Galway people have been travelling to Boston in their droves for centuries and nowadays, it’s one of the most popular U.S. destinations for Irish tourists. From trail walking in the steps of revolutionary heroes to exploring restaurants to finding the world’s best clam chowder, it’s the perfect location for a couple’s break in Spring, a family summer holiday or a pre-Christmas shopping trip with the girls. Stella Meehan finds Boston to be steeped in history but also to be an intriguing city with lots to do.
Galway has always had an affinity with Boston or ‘Beantown’ as the locals call it. For generations, emigrants left our shores looking for a new life on the other side of the Atlantic and the majority of them ended up in Boston. If you ask any Bostonian about their heritage, more often than not, they’ll have some Irish ancestors. The link between Galway and Boston was strengthened with the appointment of Marty Walsh, a son of Connemara emigrant parents, as Mayor of Boston. In a sense, when you travel to Boston, it’s very much like a home away from home. It’s not self-conscious about itself like New York but has managed to strike a balance between a thriving metropolitan city and a big community-based town. Going to Boston is a good idea at any time of year, but particularly during autumn, or the ‘Fall’ as they call it on the other side of the pond. The leaves turn every shade of golden bronze and red you can imagine and the weather is fresh but not cold. It’s also a good place to stock up on gifts for Christmas or visit relatives who may be celebrating Thanksgiving.
Lots To Do
Whatever time of year you choose to visit Boston, there is always something to do. The city is steeped in historical memorials and academic traditions. One of the highlights is the Freedom Trail. It’s a walking tour that takes in most of the city and it won’t cost a dime. You can undertake the tour yourself by following a painted red stripe which passes buildings such as the Massachusetts State House and Boston Common. Incidentally, for any of you political anoraks, a free, guided tour of the State House is a must. Sometimes, the Senate is sitting and you can see firsthand, U.S. Senators debating various policies. In the summer, Boston Common and public gardens are at their most beautiful. You can rent a swan boat and take a trip along the lake which is something you can’t do when autumn arrives as the weather turns cooler.
While you’re in Boston Common, a visit to the famous ‘Cheers’ bar is a mere two-minute walk away. The bar is not actually called ‘Cheers’, in fact it’s called ‘The Bull and Finch’ pub and, while it inspired the hit TV show, it doesn’t actually look like the Cheers bar inside; so don’t be disappointed! But the outside of the building is exactly like you may remember it from the show, with the familiar canopy and bunting and you can join the dozens of tourists who congregate there at peak season to have their photo taken! The bar is on Beacon Street, which is a short walk from Beacon Hill, one of the most historic areas of Boston.
Where To Stay
Boston is home to many 19th century red brick houses, which fetch in the millions and also the State House, which has a 24 carat gold dome on top. The area has an ‘old Boston’ feel about it, with many quaint antique stores and it screams prestige, but bear in mind that it’s an uphill walk from Back Bay, as my legs figured out after my first expedition! It is also home to one of Boston’s most luxurious boutique hotels. The XV Beacon is understated and lacks the pretentiousness which many five star hotels often exude. The rooms include a fire, a well stocked bar and bathrooms with their own built-in entertainment system. The most unique feature of the hotel is an original cage elevator that makes you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time to an era of glamour and opulence, with black marble surfaces and a hushed dimmed feel. While the hotel is boutique, you can still get in your fitness regime, with a small, but adequate gym area on the top floor, which also offers a roof garden view. The staff will help you with any requests or queries you may have and the hotel even offers a complimentary car service to many areas of the city. Mooo restaurant, based at the hotel, can also boast some of the best beef dishes in the city. Overnight prices at the XV Beacon are not exactly cheap, but there are always offers for different times of the year and if you plan to stay more than a couple of days at the hotel, the overall service will have been worth the cost. If you’re looking for something a little less expensive but with plenty of individuality, the Revere Hotel is a must. From the moment you enter the minimalist curved lobby, you’re transported to something akin to a science fiction movie set. Upon check-in, the staff offer you a glass of champagne, while your reservation and room are organised. The rooms are spacious, with modern and unusual decor, with lime green and vivid orange hues, not entirely unlike the Philip Treacy designed g Hotel in Galway, and many rooms have a balcony with an incredible vista of the Charles River and Boston skyline. It’s also a short walk to Macys if you fancy indulging in some retail therapy or visiting the theatre district for a cultural evening out. The Revere also houses the Emerald Lounge, a lively, ‘place to be seen’ bar, which is drenched in emerald green hues! To replenish your energy supplies after a night of socialising at the Emerald bar, the award-winning Rustic Kitchen bistro has everything you could want. You can order off the menu or indulge in the breakfast buffet – something which I found a little too dangerous! I regularly treated myself to eggs, bacon, pancakes and much more to set myself up for another day of exploring in the city. The Bistro even hosts a live tv cooking show every Friday night for any Nigella wannabes.
