After a busy few days in the city, we were now departing our New Jersey motel and driving north to Rhode Island. Our journey took us briefly through New York state and then into Connecticut, a state my only previous experience of was stopping at a couple of stations while travelling by train from Boston to New York many years ago!
We had plans to make a couple of stops in Connecticut, including one at Yale University to tour the campus grounds, but, as often happens on our road trips, time got away from us and with a sunset cruise to make in Rhode Island that evening, we had to cut down our itinerary.
We did at least manage a quick stop at a Connecticut roadside attraction – the Pez Visitor Centre. The centre was a like a museum dedicated to the character candy dispensers with displays showing hundreds of dispensers from over the years organised by character or theme. There was also a chance to peer into the factory to see the PEZ candies being made.
After a quick stop at the Cracker Barrel for lunch, we continued on to Rhode Island where we’d be staying overnight in Newport.
After checking into our motel on the outskirts of town, we decided to use the rest of the afternoon to visit one of the historic mansions in the area. We had pre-booked a two-house ticket which gave us a choice of a few of the mansions in the area and aimed to tour one this afternoon and another before leaving Newport the following morning.
We decided to start with The Breakers, a huge mansion built in the late 1800s as a summer residence for members of the Vanderbilt family. Upon entry to the house, we were given audio guides to listen to and guide us around. It was interesting to explore the house with its opulent furnishings and reminded us of visiting National Trust properties in the UK.
After touring the mansion, we drove down towards Newport’s pretty waterfront area and spent some time looking around before our sunset cruise was due to depart. It was a beautiful evening and Bowen’s Wharf was bustling with visitors sat outside at the bars and restaurants, enjoying the sunshine.
The rest of our evening was spent enjoying a Champagne Sunset Sail through Newport Harbour and Narragansett Bay on board Schooner Madeleine, a sailing yacht. It was the perfect weather for the cruise, the sunset was really beautiful and it was nice to chat to the other passenger and the staff on board.
The next morning, we went to visit another of the Newport Mansions. We had done some research to see if we could find a house that contrasted a bit with The Breakers and had decided to visit the smaller but equally beautiful Rosecliffe, a mansion which has also been used in a number of films.
Touring the house and grounds took us longer than planned and we therefore had to abandon our plans to take a stroll along the Newport cliff walk so we could get back on the road towards Boston, Massachusetts and fit in as many of the stops we’d planned along the way as possible!
Newport – and from what we’d see, Rhode Island in general – had been a really pretty place to visit and we felt we could have easily spent more time exploring there but maybe we can return one day in the future to see what else the smallest state in the USA has to offer!
Leaving Newport late morning, we then began our drive out towards Cape Cod. We’d predicted we’d hit some traffic but were delayed more than we expected and arrived in Hyannis, which we’d planned to be our first of a few stops along the coast, much later than we’d have liked.
Finding somewhere to park, we began our wander around the pretty town along Main Street lined with its many gift stores, cafes and restaurants. Hungry, we chose one of the cafes to sit in and grab a BLT for lunch then continued to look around the town, grabbing an ice cream and walking down to the harbour.
If we’d had more time, we’d have liked to have visited the JFK Museum but unfortunately, we had to cut our visit to Hyannis short if we were to make our destination at a reasonable time and fit in a few more stops along the way.
Instead of continuing along the peninsula to the Cape Cod National Seashore Visitor’s Centre as originally planned, we turned around and began our drive up to the town of Plymouth. This pretty coast town is where settlers first arrived in America and the famous Plymouth Rock marks the place where the Mayflower ship is said to have landed on the shore.
We walked along the sea front towards the huge stone portico surrounding the rock. The tide was out so the large boulder sat on the sand in the middle of its walled compound. It was a lot smaller than I expected it to be!
From Plymouth, we continued towards Boston making one final stop to stretch our legs in Whitman, where a historic marker shows the place where The Toll House Inn once stood, said to be the place chocolate chip cookies were first invented!
We neared the city of Boston towards the end of rush hour but still found ourselves caught in traffic with our Sat Nav directing us to a ridiculously busy tunnel that seemed to run directly under the city. Finally making it out, we continued north of the city to Wakefield where our motel for the night was situated.
It had been a busy couple of days and tomorrow we’d be heading towards one of the most anticipated stops of our road trip – Acadia National Park in Maine.
Boston is one of my favourite cities to visit in the USA and one I take every opportunity to return to. Here’s my guide to this charming New England city!
