Boston Bound: A Guide for Exploring Beantown

City Travel, Destinations, Getting There, Ideas, Massachusetts, Sports & Games, United States — By on March 28, 2011 at 10:00 pm

By Michele Herrmann
LG Section Editor

Lately Boston is getting more screen time (as seen in The Town, The Departed, and Fever Pitch) but the city maintains a diverse blend of attractions. This New England destination offers plenty: art and science museums, public park settings, institutes of higher learning, and landmarks citing America’s origins. So grab some “chowdah” and check out these suggestions for seeing Beantown.

Getting there

There’s more than one way to get to Boston. By car, three main routes lead there: I-90 (Massachusetts Turnpike) from the west, I-95 from the north and south, and I-93 from the north and south. Amtrak is another option. The rail line has scheduled service to three stops: Route 128, about 12 miles from downtown, and the more direct Back Bay Station and South Station.

By bus, Greyhound and Peter Pan stop South Station. Regional bus companies provide service from Boston to New Hampshire, Cape Cod, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York City. Air travel leads to and from Boston Logan International Airport, with Massport providing transportation options for arrivals and departures such as shuttles and bus services.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Association has online maps for travel by subway, local bus, boat, and commuter rail. The five subway lines, or “T,” differ by color. The Charlie Card, a ticketing system, is a cost-saving option for single and multiple rides and T-Passes.

Your wallet might dictate where you stay but your decision can have many results. Choose from top-name chains such as the Radisson, Sheraton, Marriott, and Holiday Inn, plush hotels such as the Omni Parker House Hotel, or apartment and short-term rentals. Or consider Hostelling International Boston, whose facilities include internet access, kitchen, and laundry.

In the neighborhood

Called “America’s Walking City,” Boston’s neighborhoods overlap each other and are best explored on foot. Here are downtown favorites:

Beacon Hill evokes old Boston with remnants of gas street lamps, shady trees, brick and cobblestone alleyways, and stately Federal-style brownstones. Major sites from various theme trails are located here, including the Massachusetts State House, the Boston Athenaeum, the African Meeting House, and the Granary Burying Ground. Stroll over to Boston Common, America’s oldest park and the foothold for the Emerald Necklace, a 1,000 acre park system, and the Public Garden, where in April the Swan Boats will return for operation. The Boston Common Visitors Center marks the start of the Freedom Trail, a self-guided walking tour that links 16 historic sites associated with the American Revolution. Cruise along Charles Street, which divides the common from the garden. Grab a meal and drink at Cheers, the now-touristy bar featured in the TV show.

South Boston Waterfront/Seaport District has a convention center, the Seaport Boston World Trade Center, the Fish Pier, Museum Wharf and one end of the Ted Williams Tunnel. The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston showcases an extensive collection of visual art, music, and films with a funky architectural exterior. Seaport Boulevard and Northern Avenue are the area’s main hubs. Near the waterfront and the Government Center, Faneuil Hall Marketplace is set of buildings dating back to the 1700s that is now a modern-day shopping mall. The market is adjacent to Faneuil Hall, also worth a visit and another start on the Freedom Trail. Pick up fresh produce at Haymarket, a historic open air market right around the corner from Quincy Market.

Downtown Crossing has a bustling pedestrian mall and some of the city’s oldest landmarks such as the Old South Meeting House, where colonists met to discuss what would lead to the Boston Tea Party. Chinatown, the third largest U.S. community, is full of Asian restaurants, groceries, and gift shops in the area between Downtown Crossing and the Massachusetts Turnpike extension.

The tiny Theater District contains more than a dozen performance venues showing Broadway hits or avant-garde experimental productions. Pre- and post-show dining options are here as well. The North End‘s Italian heritage is reflected in eateries with colonial-era ties such as Paul Revere’s House, the Old North Church, and Copp’s Burying Ground. Nearby this end, The Museum of Science offers hands-on exhibits, an IMAX theater, and a 3D planetarium, while TD Banknorth Garden hosts concerts and home games for three sports teams.

Known for its ethnic, economic, and cultural diversity, the South End is packed with brick bow-front townhouses and little parks. Washington Street and Harrison Avenue are growing destinations for dining and shopping. Many homes here have hidden gardens; there are pocket parks as well. It is also the site of the annual South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

With architecture and chic shops, the Back Bay has art galleries and sidewalk cafes plus the Boston Public Library, Trinity Church, and the boutique haven, Newbury Street. Also for shopping, head to Copley Place and its 75 top-name stores or The Shops at the Prudential Center. The New England Aquarium is a must-see with marine life from differ sectors of the planet. Enjoy a 55-minute land and water adventure through Boston Duck Tours with daily afternoon departures from the aquarium.

The Fenway is probably most known for Fenway Park, home to the Red Sox and the oldest Major League Baseball stadium. Tours are available. Art venues and colleges compete for attention. The Museum of Fine Arts opened its Art of the Americas Wing last November and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum houses a remarkable art collection in a 15-century Venetian setting. About a dozen of Boston’s 100 higher ed institutions can be found in this region such as Boston and Northeastern universities, and Harvard Medical School.

Neighborhoods outside of central Boston also worth seeing include Mattapan, Dorchester, Roxbury, West Roxbury, Hyde Park, Roslindale, and Jamaica Plain and Charlestown.

Cambridge, Boston’s neighbor across the Charles River, contains Harvard University, with an impressive natural history museum, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which has a museum as well. Hang out in Harvard Square for people watching. Stores and restaurants line all three streets that spread out from the center of the square and the streets that intersect them. Central Square contains ethnic restaurants and clubs, while Inman Square supports independent businesses, and Porter Square is a mostly residential neighborhood with quirky retail outlets. For buying and dining, Cambridgeside Galleria offers more than 120 stores and restaurants.

Enjoying the nightlife

Boston has its share of the performing arts, a changing club scene, and live music to fit anyone’s taste. In Boston and Cambridge, some bars close by 1 a.m., clubs at 2 a.m., and the T seems to shut down between 12:30 and 1 a.m. Many popular nightspots are associated with hotels and restaurants. The Boston Globe‘s “Things to Do” section is a good source for making plans.

Clubs cluster on Lansdowne Street, near Kenmore Square, and on Boylston Place, off Boylston Street near Boston Common. Central Square in Cambridge is a center to live music. Many college bars and clubs are situated near the intersection of Harvard and Brighton avenues in Allston.

The Blue Man Group, which opened in Boston, performs in the Theater District. For a good laugh, Dick’s Beantown Comedy Vault features local acts. Each September, the Boston International Comedy & Movie Festival attracts big-name performers and local up-and-comers.

Folk and jazz musicians do well here. The Nameless Coffeehouse, which launched the careers of Dar Williams, Tracy Chapman and Patty Larkin, puts on one show a month at First Parish Church in Harvard Square. Jazz Week, a 10-day event at multiple venues, runs from late April through early May while the Beantown Jazz Festival happens in late September on South End’s Columbus Avenue. The House of Blues, across the street from Fenway Park, and Hard Rock Cafe, down the road from Faneuil Hall Marketplace, host regular performances. Cambridge’s Ryles Jazz Club boasts live music and holds a brunch every Sunday.

For more information about Boston, visit this guide.

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