What to do in Boston this weekend?
March 13, 2013 4:46 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I will be in Boston this weekend, and will have time Friday evening, Saturday afternoon, and most of the day Sunday to do stuff. So what should we do? We've never been to the city before, and are interested in historical/cultural activities, or just walking around and looking at things. We also need a few good restaurant suggestions, but don't want to hit the bar scene. We are staying near the Boston Convention Center. We won't have a car but could get one.

We aren't interested in going to the aquarium or to your usual touristy "waterfront" locations. Left to our own devices, we'll probably poke around the Freedom Trail, if the weather is not wet (cold is ok) and eat at whatever random place looks good. Is there anything else we should do or see?

What difference will it make to our plans that Sunday is St. Patrick's Day?
posted by OrangeDisk to Travel & Transportation around Boston, MA (19 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

Here in Beantown (seriously, though, don't call it Beantown), we celebrate Saint Patrick's Day harder than any city in America. And possibly Ireland. If you're up to the challenge, you'd be crazy to not miss the once-in-a-lifetime experience known as the Southie St. Patrick's Day Parade. It's insane.

If you want to avoid the holiday's insanity, then avoid Southie and Faneuil Hall.

And have fun; it's supposed to be in the 40's (which is wicked warm)!
posted by kinetic at 4:59 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding kinetic... "the bar scene" is going to cover 80% of downtown with drunk 22-year-olds on Sunday, and will probably be a mighty presence on Saturday as well. You're staying near the line where it becomes Southie, which is the canonical Irish neighborhood in town, and which get legendarily intoxicated for St. Patrick's Day.

A car will be much more of a hindrance than a help. The convention center is a little inconvenient to a T (subway) line, but once you cross the bridge over toward South Station, you're within walking distance of almost everything, and you're never more than 1/4 mile from a T stop downtown. Cars, in contrast, are going to be extremely expensive and/or inconvenient to deal with, unless you anticipate doing things like driving out to Lexington/Concord (which you shouldn't do if you're only here for two days).

My list of restaurants is going to stretch to two pages unless you can give us some preferences... Italian? Seafood? Cheap? Five-star? I always default to pointing people at Les Zygomates for reasonably-priced French food, Neptune Oysters for the best seafood in town (expensive, and they don't take reservations, so be prepared for a wait, but it will be worth it if you get the lobster roll... hot, with butter), Pizzeria Regina for pizza, and Giacomo's for cheap but excellent Italian food (also doesn't take reservations, so get there early to minimize the wait).
posted by Mayor West at 5:09 AM on March 13, 2013

I don't know if you like museums but the Isabella Stewart Gardiner is my favorite in the whole world. It's just a house (but an amazing house) covered in cool paintings etc. It's very serene but go early or late to get the peaceful effect without tourists.
posted by lasamana at 5:17 AM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The Mapparium! You walk. Inside. A globe!

It's also historical because the it shows the world pre WW2. It's fairly cheap I think but when I went a couple of years ago, they had discount coupons in the tourist publications.

If you're prepared to venture further (but it's still accessible by public transport) the glass flowers at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. The detail is amazing and you won't believe it's all glass.
posted by pianissimo at 5:23 AM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Freedom Trail runs right through Fanueil Hall/Quincy Market, so expect a lot of drunks in that area.

One of the really nice things about Boston is that it's very compact - you can walk pretty much anywhere if you're not in too much of a hurry. Some ideas close to that area:
-The Institute of Contemporary Art is right next door to the Convention Center.
-SOWA Vintage Market is on Sundays if you're in to kitsch.
-It may be warm enough for a walk down to Fort Independence. Get ice cream at Sullivan's.
-The Harbor Walk will take you from the Fort Point area all the way to the North End and is a very pretty view of the harbor.

I would probably avoid any restaurant on Broadway this weekend if you want avoid the drinking crowd. Chinatown has several very good restaurants; China Pearl is the place to go for dim sum and Peach Farm across the street is great for seafood. I don't know if it's open yet, but the Barking Crab can be fun if overpriced.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:38 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Barking Crab is open and delicious!
posted by kinetic at 5:39 AM on March 13, 2013

Seconding the Mapparium.

If you walk the freedom trail, you might want to take a few minutes beforehand to read about old Boston and the West End, an neighborhood that was torn down in the 1950s to make way for larger for more modern buildings. Much of the freedom trail takes place on the edges of this transformation, and there are some fascinating architectural contrasts between older-buildings standing alongside or framed by modern monoliths. You'll appreciate this more if you've seen what the city looked like when it was all in the older style.
posted by alms at 5:44 AM on March 13, 2013

lasamama took the words out of my keyboard - it's been nearly 20 years since I visited the Isabella Stewart Gardiner museum but I still remember how calm and peaceful it was, especially in the courtyard and it would be my number one destination if I ever get back to Boston.
posted by humph at 5:51 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

As far as food: go to Flour on Farnsworth Street, not too far from where you're staying, and get a sandwich and a cookie. You won't regret it.
posted by Kosh at 6:05 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're going to do the Freedom Trail, do it on Saturday - you can stop for lunch or dinner or gelato in the North End - there are several good restaurants on Salem St. (including Neptune Oyster, mentioned above), which is one street over from the main drag, Hanover St. Sunday large portions of the Freedom Trail area will be lousy with drunk people. I'd recommend walking in the Public Garden too - they are constantly planting beautiful flowers out there, and it's adjacent to the Common, where the Freedom Trail begins. You might also want to check out the Arlington St. Church at the corner of the Public Garden - it has beautiful Tiffany windows.

