Boston Weekend

Skip the Freedom Trail in Boston

Photo by cailisi

Most Boston tourists concentrate on historic sights like Boston Commons, Quincy Market, and Old Ironsides, but Beantown has some wonderfully quirky attractions that have nothing to do with its Tea Party history. The city’s colorful new Institute of Contemporary Art is one such example, but so too is MIT's unbelievably cool campus, the bizarre but beautiful glass flowers at a fusty Harvard museum, and a gourmet market tour of the city's North End. Indeed, a foodie–scene blessedly free of lobster rolls and cream pie is but one more reason to spend a weekend off the Freedom Trail in Boston.

What to Do

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Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

280 The Fenway, Boston, MA; 617-566-1401;

Definitely better known than other must-sees on this list, this winning art collection nevertheless remains fairly under-the-radar to Boston history aficionados. Occupying a flight of fancy designed to resemble an Italian palazzo, it's one of the country's most unique art galleries, with paintings by big-ticket artists like Titian and Rembrandt hanging, unlabeled, in lushly decorated rooms. Keep an eye out for the smattering of empty frames upstairs—their contents were stolen in a 1990 art heist (the most expensive take of its kind) and have never been recovered.

Photo by See-ming Lee 李思明


77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA; (617) 253-1000;

Modern architecture buffs can rejoice—this techie university campus is a perfect antidote to Boston's otherwise twee Colonial and Federal building styles. The university recently inaugurated Frank Gehry's whimsical Stata Center, a $300 million building better suited to a Tim Burton film set, and also hosts Eero Saarinen's 1955 MIT Chapel, designed with a mid-century take on Boston's traditional redbrick style.

Photo by adamwolkenhauer

North End Market Tour

Hanover Street, Boston, MA; (617) 523-6032;; $52.50

Michelle Topor's award-winning three-hour market tours of the North End walk past historical sights like Paul Revere House and Old North Church while delving into the neighborhood's contemporary Italian roots. Each tour includes tastings at local salumerias, pasticcerias and enotecas, plus cooking tips and wine-pairing notes throughout. Michelle also does similar tours of Chinatown, complete with bakery, barbecue, and bubble tea samplings.

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Harvard Museum of Natural History

26 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA; 617-495-3045;

Sure, it's worth investigating Harvard Yard, but this curious nearby institution is actually more memorable than the redstone campus with which it's associated. Past its Mongolian tigers and looming dinosaur skeletons is the stunning Ware Collection of Glass Flowers (pictured) that showcases thousands of impeccably designed glass flowers and plants that are still used today as botany teaching models.

Where to Eat and Drink

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44 Brattle Street, Cambridge; (617) 868-2255;

High-end New England fare with a farm-to-table ethos is the hallmark of this understated Harvard Square restaurant known for its decadent Maine lobster BLT and Caesar salad. Order the three-course Business Lunch to get a full chef's sampler for a slim $22 and tuck into unexpected treats like Maine crab salad with gruyère and prosciutto.

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The Sevens Ale House

77 Charles Street, Boston; (617) 523-9074;

Walk past the clichéd Bull and Finch of Cheers fame and head into Beacon Hill for lunch at this bona fide Boston pub instead. It's a weathered place with hardwood walls and banquettes, sports on television, a menu that favors Reubens over burgers, and an excellent beer selection.

Photo by Renae Herzog


370 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston; (617) 536-7200;

One of Boston's top tables, this Back Bay enclave is an exceedingly chic dinner spot with leopard-print carpeting, hushed tones, and an innovative French-influenced menu by chef Ken Oringer that favors dishes like escargots with pork belly and black-licorice roasted duck.

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Hungry Mother

233 Cardinal Medeiros Avenue, Cambridge; (617) 499-0090;

A surprising find in staid Cambridge, this casual Southern-influenced hotspot has its roots in the Appalachian region near Virginia. The savory dinner menu trades in sustainable fare and plates up smoked tongue, fried green tomatoes, and grilled bluefish; its discerning wine list also includes a sparkling riesling from Westport, Massachusetts.

Where to Stay

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Liberty Hotel

215 Charles Street, Boston; (617) 224-4000;; From $265/night

Since opening in 2007 in what was once the Charles Street Jail, this stone-clad Beacon Hill hotel has become a local destination for Bostonians and visitors alike. Its 298 spacious bedrooms all offer expansive views and slick accoutrements like Molton Brown toiletries, flat-screen TVs, and stainless-steel finishes, but the real draws are the soaring lobby enclosed by original jailhouse walkways and the wrily named Alibi Bar.

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Colonnade Hotel

120 Huntington Avenue, Boston; (617) 424-7000;; From $329/night in high-season

Don't be put off by the concrete block exterior: This Back Bay boutique is the only Boston hotel with a rooftop pool and bar scene, and 285 recently renovated rooms with an urban penchant for blond woods, neutral tones, and hi-tech gadgets like flatscreen TVs and MP3 players.