Family Travel: Beautiful Boston, US

Embark through the frosty air

by SHFamily | Tue, December 19, 2017

By Lisa M. Mulvey

Wrap up warm, step out into the frosty winter air, and embark on a journey through America’s most beloved walking city.

Located on the northeastern shore of the United States is Boston, New England’s largest city, and the capital of Massachusetts. Founded in 1630, it’s steeped in colonial history yet considered to be a world leader in higher education, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Though known as the “city of neighborhoods” (23 officially designated), Boston feels compact and quaint – easily navigated by foot, and perfect for families. Each neighborhood boasts a distinctive character from food specialties, to architecture, and rich folklore. Step into the shoes of a typical Bostonian and take a winter stroll through Boston properly, the city’s oldest neighborhoods within the heart of downtown.

Back Bay

Back Bay is a blend of regal residential Victorian-era row houses and upscale boutiques speckled with memorable architecture. Three streets run in parallel, offering three unique experiences across eight neatly organized blocks. For the naturalist, or if the family is interested in history, saunter down the Common wealth Avenue Mall (established in 1856), a twinkling stretch of tree-lined green space dotted with statues that speak of Boston’s stories past.

The surrounding mid-1800s brown-stones – still the most desirable and expensive homes within Boston – are dressed in their holiday best, with single white candles lit in each window. For the luxury consumer, shop your way down Newbury Street, where stores increase in opulence (including holiday décor) as you walk east towards the city center. For the architecture enthusiast, idle down Boylston Street past the Engine 33/Ladder 15 firehouse (since 1888), Boston Public Library (circa 1848), Copley Square’s Trinity Church, and the John Hancock Tower for a mix of rustic versus ultra-modern. Don’t miss the holiday tree in Copley Square. With all this walking, the little legs in your family may require a well needed pit stop. Head to Atlantic Fish Co. and order an authentic Boston Chowder Bread Bowl.

Beacon Hill

To get from Back Bay to the prestigious Beacon Hill neighborhood, simply meander across the Boston Public Gardens – not to be confused with Boston Common, which we’ll visit later. Head into America’s oldest botanical gardens and seek out Boston’s iconic family of bronze ducks made famous by local author, Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings book. The ducks are the perfect accompaniment for a festive family photo. Winter is a special season for the ducklings as local knitters traditionally provide them with warm accessories. Just past the statues, you’ll find the main thoroughfare of Beacon Hill – Charles Street.

With its red-brick sidewalks, cobble-stone streets, gas-lit street lamps, and stately Federal-style row houses, Beacon Hill is home to many of the founding families of Boston and descendants of the first New Englanders. Homes here are known for a sophisticated presence ornate with brass door knockers, window boxes, decorative iron work, and gardens. During the holiday season, doors are bedecked with displays of lights, berries, and wreaths. Look for Number 8 Louisburg Square, former home of Louisa May Alcott, most recognized as the author of the classical book, Little Women. As you make your way down Charles Street and explore the countless antique stores, home décor, and gift boutiques, fine dining and specialty food shops, be sure to wander through the hilly side streets and lanes – one of the most intimate experiences in Boston. While at it, look out for J.P. Licks Homemade Ice Cream, and sample some Candy Cane Hard Yogurt to keep you going.

Harvard Square

As you reach the end of Charles Street, look out for the T, America’s oldest subway system, and take the Red Line outbound to Harvard Square. You’ll enjoy fantastic views of the Charles River from the Longfellow Bridge before dipping underground and making your way through Cambridge, arriving on the doorstep of the country’s oldest institution of higher level learning, Harvard University (founded in 1636). Stop first at the whimsical Curious George Store – the ONLY brick and mortar retail store in the world for everything Curious George. The kids will love exploring Harvard Square’s most beloved and iconic shop, with its presence (and bright yellow facade) representing the vibrancy of Harvard Square – a hub for book-worms, foodies, bloggers and artists. Harvard Square is also the home of Winter Lights – a seasonal lighting display established over 30 years ago by a renowned local lighting artist. Miniature lights are woven into nets strung high over streets – each collection of lights depicting a unique design. Continue on and stroll through the gates of Harvard Yard where you can pick up a free student-guided tour sure to educate and entertain. Sites within and around include: Harvard Museum of Natural History, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard Art Museum, and the Harvard Film Archive.

