September 11, 2014
Before my recent visit to America’s east coast, I confess that I’d unfairly judged Boston, rudely dismissing it as New York’s slightly stuffy, Ivy League-educated, twin-set-and-pearls-wearing older relative. After a recent stay, however, I found that there is far more to the city than pretty buildings and good manners, and I left stuffed full of newly-gained historical knowledge, topped-up cultural wisdom, and an unhealthy amount of ice cream. Out of countless highlights, here are my top five picks:
The Freedom Trail
A city known as ‘The Cradle of Liberty’ has rather a lot to live up to but Boston’s magnanimous moniker is much deserved. Luckily, even those (like myself) with an undeniably rusty grasp of American history can explore the city’s heritage with ease, thanks to The Freedom Trail. It’s a clearly marked out route through the city’s streets, taking in 16 historically significant sites including the Massachusetts State House, Park Street Church and The Old State House – where radical politician James Otis made a speech that’s credited with sparking the American Revolution.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
The Boston Museum of Fine Art may make the most noise in Boston’s battle of the galleries – packed as it is with Turners, Monets, Renoirs and the like – but it’s the brilliantly bonkers Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum that I won’t forget in a hurry. The eponymous founder dedicated her life to collecting art and decorative objects, accumulating a vast range of pieces from all corners of the globe. These are displayed in a distinctly oddball fashion in the rooms of her former home: Fenway Court. Venetian frescoes jostle for space with Ottoman ornaments, priceless paintings hide in corners atop French dressing tables, and works by Botticelli, Titian, Vermeer and Rembrandt share wall space with 30 other paintings. Overall the atmosphere is a joyful mess, and unlike any other museum I’ve visited.
America’s oldest college – and arguably its most prestigious – Harvard University has produced no less than eight US presidents since its birth in 1636. Located away from Central Boston in the suburb of Cambridge, the beautiful buildings of Harvard Yard – the heart of the university – are a collection of grand and majestic structures, divided by open green spaces where the resident boffins relax between classes. There are free student-led tours available, providing information on the university’s history and traditions, as well as an insight into the day to day goings on at this Ivy League institution.
The neighbourhood of Beacon Hill is an exercise in old-world elegance; graceful brownstone apartments climb away from the green of Boston Common, ascending the hill in neat lines, and tidy trees shade the cobbled pavements where well-heeled residents stroll along. Louisburg Square, where haughty redbrick mansions surround a pristine private garden, is commonly held to be the city’s most prestigious address. The boundary of Beacon Hill is marked by Charles Street, an immaculate stretch of antique shops, classy boutiques and chic bistros. A morning pottering around, trying to pass yourself off as a one of the affluent residents, is one well spent.
Toscanini’s Ice Cream Parlour
As Boston is a compact city best explored on foot, you’re going to need some sustenance. China Town has some fantastic authentic little places; you’re never far from an excellent lobster roll, and the pizzas in North End are seriously decent, but it’s the ice cream at Toscanini’s that takes the crown as my favourite, postcard-worthy, worth-the-airfare-alone treat. Amongst the flavours (homemade, naturally) at this Cambridge café, you’ll find burnt caramel, green tea, bourbon and gingersnap molasses, plus all the usual favourites, each impossibly creamy. Order a selection to share – they’re totally worth spoiling your dinner for.