Where to stay
My first trip to the city, we had very little idea about the best area to stay in and left it to fate winning a 4* hotel on Priceline’s Name You Own Price feature near the Old Statehouse. The location turned out to be perfect, close to the Freedom Trail and nearby shops, in walking distance of the waterfront and Boston Common. When returning to the city a few years later, I booked a more budget hotel in a similar area only to be contacted by the travel company a few weeks before our departure to say they’d double booked and cancelling our reservation. We were offered a similar priced hotel but it was on the outskirts of the city with very little in the way of transport connections nearby and therefore not at all convenient to our needs. With it being Easter weekend, Patriots Day and the Boston Marathon while we were there, we struggled to find any available rooms in our price range, eventually grabbing a last minute cancellation just slightly above our budget in Boston’s South End. While not quite as conveniently located as our original choice of hotel, the area still made for a good base to explore the city and in walking distance of many of the city’s attractions. On my last visit to the city, I stayed close to Boston Common, again putting us in walking distance of many of the city’s attractions and the ‘T’, Boston’s metro system.
Having twice found ourselves trying to navigate our way through or around the city of Boston in a car, I really do not recommend it! The city is extremely walkable and the ‘T’ subway system is easy to navigate if you’re heading to anywhere slightly outside of the city centre.
I’ve mainly used taxi’s to get to and from the airport, only once attempting to use public transport, using the airport link bus to the main station in the city and the subway from there to the hotel. While doable, it wasn’t the easiest way to get our luggage across the city and with us arriving at rush hour, we spent a lot of time stuck in traffic.
On my first visit to the city, we made use of the city’s hop on/off trolley to do some sightseeing, mainly as it was included in the Go Boston sightseeing card we had purchased. This was a good way to get our bearings in an unfamiliar city and to learn about about the city as well as meaning we could mainly avoid using the subway system.
Boston Common and Public Gardens
Boston Common is a great place to start any trip to Boston. As well as being at the start of the historic Freedom Trail, it provides easy access to other areas of the city including Beacon Hill and Newbury Street. The common is right next to the beautiful Boston Public Gardens where as well as wandering past the colourful flower beds, for a few dollars you can take a ride on one of the famous swan boats around the lake.
The Freedom Trail
The Freedom Trail, a 2.5 mile marked trail around historic places around the city of Boston, was top of my to do list on my first visit to the city. Seeing a walking tour of the start of the trail included on our Go Boston tourist card, we booked a space, meeting our historically-dressed guide in Boston Common. The tour took us past the Park Street Church and into the adjacent burial ground and then down towards the Old South Meeting House and the Old Statehouse where, after hearing the story of the 1770 Boston Massacre, we were left to continue the trail ourselves.
We opted to visit the Old South Meeting House and then the museum at the Old Statehouse before following the trail down to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. After using our Go Boston passes to take a narrated harbour boat-tour, we continued to follow the waymarkers to follow the Freedom Trail through Boston’s North End.
Here, we used our passes to visit the Paul Revere House and then made our way to Old North Church.
As it was already early evening, we turned around and made our way back to our hotel at that point and it wasn’t until my next visit to the city that I completed the Freedom Trail, taking a tour of City Hall whose golden dome looms over Boston Common before revisiting some of the sites along the trail and continuing on past the Old North Church to see the USS Constitution, an old warship, and then walking to the Bunker Hill Monument where we climbed the almost 300 steps to the top to see the views over the city.
Following the Freedom Trail is a really great way to see the city of Boston and learn about America’s history!
If you can make it to the end of the Freedom Trail and have enough energy left to climb the hill to the base and then the 294 steps to the top, then the Bunker Hill Monument offers pretty views of the city in the distance.
For more close up views of the city, the Skywalk Observatory on the 50th floor of the Prudential Tower is situated close to Copley Place, right in the centre of the city and offers sweeping views in every direction. It was a beautiful, clear day when we visited and the views over the Charles River in one direction and across South Boston and Cape Cod Bay in the other direction were amazing.
With Boston being one of America’s most historically rich cities, there are plenty of museums offering opportunities to learn about its past.
Many of the museums are housed in buildings of historical importance such as the Old South Meeting House and Old State House, both on the Freedom Trail and contain a variety of artefacts and interactive exhibits to explore.
Down on the waterfront, as well as the Boston Aquarium and the Children’s Museum, is the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, an interactive exhibition where you get to board a full-size replica of an 18th century vessel and throw ‘tea’ into the harbour like its 1773. While I found the interactive elements of the museum aimed more at children, it was still interesting to learn about such a famous event and the tea-throwing was especially fun.
Boston is also home to the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Slightly out of the city in the Dorchester neighbourhood, the museum is easily reachable via the ‘T’ subway system and a courtesy bus from the UMass station.
