Boston is beautiful, historical, interesting and full of terrific shops and restaurants and being only about 6 hours from western Europe and two hours from most of the eastern US, its no wonder that the city population swells in summer.
Regardless of when you come, there are certain major international tourist attractions around Boston, which out of town visitors generally visit first:
The greatest of these is the City of Boston itself. Boston is a world class international destination with incredible restaurants, hotels, museums, aquarium and more. The New England Aquarium is one of the nations finest and its location on the waterfront makes it a great stop on any visit. Several museums are also world class including the Boston Museum of Science, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Boston Children's Museum. The Christian Science Center is also located here and worth a visit for those who are interested.
Some small cities try to attract people with a compact and urban feeling downtown, but often mostly populated by chain restaurants dressed up to look like a downtown. Boston has truly unique restaurants and stores. Three major shopping areas are Copley Place (which is nothing really more than an urban shopping mall and not quite as unique), Fanueil Hall (an outdoor marketplace with lots to see and do and buy) and Newbury Street (with upscale fashion shopping). For restaurants, head over to the South End (trendy metro), The North End (little Italy) or throughout the city for everything from Five Star International Cuisine to Irish Pubs (and we have lots of those too). Many tourists insist on having at least one drink at the former Bull & Finch restaurant, more commonly known around the world by its new name, Cheers. Boston has all major pro sports represented and our fans are fiercely loyal, not to mention colorful and entertaining. See a Red Sox game at the famous Fenway Park, a Bruins or Celtics game at Boston Garden, or a Patriots game at Gillette Stadium (located 30 miles south in Foxboro). Boston has a massive and beautiful waterfront and a deep and interesting history. Many people chose to walk all or part of the FREEDOM TRAIL and no visit to Boston is complete without going on a DUCK TOUR. There is so much to do within the City of Boston that the majority of out of town tourists generally never leave its limits. Just south of the city center is the not to be missed JFK Library, which is really a museum and memorial dedicated to the beloved late president.
Boston is also home to some of the worlds most famous Universities, so prolific, that during the school year you would be hard pressed to avoid college students in some areas. Just to name a few, Harvard, BU, BC, MIT, Northeastern, Simmons, Wheelock and Emmanuel college all sit fully or just adjacent to the city limits. Step a few miles further and you have Tufts, Wellesley, Brandeis, Bentley and Babson. I could easily double this list if I decided to make it unabridged.
As for hotels, there is good and bad news. The good news is that Boston is home to dozens of fantastic hotels including the Fairmont Copley, The Boston Harbor Hotel, the Liberty Hotel (converted from an old prison and housing one of the hottest bar scenes anywhere) and a full range of Hiltons and Sheratons and the Westin Copley. Our Hyatt is located across the river in Cambridge and its situation on the water offers breathtaking views of the Boston skyline. Also in Cambridge is the Charles Hotel, wonderfully situated in Harvard Square and is home to two highly acclaimed restaurants. The bad news is that hotels in Boston and Cambridge are very expensive and if you want to stay in the city limits you cannot escape this. I am often asked for insider deals and whether you go to Priceline, Kayak or are cousins with the Mayor you cannot stay in Boston for under $200 (and in summer bump that to $300++). Even neighboring Cambridge runs around the same price, with the exception of a couple of very low budget hotels next to ALEWIFE T station. So, if you are on a budget you will have to stay in the suburbs, where you will still spend about $150-250/night.
Greater Boston does have some world class destinations as well which visitors sometimes venture out to see:
Plymouth - It is said that the Mayflower first landed on Plymouth rock and cropping out from this location you will find Plimouth Plantation (note the odd Old English spelling used for the tourist destination but not for the actual town) and a historical visitors site where you can learn about the early settling of America.
Lexington and Concord - The revolution began in these two towns (both outlined in my main guide) when the first shot was said to have been heard and Paul Revere rode famously out to announce that THE BRITISH WERE COMING.
Cape Code and the Islands - Although not considered to be Greater Boston, both the Cape and Islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard are known famously throughout the world and many of the tourists who come to Boston and want to go to the coast, go south down the [ill conceived] Route 3 to these destinations. Click here for a quick primer on Nantucket and the Vineyard.
