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Our trip to Boston in June was busy, fun and hot. Surprisingly hot! We didn’t let that slow us down one bit, though.
Boston is an easy city to navigate on foot or via their subway system (called the “T”). We each purchased a 7-day unlimited T Pass and logged 47 miles on our Fitbits in 6 days. There is SO MUCH to do in the city and we decided to skip some of their best museums since the entrance fees were high and the weather was nice. We’ll save those for winter-y days another time.
Boston CityPASS generously provided us with 2 free passes. As travelers with an eye for good value, CityPASS is a terrific option to save money when a trip includes several tourist sites. They offer passes in 12 cities in the United States and Canada, each with their own pricing and attractions. In Boston, the passes can be purchased online or at any of their four included stops. We visited all four. The cost is $56 for adults and $44 for kids aged 3 to 11 and they’re valid for 9 consecutive days starting with the day of first use.
We looked at the weather report and learned that our first day was expected to provide the clearest skies, so we got started with the Skywalk Observatory in the Prudential Tower (Boston’s second-tallest building). The 50th floor provides 360-degree views of the city and outlying areas. Since I lived in Boston for nearly 6 years, I would not have normally considered a visit had it not been for the CityPASS. Turns out, it was one of our favorite activities of our trip! Included with the admission, each person receives a handheld audio device to explain what you’re seeing down below. The rich history of the city is explained in an entertaining and informative style. The layout is incredible. Every inch of the Skywalk’s perimeter is lined with windows so the views are impressive. The opposite (inner) walls are covered with displays and loads of interesting facts. There’s also a small theater which shows three incredible short films about the city. Bonus – your admission allows you to return in the evening to see the view for a nighttime perspective. (Standard admission $19 adults, $13 kids ages 3-12, $15 seniors and students – included with Boston CityPASS.)
Prudential Tower is in the heart of the Back Bay. This area is a walking paradise and a visual feast. Charming brownstones, people watching, window shopping galore.
Any list of the world’s most fabulous libraries should include The Boston Public Library, also in the Back Bay and free to enter. I had no idea it was stunning or we would have made an effort to take their guided tour. It’s offered once per day at no charge. Details can be found on their site. (free)
We started the second day with The Freedom Trail, a must-do activity for any vacation to Boston. To get the most out of it, we took a guided tour. There are apps and websites that will tell you all about what you’re seeing but I don’t think there is a substitute for a great tour guide. Our leader was a college professor of history during the school year and a guide throughout the summer. Dressed as a Redcoat, he had the perfect timing and sharp comic wit of a true Bostonian. The walking tour begins at the Boston Common Visitor’s Center, where you also buy your tickets (save a dollar or two per ticket by purchasing online). The history packed into this .6-mile walk is astounding. We learned about life before and during the Revolutionary War. The names we kept hearing were Sam Adams, John Hancock and Paul Revere. We viewed each of their graves in the Granary Burying Ground. We passed by churches where the abolitionist and women’s movements started. And, that corner there?…that’s where the Boston Massacre took place. Don’t forget about the exact spot where a spring provided tastier drinking water, shifting the settlers from their original home in Charlestown to Boston. The tour ends at Faneuil Hall where you can purchase part two which highlights the North End. ($34.50 for part one for 2 people, includes tip).
The New England Holocaust Memorial is just a few steps from Faneuil Hall. A moving tribute, it “is an outdoor space, open and accessible to the public at all times. The structure is built primarily of granite and glass, and consists of six luminous towers lit internally to gleam at night. The number six recalls the millions of Jews killed in the Holocaust; a row of memorial candles; the six main death camps; and the six years, 1939-1945, during which the infamous “Final Solution,” the most deadly phase of the Holocaust, took place.” (free)
The glass panels are engraved with numbers representing the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust as well as quotes from survivors of each camp.
What better way to spend a warm summer day than on a Boston Harbor Cruise? This was the second stop with our CityPASS and another can’t-miss attraction. If the weather isn’t cooperative or it’s off-season, instead of the cruise you can use your pass at Harvard’s Museum of Natural History. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…you need to get away from the skyline to get a great view. The perspective from the boat was perfect. The 90-minute ride includes a colorful narration of the numerous islands and sights in the harbor. We passed the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) and the Monument of the Battle of Bunker Hill. (Standard admission $28.95 Adults, $24.95 kids ages 3-11, $26.95 seniors – included with Boston CityPASS.)
The Harbor Cruise begins and ends on Long Wharf which is conveniently located right next to the New England Aquarium. Yet another CityPASS stop! In addition to fish and coral, we saw frolicking seals and sea lions, gigantic turtles and penguins, colorful frogs and sea horses. As stingrays glided past, we touched their smooth backs. At every exhibit, we snapped pics of stunning sea life. Highly recommended for all ages! (Standard admission $27.95 Adults, $18.95 kids ages 3-11, $25.95 seniors – included with Boston CityPASS.)
