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In June of 2017, Tim and I were tourists for a week in (and around) Boston. There was so much to do and delicious food to eat. We did it all on a budget. I must have spent more than 50 hours uncovering free and frugal stuff so I thought I’d share it to save you the time. Here’s the break down our trip in 3 sections:

  • What We Ate
  • What We Did
  • How Much We Spent

Part 1 – Eating our way through Boston and Cambridge

Too much lobster is not a thing.

You might think we had our fill of incredible food on our trip to New York City just one month earlier. If you did, you probably don’t know us very well. That’s okay, we’re just getting going on the blog. You’ll learn soon enough that I am *slightly obsessed* about finding amazing food at an excellent price everywhere we go. While we’re always seeking low-cost choices, we splurge every now and then.

I attended college in Boston and lived in the city for a few years after graduation. What an fortunate place to begin my lifelong love of dining. Other than an overnight business trip in the nineties, I haven’t returned since I moved away. We were long overdue for a visit to this happening city.

Boston is a killer food destination…seafood, Italian, ethnic…what’s not to love? LOBSTER…c’mon!

We had a week and I’m sharing our notable food stops. Boston offers a lot of variety at all price points. I’ve done the research and taste-testing so you don’t have to go in blind if you’re visiting. Three were so yummy, we couldn’t resist a second (or third) visit.

-Boston Standbys-

Pauli’s – This casual eatery in the North End is known for their lobster rolls. You can choose cold (with mayo) or hot (with butter). How to decide? Don’t! We got one of each and couldn’t pick a favorite. We were thrilled with the huge pieces of mouth-watering lobster. Pauli was interviewed on camera right next to us and he seemed to be a friendly guy. Worth-It Splurge.  $40.64 – Amy A+ // Tim A+

Pauli’s – Cold Lobsta Roll – Heavenly

Pauli’s – Hot Lobsta Roll – Ditto!

Panza – In my first job out of college, I would often eat fantastic Italian food in Boston’s North End so I held out hope that it wouldn’t let me down. OH THANK GOODNESS, it did not. We planned dinner at a restaurant that didn’t take reservations. There was a massive line when we arrived. Tim gets cranky when he’s hungry so we needed to figure out Plan B quickly.

We looked up the restaurant across the street on our phone to see what Yelp had to say. Nearly a thousand reviews with an average score of 4 out of 5 and one open table meant we were on board. It was very hot and humid on this June night so we started with the Italian Chopped Salad for 2. Simple, but every ingredient added to the dish. I could eat this salad every day. We try to order just enough food to be satisfied and started with one entree to split, the Veal Saltimbocca. This is classic Italian-American food cooked wonderfully. The side dish of pasta isn’t something I used to care about or even eat. Their red sauce was nicely flavored so we gobbled it all up. With many outrageous bakeries nearby, they don’t offer dessert. No problem…we had get a side order of meatballs for our last course. Thank you, Panza!  $73.00 (included a few beers and a glass of wine) – Amy A+ // Tim A

Panza – Perfect on a hot summer day – Italian Chopped Salad

Panza – Even the side of spaghetti was yummy.

Panza – Meatball for dessert? Sure!

Panza – Veal Saltimbocca – A-mazing.

La Famiglia Giorgio’s – When I was in my young 20s and worked near the North End, my coworkers and I would head to La Famiglia Giorgio’s for lunch every so often.  Their portions were massive and their pricing was reasonable.  Plus, their food was good.  Happy to see it’s still around, 25 years later!

Their space has been completely remodeled but they still serve a mixed plate of Italian-American food Monday through Friday, noon until 3PM.  Each day of the week, they offer 5 entrees for $7.95 at this lovely spot with table service. Sample all five entrees or any combination. Vegetarian options are always part of the mix. It was all scrumptious. Our leftovers lasted us for two more meals (each!). Three meals for 11 bucks? Sign us up! On our way out, Tim exclaimed “I don’t know why anyone would go anywhere else for lunch”. We visited on a Monday and a Friday and tried 9 of the 10 options. Best bargain of the trip.  $22 – Amy A+ // Tim A+

La Famiglia Giorgio’s – Weekly lunch menu. Cheap and delicious!

