A first timer's guide to Boston, Massachusetts, USA

If you enjoy urban breaks and are looking to visit a city with a winning blend of historic sites, professional sports teams plus places to enjoy good food and drink then why not plan a trip to Boston? The capital of Massachusetts has lots to do and see, and you can be there in around seven hours direct from London Heathrow with Virgin Atlantic.

A first timer's guide to Boston, Massachusetts © Ptwo - Flickr Creative Commons
A first timer's guide to Boston, Massachusetts © Ptwo - Flickr Creative Commons

Places to go in Boston

Faneuil Hall Marketplace

This national historic site, known as 'the Cradle of Liberty', is one of Boston's best-loved landmarks and located at the city's heart. Built in the 1740s, Faneuil Hall is still a popular meeting place.

Street performers entertain on the pedestrian zone outside the elegant Great Hall. Nearby, you'll be able to browse numerous stores in the North and South markets. If you're feeling hungry take a look inside Quincy Market Food Colonnade.

Boston waterfront

From Faneuil Hall you can stroll into the North End district, where you'll find cosy Italian restaurants. Vessels still sail from the wharves along Boston's waterfront. For memorable skyline selfies and photographs of skyscrapers looming over the harbour, head to Fan Pier.

New England Aquarium

On the way you'll pass by the angular façade of the New England Aquarium. A hit with families, this popular attraction has an IMAX cinema and provides insights into the marine life off Boston. The touch tank, housing rays and sharks, is a hands on experience to remember.

Boston museums

You can also interact with exhibits within the Museum of Science, where the permanent displays cover themes ranging from nanotechnology to dinosaurs. The vast collection of the Museum of Fine Arts encompasses artefacts from ancient Egypt plus oil paintings by artists such as Vincent van Gogh and John Singer Sargent. It's easy to spend a day in either of these institutions, just two of more than 40 museums in Boston.

Interior of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston © Bill Damon - Flickr Creative Commons
Interior of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston © Bill Damon - Flickr Creative Commons

Things to do in Boston

The Freedom Trail

The Freedom Trail is a two-and-a-half mile heritage walk that skirts past 16 of the historic sites in downtown Boston, including the Massachusetts State House. Join guides wearing 18th-century style costumes to hear about incidents that shaped the city and America as a whole.

The engaging 90-minute guided tours begin at Boston Common or Faneuil Hall, telling the story of Boston's role in the American Revolution. The Battle of Bunker Hill, in 1775, was one of the first engagements of the war. In Charlestown you can visit a memorial, a vast obelisk, to that engagement.

A Boston Duck Tour

You don't need to be into birdwatching or waterfowl to enjoy one of these tours - the duck is an amphibious landing vehicle. An 80-minute Boston Duck Tour introduces the city's key tourist attractions with an entertaining live commentary.

Duck in the Charles River, Boston © Chris - Flickr Creative Commons
Duck in the Charles River, Boston © Chris - Flickr Creative Commons

In addition to traversing the streets - past sites of interest such as the Old State House, Cheers pub and Trinity Church - the ducks splash into the Charles River, giving you great views of the skylines of Boston, on the south shore of the waterway, and Cambridge, to its north.

Walking on Boston Common & Public Garden

Strolling Boston Common's 44 acres gives you fine views of the city's high-rise skyline. It also allows you to tick a heritage box - it is America's oldest public park, having been established by Puritan settlers back in 1634.

Statue of George Washington in Boston Public Garden © Romanslavik.com - Fotolia.com
Statue of George Washington in Boston Public Garden © Romanslavik.com - Fotolia.com

It's possible to while away hours in the park. During summertime the hill beneath the Soldiers and Sailors Monument is a popular picnic area, while in winter the Frog Pond is converted into a skating rink. Willows surround the lake in the Public Garden, on the other side of Charles Street, while an iconic statue of George Washington sitting astride a horse hints at Boston's significant role during the years leading up to independence.

Sink a beer or two

Enjoy downing a beer after learning how it's produced during a free, hour-long tour of the Samuel Adams Brewery. The brewery is a popular destination, particularly on Saturdays, so arrive early to ensure you get a ticket as reservations aren't possible. Alternatively - or additionally, if you like your ale - take a tour of the Harpoon Brewery, which has a sizable beer hall in the Seaport district. Started by three friends, Harpoon was an early exponent on the now thriving craft brewing scene. Tours are also held on Sundays.

Whale watching tours

At the harbour, which opens out onto Massachusetts Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, you can board boats to take whale watching tours, which last around three hours. The best time to do so is from May into October, when migrating humpback, minke and finback whales gather on the Stellwagen Bank, a nutrient-rich underwater plateau.

Whale watching off Boston in the summer sunshine © Ptwo - Flickr Creative Commons
Whale watching off Boston in the summer sunshine © Ptwo - Flickr Creative Commons

While in the waters of the national marine sanctuary you might also see dolphins and seabirds, including shearwaters, cormorants and storm petrels. Boston Harbor Cruises is among the companies offering whale watching cruises.

Watch a pro sports game

Boston is the home to the Celtics NBA basketball franchise, Bruins NHL ice hockey team, and the Red Sox baseball club. Even if you're in Boston out of season, or while a team is on the road, you can join a tour of Fenway Park, the home of the Red Sox for over a century.

Tours of Boston

Why not orientate yourself by joining one of the many bicycle, bus or walking tours of Boston? Find out more about the tours available at the visitor information offices at Boston Common and Prudential Center.

Day trips from Boston

The picturesque village of Salem, a 40-minute drive northeast of Boston, was the location of a series of witchcraft trials in 1692. Join a walking tour or pop into the Salem Witch Museum to discover more about the infamous trials that resulted in the execution of 20 people.

Plimoth Plantation, a living museum under an hour's drive south of Boston, recreates how life was for early settlers of New England. Hop on a ferry from Hyannis to enjoy day trips to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, two of the islands off New England's south coast.

Does the idea of exploring Boston float your boat? Check out the latest great value fares from Virgin Atlantic, and remember to see what the weather in Boston is up to, plus when we think is the best time to go for a warm and sunny city break.

Stuart Forster

Stuart Forster
Posted on Friday 23rd December 2016 in: City Culture North America

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