Favorite things Boston

This is outdated – there is a new post here: Things to do in Boston.

I have lived in Boston (or, strictly speaking, Arlington, MA) for six years, and go back there occasionally. Since there are many universities and conferences in that part of the world, I am often asked by colleagues and others what they should do when they are in Boston. This is a list of my very personal recommendations – your mileage may vary:

Harvard Square, uterestauranten Au Bon PainI will start at Harvard Square, not really Boston but in neighboring Cambridge. The Square is in the middle of the constantly encroaching Harvard Campus and is one of my favorite places (though, as a slew of critics like to point out, it has become less personal and more mall-like over the years:)

  • Take a deep dive into The Harvard COOP Bookstore (the large and “official” university bookstore, much better after management was taken over by Barnes and Noble a few years ago) or the Harvard Bookstore (my favorite, an independent bookstore with great selection, competent staff and a used book basement. Make sure you get their stamp card, reduced prices after a while.) Spend time browsing (nobody will bother you) and wearing out your creditcard.
  • Have a burger at Mr. Bartlett’s Gourmet Burger Cottage (right next to the Harvard Bookstore.) No alcohol, but great lemonade, crispy onion rings and a huge selection of excellent burgers. Cash only, noise level can be high.
  • Have a late and large American Sunday breakfast at the breakfast restaurant (can never remember the name) [UPDATE 7/30: The name of the restaurant is Greenhouse, and I have reliable information that it is no longer as good as it used to be – seems you will have to go with Au Bon Pain instead] next to Cardullo’s Delikatessen, after first having purchased 6lbs. of New York Times Sunday Edition from the newsstand on the sidewalk outside.
  • Buy Harvard-paraphernalia for the kids and people back home at the COOP (cheap and good by Norwegian standards)
  • Have a coffee at Peet’s Coffee (worn locales but good coffee) at Brattle Square. This is the place to bring your newly purchased stacks of books and dig into them without feeling awkward.
  • Another alternative, especially if the weather is good, is Cafe Pamplona, more Spanish than many things found in Spain. Here, you escape the American “HellomynamisBrandyandIwillbeyourservertoday” restaurant culture – sit as long as you want.
  • Visit the “glass flowers” at the Harvard Museum of Natural History and spend an hour or more at the Harvard Fogg Art museum (one of my Norwegian colleagues, an art buff, characterized it as “small and selective, just great for a relatively short visit.”) [Update: Fogg is closed for renovations 2011/12, unfortunately]
  • Bring a bunch of friends and have a Tex-Mex dinner with much shouting and joking at the (ask for Bohemia beer, recommended by John Steinbeck) at the Border Cafe. The bar here is also good, try a Marguerita as an aperitif. No table booking, expect to stand in line.

Stata Center, MITYou can take the T to MIT/Kendall Square, where you can

  • (nerd alert!) visit the MIT Press bookstore (not to be confused with MIT’s branch of the COOP, which is on the other side of the street.) MIT Press Bookstore is tiny and on the right side of the street when you look towards Boston, at Kendall Square.
  • Check out the Stata Center, MIT’s newest building and an example of deconstructionist architecture. In my opinion, not very functional, but interesting shapes.

In Boston proper, you could

  • Newbury StreetIf you feel flush with money and want to impress someone, take a shopping (or, perhaps, browsing) round in the fancy stores on Newbury Street
  • Visit the Museum of Fine Arts and The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
  • Stay away from Cheers, a bar that from the outside looks like the TV series. If you are looking for a real, Cheers-like, bar, try Rosie’s, which is at Porter Square in Cambridge about 7 block up Mass Ave from the Harvard Common). Or just go to any of the Irish bars downtown.
  • Have dinner in North End, the Italian district.
  • Have seafood at the Union Oyster House, USA’s second oldest continuously operating restaurant. It is regarded as a bit of a tourist trap by the locals, but it has been a huge hit with anyone from abroad I have taken there.
  • Walk around and explore – Boston is a city of culture, with interesting stores and restaurants. A car is not necessary.

Outside Boston: Pilgrim Monument, Provincetown

  • Go to Newburyport and Plum Island. Eat seafood from one of the food joints.
  • Visit Concord, have lunch at the Concord Inn and take a walk around Walden Pond (Where Thoreau wrote his book)
  • Go to Marblehead for an icecream, a stroll along the harbor, and some seafood.
  • If you have a weekend, rent a car and drive to Cape Cod, visit Provincetown (“P-town”, if you want to sound local) out at the tip of the peninsula
  • If you have an oval weekend: Go to Marthas Vineyard or Nantucket (the latter I haven’t visited myself, but I have heard good reports.) These are summer holiday islands southeast of Cape Cod, an interesting and very distinct part of the USA. It can be very crowded in summer, so make sure you have accomodation before you go.
  • If you are in the mood for some real shopping: Drive to the L.L.Bean store in Freeport, Maine. There are a number of other factory stores in the area as well. (According to their web site, L.L.Bean is about to open a store in Burlington, just north of Boston snart, so the long drive may not be warranted. The store in Freeport is, anyway, open 24 hours – it has actually been open continually since 1951, except for two Sundays.)

There are, of course, lots of other things to do and see, but these are some of the things I like. Have a great trip!

5 thoughts on “Favorite things Boston

  1. Ben

    I’m one of those gouchy lifetime Bostonians, so I’m sad to see harvard squae all spifed up an hosting lots of national chains. Davis Square has the energy that Harvard Square had 20 years ago.
    That’s the Greenhouse restaurant, btw. At Bartley’s I’m a sucker for the malted frappes.

  2. dragos

    that’s a nice and handy list — do you happen to have one for New York? I’m currenly in NYC and will be around for about 3 weeks.

  3. Espen

    Sorry – I have been a tourist in New York, but that’s about it. Take the ferry to Staten Island and back from Manhattan – it is 25 cents for a nice tour of the harbord. If you are going to the Statue of Liberty, make sure you are on the very first boat of the day. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is great. And that’s about it….

  4. Rhea

    Nice list. I live in Boston. Don’t forget the rockin’ Greek Salad at Mrs. Bartley’s. The dressing is to die for.

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