Boston Common

From Harvard Square hop back onto the T going inbound to Park Street Station located within the Boston Common, America’s oldest park (circa 1634) and home to two of the most storybook-worthy sites of the winter season – the Boston Common Tree and the Frog Pond.

The winter season officially begins with the lighting of the Boston Common Tree. Boston’s mayor flips the switch to set the tree ablaze with colorful lights, as well as over 80 other trees to light up an enchanted Boston Common. Adjacent to the Boston Common Tree, is the Frog Pond, known as the “heart of the Boston Common”. Each winter, the Frog Pond transforms into a magical wonderland on ice with surrounding trees sparkling overhead. Ice skating on the Frog Pond is one of Boston’s most treasured winter traditions. Rent a pair of skates and take a twirl. Boston Common also boasts the start of the Freedom Trail – a 2.5-mile-long red walking path with 16 stops at Boston’s most historic sites, from the State House to “Old Ironsides” (the world’s oldest naval vessel). To understand the full scope of Boston’s revolutionary history, the Freedom Trail is a must-do.

Faneuil Hall

Pop off the Freedom Trail just past the Old State House to explore Faneuil Hall, known as Boston’s “cradle of liberty”. Though Bostonians refer to this entire neighborhood as Faneuil Hall, the REAL Faneuil Hall is the single building facing Congress Street which – when established in 1742 – served as a meeting hall, merchant marketplace, and site of several speeches encouraging freedom.

Outside the main hall, three block-long halls collectively known as Quincy Market, or the Faneuil Hall Marketplace, fall in line behind the original main hall. Designed in 1826, due to overcrowding, these annexes served as trading posts and specialized markets. Today, though the type of commodities and fare has changed, it remains a lively cobble-stone-clad marketplace, performance venue, and meeting spot within the city center. Hop aboard a horse-drawn carriage, browse the pushcarts loaded with local artisan goods, sample fresh seafood and locally-brewed beers, or stroll through the eclectic array of shops. In the wintertime, daylight brings street performers and buskers. In the evening, a dazzling holiday must-see comes to life – the largest holiday tree in the northeast. Extravagantly dressed in ornaments and teeming with lights stands an 85-foot tall proud fir. Expert designers and decorators choreographed the lights surrounding both the marketplace buildings and the tree to sync with popular holiday songs performed by the Boston Pops Orchestra.

North End

Exit Faneuil Hall by the Union Street Oyster House (established in 1826), the oldest continuously operated restaurant in America. Take a solemn moment to pass through the adjacent Holocaust Memorial before picking up Hanover Street, the main thoroughfare of Boston’s North End. Welcome to “Little Italy”, Boston’s North End, where the smell of authentic Italian cuisine fills the cobblestone streets and narrow side-walks. Hanover Street, one of Boston’s oldest roads, is thick with family-owned restaurants, pastry shops, and picturesque Italian cafes. Always loud, always inviting, and nary an empty glass of wine, the North End is rich in deeply rooted Italian culture dating back to the 1630s.

Not only does the North End reign as the city’s oldest residential neighborhood, but it is also home to both the Old North Church (circa 1722), the oldest remaining church, and Paul Revere’s House (circa 1680) – the oldest remaining structure in down-town Boston. Roam through the side streets and tiny alleyways, adorned with swathes of pine garland and strings of colorful lights strewn above. Be transported back to a time when Italian immigrants eagerly stepped off the boat to create a village-like neighborhood within the city. Chat with locals typically sitting on their door stoops sharing espresso and swapping stories of the “old days”. After a long day walking and exploring, head into Mike’s Pastry for their Florentine Cannoli.

Whether you know of this city’s vibrant history or not, all who visit will surely leave with a sense of enrichment – especially during the winter time when it comes into its own with traditional and festive spirit. Exploring with the family takes you all on a journey of discovery, and you’ll no doubt fall in love with Boston’s undeniable charm. Although it may result in some tired feet at the end of the day – it’ll be worth it.