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WHY GO NOW?
The city where the fight for American independence began is a historic, lively, cosmopolitan destination. The Massachusetts capital has a depth of history that is lacking in many US cities, and the relatively short flight from Britain makes it practical for a weekend. You could also feel you are walking through a film location; Boston is the setting for several Hollywood movies to be released this year, including the The Proposal, starring Sandra Bullock, the forthcoming The Invention of Lying, starring Ricky Gervais and Jennifer Garner, and Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island.
From Heathrow, you can fly to Boston's Logan airport with American Airlines (020-7365 0777; aa.com ), British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com ) and Virgin Atlantic (0870 380 2007; virgin-atlantic.com ).
The airport is just across the harbour from downtown Boston. The best approach is by water: take the Massport shuttle bus 66 from outside the arrivals area at each terminal to Logan Dock, from where a water taxi will take you to any stop within the inner harbour from the Coast Guard Station (1) on Battery Wharf down to the World Trade Center (2) for a flat fare of $10 (£6.70).
Bus SL1 runs from each terminal to South Station (3), via a tunnel, for a fare of $2 (£1.30). For other destinations in the city, take the free shuttle bus to the Airport station on Boston's "T" underground system, from which a ticket into central Boston costs $2 (£1.30). Ride the blue line four stops to Government Center (4), from where most of the city is nearby.
GET YOUR BEARINGS
"The Walking City" is pleasantly compact and easy to explore on foot. It faces the Atlantic to the east, while the river Charles separates it from Cambridge, the home of Harvard University. The Boston Common Visitor Center (5) is at 148 Tremont Street (001 617 536 4100; bostonusa.com ); open 9am-5pm, from 8.30am on weekdays. There is a second office at the Prudential Center (6) at 800 Boylston Street, open 11am-6pm (from 10am at weekends). A two-day "Go Boston" card costs $79.99 (£53) and covers admission to most major attractions. You can buy it from the tourist offices or at gobostoncard.com (001 800 887 9103).
The new Fairmont Battery Wharf (7), at 3 Battery Wharf (001 617 994 9000; fairmont.com/batterywharf ), is situated near the North End's vibrant Italian quarter. Take advantage of the summer rate running until 30 September by quoting "Everyone's an original" when you book three days in advance for a 20 per cent discount, giving double rooms from $239 (£159).
The nearby Lenox Hotel (8) at 61 Exeter Street at Boylston (001 617 536 5300; lenoxhotel.com ) is a good mix of traditional opulence and contemporary boutique chic, with doubles typically at $298 (£199) without breakfast.
A budget option is the Midtown Hotel (9) down the road at 220 Huntington Ave (001 617 262 1000; midtownhotel.com ), where double rooms start at $149 (£99), excluding breakfast.
TAKE A VIEW
The Skywalk Observatory (001 617 859 0648; prudentialcenter.com ), on the 50th floor of the Prudential Center (6) at 800 Boylston Street, offers a 360-degree view of the city and sight of the mountains of New Hampshire on a clear day. An audio tour takes visitors through the history of Boston by pinpointing key buildings below. These include the former home of Boston's most celebrated son, John F Kennedy, and the house from where Alexander Graham Bell made the world's first telephone call
Tickets cost $12 (£8) per person and trips run from March to October 10am-10pm (last elevator 9.30pm), until 8pm between November and February.
The retail epicentre of Boston is the junction of Summer and Winter Streets (10), where Filene's and Macy's department stores face one another. The most interesting mainstream mall is across the river Charles at CambridgeSide (11)
For stylish boutiques, head for Newbury Street (12), where you can make your way from the high-end designer stores gracing the top of the street to the more affordable shops further down.
LUNCH ON THE RUN
Try Al Capone's (13) at 102 Broad Street (001 617 482 7846), where a "slice" of pizza costing $3.75 (£2.50) is really two slices, and to keep turnover rapid everyone stands up to eat. On a sunny summer's day, though, you might be more tempted by the nearby Milk Street Café (14), near Post Office Square, which serves Mediterranean food, including a Middle Eastern Platter $7.30 (£4.90) and roasted herb salmon $8.80 (£5.90).
TAKE A HIKE
Boston's "Freedom Trail" is marked by a red-brick line that meanders past 16 historical buildings and sites. The trail begins at the main Visitor Center (5) and winds across the city for a couple of miles. Highlights include the ostentatious, gold-domed State House (15), and the Bunker Hill Monument (16), where visitors can climb to the top of an impressive 221ft obelisk commemorating one of the most crucial battles of the American Revolution.
