Just got back from our first trip to this lovely city. This is my take on what to expect as a tourist in Boston. Friendly people. Beautiful historic buildings. Amazing food. Lots of great things to do but what ever you do don’t try to drive around! You can walk or take the subway anywhere. Its super friendly and easy to get around (with the gps on your phone of course – because the streets are all a web of confusion) but it’s much easier to navigate a web on foot then at 30 mph with cab drivers honking at you. So if you must drive out of the city rent a car for that day but don’t bother having one for the whole time. It’s crazy expensive to valet it at your hotel – $45 a night! and there are no places to park on the street. So just take a cab from the airport.
First things first – getting around…
- The North End – the oldest area of the city. There are very old (1700’s) buildings and landmarks like Paul Revere’s house (which was even built in the 1600’s) and the Old North Church scattered in among newer buildings. It’s really hard to see the Boston Paul Revere and Sam Adams lived in here. The streets are tighter and smaller. It’s more of a Little Italy now. Lots of touristy things and the historic pubs are either just the name of an original pub like The Green Dragon Tavern which was completely razed in the 90’s and the place now called The Green Dragon Tavern is just a pub with the same name. It is in an historic building though and right across the street from the “Oldest Tavern” I can’t remember it’s name we didn’t bother to go inside it was just a dirty very plain bar.This area was worth walking around for the afternoon but I wouldn’t pay for a tour. Just start at Faneuil Hall and follow the red line – it’s the Freedom Trail and it will take you past all the historic sights which all have plaques so you can read about each of them. Faneuil Hall is pretty much an information station. Behind it they’ve closed off the street and all the old buildings were converted into a shopping mall. This was the most touristy place in the city. Didn’t really see much of it.
- Government Center is exactly that just a bunch of modern government buildings – you have to walk right through this area to get from Back Bay to the North end. Otherwise it’s not worth mentioning.
- Boston Common and the Public Gardens – center of everything. Both are beautiful parks filled with active people strolling, playing with their dogs, having a snack on the benches. No matter what time we walked through the park it was full. If you go Memorial Day – Labor Day ride the swan boats in the pond at the Public Gardens. Just like the rest of the city – it felt safe and was clean. But don’t be stupid, it’s still a big city don’t walk through by yourself at 3am waving your wallet around.
- Beacon Hill – this area was built by the wealthy in the 1800’s on top of the hill overlooking the Common and the Gardens. The brownstones here are amazing. This area is great to just walk around to see the homes. Beautiful tree lined streets. Quite neighborhood.
- Back Bay – this is the only part of the city where it’s easy to navigate. The streets are in a grid and the streets running north and south are in alphabetical order. Commonwealth has a park running down the middle of the street and brownstone homes on either side. Newbury Street has the same beautiful brownstones but the basement and first floors have retail shops everything from Gucci to H&M. Lots of great cafes and coffee shops too.
- Kenmore Square is where Fenway Park is – great tour of the park! This area and really every area we went to was clean and friendly.
- The rest of the areas we really didn’t venture into. Theater District, Chinatown, South End.
- On the other side of the Charles River is Cambridge – MIT and Harvard are there but otherwise not much to see. Same thing for Charlestown the only parts that would be interesting to tourist are too touristy. Take the trolley tour to see Harvard, MIT, and Charlestown but I wouldn’t bother renting a car to go see it.
This is the Bean Town Trolley map. We used them because they were included in the Go Boston card that we purchased. But our concierge recommended Old Town Trolley. Since we didn’t also use Old Town I can’t really say which is better. I’m posting this map so you can see the areas. And the distance is deceiving we were able to easily walk from our hotel which was in Back Bay next to the Public Library to the North End. We never tried the subway because it was just easy to walk and we wanted to see everything.
Where to stay…
We stayed at The Lenox in Back Bay. It was a charming historic boutique hotel. There are a lot to choose from though. Some of the others high on my list when I was searching were The Fairmont Copely Plaza, The Eliot Hotel, and Fifteen Beacon, they were all in the Back Bay area. I would say that was the perfect area to stay. It was near shopping, sites seeing, restaurants, parks, subways, everything. The hotel was very accommodating and friendly. The restaurant was fine – a usual high end hotel restaurant. We had breakfast there one morning but there are so many amazing restaurants in Boston I wouldn’t waste a meal there.
What to eat…
Everything! Really great dining. We ate at everything from a Chocolate Bar to pubs to high end fine dining.
