Explore Massachusetts

Massachusetts Travel Guide

The arrival of the earliest pioneers near Salem in 1630 was the shaping of Massachusetts as a state. Puritans arriving from an England threatened with civil war came to set up a new colony, intended to be an example to the world of a perfect human society, with rigid Protestant discipline and a devout way of life. This was the beginning of New England and today it is made up of six states including Massachusetts.<br /><br /> Boston has been the proud hub of the state since colonial times and is full of fascinating history that can be traced by walking the Freedom Trail and the Black Heritage Trail. Boston also boasts a wealth of culture thanks to the prestigious presence of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. To the east lie the beaches of the Cape Cod Peninsula as well as the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket that together form the region's most popular holiday destination, equipped with historic towns and plenty of walking and cycling opportunities.<br /><br /> Inland Massachusetts is much quieter, with settlements clustered around the fertile river valleys and in the Berkshire Hills to the west. Development of the Berkshires began with the construction of the railway from New York and Boston and it gradually became a favourite summer retreat for wealthy city folk as well as attracting artists and writers. The region is now most famous for its vibrant summer music, dance and theatre festivals, particularly as the Boston Symphony Orchestra has its home at the huge Tanglewood Estate in Lenox.<br /><br />

Freedom Trail

Address: The trail starts from the Visitor Information Center on Boston Common

The two and a half mile (4km) Freedom Trail follows a line of red bricks, or a painted red line on the pavement, linking 16 historic sights associated with the early struggle for freedom from British control and the events leading up to the revolution. Markers identify the stops and provide information from downtown to the North End to Charlestown and Bunker Hill Monument. Sights along the way include Paul Revere House, Boston's oldest surviving house that was home to the famous revolutionary, and the nearby Old North Church, where two lanterns were hung in the belfry to warn the revolutionaries of the British movements while Revere went on his famous horse ride to warn of imminent British attack.<br /><br /> The elegant Old State House was the seat of British colonial government and where the Declaration of Independence was read in 1776. There is a museum of Boston history inside. At the Old South Meeting House, Samuel Adams addressed the revolutionaries in the significant meeting prior to the Boston Tea Party, and a circle of cobblestones marks the site of the Boston Massacre. In Charlestown the USS Constitution, known as 'Old Ironsides' is the oldest warship still afloat and was named after the sinking of the British frigate, HMS Guerriere during the war of 1812. Bunker Hill Monument is the site of the first formal battle of the American Revolution, which was fought in 1775.<br /><br /> Also along the trail is the beautiful white steeple of Park Street Church, the site of several important anti-slavery speeches, the Old Granary Burying Ground where a number of revolutionaries are buried, and the Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall that once was the meeting place for revolutionaries as well as a bustling marketplace. Although a complete self-guided trail, the National Park Service also conducts free tours with guides in historic costumes that cover some of the trail's highlights.<br /><br />

Black Heritage Trail

Address: The trail starts from the Visitor Information Center on Boston Common or at the Museum of Afro-American History at 46 Joy Street, Beacon Hill

Today Beacon Hill brings to mind images of affluence and luxurious living, yet until the end of the 19th century it contained a community of free blacks and escaped slaves from the southern states who owned businesses, built houses and schools, and worshipped together in the churches. Although the black community has since shifted to other parts of Boston, the Black Heritage Trail covers 14 sites important in local black history. Massachusetts was the first state to abolish slavery in 1783.<br /><br /> Beginning at the Boston Common, there is a memorial to slave abolitionist Robert Shaw who led the first black regiment recruited during the Civil War. Various sites on Beacon Hill include homes of famous citizens, the city's first racially integrated public school with exhibits portraying the struggle for equal school rights, and a house that was part of the famous 'Underground Railroad' that sheltered runaway slaves from their pursuers. The African Meeting House, part of the Museum of Afro-American History, is one of the most interesting stops on the trail; it was the first black church in the United States, known as 'Black Faneuil Hall' during the anti-slavery campaign. Here famous abolitionist speeches were made and black people were called to take up arms in the Civil War. There is an informative audiovisual presentation in the gallery.<br /><br /> Although this is a complete self-guided trail with brochures and maps provided by the Museum of Afro-American History, park rangers also give free daily two-hour tours, which start at the National Park Service Visitor Center.<br /><br />

Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum

Address: Congress Street Bridge

Admission: $25 (adults), $15 (children). Discounts available for booking online. Tours run between 10am and 5pm during peak season, with slightly reduced hours in winter.

