A lively, cosmopolitan and historic city, Boston is a great contrast to New York, being close enough to combine the two cities in a weeklong trip
There is a lot to recommend in Boston. It is one of the most attractive major cities in the United States, having had a major roadworks programme that has moved the city centre arterial roads underground. It was the birthplace of an independent America, has a grand setting at the mouth of the Charles and Mystic Rivers and some of the country's leading educational institutions.
Modern Boston is a major medical and financial centre, both of which bring money and influence to the city’s institutions, but not to the point where they overwhelm the historic nature of the city’s fabric with rampant commercial vulgarity. Yes, there are a few big office buildings, but even the much criticised City Hall has a certain charm, if you like upside down ziggurats.
A useful way of orientating yourself and finding the more picturesque sights is to take a trolley bus tour. These are modern replicas rather than vintage vehicles, which means you can get comfortable even on one of the longer tours.
Old Town Trolley Tours (http://www.trolleytours.com/boston/) operate two routes which reach many of the main attractions, such as Massachusetts State House, Fenway Park (home of the Boston Red Sox), Old South Meeting House, Faneuil Hall Marketplace, the USS Constitution, the Boston Tea Party Ship, the Christian Science Plaza, Beacon Hill, the Institute of Contemporary Art and upmarket shopping along Newbury Street.
The Old Town Trolley Tours website offers a useful saving on their fairly expensive ticket prices, (the standard adult price is $36, this is reduced to $32.40 when booked online - note that although the tickets are supposed to be for a single day, they usually throw in a second day's use for free).
Thankfully, there are also plenty of things you do can for free in the city, the Boston Globe website has a useful list of 25 suggestions at www.boston.com/travel/explorene/massachusetts/towns/boston/galleries/25freethingstodoinBoston/.
Boston is surprisingly pedestrian friendly. Putting the main arterial roads underground may have been a mightily expensive project but it has paid dividends in making the city centre very easy to walk around. The city also has a efficient underground train system, know locally as the ‘T’.
The T is particularly useful to reach the adjoining city of Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University, which are all on the north bank of the Charles River. Harvard University has an attractive campus, much of which is accessible to visitors and well worth a walk around.
Another ‘free place’ worth a look is the Harvard Book Store on Massachusetts Avenue, five minutes' walk from Harvard Square T station. It might be free to get in but you’ll probably find something in the stock too intriguing to leave empty handed.
Where to stay
Boston is a big city and has accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets, including the US version of bed & breakfast in elegant townhouses. It also has two hotels which occupy buildings with unlikely former uses.
The Back Bay Hotel (originally opened as Jurys Hotel) is in the former Police Headquarters building on the junction of Stuart Street and Berkeley Street. The hotel has very comfortable, generously sized, rooms in a central location that is within walking distance of many of the sights and also close to the Back Bay railway station. Typical room rates at the Back Bay Hotel range from $375 to $1,265 a night, depending on the choice of room.
Alternatively, on the other side of the coin of justice, there is the magnificent The Liberty Hotel in Beacon Hill, which was the former Charles Street Jail. The older part of the building offers former cells as rooms but there is nothing penal about the accommodation or service.
The entrance lobby of the Liberty Hotel is a spectacular four storey space surrounded by the original walkways. The lobby bar is a popular and noisy meeting place in the evenings, particularly at weekends, so book a room in the modern tower which was added as part of the conversion if you want some space between you and the party! Typical room rates here vary between $450 and $1,100 a night, again depending on the choice of room.
You won't go hungry in this town
Dining out in Boston is a serious threat to your waistline. The local speciality is lobster and the Back Bay Hotel has a video on their TV system which helpfully suggests how to eat it without looking like a tourist.
For reliable quality and excellent service, head to one of Legal Seafoods’ many restaurants, (for locations see the listing at http://www.legalseafoods.com/index.cfm/page/Locations/pid/11279). The Legal Seafoods restaurant in Park Square is one of the most attractive and their New England Lobster Bake will tickle the taste buds with the tastiest clam chowder anywhere. This is followed by mussels, steamers and an expertly prepared lobster.
The price of the New England Lobster Bake is dermined by the lobster's weight, allow around $30 per person, excluding drinks. They also have an excellent wine list and impressive cellar at the Park Square branch, with a Californian Chardonnay that suits the seafood very well.
Not far away, in the intriguing castle like 19th century headquarters of the First Corps of Cadets on Arlington Street, you can enjoy the delights of Smith & Wollensky, (http://www.smithandwollensky.com/locations/boston_steakhouse.htm), which provide some fine steaks and grills. This is a labyrinth of dining rooms set within the various parts of this former garrison and armoury, very unusual and another example of the city’s successful reuse of older buildings.
Prices at Smith & Wollensky are a little steep, around $46 for a steak plus side dishes at $10, (note the side dishes are sized for two people). This is one place where Boston's seasonal Restaurant Weeks come into their own. These cover two periods of 6 days in both the Winter and Summer, (2010 Winter dates are 14th to 19th March and 21st to 26th March. At the time of writing the Summer dates are still to be announced). During Restaurant Weeks many of the city's eateries offer special fixed price menus which offer very good value, Smith & Wollensky's included.
For something slightly quirkier, how about STIX on Stanhope Street, (http://www.stixboston.com/index.html). As the name suggests, many of the dishes are served on skewers. Novelty value apart, the food is actually very good and they even have outdoor seating that is usable due to the quiet backstreet location. Prices are reasonable too, between $7 and $12 for a main course skewer, (sorry STIX), and $9 for a dessert.
Getting there and nearby attractions
Boston has a large and efficient airport at the mouth of the two rivers, the grandly named General Edward Lawrence Logan International Airport, (thankfully often shortened to Logan Airport).
This is ok and convenient, but a much more interesting travel option is to arrive by train, particularly if combining your Boston visit with time in New York. The East Coast has one of the USA’s few high(er) speed rail services, the Acela Express. The journey between the two cities takes around three and a half hours and runs through a succession of picturesque New England coastal communities.
The city is also the eastern end of Interstate I-90, which eventually arrives at Seattle on the western seaboard after 3,099 miles. Not surprisingly, I-90 is the USA’s longest interstate highway. Although this roadtrip is rather appealing, a more manageable proposal would be to hire a car in central Boston and drive north west into New Hampshire.
Salem is near and worth a visit, but go further out and you can discover real gems like Harrisville in Cheshire County. This is the New England version of a mill town built in the late 18th century and, it has to be said, rather more attractive and bucolic than some of its cousins in Lancashire.
Coloured clapboard and brick buildings are grouped around a lake and millpond, surrounded by the forest. The topography of much of New England means that long views are usually obscured by the forest. In Harrisville, you get glimpses out and beyond but still retain that sense of being encircled by dark woodland.
A drive out to Harrisville is an easy day trip from Boston and driving into and out of the city is not as scary as you might expect. City centre traffic is often busy and slow which actually helps as you have time to read signs and make lane changes in time for junctions.
If you have decent sea legs, other options include boat trips to Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard, home to the Kennedy family.
So, why two cheers and not three?
Because there are two Cheers bars in the city. One is the original building at 84 Beacon Street, used for the exterior shots in the TV show, and the other is a replica of the TV show interior set, built within the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Both do a decent burger for around $10 and a starter plate of nachos to share for around the same price.
Both are inevitably tourist magnets and neither is going to win any prizes for cuisine but they do offer friendly service and a tick on the ‘have you been to’ list plus the opportunity for some present shopping in their gift stores, from branded beer and shot glasses to christmas tree decorations. What would Norm make of it!