Then on Sunday, head out to the Fenway (the neighborhood) - that's where the Museum of Fine Arts is, the aforementioned (and wonderful) Gardner museum, Fenway Park obviously, and some nice walking. The Back Bay Fens and the Riverway are right there and are part of the Emerald Necklace, Olmsted's chain of parks that stretches across the city.

From there, you could go out a little further to Brookline or Jamaica Plain, which, in my experience, stay pretty normal on St. Patrick's Day.

Maybe Friday night go into Cambridge?
posted by mskyle at 6:21 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

The North End is probably the greatest neighborhood in the country. Walk around there. Get slices and arancini from Galleria Umburto. Get a cappuccino from Della Sport.
posted by sandmanwv at 6:36 AM on March 13, 2013

Walk around Beacon Hill. Go into Cambridge and tour Harvard and MIT. On Friday or Saturday night, go get dinner in the North End (I love Pasta Pomodoro or Taranta) and then catch a show at Improv Asylum.

On another night, go to the ICA, then get dinner at Sportello.

Do an oyster/pub crawl: Neptune, B&G, Union Oyster House, then take a cab to Island Creek Oyster Bar.
posted by ewiar at 6:58 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, definitely seconding Galleria Umberto (delicious!), but if you decide to go there, make sure you go on the earlier side if you can. They only make a fixed number of slices per day, and when they sell out, that's it.

And Mayor West has already linked to the 'correct' location, but if you go to Pizzeria Regina, be sure to go to that original North End location only. The chain locations with the name (like the one at the South Station food court) are mind-bogglingly inferior.
posted by Kosh at 7:04 AM on March 13, 2013

For food in the Seaport district don't miss The No Name restaurant. Forget the Barking Crab. the locals call it the barfing crab for the number of times it has been shut down for sanitary reasons.

In the North End:
Regina's Original Pizza on Thatcher Street. Expect a line. Pepperoni and Extra oil please.
Cafe Vittorio on Hanover street for Cannoli. Sit in the back where the 'locals' usually do.

In Cambridge: (Red Line T to Central Square) Eat at The Middle East. Sit in the original bakery and you may hear some local folk or even belly dancing. The Lambs Tongue is awesome. Also in Central square is Mary Chung. Some say her food is better than Chinatown. Then Harvard is just one stop away, and MIT is a few blocks down Mass. Ave.
posted by Gungho at 7:16 AM on March 13, 2013

I love taking people around Boston, but after a day of walking, sitting down can sound like a wonderful idea. I recommend the Duck Tours as a great way to sit down, see more of the city, and hear fun tidbits.

Nthing Flour. You'll also be near Drink, which is one of the better cocktail bars in town. Be sure to amble off the Freedom Trail in Beacon Hill and the North End.
posted by ldthomps at 8:27 AM on March 13, 2013

Best answer: Harpoon Brewery is just a short walk from the Convention Center. They have multiple daily tours ($5) which conclude with beer-sampling (open bar: all you can sample in 30-45min-ish).

There are a number of restaurants in the area, including several hotel restaurants and the Legal Seafood behemoth on Seaport Blvd. Some smaller ones worth checking out: Tavern Road, Blue Dragon, Lucky's. Flour is awesome; Kosh is right (I like the breakfast sandwich). Yankee Lobster is a non-fancy fish restaurant (pay at the counter); better than No Name.

If you like just walking around I would also recommend the Harbor Walk; will lead you into the North End (also a terrific place to eat).

Chinatown also isn't far, and is full of good places to eat. I like Xinh Xinh for pho. Gourmet Dumpling House is good, but lines can be long; I also like Dumpling Cafe on Washington St. If you do go to Chinatown (and if you are doing lots of walking?), consider a Chinese foot massage at Happy Feet. (That place is great).

Sunday I might stroll over to Broadway to witness the parade, since I missed it last year. I do not plan to drive anywhere in the vicinity of South Boston. For the love of god don't drink any green beer.
posted by maryrussell at 8:49 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the city will be crazy, but I still recommend the Freedom Trail. It's where I always took visitors when I lived in Boston, because it took you through so much of the city and you got a taste of everything. You'll leave feeling like you really saw Boston. And don't skip the Charlestown portion. People don't like to schlep over the bridge for this part, but that's why it's a nice, quiet way to end. You get great views of the harbor from the bridge, Charlestown is very nice, Bunker Hill is cool, and the USS Constitution and museum is one of the better parts of the trail. Then walk back and have some dinner and gelato in the North End (Neptune will be insanely crowded, but they will call your cell phone when your table is ready, so you can go have an pre-dinner cocktail somewhere).
posted by theuninvitedguest at 1:00 PM on March 13, 2013

Best answer: Y'know; I completely forgot to add this, because it's the reason I don't go to the Southie parade:

the Allied Veterans War Council, the group that sponsors the Southie parade, does not allow gay groups to march.
posted by kinetic at 2:48 PM on March 14, 2013

Response by poster: Ok, here's what we ended up doing:

We had dinners at: Pomodoro (which was great!), Al Dente (which was very good), and Union Oyster House (which was fine).

We did the Freedom Trail on Saturday afternoon (actually, we did the Volksmarch version of the trail, which was very nice with clear directions). My husband went to the Mapparium and said he liked it. On Sunday (St. Patrick's Day), we toured Fenway Park (which was awesome!!!!) and had lunch at Jerry Remys bar in that neighborhood.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:28 AM on April 15, 2013

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