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Highlights of Boston

Here are our Boston highlights:

The Freedom Trail

The Freedom Trail is a 3-mile (5km) painted path linking 16 historic locations that all played a part in Boston’s Colonial and Revolutionary history.

Guides from the Freedom Tour Foundation, dressed in 18th-century garb, lead paid tours along the trail, visiting 12 sites in 90 minutes, or just pick up a free map at the visitors’ center at 15 State Street and explore at your own pace. The ‘trail’ route, which stretches from Boston Common to Bunker Hill in Charlestown, is marked on the ground with red paint or red brick. The walk includes the following sites:

The State House: Charles Bulfinch, America’s first professional architect, designed the magnificient red-brick, domed State House (‘the hub of the solar system’) when he was only 24. A guided tour is available.

Park Street Church: This church dates from 1810, and is known for its architecture and its place in abolitionist history. 

Old South Meeting House: The infant Benjamin Franklin was baptized at Old South Meeting House, which was also the site of many incendiary debates, including a famous rally against the hated tea tax. 

King’s Chapel Burying Ground: This became the town’s first cemetery in 1630. Many colonists are buried here, including John Winthrop, the colony’s governor, Hezekia Usher, its first printer, and Mary Chilton, the first woman to step off the Mayflower in 1620. 

Old Corner Bookstore: Books by Stowe, Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau were edited and first printed at this small bookstore, originally built in 1712 as an apoth ecary shop, office and home. 

Old Granary Burying Ground: John Hancock, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, and James Otis are all interred at this cemetery. Many headstones have been moved so often that they no longer correspond with the original graves.The

Old State House and Boston Massacre Site: The Old State House, a stone’s throw from the new State House, contains many historic artifacts, from ship models to a vial from the Boston Tea Party. Outside, a star within a circle of cobblestones marks the site of the Boston Massacre of March 5, 1770, when British soldiers fired into a hostile crowd. Now a history museum, it was the center of political life and debate in colonial Boston. 

Old North Church: Boston’s oldest place of worship, dating from 1723. The Episcopal church housed the signal lanterns that told Paul Revere the British were heading for Concord. The interior high box pews and brass chandeliers are the originals.

Paul Revere House: Built around 1680, this is the oldest house in Downtown Boston. Its frame is mostly authentic, but the interior is a recreation of a colonial household. Revere and his family lived here from 1770 to 1800; he left here for his renowned ‘midnight ride’ in 1775.

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground: Once a Native American cemetery, this burying ground offers an eclectic assortment of old colonial gravestones, including that of Robert Newman, the church sexton who hung two lanterns in the Old North Church’s tower to signal the British army’s approach by sea. 

USS Constitution: Familiarly known as ‘Old Ironsides,’ this striking ship is the oldest commissioned vessel in the US Navy, and is the most visited site on the Freedom Trail. 

Bunker Hill Monument: A 221ft (86m) monument commemorating the battle fought at nearby Breed’s Hill against the British in 1775. The revolutionaries lost the battle, but their courage in standing up to the might of the British forces caused major casualties for the Redcoats, and encouraged the American troops to continue their struggle.

Boston Common

This historic 50-acre (20-hectare) space was established during colonial times as a place for Boston citizens to graze cattle, and was established as a park in 1634. History buffs can browse its various monuments and the Central Burying Ground, a historic cemetery. Look for free outdoor Shakespeare productions in the summer in the northeastern corner. There is a public baseball diamond and tennis courts. The Frog Pond near Park Street is a wading pool in summer and a skating rink in winter.

For those unfamiliar with the city, the Common is probably the best place to start a visit.

Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox team lore is the stuff of legends. Founded in 1901, the team went to the first World Series in 1903 as the underdog Boston Americans, defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates. They were dubbed the 'Red Stockings' in 1908 due to their crimson stockings, and the press soon shortened the name to the 'Red Sox.' Larger-than-life pitcher Babe Ruth ('The Great Bambino, 'The Sultan of Swat') took the team to the Series in 1916, where he set a record still unbroken today - 13 scoreless innings. Three years later, he was unwisely traded to the Yankees - and the Sox did not win the Series again for 86 years.

Over the years, the Sox's dignified, legendary loser status and their intense rivalry with the Yankees gained them the attention and admiration of the entire country. Despite their losses, every home game since May of 2003 has been sold out, as fans crowd the homey stadium, sing along to the song 'Sweet Caroline' (played during the seventh inning) and frequently break into chants of 'Yankees suck', regardless of the actual opponent on the field.

Harvard Square

Any trip to Cambridge should begin with Harvard Square, accessible by the MBTA Red Line (which serves most of Cambridge and nearby Somerville). As you ride the escalator up into the bustling square, you'll be struck by many sights at once: street buskers singing, modern revolutionaries picketing, and students rushing through the iron gates of Harvard University, America's oldest and most prestigious institution of higher education.

Harvard Square has its own share of cultural attractions. As might be expected, it has several cozy bookstores, including Harvard Bookstore, which frequently hosts readings by famous authors in the evenings, while the Brattle Theater screens both independent and mainstream movies, and often features special screenings for holidays.

However, the Square is not only for the cerebral; it is also a popular shopping and nightlife destination. While chains have crept in over the last decade, the Square maintains its revolutionary roots with several thrift and vintage stores, like Oona's, a popular costume shop established in 1972. And the unpretentious environs of Mr and Mrs Bartley's Burger Cottage, a wildly popular greasy-spoon hotspot steps from the gates of Harvard, seem to exist just to counterbalance their prestigious neighbors' presence (and to provide Cantabridgians with tasty fries and clam burgers).

Faneuil Hall

Anchoring the Financial District's north end are Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, a historic complex of buildings that now serves as an open-air mall popular with tourists, especially in the summer. The Hall itself was built for the commercial benefit of the city's merchants, and personally financed by young Peter Faneuil, whom John Hancock labeled 'the topmost merchant in all the town.'

Adjacent to the hall is the 'festival marketplace'; variously known as Faneuil Hall Marketplace or simply Quincy Market. This is a vibrant, contemporary urban spot redolent with history. The market consists of three long Greek Revival buildings separated by tree-lined malls. The first floor of the main building bulges with more than 40 foodstalls, serving Boston favorites like lobster and cannoli for tourist prices, while the upper floor has a few somewhat more formal restaurants. More than 50 retail stores compete for your money in the secondary buildings, which also house a number of restaurants. These run the gamut, from the ancient Durgin Park (built 1826, its slogan is 'established before you were born'), to newly built chains.

A lively flower market adds further color, as do many colorful wooden push-carts from which peddlers sell their wares, most of which are geared to tourists. Entertainers perform regularly. Little wonder that Faneuil Hall Market is now one of the major tourist attractions in Boston, attracting more than 10 million visitors a year.

Read more about Boston

Read more about the highlights of Boston in Insight Guides: Boston City Guide

Insight Guides: Boston City Guide

Insight City Guide Boston is a full-colour, comprehensive travel guide to one of America's most historically rich and lively destinations. Full-colour photography and maps throughout combine with ...

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