Amazing food and amazing architecture – that pretty much sums up my one-day spent in Boston, Massachusetts. And really, what more could I ask for? If you haven’t already noticed from the types of articles that I have written here at Calculated Traveller, I plan everything on my trips around restaurants that I have to eat at, and buildings that I have to visit. Boston definitely does not disappoint in this department.
I first went to Boston as part of a week-long family cruise around the east coast of Canada and New England, so I only had about 7 hours in the city to play around with before we had to be back on board for the next port. The ships dock at the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal, outside of the primary downtown core. Not to worry though – something really great about Boston is that the city is relatively small for a major city, and I was able to take public transit or walk everywhere I had planned. Here’s a breakdown of how I fit almost everything I wanted to do into one day.
Walkable, Quaint and Historic Boston
9:00-9:30am Skip the taxi – even if you have a couple of days or a couple of hours, I would suggest taking the subway in Boston, as it will save you money, and you’ll get to experience a key historic feature of the city. Built in 1897, it’s the first subway system in the United States! It’s really quite the experience to see the original subway platforms, especially in comparison to some of the public transit systems found in your home town. For me, I found the subway extremely crowded, probably because it was barely designed for the number of people who now live in Boston. However, it’s nothing compared to subway systems in Beijing and my hometown Toronto (I know, the TTC really is that bad!). By the time we got off the ship (we like to take our time eating a nice breakfast on board), it was about 9am. From Black Falcon Cruise Terminal, catch the bus just outside the terminal and get off at South Station – this will bring you one stop away from what I used as the central marker for the city – Boston Common.
09:30-10:00 Despite the weather not being so great when I was there, a walk through Boston Common is a must-do; similarly to NYC and Central Park, you really get a sense that you aren’t in an urban downtown area, and the little sculptures of ducks give the park a real quant feeling. Boston is known for its historic roots, so be sure to watch out for glimpses of amazing buildings with major historic value on the edges of the park, including the Massachusetts State House. If you look to the north-west end of the park, you’ll see some of the low-rise stone and brick buildings that make up the historic Beacon Hill district. Head north-west towards the Charles River for a picture-perfect moment!
10:00-10:30 There’s a pretty major vehicular road that crosses your path to the Charles River Esplanade, but once you cross the pedestrian foot bridge, you’ll have a great view of MIT and East Cambridge across the water. I managed to spot the famed Great Dome and Alvar Aalto’s Baker House residence building on MIT’s campus. Be sure to also snap a photo of the unique Hatch Shell Dome, where they have many public concerts!
10:30-11:00 After spending some time on the Esplanade, we made our way through the Beacon Hill neighbourhood along Mt Vernon St, towards the financial district of Boston. This is such a wonderful area to have a morning walk before lunch. The neighbourhood is one of the oldest and most expensive in the city, with some buildings dating back to the early 1800s. You’ll find some wonderful copper detailing, and the very characteristic red brick which adorns most of the row houses. The little details, from the bay windows to the building corners to the extremely deep cornices, make this neighbourhood an architectural dream. If you’re really interested in the history, keep an eye out for the occasional historic signage affixed on fences or walls.
11:00-12:00 As you walk through this neighbourhood, you’ll eventually hit the Massachusetts State House again. You really can’t miss the golden dome rising above the low-lying brick buildings. If you have time, I would suggest taking a tour of this place – the building is absolutely incredible. The architecture evokes a sense of power and importance (duh, it’s a government building in the historic capital of the US), as if you were in Washington, DC. Lots of rooms to explore, paintings to see, and tons of photos from the time of Paul Revere and the Boston Tea Party. Best of all – you can just walk in for free! Budget about an hour for this building – it’s much, much larger than it looks!
Classic New England Eats!
12:00-13:00 After 3 hours of walking, we were starving, so we made our way to Quincy Market. On the way there from the State House, you’ll pass by Boston City Hall (AKA one of the buildings deemed uglier than Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum) and its brutalist architectural surroundings. You’ll also pass by Union Oyster House – Boston’s oldest restaurant. Drop in for New England seafood at its finest if you’re hungry, but make sure you save some room for Quincy Market! The market was everything that I imagined it to be. Lots of choices for eating here, and there’s a huge range of prices. We wandered a bit before settling on lunch at Durgin Park, for a classic Boston meal. Of course, I had some Boston Clam Chowder ($6.75), with oyster crackers, and we shared a Baked Indian Pudding ($5.95). All I can say is that I have yet to have Clam Chowder as good as it was in Boston – creamy, flavourful, a touch of salt from the crackers, and you can really make out the little pieces of clam in the soup. The Baked Indian Pudding was the one adventurous thing that I tried here, as I really didn’t know what to expect or what exactly it was. A traditional New England dessert, it’s a mix of cornmeal, milk and molasses, baked for a long time. It was served with vanilla ice cream, and boy was it sweet. I think the only way to describe it, is that you get the same feeling as if you’re biting into a fresh-baked pie against the cold, melting ice cream served à la mode.
13:00-16:00 Making our way east into Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park, we took the harbourwalk pathway through and along the piers past the New England Aquarium (unfortunately we didn’t have time to go in…) and towards the direction of the Black Falcon Terminal. Atlantic Avenue is a wonderful boulevard that is perfectly designed for the waterfront. It’s truly one of those grand avenues that you usually see converging into a massive government building. If you have time (or if you’re in port past 4pm), check out the Institute for Contemporary Art on the way back to the terminal. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro Architects in NYC, this building literally glows during the night, and is also a great place to view amazing pieces of contemporary art. The plaza sheltered by the building overlooks the waterfront, and provides views across the water towards the airport and other areas outside the downtown core.
Grab any bus along this stretch heading towards the terminal – it’s only a couple of stops before you’re back on board your cruise ship!
So there you have it! My busy day strolling through the historic architecture of Boston’s downtown. There’s really everything for one to see in this city – memorable food, a waterfront trail, public gardens, a historic neighbourhood, massive government structures, modernist giants, and unique contemporary architecture! This is definitely a city that I hope to one day return to, to really go through some of the things that I missed along my planned walking tour. But hey – what’s the point of travelling if you don’t have the anticipation and urge to go back to do it all again in the near future!