two ways to embark on Boston’s best-known tourist attraction, both of which begin at the tourist information centre. Firstly, you can buy a small leaflet for $2 that gives you a small briefing on each landmark. Secondly, you can invest in an audio guide although this will set you back $15 and will make you look like you’re armed with a portable radio dating back to 1987. A book accompanies the audio guide for an extra $6.95, but unless you’re really set on learning everything there is to know about each stop, the leaflet is just fine.
As fascinating as the Freedom Trail is (it's Boston’s number one attraction), it isn’t the most light-hearted of affairs and won’t have either of your sides aching in a hurry. A far more light-hearted tour which covers both sides of the Charles River, as well as some of the river itself, is the Boston Duck Tour (admission $24). Lasting approximately 80 minutes, these infamous tours are operated by friendly guides who will amuse you as well as enlighten you to some of the lesser-known facts of the city. If the admission price puts you off initially, just think that you’re getting a cruise down the city’s river included in the price – it's well worth it.
The Boston Ducktours depart from the Prudential Tower, Boston’s second-highest building. 52-storeys high, the 50th floor is where the Skywalk Observatory (admission $9.50) offers 360° panoramic views of the city. The $9.50 includes an audio guide which has different insights into the history of the city.
Explore the suburbs
Boston’s different suburbs are a real treat to explore. Cambridge, which is the part of Boston across the Charles River, should be the first you discover. Home to America’s oldest college Harvard, here you will find quaint cafés, quirky shops and cool bars. Then, of course, there is the college itself to walk around. As you guide yourself around its tree-lined squares, take a minute to sit on the steps of Memorial Church and imagine what it would be like to spend your days burying your head in textbooks.
Other parts of the city just as attractive are Beacon Hill, home to recently defeated presidential candidate John Kerry. Charles Street, its primary thoroughfare, has an unusual mix of antique shops, barber shops, bars and grocery stores, while the streets branching off it are all residential and extremely peaceful. At the foot of the street are the city centre’s two main parks - Boston Common and the Public Garden.
Charles Street in Beacon Hill is also where you can find one of the best selections of restaurants and cafés in the city. Paramount is the one most worthy of your attention and has a unique method of serving its customers. Entering this establishment, you are asked to order before resting the soles of your feet for a relaxing 60 minutes. The other side of the city is Fanueil Hall. Here you will find three markets – the North Market, the South Market and the Quincy Markets. Thanks to its extensive food halls, all tastes and budgets are catered for and a meal here is an experience in its own right.
If it weren’t for Irish bars, Boston would be a very quiet place after dark. Gaelic-flavoured drinking houses show up around every second corner. Like Irish bars all over the world, you are always guaranteed to find a good atmosphere in them. The Purple Shamrock (1 Union Street) which is on the Freedom Trail is popular due to nightly entertainment and its central location. Clery’s (113 Dartmouth St.), just a block from Copley Plaza at the corner of Dartmouth and Columbus is also popular, particularly with locals.
But if it’s a wild night you’re after, Landsdowne Street right beside Fenway Park has a varied selection of bars and clubs, albeit if they only line one side of the street. The most popular of all bars on the street is Avalon (15 Lansdowne St.), a club in every sense of the word complete with a huge dancefloor, pumping house tunes and guest DJs. Nearby are Axis (13 Lansdowne St.) and Karma which are big crowd pullers also.
Boston is a city steeped in history, something that many of its counterparts are missing. John Hancock, one of the most instrumental figures in the emergence of the Declaration of Independence, studied and worked here. One John F. Kennedy referred to Boston when he talked about home. Even though it is such a historical city, it has all the trademarks of an American city with its skyscrapers and baseball parks. The good thing is that you can enjoy them all in half the time that it takes in other American cities.
Is there something about Boston you are curious about but isn't covered in this story? Email email@example.com.