La Famiglia Giorgio’s – All five Monday options. Wow.

La Famiglia Giorgio’s – The Friday plate. We planned to eat half on the airplane that night so skipped the mussels.

-Ethnic Food-

Num Pang – Our first full day found us in the Back Bay. We spent much longer at the Prudential Skywalk than we had planned and were famished for lunch at 3PM. Walking around the Prudential complex, we saw a sign for Num Pang. Could this be THE VERY SAME Num Pang we discovered in NYC the past month? THE VERY SAME Num Pang that served my favorite item on the whole food-focused trip to New York? Indeed, it was. What luck…the first Boston location opened just a month before our trip.

This time, we wanted two sandwiches and I already knew the Five-Spice Glazed Pork Belly Sandwich was one of them. The helpful cashier steered us toward the Roasted Chicken Chimi Sandwich with a side of Charred Broccoli. Thank Goodness we started with the chicken because it was a pale choice next to the Pork Belly. One helluva fabulous sandwich, the Pork is complex and each bite is unique. It’s warm and fatty while cool and crisp. It’s like a pinball machine for your mouth. The bread is fresh and each ingredient lends a starring role. Poor chicken was fine but it didn’t have a chance and the broccoli was just okay. At least we had a veggie!  $23.49 – Amy A+ // Tim A+

Num Pang – Five-Spice Glazed Pork Belly Sandwich – this is why I gave the experience an A+

Num Pang – Roasted Chicken Chimi – A good sandwich on its own

Num Pang – Charred Broccoli – just okay

Taiwan Cafe – We met my cousin and his wife for dinner in Chinatown. Before I was 21, he and I would go scorpion bowling at one of the nearby Chinese restaurants since they didn’t check IDs. Thankfully, those no longer have appeal for me – too huge and too sweet – but, I have good (drunken) memories.

Back to the present! A local friend steered us to Taiwan Cafe, a place that felt very authentic. They have a huge menu filled with an overwhelming number of options. I texted pics of the menu to a foodie friend from Taiwan and she quickly sent back suggestions for our order…Sauteed Pork Belly with Veggie and Pepper, Simmered Chopped Chicken with 3 Essences in Hot Pot and Sauteed A-Tsai with Garlic. They were out of the last dish (whatever A-tsai is) and offered Sauteed Watercress in its place. I’m thankful our consulting friend knew to skip the frog and offal. Throw in an serving of regular dumplings and we were a happy group. PS…My friend strongly urged us to bypass the dumplings but we couldn’t resist. Everything we tried was delicious and highly recommended. Even the dumplings. Tim says it was good but not memorable.  $33.00 – Amy A // Tim B+

Taiwan Cafe – Simmered Chopped Chicken with 3 Essences in Hot Pot

Taiwan Cafe – Sauteed Pork Belly with Veggie and Pepper

Taiwan Cafe – Sauteed Watercress

Taiwan Cafe – Dumplings

Shabu & Mein – Our first shabu and ramen experience, all rolled into one. This was a messy meal with the long udon noodles leaving their mark on my blouse in multiple places. It was fun and interactive, though. We tried one of their ramen specials, Crazy Pork Ramen, and it was a winner. The shabu was probably a one-time thing for us.  We selected two different broths, Kimchi and Tom Yum. Normally, I enjoy kimchi but I wasn’t a fan of the broth. The Tom Yum was much better. At the table, we cooked all of the ingredients in the steaming hot broth. Since each item cooks at a different pace, timing was a bit tricky and this was more of a novelty than something I would opt for again. That being said, Shabu & Mein did a great job with a patient server who showed us the technique.  $62.43 – Amy B+ // Tim A

Shabu & Mein – Crazy Pork Ramen – We preferred this to the shabu.

