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Walking around Boston
Strolling through historic neighborhoods, shopping areas, and scenic spots
The capital of Massachusetts is a walking city. Its compact layout along the Charles River and Boston Harbor means that its diverse neighborhoods are easily navigated by foot, and visitors are never too far away from scenic water views.
Boston‘s public transportation network is robust, so if you want to cover a couple of different sections of the city in a limited amount of time, it’s easy to hop on “The T” to get from one area to another (say from exploring the pastry shops and Italian eateries in the North End to strolling around the waterfront Seaport District in the south). If you fly into Boston, you definitely don’t need a rental car to maneuver around the city.
I recommend a centrally located downtown hotel to maximize sightseeing time. On my most recent visit, I overnighted at the Revere Hotel Boston Common on the edge of the Theater District and just a couple blocks away from two of the prime green (and historic) oases in the city: Boston Common and the Public Garden.
Rooms at the Revere are decidedly sleek and sophisticated, with oval desks, checkered black-and-white chairs, and modern light fixtures. The place to see and be seen is the Rooftop at Revere, a seasonal outdoor lounge open to the public; cushioned chaise lounge chairs and private cabanas invite relaxation while dining on anything from hummus dip to quintessential New England lobster rolls.
As winter snow melts and trees begin to bud, spring and early summer is an ideal time to get to know Boston’s incredibly rich heritage and scenic coastal location. Sidewalk cafes, street entertainment, plenty of park benches, and outdoor historic sites also beckon in the summer months. Here are three of my favorite spots for strolling in Boston.
The Freedom Trail
This 2.5-mile Freedom Trail links 16 key significant sights in American Revolutionary history, including the gold-domed Massachusetts State House (pictured at top of page); Boston Latin School, the country’s oldest public school (which five signers of the Declaration of Independence attended); the Old South Meeting House, where the Tea Party uprising began; and the Old North Church, where patriots hung lanterns to signify that British troops were advancing across the Charles River in April 1775. Anyone with any interest at all in U.S. history should take time to walk at least part of the urban walking trail, marked with red bricks or a red painted line through the city.
TIcketed walking tours led by costumed guides begin at Boston Common, which was established in 1634 and holds the distinction of being America’s oldest public park. These 90-minute tours cover 11 of the 16 official sites, and include commentary about some of the important colonists who led the fight to overthrow Britain’s rule. Though I’m certain some review of American history would have aided in my appreciation of the centuries-old sites, my husband and I preferred walking the trail at our own pace, taking time to examine the crumbly gravestones at Granary Burying Ground and paying to enter the fascinating museum at the Old State House, whose artifacts include a red velvet suit John Hancock allegedly wore when he was sworn in as governor of Massachusetts.
The Freedom Trail passes through the North End, where we took our time devouring meatball subs at Dino’s corner sandwich shop. We crossed the Charlestown Bridge to step aboard the U.S.S. Constitution, which was first launched in 1797 and today is the oldest commissioned warship still afloat. Steps away is the U.S.S. Constitution Museum, with some interactive exhibits that portray what daily life was like for the sailors during the War of 1812. Kids, especially, enjoy visiting the museum and trying on sailor’s uniforms, swinging in their sleeping hammocks, and learning how to tie sailing knots.
Viewfinder Tip: Be prepared to wait in line at Mike’s Pastry in Boston’s Little Italy. The traditional cannoli and other Italian treats are legendary here.
We ended our Freedom Trail walk at red-brick Faneuil Hall, where colonists protested Britain’s oppressive taxes brought on by the Sugar and Stamp acts. Today Faneuil Hall Marketplace and Quincy Market Colonnade are home to dozens of sit-down restaurants, bars, shops, and New England’s biggest food hall, which is a great spot to sample some clam chowder (“chowda”). Street performers here are excellent, and performances range from feats of acrobatic strength to amazing magic and music of all genres. When you see performers beginning to set up, stick around for a good view up-front, as crowds undoubtedly will flock to the scene.
The Charles River Esplanade
This public green space stretches for three miles along the Charles River from the Boston Museum of Science to the Boston University Bridge. The Charles River Esplanade is where the Boston Symphony Orchestra (the “Boston Pops”) plays in the famed Hatch Shell every Independence Day, accompanied by the best fireworks display I’ve ever seen.
Joggers and strollers on the Charles River Esplanade
The Esplanade is open year-round, but it shines in the warm-weather months, when views across the river to Cambridge often include small white sailboats and long racing shells filled with university students practicing crew. Towering weeping willows shade flat, paved recreation paths that are often packed with cyclists, joggers, leisurely walkers, and families pushing strollers. In the summer, fitness classes, such as Zumba, yoga and tai chi, are held at the Hatch Shell or surrounding fields, and three playgrounds allow children to get exercise while climbing, swinging, and sliding. While barbecuing is outlawed in the park, there are plenty of grassy spots to lay out a blanket for a picnic. Also, catch-and-release fishing in the Charles is allowed from park banks.
Even though the Back Bay’s Esplanade is bordered by the noisy thoroughfare, Storrow Drive, its ponds, curved bridgesm and greenery create both a scenic and calming respite from the hustle and bustle of the concrete city.
Shopping on Newbury Street
I’m not a big shopper, but I do enjoy people watching, and Newbury Street’s eight blocks are a Mecca for both. Salons, fine-dining restaurants, casual cafes, and many upscale stores line Newbury Street, which stretches from the Public Garden, America’s first public botanical garden, to busy Massachusetts Avenue.
I recommend beginning your Newbury stroll in the Public Garden, where taking a leisurely Swan Boat ride is a nod to Boston’s charming past (the same family has been operating Swan Boats on the Public Garden lagoon since 1877). Steps away from the launching dock is the Make Way for Duckling sculpture appealing to anyone familiar with Robert McCloskey’s classic children’s book about the duck family that takes up residence in the Public Garden.
Broad sidewalks and historic brownstones line either side of Newbury Street; chic boutiques and upscale hair salons are found in buildings that date back to the 19th century. Current high-end tenants include Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, DKNY, Kate Spade, Brooks Brothers, and Valentino. The closer you get to Mass. Ave, and the Berklee College of Music, the more affordable the stores are (i.e. Converse and Forever 21). Parallel Boylston Street also is known for shopping options, featuring more downmarket store brands. And if you need a coffee or sweet-treat pick-me-up after all of your walking, New Englanders’ beloved Dunkin’ Donuts is on the corner of Boylston and Exeter.
In which cities do you love to walk?
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