City Slicker: Why Boston is best for shopping

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Still fancy a trip across the Atlantic to do your Christmas present buying? Try the booming retail scene in this east-coast city and enjoy its sights, old and new, says Kate Simon


Why visit?


Should you go Christmas shopping in America this winter? The pound doesn't offer the amazing value that it has for the past few years, and though sterling steadied after the Chancellor's pre-Budget report, the economic situation remains volatile.

Then there's the green question – should you be flying across the Atlantic at all? But if you still think you'll get more for your money, or have saved up your carbon miles for the trip, consider Boston as your destination rather than the default, New York.

Why? Well, first, sales tax is lower at 5 per cent, and you'll have to spend $175 per garment before you attract any tax on clothing – in Manhattan expect an 8.375 per cent addition to your bill, except for clothes, which attract 4.375 per cent when your spending tops $110. Add to this the fact that, weighed down with all those purchases, it can take just 15 minutes in a cab to get from the heart of the city to Logan airport – better than the hour-plus schlep in a traffic jam from Manhattan to Newark or JFK.

And Boston is a walkable delight, laid out with supreme logic by its original planners – some ladders of streets even follow the alphabet. The wealth of history makes it easy on the eye, too, with fine buildings and statuary to admire when your wallet has had enough.

So, get going and quick: difficult economic times mean this weekend's Thanksgiving sales are likely to roll on through the winter, with huge discounts on offer.

Don't miss...

The panoramic views from the Skywalk on the 50th storey of the Prudential Center (prudentialcenter. com), and a sundowner in a window seat in the bar Top of the Hub ( topofthehub.net ) two floors above.

A guided tour of the Black Heritage Trail (left) to find out about the struggles of the city's abolitionists, and a tour of the South End with the inspiring teenage guides from Mytown ( mytowninc.org ).

Shopping in the rowhouses on Newbury Street.

A ball game at Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox ( redsox.mlb.com ) and the oldest baseball ground in the US.

Awalk through the city's green heart, from Commonwealth Avenue to the pretty Public Gardens and historic Boston Common.

What's new

Seaport

The cranes that dominate the skyline here offer a clue that this is the latest up-and-coming area of town – be prepared to negotiate your way around a mess of building sites if you want to go exploring. But there is a compelling reason to visit this regenerating area of the harbourfront: the Institute of Contemporary Art (icaboston.org). The gallery's splendid new waterside home is a sight in itself and also houses a small but fascinating permanent collection of modern art that is complemented by special events and temporary exhibitions – the intriguing work of American sculptor Tara Donovan until 4 January. The next big news from here is the completion of the 44-mile stretch of HarbourWalk next year and the reopening of the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum in 2010.

Mandarin Oriental

The Hong Kong-based hotel group, which is quickly expanding into America, has just opened a wow of a place in a prime Back Bay location, just around the corner from Newbury Street. The 136 rooms and 12 suites meet the highest luxury specifications – including supremely comfortable beds. Asana, serving American and Asian dishes, is a destination restaurant in its own right, complete with a private chef's table. And the M Bar & Lounge buzzes every evening with a designer-suited crowd. Lobby shopping includes Frette's new flagship Boston store. With prices from £362 per room per night for B&B, this is the chicest stopover in the city.

Details: The Mandarin Oriental (001 800 2828 3838; mandarin oriental.com/boston).

Scampo

Someone tell the Bostonians there's a recession on – you would never have known in Scampo on the midweek night I visited. This stylish new Italian bistro is the brainchild of chef Lydia Shire, who has given rural cuisine a fashionable turn. Scampo means escape in Italian, and you'll find the restaurant in the premises of a former prison, now the Liberty Hotel. Take a seat at the open kitchen, where dishes rustled up include chop of Kurobuta black pig, chestnut and parsnip purée, and toasted sage in rosemary oil. You'll be captivated.

Details: Scampo (001 857 241 1150; scampoboston.com ).

Drink

Just open, Drink offers sophisticated mixology courtesy of another celebrated female chef, Barbara Lynch. It's set in the basement of a former warehouse at Fort Point, with a de rigueur bare-brick interior and quirky glass counters containing displays of dried insects. The bar staff perform pure theatre, smashing ice blocks and picking growing herbs to create your favourite cocktail, while you sample a canapé menu that includes foie gras lollipops.

Details: Drink (001 617 695 1806).

Insider’s secret: James Parker

"The beaches of the South Boston shoreline are pure urban romance," says James Parker, a local author. "Swimmable, scenic, uncrowded, and so close to the airport you can reach up and tickle the undercarriages of planes as they come into land."

Compact facts


How to get there

British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) offers return flights to Boston from £358.

Further information


Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau ( bostonUSA.com).

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