Boston is a city full of charm, its residents dedicated to their sports teams and their city’s place in history. An important college town, it has a youthful vibe you’ll feel everywhere, but thanks to an impressive arts and culture scene, Boston leans sophisticated too. The city’s colleges and universities offer quite the number of opportunities for learning at every age. Boston is anchored by two very important waterways: The Charles River and Boston Harbor provide plenty of photo opps and outdoor adventures. And all through the city: some of New England’s best shopping, vibrant neighborhoods, and some great eats. And though Cambridge residents cringe at being smashed in with their neighbor, visitors should think of Harvard’s hometown as part of Boston and head over there for at least a meal or two.
When’s the best time to go to Boston?
Boston is a busy city all year round. You won’t see much of an uptick in accommodation prices, except perhaps during leaf-peeping season in the fall and Marathon Weekend in April. Spring is beautiful, when the many parks make for pleasant strolling and trees along the water are in full bloom. Although winter definitely presents the greatest weather challenge, on the upside, there will be the fewest crowds. Indoor cultural events and festivals provide plenty of entertainment protected from the cold temperatures.
How to get around Boston
Boston’s Logan International Airport is about 20 minutes from downtown by taxi; fares will run about $30 (including the airport/toll fee). The public transportation system, MBTA, also runs directly to and from the airport. A fun option is the trip across the harbor by commuter boat, if you want to beat the notorious Boston traffic. Arriving by Amtrak train will bring you to either South Station or Back Bay, both located in convenient areas of the city.
MBTA trains and buses traverse the city. The “T,” organized by colored routes, is a reliable way to go, but remember the last ride is between 12 and 1 a.m. A $2.25 Charlie Card will allow you to travel on all lines for one price, or you can ge a day pass for $12 or a seven-day pass for $21.25. The MBTA mTicket option for commuter rail and ferry rides allows mobile ticketing via your smartphone. Taxis are readily available, as are services like Uber and Lyft. (In order to call one of these services, you’ll have to download their respective apps.) Zipcar and the city’s extensive bike-sharing program, Bluebikes, are two additional alternatives.
Can’t miss things to do in Boston
You can’t come to Boston without walking at least part of the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail. Any of the 16 historically significant sites the trail passes through will give you a taste of Boston history, and there are great pit stops along the way to recharge. On a nice day, start at the Old North Church, have lunch in the North End, then walk to the USS Constitution. You can take the water shuttle back to Central Wharf and enjoy outstanding views of Boston from the inner harbor.
The Rose Kennedy Greenway is another wonderful wander. The 1.5-mile greenway connects parks, public art, and several neighborhoods. Pull up the Interactive Map to find things to see and places to stop along the way.
Food and drink to try in Boston
Boston is a city just the right size to support the local farm-to-table movement. With many growers within a 30-mile radius, farmers’ markets all over town shine with local produce and small-batch makers. Affordable restaurants reflect the diverse population of Beantown, and the food truck scene rivals any in the nation. Seasonal menus can be found when splurging at high-end favorites Oleana or Craigie on Main, or dining at the more affordable brick-and-mortar locations of Clover Food Lab and Mei Mei food trucks. Somerville is home to many young chefs on the rise. Craft brews and cocktails are a big part of the local bar scene, and several local bartenders have gained national acclaim for their creations.
Culture in Boston
Boston has a huge cross section of museums. The scene is anchored by the MFA and the more contemporary ICA, but be sure to explore some of the smaller gems like the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, deCordova, and Peabody Essex. Many of the museums open for several hours a week free to the public. For instance, the MFA is open for voluntary contribution Wednesday evenings after 4 p.m. (Pro tip: full-price admission tickets are good for two visits within 10 days.) Although the traditional gallery scene is centered on Newbury St., the South End houses many high-profile exhibits as well. The Wang Theatre is home to an impressive array of theater, music, and dance; the Boston Opera House hosts the Boston Ballet. Check out the Berklee Performance Center for global jazz festivals and much more.
Year-round festivals are a source of pride in Boston. The Boston Wine Expo‘s dinner run through much of February. Restaurant Week is in March, and the Boston Marathon falls on Patriot’s Day in April. June begins three months of festivals in the North End. The Rose Kennedy Greenway plays host to summer activities including the Boston Harborfest and Figment Boston, two days packed with art, creativity, and tinkering. Fall finds Head of the Charles Regatta and the Boston Beer & BBQ Fest. Holiday music sends us into the New Year with the Boston Pops. Every Sunday May through October, the SoWa Open Market hosts a huge gathering of farm-fresh vegetables, craft vendors, food trucks, and an indoor vintage market. Explore the surrounding areas of New England, and you’ll find many more themed celebrations throughout the year.
The weather is probably the biggest variable for Boston visits. Come prepared for variety. Layer layer layer. Sports events guarantee traffic jams so check the sports schedules if you have a nearby reservation. When the home teams are playing in town, traffic around their venues can come to a standstill. (The Boston−New York sports team rivalry is legendary. Do not wear clothing with a New York team’s logo unless you can take some serious verbal abuse.) The waterfront can be breezy, so even in summer, a wrap or light jacket is a good idea. Depending on where you’re staying, you can probably leave the car at home. The T, buses, cabs, and rideshares are readily available (and will keep you from having to learn any driving-in-Boston lessons the exhausting way). If time permits you to travel beyond the 617, rent a car to explore Massachusetts’ surrounding mountains, beaches, or historical sites.
Alison Abbott is a travel and lifestyle writer with a focus on sustainable living. When not searching out the artisans, growers, and locales that make a destination unique, you can find her working on her blog, Green With Renvy.