Boston feels like a small town where you can’t turn around without bumping into a gravestone of a Son of Liberty, running into an historical landmark or stumbling upon a legendary building. It’s the Cradle of Liberty full of lessons from history; it’s Beantown, heavy with cultural significance; it’s America’s Walking City, full of pedestrians who dig their rickety old subway cars because they’re the oldest and the coolest.
Boston famously offers its Freedom Trail, a path of bricks that takes a walker throughout the city past its most significant sites. The Freedom Trail Tour took us from Boston Common to Faneuil Hall, past the Granary Burying Ground where Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock and others are buried, including all five victims of the Boston Massacre; and past the Old State House where those five were slain and where the Declaration of Independence was first read aloud to the public.
Along the Freedom Trail are the most politically significant landmarks but also several “oldests” and “firsts” such as the Omni Parker House and the Union Oyster House, the longest continuously running hotel and restaurant in the country, respectively. The Freedom Trail makes it easy to discover your nation’s history on your own, but there are also excellent tours that are educational and entertaining – for our two “professional tours,” we chose to travel by land and by sea on the Boston Duck Tour (www.bostonducktours.com) and strictly by sea aboard a Boston Harbor Cruise (www.bostonharborcruises.com).
Boston Duck Tour
For a particularly fun tour of the city by land and water, hop aboard one of the candy-colored fleet of duck boats that roll through the city before splashing into the Charles River.
The name “duck boat” is derived from DUKW, the acronym given to a six-wheeled amphibious vehicle developed by General Motors during World War II. The “ducks” were used by the Army and Marine Corps to carry ammunition and supplies from ships to shore during the invasions of Normandy and Sicily. Once they were phased out, they were modified to cater to the tourism industry.
This tour is great all ages. Our 65-minute excursion started in front of the New England Aquarium (the other two departure sites are the Museum of Science and at the Prudential Center) and every seat was sold out as the jaunts are a popular draw for tourists and locals. The sightseeing tour starts on land then continues on water, where the “conDUCKtor” lets the youngsters sit up front and spend a few minutes steering the amphibious vehicle.
This “duck’s-eye view” of the city includes include a humorous yet informative narration pointing out Boston facts, along with an ample amount of its fables and legends (for the land part of the tour, we rolled by The Beantown Pub, which is across the street from the Granary Burying Ground, final resting place for Paul Revere, John Hancock and other notable patriots, the Old State House, Faneuil Hall, through Government Center and over toward the north side of Beacon Hill).
The transition from land to water is the most exciting part as we splash down in the Charles River and float past landmarks like the Hatch Shell while we enjoy skyline views of Boston and Cambridge.
Boston Harbor Cruises
Stroll down to the waterfront and climb on board a boat to feel the ocean breeze, taste the salty air, and enjoy the city’s spectacular skyline.
Boston Harbor Cruises (BHC) offers a full roster of sightseeing tours on a double-decker passenger ferry. From April through November, the USS Constitution Cruise gives passengers the chance to get off the boat and explore the Charlestown Navy Yard (home to the U.S.S. Constitution, aka “Old Ironsides”) and Bunker Hill. Both are worth a visit for history buffs and the area around Bunker Hill has a number of quaint streets.
From May to early September, other options include longer sightseeing cruises, sunset cruises and brunch cruises. Longer cruises might head further out to the Harbor Islands, including a view of the historic Boston Light. Cruise during the day for best expansive views, set sail in the evening for a spectacular sunset; or opt for a night tour cool cocktails and city lights.
Where to stay
We couldn’t have picked a better “home base” than The Langham, Boston (www.langhamhotels.com). Housed in Boston’s former Federal Reserve Bank building (which originally opened in 1922), this AAA four-diamond hotel is a national architectural landmark that fashionably blends history with a contemporary style featuring “classic interiors with hints of its 1920s Renaissance Revival heritage” (more on this later).
Known as the “Cradle of Liberty,” the city of Boston played a crucial role in the story of America. Dozens of historic Boston Attractions and structures have been preserved and maintained so that visitors can experience both colonial and contemporary Boston.
The same could be said of The Langham, Boston. Its location in the heart of downtown made it super convenient to access virtually every destination on our sightseeing “wish list” – from the waterfront and historic sites to iconic attractions like Faneuil Hall Marketplace and Boston’s North End (aka “Little Italy).
The property features 318 classically styled rooms and suites characterized by pale cream and gold interiors complemented by upholstered sofas and dark wood furnishings. Each room offers dramatic and expansive views of downtown Boston including historic Norman B. Leventhal Park at Post Office Square, the bustling Financial District and the city skyline. The service was nothing short of spectacular from start to finish – from the warm welcome at check-in to the friendly (daily) assistance of the hotel’s knowledgeable concierge.
