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  • Writer's pictureDylan Kelly

ExploreBoston.com's Travel Guide to Boston

Explore Boston's Travel Guide

Boston, one of the oldest U.S. cities, is a vibrant blend of history and modernity. Proud of its Brahmin traditions and home to prestigious colleges, the compact "Boston Proper" area seamlessly intertwines historic brownstones with modern skyscrapers. Navigating the city is surprisingly easy, offering a unique charm in its diverse neighborhoods like Roxbury and the North End. Boston's rich history and accessible layout make it a compelling destination for those seeking a taste of both the past and the present.


Below are key things for out-of-towners to know about Boston that will help them plan a visit and guide their way around.


Weather in Each Season

Boston is known for its extreme weather, rivaled only by cities like Chicago, Detroit, or Minneapolis.


Winter in Boston can be exceptionally cold due to the wind chill. Although Chicago is known as "The Windy City," Boston is actually windier. Significant snow accumulations, similar to those in Buffalo, New York, or Juneau, Alaska, are not uncommon.


In the summer, Boston can be hot and muggy, with heat levels similar to Miami or the American Southwest. The humidity can make it feel even hotter.

Therefore, the best times to visit Boston are in the spring or fall.


Public Transportation/MBTA

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), or “T” for short, is Boston’s public transportation system, responsible for the city’s subways, buses, rail lines, and ferries. With 153 subway stations along both underground lines and street-level light rail spokes, Boston has an efficient, safe, and clean transportation network.


Using the T, you can easily travel to Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline, Newton, Malden, Medford, Quincy, Braintree, or Revere, among other places. The rapid-transit lines are color-coded (Blue, Green, Red, Orange, and Silver lines), and you can transfer for free from one line to another at key downtown stations (Park Street, Downtown Crossing, Boylston, State, Chinatown, Tufts Medical, Haymarket, South Station, and Government Center).


The earliest trains on most lines start at roughly 5 a.m., while the last trains run until approximately 1 a.m. Many of the T buses operate on the same schedule, with a few key routes offering limited overnight service. Almost all subway and bus stations are handicapped-accessible, and the ends of some lines, like Alewife, Braintree, Riverside, Forest Hills, and Oak Grove, have large parking lots or car garages.


There are 170 T bus routes, including express buses that extend to Boston’s closer suburbs. Many bus lines also stop at T subway stations, though there are no free transfers between buses and subways.


The T operates three ferries that serve downtown Boston from communities across the water. The F1 service runs from Hewitt’s Cove in Hingham to Boston’s Rowe’s Wharf. The F2H service runs from Hewitt’s Cove to Boston’s Long Wharf, with some ferries stopping at Logan Airport, Boston Harbor islands, and/or Pemberton Point in Hull. The F4 service runs from Charlestown Navy Yard to Long Wharf. Additionally, there are seasonal ferries that run between Boston, Salem, and Winthrop.


Logan Airport

Logan International Airport in East Boston is the city's gateway to the world. Getting to Logan Airport from downtown Boston is quick — just 13 minutes on the Silver Line or 5 minutes on the Blue Line of the MBTA. The Blue Line has a dedicated stop for the Airport, from which you can take a shuttle bus that loops to all the terminals and the rental car center. The Silver Line runs directly to Terminal A, with a shuttle bus to all other terminals.


Airlines serving Logan include Aer Lingus, Air Canada, Air France, Alaska Airlines, Allegiant, American Airlines, British Airways, Cape Air, Cathay Pacific, Delta, El Al, Emirates, Hawaiian, Iberia, Icelandair, ITA Airways, Japan Airlines, JetBlue, KLM, Korean Air, LATAM Brasil, Lufthansa, PLAY, Qatar Airways, Scandinavian Airlines, Southwest, Spirit, Swiss, TAP Air Portugal, Turkish Airlines, United, and Virgin Atlantic.


MBTA Commuter Rail and Amtrak Service

If the T subways, buses, and ferries can’t get you where you want to go, the MBTA commuter rail trains will take you to the suburbs and even as far as Newburyport, Worcester, or Providence, Rhode Island. Service operates daily, with limited weekend service on many lines, and more trains running during peak commuter hours.


Like the subways, the commuter trains are fast, efficient, clean, and safe. Many stations have ample parking and are handicapped-accessible. Commuter trains depart from both South Station (for points South and West) and North Station (for points North and West).

Downtown Boston’s South Station is a major East Coast hub for Amtrak, with daily departures to Chicago, Hartford, New Haven, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and other destinations.


Intercity Buses/South Station

For a lower-cost alternative to planes and trains, long-distance buses leave from South Station for destinations all over the United States. Bus lines serving South Station include Boston Express, C & J, Concord, DATTCO, FlixBus, Greyhound, Lucky Star, Megabus, Peter Pan, and Plymouth & Brockton. Some of these lines offer inexpensive coaches that depart hourly on nonstop routes to New York City (approximately four hours) with tickets as cheap as $30.


