The cradle of liberty, the Athens of America, the home of Harvard, the soul of spectator sport, the seafood capital of the US and one of the birthplaces of hardcore – as a place where the colonial and the contemporary collide, Boston, the capital of Massachusetts, has a lot of reputations to live up to.
Hip modern art wasn’t necessarily one of them, until in 2006 the Institute of Contemporary Art reopened on the banks of Boston Harbor in a building that’s been compared to ‘a glamorous ice-cube’, cantilevering 80 feet over the water’s edge and taking with it the city’s reputation for stodginess.
When the Red Bull cliff divers leap from this man-made precipice on Saturday, August 25 they’ll be plunging into waters that once swirled with 92,000 pounds of tea, dumped by colonists in 1773 in what became known (rather misleadingly, since all concerned were pretty angry) as the Boston Tea Party, and inadvertently sparked the American Revolution.
Fly into Logan International Airport on Boston Harbor, from where you can catch America’s oldest subway downtown – or better still the dock-to-dock Harbor Express water shuttle, which includes the pirate-themed White Pearl in its rotating fleet. Forget taxis – too expensive – and rentals or bikes – too busy, too dangerous. Buses and trains arrive at South Station, a short walk from Downtown.
WHERE TO STAY
The self-explanatory Harborside Inn is a renovated warehouse offering a cheaper than average take on exposed brick chic and European cocktail lounging. For style and location you can’t beat Nine Zero, a new design hotel slap bang on the Freedom Trail with floor-to ceiling windows overlooking downtown Boston. Alternatively, camp under the stars and the twinkling skyline – the Harbor Islands of Bumpkin, Grape, Lovells and Peddocks all have camping grounds open from May-October.
REMEMBER TO PACK
Hiking boots for your trip to the Harbor Islands. A pack of Rennies, should you be tempted by a slice of tourist-trapping Boston Cream Pie. Red clothing to blend in at the baseball. A tea-strainer.
5 PLACES TO VISIT
The Freedom Trail, Boston Common
For a living history lesson, head to this 50-acre park and follow the red brick road. The Freedom Trail is a 2.5-mile self-guided walking tour of 16 sites, from the golden dome of the Massachusetts State House to warship the USS Constitution.
The Cheers pub
The Bull & Finch pub shot to pop cultural fame in the 80s when its exterior was used for the bar-based sitcom, Cheers. Now renamed Cheers Beacon Hill, it pulls in a million visitors a year – that’s a lot of times the barstaff have to hear ‘Put it on Norm’s tab’…
The glass flowers at Harvard Museum of Natural History
Beautiful and bizarre, this 3,000-strong collection of life-size glass flowers (as well as glass cacti, glass bees and even glass bananas) was started by artisan Leopold Blaschka. Having started out making glass eyes for taxidermists, he was commissioned to model flowers as a way to teach botany. The delicate results have now bloomed for five decades.
A one-stop architectural shop for the ‘Athens of America’. From this public square in the Black Bay neighbourhood you can see a style mash-up of some of the most famous buildings in the world; from the stately Trinity church (pictured, below) and Italian renaissance Boston Public Library to the 60-storey, blue-glass fronted John Hancock Tower, the tallest building in New England.
The Harbor Islands
34 islands stretching across Massachusetts Bay, where you can beach bathe, hike and nature-watch just 15 minutes ferry-ride from Boston Long Wharf-North.
5 FAMOUS BOSTONIANS
John F Kennedy
The city that first launched America’s 35th president to fame now has a library and museum in his honour.
The Pulp Fiction star was born here.
Black Francis’ blistering alt-rockers, beloved of Kurt Cobain, formed in Boston in 1986.
The rapper turned Boogie Nights schlong-slinger turned teddy bear’s co-star grew up in Boston and dreamt of playing basketball for the Celtics.
The Iceman Cometh and A Long Day’s Journey into Night playwright, who was born in a Broadway hotel room, uttered his famous last words in Boston’s Shelton Hotel in 1953: “I knew it. I knew it. Born in a hotel room and, god damn it, died in a hotel room”.
WHAT TO DO WITH...
Do like Mark Bolan tells you and ride a white swan. Incredibly, the famous Swan Boat Rides on Boston Common date back to the 1870s, preserved by a single family. Five dollars will get yourself and a mate a graceful 15-minute cruise around the Public Garden Lagoon.
Catch a Boston Red Sox home game (pictured, above) and pay your respects to the ‘Green Monster’ (the 37-foot tall left-field wall) at Fenway Park, which has every right to call itself ‘America’s Most Beloved Ballpark’. Standard tickets cost between 20 and 80 dollars. The oldest active sports arena in the US, its renowned for the all-singing, all-chanting intensity of its fans. As the Major League Baseball promoter Bill Veeck once put it, “Other places have spectators; Fenway has 35,000 participants."
Go sight-seaing (see what we did there?). Cali rockers The Standells may have penned their 1966 classic, Dirty Water, in ironic tribute to the then filthy harbour, but Boston has cleaned up its act. Take a custom kayak tour round the sandy beaches of the Harbor Islands, captain your own mini speedboat across the harbour or take a three-hour whale-watching catamaran tour. Finish by toasting ‘the seafood capital of America’ with 2 Ibs of steamed North Atlantic lobster at the ocean-side Long Wharf branch of the famous Legal Sea Foods, which has its own aquarium.