Moored to the bridge is the Beaver II, known as the Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum, and one of the three ships stormed by patriots in 1773 as an act of rebellion against British rule and in particular against the new tax laws imposed on tea. A group of revolutionaries disguised as Mohawk Indians burst from the South Meeting House and boarded the ships that were loaded with tea. They emptied the crate contents into the harbour, an event that became known as the Boston Tea Party. The Beaver II is an exact replica of the original Beaver I and visitors can learn about the event on board the ship. The museum has recently been renovated and improved and generally receives rave reviews from visitors of all ages; in fact, it has recently been voted 'Best Family Attraction in Boston', among a host of other accolades.<br /><br />

MIT Museum

Address: 265 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge

Admission: $10 adults, $5 children under 18. Daily 10am to 5pm.

The MIT Museum is located in Cambridge, near the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the most prestigious universities in the US. The relatively small museum houses technology-themed collections of holograms, artificial intelligence, robotics, and maritime history, placing specific importance on MIT's contributions to the history of technology. Some of the most interesting exhibits are those of the MIT Hacks, elaborate pranks pulled by students each year. Don't miss the Arthur Ganson gallery of kinetic sculptures, which is also something special.<br /><br />

Cambridge

Just across the Charles River from Boston, Cambridge is actually a city in its own right although the two cities are so closely associated that many people believe them to be one and the same. Cambridge is home to two of the most prestigious centres for education in the country, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and has a young and vibrant atmosphere due to the 30,000 university students from around the world that reside and study here.<br /><br /> The city is centred on Harvard Square, which is a gathering spot that reflects the international culture of its learning community as well as the influence of its students, residents and business owners. Surrounding the square and lining the streets that spread out from Harvard Square are dozens of bookstores and music shops, cafes, coffee houses and restaurants. Harvard Square, occupied on one side by the university, is a lively mixture of students and professors, buskers, the homeless, evangelists and political campaigners, and is a great place to have a cup of coffee, watch the activity and soak up the atmosphere.<br /><br />

Harvard University

Admission: There are free student-led campus tours available. Museum tickets vary, see website for details.

Established in 1636, Harvard University is the oldest in the country and one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the USA and indeed the world. It is famous for its brilliant faculties, which have produced economists, biologists, prize-winning poets, and famous graduates like President John F. Kennedy. It is perhaps equally well known for its famous dropouts, such as actor Matt Damon who left in second year to write the Oscar-winning film Good Will Hunting, and businessman Bill Gates who left to start up a small software business, also dropping out in his second year.<br /><br /> The focal point of the university is Harvard Yard, a courtyard surrounded by ivy-covered colonial buildings from the 18th century until the present that was named for John Harvard, a graduate of Cambridge University in Britain, who died leaving the college half his estate and his entire library. The shoe of his statue is rubbed for good luck. Harvard also has some outstanding museums, including the Harvard Art Museums and the Museum of Natural History. The Fogg Art Museum is the most famous art museum with a huge collection covering works from the European Renaissance period to the modern day, including works by Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh and Klee. The Bush-Reisinger and Arthur Sackler Museums are included in the same ticket. The Natural History Museum is renowned for its display of hand-blown glass flowers.<br /><br />