Shabu & Mein – We opted to try two different broths – Kimchi and Tom Yum.

Shabu & Mein – We did 2 types of meat – Prime Rib and Pork

Shabu & Mein – Submerge the raw veggies in the broth to cook.

Shabu & Mein – The uncooked udon noodles don’t look like they could cause such a big mess!

-Sweet Treats-

Eataly – We stumbled upon Mario Batali’s popular emporium of Italian ingredients and prepared food. Their displays are gorgeous but it’s too expensive for this frugal chica. There was one thing we couldn’t resist…a freshly-filled cannolo (note – one is a cannolo, more than one are cannoli). We got the special cannolo which allowed us to pick 2 items to embellish our treat. Ooh! Pistachios and orange peel, please. I’ve had better but it was a nice sweet goodie on a hot day. Unfortunately, the service was bordering on surly which dulled my impression.  $4.92 – Amy A- // Tim B

Eataly – Customized cannolo

Toscanini’s – A local friend brought us to Toscanini’s in Cambridge for what he promised was the world’s best ice cream. The signs in their window advertised their accolades. Standing outside, I wasn’t convinced. I’ve had some killer ice cream in my life, but the best? I couldn’t name it. The long lines meant this wasn’t a hidden gem.

Tim and I shared a scoop of khulfee and the Triple B (brown sugar, brown butter and brownies). Both flavors tied for the best ice cream I can remember having. EVER. We liked them equally. The khulfee was sublime, with a satisfying punch of cardamom. The B3 combination was much greater than the sum of its three parts. We loved it so much, we took a long (walking) detour to return later in the trip and considered a third visit on our last day but the heat and tight time frame made it too challenging. Though we debated trying new flavors on our second visit, why mess with perfection? So, we stuck with our original order. Tim seriously suggested we get another round as soon as we were finished. I have broken this man who has never had a sweet tooth. Toscanini’s has been open since 1986. That means I could have visited the entire time I lived in Boston. I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t know about it or I’d probably be a diabetic now.  $6.88 – Amy A+ // Tim A+

Toscanini’s – lots of flavor packed into this cup of the best ice cream

Mike’s Pastry – Known for their famous cannoli, we found ourselves walking past the Harvard Square location and were open to a snack. They offer many varieties of filling and I’m a sucker for anything almond-flavored. We enjoyed this one more than the Eataly version, though both were good.  $4.75 – Amy A // Tim A

Mike’s Pasty – Take your pick of cannolI

Mike’s Pastry – Amaretto cannolo for us!

Modern Pastry – After dinner in the North End, we weren’t going to resist the famous bakeries. Modern Pastry and Mike’s Pastry have their devout fans. We tried Mike’s cannolo a few days earlier so figured it was only fair to give Modern Pastry a spin. I got their Whoopie Pie. Huge and refrigerated, theirs was magnificent. Think of an elevated Hostess Cupcake with just-the-right-consistency-and-sweetness buttercream frosting sandwiched between two piece of chocolate cake. One was not enough.  We returned two more times during our trip. It’s (almost) a shame I split each one with Tim. We tried their homemade torrone and a few pignoli cookies – both great but not coming close to their whoopie pie.  $2.50 (cash only) – Amy A+ // Tim A

Modern Pastry – Whoopie Pie for the win!

It sure looks as though that’s a lot of food. These were the highlights…there are plenty of okay stops I didn’t include. Nearly all of the desserts made it. Mediocre desserts have no room in my life!

I’ve got to admit, writing this up and reminiscing about our delectable eats made me hungry. Thankfully, we walked A LOT. Let’s see what we got up to…

 

Part 2 – Lots of Fun to Be Had in Boston and Cambridge

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.

DAY ONE

We looked at the weather report and learned that our first day was expected to provide the clearest skies of the week, 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 the trip!

