If one building symbolises the Boston of yesteryear - pious and political - it is the Old North Church, the red-brick edifice with the tall white steeple soaring over the North End. The oldest church in Boston, it was famous for one night in 1775 when two signal lanterns shone from the belfry, warning Bostonians of an impending British attack by sea.
Scenic city walk
In Boston there is no more famous walk than the Freedom Trail, which links several Revolutionary War sights downtown. But I found a more picturesque promenade in the opposite direction. Beginning at Boston Common, follow Beacon Street to the west, and you'll pass by elegant 19th- century Federal-style town houses. Then cross over to the graceful Public Garden, with its formal plantings and "Swan Boats" on the lagoon. Exit at the Commonwealth Avenue Mall - now you're in the well-heeled Back Bay district - and walk four blocks further west. From there, you can hit the shops of Newbury Street or grab a bagel in Copley Square.
As Boston hotel prices continue to escalate, The Lenox, in the heart of Back Bay, is still a relative bargain. Built as Boston's answer to the Waldorf-Astoria in 1900, this lively, refined hostelry exudes an atmosphere that's both cosmopolitan and cosy - like Boston itself. If you stay during the winter (November to March, roughly speaking), request one of the rooms with a working fireplace.
Sure, it's hard to resist the temptation to visit Boston's landmark watering- hole, Cheers, but what the bar that TV made famous has in touristic appeal, it perhaps inevitably lacks in charm. Far better to do your imbibing at the Top of the Hub bar, 50 floors above the city in the Prudential Tower (you can see from the ocean to New Hampshire), or the Cafe Budapest, a fabulously flowery, romantic spot on the basement- level of the Copley Square Hotel.
If you spend any amount of time in Boston, you're bound to come across one of its numerous historic cemeteries. Don't miss Copp's Hill Burying Ground, in the North End. Here, Cotton Mather - one of the judges at the Salem witch trials - is buried, and some of the tombstones bear witness to their use as target practice by British soldiers during the Siege of Boston in 1775. From the burying ground, you can see right across Boston Harbor to Charlestown and the USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides"), the oldest commissioned war vessel afloat in the US Navy.
Corporate America has encroached on old Boston in a big way with the arrival of the FleetCenter, a modern, Gargantuan sports arena downtown that replaced the atmospheric but ageing Boston Garden as chief venue for the Boston Bruins (hockey) and Boston Celtics (basketball). A soulless, hypercommercial affront to Bostonians' sensibilities, it looms as a symbol of Boston's diminishing resistance to the forces of late '90s capitalism.
More so than most American cities, Boston is made up of a patchwork of small neighbourhoods with distinct identities, and nowhere as strong as in the North End - today the city's teeming Little Italy. Though traditional red-sauce restaurants abound here, my favourite eatery turned out to be Marcuccio's, with delicious seafood dishes and a tangy take on Caesar salad. In concert with a postprandial cappuccino at the very Old World Caffe Vittoria - where there always seems to be a Frank Sinatra tune blaring from the juke-box - it's almost as good as Italy. If it's a slice of pizza you're after, repair to Galleria Umberto on Hanover Street - only open from 11am to 2pm, and worth queueing for.
Regular flights to Boston's Logan International Airport from London Heathrow are available on numerous airlines. Trailfinders (0171 937 5400) quote pounds 445 return during the summer (American Airways) and pounds 291 return from October (Iceland Air).
Where to stay and eat
The Lenox Hotel (617 536 5300) is at 710 Boylston Street.
Filene's Basement (617 542 2011), 426 Washington Street.
Marcuccio's (617 723 1807), 125 Salem Street.
Cafe Budapest (617 266 1079), 90 Exeter Street.
Top of the Hub (617 536 1775), 800 Boylston Street.
Pizzeria Regina (617 227 0765), 11 1/2 Thacher Street.
Galleria Umberto (617 227 5709), 289 Hanover Street.
Emack & Bolio's (617 247 8772), 290 Newbury Street.
Contact Bay State Cruises (617 457 1428) for cruises to Provincetown. The fare is $30 return, $18 one way.
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