Boston is a big city, but it doesn't feel that way when you're walking around -- and make no mistake, this is one of those cities perfect to explore on foot. (If you're not a walker, join a trolley or amphibious vehicle tour.) In 20 minutes, you can stroll from the Common (Boston's Central Park) down to the waterfront and pass major historical attractions, shops and food purveyors along the way.
Boston is, perhaps, America's most glamorous historic city, dating back more than 350 years. The city was founded in 1630 by colonists led by John Winthrop, and it gets its name from an English village. The events that led to the American Revolution, including the infamous arguments over the tax on tea that led to the Boston Tea Party in 1773, started there. During the protest, three British ships were raided by colonists dressed as Indians who dumped tea into the harbor. In 1775, Paul Revere helped spread the word that the British were coming. The next day, the "shot heard round the world" was fired, signaling the start of the American Revolution.
These days, Boston, also dubbed "Beantown" (the moniker is another colonial-era legacy, referring to a time when baked beans made with molasses were a Boston specialty), has a European feel, in part because of its many ancient buildings and cozy ambience. But, it is not a city museum by any stretch. As an area home to major educational institutions, including Harvard, M.I.T. and Boston College, a big student population also contributes a fresh, edgy feel.
The "locals" are part of Boston's charm. Just keep in mind they tend to come in two categories: friendly and grouchy. (There are even restaurants that specialize in surly waitresses.)
This is a big sports town, and the Red Sox and the Patriots are king. A conversation on either will bring emotional discourse. Politics are freely discussed, too, in the land of the Kennedys (and Kerry).
Sure, there's lots of American history, especially on the Freedom Trail. (Just follow the red lines down the sidewalk.) But if television history is more your style, visit the bar that was the model for "Cheers." If you're a movie buff, there are numerous filming locations throughout Boston. Tours are available where you can visit the locations for "Good Will Hunting," Legally Blonde" "The Departed," "The Social Network," "American Hustle," "Boston Legal" and many more.
As a visitor, you also shouldn't overlook the city's many museums. Boston has great shopping both for those who want to spend big bucks and for those looking for "bah-gans." And if you're a foodie, you can find everything from haute cuisine to Fenway Franks. If you order "chowda," it will be the creamy kind. (Don't even ask for tomato-based.)
With no facilities at the cruise terminal, you'll want to head straight into the city. There are plenty of ways to access the heart of Boston. Taxis and trolley tours are readily available. For those feeling a bit spry, it's a pleasant half-hour walk to the city via Northern Avenue, partly along the Harborwalk and over the Northern Avenue pedestrian bridge. You can also take Summer Street as an alternative (though less scenic) route to the Boston T (subway) at South Station. Water taxi service is also available.
American History: Walk the Freedom Trail. The 2.5-mile trail links 16 historic sites. Start at the Boston Common information center (146 Tremont Street), where you can get maps and information. Audio tours are available, as are guided walking tours. Several operators also offer trolley tours. You really have to be into history to do the whole thing (it takes a day, at least). But don't miss a personal favorite, the gravesite of the woman known as Mother Goose. It's at the Granary Burying Ground on Tremont Street. The Boston National Historical Park Visitor Center (15 State Street) has friendly park rangers available to answer questions, and a book and souvenir shop.
Art: The Institute of Contemporary Art (100 Northern Avenue) is a vibrant museum showcasing the inspiration and imagination of contemporary artists. Boston's Children's Museum (308 Congress Street)is the second-oldest children's museum in the world and emphasizes hands-on exhibits. The Museum of Fine Arts (465 Huntington Ave.) is one of the finest art museums in the country, noted especially for its Impressionist collection. Monet lovers will rejoice! For quirky, visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (280 The Fenway), located in the eclectic collector's former home, a 19th-century building designed to look like a 15th-century Venetian palace.
Back to the Country -- In the City: Boston Common, this city's version of New York's Central Park, is absolutely lovely. It's a must do, especially on nice sunny days. Don't miss the adjacent Boston Public Garden, especially the lagoon where you'll find the city's famed Swan Boats, operated by paddles. The ride takes about 15 minutes, but beware: On nice days lines can be long. If you're a fan of the famous "Make Way for Ducklings" children's book (which also makes a great souvenir), check out the statues of Mrs. Mallard amid her ducklings.
Shopping: Near the Common are the expensive shops of Newbury Street, shopping Nirvana (more shops, including Neiman Marcus, can be found a few blocks away in the mall settings of Copley Place and the Prudential Center). For distinctive, one-of-a-kind antiques and contemporary crafts, we love the Beacon Hill area's boutiques.
Marketplace: Faneuil Hall is a lively historical spot with street performers, a huge food court, restaurants, bars and lots of shopping opportunities.
Waterfront: The New England Aquarium (Central Wharf) has an excellent indoor fish collection, performing sea lions and seals, and excellent whale watching excursions.
