Boston is unquestionably cosmopolitan, contemporary and in a state of constant renewal, but the USA’s oldest city never forgets its past, writes Mike Yardley.
Boston proudly struts its history at every turn. As a first-timer to the city, I strolled the 4km-long Freedom Trail, following in the footsteps of the nation’s Founding Fathers, in the birthplace of the American Revolution.
Boston’s historic sites
The Freedom Trail weaves past 16 of the city’s most historic sites, including Faneuil Hall Marketplace, the Paul Revere House and Old North Church. Taking in all of the trail’s attractions requires at least half a day, but you can easily plot points of interest before setting off. A true gem is the Old State House, the scene of the Boston Massacre of 1770, where British soldiers fired into a group of Bostonians. This balcony was the scene of happier times on 18 July 1776, when Colonel Thomas Crafts read out the Declaration of Independence to the public for the first time.
Four buildings – Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, North Market and South Market – constitute Faneuil Hall Marketplace, with the oldest being Faneuil Hall. Built in 1742, Samuel Adams once stood here to push for resistance against the British. In fact, this is where colonists famously challenged the Stamp Act of 1764 by proclaiming, “no taxation without representation.” From those illustrious days, the marketplace has expanded to include more than 100 shops and restaurants. Yes, it’s a bit of a tourist trap, but also a great pit-stop to load up on lobster rolls and clam chowder. The start/finish point of the trail is gorgeous Boston Common, which was originally a cow paddock in the mid-1600s. Directly across the road, the golden-domed Massachusetts State House gilds proceedings. The land it sits on was originally used as John Hancock’s cow pasture. Completed in 1798, a copper dome was installed by Paul Revere shortly afterwards, before being covered in gold.
A short walk from here brings you to Beacon Hill, Boston’s most revered neighbourhood, where you’ll want to linger and immerse yourself in its characterful beauty. It’s an insta-hit, awash with quaint, cobblestone-lined alleyways, corners dotted with gas street lamps, stately townhouses affixed with bay view windows and blazing displays of flower-filled window boxes. It’s Beacon Hill’s incredible style, a stunning mix of Federal and Greek revival architecture, that make this neighbourhood a stellar experience. It charmed my pants off – well, figuratively.
Boston’s little Italy
You’ll definitely want to take a stroll through North End, Boston’s Little Italy. While Italians weren’t the first to settle in this area, their cultural influence on the North End has withstood the test of time. Today, you’ll find all kinds of Italian food from classic pizza pies served at the popular Regina Pizzeria to Sicilian-style seafood, such as black linguine and calamari meatballs at The Daily Catch. And be sure to pick up a cannoli at Mike’s Pastry. The North End is also home to Neptune Oyster, a brasserie-style raw bar with a red hot reputation for its perfectly shucked oysters and lobster rolls. Neptune’s Johnnycake, a cornmeal pancake with smoked bluefish, honey butter and a dollop of sturgeon caviar is pure decadence.
Charlestown Navy Yard
From there, I ventured to the waterfront and the Charlestown Navy Yard. Don’t miss the chance to board the USS Constitution. This historic vessel is the world’s oldest commissioned warship still operational today. Fondly nicknamed Old Ironsides, she is helmed by United States Navy sailors, who also serve as the ship’s guides. The ship’s accompanying museums displays nearly 2,000 artifacts related to the ship’s history. Launched in 1797, this triple-masted wooden-hulled heavy frigate has notched up numerous victories. Crisscrossing the globe, this three-masted frigate participated in the Barbary War off the coast of North Africa and sailed the Caribbean in search of pirates. She earned her nickname, Old Ironsides, during the War of 1812 against Britain, when enemy cannonballs bounced off her resilient wooden hull. She still sails once a year on Independence Day, to retain her naval rating.
Huff and puff your way up to the Bunker Hill Monument. The first major battle of the American Revolution took place here in June 1775. The British won this opening battle but fared worse than their American foes, with nearly 1200 British troops losing their lives. Construction of the monument was completed in 1842, a 221-foot granite obelisk offering fabulous views from its observatory. You’ll have to work for it – climbing 294 steps to the top.
Boston Harbour Cruise
At the Boston Harbor Cruise, where I gleaned so many remarkable insights about Boston’s make-up and sense of place. The cruise departs from history-rich Long Wharf, where the British arrived and departed from, after founding the city in 1630. I also learnt that 75% of the city sits atop man-made land, and Boston’s wastewater plant produces fertiliser which is used on the orange groves of Florida. My perky skipper also drew our attention to the clock tower on Customs House, better known as the “four-faced liar.” The winds are so strong at times, it wildly moves the clocks hands, rendering its reliability as a timepiece as useless. Captivating experiences like the Harbor Cruise and visiting New England Aquarium are best purchased with a Boston CityPASS, the bumper budget-saving pass that encompasses a range of Boston’s best paid attractions, with steeply discounted admission prices, via CityPASS. Buy a CityPASS and you’ve got the keys to the city. www.citypass.com
New England Aquarium
At Central Wharf, the wonderful New England Aquarium is a must, particularly if you have kids in tow. Inside, you’ll find thousands of marine critters to study, and at the centrepiece: the Giant Ocean Tank. This four-story tank includes a coral reef habitat that houses more than 1,000 underwater creatures including green sea turtles, eels and barracuda. In other parts of the aquarium, you’ll find exhibits dedicated to penguins, sea jellies and sea dragons, plus a six-storey high projection movie screen with digital surround sound. The penguin feeding session is hilarious fun as the African penguins frenetically frolic about the rocks. Be sure to give Myrtle the turtle a wave, a gracious 90 year old green sea turtle in the Giant Ocean Tank.
Boston Harbour’s sublime 60 foot archway, dressed with a ginormous American flag, heralds quite the welcome to Boston Harbor Hotel. Perfectly poised on the harbourfront, with a celebratory maritime theme, this divine property and its wonderfully convivial staff is destined to deliver you a memorable stay. The hotel capitalises on its privileged vantage point on historic Rowes Wharf, with sweeping views across the harbour, whether you’re enjoying the on-site dining at Rowes Wharf Sea Grille or indulging in the restful comforts of your guestroom. All of the hotel’s 232 rooms and suites are elegantly designed and decorated, with lush fabrics, Frette linens, rich woods, discerning coastal colour tones and dreamy views. Contemporary comforts run the gamut from Smart TVs and complimentary wi-fi to in-room tablets, Diptyque bathroom amenities and rainfall showers. Rest your head in this sparkling hotel for an irresistible taste of Boston. www.bostonharborhotel.com