Included with the admission, each person receives a handheld audio device to explain what you’re seeing down below. Boston’s rich history 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.)

Skywalk Observatory Kiosk - Purchase your tickets or CityPASS here before heading to the 50th floor. Skywalk Observatory - Perfect day to see the views. This is the Back Bay, Beacon Hill and Financial District. The John Hancock Tower is the tallest building in New England.
Skywalk Observatory - Huge windows line the entire outside perimeter. Skywalk Observatory - I did not know!
Skywalk Observatory - Audio guides are included with admission. Skywalk Observatory - Maybe one day!

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.

Back Bay - Newbury Street - One pretty block after another. Back Bay - Boylston Street
Back Bay - Boston Architectural College - In addition to the well-known colleges and universities in Boston and Cambridge, there are many smaller schools that fly under the radar.
Back Bay - The finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Christian Science is headquartered on a lovely campus in the area. We stopped in for a free, brief concert on their pipe organ (one of the largest in the world) and enjoyed a peaceful moment. (free)

Christian Science Mother Church - One of the world's largest pipe organs.
Christian Science Mother Church

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)

The Boston Public Library The Boston Public Library Back Bay - Copely Square, Trinity Church and the Hancock Tower
The Boston Public Library The Boston Public Library
The Boston Public Library The Boston Public Library

DAY TWO

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. We kept hearing the names of Sam Adams, John Hancock and Paul Revere. We viewed each of their graves in the Granary Burying Ground and passed by churches where the abolitionist and women’s movements started. That corner there?…that’s where the Boston Massacre took place. And, 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).

Freedom Trail - Our comedic and knowledgeable guide. Freedom Trail - Boston Common...in or about 1634. Freedom Trail - Tremont Baptist Bible Church Freedom Trail - Old South Meeting House Freedom Trail - Old State House
Freedom Trail - Markers and a red brick stripe make a self-guided tour easy to follow if you opt out of an official tour. Freedom Trail - Park Street Church - This was the tallest building outside of NYC in the US between 1810-1828. In 1829, William Lloyd Garrison delivered his first public antislavery address. The Hayden and Handel Society started here. The church hosted the debut of My Country, 'Tis of Thee on July 4, 1831. Freedom Trail - Omni Parker House
Freedom Trail - State House Freedom Trail - Ben Franklin is buried in Philadelphia. He laid his parents to rest at the Granary Burying Ground. Freedom Trail - Granary Burying Ground - Samuel Adams' grave. Freedom Trail - Granary Burying Ground - Victims of the Boston Massacre. Freedom Trail - The original settlers lived in Charlestown. They didn't like the water and found drinking water to their liking in Boston at this spot. While it's paved over with brick, the plaque commemorates what created this influential city. Freedom Trail - The Bell-in-Hand is one of the oldest continuously operating bars in the United States.

The New England Holocaust Memorial is just a few steps from Faneuil Hall. A moving tribute, it’s “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.

New England Holocaust Memorial

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.)

Boston Harbor Cruise - At the end of Long Wharf, the Custom House Block was built in 1848. Boston's importance as a shipping hub reached its peak in the mid-19th century. Boston Harbor Cruise - Boston skyline Boston Harbor Cruise
Boston Harbor Cruise - Top deck, hot day. Perfect for sightseeing! Boston Harbor Cruise - Institute of Contemporary Art Boston Harbor Cruise - Bunker Hill Monument, Revolutionary War battlefield.
Boston Harbor Cruise - Boston skyline Boston Harbor Cruise - USS Constitution (aka Old Ironsides) is the oldest commissioned ship afloat in the world. It's not the large gray ship on the left. It's the tall boat in the center! Her most notable wartime action was in the War of 1812. She never lost a battle.

The Harbor Cruise begins and ends on Long Wharf which is conveniently located right next to the New England AquariumYet 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.)

