Whilst I found New York City really exciting, and Buffalo was much more interesting than I’d expected, Boston was my favourite of the three cities that I visited in the USA. It was the only one of the three where I could imagine living there myself and I would have happily stayed there a lot longer. Boston had all of the things I look for in a city; history, culture, green spaces and good food! Read on for my advice for how to spend a three day short break in Boston.
Day 1: The Freedom Trail
The Freedom Trail regularly tops lists of top things to do in Boston and it would certainly be the thing that I recommend the most. It’s a great way to see a large section of the city by foot and get your bearings, whilst learning a lot more about the history of the city. You’ll pass other places of interest in addition to those marked on the trail, so I’d leave a decent amount of time to complete it. It took us most of the day, but we took it at a very leisurely pace and made several stops en route.
There are guided tours available which looked quite fun, but we opted for a self-guided option and picked up a $3 map from the information centre. You can follow the bricks through the city without paying anything, but we decided we wanted a bit more historical information and context to the points on the trail. The trail starts at Boston Common, so whilst you’re there go and say hello to the ducklings statue as you will see the book “Make Way for Ducklings” at the front of every bookstore.
As you make your way on the trail, try and look up and around as much as possible. Boston has a really interesting mix of old and new buildings which sit side by side in harmony – it really gives the city character. One of our stops on the trail was at Fanueil Hall, a historic market place and meeting hall. I’d recommend popping downstairs (not just for a toilet stop!) and stopping to watch one of the videos they have on loop – we caught a really interesting one on escaped slaves completely by chance.
We were spoiled for choice with where we could have eaten along the trail, but opted for food at Boston Public Market (and vowing to return to Fanueil Market Hall for dinner). Boston Public Market is an indoor marketplace featuring a number of New England food producers. There were lots of artisan products and it felt quite high end. As the weather was so nice we ate outside on one of the many greenway spaces before continuing onwards with the tour.
Towards the end of the trail you’ll reach a memorial tower – as well as visiting the museum at its base for some interesting information, make sure you go up the tower. It’s free and it offers some great views over the city. I’d also recommend leaving time to go aboard the USS Constitution, also known as ‘Old Ironsides’. She’s the oldest commissioned ship in the US Navy with naval officers and crew still serving aboard. The USS Constitution is free to visit (The Freedom Trail is very easy on the wallet) but you will require ID to get aboard and go through a security screening.
Once we’d finished the trail we travelled back to Downtown Boston on the commuter ferry which was a good way to see the city from a different angle. Once we had come ashore we completed a small section of the harbour walk, including going past the Boston Tea Party museum.
Having worked up quite an appetite, we returned to the Fanueil Market Hall for dinner. There was lots of different choice and I’d recommend eating here at some point in your trip as it was a nice spot to soak up the atmosphere and people watch, although it was full of other tourists. We had some Lobster Mac n Cheese, and tried a more traditional Clam Chowder so that we could say we’d sampled something local.
Day 2: The Universities
Given that we were staying about a ten minute walk from the MIT campus, we couldn’t resist going for a wander round so started our second day here. It has a lovely riverside location, so even if you just walk along the river a little way you can enjoy views of the university buildings on one side, and across to Boston on the other. We popped into the Koch Institute Public Galleries and learned more about the work being done in cancer research. It was really interesting so I’d recommend popping in, although not all of the exhibits were working.
After a short ride on the ‘T’ we ended up at Harvard. Here we followed our pop-up map’s tour of Harvard around the grounds. Given that Harvard features in a number of films and TV series I expected it to feel quite familiar, but it wasn’t really what I expected at all. There were a lot more trees than I expected, and I think I imagined the buildings being more spread-out. We didn’t venture into any of the museums whilst we were at Harvard as it felt like too nice a day to be inside, but I think they would have been really interesting.
We did however manage to find some time to pop into the Co-op and Harvard book store. If you’re a book lover like me then they’re worth checking out – there are loads of books and the shops were nicely laid out as well. You can also buy all kinds of Harvard merchandise but it’ll cost you – it certainly wasn’t cheap, even for a notebook!
Having wandered around the universities we decided to head back into the city in the mid-afternoon for a walk down Newbury Street. This is a great place to go shopping, or to find a nice cafe to sit and watch the world go by. The buildings looked like houses rather than shops which made it feel a bit less like a shopping street and gave it some character. I also liked the fact that starting at one end and walking down to the other literally took you from a comic book store to Cartier.
On the way down the street we made a slight detour to the Public Library – I clearly still hadn’t had my fill of books! It was less grand than the library in NYC but felt more user-friendly. After another wander through Boston Common we made our way to Chinatown for dinner, making a change from burgers!
Day 3: Exploring more of Boston
On our final day after dropping off our luggage we opted for our third self-guided walking tour (three in three days isn’t bad!). This time we were completing the Black Heritage Trail, to explore yet another part of Boston. The trail took us around Beacon Hill which was a rather lovely area with some beautiful houses. The trail itself wasn’t particularly well marked and had very limited information as you went along. I think it’s probably worth getting a guided tour for this one so that you aren’t missing out. We did however stumble across where Louisa May Alcott used to live – as Little Women was one of my favourite books as a child this made me very happy!
After finishing the trail we took a self-guided tour of State House. It was completely free and you were pretty much able to just wander where you liked, even though there were events taking place.
After a spot of lunch we headed to the Prudential Center to see what it was (basically a big shopping centre) and found ourselves in another large Barnes & Noble bookstore. From here, we walked back up Newbury Street for an ice cream sundae, before finishing our day walking along the bank of the river watching boats, windsurfers, herons and squirrels.
Top tips for a stay in Boston
One of the things I found most surprising when booking our stay in Boston was the price of accommodation. I didn’t think it would be cheap, but I hadn’t expected the hotels to be even more expensive than in New York City. My advice would be to stay in Cambridge – it’s just the other side of the river, an interesting place in its own right and a bit cheaper. We stayed in an Air BnB and there was really easy access into the centre of Boston using public transport.
Take the Silver Line from the airport into the city. It’ll take you right into the centre of town and is a really easy way to travel into the city from the airport. Best of all – it’s free! It was our first experience of the integrated transport system and we were really impressed.
If you have luggage that you need to store for the day, go to the South Station Greyhound Package Express. It was really convenient for us as it was open during the hours we needed, it was $10 per bag and it was manned the whole time so we felt like our belongings were pretty secure. As we had to leave from South Station to return to the airport from the city it was very convenient.
Although Boston is known as a walking city, you’ll probably find yourself using public transport to get around. Even though we were only staying in Boston for a few days, the cheapest way for us to get around was to buy a 7 day Charlie Card which was valid on all the transport we wanted to use. As we were staying a little way out of the city, it meant we could travel in and out as much as we liked and we’d probably made our money back after a couple of trips. We also got to go on a ferry, which we probably wouldn’t have done otherwise.
If you find yourself over in Cambridge, make sure you check out Christina’s on Cambridge Street for Ice Cream. There were loads of different flavours available and it was clearly a popular spot as there seemed to be a queue no matter what time of day. I had carrot cake and cookie dough flavours, whereas James tried peanut butter and ginger.
If you hadn’t gathered already, I really loved Boston and have enthused about it to everyone since. We were really lucky with the weather whilst we were there, which meant it was perfect to do lots of walking trails and spend as much time as possible outdoors. If I returned, I’d be keen to do more of the museums, head to the aquarium (which was recommended to me by multiple people before we left) and possibly take a trip up the coast to visit Salem. I hope at some point I’ll be back.
Have you been to Boston? What would you recommend?