Boston is a big city, but it doesn't feel that way when you're walking around -- and make no mistake, this is one of those cities perfect to explore on foot. (If you're not a walker, join a trolley or amphibious vehicle tour.) In 20 minutes, you can stroll from the Common (Boston's Central Park) down to the waterfront and pass major historical attractions, shops and food purveyors along the way.
Boston is, perhaps, America's most glamorous historic city, dating back more than 350 years. The city was founded in 1630 by colonists led by John Winthrop, and it gets its name from an English village. The events that led to the American Revolution, including the infamous arguments over the tax on tea that led to the Boston Tea Party in 1773, started there. During the protest, three British ships were raided by colonists dressed as Native Americans who dumped tea into the harbor. In 1775, Paul Revere helped spread the word that the British were coming. The next day, the "shot heard round the world" was fired, signaling the start of the American Revolution.
These days, Boston, also dubbed "Beantown" (the moniker is another colonial-era legacy, referring to a time when baked beans made with molasses were a Boston specialty), has a European feel, in part because of its many ancient buildings and cozy ambiance. But, it is not a city museum by any stretch. As an area home to major educational institutions, including Harvard, MIT and Boston College, a big student population also contributes a fresh, edgy feel.
The "locals" are part of Boston's charm. Just keep in mind they tend to come in two categories: friendly and grouchy. (There are even restaurants that specialize in surly waitresses.)
This is a big sports town, and the Red Sox and the Patriots are king. A conversation on either will bring emotional discourse. Sure, there's lots of American history, especially on the Freedom Trail. (Just follow the red lines down the sidewalk.) But if television history is more your style, visit the bar that was the model for "Cheers." If you're a movie buff, there are numerous filming locations throughout Boston. Tours are available where you can visit the backdrops for "Good Will Hunting," Legally Blonde," "The Departed," "The Social Network," "American Hustle," "Boston Legal" and many more.
As a visitor, you also shouldn't overlook the city's many museums. Boston has great shopping both for those who want to spend big bucks and for those looking for "bah-gans." And if you're a foodie, you can find everything from haute cuisine to Fenway Franks. If you order "chowda," it will be the creamy kind. (Don't even ask for tomato-based.)
The Raymond L. Flynn Black Falcon Cruise Terminal, a former World War I military warehouse, is located at 1 Black Falcon Avenue on the South Boston waterfront. There are three berths: the Main Terminal, Terminal 2 and 88 Black Falcon. There aren't many amenities, even at the main cruise terminal, so you'll want to head straight into the city. There are plenty of ways to access the heart of Boston, and some museums and restaurants are as close as a 10-minute walk away. Taxis and trolley tours are readily available. For those feeling a bit spry, it's a pleasant half-hour walk to the city via Northern Avenue, partly along the Harborwalk and over the Northern Avenue pedestrian bridge. You can also take Summer Street as an alternative (though less scenic) route to the Boston T (subway) at South Station. Water taxi service is also available.
If you're thinking about renting a car, don't. Even though The Big Dig -- the city's notoriously lengthy and super-involved road construction project -- is over, one-way streets and aggressive driving are a formula for unnecessary stress. Visitors should stick to public transportation, ridesharing or their own two feet.
By Bus: Silver Line Buses SL2 (daily) and SL3 (weekdays only) leave the Black Falcon Terminal every 10 minutes on weekdays and every 30 minutes on weekends with connections to the Boston T's Red Line at South Station. Additionally, SL1 (which runs every 10 to 12 minutes between Logan Airport and South Station) makes a stop at Silver Line Way, about 10 minutes on foot from the cruise terminal. Just pay the driver.
By Subway: Once in the heart of downtown, mass transit including buses and "the T" (the affectionate name for the Boston subway system) are a breeze.
By Shuttle: Most cruise lines operate a shuttle bus (cost varies) to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. Inquire onboard.
By Tour: Visitors can also catch narrated trolley tours. For something different, try a Duck Tour, offered in an amphibious vehicle.
There are ATMs and banks throughout the city. A Bank of America is located on Congress Street; a 15-minute walk from the cruise terminal.
They speak English in Boston, but with slight variation. Yes, you will encounter folks who "pahk the cah," and if something is "wicked" in Boston, that's a good thing.
Boston is an international city, and you'll notice the influence of all those cultures in eateries found throughout its many neighborhoods. Go for noodles in Chinatown or lasagna in Boston's Little Italy, known as the North End. Sandwiched in between is what could be called American cuisine, ranging from creative takes on comfort food to the classic establishment where a former president slurped his oysters.
Another benefit to noshing in a city filled with food options is that you can choose whether you want to indulge in seafood at a fine-dining restaurant, or munch on casual bites at a local seafood shack. Did we mention the seafood? Act like a true Bostonian and be sure to order a bowl of New England clam chowder before you ship out. A small army of seafood venues is located in the Seaport area of Boston, not far from where you are docked.
With just a few hours in port, an excellent option for getting a taste of everything in one conveniently located place is definitely Quincy Market, located in the middle of Faneuil Hall. While it is crowded on a quiet day, this long, historic market is a microcosm of Boston eats and treats, showcasing a sensory overload of the area's top food and drink vendors.
Faneuil Hall: There are tons of food choices here. The food court offers a little bit of everything from sushi to stuffed grape leaves to pizza. There is not a lot of seating, though. For a sit-down meal, Durgin-Park (340 Faneuil Hall Marketplace) has been a popular spot since 1827. Nearby, at the historic Union Oyster House (41 Union Street), you can request to sit in the booth where JFK dined (good for bragging rights with the folks back home).
Cambridge: Join the Harvard gang for a burger and great onion rings at Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage (1246 Massachusetts Avenue, 617-354-6559).
Back Bay: Legal Sea Foods (various locations including Legal Harborside at 270 Northern Avenue, 617-477-2900) serves the freshest seafood around, including lobsters and "chowda."
Seaport: The Seaport is undergoing a major transformation as many more businesses and hotels are built and move in. Among the bustle are plenty of amazing restaurants to satisfy any taste. Try Sportello (348 Congress Street; 617-737-1234) for Italian fare in an upscale diner setting or Rosa Mexicano (155 Seaport Boulevard; 617-476-6122) for a contemporary take on Mexican cuisine.
Across Boston: If you're considering a coffee, stop in to a Dunkin' Donuts. You might be thinking, "What's so special about that?" But if you've noticed one on every corner, it's because the chain started right here in Boston, and it's fiercely popular.
Near the Common are the expensive shops of Newbury Street, a shopping nirvana (more shops, including Neiman Marcus, can be found a few blocks away in the mall settings of Copley Place and the Prudential Center). For distinctive, one-of-a-kind antiques and contemporary crafts, we love the boutiques of Beacon Hill and Charles Street. In good weather, visit the Greenway Open Market, an outdoor crafts market -- very near the waterfront on the Rose Kennedy Greenway -- that only sells local and handmade goods.
Other solid souvenirs include anything with a lobster logo, Harvard and MIT sweatshirts, Red Sox paraphernalia, "Cheers" mugs and Boston baked bean candies.
For more on what to do with a few extra days in Boston, check out Two Days in Boston Pre- or Post-Cruise.