Boston Public Garden

Address: 87 Mount Vernon Street

The first botanical garden in the United States, the Boston Public Garden provides a tranquil escape from the fast pace of the city centre. Maintained by the Boston Parks and Recreation Department and the Friends of the Public Garden, the botanical garden is a must-see on any exploration of Boston. With more than 600 varieties of trees and colourful displays of well-ordered decorative flowers, visitors can go for a relaxing swan boat ride on the three acre lagoon, enjoy the attractive vista of the city's sardined skyscrapers through the trees, or take pleasure in the numerous public works of art that border the meandering paths. The gardens are a great stop for families wanting a break from sightseeing.<br /><br />

Marthas Vineyard

Believed to have been named by mariner Bartholomew Gosnold for his daughter, Martha, with the 'vineyard' referring to the abundance of wild grapes growing on the island, Martha's Vineyard is a favourite summer destination for New England's wealthy elite. Tourism is the main economy, boosted by celebrity regulars like actress Sharon Stone and the Clinton family.<br /><br /> Martha's Vineyard is far less developed than Cape Cod, but more sophisticated than neighbouring Nantucket Island. Holidays here are dominated by simple pleasures such as the weekly farmers' market, and walks on the miles of coastal pathways. Although it is a peaceful place, Martha's Vineyard does host many events in the summer months, which keeps things lively; however, the influx of people in summer raises prices and makes things less serene so that some travellers prefer to visit off-season. Visiting outside of the busy summer period (June to August) also increases the chance that some of the private beaches in the area will be open to the public.<br /><br /> The six towns of Martha's Vineyard have distinct characters. Upmarket Vineyard Haven is the island's main port, receiving ferries as well as private yachts. The fun centre of Oak Bluffs is home to the old Flying Horses Carousel, pizza take-aways and ice-cream parlours which cater to the young and carefree. The graceful Edgartown has quaint inns, historic whaling captains' homes and stylish boutiques lining the narrow streets, and is the island's oldest settlement.<br /><br />

Nantucket

Thirty miles (48km) off the coast of Cape Cod, the island of Nantucket is smaller and more remote than Martha's Vineyard, and is an escape from city stress and the chaos of everyday life. Miles of unspoilt beaches, rolling wind-swept moors, solitary windmills and lighthouses, church steeples, quaint cottages and peaceful lanes are the attractions on the island. Its only town, Nantucket Town, was once the whaling capital of the world and has retained much of its 17th to 19th-century character with historic mansions, old fashioned street lamps and cosy inns lining the cobblestone streets.<br /><br /> The rest of the island is mainly residential except for a few villages, and there is not a billboard, fast-food franchise or flashing neon light to be seen anywhere. Nantucket has long appealed to wealthy visitors and has grown to a summer vacation retreat for nearly 50,000 tourists, and despite the increasing amount of luxury houses going up, more than 36 percent of the land is protected from development; the island still feels like a romantic paradise.<br /><br /> The excellent Whaling Museum is an added attraction to the beaches, strolling and biking, and window-shopping at the exclusive boutiques. July and August are the most popular months and the busiest times, and although off-season has its charms the island is often covered in thick fog at this time.<br /><br />

Faneuil Hall Marketplace

Address: 4 South Market Building

Admission: Monday to Thursday 10am - 7pm; Friday and Saturday 10am - 9pm; Sunday 12pm - 6pm.

A great Boston day trip and shopping destination, Faneuil Hill Marketplace offers superb shopping at some familiar designer stores, quality arts and crafts, as well as great restaurants and sidewalk cafés. Four places in one, Faneuil Hall Marketplace encompasses Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, North Market and South Market. Set around a cobblestone promenade, the market is a haven for the performing arts with jugglers, mimes, musicians and magicians entertaining passers-by. Centrally located and operating for more than 250 years, the Faneuil Hill Marketplace is the hub of Boston city life. Drawing large crowds excited by the electric energy, visitors can shop, stroll, eat and wonder.<br /><br />

Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Address: 465 Huntington Avenue

Admission: $25 (adults). Concessions available. Saturday to Tuesday 10am - 5pm; Wedensday to Friday 10am - 10pm.