We had coffee at a very nice coffee shop on Newbury – L’ Aroma Cafe. Busy with locals in the late morning. Looked like mom’s that had just dropped of their kids at school or people on their way to open the retail stores on the Newbury. Outside seating, muffins, pastries, quiche nice place. We also ate at Trident Booksellers for breakfast. Crowded local place on Newbury half bookstore half cafe. There are several cramped diner like tables and a counter to sit at. We opted for the counter. The wait staff were friendly artsy type young people. The type you’d except to see in a book store. The food was just as creative. I had the Mega tots that are stuffed with cheddar cheese and the size of chicken eggs Tommy had the homemade granola with very fresh fruit.
Eastern Standard is just a few blocks from Fenway. All around Fenway were bars and burger places. Most were closed I’m guessing they are only open for dinner and on game days. Eastern Standard is a refine, turn of the century bar, restaurant and raw bar. Most of the people eating there were locals. Click on the link to see the great lunch menu and pictures of the place. Great service, food, and atmosphere.
Parish Cafe was on Boylston Street which is the street The Lenox Hotel is on and 1 block south of Newbury. It also has shopping but it’s not nearly has cute as Newbury. Parish Cafe was a local pub featured on the Cooking Channel’s show Unique Eats. There sandwiches were all created by local chefs. I got the Pudding Portobello by Debra Hughes. Sliced portobello mushrooms on foccacia bread with casio de roma cheese, an onion marmalade, and a walnut parsley pesto. Unfortunately Tommy’s sandwich which included veal was a special and I didn’t write down the whole thing. But here’s the pictures. They were both full of layers of flavor, the bread was perfectly crispy on the outside soft on the inside. The waiter was very helpful – so many great items to pick from. The place was quite (but we were there at 2pm) I imagine it’s slammed during lunch and dinner.
Max Brenner Chocolate – we stopped at this place on Boylston in Back Bay for a snack. Amazing hot chocolate with little crunchy balls in it and White corn croquettes with manchego cheese.
One of the days we drove to Salem (on a scale of 1 – 10 I’d give it a 6) if you have plenty of extra time its ok. I was a long 1 hour drive through congested areas to get to it. The town is not completely ruined by tourism. The museum has a very informative free movie you can watch to learn about the city. There are mostly old buildings in the historic downtown but most of them have tourist shops in them. Crap you don’t want to buy. But take the trolley tour around the city to see it all. The homes are lovey the town is too. Its just all tourism. You really want a mix of reality and tourism. It can’t be all reality because then there’s nothing for the tourist to do. But if it’s all touristy then you can’t really see what the town was like. I would say Salem was 65% touristy / 35% real. tipping a little too much to the touristy side for me. I would have liked to have found one shop selling items that weren’t neon orange or bedazzled with rhinestones that said witchy woman on it. Some cute shop selling tasteful items that reflect the pilgrim era of this town. We were able to find a restaurant that sold more then hamburgers. 43 Church. It was in an old boarding house. Restored true to the era of the building but with some modern touches. We originally planned on having dinner there. The menu looks great, truffled wild mushroom rangoons with roasted garlic aioli and grilled swordfish with lobster butter, arugula salad & tarragon pesto polenta fries. But since the town wasn’t as interesting as I hoped it would be we didn’t stay late enough for dinner so we had lunch instead. The lunch menu looked equally good. Autumn bisque, frisee & poached pear salad with boratta cheese, fresh berries & port wine vinaigrette. I had the house charcuterie with preserved lemon cheddar, brie au poivre, and poached pears.
Bistro du Midi was on Boylston just across from Boston Common. Its on the second floor and the dinning room felt like we were in a swanky uptown apartment. Tommy had the grilled pork chop with lardons, sweet corn, fresh garbanzo, haricots verts, and smoked pork jus. We shared the goat cheese, pine nuts & honey barbajuans. I had the sweet corn soup with chanterelles, ricotta, cream frache, sage, and preserved lemon and we shared the Hazelnut milk chocolate cake with salted caramel ice cream. Amazing every bit of it.
Sel de la Terre was a little place next to the hotel. We just ducked in there one night. They were booked upstairs in the restaurant so we ate in the bar. Which had the same menu and great service. They have fresh baked bread and toppings to order for it. We chose the balsamic shallot and roasted garlic and the eggplant and goat cheese spread. I had the mixed green salad with poached egg and Tommy had the Lobster ravioli.
One night we drove to Cambridge to see a burlesque show, the Wrathskellar. We ate dinner at Hungry Mother which was also featured on the Cooking Channel’s show Unique Eats. Cute little place tucked in a mostly residential area. Definitely make reservations. We were there early at 6pm because we were seeing a show after but by the time we left at 7pm people were waiting for seats. I had the biscuits, pepper jelly, pimento cheese with house made pickles & pickled beets.
