Boston is a city rich in history, culture, and tourism treasures. Four seasons help shape the industry with snowy winters ideal for ice skating in Boston Common, pleasantly warm spring and summer temperatures with cooling ocean breezes, and crisp falls with vivid foliage painting the landscape. Shopping, fine dining, museums, and waterfront attractions offer a range of activities throughout the year, for all ages.
About the City
Boston is on the central coast of Massachusetts south of Salem, the town famous for its witch trials, and north of Cape Cod. Much of the city is on a peninsula shaped by Boston Inner Harbor and the Charles River. The city is a blend of cultures with Eastern European, Irish, and Italian playing a strong part in the city’s foundations.
In 1630, Puritans from England came to the area seeking religious freedom.
They were widely accepted by the Native Americans because the Puritans chose to live close to the ocean, away from the inland region where the tribes lived. By 1632, the population had bloomed because the waters surrounding the Massachusetts Bay Colony provided excellent resources for employment. Fishing, shipbuilding, and trade posts became key industries.
While the Puritans wanted freedom in a new land, England started to increase taxes and restrict trading. The Sugar Act found taxes charged on coffee, sugar, and wine. Next came the Stamp Act that taxed printed materials. Finally, the Townshend Acts taxed gas, paper, and tea. This led to rebellion. As British troops entered the area, battles like the Boston Massacre and the Battle of Bunker Hill took place. It would be 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed and that ended the battles that formed much of Boston’s more notorious history.
There are close to two dozen neighborhoods where tourists find attractions, services, and/or hotels. Most hotels in Boston are in the heart of the city where prices are higher, but tourists can save money in the neighborhoods further out and then using the subway and commuter rail system to reach the city. Despite the large number of official neighborhoods, most visitors focus on the following neighborhoods.
- Back Bay
- Beacon Hill
- Financial District
- East Boston
- Jamaica Plain
- North End
- South Boston
- South End
- West End
Boston’s airport, Logan International, is the largest airport in New England. The airport is in the East End, across the harbor from Downtown
Boston. Cheap hotels in Boston are plentiful near the airport.
Bus, subway, and commuter train are the most common methods of public transportation. It’s advisable to pick up a free subway map in advance. Commuter rail fares are deducted from a prepaid Charlie Card. Ticketing machines are found just inside the MBTA subway/train stations, and tourists can also by the cards at specific retailers in the different neighborhoods, usually newsstands, currency exchange services, or grocery stores. Senior citizens receive a discounted fare, and there are affordable weekly and monthly passes too.
For travelers who want to take a taxi to their destination, check for the “Boston Licensed Taxi” placard. This ensures the taxi company is licensed and supervised by the Boston police commissioner. Licensed taxi companies offer fair rates that are calculated by distance.
Water travel helps visitors quickly cross the harbor. Boston’s T boat system includes the Inner Harbor Ferry that goes between Long Wharf and Charlestown Navy Yard. It also includes commuter boats that travel between Hingham, Hull, Logan Airport, Long Wharf, Quincy, and Rowes Wharf. Visitors must purchase a Boat Pass online or before boarding. There are discounted fares for senior citizens and students.
Things to Do
Entertainment and Performing Arts
Many concerts take place at TD Gardens, but that’s not the only place visitors should look for entertainment. Faneuil Hall Marketplace offers many street performers, including special events like a live circus from time to time. Boston is also a stop for Broadway Across America, with Broadway shows taking place at the Boston Opera House, Citi Wang Theatre, Colonial Theater, or Shubert Theatre.
Visitors can catch free live performances at the many Boston coffeehouses. There are also concerts in many of Boston’s parks, including Boston Commons.
On Patriots’ Day, the third Monday in April, Boston hosts the Boston Marathon.
This long-running marathon started in 1897 and is managed by the Boston Athletic Association. The race begins in Hopkinton and travels through Boston’s suburbs until reaching the stopping point at Copley Square. The entire route spans 26 miles.
The Freedom Trail is one of the hottest attractions in Boston. Visitors walk the 2.5 mile trail at their own pace, though there are guided tours for those who want a running narrative of the history as they work their way along the route. Guides wear period costumes, so they’re easy to pick out. Visitors can walk the entire trail in one day or break up the different sections and stop at any or all of the historic sites.
This trail is marked with red paint and bricks and represents 16 historic sites that are vital to Boston’s history. The Freedom Trail starts in Charlestown at the site of the U.S.S. Constitution and the Bunker Hill Pavilion and then crosses the Charlestown Bridge into West End. It winds through the North End with stops at Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, Old North Church, and the Paul Revere House. Next, walkers head to the Financial District where they’ll see Faneuil Hall, the Old State House, and the site of the Boston Massacre. The trail ends at Boston Common after stops at the the Old Corner Bookstore, Old South Meeting House, King’s Chapel and Burying Ground, the Granary Burying Ground, Park Street Church, and the Massachusetts State House.
Any of the stops along the Freedom Trail are important landmarks, but there are other attractions not to be missed. Start at the New England Aquarium. This huge aquarium is adjacent to the harbor and features many aquatic animals, including a number of sea mammals that take part in a live show outside. Whale tours are also arranged by the aquarium.
