Boston, Massachusetts

For New Englanders, Boston is "The Hub" – the hub of New England, if not of the country, the world, the universe. It's been that way since the Puritans settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. More than any other city, Boston is where the nation's history began, 150 years before the republic was established.

For most Boston visitors, the focus is around the downtown area, which grew beside the harbor where the early settlers landed. The Boston of the history books lies along the waterfront, around the Boston Common and the Public Garden, up Beacon Hill and into Back Bay.

The other Boston – the Boston where most of the five million people live – spreads outward through city neighborhoods and suburbs in a fan-like swirl to the North Shore, the South Shore and points west. Boston is a place apart with a sense of place: Boston beans, Boston scrod, Boston Brahmins, even a Boston accent. It surely is the hub.

The Freedom Trail passes most of the city's significant historic sites. Begin the walk at the information kiosk on Boston Common and follow the red stripe past the Granary Burying Ground, King's Chapel, the Old State House and Faneuil Hall. Proceed into the North End to find the Paul Revere House and Old North Church. Continue if you have the stamina across the Charlestown Bridge to the Bunker Hill Monument.

Historic houses of lesser renown include the Nichols House Museum, the Harrison Gray Otis House and the Gibson House Museum. All are on Beacon Hill, where Mount Vernon is the most proper of Boston streets and Louisburg Square is flanked by a treasury of brownstone townhouse architecture.

The New England Aquarium, the Children's Museum of Boston and the Museum of Science with its Hayden Planetarium are major attractions. Three not to miss:

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 465 Huntington Ave., Boston.
This monumental art museum, among the best in the country and undergoing a major expansion in 2002, contains nearly 200 galleries of paintings and sculpture. It has the largest collections of Monet paintings outside Paris, extensive Egyptian art rivaled only by the collection in the Cairo Museum, and some of the world's most prized holdings of ancient Greek and Roman art. Its collection of oriental art is considered the finest under one roof in the world. The MFA's outstanding American art collection – which museum director Malcolm Rogers calls "arguably the finest" in the world – includes folk art, early silver and furniture, and more than 60 works by painter John Singleton Copley. Many of the museum's finest masterpieces by Copley, Stuart and Sargent were given by descendents of the original owners or those in the portraits. The modern West Wing designed by architect I.M. Pei shows contemporary art and special exhibitions. Because the museum's permanent collection of 10,000 objects is so extensive that it cannot be comprehended in a single day, the museum changed its admission policy in 2001 to allow ticket purchasers a second visit within 30 days. For instance, one day they can investigate the museum's celebrated Japanese collection, and a few days later they can return to explore the inspiring Impressionist artworks.
(671) 267-9300. Open daily 10 to 4:45 Monday and Tuesday, to 9:45 Wednesday-Friday, to 5:45 Saturday and Sunday. Adults, $14.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 280 The Fenway, Boston.
Art, flowers and music were the passions of Isabella Stewart, a New Yorker who married John Lowell Gardner of Boston but was never fully accepted into Boston society. She invited guests for the opening on New Year's Day in 1903 of her replicated 15th-century Venetian palace to listen to the music of Bach and Mozart, gaze at her indoor courtyard full of flowers and view one of the nation's best private art collections. Since her death in 1924, the museum has remained essentially unchanged. Three floors of galleries surround a garden courtyard blooming year-round with plants grown in the museum's greenhouses. The galleries are filled with paintings, sculpture, tapestries, furniture and decorative arts from cultures spanning 30 centuries. The Italian Renaissance is best represented, but paintings by artists as diverse as Botticelli, Rembrandt, Velázquez, Matisse, Degas, Sargent, Whistler and Zorn harmonize with Venetian chairs, wrought-iron railings, medieval processional crosses and Japanese screens in this spectacular museum. It's a treasure house of more than 2,500 pieces, arranged as Mrs. Gardner prescribed in her will.
(617) 734-1359. Open Tuesday-Sunday 11 to 5. Adults, $10 weekdays, $11 weekends.

