Popular Boston Shore Excursions
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 (25 harbor Shore Drive) is a vibrant museum, near the Boston Harbor, 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 Avenue) is one of the top art museums in the country, noted especially for its Impressionist collection. Monet lovers will rejoice! For a quirky collection, visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (25 Evans Way). While the works are no longer located in the eclectic collector's former home, a 19th-century building designed to look like a 15th-century Venetian palace, the variety of art collected in the museum's new home on Evans Way is impressive.
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 sunny days. (Tremont Street; open daily, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.) 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. (4 Charles Street; open daily, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.)
Marketplace: Faneuil Hall is a lively historical spot with street performers, a huge food court, restaurants, bars and lots of shopping opportunities. (4 South Market Building; 617-523-1300; open Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.)
Waterfront: The New England Aquarium (Central Wharf) has an excellent indoor fish collection, performing sea lions and seals, and excellent whale-watching excursions. (1 Central Wharf; 617-973-5200; open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 6.pm.)
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 MIT; 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 to 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 MIT 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 (690 Washington Street, 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.
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. (Fenway Park, 4 Yawkey Way; 877-733-7699)
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 1-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."