A fantastic landmark to visit while staying on the Boston Common side of the city is Faneuil Hall Marketplace. It has served as a marketplace since the mid-18th century and if you feel like avoiding the chain stores you can visit in any city in favour of a more unique, shopping or dining experience, Faneuil Hall is the place to go. Faneuil still hosts an indoor food market in nearby Quincy market. Events at the marketplace include its annual Christmas wonderland and a light and sound extravaganza. There are also dozens of pushcart vendors selling all kinds of wares, but it’s Faneuil Hall’s history as a meeting place for some of the city’s most historic revolutionary speeches that give it the extra gravitas.
If you are all shopped-out and want to see where the Ivy League clique beaver away to become the next ‘Microsoft’ founder or President of the United States, a trip across the Charles River to Harvard will bring to you Cambridge, the home of Harvard College. There are walking tours daily for visitors and most people don’t leave without buying a Harvard mug or sweater in the college shop. Boston is not, however, just about Harvard – like Galway, it’s a student city, with M.I.T, Northeastern University, Boston College, University of Massachusetts and Berklee College just some of the educational institutions drawing a huge student population to the city. With such a high number of young students living in or around Boston, there is no shortage of good, reasonably priced places to eat. It’s difficult to leave Boston without sampling its world famous clam chowder, and the bowl at Ned Devine’s Irish pub at Faneuil Hall, is among the best.
If you’re looking for a broader selection, Eastern Standard on Commonwealth Avenue serves everything from breakfast up to late night dining in a lively atmosphere that’s great for couples, friends or families. If you’re looking for a special culinary treat, Asana restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the heart of Boston on Bolyston Street truly is an experience. The menu includes dishes such as Tuna Sashimi and grilled prime steak with fennel and sweet potato. I highly recommend the tallegio ravioli with balsamic figs and porcini marmalade…absolutely divine! The ambience is relaxed with dimmed lighting and the buzzing M Bar is located next door which has the most obliging and helpful of staff. Dinner main courses average at about $30 but the weekend brunch menu is highly recommended and you really won’t feel like eating much more for the rest of the day.
The landmark Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel is well worth visiting. It has undergone a $20 million refurbishment to mark its centennial anniversary and while it has all modern luxuries one would expect, the hotel has retained many of its early 20th century features which are truly awe-inspiring. It reminds me more of a Renaissance hotel from Italy or France. Shadowed by Boston’s impressive Public Library the Fairmont exudes an old-school charm. Due to its central location, the hotel is often fully booked so if you can’t bag a room, indulge in afternoon tea to soak up the atmosphere or,if you need a Sunday morning pick me up, the mixologist bartenders will be more than happy to help!
If you feel a little homesick during your trip, travel to Dorchester and you’ll soon feel as though you’re at home. Traditionally Dorchester was home to the largest concentration of Irish emigrants. While many of their children and children’s children are now U.S natives, they hold their Irish heritage dear to their hearts. Pop into Greenhills Irish bakery and not alone will you pick up some fruit scones or fresh Irish brown soda bread, but you will probably have a dozen conversations with people from Galway or Ireland by the time you leave. It’s a congregating spot for the Irish where they can get a little slice of home. Upon hearing my accent, one woman who was sitting nearby, tapped me on the shoulder and told me she was from Moycullen!
Boston is a city that loves its sport. Home to the Red Sox, baseball is a way of life for many Bostonians and if the World Series is in town, it’s difficult to see anything but a sea of red everywhere. Fenway Park is where the team plays its games (if you can get tickets), but you can also visit the park and see some behind the scenes areas on one of the tours which take place daily. You can also take a tour of Boston in an unusual way. The famous Boston Duck Tours take you by bus all over the city, including on the Charles River. The buses actually travel through the water, hence the reason they were given the nicknames ‘Ducks’. It’s totally safe and allows visitors to glimpse the city from all angles. Another place to get an amazing view of the city is from the top of Prudential Centre. The centre itself houses many shops and lots of offices and you can buy tickets for the observation deck at the top of the centre. However if you travel almost to the top, try Top of the Hub restaurant and bar and nab yourself a drink or grab some lunch or dinner and a great seat beside the floor-to-ceiling glass. The view is just as good, if not better.