New England Aquarium - You can pet the stingrays! New England Aquarium[/caption] New England Aquarium New England Aquarium - This pair looks like a married couple who have been together for decades.
New England Aquarium New England Aquarium New England Aquarium - Myrtle has been with the Aquarium for more than forty years.
New England Aquarium New England Aquarium New England Aquarium - Look closely!

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)

Institute of Contemporary Art - The view!

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.

Chinatown

DAY THREE

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 with a deep reverence for the former President and his family. (free)

JFK National Historic Site - One hundred years ago, JFK was born in this house. JFK National Historic Site - JFK was born in this room.
JFK National Historic Site - The adults would talk politics and current events at this dinner table. The kids were at a tiny version and were expected to participate in the conversation. At a young age, the importance of public service was instilled in the children. JFK National Historic Site - The nursery.
JFK National Historic Site - Older brother Joe Junior and JFK sat nearby at a kid-sized table. JFK National Historic Site - I love old kitchens.

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)

Harvard University - Harvard Yard Harvard University - Harvard Yard is gorgeous year-round. The heavy rain made for a quiet view.
Harvard University - This statue shows it's John Harvard, founder of Harvard University. When the statue was created in 1884, no photos of John Harvard existed so another man sat for the statue. Also, John Harvard did not found the university...he didn’t even attend the College. He was the first major benefactor to the University, donating half of his estate and his library. It was founded by the Massachusetts Court.
Harvard University - When asked, our guide shared his story, humbly. He's from Africa and represented his country (I forgot which) in the math Olympics. He also started a company to aid his community while he was in high school. It still employs 40 full-time staffers. Inspiring!

DAY FOUR

What amazing timing!  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)

Tall Ships - Grand Parade of Sail Tall Ships - Grand Parade of Sail
Tall Ships - Grand Parade of Sail Tall Ships - Grand Parade of Sail
Tall Ships - Grand Parade of Sail Tall Ships - Grand Parade of Sail

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’re 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.)

Museum of Science - Energizing atrium. Museum of Science - Our smartphones have replaced so many things that used to take up space - what do you see here?
Museum of Science - Boston on one side, Cambridge on the other. Museum of Science - Purple Rain!
Museum of Science - Our smartphones have replaced so many things that used to take up space - what do you see here?

DAY FIVE

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.)

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum - Designed by architect I.M. Pei. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum - RFK's life is addressed as well.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum - Designed by architect I.M. Pei. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum - JFK's boat, The Victura. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

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.

Beacon Hill - Recognize this stairwell? Park Street Church at night.
Back Bay - Nighttime gas lanterns look magical.
Boston Garden - George Washington Statue

DAY SIX

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).

Freedom Trail, Part 2 - Quincy Market - Starting point of the tour. Freedom Trail, Part 2 - Paul Revere House - Revere lived in this home from 1770-1800 and rode into our history in 1775. Freedom Trail, Part 2 - Old North Church Memorial Garden. A memorial to our fallen soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Freedom Trail, Part 2 - Statue of Samuel Adams in front of Faneuil Hall. Freedom Trail, Part 2 - The North End birthplace of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. At the time of her birth in 1890, it was across the street from the Massachusetts governor's mansion. Her dad was Boston's "Irish governor," John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, a future ward boss and mayor of the city.
Freedom Trail, Part 2 - Paul Revere House - Revere lived in this home from 1770-1800 and rode into our history in 1775. Freedom Trail, Part 2 - Old North Church and Paul Revere Statue

We had a little more time and opted to follow a walking tour of the magnificent Beacon Hill neighborhood and the Public Garden.

Public Garden - Here you'll find the whimsical Make Way for Ducklings statues from Robert McCloskey's classic children's book about the duck family that makes its home in American's first public botanical garden. Public Garden - Not a bad place to take a break.
Beacon Hill - The Sunflower Castle Beacon Hill - Charles Street Meeting House
Beacon Hill - Quiet, tree-lined streets with centuries of history. Beacon Hill - Charming Acorn Street

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.

