Boston is a big city, but it doesn't feel that way when you're walking around -- and make no mistake, this is one of those cities perfect to explore on foot (if you're not a walker, join a trolley or amphibious vehicle tour). In 20 minutes you can stroll from the Common (Boston's Central Park) down to the waterfront, and pass major historical attractions, shops and food purveyors along the way.
Boston is perhaps America's most glamorous historic city, dating back nearly 400 years. The city was founded in 1630 by colonists led by John Winthrop, with a name drawn from an English village. The events that led to the American Revolution started here, including the infamous arguments over the tax on tea that led to the Boston Tea Party in 1773. During the protest, three British ships were raided by colonists dressed as Native Americans who dumped tea into the harbor. In 1775, Paul Revere helped spread the word that the British were on their way. The next day, the "shot heard round the world" was fired just a few miles west of Boston at the Old North Bridge, signaling the start of the American Revolution.
These days, Boston, also dubbed "Beantown" (the moniker is another colonial-era legacy, referring to a time when baked beans made with molasses were a Boston specialty), has a European feel, in part because of its many historic buildings and cozy ambience. But it is not an urban museum by any stretch. There's a big student population here -- thanks to the city's many educational institutions like Harvard, M.I.T. and Boston College -- that helps keep the city fresh and edgy.
Slideshow: America's Best College Towns
The "locals" are part of Boston's charm. Just keep in mind they tend to come in two categories: friendly and grouchy (there are even restaurants that specialize in surly waitresses).
This is a big sports town, and the Red Sox and the Patriots are king. A conversation on either will bring emotional discourse. Political issues are freely discussed too in the land of the Kennedys.
Sure, there's plenty of American history, especially on the Freedom Trail (just follow the red lines down the sidewalk) -- but if television history is more your style, visit the bar that was the model for "Cheers." And as a visitor you shouldn't overlook the city's many museums. Boston has great shopping both for those who want to spend big bucks and for those looking for "bah-gains." And we care much about eating here too -- you can find everything from haute cuisine to Fenway Franks. If you order "chowda" it will be the creamy kind (don't even ask for tomato-based).