From its steep cobbled streets and Brownstones, to harbourfront warehouses, Boston oozes history and erudition. Estella Shardlow embarks on a cultural whistle-stop of the Massachusetts capital, once dubbed the ‘Athens of America’…
A walk down memory lane
Get your bearings and clue up on your Boston history in the company of a cheery costumed guide. They’ll take you through key historical locations (in character, to boot) on the Freedom Trail, where America’s fight for independence played out. From the site of the Boston massacre to Revolutionaries’ graves and America’s first public park, the city is essentially an open-air urban museum. www.thefreedomtrail.org.
Lunch with the locals
A repeat ‘Best of Boston’ winner, The Paramount has been dishing up a comfort food menu of omelets, sandwiches and salads since 1937. What’s more, the diner’s legendary breakfast offerings (buttermilk pancakes, French toast, waffles) are served until 4.30pm. But it has a rival, to my mind, in the unassuming form of Tatte Bakery a little further down Charles Street. Here, a mouth-watering spread of artisanal pastries, cakes and quiches spills over the café’s counter, while the globally-inspired menu has a more hipster appeal with its Shakshuka, tartines and fattoush dishes. Exotic sandwiches come packed with fillings like roasted cauliflower and capers or aubergine, hardboiled egg and house-made tahini. www.tattebakery.com
Beacon Hill, where brownstones and gas lamps line the steep cobbled streets, must be one of America’s most iconic neighbourhoods – the ideal setting for an after-lunch stroll. Visiting just before Halloween, I found each house decked out with pumpkins and skeletons aplenty – but no doubt it’s just as lovely when the flower boxes are in full bloom, or dusted in snow come wintertime. Continue along to the Museum of Science, packed with 700+ mind-blowing exhibits including a 65 million-year-old Triceratops fossil. Digest your new-found knowledge while ambling west along the Esplanade, a three-mile scenic stretch of greenery overlooking the Charles River. Depending on the season you might find lemonade stalls and outdoor concerts, or passers-by on snow-shoes and cross-country skis, while gondolas, kayaks and wild geese reign the waters. www.mos.org
Bijou seafood bar Saltie Girl only opened in June, but its innovative and staggeringly extensive menu has already won rave reviews. The Raw Bar cherry-picks the finest East Coast catches, including sea urchin, razor clams and oysters, while gourmet tins of seafood from Spain and Portugal (anchovies, octopus, mussels) in various marinades are served atop a slate board with hunks of fresh crusty bread, lemon and relish. If that weren’t enough to induce decision anxiety, take a look at the menu of Toasts (topped with combinations like ‘snow crab, avocado, pistachios, stracciatella’), crudos, smoked fish and absurdly decadent main courses such as lobster waffles with sweetcorn butter. That bowl of clam chowder is suddenly looking a little dull… In short, this place alone is worth a trip to Boston. www.saltiegirl.com
The palatial Boston Public Library stays open until 9pm (Mon-Thurs), giving you ample opportunity to marvel at spectacular murals by John Singer Sargent, Edwin Austin Abbey and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. It’s free to nose around the building and catch a temporary exhibition – until March 2017, an exhibition of rare Shakespeare manuscripts exposes the web of mysteries, confusions and collaborations surrounding the Bard’s work. For another nocturnal culture fix, the Museum of Fine Arts closes as late as 10pm (Weds-Fri). The fourth largest museum in the US, you can feast your eyes on everything from Goya to Van Gogh, plus an exceptional Japanese art collection. www.bpl.org www.mfa.org
Make un-like a student and rise early to check out Harvard University, located across the Charles River in Cambridge. One-hour tours around the leafy campus (10am daily) dish the dirt on five centuries of college history and the inner workings of its neoclassical buildings. Alternatively, head to Boston’s south waterfront to see the Institute of Contemporary Arts, where Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s dynamic glass architecture is as much of an attraction as the cutting-edge artworks within. www.harvard.edu
Push the Boat Out
There’s no need to travel down to Cape Cod to go whale watching; you can hop on a boat right on Boston harbour from April to October for a strong chance of spotting them in the wild. This excursion lasts up to four hours, departing at midday, but in my opinion it was worth every second to see these amazing ocean giants feeding, their vast fins and tails breaking above the water all around the boat, while the seagulls wheeled overhead hoping for some leftovers. If you’re feeling inspired, explore the aquarium beside the jetty once you disembark. www.bostonharborcruises.com
Back on dry land, and in need of some warming up, Little Italy in Boston’s North End boasts some 80 restaurants and patisseries along its narrow cobblestone streets. One of the best is Antico Forno, where the authentic, crowd-pleasing southern Italian classics – think homemade pasta, wood-fired pizzas and the tastiest cannoli in town – draw in hordes of loyal customers, as do the convivial atmosphere and purse-friendly prices. www.anticofornoboston.com
Where to Stay
Just round the corner from Boston Public Gardens, this four-star hotel pays tribute to Paul Revere – the silversmith-turned-Patriot famed for bearing news of the impending British invasion to the lead revolutionaries in Lexington, Massachusetts. It boasts spacious rooms with impressive views over the city skyline, spread across 24 floors. The best pad in the property is the penthouse Presidential Suit, a seductive space of chocolate leather and darkly gleaming surfaces, not to mention three balconies and a personal library curated by Brookline Booksmith. When you’re tired of sightseeing, the leafy rooftop lounge bar is a stellar spot for a cocktail. Anyone checking in after spring 2017 will be in for a real treat, meanwhile, as the public spaces, pool area and bedrooms will have undergone a sleek makeover. www.reverehotel.com
Historic architecture (it’s formed out of two 110-year-old office buildings) is seamlessly blended with contemporary style at this boutique hotel. Stylish monochrome rooms tick all the boxes for gadgetry – from Bose Bluetooth audio systems to Nespresso machines – and are flooded with natural light thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows. Fitting with its thoroughly unstuffy urban appeal, the downstairs George Howell coffee bar is a fixture for locals and guests alike, buzzing with cool creative types and students tapping away on their Macbooks. The menu of terroir-driven, single-origin selections roasted in Acton, MA (now including tasting ‘flights’) is enough to satisfy the most discerning coffee connoisseur, and you can even pick up high-end equipment like glass Chemex brewers and Baratza grinders. Despite its unbeatable location among the shops and theatres of Boston’s Downtown Crossing, The Godfrey still manages to feel like a relaxing sanctuary, the ideal place to doze off nestled in fine Frette linens. www.godfreyhotelboston.com
A Go Boston card gives you complimentary access to most key attractions, such as the harbour tours, Museum of Modern Art and the Freedom Trail walking tour. For more information on the city visit www.bostonusa.com.