The red line – or Freedom Trail to give its correct title – is either painted or two bricks wide. It will take you on a journey past the city’s historical sites. You might not be interested in what happened on Bunker Hill, or care what instigated the Boston Tea Party, but before long, you will find yourself caught up in the history and drama of the 17th and 18th century.
Feel the past
The trail starts from the Visitor Centre on Boston Common. It’s worthwhile signing up for one of the guided walks led by a historical character dressed in white tights and a three-cornered hat. What could have been a boring history lesson was instead a miniature re-enactment of the events that led to America gaining its independence from the British Empire. Our guide, Gary, (historical name, Benjamin), was surprisingly non-biased and keen to hear the views from the British amateur historians in the group. He mischievously gave out non-speaking roles to a chosen few.
The walk takes you into two ancient graveyards, under the balcony where the Declaration of Independence was read, past churches and meeting place, such as Faneuil Hall. Behind Faneuil Hall is Quincy Market, now an upmarket food court and a great place to sample a cup of Boston Clam Chowder while watching street entertainment. The tour finishes at Union Street, which was the city’s original shoreline with its warehouses, 17th century bars and seafood restaurants. With the help of old maps and photographs that Gary produced from his satchel, you get a feel for what Boston looked like before the peninsula was extended into the sea.
Taking a RTW trip? Why you should add Boston to your round the world trip itinerary.
The guided tour lasts approximately two hours and covers half of the Freedom Trail; you are left to follow the rest of the red line by yourself. It will lead you through the picturesque North End along Hanover Street with its back-to-back Italian eateries. You'll then cross over the Charlestown Bridge to Bunker Hill and the USS Constitution. By the time you are left to your own devices, you will know what Bunker Hill and the Boston Tea Party are all about.
What is so uncharacteristically wonderful about Boston is that you can count the number of skyscrapers on both hands. There is a cluster in the business district next to where the Boston Massacre took place, and two in the Back Bay district resulting in an enormous expanse of open sky. The city is very green, as it was built around the oldest public park in North America. On closer inspection, though, you realise there are two distinctly different green spaces that sit side by side.
The larger of the two – Boston Common – is 48 acres. In the 16th century, it was a training ground for soldiers. It’s now where kids practise baseball or where knitting festivals take place. Across Charles Street, is the walled Public Garden, a miniature botanical garden with a large lake, 125 different varieties of trees, colourful flower beds and pristine lawns displaying “Keep off the Grass” signs.
The city is crammed full of so many old buildings that you will find a subway entrance inside the 17th century Old State House where the Declaration of Independence was read. Could this be where Disneyland got the idea of cleverly disguising functional services inside the shells of historical buildings? Talking of subways – the first ever subway was built in Boston and is still functioning on Boston Common.
Overlooking the Common, at the top of Beacon Street, is the Massachusetts State House; you can’t miss its glittering 23-carat gold dome. Right next door is Boston’s most exclusive residential address – Beacon Hill. It’s the only hill in Boston and its worth weaving your way up and down the cobbled streets to admire the immaculate terraced townhouses, old fashioned street lamps and wrought iron balconies made from melted down cannons and cannonballs.
A walk over Beacon Hill, not forgetting to stroll round beautiful Louisburg Square, will bring you back down onto Charles Street. You will feel as if you have stepped back into the 18th century; you walk past old fashioned bakeries, antique shops and cafes. If you can tear yourself away, you will eventually find yourself back at the parks where you can rest your legs.
Boston’s prestigious shopping street is Newbury; a wide tree lined avenue that stretches from the Public Garden eight blocks into the Back Bay area of the city. The further up the street you walk, the more interesting the shops become as they are located in old brownstone townhouses with stone stairs leading up to the main entrances or down to the basements.
The shops are mixed in with restaurants and art galleries, many of which have al fresco dining either on the sidewalks, or in sunny/shaded street-side gardens and basements. The two streets on either side of Newbury – Boylston and Commonwealth Avenue – are also worth walking up and down, especially Commonwealth Avenue with its long shaded promenade that runs down the middle and overlooked by desirable residences.
An American city is the last place you would expect to admire beautiful 17th and 18th century architecture, or learn about British history. Bostonians are justifiably proud of their place in the history books, and they still have a strong connection to us Brits. When your taxi driver’s name is John Pringle, it perhaps explains why.