Beyond standard stereotypes, it can be difficult to define what exactly comprises an American city. Because it’s such a big country, and because to some extent it’s defined by its multiculturalism, America is nearly impossible to depict through a single place. In some ways though, if you want a quintessentially American experience while traveling, it pays to bear history in mind. If nothing else, the brief but enthralling history of the United States can define it as a country, and there are a few cities that are known for having stayed in touch with the past.
If you’re traveling in the United States and want to know where to go in the city to get a better feel for what I’m talking about, the following is a nice spattering of things to see and do. Through these places and ideas you can truly get to know a city that - ultimately - it’s a little bit difficult not to fall in love with.
Faneuil Hall is a fascinating place in that it singlehandedly links the history of Boston with the modern population. Known as a sort of city market and central gathering place in the days of the revolution, when famous figures held meetings there, it is even now an active market. The building itself - quite literally a large, long hall - is nothing remarkable. But in a way it captures the spirit of Boston to exploring and shopping there knowing that the very same site was similarly active 250 years ago.
This is the most touristy item that will be mentioned here, but it speaks to one of the most significant events in the formation of the early United States: the Boston Tea Party. There’s more to the story, but the gist of it is that angry colonists based in Boston boarded British ships and dumped massive quantities of tea overboard as a means of rebelling against unfair taxes. The Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum is one of the newer attractions on the waterfrontin town and serves as both a museum and a chance to reenact the event by throwing fake tea overboard. It’s a little ridiculous, but it celebrates the history nonetheless, which feels significant in a city like this.
Back Bay isn’t your typical hot spot neighborhood, in that it’s more about residential buildings, pretty pedestrian areas, and shops than it is about bars and restaurants. That’s not to say you can’t grab a bite to eat or a pint of beer there, but really it’s known more for its vibe than anything else. It’s an affluent area, but one that has a strong personality, and it’s just one of the nicer parts of the city to explore.
The city happens to be home to some of the best schools in the United States, and in some cases the world. Colleges like Tufts and Boston University are both highly respected in certain areas of study, and the Berklee College of Music is legendary. The real attractions for travelers, though, are Harvard and MIT, both of which have pretty, fascinating campuses, and both of which are considered to be among the most prestigious educational institutions in the entire world.
It wouldn’t be proper to discuss Boston in the 21st century without mentioning the city’s love affair with professional sports. The Boston Bruins are a historic NHL franchise with a spectacular home crowd. The Boston Red Sox have been the best baseball team of the century so far and have a rich history dating back to the early-1900s. And the Boston Celtics are currently viewed as one of the favorites for the 2018-19 NBA Championship, which would only further their reputation as one of the two most successful teams in basketball history. It’s a spectacular sports town no matter what the season may be.
For any travelers who enjoy a good beer, Samuel Adams shouldn’t be missed. Named for one of the key figures from he Boston wing of the American Revolution, it’s the rare craft brewery that doubles as a massive commercial success. Indeed it’s still listed among the top craft breweries in America despite the fact that it’s nearly as ubiquitous as, say, Budweiser or Heineken. Visiting the brewery itself is a treat for any beer lover, or anyone who just wants a taste of Boston culture.
This is essentially just an old, brick church, but it’s another historical landmark that can take you back to the very founding of America. It was built in the 1720s, long before American independence. And more importantly, its tower is where the revolutionary Paul Revere famously directed two lanterns to be hung, to symbolize that the British were approaching Boston from the ocean (the famous phrase being “one if by land, two if by sea”).
Boston Common is known as the oldest city park in the United States, occupying an area that has been designated for public use since the mid-17th century. Today it’s simply a very pretty outdoor area, as well as a regular stop on various historical tours of the city. If you really want to visit the oldest core of the city, it’s probably your best bet!