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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." And as a visitor you 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 we care much about eating here too -- 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).
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They speak English in Boston, but with slight variation. Yes, you will encounter folks who "pawk the cawr," and if something is "wicked" in Boston that's a good thing.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
There are ATMs and banks throughout the city.
Anything with a lobster logo, Harvard and MIT sweatshirts, Red Sox paraphernalia, "Cheers" mugs and Boston baked bean candies.
Where You're Docked
The Black Falcon Cruise Terminal at Cruiseport Boston, located on the South Boston waterfront, is unfortunately near nothing (although you do get nice views of Logan International Airport across the harbor). The terminal, a former World War I military warehouse, was renovated in 2010 to triple the amount of space available for embarking and disembarking cruise passengers.
With no facilities at the cruise terminal, you'll want to head straight into the city. Taxis are readily available. For those feeling a bit spry, it's a pleasant half-hour walk to the city via Northern Avenue, partly along a new 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.
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.
Once in the heart of downtown, mass transit including buses and the T are a breeze.
Visitors can also catch narrated trolley tours, or for something different try a Duck Tour, offered in an amphibious vehicle. Most cruise lines operate a shuttle bus (cost varies) to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. Inquire onboard.
Rental cars and commuter trains are an option for those who want to explore beyond the city.
American History: Walk the Freedom Trail (www.thefreedomtrail.org). 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 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.
Been There, Done That
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 including the original Urban Outfitters).
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; www.community-boating.org) for $100. 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 still an ethnic Italian neighborhood despite higher rents and an influx of Yuppies. Grab a cannoli (the best in town) at Modern Pastry on Hanover St.
The Boston Red Sox: A pilgrimage to Fenway Park, the historic stadium that opened in 1912, is a definite must for baseball fans. Check schedules and ticket availability at www.redsox.com.
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.; www.unionoysterhouse.com, 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.
For more recommendations, check out Port Lunching: Boston.
Closest to the pier: Seaport Hotel (1 Seaport Lane) offers decently sized rooms and a shuttle to South Station where you can catch the T to get around the city.
Top luxury: The Ritz-Carlton, Boston Common on Avery Street is the ideal place for a splurge. Renovated in 2008, the hotel offers nearly 200 modern, luxurious guestrooms -- many with views overlooking Boston Common.
Boutique property: Fifteen Beacon (15 Beacon Street) is lush and lavish and has an excellent (if pricey) in-house restaurant.
Families: The Sheraton Boston (39 Dalton Street) offers a kids-under-17-free deal and has kid-friendly amenities including a big swimming pool.
Value-priced: The Midtown Hotel (220 Huntington Avenue) has a great Back Bay location, free parking and a pool.
Get more information on Boston Hotels at TravelPod
Staying in Touch
The Internet Cafe at Tech Super Powers (252 Newbury Street).
Here are our choices for the best ship-sponsored shore excursions:
Best Choice For Revolutionary War Buffs: A guided Freedom Trail walk takes you to sites including the Massachusetts State House, Granary Burying Ground, Old North Church and Faneiul Hall. Three and a half hours of sometimes difficult walking.
Best Choice for Art Lovers: Visit the eclectic Isabella Gardner Museum and the historic Gibson House (built in 1859/1860), filled with original furniture and possessions. Three and a half hours.
Best Choice for Repeat Visitors: Get outside the city with the Salem and Marblehead tour that visits two historic communities north of Boston. The tour may also include a stop at the renowned Peabody Essex Museum. Four hours.
For More Information
On the Web: www.bostonusa.com
Cruise Critic Mini-Break: Boston
Cruise Critic Message Boards: New England
The Independent Traveler: Boston Exchange
All photos appear courtesy of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism.