24 Hours in Boston – A City in a Class of its Own

We celebrate the past to awaken the future. ~ John F. Kennedy, 1960

Boston is a walking city – it’s easy to lose yourself in its narrow cobblestone streets, so embedded in their past.

Historic Beacon Hill

On a daytime stroll, you’ll pause to admire beautiful brownstones, original storefronts dating back to the 1800’s, and monuments of centuries ago. At night, the streetscapes take on the feel of an old-world Europe – the darkness embraced by the elm trees that line them; made all the more romantic by the gas lamps that illuminate them. There’s no doubt that this city is steeped in a rich history and as proud as Boston is of its roots, it doesn’t wallow in the nostalgia. After all, a creative revival is taking place in its south.

Located in proximity to Boston’s downtown and fringed by Fort Point Channel and Inner Harbour, the neighbourhoods of Seaport District and South Boston are just a quick ride across the Summer Street Bridge. The Big Dig – an infrastructure project that was designed to improve traffic flow and better join the city’s neighbourhoods, underground – has helped make this part of Boston more accessible from the city’s outskirts as well.

Change at the Seaport District

Formerly a hub of maritime activity, the area has been revitalized through the influence of modern architecture and industrial design, with its waterfront now lined with dining, convention and art venues. Proof in point: The Institute of Contemporary Art, the Boston Society of Architects, Fort Point artists’ community, and the Boston Design Centre are all based here – some housed in buildings reflective of imaginative 21st Century design; others, in conserved and revitalised industrial buildings and lofts of the past.

The urban landscape of Boston is undergoing a progressive transformation. For a city that may have been known more for a skyline punctuated by conservatively designed skyscrapers, and a core marked by a concrete Government Center, it makes for a refreshing and welcome transition.

With all the elements of a cosmopolitan city, it’s the rich history coupled with a fresh dose of culture and design that gives Boston an edge.

Here’s how to spend (just over) 24-hours in Boston on a short break from NY.  NB: Cambridge – home to Harvard and MIT – is a city unto itself; I’ll cover it in a separate post.

3.30pm: A Presidential Approach

Boston is located about a five hours drive from NY. You know you’re close when you see signs for Providence and Cape Cod – the summer vacation spot of the Kennedy’s, and where JFK used to sail. Just before reaching Boston’s downtown, veer off of the I-93 and head to Columbia Point, home to the impressive John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

A treasure trove of information, the building contains an archive of 8.4 million pages of the former president’s papers – personal ones, included. Meander through its many pictorial, audio visual and 3D exhibits showcasing moments in JFK’s life: from the Campaign Trail, to his inauguration as 35th President of the US, to life told from the First Lady’s point of view. Highlight: the grand finale to the museum’s trail is in the building’s floor to ceiling windowed pavilion. Overlooking Boston Harbour, the space is intended for reflection and inspiration.

The modern design of the museum-library is a testament to its architect, I.M. Pei – even though the memorial was constructed in 1979, it stands the test of time.

5.30 pm: Prison Break

The tour of Boston’s architectural beauty continues as you enter The Liberty Hotel, located in Beacon Hill. Formerly the Charles Street Jail, the 1851-built building incorporates features of its past life, without the kitsch. Deemed unfit for prisoners and closed in 1970; by 2007, the preserved Landmark building was opened as The Liberty Hotel – its exterior restored, its interiors tastefully transformed. Three levels of balconies embrace the inner circumference of the building and look onto the expansive lobby. Doubled up as a lounge and bar area, this is where the guards used to watch the prisoners. Check-in whilst you sip a glass of champagne, offered upon arrival. As you stand in the midst of its 90-foot rotunda, look up and around – it’s hard not to wonder what went on in this one-time penitentiary. If only the walls could talk.

Lobby and Check-in at The Liberty Hotel

Original Jail Cell details

6.30 pm: City of Light

Check into your Tower room (in an adjoining modern building), and enjoy the view of the city’s lights from skyscraper heights. Evening turndown service equals chocolate-on-the-pillow; savour the sweet as you take the last sips of champagne before heading out.

7.30pm: Immersed in Art

The Museum of Fine Arts requires a few days to view, as is expected of such an art institution.

Make use of the late closing time (Wednesday through Friday: 9.45pm) – visit the Modernist Photography exhibition 1910-1950 (through April 1 2012); explore the mummies and other Egyptian artifacts; marvel at Dave Chihuly’s 40-foot-high 10,000-pound Lime Green Icicle Sculpture in the Shapiro Family Courtyard.

If you’re lucky, you may even stumble upon a live portrait drawing session and watch amateur artists in action… and their model, trying his best to sit very still.

10pm: Clinking Cocktails

A must try – the Juniper Blossom cocktail, served in the hotel lobby’s Liberty Bar. Tanqueray Gin, St Germaine and grapefruit juice – shaken, this is set to be the new Cosmopolitan.

Stave off a morning hangover and order a couple of items from the late night menu. Highly recommended – the dumplings, served in a bamboo steam box, are so delectable and fresh. Also, the sashimi – generous slices of meaty yellowtail, topped with pomegranate seeds and sea salt. The food service and quality couldn’t be further from prison standards ~ modern, flavourful and beautifully presented.

The trip ‘home’ is simply an elevator ascent away. Go on, order another cocktail.

Dumplings and a Margarita

9am: Coffee after Bubbles

Begin the day with a soak in the deep tub – if you’re a fan of bubbles, the divine scent of Molton Brown’s Toko-Yuzu bath gel will linger with you long afterwards.

Order a take-away coffee from the hotel’s CLINK restaurant, admire the vestiges of the jail’s original cells while-you-wait, and spend some time exploring the hotel’s design details on your way back to your room. There’s plenty to appreciate: from the huge circular windows that bathe the interior in a soft light, to the exposed brick walls with original cell detailing, to the interior perspective of a reconstructed cupola that sits atop the building.

Chandeliers, Balconies and Escalators

10am: Charming Charles Street

A little further along Charles Street, walking south of The Liberty Hotel, you’ll encounter its cobblestone pathways and 19th Century architecture. Lined with boutiques and restaurants, you’ll also have the chance to view the beautiful brownstones of Beacon Hill’s side streets. Pay a visit to the bar that inspired the one in Cheer’s.

Steep Side Streets

Signaling the onset of Spring

11am: Walking the red brick trail

The Freedom Trail is the best way to become acquainted with sites of historical significance during the Revolution. Leave the car with the hotel valet for the day, and begin the walk from Boston Common, the nation’s oldest park.

This part was formerly a cow pasture

The self-guided tour follows a 2.5-mile trail that snakes all the way through the city’s downtown – past gold-domed Massachusetts State House and nearby Granary Burial Ground, where patriot Paul Revere is buried…

…through Quincy Market and the 1742-constructed Faneuil Hall…

…along the restaurant-lined streets of “Little Italy” – their windows decorated with limoncello bottles…

…across the Charlestown Bridge, and uphill to the base of the 221-foot-high Bunker Hill Monument…

You may remember this Bridge from movie, "The Town"?

… and finally to the USS Constitution – the oldest commissioned warship in the US Navy, still afloat.

Mid-Morning Snack Stop:  

Late Morning Snack at ‘Sweet’: try the Boston Cream Pie cupcake, served in the sugar-pink surrounds of a 1920’s inspired sweet-shop.

Particularly noteworthy to see/do:

New England Holocaust Memorial (Stanley Saitowitz): a site dedicated to the memory and reflection of one of the world’s tragedies; its six glass columns recall the 6 main death camps, the six million Jews who died, the menorah of memorial candles.

Six million numbers are etched in glass in an orderly pattern, suggesting the infamous tattooed numbers and ghostly ledgers of the Nazi bureaucracy. nehm.org

Take time to pause and read the quotes of those who survived.

Located near Boston's North End. Smoke rises from the charred embers at the bottom of these chambers.

Views of the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge from the Charlestown Bridge: Swiss bridge designer Christian Menn conceived the bridge to reflect, with its inverted Y-shaped towers, the shape of the Bunker Hill Monument in neighboring Charlestown. The bridge’s cables are suggestive of a ship in full sail linking it to East Boston as a center of shipbuilding.*

The bridge as seen from Charlestown; at the base of the Bunker Hill Monument

The 294 step climb up the Bunker Hill Monument: the city views from the top are panoramic. Warning: Your hamstrings will be screaming at you for days afterwards.

3pm: Sea food, and Eat It

Enroute to ferry stop

Ferry it from Charlestown to Long Wharf, located by the city’s Financial District. Quincy Market is a short walk away – grab a lobster roll and take a leisurely stroll past the concrete blocks of the Government Centre that surround the City Plaza, past the side streets of Beacon Hill, and back to the Liberty Hotel. You’ve come full circle.

5pm: Back to the Future

This is the kind of architecture that is progressively changing the look of Boston – the Institute of Contemporary Art’s design received the Harleston Parker Medal for the “most beautiful building” in Greater Boston.

Architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro designed the building both “from the sky down,” as a contemplative space for visitors to enjoy art, and “from the ground up,” to provide dynamic public areas. (ICA Visitor Guide)

Visit the institution and view its exhibits. Mental note: it was the ICA that hosted the early shows of such visionaries as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Edvard Munch. Check out the views of the harbor and Charlestown from the second and third floors of the building’s front facing windows. At sunset they are really spectacular.

The Poss Family Mediatheque - the perspective of the water is meant to look as though it is framed through a viewfinder, with neither sky or horizon in sight.

7.30pm: Bamboo and Chopsticks

Back over Fort Point Channel, stroll through the small enclave that is Chinatown. You’ll notice the bamboo plantations and tufts that feature in the Chinatown Park as part of the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway – a walkway punctuated with public art and greenery over a mile-long stretch of Atlantic Avenue.

Have dinner at China Pearl 9 – they serve hard-to-come-by Singapore Noodles, and you’ll appreciate the authentically decorated interior. Think: red lanterns and white tableclothed banquet-size round tables.

9pm: Head to Cambridge (to be covered soon)

Boston is difficult to become acquainted with from a first-time driver’s perspective. A maze of one way streets that intersect ‘Do Not Enter’ signs with extreme regularity; you’ll save a lot of time when armed with a driving map of the city.

* http://www.roadtraffic-technology.com/projects/big_dig/

58 thoughts on “24 Hours in Boston – A City in a Class of its Own

  1. This is one of my favorite articles do far. What a fantastic guide to the must dos of Boston and the inclusion of such interesting facts and notable places along the way. So happy you went there, it’s one of my favorite cities- beacon hill being one of my favorite spots. Gorgeous hotel too!!!!! Well done!!!

  2. What I love most about your story is how much you accomplished in 24 hours. You toured many interesting parts of the city, had time for a quick nosh or two, toured a museum and observed an art lesson. That is amazing! Great post, wonderful story and beautiful pictures!


  3. I always love the way you covered the city you’ve been. I feel like I got to get the place better from your point of view. Do you have any target of how many cities in the States you’re going to visit and post in your blog? And oh, I cannot wait for the post about Harvard and MIT!

    • That’s such a nice compliment – thank you for it. It’s made my Tuesday! I don’t have a target – but I hope to visit everywhere as I love to travel. Being an Aussie, it’s a whole new world on this side of the hemisphere! Cambridge was awesome and I’ll be posting on it soon! I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts on it. Thanks!

    • Thanks Roger – I tried to cover as much ground as I could to do the city justice though it is deserving of alot more time. Glad to share with you! (and the images are smaller, right?!)

  4. I LOVE that you take these road trips! A sense of adventure to be admired. It’s the only real way to get acquainted with a country…and become part of it. I did the same thing here in Oz. When I moved here a few years ago, we took a 3.5 month road trip and drove the entire country (except South Australia because we decided to cut straight through the middle of the desert and come in the ‘back way’ to Uluru). It was just us, our 4wd and a tent…and to date, it’s the best thing I’ve ever experienced (too bad I didn’t blog back then). This country is amazing, and even if we do end up back in the States at some point in the future again, I’ll always consider myself part Australian now. I promise to give you bits from your homeland, if you continue giving me bits of mine 😉
    Thanks for sharing!

    • What a lovely comment – it’s so nice to read that you feel like an Aussie!! That’s an enviable road trip – 3.5 months is alot of time and I appreciate that you took that time, as a 2 week holiday to Oz could never cut it. Just like a 2 week vacation to the US would never cut it … or any country, really. I do like road trips and though I would prefer to veer off of the highway/freeway the whole way there and back, time is of the essence! I’m all for sharing snippets of the US and can’t wait to see more of your posts on Oz that I am already enjoying! Thank you!

  5. As always your posts are amazing

    I just wanted to add something. Many thousands Romani / Rom, or sometime called by the exonym Gypsies, were also killed in the concentration camps. This group of people (although really various groups) are still being discriminated and hunted like animals in Europe. Thrown out of countries like France and talked about in terms that are no different from the Nazi’s.

    Good thing to see that monuments are built, hopefully it might help from stopping some new genocides, although I doubt it.

    Here is some information on the issue http://www.errc.org/

    Sorry for that dull comment.
    I love Boston and thank you for taking me back in time. haven’t been there since the early 90s. What I remember most are the squirrels that were everywhere.

    Keep up the good posts 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment – it’s definitely food for thought and I would like to write a separate post about this memorial and its background. It’s not dull – it’s good to be aware of what is happening globally and I am grateful for your stopping and sharing your thoughts. I also appreciate the comment about the post – it’s very nice to read. (PS I did see squirrels and took a photo of one indulging in some candy. Instead of looking at the USS Constitution, we were entertained by this squirrel!)

  6. A thoroughly interesting and engaging post as ever Marina. A beautifully written commentary to accompany your excellent pictures. I won’t be wasting money on guidebooks when I visit the US, I’ll simply be looking up your various blog entries or maybe, just buying your book 😉

    • That is a lovely comment, thank you! Writing a book has never been in my sights though I enjoy blogging with the up-to-date details! Armed with an e-tablet that has WiFi, it should be a good compromise! I wish I had spent more time in Charlestown – from what I saw, it was a lovely residential area, with beautiful houses and alot of history (ie Bunker Hill Monument and USS Constitution). Next time!

    • Thank you! I do hope you may make it to Boston, though if it isn’t possible, I am heartened that this post may have given you a glimpse of the city. I tried to cover as many angles to give it a 360 point of view.

  7. Hello Marina… LOVED IT!!!

    Can we re-post your article on our Boston blog with links back to your website.

    Our readers would really appreciate your viewpoints and special commentary.


  8. Hello Marina, another fantastic blog here, thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

    Psst, don’t tell anyone, but I only live 25 miles from Boston, except its in Lincolnshire, England, for which your Boston is named after. Boston in the UK, is steeped in the history of the Pilgrim Fathers, who left these shores for the New World, in September 1607. Is there any reference in Boston Mass regarding the Pilgrim Fathers Marina? Boston Lincolnshire, has a main Road round the town, it’s called John Adams Way, After the 1st US president, and his connections here.

    • Thanks Val! There’s so much adjoining history between the two countries isn’t there? The names New England and Boston are references in themselves as are Harvard’s foundings, and whilst the Freedom trail showed so many monuments relating to the American Revolution, Constitution, Founding Fathers, there were landmarks from the 1600s to celebrate the Pilgrims. Boston Common – the park in one of the photos – features a monumental inscription to John Winthrop and William Blackstone, and I am sure some of the burial grounds also had connections (Granary Burial Ground of 1660). When I visit Provincetown and Plymouth, I’ll report more. Maybe a great inspiration for a few posts 😉

      • I’ll gather some info for you, Marina. I do have some photographs, so I’ll sort them out when I get a moment. just had a second read through your blog here, its brilliant.

      • Val – I would love to see your photos! I definitely encourage a post from your side of the Atlantic!! I’m so glad you like the blog post – I wish I had spent alot more time in Boston 🙂 Though I will be posting about Cambridge which was so reminiscent of Europe to me. Thank you!

  9. Great storytelling accompanying your wonderfully vibrant shot’s. Your words really pull the viewer in, making it all seem so immediate, as if you’re right there, experiencing all the sites and sounds with you. Another superb post, Marina. And yes, after reading (and seeing) it all, another city I would really like to visit someday, soon perhaps?

    • Thank you so much! I so appreciate your comment – it’s really nice to read 🙂 I hope you’ll get to Boston – it is so close to NY after all! And they are on the up-and-up with art so perhaps a place to research re an exhibit for you?

  10. It was fun to follow you through Boston. I almost did the same tour some time ago which made it even more interesting to read the post. And so many nice photographs! My favourite is the one called Steep Side Streets.

    • Thanks so much for taking a read down memory lane 🙂 It’s a great city isn’t it! Taking photos there was definitely alot of fun – its interesting what one sees with a camera!

  11. Your posts are a great way for me to learn about the States 🙂 I have to say that Boston in the USA and Boston in the UK are two very very different places 🙂 Boston in your country looks so cool and full of beautiful features whereas Boston in the UK is a very small, dull and uninteresting place to go to 😀 I went there just our of necessity, in need of applying for my national insurance when I just arrived to the UK, otherwise I don’t think I would of gone there ever 🙂 I love those margaritas and bubbles you had while telling us your story 🙂 And that prison door neon blue feature looks so cool 😀 Thanks 😀

    • Thank you! I am glad you learn a little bit about the US, as I learn about Europe through your posts! I need to include the beverage in my post – they always made the trip fun!

  12. Pingback: Marina Chetner Explores Boston and The Liberty Hotel

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