I suppose I could blame getting lost within the first half hour of being in Boston on the fact that the city is not laid out in a tidy grid. But I think it was more to do with the fact that my husband and I decided to forgo the GPS that was offered with the car rental and “kick it old school” with a paper map. My navigation skills were a little rusty. However, a couple of friendly Bostonians put us back on the right path and we made it to our hotel where we promptly ditched the luggage—and car—and set out on foot.
Famished, we pored over a printout of friends’ restaurant recommendations to see what was close and were relieved to discover a Bon Me food truck was literally right down the street. This meant minimal time spent refueling before setting out
for the afternoon.
I love walkable cities and Beantown is definitely one of those places where you don’t really need a car. In fact, parking spots can be hard to find and rates are atrocious—as is the traffic—so you’re better off taking the subway if your feet need a rest. Or renting a bike. A bike tour is a great way to orient oneself with the twists and turns of the city. Urban AdvenTours, located in the North End, offers historic city excursions three times a day. If you prefer to cycle solo, the company also offers full-day rentals.
It’s amazing how much ground you can cover on two wheels. During my particular tour, as we cycled along the designated bike lanes and pathways, our energetic guide provided plenty of anecdotes and stories, such as the Canadian connection at TD Garden and the gas-lit lamps that still dot the leafy streets of Beacon Hill, home to past and present notables from Louisa May Alcott to John Kerry. We also visited famous landmarks like Fenway Park, which has retained its turn-of-the-century, movie-set charm.
But back to the walking. After a satisfying Vietnamese lunch, we happened upon the weekly farmers’ market in Copley Square, surrounded by some impressive buildings including the Boston Public Library (it’s worth a peek inside for the courtyard alone) and Trinity Church. The market is a great place to grab some locally sourced or grown snacks to eat in the Boston Public Garden or its adjacent neighbour, Boston Common. Both offer ample seating and lots of green space. In fact, Good Will Hunting was filmed in Boston Public Garden and one of the benches now serves as a touching fan tribute to Robin Williams.
From Boston Common, it is easy to hook up with a couple of mapped, history-laden walking routes. I managed to see several elements of both these walks (inadvertently and on purpose) over a couple of days.
The Freedom Trail is a historic walking path that tells the story of the American Revolution. Along the route you’ll see a couple of centuries’-old burying grounds, a historic bookstore and Faneuil Hall. This last building is now a bustling marketplace surrounded by shops and restaurants. It’s a little touristy, but definitely worth a visit.
Boston has managed to preserve some important historical buildings and sites. In
fact, it’s not unusual to see men in tights and tricorne hats wandering around. That history is comfortably juxtaposed with modern buildings, shops and restaurants. Case in point: we stumbled upon Paul Revere’s house while killing time before a dinner reservation at the modern Mare Oyster Bar, which has a fabulous seafood menu and great ambiance. I almost missed the historic home as I was busy watching my footing on the cobblestones, but luckily I looked up! One place in this neighbourhood that you probably won’t miss, because of the ubiquitous bakery boxes, is cannoli central, aka Mike’s Pastry, on Hanover Street.
The other walking route, which encompasses four centuries of history, is Walk to the Sea. A highlight for me was the Rose Kennedy Greenway, a former elevated expressway that is now a series of contemporary parks. I couldn’t resist the $3 Greenway Carousel with its vibrant, colourful depictions of native Massachusetts wildlife, brought to life by sculptor Jeff Briggs. I had my eye on the sea turtle, but two girls behind me in line were fighting over it, so I settled for the fox.
From the Greenway, it’s easy to access the New England Aquarium to learn about ocean
conservation and come face to face with a sea turtle, and explore the surrounding wharves.
Another great walking route I would recommend starts at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Ms. Gardner was a passionate collector with an eclectic sense of design. The result is a treasure trove of art and artifacts, and a magical courtyard that changes seasonally.
From the museum, take a walk along the Back Bay Fen, part of the Emerald Necklace park system designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park fame. This will lead you to the back of the Museum of Fine Arts, which provides an interestingly stark contrast to Isabella Stewart Gardner’s property.
If you’d like to partake in a little consumerism after your cultural experience, head to Newbury Street, which is bustling with shops and restaurants.
I’m going to be honest. I did a lot of walking. Despite my achy feet, the appeal of exploring on two feet and two wheels was discovering hidden gems that weren’t on the itinerary and really getting a sense of what this vibrant city is all about.
Across the Charles River, Cambridge retains that quaint, collegiate atmosphere depicted in the movies. Cambridge Historical Tours offers visits to both Harvard and MIT. I took the Harvard tour and was pleasantly surprised by our
in-character actor guide.
Wandering around campus, I would not have known which ventilation shaft to stop at and catch a whiff of the old books housed in the subterranean library, or the interesting story surrounding the statue of John Harvard.
There are plenty of shops and cafes, but for lunch, I decided to check out Clover Food Lab, which offers up its organic, healthy version of fast food.