The hotel’s signature “Blissful” beds were just as advertised and the in-room amenities and thoughtful modern conveniences made this a particularly relaxing, pampering retreat and a quiet escape in the bustling city.
During our stay, we sampled many great “eats” – from casual farmer’s market fare to more formal dining – but two establishments are worth a special mention: Salvatore’s in Boston’s Theater District (www.salvatoresrestaurants.com) and Pier 6 (www.pier6boston) in the Charlestown Navy Yard.
Pier 6 is a three-story eatery perched on the pier it’s named for and boasts windows overlooking the city skyline and water below, but the rooftop deck was the place to be. We sat down to dinner about a half an hour before sunset to take in the spectacular views of the harbor and downtown Boston by day and dusk – that coupled with the great atmosphere, attentive service and great seafood made our dining experience one to remember.
We started with a dozen delicious oysters on the half shell – Wellfleet from Cape Cod and Freeland Creek from Canada.
Popular small plates range from an Antipasto Board which arrives as an assortment of Italian cured meats and cheese, olives and dark rye and the herbed Feta dip, sundried tomato and basil hummus, vegetables and warm pita to the Rhode Island-style calamari accompanied by spicy aioli and the grilled octopus paired with fingerling potatoes and charred scallion vinaigrette.
For the main course, we went with the Grilled Half Chicken with rosemary potatoes, kale and black trumpet cream sauce and the signature Pier 6 Burger – cooked to perfection and topped with Vermont cheddar and bacon.
Situated directly between the Opera House and Paramount Theater, Salvatore’s served up casual, classic Italian dishes with an international twist. The cuisine, which incorporates seasonal flavors and emerging food trends, is defined by an ever-changing menu – from popular pastas and scrumptious salads. Our table sampled a bit of everything – I opted for the grilled salmon salad which arrived with chopped mixed greens, gorgonzola, grilled asparagus and red onion while my husband chose the Saltimbocca, a delicious entrée of all-natural chicken, prosciutto, provolone, white wine sage sauce and accompanied by seasonal vegetables.
Day Tripping in nearby Newport, Rhode Island
One of the country’s oldest cities, Newport was founded in 1639 and transformed into a major port city in the 18th century. The picturesque city of around 25,000 residents once served as the “Summer White House” for Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy. Known for its stately historic mansions, waterfront shops and dining, Newport made for a wonderful day trip (www.discovernewport.org is a great resource to find attractions, recreation, dining, etc.).
The Vanderbilts and Astors have been gone for decades, but the town that was once the quintessential summer playground of the uber-wealthy continues to draw tourists of all ages and life stages to its dramatic seaside attractions. Located along Newport’s eastern shore, “Cliff Walk” is world famous as a public access walk that combines the natural beauty of the New England rocky shoreline with the architectural history of Newport’s Gilded Age.
If you’d prefer to experience the opulence of the 10 colossally beautiful homes that make up the historic Newport Mansions from the inside, The Preservation Society of Newport County offers guided and self-guided tours (visit www.newportmansions.org for operating schedule).
Visitors can either follow a tour guide or pace themselves with an audio tour where you can listen to detailed personal accounts of the residents and servants.
If you only have time to tour one, The Breakers mansion is the crown jewel of Newport Rhode Island mansions and is the most popular attraction in the entire state with 300,000 visitors annually.
Designed by Richard Morris Hunt for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, President and Chairman of the New York Central Railroad, The Breakers is a 13-acre estate overlooking the Atlantic. Decorated with both
French and Italian fashions, the mansion has 70 rooms (33 for the help) and the Great Hall has 45-foot high ceilings. Open daily year-round except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, Cornelius
Vanderbilt II’s great-grandchildren still live on the third floor of the mansion (closed to visitors) during the summer.
Newport Harbor is one of the most historic, exciting and beautiful harbors in New England and a harbor tour or late afternoon Smugglers Cocktail Cruise on Rum Runner II is a great way to “relive the speed and thrill of the chase of the smuggler boats from the days of Prohibition.” Classic Cruises of Newport (cruisenewport.com) restored Elco Motor yacht cruises through local waters by Newport mansions and former speakeasies that were fueled by seaborne smugglers back in the 1920s and 30s.
Ghost Tours of Newport
For something different, the “Olde Town Ghost Walk” is one of two tours offered nightly by Ghost Tours of Newport (ghostsofnewport.com). Take a lantern-led guided evening stroll down historic
Newport’s shadowy lanes and discover the ghosts, ghouls, and legends of this haunted city by the sea.
Who haunts George Washington’s Revolutionary War headquarters? Was Lizzie Borden acting on her own accord... or just following in her family footsteps? Why do people continue to hear a mysterious drum beat as they walk the bricks of Blood Alley? What are the strange winged skulls crowning the tombstones of New England’s dead?
Tours depart nightly, rain or shine, from Fathom’s restaurant at the Newport Marriott hotel, 25 America’s Cup Avenue.