An artwork in itself, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston houses some of the most famous European paintings in the US. Boston's oldest, largest and best-known art institution, the MFA's collections is one of the world's most comprehensive, with something like 22,000 artworks including masterpieces by some of the finest artists in the world. With a striking collection of Impressionist paintings by artists like Monet, Egyptian sculpture, and a moving exhibition of Japanese and other Asian artworks, visitors should make sure they have ample time to explore the exhibition rooms of the MFA. Have a break and enjoy a coffee or lunch at one the three gallery restaurants or browse the outstanding museum bookstore and shop.<br /><br />

Codzilla

Address: Boston Harbour Cruises, Long Wharf

Admission: Hours vary according to season, visit the website for current times.

Codzilla takes passengers on a high-speed cruise around Boston's harbour. People on board will scream in pure delight as the boat curves, spins and rips through the harbour for 40 minutes, with music such as Bobby Darin and ACDC blaring. You'll be travelling at a heart-pumping 40 miles (70km) per hour. Reservations are recommended. Very young kids may be frightened by the activity, but generally the whole family will relish the thrill. Numerous other boat tours and cruises are available in Boston's harbour, with more sedate options for those who aren't keen on braving Codzilla.<br /><br />

New England Aquarium

Address: 1 Central Wharf

Admission: $26.95 (adults); $17.95 (children aged 3 to 11); Other concessions and packages available. Saturday to Thursday 9am to 6pm; Friday and Saturday 9am to 7pm. Hours are slightly reduced in winter.

Home to Simons IMAX Theatre and the New England Aquarium Whale Watch, which runs from April through October, the New England Aquarium features a plethora of some of the world's most amazing marine species, such as the impressive giant pacific octopus, sand tiger shark, green sea turtles and North Atlantic Right whales, and is an absolute must for children of all ages and any adult in love with the underwater world. The aquarium is a wonderful family attraction for a rainy day. Basic admission includes the aquarium, while the IMAX and Whale Watch charge additional fees.<br /><br />

Cape Cod Lighthouses

Cape Cod is home to a number of picturesque lighthouses that draw sightseers year-round. At one point there were more than 20 on the peninsula; however, many of them have now been decommissioned and knocked down. Those remaining have varying degrees of difficulty in access: some are easily reached, while others require a hike. Some of the most popular (and easiest to get to) include Chatham Light and Nobska, which offers a spectacular view of Martha's Vineyard. Some that involve more walking are Cape Cod Light and Race Point Light. There are also lighthouses that can only be viewed from a distance, including Monomoy Light, which involves a boat trip past a very active seal colony! Some of the lighthouses can even be rented for weekly accommodation.<br /><br />

Fenway Park

Address: 4 Yawkey Way

Admission: Admission varies according to section.

The Boston Red Sox are a much-beloved part of life in New England. The 'curse of the Babe' and their infamous near 100-year losing streak only made their supporters more fanatical. Fenway Park is the oldest Major League Baseball stadium still in use, and has quirky features like The Triangle, Pesky's Pole, and the famous Green Monster left-field wall. Visitors will notice a lone red seat in the right field bleachers, which is where Ted Williams hit the longest home run at Fenway, measuring 502 feet (153m). A baseball game at Fenway Park is a must for any summertime visit to Boston, hot dog, crackerjacks and all.<br /><br />

Sam Adams Brewery

Address: 30 Germania Street

Admission: Donation Based. Monday to Thursday 10am - 3pm, Fridays 10am to 5.30pm, Saturdays 10am to 3pm, closed Sundays.