Part 3 – Adding It All Up (and a lesson learned)

Our motto!

Here, I’ll break down the details. What we spent, how we saved, splurges we made….and one too-cheap lesson we learned the hard way.

Because we’re travel hackers, we work to earn points and miles to use for our travels. These perks are not free, though. We invest lots of time and energy and (sometimes) a little cash into earning the points. Tim finds the best opportunities to earn those points and I use/spend them very carefully.

For this trip we traded in 300,000 Marriott points and received a 7-night stay voucher and 120,000 Southwest points. The nicer and more convenient the Marriott, the more points we needed to exchange. Typically, when we stay in a hotel, we are there for 3 to 5 nights and then we’re off to another city. This option required us to stay in one place for a full week. We considered a resort vacation but sitting on a beach for 7 days wasn’t what we wanted from this trip. Boston had been on our radar for years but the high cost of accommodations (when paying cash or using points) always sent us elsewhere. We knew there would be plenty to do in Boston for a week and booked it.

We stayed at the Boston Marriott Quincy. It’s near the end of the T line which meant we could use our weekly unlimited T passes at no additional charge. The hotel is a mile from the train station (uphill, of course!). They offer a free shuttle but it stops at 9:30PM. Since it could take an hour to get to (and from) the city, that meant we needed to leave our evening activity by 8:30PM to catch the last shuttle. Twice, we stayed out later and walked back one night. A mile doesn’t seem like much for people who love to walk. However, after a long and hot day of touring, it was too much. We used LYFT one night but it took so long for the driver to reach us, we didn’t do it again.

We appreciate that the full-service property offers free daily breakfast to Platinum members in their Executive Lounge. Happy to have this status!

Lesson learned…

If we aren’t driving, choose lodging that’s close to a subway station. It’s worth the points (or money!).

-Ways We Saved-

  • We have the Southwest Companion Pass for 2017 and 2018. This pass allows me to fly free with Tim any time he buys a Southwest ticket with money or points. Southwest has a sweet policy. If you book a flight and see that it gets cheaper, they will give you a Southwest credit (if you paid with cash) or redeposit your points (if you paid with points). Fares go on sale frequently. However, the credit is not automatic. I get Southwest’s emails which alert me to their sales and then run a quick fare check for all itineraries we have booked. We often renegotiate the price…sometimes many times on a single trip. You can do this online or with a quick call. They also allow free checked and carry-on bags.

 

  • We use Top Airport Parking to get the best rate when parking at Denver International Airport and the rate is $3.99 per day (uncovered only). Think Priceline Express Deals for airport parking. Top Airport Parking works with many off-site companies, all within 10 minutes of the airport. Their partners all have free shuttles that pick you up and drop you off at your car 24/7. In order to get their rate, you need to book via their website. Once that’s done, they immediately send you a confirmation that tells you where you’ll be parking. They operate at many U.S. airports and the rate is different for each one. They offer free cancellations, which makes this a no-brainer!

 

  • Boston is a great city to get around by foot or using public transportation. We each purchased a 7-day unlimited CharlieCard. This gave us unlimited access to the subway (T) and bus. We each used it 15 times. A single T ride is $2.25 so this was a good deal. It saved us $25 total, plus is was more convenient to skip the lines.

 

  • Two of the activities we booked provided discounts for add-on options. We enjoyed the first part of the Freedom Trail tour so much, we wanted to take part 2. We showed our original tickets for a $12 discount off part two. The Boston CityPASS provided entrance into the Museum of Science. Their planetarium has lots of optional shows. We bought tickets for a laser light show featuring Prince’s music. Instead of the normal $10 charge per person, we paid $6 since we added it on to our museum entrance.

 

  • If you have a AAA membership, ask about discounts. The one time I asked, we received $2 off per ticket at the JFK Library. Note to self…ask more often.

