Boston’s early Puritan roots and air of cultured academia may sound a bit stuffy, but a visit to New England’s largest city on the northeastern tip of America proves that Boston is anything but. Here’s a guide to fill 24 hours in Boston.
8.30am – Wake up in style at the palatial Fairmont Copley Plaza, which forms an impressive heritage triangle with the Boston Public Library and Trinity Church on central Copley Square. Opened in 1912, The Fairmont’s gilded lobby is one of the most opulent you’ll find. Enjoy a big breakfast in the hotel’s Gold Lounge to fuel up for the day ahead. www.fairmont.com/copleyplaza
9.30am – Get your Boston bearings by first scaling the city’s tallest public tower, the 50-storey Prudential Centre. The top-floor Skywalk Observatory offers 360-degree views over Greater Boston and its 34 harbour islands. Laid out neatly before you, you can see the ordered rows of Victorian brownstone terraces along Back Bay and the South End, the wide Charles River, often flecked with university rowers, that separates the downtown districts and the university campuses, and the string of green parklands they call the Emerald Necklace. See if you can spy the bright disc of Fenway Park, too, home to the beloved Boston Red Sox. www.topofthehub.net
10.15am – Boston bills itself as “America’s Walking City” and there is no better way to explore its compact core than on foot. Exit the Prudential Centre and dive into the leafy streets of Back Bay, developed on reclaimed land in the late 1800s and modelled after the residential streets of Paris. Follow the broad pedestrian boulevard of Commonwealth Avenue Mall, peering at the polished, million-dollar real estate and statues of historical figures under a canopy of maple, linden and elm leaves.
10.45am – Commonwealth Avenue Mall is part of the Emerald Necklace and at its eastern end is a real gem – the Public Garden. Dating back to 1837, this is America’s first botanical garden. The flowery, French-style park is still a popular place to relax beside the ornamental lake and float on the old swan boats. Don’t miss a photo opportunity with the family of brass duck statues, inspired by the 1941 children’s book Make Way for Ducklings, set in this very garden.
11am – Beside the Public Garden is the open expanse of Boston Common. America’s oldest park was used for grazing cattle and public hangings from 1634. It has also been a British Army camp and oratory stage for the likes of Martin Luther King and Pope John Paul II. Its gentle, grassed slope is now used for open-air performances and, depending on the season, wading or skating on the pond.
11.30am – Pass the golden dome of the State House at the top of Beacon Hill (which is now more of a mound since half its height was utilised for landfill over the centuries). This is the beginning of the Walk to the Sea, a signposted heritage trail that leads you through the government and financial districts on Court and State streets, where new towers of commerce are interspersed with – and sometimes sprout out of – old Victorian monuments. Of most interest is the Custom House, whose arresting spire dominated Boston’s skyline until the 1950s. It was once so close to the harbour that arriving ships would scrape up against it as they moored – everything you walk on from here to the sea is reclaimed land. www.walktothesea.com
12.30pm – The charming Rose Kennedy Greenway leading to the waterfront has replaced an ugly elevated expressway that bifurcated the city until a few years ago, when cars were redirected into an under-harbour tunnel as part of the “Big Dig”, America’s most expensive public works project. The old wharf area has since been redeveloped, and a wooden boardwalk winds along the harbour front, passing the New England Aquarium and Quincy Market until you reach the swish Fairmont Battery Wharf, a great place to relax by the water’s edge and try one of Boston’s famous lobster rolls. www.fairmont.com/batterywharf
2pm – Head out to Samuel Adams Brewery. The quaint brick factory is the headquarters of Boston’s world-famous local micro-brewery and offers free boozy tours that take visitors through the craft beer-making process. There’s the chance to sample several hoppy brews, too. www.samueladams.com
3.30pm – From keg to canvas, check out the excellent Museum of Fine Arts featuring one of the most comprehensive art collections in the Americas. The 101-year-old institution has undergone somewhat of a renaissance with the opening of a US$465 million Americas Wing in November. You could spend all afternoon here, but if you’ve had your dose of culture, it’s time to hit the shops. Newbury Street is a smart row of redbricks housing an eclectic array of boutiques, galleries and cafes. The eastern end is where the luxury brands live, the central section has clusters of smaller independent boutiques, and youthful chains lie to the west. www.mfa.org
7pm – Cocktail time, and nowhere says martini-with-a-twist quite like the dramatically dignified Oak Bar at The Fairmont Copley Plaza. The dark wood panelling, painted coffered ceiling and ornate draperies offer a spellbinding vintage vibe.
8pm – Make the short journey to dinner in a Boston Pedicab. The trishaws are not only environmentally friendly, but known for their handsome lime-shirted peddlers who will point out landmarks as they whizz you through the city traffic. There are fleece blankets in the back if the weather is nippy. www.bostonpedicab.com
8.30pm – Union Bar and Grill, located in the South End’s trendy SoWa district, is one of the city’s hottest tables. Squeeze into the shiny black banquettes and savour smarted-up favourites like sweet-corn risotto with fire-roasted peppers, imported chorizo and crispy sage, and dark chocolate chip-bread pudding served with espresso anglaise and toasted almond ice cream. It’s classic with a deliciously sophisticated twist – just like Boston itself. www.unionrestaurant.com
Like this? Read more at our travel section.