The museum has exhibits on the life of Kennedy, his presidency, assassination and legacy and we spent a good few hours exploring its collections. Situated right on the waterfront, the museum grounds also offers beautiful views over the bay.
As well as history museums, Boston is also the home of a range of art galleries including the Museum of Fine Arts
Beacon Hill is one of the most picturesque neighbourhoods of Boston to walk through with its cobbled streets and red brick buildings.
On the northside of Boston Common, the area is great place to visit if you’re looking for boutique shops, small art galleries and antiques stores. It is also home to the famous, and now only, ‘Cheers’ bar in Boston. Formally, there was a themed bar based on the layout of the bar in the popular 80s US sitcom in Quincy Market, but now this has closed leaving just the Beacon Hill bar. While the interior of this bar is not very reminiscent of the bar in the show, the outside, with the steps leading down to the entrance, is instantly recognisable. As well as serving food and drinks, the bar has a store selling Cheers themed merchandise.
As well as being home to some of the stops along Boston’s Freedom Trail, the North End – Boston’s Italian district – is also worth a stroll through to visit one of its many Italian bakeries where you can grab a delicious cannoli. If you’re looking for somewhere to eat out in the evening, you’ll also find plenty of options here with some top class Italian and seafood restaurants.
Fenway Park is the baseball stadium famously home to the Boston Red Sox team and the oldest baseball stadium in the US that’s currently still in use.
I decided to take a tour of the grounds when it was included on my Go Boston tourist card during my first visit to the city and, while not a baseball fan at all, or a fan of any sports for that matter, I still found it to be really interesting finding out about the ground’s – and team’s – history.
On my next visit to the city, I found out the Red Sox would be playing against New York’s equally famous Yankees team while I was in the city so I couldn’t resist going one step further and booking tickets to actually watch a game at Fenway Park one evening. It was certainly an experience and while it was fun for a while, mainly before the game started with the crowd atmosphere and mass singalongs, I had no idea what was going on once the game started and found it to be very stop start and left way before it drew to a close!
There are plenty of ways to get out on the water in Boston from the Codzilla speed boat to the more sedate dinner cruises and even a tea party cruise on a tall ship.
I took a historic harbour cruise and over the 90-minutes on board, a commentary told us about some of the areas history while we looked out across beautiful views of the city’s skyline in the distance.
Another really fun way to get out on the water is to take a whale watching cruise.
This was a really amazing experience as we sailed out to sea, watching the city views fade into nothing before witnessing the amazing sight of huge whales basking on the surface of the water and swimming past us just under the surface.
We swapped the habour for the Charles River on a Boston Duck Tour.
Starting on land with a madcap commentary as we toured the city, we then set sail along the Charles River for some beautiful views of the city.
Across the river, in the district of Cambridge, lies the World famous Harvard University. We took the ‘T’ subway out to have a look around, taking a student-lead tour of the campus. While it is possible to just wander around the grounds without a taking a tour, we found it interesting to learn a bit of the university’s history and the tour also gave us access to a couple of buildings we wouldn’t have otherwise gone inside!
There are plenty of opportunities to shop in Boston, with something for everyone from the high street stores of Downtown Crossing – they even have a Primark! – to the more exclusive boutique stores of Beacon Hill and the eclectic stalls of Quincy market.
Newbury Street is probably the most well known of Boston’s shopping districts. Running along 8 blocks from the west side of the Public Gardens, it is home to a mixture of both internationally renowned designer boutiques, high street brands and local one of a kind boutique stores, all housed in huge Victorian red-brick buildings.
For more high street stores as well as large department stores and more high end fashion houses, the Prudential Centre and Copley Place are also great places to shop in the city.
Venturing out of the city
There are plenty of opportunities to get out of the city of Boston and visit the surrounding area.
We took a train north to the town of Salem, infamous for the 17th century Salem Witch Trials. There were plenty of museums and attractions on offer here to find out about the history of the town and the witch trials but we found many of them to be on the tacky side, the ‘museum’ we chose to visit, consisting of being lead around a series of crude wax figures by a guide dressed up in as a 17th century Salemite retelling the story of what happened and another giving us the opportunity to sit through a reenactment of one of the trials.
Other trips out we have taken have included a drive out to the town of Plymouth to see the Plymouth Rock and out to Cape Cod and the town of Hyannis.
It is possible to take a fast from Boston Harbour out to Cape Cod for a day trip as well as to the Boston Habor Islands State and National Park.
A trip to Boston, Massachusetts is always worthwhile and I look forward to the day I can return to this historic city.