Visitors to Boston can take an informative tour of the Sam Adams Brewery, and get a look at the brewing process for the popular beer. Named for the revolutionary war hero, the beer has been brewed in Boston since the 1980s. The tour showcases the entire process, and allows visitors to taste the special malts used. A free glass is included for visitors using the Go Boston Card. Tours depart roughly every 45 minutes and last about one hour. The brewery does not accept reservations, but they do recommend that visitors arrive fairly early in the day to avoid long waits - especially on Saturdays. All donations benefit local charities.<br /><br />

Pomodoro

Address: 120 Salem Street

Food Type: Italian

A tiny, unpretentious Italian restaurant with hard working staff and authentic Italian cuisine, Pomodoro is one of those neighbourhood restaurants that is frequented by locals and foreigners who keep coming back for more. Situated in the Northend, Pomodoro serves a wide range of Italian cuisine from traditional linguine marinara with lots of garlic and fresh herbs to seafood wonders like tiger shrimp. The affordable prices and quality of food make up for the simple décor, with most patrons being mesmerised by the activity and aroma escaping from the open kitchen and the food on their plate. Reservation recommended. Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner.<br /><br />

Mistral

Address: 223 Columbus Avenue, Boston

Food Type: French

Located in Boston's trendy South End, Mistral promises uncomplicated and stylish fine dining. This upmarket restaurant specialises in French cuisine, with an emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients. The chef, Jamie Mammano, is highly acclaimed in Boston and the restaurant has a lovely ambience. Reservations are recommended.<br /><br />

The Capital Grille

Address: 900 Boylston Street, Boston

Food Type: Steakhouse

The Capital Grille is an American steakhouse institution, serving up extremely high quality food in generous portions. Despite being a restaurant chain The Capital Grille is an upmarket fine dining experience and a good option for special occasions: if you are visiting for a special celebration mention it to them when you make a reservation as they really do go the extra distance. Although steak of all kinds is the speciality there are also tantalising seafood and vegetarian options on the menu. The Capital Grille is open for lunch and supper Monday to Friday and supper only on Saturdays and Sundays. Reservations are recommended.<br /><br />

Pho n Rice

Address: 289 Beacon Street, Somerville

Food Type: Asian

The Boston area's eclectic heritage is best appreciated through its foods and nowhere better than at Pho 'n Rice. For the uninformed pho is deceptively simple traditional Vietnamese soup consisting of light but strong broth and noodles, with pieces of meat and vegetable that continue to cook in the bowl. Pho 'n Rice has added great variations to the traditional meal along with some Thai-style dishes that promise to be light on the wallet and the waistline. They'll even deliver your dinner to you for a small extra charge.<br /><br />

Legal Sea Foods

Address: 270 Northern Avenue, Liberty Wharf

Food Type: Seafood

Known for serving some of the best clam chowder in Boston, Legal Sea Foods offers a range of fresh local seafood and steaks. The large restaurant has three levels, and the top dining room and balcony offer stunning views of the harbour, and the staff is attentive and knowledgeable. Booking ahead is recommended, as there can be long queues at peak times.<br /><br />

Durgin Park

Address: 340 Faneuil Hall Market Place

Food Type: American

'Your father and grandfather probably dined with us' says the advertising slogan for this Faneuil Hall market restaurant, which has been feeding the hearty appetites of locals for well over a century. Today the restaurant is a tourist attraction simply because the cuisine it serves is still authentic old style New England. The food is unpretentious, honest and good, including favourites like clam chowder, fish chowder, fish cakes and beans, chicken pot pie, prime rib, roast turkey, cornbread, Indian pudding and apple pie. Open daily for lunch and dinner.<br /><br />

Atlantic Fish Company

Address: 761 Boylston Street

Food Type: Seafood

Consistently ranked one of the top restaurants in Boston, the Atlantic Fish Company serves up local seafood like crab cakes, mussels, clam chowder, Atlantic cod, and lobster pot pie to hungry tourists and locals alike. The menu changes daily according to the day's catch. The dining room is built to resemble the interior of a classic cruising ship, and the outdoor patio. Atlantic Fish Company is open Sunday to Thursday from 11.30am-11pm, and Friday and Saturday from 11.30am-midnight. Reservations are recommended.<br /><br />

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