John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, Columbia Point, Boston.
This emotionally moving museum, a stark building designed by architect I.M. Pei on the waterfront of the Boston campus of the University of Massachusetts, is the nation's official memorial to the 35th president. Twenty-five exhibits draw on rare film and television footage, presidential documents, family keepsakes and White House treasures to recreate the world of the Kennedy presidency. Visitors watch a stirring half-hour introductory movie produced for the library and can view excerpts from his televised press conferences, listen to his mother's recorded recollections of his early life and watch a film on the life of his brother Robert. Exhibits on personal and family interests capture the style not only of his presidency but of the Kennedy years. Only the cynical fail to be inspired by his vision – portrayed well by the museum – that one person can make a difference and every person should try.
(617) 929-4500 or (877) 616-4599. Open daily, 9 to 5. Adults $8, children $4.

>> Boston Lodging and Dining Suggestions

Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro, 25 Charles St., Boston. (617) 723-7575 or (888) 959-2442.

>> Boston Lodging Suggestions

These hotels are detailed here for their lodgings. Their restaurants – among the best in the city – are covered separately under their names.

Four Seasons Hotel, 200 Boylston St., Boston. (617) 338-4400 or (800) 332-3442.

Hotel Le Meridien, 250 Franklin St., Boston. (617) 451-1900 or (800) 543-4300.

Boston Harbor Hotel, 70 Rowes Wharf, Boston.(617) 439-7000 or (800) 752-7077.

The Ritz-Carlton Boston, 15 Arlington St., Boston. (617) 536-5700 or (800) 241-3333.

The Ritz-Carlton Boston Common, 10 Avery St., Boston. (617) 574-7100 or (800) 241-3333.

Fifteen Beacon, 15 Beacon St., Boston. (617) 670-1500 or (877) 982-3226.

The Lenox Hotel, 710 Boylston St., Boston. (617) 536-5300 or (800) 225-7676.

Millenium Bostonian Hotel, 4 Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston. (617) 523-3600 or (800) 343-0922.

>> Boston Hotel Dining Suggestions

Aujourd'hui, Four Seasons Hotel, 200 Boylston St., Boston. (617) 338-4400.

Clío, Eliot Suite Hotel, 370A Commonwealth Ave., Boston. (617) 536-7200.

Anago, Lenox Hotel, 65 Exeter St., Boston. (617) 266-6222.

Julien, Hotel Meridien, 250 Franklin St., Boston. (617) 451-1900.

Rowes Wharf Restaurant, Boston Harbor Hotel, 70 Rowes Wharf, Boston. (617) 439-3995.

The Federalist, 15 Beacon St., Boston. (617) 670-2515.

Jer·ne Restaurant & Bar, Ritz-Carlton Boston Common, 12 Avery St., Boston. (617) 574-7176.

Seasons, Millenium Bostonian Hotel, 6 Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston. (617) 523-4119.

>> Boston Dining Suggestions

L'Espalier, 30 Gloucester St., Boston. (617) 262-3023.

Radius, 8 High St., Boston. (617) 426-1234.

Hamersley's Bistro, 553 Tremont St., Boston. (617) 423-2700.

No. 9 Park, 9 Park St., Boston. (617) 742-9991.

Olives, 10 City Square, Charlestown. (617) 242-1999.

Biba, 272 Boylston St., Boston. (617) 426-7878.

Mistral, 223 Columbus Ave., Boston. (617) 867-9300.

Salamander, 1 Huntington Ave., Boston. (617) 451-2150.

Mantra, 52 Temple Place, Boston. (617) 542-8111.

Kingfish Hall, 1 Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston. (617) 523-8862.

Icarus, 3 Appleton St., Boston. (617) 426-1790.

Locke-Ober Cafe, 3 Winter Place, Boston. (617) 542-1340.

Blu, 4 Avery St., Boston. (617) 375-8550.

Pigalle, 75 Charles St., Boston. (617) 423-4944.

Ambrosia on Huntington, 116 Huntington Ave., Boston. (617) 247-2400.

Café Louis, 234 Berkeley St., Boston. (617) 266-4680.

Lala Rokh, 97 Mt. Vernon St., Boston. (617) 720-5511.

>> North End Dining Suggestions

Sage, 69 Prince St., Boston. (617) 248-8814.

Prezza, 24 Fleet St., Boston. (617) 227-1577.

Mamma Maria, 3 North Square, Boston. (617) 523-0077.

This content is excerpted from New England's Best, by Nancy and Richard Woodworth, copyright 2002, published by Wood Pond Press.