The Boston Bucket List

Forty-eight hours in Boston … that's all we had. It's amazing what you can pack into a short weekend, if you're intent on seeing everything you can and you do a little planning ahead. This was our wedding anniversary/David's birthday weekend, so we figured we could splurge a bit.  

boston skyline


Here was our bucket list for Boston …

  1. Trace history by walking the Freedom Trail
  2. Stroll through the Boston Public Gardens and ride the Swan Boats
  3. Appreciate the freshies at Haymarket Square Farmer's Market
  4. Enjoy a beer and lunch at Cheers aka the Bull & Finch
  5. Dine in the North End with a cannoli for dessert
  6. Wander the streets of Beacon Hill
  7. Visit Chinatown and sample some dim sum
  8. Check out the new Rose Kennedy Greenway
  9. Check out as many Boston landmarks and “uniquities” as possible

Our hotel location put us at the end of Boston's Freedom Trail and we walked the Freedom Trail first to make sure the #1 bucket list item was ticked off. We bought trolley tour tickets with unlimited on/off and used the trolley to get back to the end of trail … and our hotel. Strategically located just across the Charlestown Bridge from Boston's North End district, locally known as Little Italy, our hotel was just a quick walk away from assuaging our desire for a good Italian meal and a canoli for dessert (#5). Villa Francesca is our pick for a reasonable and quietly romantic North End restaurant ($$-$$$) meal, but really, there are no bad restaurants in the North End. They offer daily prix fixe meals. For cannoli, however, there's only one place to go … Mike's Pastry. Yum!


the north end


We rose early on Saturday morning to make sure we didn't miss the centuries' old Farmer's Market at Haymarket Square (#3). Freshies galore plus fish and seafood are beautifully presented and offered at great prices. We especially enjoyed the bronzed “garbage” on the sidewalks. (#9).


haymarket garbage


Since we were tourists and we intended to get our money's worth, we picked up the trolley and stayed aboard for one entire 90-minute tour, then decided what next to tick off our list. A swan ride in the Public Garden seemed a good choice for late morning (#2). The Boston Public Garden is the oldest public botanical garden in America. The Swan Boats, operated by the Paget family, have been paddling in the garden lagoon since 1877. It was about time we took a ride. Romeo and Juliet, the resident white swans, were hiding beneath a willow tree, but the quiet 15-minute respite in the middle of the city was well worth the $3/admission ($2 for seniors).


public garden


We checked out the “Make Way for Ducklings” sculpture (#9) inspired by Robert McCloskey's children's book (1941) of the same name. Mrs. Mallard's eight ducklings’ names are Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack (just in case you were wondering). Every year on Mother's Day, Boston's little ones dress as ducklings and parade through the Garden.


make way for ducklings


Lunchtime and we were just across the street from the Bull & Finch Pub. (#4) This bar/pub was the inspiration for the TV series “Cheers”. Exterior shots for the TV show were filmed here, but nothing else in the Bull & Finch resembled the TV bar until they redid an upstairs “set” bar, a replica of the one we saw on the TV series. We bellied up to the bar, just like Norm, ordered a beer and a sandwich. Nobody, however, knew our names. This was definitely commercial and touristy … we enjoyed it nonetheless and hummed the catchy Cheers tune for the rest of the afternoon.




Bellies full and feet rested, we walked down to Chinatown (#7). We entered through the large traditional paifang arch, past the foo dog sentries, appreciating the muraled walls as we threaded our way along crowded Beach Street. Boston's Chinatown is the third largest in the USA. It's a busy place, even on a hot, humid afternoon. There were colorful Chinese groceries, vendors on the streets selling lychees, Asian veggies and specialties, tiny little shops and a zillion second-floor restaurants offering dim sum. Unfortunately, our lunch at Cheers left us with nary an empty place for a dim or a sum. Next time!




