48 Hours In Boston

The city where the fight for American independence began is a historic, lively, cosmopolitan destination. It's also easily navigable on foot, making it the perfect place for a short break. Jonathan Thompson goes exploring
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The Independent Travel

WHY GO NOW?

WHY GO NOW?

Boston has a depth of history that is lacking in many US cities, and the relatively short flight from Britain means that you can easily take a weekend break here. In addition, the infamous "Big Dig" (the project to bury the freeway that disfigured downtown for decades), is finally finished.

TOUCH DOWN

From Heathrow, you can fly to Boston's Logan airport with American Airlines (0845 778 9789; www.aa.com), British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) and Virgin Atlantic (0870 380 2007; www.virgin-atlantic.com). Between now and late November (when prices rise for Thanksgiving), fares are typically in the £250-£300 range - though cheaper Icelandair flights from Heathrow and Glasgow via Reykjavik are often cheaper (020-8874 1000; www.icelandair.co.uk).

Logan airport is across the harbour from downtown Boston. You can reach the centre by taking the free shuttle bus to the Airport station on Boston's "T" underground system, from where a ticket into central Boston costs $1.25 (£0.70). Ride the blue line four stops to Government Center, 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 Charles River separates it from Cambridge, the home of Harvard University.

Boston's main tourist office (001 617 536 4100; www.bostonusa.com) is the Boston Common Visitor Center, which is at 147 Tremont Street, near the Park Street T stop. There is a second office at the Prudential Center at 800 Boylston Street. Both open 9am-5pm daily. For more information on Boston, and longer stays in New England, go to the Discover New England website ( www.discovernewengland.org), or call the brochure line on 01564 794999. The "Go Boston" card is an excellent way to take in the city's sights. A two-day card in October costs $63.75 (£37) and offers unlimited admission to most major attractions. You can buy it from the tourist office or at www.gobostoncard.com.

CHECK IN

For luxury and convenience, the Fairmont Copley Plaza at 138 St James Avenue (001 617 267 5300; www.fairmont.com) is difficult to beat. This palatial establishment has played host to every US President since it opened in 1912, along with stars including Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Ben Affleck. It even has its own "authentic" London cab for visitors to use - complete with not-so-authentic left-hand drive. A double room in mid-October starts at $262 (£154) without breakfast.

The nearby Copley Square Hotel at 47 Huntington Avenue (001 617 536 9000; www.copleysquarehotel.com) is good but pricey, with double rooms from $331 (£195) without breakfast. You can save cash by going for a package; for example, British Airways Holidays (0870 24 33 406, www.ba.com/holidays) offers three nights at the Copley Square Hotel in November for £447 per person, including flights and car rental. A budget option is the Midtown Hotel down the road at 220 Huntington Ave (001 617 262 1000; www.midtownhotel.com) where double rooms start at $100 (£59); the price includes a free parking space but no breakfast.

TAKE A VIEW

The Skywalk Observatory (001 617 859 0648; www.prudentialcenter.com/play/skywalk) on the 50th floor of the Prudential Tower 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 famous son, John F Kennedy, and the house from where Alexander Graham Bell made the world's first phone call.

WINDOW SHOPPING

The retail epicentre of Boston is the junction of Summer and Winter Streets, where Filene's and Macy's department stores face one another. The most interesting mainstream mall is across the Charles River at CambridgeSide. For designer outlets and funky boutiques, head for Newbury Street.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

Try Al Capone's at 102 Broad Street (001 617 227 2692) where a $2.89 (£1.70) "slice" of pizza is really two slices, and to keep turnover rapid everyone stands up to eat. On a sunny autumn day, though, you might be more tempted by the nearby Milk Street Café in Post Office Square, which serves Mediterranean food.

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 centre and winds across the city for a couple of miles. Highlights include the ostentatious, gold-domed State House, and the Bunker Hill Monument, where visitors can climb to the top of an impressive 221ft obelisk commemorating one of the most famous battles of the American Revolution.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

The John F Kennedy Library and Museum at Columbia Point is an engaging memorial to America's 35th president (001 617 514 1600; www.jfklibrary.org); it opens 9am-5pm daily and admission is $10 (£5.50), or free with a Go Boston card. Memorabilia ranges from JFK's rocking chair to gifts given to him by foreign heads of state.

The Museum of Science at 1 Science Park (001 617 723 2500; www.mos.org) hosts a Lord of the Rings film exhibition until 24 October. It is also home to the world's largest air-insulated Van de Graaf generator - designed and built by Dr Robert Van de Graaf himself - and the site of Boston's IMAX cinema. It opens 9am-5pm daily (Fridays until 9pm). Basic admission costs $14 (£7.75), but there may be supplementary costs for some of the exhibitions. Again, entry is free with a Go Boston card.

AN APERITIF

Try a white chocolate Martini amid the decadent grandeur and dark wood panelling of The Oak Room at The Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel (001 800 257 7544; www.fairmont.com). For something slightly more funky, visit Vox at 755 Boylston Street (001 617 424 8300), where young office workers 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 famous Samuel Adams lager.

DINING WITH THE LOCALS

The convivial Union Oyster House at 41 Union Street (001 617 227 2750; www.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 rather than a bowl if you want to leave enough space for a main course. 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.

SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH

Were it not for the magnificent Old North Church at 193 Salem Street (001 617 523 6676, www.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 (to 5pm between November and May), admission free.

OUT TO BRUNCH

You can't really visit Boston without dropping into one of its two Cheers tribute bars. The "original" at 84 Beacon Street (001 617 227 9605; www.cheersboston.com) was the inspiration for the successful television comedy series, while the "replica" at Faneuil Hall (001 617 227 0150) is a working recreation of the studio set. Both open at 11am daily; the latter has a more extensive menu.

TAKE A RIDE

For an unconventional view of the city, try Ducktours (001 617 267 3825; www.bostonducktours.com). From April to November, the company offers tours of the city by land and water, in its converted Second World War amphibious landing craft. Many residents will give you a "quack, quack" as you drive past. The 80-minute trip costs $24 (£13.30), but is free with a Go Boston card. The vehicles depart from the Museum of Science and Prudential Center, and run from 9am until one hour before sunset.

A WALK IN THE PARK

Boston Common, 48 acres of rolling greenery, 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 that twists through the city.

WRITE A POSTCARD

Sit on one of the benches in the Charles River Esplanade Park - a thin piece of greenery that stretches along the river bank. From here, you can watch the boats sail quietly by, while enjoying panoramic views of Cambridge.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

The baseball season might be almost over, but Fenway Park, home to the famed Boston Red Sox and one of the most celebrated stadiums in American sport, is always worth a visit. For $10 (£6), visitors can take a tour of the grand old ballpark, including the locker rooms, dugouts and the pitch itself, where the legendary home-run hitter Babe Ruth once plied his trade. Tours leave from the Red Sox souvenir store opposite the stadium on Yankey Way (001 617 226 6666; www.redsox.com), and take place hourly from 9am-4pm, seven days a week.

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