Head to the Museum of Fine Arts (17) at 465 Huntington Avenue (001 617 267 9300), which is hosting an exhibition of masterpieces by Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese until 16 August. Admission to the museum and exhibition totals $25 (£16.70), and is free on Wednesdays from 4pm until 9.45pm; free with a Go Boston card
The John F Kennedy Library and Museum (18) at Columbia Point is an engaging memorial to America's 35th president (001 617 514 1600; jfklibrary.org ) and an essential visit; it opens 9am-5pm daily and admission is $12 (£8), or free with a Go Boston card. Memorabilia ranges from JFK's rocking chair to gifts given to him by foreign heads of state.
Try a white chocolate Martini amid the decadent grandeur and dark wood panelling of the Oak Room at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel (19) at 138 St James Avenue (001 617 267 5300; fairmont.com ) – the usual residence for US presidents and Hollywood A-listers when they are in town – which is difficult to beat
At Vox (20) at 755 Boylston Street (001 617 424 8300; voxboston.com ), young professionals flock in the early evening to chill out on the patio or comfy sofas upstairs. For an authentic Boston hangover, try a few pints of the city's Samuel Adams beer.
The city has not one but two Cheers tribute bars. The "original", at 84 Beacon Street (21) (001 617 227 9605), was the inspiration for the successful television comedy series, while the "replica" at Faneuil Hall (22) (001 617 227 0150) is a working recreation of the studio set. Both open at 11am daily ( cheersboston.com ).
DINING WITH THE LOCALS
The convivial Union Oyster House (23) at 41 Union Street (001 617 227 2750; unionoysterhouse.com ) claims to be the oldest restaurant in continuous service in the US. The clam chowder, a New England favourite, is recommended, but order a cup for $5.95 (£4) rather than a bowl $7.50 (£5) if you want to leave enough space for a main course. A framed picture displays the many celebrities the restaurant has hosted over the years, while JFK was a regular, coming in at weekends to enjoy lobster stew and read the newspapers. His seat, now "The Kennedy Booth", can be reserved by diners. For dessert, you could head along to the Last Hurrah at the Omni Parker House Hotel (24) at 60 School Street (001 617 227 8600) for a Boston cream pie at the place where it was originally created.
SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH
Were it not for the magnificent Old North Church (25) at 193 Salem Street (001 617 523 6676, oldnorth.com ), "You might be making donations in pound notes" (as a sign on a collection box outside reads). Two lanterns were hung from the church's imposing steeple on 18 April 1775, warning patriots that British troops were coming, and marking the start of the American Revolution. The church is open 9am-6pm daily June to October (with restricted winter hours), admission free, although as the sign suggests, a donation is expected.
OUT TO BRUNCH
Stephanie's on Newbury (26), at 190 Newbury Street (001 617 236 0990), is a good sophisticated brunch option on Sundays from 10am until 3pm
For hearty portions at tiny prices, go to the no-frills Pour House (27) at 907 Boylston Street (001 617 236 1767; pourhouseboston.com ) for the best-value pancakes in the area, with weekend brunch from 8am to 3pm.
TAKE A RIDE
For an unconventional view of the city, try a Duck Tour (001 617 267 3825; bostonducktours.com ). From May to November, the company offers tours of the city by land and water, in its converted Second World War amphibious landing craft. The vehicles depart from the Museum of Science (28), the Prudential Center (6), and from the New England Aquarium (29).
The 80-minute trip costs $31.50 (£21), but the tour from the Museum of Science is free with a Go Boston card. Tours run from 9am until one hour before sunset.
A WALK IN THE PARK
Boston Common (30) is the oldest public park in the US and dates back to 1634. The common forms the anchor for the Emerald Necklace – a series of connected parks. Or to get around more quickly, hire a bike from Back Bay Bicycles (31) at 366 Commonwealth Avenue (001 617 247 2336; backbaybicycles.com ) for $45 (£30) per 24 hours, including helmet and lock, and take the scenic cycle path along the river Charles.
WRITE A POSTCARD
Sit on one of the benches in the Charles River Esplanade Park (32) – a thin piece of greenery that stretches along the bank. From here, you can watch the boats sail quietly by, while enjoying panoramic views of Cambridge.
THE ICING ON THE CAKE
Take the Mass Bay Lines Whale Watch (001 617 542 8000; massbaylines.com ) four-hour boat cruise departing from 60 Rowes Wharf (33) at 10.30am Monday to Friday and 9.30am and 2.30pm on the weekend, until 6 September, for a chance to see whales in the most active whale habitat on the east coast. Tickets are $34.95 (£23.30), but the trip is included with the Go Boston card.