Boston offers many museums for visitors. The New England Holocaust Museum pays tribute to the men, women, and children killed during the Holocaust. The U.S.S. Constitution Museum is across from the actual ship and is ideal for children who want hands-on activities like sleeping in hammocks, firing cannons, or hoisting the ship’s sails. The city is also home to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, a number of art museums, the Boston Children’s Museum, and the Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum.
Franklin Park Zoo is the largest zoo in New England. There are more than four dozen species that include giraffes, gorillas, hippos, and tigers. The Serengeti Crossing spans four acres of grasslands and hills. The acreage resembles and African Savannah with ostrich, wildebeests, and zebras
easily spotted from the viewing areas. You can view the lions at Kalahari Kingdom or feed giraffes from platforms that bring you eye to eye with the magnificent mammals. Children also have a petting zoo where they can pet donkeys, goats, ponies, and sheep.
Duck Tours are one of Boston’s most famous guided tours. Passengers ride in a “Duck” through the city streets, learning all about Boston along the way. When the Duck reaches water, the tour doesn’t stop. Instead, the bus is part boat and continues along the Charles River. Tickets are sold online, at the Children’s Museum, the aquarium, and the Prudential Center.
Boston Common’s Public Garden has a large pond with swan boat rides. These rides in a large swan-shaped boat are inexpensive and not to be missed. Swan boats are wheelchair accessible. The rides last 15 minutes. In the winter, the Public Garden is the ideal spot for ice skating.
The MLB’s Boston Red Sox play in Fenway Park. Tickets are hard to come by, especially if Boston is playing their rival team the New York Yankees, so tourists are advised to start searching for tickets in December when they first go on sale for the upcoming season. Tours of Fenway Park run throughout the year and take an hour.
The Bruins are Boston’s professional hockey team, and the Boston Celtics are the professional basketball team. They both play at the TD Garden in the West End neighborhood. In addition to hockey games, the Garden also hosts Disney on Ice performances, boxing matches, and music concerts.
Boston doesn’t officially have an NFL team. The New England Patriots do play very close by in Foxboro. Foxboro’s Gillette Stadium is just over 30 minutes south of Boston.
Faneuil Hall Marketplace offers some of the best shopping in the city. This pedestrian-only marketplace is lined with chain stores, specialty boutiques, restaurants, and street vendors. Quincy Market is a small indoor mall adjacent to Faneuil Hall. This little mall has a large food court with many options and vendors that sell gifts and Boston-themed apparel. It’s also home to one of Boston’s famous Cheers bars, a replica of the bar from the television show.
CambridgeSide Galleria is a three-story shopping mall anchored by two department stores. It has many trendy retailers and an expansive food court. The mall is off the Red Line for those who want to take the subway. There is also a parking garage that charges an hourly fee.
The Shops at Prudential Center and Copley Place are connected via an enclosed walkway. This mall offer department stores and boutiques. The main level of the Prudential Center houses a number of stores, a food court, and many restaurants. Copley Place is more upscale with big names in fashion and a number of restaurants. The outdoor space at Copley Place hosts a farmers’ market from late-spring to fall. Parking discounts are extended to anyone who gets their parking ticket validated after making a purchase in any of the stores. Heading outside to the streets in the South End, there are one-of-a-kind boutiques and art galleries.
It’s not hard to find places to eat in Boston. There are food carts, take-outs,
and sit-down restaurants throughout the city. The close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean makes seafood restaurants a very popular option. However, with the many cultures found within the city, there really is something for everyone. African, Asian, European, Mexican, Middle Eastern, and South American restaurants all set up shop in Boston.
There are a few dishes that Boston is famous for, so tourists shouldn’t overlook them. New England Clam Chowder is a great way to warm up on a chilly winter day. Boston Baked Beans date back to the Sabbath when people were not allowed to cook. The beans cook for days in clay pots. Traditionally, the beans are served with Brown Bread, a mixture of rye and graham flours and molasses that’s steamed in coffee tins rather than baked. Boston Cream Pie isn’t a pie at all, but layers of yellow cake sandwiching custard and topped with chocolate glaze.
Visitors to Boston have a wide range of hotels with standard rooms and suites. Prices in the actual downtown are higher than in the outlying areas like East Boston or Cambridge. Boston laws prohibit smoking in any hotel room. In the outlying regions, a number of hotel chains also ban smoking on their properties. Travelers who do require an area where they can smoke may need to call to confirm the hotel can meet that requirement.
In some of the neighborhoods, inns and bed and breakfast accommodations are available. These smaller establishments offer a personal touch that often includes a free breakfast. Instead of staying in a large establishment, guests have a private bedroom in a large home.
Boston also has hostels available for budget travelers. Guests share a co-ed or private dorm room within the establishment. Rates are lower because the bathrooms are shared by a number of people staying within the hostel. Most hostels offer tours by locals who simply want to show visitors the best of Boston’s culture and entertainment.