Last time, I gave an overview of Boston, talked about possible picnic sites, and offered advice about theatrical events. This time, let us look at some more intellectual pursuits—our museums and the like.
Now Museum, Now You Don’t
No matter what your tastes, Boston almost certainly has you covered as far as museums go. We have multiple museums dedicated to art, a great Children’s museum, the JFK Library & Museum, and more than a half-dozen dedicated to history. For my money, the two crown jewels of our collection are the Museum of Science and the Museum of Fine Arts.
Boston’s Museum of Science looms large in my childhood memories. From its T-Rex statue to its Planetarium, I can remember spending endless time here with my grandmother, my parents, my friends, and my teachers. As an adult, it holds both the fascination of new discoveries, the novelty of constantly changing temporary exhibits, and a powerful draw of nostalgia. Beyond its exhibit halls, which are extremely extensive, it also has the Charles Hayden Planetarium and the Mugar Omni Theater, offering a wide range of activities to enjoy during a visit.
Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts is a museum I didn’t visit until college, and then I regretted not having gone earlier. With over 400,000 pieces in its collection, it can be Louvre-level overwhelming at times (people who’ve been to the Louvre know the kind of shell-shocked, mentally-numb feeling I’m talking about.) Its collection ranges from Egyptian antiquities to modern art (although the Institute for Contemporary Art is more amazing for modern art installations IMHO.) The new Art of the Americas wing opened in 2010, and it expanded the Museum’s display capability dramatically.
From the realm of the museum, I move to the animal kingdom. Who doesn’t love animals? The Boston area has numerous animal viewing possibilities, but, if you want to go past pigeons and squirrels, consider a visit to the Franklin Park Zoo or the New England Aquarium.
Franklin Park is a classic urban zoo, renovated to excellent modern facilities. Attractions are broken down into habitat, giving you a chance to see animals that would normally be in proximity to each other, or who live in similar terrain. The Tropical Forest building offers incredible gorilla-viewing opportunities, allowing you to literally get face to face with these awesome animals. Outback Trail lets you stroll among kangaroos and emus, separated only by a bit of rope. Butterfly Landing has a beautiful exhibit in a screen-house environment, where classical music plays as you’re surrounded by lush tropical flowers and brilliantly vibrant butterflies of all sizes and colors.
The New England Aquarium is another place that looms large in my childhood memories. The centerpiece is the coral reef, a huge central tank with ramps that spiral around it, giving you 360 degree views of the animals within. Other exhibits give the chance to get hands on with sea stars, horseshoe crabs, stingrays, and sharks, watch the antics of playful harbor seals, and enjoy multiple species of penguins. They’ve just renovated the giant central tank, and I can’t wait to visit to see what they’ve done.
All jokes aside, you could make an excellent date out of visiting the Aquarium and then following up with dinner at one of the upscale seafood restaurants in the area, such as the nearby Chart House. Add in a harbor cruise, and you’ve got a heck of a day trip.
Tours Fair and Fowl
There are actually a number of ways to get in a lot of Boston at once. The Boston Trolley system gives you a ticket that allows you to hop on and off the trolley all day. Since it stops directly at many Boston attractions and museums, this can be a good way to get around. The drivers often offer information as they drive you around, so may just learn something, too.
There are some great Boston tours, too. Guided bike tours, harbor cruises with narration from the captain, and lantern-light tours of the city’s graveyards and haunted locations are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s one tour that gives you an amazing and unusual perspective of the city…and it’s amphibious!
Duck Tours are getting quite popular now in many cities, but Boston was one of the first, its tours having started in 1994. Using replicas of World War II amphibious vehicles, you get a combination driving tour and then boat tour, and the drivers are funny, personable, and very knowledgeable. Guests are armed with duck-call whistles that make a distinctive noise, and, yes, many Bostonians quack at the vehicles as they go by. We’re funny that way.
Having summed up all this highbrow stuff, next week, I’ll tell you about some awesome ways to celebrate how danged patriotic we are here, even when it isn’t Independence Day. And then I’ll wrap up with some suggestions for dating that aren’t in Boston proper.