Visiting Olde Boston
The best tourist attractions in the Boston area
My dear family and friends,
I am so delighted to learn of your intention to visit! It would be wonderful to see you again and show you around this beautiful city that I’ve come to call home. Although I’ve lived here for a few years, it often takes the special occasion of visitors to create a welcomed break from my grad school routines to go out exploring. You must try to stay as long as you can, for there is so much to do! Depending on what you’ve been interested in lately, here are some of my suggested half-day itineraries to mix and match as you wish.
At the top of the list, of course, is the Freedom Trail— with 16 historical sites dating back to the early days of this nation, there is no better place to start than where it all started! It is possible to blaze through the 2.5-mile walk within one day by following the red brick line on the sidewalk. Personally, though, I prefer to break it up into two shorter trips to allow plenty of time to explore.
The first part, from Boston Common to Faneuil Hall, begins with a friendly welcome by the white steeple of Park Street Church and the golden dome of the State House. We shall look for the childhood figures of the nation’s founding fathers on the mural commemorating America’s first public school, and imagine their heated debates upstairs the Old South Meeting House that led to the Boston Tea Party. Don’t forget to bring your journal so we could collect stamps at one of the NHP visitor centers!
The second part is best done backwards, starting with a climb for magnificent views atop the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown, and followed by an excursion on board the USS Constitution. Across the bridge back in Boston, we shall be transported back in time by how families used to worship in cubicles at Old North Church and their simple life showcased around the corner in Paul Revere House (probably my favorite site on the Freedom Trail! Definitely worth the small admission fee).
Both routes bring us back to the vicinity of the North End. This neighborhood is perfect for our appetite that all the walking will have worked up. If the lines are not too long, I would love for you try fried calamari and black pasta at The Daily Catch or Giacomo’s, as well as cannolis from Mike’s Pastry for dessert. A few steps away, the relatively new Boston Public Market also has a decent selection of locally sourced food and produce for the health- and environment-conscious. Quincy Market has some quick and touristy food court fare, which isn’t much to boast of except for the convenient location (right behind Faneuil Hall and on the way to the New England Aquarium), but sometimes you’d catch sight of creative street performers, and there’s also a booth outside for picking up half-price tickets for day-of performances. But no, we won’t settle for cold, mayonnaise-filled lobster rolls there— the hot ones (drizzled with melted butter) at Neptune Oyster nearby are the way to go!
The downtown area west of Freedom Trail is worth at least another day. We’ll hike up Beacon Hill, marveling at how it was levelled off from three higher peaks with 19th-century machinery, and imagining the lives of wealthy merchants and runaway slaves in this picturesque neighborhood. After adding a photo to the reputedly most photographed street of the United States, we’ll descend along cobblestoned alleys to visit Mrs. Mallard and her eight ducklings in Public Garden.
From there, we could either take a window-shopping stroll down the Victorian storefronts of Newbury Street, or go for a ride on America’s oldest surviving streetcar system, which locals call the T, and perhaps even catch a glimpse of some retired vehicles behind the bars of Boylston station. Either way, we will soon arrive at Copley Square, marked the the iconic Trinity Church, behind which the glass panes of the new Hancock Tower reflects the old one. Yet what truly reflects the old and new are the two Boston Public Library buildings— one with its splendid Renaissance Revival style (and we’ll learn more on the BPL Arts and Architecture tour), the other sleek and brightly lit, and I love them both!
Now, I’ve said a lot about Boston, but your visit would certainly not be complete without seeing my school across the river! We could do the official MIT campus tour, or I could give you my version as your private guide. Afterwards, we’ll refresh ourselves the way locals do: with sandwiches and pastries at Flour, and ice cream at Toscanini’s. I would recommend the Harvard historical campus tour too, and I think you’ll also enjoy the vibe at some of the quaint coffee or dessert shops in Harvard Square.
And that reminds me to tell you of the many perks that I could benefit you with as a student of MIT! Our library carries free passes for the Museum of Fine Arts and discount passes for the Gardner Museum (not to mention that I get to go along for free!). I could also purchase discount tickets for many museums, activities and performances through MITAC—take a look and see if there’s anything of interest! I would suggest trying the one-of-a-kind Duck Tours (departing from the Prudential Center, where we could also grab lunch on a weekday for under $30 at Top of the Hub—a better deal than the observatory below), or a tour of the nearby Taza Chocolate Factory. If the weather is nice, I could take you sailing on the Charles. In the evening, we could also catch the latest LSC movie in one of the largest classrooms on campus.
If we end up having another day or two to spare, there are several intriguing towns nearby that are easily accessible by commuter rail. In Concord, for example, we could see Louisa May Alcott’s house that set the stage for Little Women, and go for a swim in the pond after which Thoreau’s Walden was named. In Salem, we could picture Friendship bringing in its oriental novelties before the Custom House, and contemplate the lives lost in 1692 to false accusations of witchcraft. During the summer, ferries would also take us to Provincetown, where the pilgrims first landed, as well as the sunny Harbor Islands, one of which used to be a prison and another formerly a dumpster!
As for timing, there really is no bad time to visit Boston. Spring sees the full bloom on the Esplanade by the river, and the Boston Marathon on Patriot’s Day is going ever stronger after the bombing in 2013. Summer is the season for lobsters, farmers markets, outdoor concerts, Shakespeare on the Common, and our famous July 4th fireworks that is synchronized to music and reflects beautifully on the river. (Unless you’re coming for my commencement, though, I would try to avoid the Harvard and MIT commencement weekends in early June, as there can be quite an accommodation frenzy!) Fall is my favorite time of all, with colorful foliage and apple-picking everywhere. Winter is a festive time of holiday lights, and the Handel & Haydn Society’s Messiah as well as Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker are wonderful traditions, as is the city-wide New Year’s Eve celebration of First Night Boston.
So yeah, please come soon! We will surely have capital times!
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