Travel tips and things to do in Boston, Massachusetts: 20 reasons you must visit

1. Stroll around the Emerald Necklace

<i>Boston Common</i>

Boston Common Photo: Kylie McLaughlin

The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University is an eight-hectare landscape that sits on the outskirts of Boston, along up-and-coming suburb Jamaica Plains. It was designed in collaboration with Central Park architect Frederick Law Olmstead, to enable a greater appreciation of plants – which largely means, for Bostonites, a lovely green space in which to run, cycle, or throw a wedding. Part of the city's "Emerald Necklace", which links all of Boston's parks together, it also hosts art exhibitions such as the current FOG x FLO, where every half hour a mysterious fog emits from various locations.

2. Peruse fine art at the Isabella Gardner Museum*


Photo: Kylie McLaughlin

You could be forgiven for thinking you'd just stumbled into a wormhole and been spat out in Italy. A patron of the arts, Isabella Gardner designed this space to look like a Venetian palazzo and filled it with art she had collected over the years. In 1990 the museum was robbed in what was the single largest property theft in the world. Thirteen works of art worth $US500 million were stolen, never to be found, and there is a $10 million reward for information leading to the lost artworks. In the meantime, the frames the art were cut from remain hanging empty, waiting for their return.

3. Boston's best sandwich at Mei Mei

<i>The 'Double Awesome'</i>

The 'Double Awesome' Photo: Kylie McLaughlin

Boston's food scene is so hot right now. Mei Mei started life as a food truck and now has a bricks-and-mortar location near Fenway Park. It serves one of Boston's most iconic dishes, called the Double Awesome. They use a crispy scallion pancake as sandwich bread, and fill it with molten cheddar, oozy egg and a local greens pesto. Throw in some sriracha, and they've nailed the best sandwich idea since, well, sliced bread.

4. Pass the cannoli 

Mike's might have all the Instagram fame, but talk to a local and you'll find favour splits between nearby Modern Pastry and Maria's Pastry when it comes to Boston's famous cannolis. All three fight it out in the city's historic North End, but tourists tend to beeline to Mike's for their gargantuan, crispy Italian pastry filled with an infinite number of ricotta cheese-based flavours.

5. Try Boston's best lobster rolls*


Photo: Kylie McLaughlin

Neptune's Oyster is tiny seafood bar in the North End packed full of locals on a weekday lunchtime. Sit at the bar and ignore the oyster menu that's presented and head straight for the lobster roll – an iconic Boston sandwich that's served in a toasted brioche roll with mayo or drawn butter, salad or chips. The roll is pricey, but it's one of the largest, meatiest serves in New England, and if you grab a seat by the window, you can watch the staff expertly shuck oysters.


6. Stroll through Beacon Hill*

Once home to coachmen employed by families of nearby mansions, one of Boston's last true cobblestone streets is found in the upper-class neighbourhood of Beacon Hill. Today you'll find gas-lamps, window-boxes spewing colourful flowers and old colonial row-houses. It's also home to the most prestigious address in Boston, Louisburg Square, whose residents live in greek revival houses surrounding their own private park.

7. Tour historic Fenway Park*


Photo: Shutterstock

You can tour the home of Boston's beloved Red Sox, the  oldest and most picturesque baseball park in the US, opened in 1912. It's also one of the smallest in the country, which makes it one of the best to see the baseball action up close. Tours on the hour will give you a lowdown on the history of the park, its famous players, the changerooms, and the press galley.

8. Eat superior artisan doughnuts

Another fierce rivalry in Boston is among its fine doughnut purveyors. Union Square may be better known, but locals attest that Blackbird's are superior. Handily located near Fenway Park, Blackbird sells fluffy artisan doughnuts from a small outlet, baked fresh and with flavours such as Boston cream – coated in a rich chocolate icing and stuffed full of creamy vanilla custard.

9. Read a really old book

If there is one thing I discovered about Boston, it's that they appreciate a good book. The Athenaeum is one of the oldest independent libraries in the US. and its members must subscribe to use its services – some of its most famous have included Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott and John F. Kennedy. Thousands of rare volumes are housed in this beautiful neoclassical building, which visitors can access for $US10.

10. Eat modern Italian food

Boston's Italian heritage can be explored in a way Italians would approve of – through food. Nebo Cucina and Enoteca's space is stylish, loud and convivial, with formal seating and a more casual bar. Found in the North End (where it gets its name), the restaurant is owned by the Palotta sisters, celebrated local restauranteurs. My money is on the killer pasta with lobster and shrimp in a spicy marinara sauce sauce – two things close to Bostonians' hearts – and the extremely rich but delicious goat's cheese panna cotta. There's also a wine list of more than 100 Italian wines.

