Today, visitors to Boston can stand at the end of Long Wharf, and take in an expansive view of the Institute of Contemporary Art, the New England Aquarium, Logan Airport, and the slivers of sails that help push many of the leisure crafts around the harbor.
The working waterfront of the last century has largely ceded ground to a variegated landscape of pleasures that includes boat tours and the very notable Boston Harbor Cruises, the Boston Harbor Islands, impressive hotels, and a diverse set of cultural offerings and institutions.
For the visitor who has but a day or two, there are many ways to enjoy this slice of Boston, whether there be warm weather or the kind of climate that may demand a pea coat and a warm scarf.
A View to Remember
Located at Rowes Wharf, the Boston Harbor Hotel is the premiere place to stay on Boston’s waterfront, with its mix of friendly luxury and warmly decorated public spaces. The rooms offer fine vistas of the Harbor and watching the sun make its inevitable ascent from the east is worth waking up for early in the morning.
If you have any desire to leave your room, you may want to venture down to the Rowes Wharf Sea Grille or the Thursdays Tastings at Meritage. Don’t forget to step outside the hotel to the harborside where you might see vessels such as the elegant Maria Gallagher in from St. John in the Virgin Islands or the Odyssey Dinner Cruise. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, visitors are welcome to stop by for their nightly music concerts during the summer and their very popular “Movies by Moonlight” series.
Looking out on Boston Harbor
Most of the skyscrapers surrounding the Boston Harbor are not open to the public, so a stop at the Custom House is a worthy way to get a commanding view of the surrounding area. The building was originally built to serve the United States government and for many decades it was used to assess and levy duties and taxes on goods coming in and out of the port of Boston. The original squat Greek temple structure was finished in 1849, and it was later topped with a 496-foot tower in 1915. Today, the structure is a hotel property, and visitors are encouraged to stop by, and for a small donation, they may ascend to the observatory level. Here they can look out onto the Harbor, watch planes land and takeoff at Logan Airport, and also look down on the elegant panels of green that comprise the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway. The views are outstanding, and visitors may even catch sight of the peregrine falcons that maintain a residence near the top of the tower.
Olde-Time Baseball, a Civil War fort, & more
Certainly many boating enthusiasts are well aware of the dozens of islands that are scattered about Boston Harbor. The casual visitor may wonder: “How can I get there?”
Quite easily, you can visit the Boston Harbor Islands by catching one of the ferries along Long Wharf, during the summer months. The ferry service is seasonal, and it runs from May to October, and most visitors will probably find it most convenient to get on one of the crafts heading out to Georges or Spectacle Islands. Georges Island is most well-known for the Civil War-era Fort Warren (complete with artillery demonstrations), which is the dominant built feature on this nub of land. It’s worth checking the schedule of events on Georges Island, as visitors won’t want to miss a game of vintage baseball (played by way of the 1860s rulebook) or the Berklee Music Fest, which features performers from the Berklee College of Music.
Max Grinnell is a writer based in Cambridge, MA, who writes about cities, public art, geography, travel, and anything else that strikes his fancy. He’s the author of several books, and his next book, “Secret Chicago,” will be published in fall 2012. His writings can be found online at www.theurbanologist.com and he tweets over @theurbanologist.
(photos: harbor view source: Boston Harbor Hotel, ariel view source: Max Grinnell)