Cambridge: If you've already explored Boston, head across the Charles River to Cambridge. Visit Harvard University -- which, in addition to hallowed halls, has several excellent museums -- and hang with the college kids in Harvard Square (home of the Coop, Harvard's famous bookstore, and other shops like the original Urban Outfitters). Cambridge is also home to M.I.T.; walking tours are offered on both campuses. While in town, you might also want to stop by the Longfellow House, former home of prominent poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The house was also General George Washington's headquarters during the Siege of Boston from 1775-1776.
Sailing the Charles: The Charles River used to be a big city embarrassment, but now it's clean enough to support living things and a great place to catch city views. Rent a 13- to 23-foot boat from Community Boating (21 David Mugar Way. Kayaks and Windsurfers are also available. If you're lucky you'll pass by the Harvard and M.I.T. rowing teams out practicing.
Chinatown: Boston's Chinatown is the fourth largest in the U.S. and has an impressive gate and a good array of Asian restaurants and inexpensive gift shops. For dim sum, check out Empire Garden, located in the unusual venue of a former theater (it's at 690 Washington St., second floor).
Go Italian: The North End is often referred to as Boston's "Little Italy." It's still an ethnic Italian neighborhood, despite higher rents and an influx of Yuppies. You'll find old-fashioned storefronts nestled among more than 100 restaurants. Grab a cannoli (the best in town) at Modern Pastry on Hanover Street, or check out Regina Pizzeria (established in 1926). Be on the lookout for strolling musicians, too.
The Boston Red Sox: A pilgrimage to Fenway Park, the historic stadium that opened in 1912, is a must for baseball fans. If you're lucky enough to be in town on a game day, it's a true Boston experience. The park also offers hourlong walking tours of the iconic stadium when the Red Sox aren't playing.
Back Bay: In Back Bay, you can view the historic row of Victorian brownstones, a shining example of 19th-century architecture. The Boston Public Library (700 Boylston Street) -- or Central Library, as it's also known -- offers free hourlong tours that highlight the architecture of Charles Follen McKim and Philip Johnson, as well as many works by famed sculptors and painters. If shopping is more your speed, check out the fashionable Newbury and Boylston street areas for high-end retail therapy.
Beacon Hill: Known for its small village atmosphere, Beacon Hill is home to examples of Federal, Greek, Revival and Victorian architecture. You'll find brick sidewalks, decorative ironwork and burning gas lamps within this historic one-square-mile area in the heart of Boston. The New State House, which was built in John Hancock's pasture, can also be found there. Free tours of the facility are offered. This is where you'll also find the famous Bull & Finch Pub (84 Beacon Street), which was the inspiration for the television show "Cheers."
By Bus: Silver Line Buses SL2 (daily) and SL3 (weekdays only) leave the Black Falcon Terminal every 10 minutes on weekdays and every 30 minutes on weekends with connections to the Boston T's Red Line at South Station. Additionally, SL1 (which runs every 10-12 minutes between Logan Airport and South Station) makes a stop at Silver Line Way, about 10 minutes on foot from the cruise terminal. Just pay the driver.
By Subway: Once in the heart of downtown, mass transit including buses and the T are a breeze.
By Shuttle: Most cruise lines operate a shuttle bus (cost varies) to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. Inquire onboard.
By Tour: Visitors can also catch narrated trolley tours. For something different, try a Duck Tour, offered in an amphibious vehicle.
Rental cars and commuter trains are an option for those who want to explore beyond the city.
Faneuil Hall: There are tons of food choices here. The food court offers a little bit of everything from sushi to stuffed grape leaves to pizza. There is not a lot of seating, though. For a sit-down meal, Durgin-Park (340 Faneuil Hall Marketplace) has been a popular spot since 1827, and is noted for big portions and the aforementioned surly waitresses. Nearby, at the historic Union Oyster House (41 Union St.), you can request to sit in the booth where JFK dined (good for bragging rights with the folks back home).
Cambridge: Join the Harvard gang for a burger and great onion rings at Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage (1246 Mass. Ave., 617-354-6559).
Back Bay: Legal Sea Foods (various locations including 800 Bolyston Street in the Prudential Center, 617-266-6800) serves the freshest seafood around, including lobsters and "chowda."
Beacon Hill: The Bull & Finch Pub (84 Beacon Street, 617-227-9605) was the inspiration for "Cheers" and is a must-see for loyal fans.
Boston Cruise Port Address:
1 Black Falcon Ave, Boston, MA 02210
Cruiseport Boston, located on the South Boston waterfront, offers three berths: Main Terminal, Terminal 2 and 88 Black Falcon. There isn't much to do at the port facility itself, but you will get nice views of Logan International Airport across the harbor. (Massport operates both Cruiseport Boston and Logan.) You'll be within a 10-minute walk of many museums and restaurants; walk an extra 10 minutes, and you'll find yourself in the heart of downtown Boston. The terminal, a former World War I military warehouse, has undergone $14 million in renovations since 2010.
There are ATMs and banks throughout the city.
They speak English in Boston, but with slight variation. Yes, you will encounter folks who "pahk the cah," and if something is "wicked" in Boston, that's a good thing.
Anything with a lobster logo, Harvard and MIT sweatshirts, Red Sox paraphernalia, "Cheers" mugs and Boston baked bean candies.