11. Sleep in style


The Boston Park Plaza is one of America's most historic hotels. Opening in 1927, it has hosted several US presidents and some of Hollywood's biggest stars.The centrally located Back Bay hotel, right near Boston Park Common, is a Boston landmark and has recently had a $US100 million facelift.  Its elegant, spacious rooms have views across Boston. STRIP by Strega is the very swanky dining room, and brunch is also popular at Off the Common, the high-end dining room on the ground floor.

12. Laugh at the Improv Asylum

Boston takes comedy pretty seriously and this is one of the best places to see local, fresh comedians perform skits and improv in an intimate setting over a variety of different shows. A raunchier show – called Raunch – plays at midnight on weekends and ticketholders for earlier shows are sometimes offered free tickets.  Tip: buy tickets online beforehand as the best shows often sell out.

13. Get into Harvard University


Photo: Shutterstock

Anyone can visit Harvard, but it's more rewarding to do a tour. Located about 20 minutes outside downtown Boston, the campus is set in a village-like atmosphere, with bars, shops and restaurants. Student-led tours give a historical overview and an idea of life on campus in one of the world's most renown universities. Information for self-guided tours can be obtained at the Harvard Information Centre.

14. Admire the city's grand Esplanade

Boston is undoubtedly a great city to walk, and this is one of its best places for a stroll, jog or cycle. With a backdrop of the city skyline, on any fine day you can watch sailing lessons, rowers or kayakers along the river before taking leave along the bridge, which leads right into the Charles Road, Beacon Hill precinct.


Photo: Shutterstock

15. Best window shopping 

Of course the main street of Boston's exclusive suburb of Beacon Hill should feature great shopping and dining options, and it is  a good-value stroll for window-shopping. Charles Street is where you'll find Boston's high-end and independent boutiques, with some vintage shops and local brands, as well as beloved bakery Tatte.

16. Get spooked

<i>Ye Olde Burying Ground</i>

Ye Olde Burying Ground. Photo: Kylie McLaughlin

Boston's graveyards are among the oldest in the US and have classic names such as Ye Olde Burying Ground and Sleepy Hollow. Here lies graves from the 17th century, including some famous writers and civil war soldiers. Puritan headstones are the most fascinating, with macabre images of impending death, such as hourglasses, winged death's heads, and skull and crossbones. The creative designs were due to the Puritans not being allowed to use religious symbols.

17. Shop 'til you drop*

Once you've wandered the independent boutiques of Charles Street, hit Newbury Street to really satiate your shopping desires. The closest thing they have to a pedestrian mall, Newbury is lined with shophouses containing high-end brands such as Rag & Bone, John Fluevog and Anthropologie. Housed in 19th-century brownstones, Newbury is often touted as one of the loveliest, albeit most expensive, streets in the world.

18. Grab some new kicks

Located within the company's world headquarters, Converse's flagship store in Boston allows customers to design their own shoes in person from a "blank canvas". In a one-hour session, shoppers can sit with a "maestro" and pick out designs from a range of materials, rubber toe caps, laces, eyelets and other add-ons to create a unique shoe. The shoes will still need to be sent to the manufacturer and will take about a month to complete, but it's a small price to pay for a unique shoe.

19. Order a flat white

Who said you can't get great coffee in America? Boston is right on top of the exploding coffee scene, with several high-end cafes, such as George Howell Coffee, producing excellent brew . Do your research and Boston's best can be found in almost any inner-city suburb, but perhaps the most amusing take on Aussie coffee is a chain calling itself Flat White that has a kangaroo logo. It's an acceptable drop but not among the best.

20. Visit Boston Public Library

<i>Inside Boston's regal public library.</i>

Inside Boston's regal public library. Photo: Kylie McLaughlin

One of the jewels in Boston's crown is the historic, 1848 public library. A testament to its obsession with books, it houses more than  23.7 million titles and is one of the largest libraries in the US. Inside, it features an Italian-renaissance inspired interior courtyard, with fountains and arched pathways, and  a magnificent reading room called Bates Hall, which remains virtually unchanged since it opened in 1896. With a grand arched ceiling and green reading lamps hovering over desks, the hall is often referred to as one of the most beautiful rooms in America.

* Writer's top five recommendations

See also: Irresistable tiny town with a big personality Anthony Bourdain called 'paradise'

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Virgin Australia codeshare with Delta Airlines. Fly with Virgin to LAX, then onto Boston with Delta. See

The writer was a guest of Discover New England