Dining Out

Boston has no shortage of fine dining establishments, featuring world-renowned chefs like Julia Child and Todd English. The city offers everything from traditional New England staples (baked beans, lobster, cod, Boston creme pie, and Parker House rolls) to modern haute cuisine. Many of the best restaurants are within hotels, such as Aujourd’hui, [Gordon] Ramsay’s Kitchen, Grana, Contessa, Uni, and Bar Enza in Cambridge.


Reservations at highly regarded establishments should be made a few nights in advance.


Lodging

Boston offers many fine hotels, ranging from the Langham and the Mandarin Oriental to the Four Seasons and the Ritz-Carlton. For a more unique experience, try XV Beacon or The Verb.


Boston is a big college town, so be aware that May and June see many hotel rooms booked by parents attending graduations. In August and September, parents may be staying to help their kids settle into school.


October and November bring high demand for rooms from visitors seeking fall foliage in western Massachusetts and/or New Hampshire and Vermont. October weekends attract crowds for the Head of the Charles collegiate rowing event. The fall also brings convention-goers. In the spring, April is when the Boston Marathon occurs, drawing throngs of out-of-towners.


Boston Nightlife

Boston has a lively nightlife scene with numerous nightclubs, many concentrated on Lansdowne Street alongside Fenway Park. Whether you want indie, alternative, pop, or the latest techno tunes, Boston has venues that will satisfy your tastes.


Keep in mind that Boston’s nightclubs close promptly at 2 a.m., and many venues stop admitting patrons after 1:30. This early closing time, despite the city's young population, likely dates back to its Puritan traditions. Plan to go out early and/or “pre-game.”


Parks and Outdoor Activities

Boston's parks and wetlands, known collectively as the “Emerald Necklace,” were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, co-designer of New York City’s Central Park and a renowned landscape designer.


Key parks include the Boston Common and Public Garden, located in the heart of the city. The Public Garden features a large lagoon with ridable “Swan Boats,” while the Common offers ice skating on the “Frog Pond” in winter.


The three-mile-long Esplanade along the Charles River features a concert band shell, bicycle paths, and jogging paths.


Sailing and canoeing are popular on the Charles River. The 120-year-old Boston Tennis & Racquet Club offers tennis (membership may be required). The Boston Marathon, one of America's greatest road races, starts in suburban Hopkinton and ends at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square.


For larger green spaces, visit Jamaica Pond in Jamaica Plain or the Arnold Arboretum. Castle Island in Boston Harbor, Christopher Columbus Park near the North End, and the Back Bay Fens also offer beautiful scenery.


Harbor, island, and dolphin and whale-watching cruises are popular. You can charter a boat for fishing or to see the fireworks over the Esplanade on July 4th. Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket make great weekend getaways. The North Shore, South Shore, and even parts of Dorchester and South Boston are picturesque and perfect for summer days or evenings.


Boston’s Museums

Boston boasts 58 museums, including the distinguished Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) with works by Gauguin, Cézanne, Manet, Pissarro, and Van Gogh. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a mansion with a beautiful interior courtyard, is another highlight. Other notable museums include the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), the Museum of Science, the Children’s Museum, and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.


Historical sites and museums celebrating Boston's role in the Revolutionary War and early U.S. history include Paul Revere’s House, the Boston Tea Party ships, the USS Constitution, the Old South Meeting House, Massachusetts’ Old State House, Faneuil Hall, Old North Church, and Bunker Hill Monument. Boston’s walkable “Freedom Trail” connects many of these sites.


For more museums, visit Harvard Square in Cambridge, which hosts Harvard University's Fogg, Busch-Reisinger, and Sackler Museums. MIT’s List Visual Arts Center and the Christian Science Center Mapparium are also worth a visit.


Boston’s Music Scene

Boston’s student population and cultural appreciation attract many touring bands. Numerous small venues host up-and-coming acts. Large performance halls and arenas include the Leader Bank Pavilion, TD Garden, the Orpheum Theater, the Opera House, Berklee Performance Center, Big Night Live, Royale, and the House of Blues. Nearby, you'll find Xfinity Center and Gillette Stadium. For intimate venues, try The Middle East in Cambridge, Paradise Rock Club, Brighton Music Hall, The Sinclair, and Wally’s Café.


For classical music, Symphony Hall and Jordan Hall are world-renowned for their acoustics. The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home, Tanglewood, is a great destination in Western Massachusetts. Castle Hill in Ipswich, located on the Crane Estate facing the sea, offers beautiful outdoor music experiences.


Boston’s Theater Scene

Boston has a lively theater scene, often hosting New York City productions for tryouts or previews before they head to Broadway. Student and avant-garde productions are frequently staged at Emerson College and Boston University.


The Wang Theater is one of the 20 largest venues in the United States, while the Shubert is among the country's oldest theaters, established in 1902. Other Boston theaters include the Wilbur, Cutler-Majestic, Emerson Colonial, Emerson Paramount Center, Emerson Tufte Performance Center, Modern Theater at Suffolk University, Booth Theater at Boston University, and the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) at Harvard University.

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