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Top Things to Do in Boston
The world's oldest commissioned warship (dubbed "Old Ironsides" thanks to her seemingly impenetrable oak hull), was launched in 1797. Even landlubbers will be impressed by the frigate's hulking masts, plentiful cannons, and cool below-deck quarters—all of which can be viewed on free tours led by active-duty sailors. Admission to the adjacent museum is also free, so you can bone up on her back story before boarding.
Boston Public Garden
The Public Garden proves landfill can look good. Built on a reclaimed marsh in the 19th century, America's first botanical garden is a striking combination of broad lawns and ornamental flower beds. At its heart is a 4-acre lagoon, which Swan Boats (floating fixtures since 1877) circle from mid-April to mid-September. Once autumn arrives, the trees here—willows, beech, oak, and maple—burst with color.
The Museum of Fine Arts
In a city famous for museums, this world-class institution stands out. Its eclectic collection includes everything from Byzantine mosaics and Native American pottery to impressionist paintings and contemporary photos. It attracts approximately a million visitors per year. If you join them, allot plenty of time: the MFA has about 450,000 objets d'art, so ogling it all takes a while!
The New England Aquarium
Though it is more than 40 years old, the aquarium wears its age well. The signature exhibit—a multistory Ocean Tank with hundreds of fish and one massive sea turtle named Myrtle—is always entertaining. Ditto for the daily lineup of animal shows and IMAX films. Additions like the shark-and-ray touch tank or "Take a Dip with the Seals" program (both new in 2011) keep it fresh.
Faneuil Hall Marketplace
Purists swear they never come here, yet Faneuil Hall Marketplace (aka Quincy Market) is always packed. Kitschy souvenir sellers coupled with ubiquitous buskers create a Disney-esque atmosphere some disdain. But the rest of us recognize fun when we see it. Browse the 1826 complex's restored stalls; then go to the food court to sample Boston's edible holy trinity: lobster, clams, and "chowdah."
Boston Harbor Islands
You can file this one under "best kept secrets." Made up of 34 islands, the National Recreation Area boasts a pre-Civil War fort, vintage lighthouses, hiking trails, swimming beaches, and picnic spots. Historical interest and outdoor opportunities aside, 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 costs a mere $14.
Massachusetts reportedly has the world's highest concentration of colleges and universities. None, however, is more venerable than Harvard, a Cambridge landmark since 1636. To get a taste of the ivory tower without having to pay tuition, take a student-led campus tour. The complimentary hour-long walks are offered regularly; details are found on the university website (www.harvard.edu).
Longfellow National Historic Site
Henry James, T. S. Eliot, and John Updike all resided in Cambridge at various points. But the writer who left the most indelible mark was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, author of "Paul Revere's Ride." His patriotic poetry helped popularize (some would say mythologize) American history, and the mellow yellow Brattle Street mansion he lived in from 1837 to 1882 has been preserved as a National Historic Site.
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