What better destination to visit on the USA‘s Independence Day than the place where it all began: Boston, Massachusetts, with its cobblestone old quarter, old-fashioned parks, Colonial and Victorian houses, and extraordinary museums?
Founded in 1629 and considered by many to be this country’s single most historic city, it has a flavour all its own. The “Cradle of Liberty” was the place where the American Revolution was launched, leading to independence from Great Britain, and the sites where it all happened can be visited on an itinerary dubbed the Freedom Trail, literally traced along the streets by a red line.
Examples include the house of Paul Revere (the silversmith most famous for his “Midnight Ride” to warn revolutionists Samuel Adams and John Hancock of the British army’s advance) and the Old State House (above, on whose balconey the new United States’ Declaration of Independence was read). Also on the trail is the lovely Boston Common, the USA’s first public park, which today charms visitors with its “swan boats.” There’s another, more recently established historic itinerary that’s also fascinating: the Black Heritage Trail, which highlights the considerable role Boston played in the abolition of slavery.
Even aside from its extraordinary appeal to history buffs, Boston is an appealing destination for families, young people, seniors, LGBTQ, and almost any kind of visitor; an elegant, sophisticated city which is nonetheless also lively thanks to its large student population and even has its charming ethnic and edgy sides. The genteel aspect is epitomised by neighborhoods such as Back Bay, with its Victorian façades, art galleries, upmarket shops, lively Copley Square, and the Boston Public Garden (the country’s oldest botanical garden). In Beacon Hill, more aristocratic townhouses and surprising lanes await, as well as various sites on the abovementioned Freedom Trail, plus others such as the Capitol (the onetime historic Massachusetts legislature) with its gleaming golden dome can be toured.
Then of course in the 21st century there’s plenty of modernity to the city, too, starting with famous skyscrapers like the John Hancock Tower and the Prudential Tower, whose Skywalk Observatory on the 50th floor offers views that are simply priceless – among other things, of the Charles River, along which it’s a pleasure to bike in fine weather (there’s a rental system called Hubway, similar to Barclays Cycle Hire in London and Bicing in Barcelona). In summer, those who fancy a bit of sun and sand might consider nearby beaches such as Castle Island or the ones in East and South Boston.
Another municipal nickname is the “Athens of America,” because of the extraordinary quality of local culture, such as museums on the order of the Fine Arts Museum (with, for example, the finest collection of Monet outside France) and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Rembrandt, Titian, Matisse, Michelangelo, and other masterworks from Europe, the United States, Asia, ancient Rome/Greece, and the Islamic world). The universities are also key, premier among them the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and one of America’s most prestigious and its oldest and richest, Harvard, founded in 1636 in the city of Cambridge (just across the Charles River, and part of the Boston metro area). Its leafy campus and brick-and-marble premises are well worth a stroll, followed by a wander around Harvard Square, with cafés, pubs, cinemas, and all kinds of cool shops and markets including the enormous Harvard Book Store. The region’s Underground, the MTA, makes it easy to get almost anywhere.
Culture and entertainment come in all shapes and sizes in Boston. For shopping, perhaps the most atmospheric spots in town are Faneuil Hall (also a Freedom Trail stop, by the way) and Quincy Market, historic covered markets of the type you’ll find in many European cities. Many Bostonians are passionate about sport, and at appropriate times of year I’d recommend taking in a game of the local baseball Red Sox, the Boston Celtics in basketball, the Bruins hockey team, or American football’s New England Patriots (though this last requires a half-hour train ride to the suburbs).
Come dinner time, Beantown (yet another nickname) serves up infinitely more than just Boston baked beans – it’s traditionally known for its Italian food (especially in the North End) and seafood (lobster, clam chowder); another great option is the local Chinatown. Performing arts are huge, from classical music at Symphony Hall to live rock, folk and jazz in the pubs of Cambridge. And for the rest of a fun night out, there’s every kind of scene you can imagine for a modern metropolis, but perhaps the most classic are the beer pubs, a legacy of the massive Irish immigration of the 19th and early 20th century, places like Doyle’s and Brendan Behan in the Jamaica Plain neighbourhood, and of course the by now more touristy, but still simpatico, Cheers Beacon Hill; only its exterior was used for the 1980s sitcom, but the place is naturally a shrine to the series. Maybe everybody won’t know your name, but you’ll still be glad you came.
- Boston proper has a bit fewer than 700,000 inhabitants, but its metro area includes more than 4 million.
- Summers are hot and humid, winters cold, snowy, and windy.
- The currency is the U.S. dollar.
- Tipping in the United States is voluntary, but in restaurants a tip of between 15 and 20 percent is expected. In most establishments service is not included in the final bill, but some places have started to do so – so check your bill to make sure you’re not tipping twice!
- Iberia operates summer service to Boston once a day via Madrid; fares from Madrid, fares from the UK.
More info: www.BostonUSA.com.
photos | Urban, Victorgrigas