If you’re interested in catching up on some retail therapy while in Boston, Newbury Street should be on your list. It’s a street lined with everything from Anthropologie to Zara. And if like me, you enjoy a nice blow-dry, I cannot recommend Drybar highly enough. If only the world had drybars everywhere! It’s a salon that solely does blow drys, or ‘blowouts’ as they call them in America. They have a ‘menu’ of styles which they can create that make your hair look like that of celebrities on the red carpet, but they really can do anything you suggest – the stylists are like angels with blessed tongs! There is a flat fee of $40 for a blowout, but you can also indulge in some bubbles while you’re being primped and preened for an additional cost. Drybar is based at Clarendon Street so it’s ideal to get the ‘gruaig’ done after a day of shopping along Newbury street before you head back to your hotel to get ready for a night on the tiles.
For people watching and outdoor dining during the summer, try Parish on Boylston Street. Boston natives and tourists alike flock to the cafe for its innovative take on sandwiches and great view of the public garden!
A trip to Massachusetts is not just about Boston city itself, which can really be viewed in a few days. If you have an extra couple of days to spare, a trip to Cape Cod will certainly be worth the journey. It’s beautiful all year round but summer is when it comes into its own. John F. Kennedy put Hyannis on the map when he used to summer there, but the peninsula has so much more to offer too. Provincetown or ‘P Town’ as its referred to by locals, has bustling nightlife but it’s little gems like Orleans that offer up a true sense of what Cape Cod has to offer. Nauset beach is one of the most stunning beaches on Cape Cod, with white sand as far as the eye can see in both directions and stunning timber beachfront private houses, set back from the Atlantic. The locals are very friendly too and are always ready to help if they hear an Irish accent! The Cape has its fair share of hotels, but The Parsonage Inn B&B in East Orleans is so full of character and personality that it makes you wonder why you’d ever consider staying in a hotel. The 18th-century building was once used as a parsonage and while it has been renovated in elegant New England style, it still retains many of the characteristics of the original building such as thick timber beams. The eight rooms are individually decorated and the atmosphere at the Inn is one of entering a warm and welcoming family home. Owned and run by British natives, Jo and Richard Hoad, the Parsonage Inn boasts a wonderful selection of local produce for breakfast and natural-based products from the ‘fresh‘ range in the rooms. I felt right at home chatting to other guests as they ate pizza in the common room, which they had bought in a nearby pizzeria. Richard and Jo make all their guests feel welcome and Nauset Farms across the street is a haven of organic, homemade delicious food and wares! The Parsonage Inn is also a great base from which to explore the Cape as it’s about half way up the peninsula, meaning day trips to Provincetown, Hyannis or even Martha’s Vineyard are well within reach. The coastal drive out to Cape Cod is a highway sheltered by tall trees, so I was a little disappointed it didn’t resemble the Sky road in Clifden until Jo provided details of an alternative route off the main highway, which brings you through the village of Chatham. The views are incredible and the little town itself is absolutely charming, well worth heeding the off-road advice.
Massachusetts itself has so much to offer and so much can be accomplished in a short time, if you plan beforehand. With a visit to Galway by the new Mayor of Boston expected this year, it seems only fitting that we return the favour and explore the many treasures and links to our past, which have become intrinsic to life in Boston.
How to get there: Aer Lingus has direct flights from Shannon to Boston almost daily. From €199 one way. See aerlingus.com for more.
When to go: See bostonusa.com for advice and details.
Spring: Feb – Apr; Valentines Day, St Patrick’s Day Festival, Easter
Summer: May – Aug; Independence Day, beach weather
Autumn: Sept – Nov: Thanksgiving, Halloween, Turning of the Fall leaves
Winter: Dec – Jan: Pre-Christmas shopping, Christmas festivals, New Year sales, snow!
Where to stay: XV Beacon Hotel, 15 Beacon Street, Boston with rooms from €220. See xvbeacon.com.
Revere Hotel Boston Common, 200 Stuart Street, Boston with rooms from approximately €170. See reverehotel.com.
Where to eat: Asana, 776 Boylston Street, Boston as mentioned above, See mandarinoriental.com/boston/fine-dining/asana.
Eastern Standard, 528 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston. See easternstandardboston.com
Highlights: Top of the Hub, Prudential Centre, topofthehub.net.
John F. Kennedy Library, Columbia Point, Boston, jfklibrary.org.
Trinity Church, 206 Clarendon Street, Boston.
Fenway Park, boston.redsox.mlb.com/bos/ballpark.
Faneuil Hall Marketplace, faneuilhallmarketplace.com.
Greenhills Bakery, 780 Adams St, Dorchester Ctr, greenhillsirishbakery.com.