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Looking for big-city family adventure without the wear and tear? Plan a weekend in Boston. The city's quaint neighborhoods are so walkable, your kids won't feel like they're being dragged on an endless marathon. Plus, the stroll never gets boring because historic attractions appear at every turn (but don't forget to point them out).
Thanks to this convenient layout, you can pack a lot into one weekend, including such top family sites as the Freedom Trail, the Swan Boats, the Children's Museum, and Faneuil Hall Marketplace. But you'll need at least four days to explore at a leisurely pace, and make spur-of-the-moment stops at playgrounds, quirky shops, sidewalk cafes, and street performances.
The best way to see Boston is on foot, just like the patriots. When little feet conk out, take advantage of transportation our forefathers never had: the "T," Boston's color-coded public transport train. The sights and sounds "down under" are an especially big thrill for non-city kids. Take them on the "Green Line" route, from Park Street Station to the Boston Museum of Science; the train goes underground, then above ground and across the Charles River.
One of Boston's top attractions is the Freedom Trail. This three-mile, do-it-yourself walking tour connects 16 landmarks from revolutionary days. The Trail brings those hazy lessons about Paul Revere and the Boston Tea Party to life. Here are the top five sites:
The Freedom Trail starts on the Boston Common, winds its way through downtown, into the Italian North End, and onward to the Charlestown neighborhood. You can't get lost. Just follow the red-brick path or red-painted line on the sidewalk. The trail takes two to four hours to complete, depending on how many stops you make along the way. Free maps and guidebooks are available at the Boston Common Visitor's Information Center (Tremont St.).
By the time you reach the North End, everyone will be drooling for lunch. Order a pie at the original Pizzeria Regina (11 Thatcher St.), and dessert at Mike's Pastry Inc. (300 Hanover St.). Then, head to Charlestown for the climb up Bunker Hill Monument. (Tip: Take the "T" or ferry boat from the Charlestown Navy yard back to downtown Boston. You'll be too zonked to walk back.)
If your family balks at lots of walking, try these laid-back tours of Freedom Trail highlights:
Follow up a busy day of sightseeing with a lazy day at the park. The Boston Public Garden and the nearby Boston Common are havens of green in the middle of the city. Order a few "subs" (that's local lingo for hoagies and grinders) and have a picnic lunch after enjoying these uniquely Boston activities.At the Public Garden:
Taste Boston's famous clam chowder, baked beans, and cream pie at Faneuil Hall Marketplace, which includes Quincy Market and its many food stands. Station half the family in the center courtyard to scout for seats while the other half hunts down everyone's favorite snacks. If sit-down dining is more your style, check out the restaurants in the South and North Market buildings. When the eatfest is over, shop the pushcarts, souvenir stores, boutiques, and specialty shops flanking both sides of Quincy Market. On weekends, stake out a bench and enjoy ongoing street performances.
Winter weather, rainy days, and summer scorchers can put a damper on outdoor activities. But Boston's child-friendly museums are the ultimate back-up plan. Two of the best are:
With plans for a new Fenway Park underway, now's the time to see a Red Sox game in the country's most authentic baseball stadium. Behind-the-scenes tours of "old-fashioned" Fenway are held weekdays in season (April to October).
By late October, sports action moves to the FleetCenter, where the Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins play basketball and hockey, respectively. But be sure to order tickets for all Boston sports events way in advance of your visit.
Type of trip: Educational sightseeing and urban fun
Best ages: 7 and up
Ideal trip length: Four to five days
Distance: Providence (49 miles); Hartford (108 miles); Albany (193 miles); New York City (240 miles)
Best time to go: April through October
Weather: Dress in layers and pack an umbrella. 62/45 degrees in April/May; 79/62 in summer; 68/52 in September/October
Squirm factor: Some
Joe's American Bar and Grill 100 Atlantic Ave. on the Waterfront Phone: 617-367-8700 Why It's a Favorite: Boston-area families love it for the big menu, harbor views, casual atmosphere, and consistent service. Plus, there's a playground just outside the front door.
Local foods: Boston cream pie, clam chowder, cornbread, and baked beans.
Best souvenir: A "quacker" from the Boston Duck Tour. Even if you don't take the tour, pick up this noisemaker at the kiosk in the Prudential Center.
Annual events: Unless otherwise noted, contact the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-888-SEE-BOSTON for dates and locations for the following:
Traffic alert: Leave your car in the hotel garage. Bostonians have earned their reputation for crazy driving. And the city's narrow, haphazard streets are too challenging for the uninitiated. Even worse, the "Big Dig," a billion-dollar highway project, is underway and won't be finished until after 2005. Our advice: Take the "T" or walk.
Freedom Trail Boston National Historical Park 15 State St. Phone: 617-242-5642 Note: Ranger tours spring, summer and fall, weather permitting. Most sites are free.
Old State House Museum 206 Washington St. Phone: 617-720-1713
The Paul Revere House 19 North Square in Boston's North End Phone: 617-523-2338
Old North Church 193 Salem St. Phone: 617-523-6676
Bunker Hill Monument Monument Square, Charlestown Phone: 617-242-5641Freedom Trail Tours:
The Swan Boats Located in the Boston Public Garden Phone: 617-522-1966
The Frog Pond At Boston Common Phone: 617-635-2197
Faneuil Hall Marketplace Downtown Boston next to Historic Faneuil Hall. Phone: 617-523-1300
Children's Museum, Boston 300 Congress St. Phone: 617-426-8855
Museum of Science Science Park Phone: 617-723-2500 Note: Planetarium, laser shows and Omni Theater are an additional charge.
Boston Red Sox, Major League Baseball Fenway Park, 4 Yawkey Way Phone: 617-267-1700 (for tickets); 617-236-6666 (for tours)
Boston Celtics, National Basketball Association The FleetCenter, Causeway St. Phone: 617-931-2222
Boston Bruins, National Hockey League The FleetCenter, Causeway St. Phone: 617-931-2222
Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau Phone: 1-888-SEE-BOSTON
Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism Phone: 800-227-6277 Note: Visitor centers located at 800 Boylston St.
Just across the Charles River from Boston, Cambridge is a funky place -- one that teenagers love. Its heart and soul is Harvard Square, where students and faculty from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) hang out at bookstores, record shops, used clothing stores, and coffeehouses. It's the place to people-watch and browse.
Going there with kids of all ages? The best way to do Cambridge is to split up. One parent takes the young and restless to Cambridge Common Playground while the other keeps track of the teens. Meet up in an hour at Bartley's Burger Cottage (617-354-6559), known for huge hamburgers and low prices.
Take the Red Line "T" to Harvard Square; or, from Back Bay hotels, walk across the Massachusetts Ave. Bridge into Cambridge and then continue up Mass. Ave. past MIT and into Harvard Square (about 45 minutes). For more information, call the Cambridge Office for Tourism. Cambridge Office for Tourism Phone: 800-862-5678
Reviewed April 2004.