Just follow the painted feet on the sidewalk until the children wear themselves out

Boston, America's walking city, is a great place for a family holiday. Karen Banyon offers a pint-sized guide to the best of what is available

DON'T assume that American cities will be overcrowded, unfriendly places not suitable for children. I have visited several with my two children, Lewis, aged six, and Craig, aged four, and one of our favourites is Boston. It has a very English feel, with hilly, crooked, cobbled streets and cosy Victorian townhouses with polished brass door-knockers. Because distances are short and lots of people walk (it's known as America's walking city), I sometimes find it hard to believe it's a city at all. There are several commons, public gardens and parks, and plenty for families to do.

There are two organised ways to see the city with children. First you could try the three-mile Freedom Trail - just follow the painted feet on the pavements. Lewis and Craig particularly enjoyed Bunker Hill Monument which commemorates the first major battle of the War of Independence (it actually took place on Breed's Hill) where the colonists were instructed, "don't shoot until you can see the whites of their eyes". There's a 221ft granite obelisk - with 294 steps leading up to it - that provides spectacular views of the city. Our other favourite on this tour was the USS Constitution, more commonly known as "Old Ironsides", the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world. You are greeted on board by uniformed crew who give a convincing tour of what life at sea was really like (far from glamorous).

A second way to see the city with children is to take the old trolley bus tour, which covers the city and allows you to hop on and off as many times as you like. The children's imaginations ran wild when the guide told a story about the old Indian burial grounds. Their favourite attraction was stop 18, on the theme of the Boston Tea Party. The children had this historic act of defiance brought alive as they boarded the Beaver 11, an authentic replica of one of the three British brigs, and they even got to throw a bale of tea overboard.

What I love about Boston is that every time we go we seem to find something new to do. Our most recent find last year was the Boston duck tour. We hopped aboard a "duck" (a Second World War amphibious vehicle) and cruised overland past all the major tourist sites, then splashed down into the Charles River for the waterborne part of the tour. The driver, referred to as a conductor, told goofy jokes which the children found hilarious, wore odd clothes and honked at passers-by.

After whizzing around the city all day, the children were normally exhausted but if yours are still bubbling with energy there are several evening events suitable for them. This April (23-26) there is a live adventure with the Rugrats, the cartoon characters, at the Fleet Center; and the Big Apple Circus, housed in a heated 2,000-seat state-of-the-art big top tent at 300 Northern Avenue, between the World Trade Center and the Marine Industrial Park, is on until 3 May.

Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology is also worth a visit - it has enough dinosaur skeletons and stuffed gorillas to keep the children happy for hours.

If shopping is your thing, for cheap designer children's clothes including names like OshKosh B'Gosh and Calvin Klein go to Filene's Basement at Downtown Crossing.

Eating out

Famiglia Giorgio's, in Little Italy (617 367 6711). Prices start at $9.95 (pounds 6.35) for a mega size serving of ravioli and meal sharing is allowed.

Bell in Hand in Faneuil Hall (617 227 2098). Restaurant, bar and open air cafe.

Joe's American Bar (617 353 1400) was awarded the 1996 Best American Food prize by Where the Locals Eat.

The Last Hurrah Bar and Grill (617 227 8600) offers burgers, sandwiches and an award-winning clam chowder.

Packages

The author travelled courtesy of Virgin Holidays ( 01293 617181) which offers packages staying at the Boston Park Plaza, which is well situated. A three-night break costs from pounds 399 for adults and there's a 50 per cent discount for children under 12. On some dates the fourth night is free. Remember to request your children's in-flight pack when you book.

Further Information

The local tourist board produces a useful guidebook, Kids Love Boston, which looks at the city from a child's perspective. It includes features such as "Cool for Kids" and "Mighty Museums & Awesome Attractions". Contact the Greater Boston & Convention Visitors Bureau on Boston Common, or Massachusetts Tourism, Molasses House, Plantation Wharf, London, SW11-3TN (0171-978 5233).

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