Each Thursday at 5PM, the Institute of Contemporary Art opens its doors for free. Since we were in the area, we popped in for an hour. The building itself was my favorite part. After many, many (MANY) visits to art museums, I have come to an understanding that I enjoy them best with a tour guide. “Why is this work of art included in your collection? What was happening in the life of, and around, the artist who created the work?” No tours on Thursday nights, so we browsed fairly quickly and realized it’s not our cup of tea without the education behind it. (Standard admission $15 Adults, $10 students, $13 seniors, free 17 and under – free on Thursdays after 5PM)
Boston has the third-largest Chinatown after NYC and San Francisco. It’s a terrific place for a meal and the neighborhood gives a glimpse into a different culture. We wrapped up day two with dinner here.
The Internet is a wondrous tool. When I’m planning a trip, I try to do a comprehensive search of things we might enjoy doing. The National Park Service site listed a free tidbit – JFK’s birthplace and home in Brookline. Shockingly, it’s just half a mile from three of my former Boston residences (pre-Internet). His family lived there until he was ten years old and the home offers a guided tour throughout the day. How did I miss that? Our guide wasn’t surprised. He figured that many of the neighbors on the block didn’t know that this site was in the neighborhood. It felt fitting to visit on the 100th anniversary of his birth. Our guide was what I might call a HUGE FAN. He had a deep reverence for the former President and his family. (free)
The city bus was included in our T-pass and it was an easy ride to Cambridge for a tour of Harvard University, America’s oldest institute of higher learning, founded in 1636. Harvard’s alumni include eight U.S. presidents and several foreign heads of state. Our one-hour free tour was led by a student and geared towards a tourist audience versus incoming students. It was fascinating to learn the rich history and we enjoyed one of the more beautiful universities I’ve seen. We were caught in a downpour which was unfortunate since we were entirely outdoors. Tours run throughout the day and leave from the Harvard Information Center. More details can be found here. (free)
What amazing fortune! The Tall Ships made one stop in the U.S. That stop was Boston and it happened the week of our visit. The city was buzzing with excitement and the Grand Parade of Sail was a major event. While a few tall ships visit Boston almost every summer this event was unique because of the large number and variety of ships…there were 52 of them! (free)
The fourth and final stop on our Boston CityPASS was the Museum of Science. If I was a kid, this would be one of my favorite museums. Exhibits were captivating and educational. Since we were two adults, this wasn’t our best stop and we weren’t there long. Our favorite exhibit was a life-sized room straight out of an 80s home which highlighted items that our current smartphones have replaced. This included a phone book, take-out menus, record albums, clocks, video recorder, landline telephone, etc. We returned that night for a Prince laser light show in their planetarium. They played the entire Purple Rain album start to finish, loud and colorful. What a way to experience it. (Standard admission $25 Adults, $20 kids ages 3-11, $21 seniors – included with Boston CityPASS – the laser light show was not included in the price of admission.)
We weren’t done with JFK. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is south of Boston but it’s convenient to the T with free shuttle service. We rarely use our AAA membership but asked the cashier if it provided any discounts and were rewarded with $2 off per ticket. The library is dedicated to the life and legacy of our nation’s thirty-fifth president. Designed by I.M. Pei, the building has a panoramic view of the former president’s beloved sea and the city that launched his career. ($14 Adults, $10 kids ages 13-17, $12 seniors and college students, kids under 12 are free – ask about AAA discounts with your membership card.)
It was Sunday night and we headed back into Boston to walk around Beacon Hill, the Boston Common and Public Garden and zig-zagged the brownstone-lined streets of the Back Bay.
Our last day! We enjoyed the first part of the Freedom Trail and opted to take the second part from Faneuil Hall to the North End. This is where Paul Revere’s former home still stands and the Old North Church remains. The church is Boston’s oldest surviving church, built in 1722. In 1775, Paul Revere sent a message to two of the church’s officials. Light two lanterns in the steeple to alert soldiers that the British were approaching by sea and one if they proceeded by land. “One if by land, two if by sea,” refers to this historic monument to the American Revolution. Most of the congregation were British loyalists, making this bold act of bravery even more notable. ($23 for 2 people, includes tip and discount for taking part one).
We had a little more time and opted to follow a walking tour of the magnificent Beacon Hill neighborhood and the Public Garden.
Our trip was fantastic. Not only did we learn about the history of the American Revolution, we walked in our founder’s footsteps. We learned stories about many who came to America for a better life and we learned all about the life of JFK. Other than the Institute of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Science, I HIGHLY recommend everything we did. A week in Boston and Cambridge was ideal. If you have extra days, there are many things to do outside the city. A friend invited us to his home on Martha’s Vineyard for a few days. We enjoyed low-key island living after our hectic city week.
In my next post, I’ll cover our spending and share a key lesson we learned on this trip about being too frugal. If you haven’t read my previous post about the scrumptious treats we had in Boston and Cambridge, you can check it out here. I’m still dreaming of Toscanini’s ice cream and Modern Pastry’s Whoopie Pies.