We were interested to check out the Rose Kennedy Greenway (#8), a reclamation project and part of Boston's 15-year “Big Dig” which re-routed ugly, congested I93 and buried it under the city. We were impressed. A series of wonderfully, laid-out, interconnected parks, the Greenway, now lay on top of the underground interstate. Open-air markets, fountains, festivals and green space replaced the asphalt antecedent and it was lovely.


the greenway


We stepped back into history and wandered the streets of the exclusive Beacon Hill district (#6). We chose our last morning when it was early, quiet and cool, to roam this neighborhood. Always a residential area for upper crust and wealthy Bostonians, some of the huge mansions have now been converted into elegant condos, but many have not. Federal-style row houses line streets with gas lamps and brick sidewalks. Some narrow streets, like Acorn Street, are still old cobblestone. Antique boot scrapers still extend from the front steps, windows are antique glass and distinctive brass doorknockers adorn the front doors.


beacon hill


And let's not forget the landmarks and “uniquities” (#9). Many of the landmarks are, of course, the historical ones found along the Freedom Trail, but others are hidden and we needed to seek them out. The world's largest teapot at the corner of Tremont and Court Streets is a good example. For years, this 227-1/2 gallon, steaming kettle represented the Oriental Tea Company. It has long outlived the tea company, now hanging in front of a Starbucks (really?). There's the “sacred Cod”, a symbol of prosperity which hangs in the House of Representatives at the State House. The glass towers of the New England Holocaust Memorial (on Congress Street, not far from Fanueil Hall) rise up from a beautiful, serene park, a somber reminder of the six million Jews killed in Nazi concentration camps. There's much more to learn and explore … like reading about the Great Molasses Flood of 1919 or how the word “hookers” came into popular vernacular? Check out the Disasters, Dirty Deeds and Debauchery walk for some ideas.



If you go:

First of all, Boston is NOT a cheap city to visit. In fact, according to the Hotel Price Index (June 2013), Boston ranks as second only to the Big Apple for the highest average hotel room per night cost in the US. But ... you can minimize your expenses if you're clever and patient. We'd usually seek out a hostel or backpacker's place, but since this was a “special” weekend, we figured we could splurge a bit. Still, a $300+/night room was not in the budget. We searched the Internet and found a good deal on Kayak, ending up with a great mini-suite at the Marriott Residence Inn, Tudor Wharf, neighboring the USS Constitution (~$160/night). A full breakfast buffet was served every morning and we managed to snag extra fruit and yogurts for lunch. This plush room had all the amenities including a kitchenette with full size fridge and ice maker. No robes though. We got a ride into the city to avoid parking fees which were $35/night, but could have easily taken the train.

Don't rent a car. Driving in Boston in horrendous. Taxis are expensive. You can get TO anywhere FROM anywhere via Boston's great public transportation system. There are ferries, the MBTA (buses, subways, commuter rail), and tour trolleys. Boston's subway system, made famous by the Kingston Trio decades ago, is the oldest in the USA (and sometimes shows it). Look for the big “T” sign or get an MBTA map to see where the convenient stations are. Buy your “Charlie” cards from kiosks in the stations. There's also Hubway, a bike-sharing system with bikes available throughout the city.


boston t and charlie cards


Old Trolley Tours gives you two days of unlimited rides (on/off) plus they throw in another option for either a harbor tour or a visit to the Boston Tea Party Museum. We were tourists and we intended to get our money's worth. We stayed on for one entire 90-minute tour, then used it as transport to wherever we felt like going including back to our hotel at the end of the day and to the train station for the trip home. Buying the ticket on line saves 10% and an additional Senior Discount saved us a few more bucks. Note that traveling as a couple, it was easy to find seats on the crowded trolleys. Larger groups were having problems finding seats. There are lots of tour companies to choose from and all are more or less the same, we reckon. We opted to visit the Boston Tea Party Museum … take the harbor tour.


boston trolley

Things to do …

Try Parker House rolls and Boston Cream Pie – both served at the Parker House (Omni Hotel) for the first time and still being served today.

Have a bowl of New England clam chowder or fresh seafood at Legal Seafood

Sample some dim sum in Chinatown … go with an appetite.

Feast on Italian food in the North End … followed up with a cannoli at Mike's Pastry.

Walk under the Charlestown Bridge and the Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge along the banks of the Charles River through reclaimed parks and grasslands or roam some of the tiny side streets in the city off the beaten path

Catch a game. Boston's a sports town … there's always something going on. Visit Fenway Park, the oldest ballpark in America or Boston Garden.

Stroll along Tremont Street into the Theater District … the Wilbur, the Colonial, the Majestic, the Paramount. Catch a play. Boston is usually the stop before Broadway!

Head to the “Top of the Hub”, a restaurant at the top of the Prudential Tower. It's expensive, but just have a drink and grab a view.

Have a beer at the Bell in Hand, the oldest tavern in the US or a nosh at Ye Olde Union Oyster House, reputedly the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the US.

Don't forget the Science Museum and Hayden Planetarium, the Children's Museum, the MFA, the Boston Public Library, the Aquarium


fenway park

You really need more than 48 hours … trust us!