 

  • If you know a Boston resident with a Boston library card, you can reserve free or heavily discounted tickets to museums and attractions – click here for more info.

 

  • Look out for free stuff. Here are some of the places we enjoyed free activities, entry or tours – Christian Science Center, Boston Public Library, Institute of Contemporary Art, JFK’s birth place and childhood home, Harvard University, and the Tall Ships Grand Parade of Sail. Many cities offer free music and other events throughout the year. Walking around interesting neighborhoods is one of our favorite things to do when we travel and it costs nothing. Some of the best things we experience during our travels are free!

 

  • Check out the websites for the National Park Service (U.S., Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and American Samoa only) and UNESCO World Heritage SitesIt’s not just well-known national parks. I was surprised to find the JFK home on the list with free entrance.

 

  • We bring our meals on flights as well as an empty water bottles (we fill up after we go through security). Bravo to the filtered water station trend we see in many airports.

 

  • If you’re staying in a hotel, pick one with free breakfast.

 

  • In some cities, you may not need (or want) a car. This might seem obvious to some, but I know people who always rent a car when they travel. Cars can be a hassle and parking may be expensive. If you need to leave the city, rent for a day or seek out alternative options…bus, train, Uber, etc.

 

  • The Boston CityPASS provided us with entry to 4 attractions – the Skywalk Observatory (incredible views from the 50th floor of the Prudential Tower), a Boston Harbor Cruise (which can be used at the Harvard Museum of Natural History instead), the New England Aquarium and the Museum of Science. This pass is priced at $56 for adults and $44 for kids. While the Museum of Science was not our cup of tea (since we weren’t traveling with kids), the other 3 stops were excellent and highly recommended. Since those alone would cost $76 for an adult, it’s a sweet deal. If you are traveling with kids, an even sweeter deal! (Side note – CityPASS offers discounted passes in 11 U.S. cities and Toronto. They are all priced and packaged uniquely.)

 

Thanks CItyPASS!

There was so much frugal fun to be had, our splurges were small potatoes. That is, unless you count caloric splurges…that’s another story altogether.

  • I want lobster when I’m in Boston – two lobster rolls at a casual place (with free water) set us back $40 for lunch. Not the biggest splurge but twenty bucks for a hotdog-sized sandwich might seem expensive to some. Worth every penny! (Worth-it splurge!)
  • We had the best ice cream of my life twice, fresh whoopie pies three times, 2 cannoli and lots of biscotti, pignoli cookies and other amazing Italian delights. If I can get that stuff as good in Denver, I haven’t found it yet. We said “yes” to dessert a lot and I enjoyed every bite.
  • We tried two new cuisines – Shabu-Shabu and Ramen. Dinner was a little pricier ($62) but we enjoyed trying something new.
  • We opted for 2 guided tours along the Freedom Trail ($57) instead of following a free app. It made a huge difference in our experience. (Worth-it splurge!)

Our receipts and tickets.

-The Numbers-

Airfare$22.4025,728 Southwest Miles used – Amy’s ticket was free – this is just the taxes
Boston Marriott Quincy$0Used our 7-night voucher
7-Day Metro Card$0Two cards – Tim “erased” $42.50 of the fees with our Capital One Venture card
All food and drinks$490.12Includes tips on free breakfasts
Tours, entertainment$93.40Two Freedom Trail tours, JFK Museum, Prince laser light show – all for 2 people – includes all tips
CityPASS tickets$0Two free passes ($112 value)
Drug store$6.51
Non-food tips$23.00Housekeeping, hotel shuttle
Parking at DIA$35.11Seven days plus shuttle driver tips
Total Spent$670.54

Not bad for a week in one of the most expensive cities in the United States. If you remove food and drinks, it was $180.42!!

What’s your travel style? Blow it all on one big trip every year or two or spread out the money across lots of trips?