Northern New England - Other visitors who want to get away from the city, go to Maine where long stretches of rocky coastline and a hearty New England culture meet fresh air and quaint lakes. Maine has dubbed itself VACATIONLAND and for good reason. Mount Desert Island and Bar Harbor are visited by tourists from around the nation. The first sight of sunrise in the United States is caught from the top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park and the views from the top during the day are breathtaking. Maine has hundreds of lakes, ocean beaches and a northern county (Aroostook) which is so isolated that it lacks road names and even town names throughout most of its acreage. It is one of the last great wildernesses in the United States and only those who are trained brave its forests and rivers. The Allagash National Waterway is touted as the crown jewel of this vast countryside. Much further south and much more for the faint hearted is the City of Portland. Easily Maine's largest city and metro area, little Portland is a mecca for famous chefs wanting to get out of New York City or Boston. The Old Port Area which consists of Commercial Street and several streets further away from the water is a compact cobblestoned downtown with stupendous restaurants such as Fore Street and Company (an absolutely gem for seafood, especially oysters), Duckfat and the highly underratted Old Port Sea Grill. After dinner head over to Beals for good solid home made ice cream. And of course there is DIMILLIOS, a floating restaurant right out on Casco Bay which hasn't been renovated in decades but which serves up terrific lobster and seafood in a more traditional family style.
Others prefer the mountains, and head north to New Hampshire where hiking trails and mountain streams are plentiful, set beside little visitor towns and kiddie parks which are just hokie enough to make them worth saying you went, once. Want to go skiing? Check out my highlight sought after Guide to Ski Vacations with children. And of course New Hampshire is home to the famous LAKE WINNIPESAUKEE where famous psychiatrist Leo J Marvin (aka: Richard Dryfus) spent his family summers in the film WHAT ABOUT BOB. The real Winnipesaukee is a breathtakingly beautiful lake surrounded by several different vacation communities and encompassing about seventy square miles. With a coastline of 288 miles, Winnipesaukee is home to public launches, private homes, beachfront resorts and many a summer camp. While not the only lake in NH, it is by far the largest and most well known.
Similar attractions await in Vermont, but far more Bostonians head to NH and ME, than VT. Vermont is more commonly associated with New York.
The Berkshires refers to the mountainous region in Western Massachusetts and North Western Connecticut. Famous for its art culture, music festivals (the most noteable of course is Tanglewood) and its health spas (Canyon Ranch being the most notable of these) the Berkshires were a traditional summer home for many New Yorkers. Today, the Berkshires continue to be frequented by visitors from the big Apple but also attract many Boston visitors, primarily in the summer months.
Southern New England - Rhode Island is a small state, made up of The City of Providence and its suburbs, several well known coastal retreats such as Newport and Little Compton, numerous beach communities and what is known as South County, the area near Westerly. Connecticut, is the southern most of the New England states, and despite its small size is quite diverse. Hartford is a medium sized city, with a very compact downtown, a few sky scrapers, but a metropolitan area including Springfield MA to the north, which is home to a million residents. Eastern CT is the rural area running up the quiet and windy I-395, passing through somewhat depressed towns, but also encompassing some of the most successful Indian reservation casinos in the country. Visitors come from New York, Boston and beyond to visit Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun for gambling entertainment. New Haven is the home of Yale University and the far northern end of what is sometimes dubbed The Gold Coast. Stretching down through Bridgeport and Stamford, the stretch of Southern CT down to Greenwich is the Connecticut that is written about in the stories. Less than an hour from New York City, this stretch of densely populated suburbs and cities was traditionally the summer retreat of wealthy New Yorkers. Today, these suburbs house some of the most affluent Metro New Yorkers in the Tri-state area. Towns such as Greenwich, New Caanan and Darien have spectacularly beautiful neighborhoods of multi-million dollar dollar homes, private schools and country clubs. The Gold Coast is so completely different from the rest of Connecticut, that its residents rarely are willing to associate themselves with other parts of the State, especially Greater Hartford. Forever torn between Massachusetts and New York, Connecticut will always lack true identity and nothing in the state is really a 'must see'. Still it can be a nice place to live, a topographically beautiful state and almost everyone traveling to New England by car ends up passing through at some point.
New York - It would be counter cultural for a writer of a New England website to include any information about New York. Although our neighbor, be clear that Boston is not an extension of New York City or the Tri-State Area. The lines are clearly drawn through Connecticut. Upstate New York however, is tolerated as it is adjacent and lives in harmony with much of Western Massachusetts. However also understand that Western Mass has more allegiance to Connecticut than to Boston, even though Boston is the State Capitol.
Are you visiting Boston from outside the United States? Click here for some guidelines on visiting the US as a foreigner and some special considerations that you will need to make.