The world’s oldest commissioned warship, dubbed "Old Ironsides" for its seemingly impenetrable oak hull, was launched in 1797. See hulking masts, 52 brass cannons, and below-deck quarters on free tours led by active-duty sailors then visit the free museum next door.
Boston Public Garden
Built on a reclaimed marsh in the 19th century, America’s first botanical garden combines broad lawns and ornamental flower beds. At its heart on a 4-acre lagoon, Swan Boats (floating fixtures since 1877) circle from mid-April to mid-September with the resident mallards and pigeons. Once autumn arrives, the willow, beech, oak, and maple trees burst with color.
The Museum of Fine Arts
This world-class institution includes Byzantine mosaics, Native American pottery, impressionist paintings, contemporary photos, and Egyptian and American art. Allot time to explore a few of the MFA’s 450,000 objets d’art. Mull them over at one of four restaurants or Japanese gardens.
The New England Aquarium
The aquarium's signature exhibit—a multistory Ocean Tank with a thousand fish and its queen, a massive sea turtle named Myrtle—has been enlarged and made sustainable with divers collecting eggs. Additions like the shark-and-ray touch tank, "Take a Dip with the Seals" marine mammal exhibit, and a coral reef keep it fresh. Ditto for the daily animal shows and IMAX films.
Faneuil Hall Marketplace
Faneuil Hall Marketplace (aka Quincy Market) is always packed. Souvenir sellers coupled with buskers, mimes, drummers, and jugglers, create a Disneyesque atmosphere some disdain. But the rest of us recognize fun when we see it. Browse the 1826 complex’s restored stalls; then jostle in the food court to sample Boston’s edible holy trinity: lobster, clams, and "chowdah."
Boston Harbor Islands
The 34 islands of this National Recreation Area boasts a pre–Civil War fort, vintage lighthouses, hiking trails, swimming beaches, camping, and picnic spots. The islands represent one of the city’s top values. May through October, the round-trip Harbor Islands Express ferry from Long Wharf to Georges Island provides a day of fun for just $14.
Massachusetts reportedly has the world’s highest concentration of colleges and universities. None, however, is more venerable than Harvard, a Cambridge institution since 1636. Visitors can enter the ivory tower without having to pay tuition. Students lead complimentary hour-long campus tours; find details on the university website (www.harvard.edu).
Mount Auburn Cemetery
Inspired by Paris’s Pere Lachaise Cemetery, America’s first garden cemetery, circa 1831, offers urbanites 175 acres of "country-in the-city" a bus ride from Harvard Square. Guided tours focus on historical personages buried here, artistic gravestones and crypts, the 700 carefully cultivated tree species, and thousands of shrubs and herbaceous plants. As a well-known flyway for migratory birds, it’s frequented by birders at early hours, especially in April and May.
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