I’m standing 50 floors above the streets of Boston, enjoying the views from the Skywalk Observatory – and its 360-degree view showcases some of the city’s key advantages – from its waterside location to streetside cafes and restaurants in the trendy Back Bay neighbourhood.
But the attraction also provides a fascinating insight into the location’s history and fabric. I learn that our own Alexander Graham Bell gave his first demonstration of the telephone while based in the “city on the hill”, while there’s a spotlight on famous names born locally (Matt Damon, Edgar Allan Poe, Leonard Nimoy) and the area’s diverse population – which speaks more than 140 languages.
And under a sunny azure sky, among the other landmarks we can spot from the vantage point is Boston’s famous Fenway Park baseball ground – home to the Red Sox – that we visited earlier that day.
While I can’t claim to be a huge sports fan normally, I’m as engrossed as a hardcore fan on game day by the tour, from its Hall of Fame complete with Babe Ruth tribute to the Fisk Pole, named in honour of a momentous hit in 1975.
Dating back to 1912, Fenway Park is the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball, and Boston is indeed a city of many firsts – with pioneering milestones including America’s first public park, subway, post office, municipal library – and, perhaps most importantly, chocolate factory.
And tying in with the pioneering theme, we had arrived into Boston Logan International Airport on the inaugural Delta flight from Edinburgh, complementing the airline’s route from the Scottish capital to New York’s JFK. We’re lucky enough to be in the luxurious Delta One cabin, which offers seasonally changing food and wine menus – and bedding by Westin Hotels and Resorts, no less.
Another first that the area can boast is its iconic Harvard University, which was founded in 1636, and is the oldest higher education establishment in the US. We enjoy a tour of the campus by a current student who points outs dorms that have housed former alumni including Natalie Portman and Mark Zuckerberg (although he dropped out).
Another former student, John F Kennedy, is honoured at his eponymous Presidential Library and Museum. Located at Columbia Point, which was chosen by the Kennedy family as it overlooks the sea he loved “and the city that launched him to greatness”, the official memorial to the country’s 35th president provides some intriguing information about his life.
Among the rich archive is the display of an extract from an unpublished speech by JFK, saying pertinently that his generation in the US had a duty as “the watchmen on the walls of freedom” and need for them to act “with wisdom and restraint”.
Also by the water is our accommodation – the Boston Harbor Hotel, located on historic Rowes Wharf in the city. It features a distinctive 60-foot stone archway that gradually arose imperially into view along with the city’s skyscrapers when we arrived at the hotel by boat on our first day. It certainly beats catching a shuttle bus.
The 232-guestroom property – Boston’s only waterfront Forbes five-star hotel – is decorated in an elegant combination of blues, creams and browns that seems to match the views over the water on one side and the city’s financial district on the other. I also make use of the calming swimming pool a couple of times during my visit – and you can also borrow T-shirts and shorts to wear in the gym.
We get a view of the city from the opposite side of the water with a visit to the Envoy Hotel, which has played a key role in the gentrification of the Boston Seaport District. It has a glam rooftop bar – Lookout – with panoramic views, meticulously crafted cocktails, and heated igloos in the winter, while on the ground floor is the bustling Outlook Kitchen restaurant, led by executive chef Tatiana Rosana.
She has featured on Chopped, with more than one win under her belt, and said the TV cooking show changed her life – while her dishes draw on her Cuban background, French training, New England experience and wife’s Korean heritage.
It’s an eclectic but complementary mix, and among the exemplary dishes we try are umami-tastic soy cured devilled eggs, super-fresh shrimp and halibut ceviche, rich Cognac macaroni cheese with lobster, and a “campfire” torte combining elements of smores – with a bonfire-scented marshmallow.
Then there’s the area’s flourishing beer scene, with some 150-plus breweries statewide. We get a look behind the scenes with a tour of the Samuel Adams brewery, which gives an engaging, hands-on insight into the brewing process and concludes with a sampling session – no complaints from us – as well as a free glass to take home. Samuel Adams is the flagship brand of the Boston Beer Company, and is named after the founding father of the same name.
You can actually see a memorial to Adams as part of the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile red line leading to 16 “nationally significant” historic sites. You can sign up for a tour, as we do, starting on Boston Common and led by a guide in costume, or simply follow the route marked out on the pavement.
Other attractions we visit during our stay include the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, with its striking and constantly evolving floral courtyard, and Plymouth, where pilgrims arrived in 1620.
Indeed, 17th-century life is vividly recreated at Plimoth Plantation, highlighting the stories both of the pilgrims and the native Wampanoag people. Plimoth Plantation owns a full-scale reproduction of the Mayflower II, which is being restored at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut in advance of the 400th anniversary next year of the Atlantic crossing.
Boston also provides a great base to explore Massachusetts, with the Bay State enjoying nearly 200 miles of coastline. I’m sorry not to have had time to visit, say, Cape Cod – which alone has 100-plus beaches and bustling Provincetown – or Martha’s Vineyard.
Overall I find the city offers a slice of NYC-style east coast cool – including rows of classic brownstones, high-end boutiques and stand-up at the Comedy Studio in Somerville that has hosted names including Gary Gulman and Eugene Mirman. But Boston offers a far calmer, less chaotic version that is quick to navigate on foot.
It’s an excellent city to potter around, and I browse picturesque Beacon Hill, and later enjoy a Sam Adams beer in the Cheers bar at Faneuil Hall as I pay homage to Sam Malone, Frasier Crane, and the rest of the sitcom’s characters.
“Wouldn’t you like to get away,” the show’s theme tune asks, and Boston and for me the broader Massachusetts area offer reason upon reason why they are ideal locations to do so.
Delta (www. delta.com) flies nonstop from Edinburgh to Boston daily throughout the summer. In 2020 it will run to the end of September. Fares start at £368 plus £147.28 taxes, with Delta One fares from £1,446 plus £241.28 taxes. Delta also flies year-round from Edinburgh to New York-JFK, providing one-stop access to Boston in the winter months.
Rooms at the Boston Harbor Hotel (www.bhh.com) start from $495 (£392). For more on Massachusetts, see www.massholiday.co.uk