The concierge at The Lenox suggested L ‘Espalier for tea its a block away from the hotel. I’ve had tea at the Ritz in Philadelphia, The Plaza in New York, and many many other places this was probably the most elegant tea I’ve ever had. First course of the Little Red Riding Hood was Scottish smoked salmon with creme fraiche and caviar, English cucumber with fines herbs cream cheese and candied lemon, Casco bay lobster profiterole, and Maine crab salad with sauce gribiche on a croissant. Second course – panna cotta with Matcha, earl grey trifle with grapefruit, chai tea cake with passion fruit, pate a choux swan with espresso Chantilly cream, chocolate decadence cake with moro orange, lemon chamomile and cherry crimsonberry scones.
Places we didn’t get a chance to eat but wanted to.
Citizen Public House – in the Fenway area and Oak Long Bar & Kitchen which is in the Fairmont Copley Hotel. We walked through to see if there were any seats at the bar. Almost waited until 10 pm to get a table but decided to try somewhere else. This place looked great. We did go back the next day for breakfast and it was very good. I had the Vermont goat cheese, egg white, spinach, pepper flat bread on whole wheat crust and Tommy had the Irish whiskey french toast with summer berry relish.
What to do while you are there…
I recommend the Go Boston card – it was $140 pp for 5 days but when I added up all the places, historic houses, museums, trolley rides, Fenway everything we wanted to see was on it and it cost about 1/2 what it would have if we paid for each thing separately. I’ve already mentioned the trolley. When we go to historic cities I always like to take the trolley or a carriage tour first. It helps you understand the lay of the city, where the important sites are to go back to, and it’s transportation around the city.
Samuel Adams Brewery Tour – it’s free and you get free beer at the end. If that isn’t enough, its a very informative tour given by people who love their jobs and our guide was very entertaining. Its first come first serve. If you can go on a week day. If not get there when they open on Saturday. They only do so many tours a day. At the end of the tour they take you into the tasting room. there are several long tables and bar stools long the walls. Sit at the bar stools in the back of the room away from the bar. They fill up pitchers and pass them out to the tables. As the pitchers are passed along the tables everyone just takes about half a glass (8 oz tasting glass). So the pitcher is still about half full by the time it gets back to you. You know have half a pitcher to drink. You can refill your glass several time. You get 3 different tastings so by the end you can easily have had 4-5 beers instead of 3 tastings. After the tour a party trolley pulls up to take you to Doyles Tavern. One of the oldest taverns in Boston. If you take your tour ticket and order a Sam Adams at Doyles you get to keep the specially designed Sam Adams glass. The guy who drives the trolley is awesome. Thick Boston accent. The trolley is playing KC and the Sunshine Band’s “That’s the Way – I like it” as we pull away with the disco ball and lights going. Doyles was an old tavern. The lobster roll at the top of this blog is from there. Tommy said it was great.
Fenway Park – I’ll just post the pictures. You get to see the visitor’s locker room and dugout and sit on the Green Monsta.
Old Sturbridge Village – this was about 1 1/2 hours west of Boston. It was an easy drive along a highway that was lined with autumn colored trees. The village is away from everything so while you are there you don’t see any other buildings. They have gathered historic buildings from all over Massachusetts and recreated a town. They have a town square with a tavern, bank, church and faux cemetery grist mill, sawmill, cider mill, school, pottery, working farm and farm house. it was very very well done. All the interpreters are dressed in period clothing and are actively working. They were very knowledgeable about the town and their jobs. After the hectic city it was a really relaxing place.
Other things to do in Boston that we didn’t get around to…
Beacon Hill Walking Tour, The Freedom Trail Tour, Old State House, Otis House Museum, Paul Revere House (we did see this – it was interesting), they have Farmer’s Markets in all the squares everyday, there were several farms along the way to Old Sturbridge Village that we didn’t have time to stop at Jenney Grist Mill that presses and sells fresh apple cider, Hanson Farms that had a pumpkin patch and corn maze, and Dowse Orchard that also had fresh cider.
Tips on what to wear…
We went in the fall so it was chilly. You will be walking a lot so wear flats. But that doesn’t mean you should wear sneakers. There are tons of cute options out there that are comfortable and don’t make you look like a tourist. Even though it’s a big city most of the people were casually dressed. Mostly jeans with cute little jacket or sweater and scarf with boots or ballerina flats. The guys had on chucka boots jeans and sweaters. Here are some of the outfits I put together. I wore both walking all over town and was perfectly comfortable.
This was my first time so be gentle with me. I take a lot of time to research the places I go and I wanted a place to share that research.